I remember it so well. In the dead of night, while the weather was warm and the stars shone brilliantly in the night sky, I secretly slipped into the outdoor pool at Atsugi, the base where my father was stationed. I was ten years old.

In a few strokes, I reached the center of the pool and rolled onto my back. There I floated weightlessly on the calm water, under the stars, enveloped in the blackness of night and the brilliance of the twinkling lights above me. I was so young. At first I felt insignificant and exposed. Then I realized that I was part of the whole grandeur of the sky, the galaxy. I too, was one small part, one little light. I lost track of time, there under the blanket of stars. As I stared into the depths of space, my mind drifted away. I wanted so badly to close my eyes and let the night sky fold around me forever. My eyelids grew heavy. I was tired. I was almost… asleep… and then the red lights came on and the alarms blared.

My eyes fluttered open for a second or two and were assaulted by the red warning lights flashing across the helmet’s display. It was too much to read. I couldn’t focus. It said something about gas mixtures. There was a graphic showing the tanks in the Evac suit. Red lights and streaming data were everywhere, blinding me. The AI was shouting, volume was up to an ear-splitting, emergency level.

“… AGAIN, WARNING. OXYGEN MIXTURE IMBALANCE. DANGER OF LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS. WARNING.”

My head, my eyesight, my thoughts so blurry. I couldn’t think. My tongue felt swollen. The AI continued to shout… something about impact.

“DISTANCE TO SM5 IS THREE HUNDRED METERS. IMPACT ALERT. TWELVE SECONDS TO IMPACT. WARNING.”

Then, a moment of clarity. I was in the suit. I was traveling from one ship to the other. Something was wrong. My eyes shot open. The black shape of the other SM5 sped toward me at nearly twenty-five meters per second. I was heading for an impact that would certainly rupture the Evac suit and send me careening off the hull into space.  I would decompress in seconds and spiral out of control. I was a dead man.

I took a deep breath. The air was sweet and strange. The AI was still screaming at me. Without another breath, I shouted over the noise and confusion

“Purge suit environment and switch to reserve tank mixture!”

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

There was a deafening hiss and the suit went immediately cold. I began to shiver uncontrollably. Jets of gas streamed from exterior suit vents in all directions. For a long second, nothing else happened. Now that I was hyper-alert, I panicked and wondered if there was any reserve tank mixture available. In my mind, I quickly retraced my steps in the process of re-tethering the Evac suit prior to departing the ship. Did I check the reserve tank? I couldn’t remember. Before complete terror seized me, the suit gushed with oxygen from the reserve tank. I took one deep breath. It was a perfect mixture.

I shook my head inside the helmet. My vision cleared and I was able to focus again. Looking forward, I saw the hull of the other SM5 dead in front of me. I had to stop. Momentum was too great. I shouted at the AI again.

“All forward braking at once!”

The suit let off a gaseous nitrogen discharge from all forward ports, slowing the speed of the approach. It wasn’t enough.

“Brake again,” I shouted. “Continuous!”

The suit gave off a flood of nitrogen from the forward ports. The gas release was so great that I couldn’t see the SM5 dead in front of me through the exhaust cloud.

There was a terrible collision.

[Communication sent: 20JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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