Nervously, I took a deep breath, as if I were about to submerge myself in water. I was standing in the airlock, preparing to depart the SM5 and make a solo excursion across a huge void. The hatch to the ship was sealed behind me and the Extra Vehicular Hatch was still closed in front of me. I was tethered to the Umbilical Interface and I had a steady flow of O2. Beyond the EV Hatch was empty space, a massive expanse of dark nothingness… and the other ship.

I have been with JAXA and the International Deep Space Administration for decades. I’ve made more stand-up EVAs with an umbilical than I can count. Still, I filled my lungs with air and pursed my lips. This is an old habit I’ve never been able to shake. Holding my breath, I activated the equalization valves and pulled the hatch lever. The hatch moved inward and slid smoothly to one side of the compartment.

“CREW LOCK EVA HATCH DISENGAGED,” the ship’s AI reported.

“I know that,” I replied.

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

I grasped one of the internal handholds firmly. With a nervous hand, I reached to my side and pulled the umbilical away from the Heavy Evac suit. My stomach fluttered. Red light flooded the compartment. A warning light flashed in the helmet’s display. Suit support functions and reserves began a countdown.

“WARNING: EVAC SUIT UNTETHERED. RECLAMATION FUNCTIONS WITHOUT ADDITIONAL CREW MEMBERS IMPOSSIBLE.”

“I know that as well,” I stated.

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

I began to tremble. At first it was slight, a nervous shiver in my hands and arms. Then, quickly, my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. I gripped the handhold as tightly as I could.

Leaving the protection of a ship is a frightening experience. In orbit around a planet, you don’t normally want to find yourself in unprotected space, as the risk of having your suit (and body) perforated by space debris traveling at 7.7 km per second is fairly high. Here, there was nothing but empty space between myself and the other ship. I had maneuvered the SM5 into a position that was near enough that I could travel the distance on the meager propulsion system the suit offered. It was also far enough that any strange emergence of unexpected gravitational anomalies – like the event that wrenched away the survival pod – won’t threaten to destroy my ship.

“Target distance count, please.”

“DISTANCE TO SM5 IS FIFTEEN POINT EIGHT KILOMETERS.”

Although the shaking hadn’t subsided at all, I gathered my strength and launched myself from the hatchway door of the SM5 as best I could. I met the nothingness head on.

[Communication sent: 19JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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