Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.
It's lonely out in space. That's something most of us never think about until we're out here. I've been adrift in this escape pod for almost eight months now. At least, I think it has been something like eight months. It might have only been four. Or maybe it has been a whole year by now. It's so difficult to keep track of time when you're drifting out in the middle of space by yourself. Does time even have meaning in the vacuum of space? I have no idea what happened to the rest of my crew. Oh God, I am such a coward.
That day plays back in my mind every second of every day. Our ship was under attack. The locals didn't take kindly to our ship being in their territory. We were only passing through, but thanks to the language barrier, it didn't matter. This was the first time any of us had ever met alien life forms before. I wish it had been on better terms.
Our ship started taking fire. The emergency alert went off. Without thinking, I jumped into an escape pod to save myself, ignoring every protocol we'd been taught. I didn't stop to see if anyone else needed my help. The thought never even crossed my mind. I acted on instinct and thought of only myself. I fled. I'm a coward. I'm a selfish coward.
After the escape pod was propelled a safe distance from the ship, I looked back just in time to see the ship explode. I have no idea if anyone else made it out alive. The escape pod only had enough fuel to propel itself a safe distance away from danger. These pods are equipped with an emergency radio to call for help, but mine is busted. I didn't realize I had no way to call for help until after the ship was destroyed. It wouldn't have mattered anyway. It's not like I could have turned around and picked out a different escape pod. I am stuck drifting through space until someone finds me. There are only enough emergency rations on board to last five people six months. I'll be able to make it almost another two years before I starve.
I'm sure I'll end up going crazy if I'm out here for two more years, however. I'm already starting to lose my mind after only these eight months with no human contact. But I deserve it. Sometimes I think I hear the voices of my crew as I'm falling asleep. Sometimes they ask me why I abandoned them or why a coward like me got to survive. Other times they only scream in terror as the ship is destroyed. I see the explosion every time I close my eyes, replaying over and over again. I've learned to ignore the voices as I fall asleep.
It's not just when I'm drifting to sleep either. Sometimes I swear I see someone moving around in my peripheral vision while I'm wide awake. There's never anyone there. I used to expect there to be someone there, but there never was. I've stopped checking. I've accepted the fact that I am alone.
I spend a lot of time watching the stars through the window. I have nothing better to do to fill my time. They are always there to keep me company. They aren't great company, but beggars can't be choosers. At least they are always here.
While staring at the once unfamiliar formations of stars, I've discovered a handful of new constellations out in this part of space. There's the Lost Child, a little girl who was trapped out in space with no way to get back home to her parents. She sits alone in the stars and cries, but no one hears her. No one but me. To the left of the Lost Child, there is the Viking Ship. It is a ship that was lost in a storm and continues sailing on forever in the endless starry sea, but it never finds safe harbor. It’s just drifting forever, like me.
If I look out the window on the other side of the pod, there is the Defeated Warrior and the Fierce Dragon. The Warrior set out long ago to fight the Fierce Dragon, underestimating the Dragon’s strength. The Warrior’s lifeless body now rests forever amongst the stars as the Dragon proudly stands over its trophy of war. A little bit to the right of the Defeated Warrior and the Fierce Dragon, there is the constellation of the Chicken. It saw the battle raging between the Warrior and the Dragon and ran away. It now runs around aimlessly amongst the stars with no direction.
Constellations are a strange thing. They look completely different depending on where the viewer is located. No two people will ever see the same constellation unless they are in the same place in the universe. I wonder if the aliens in this part of space have ever identified any constellations amongst the stars. Is looking for familiar characters and stories amongst the stars only a human trait?
I don't know why the aliens who destroyed the ship haven't come after me yet. Perhaps this escape pod is too small to be seen on their radar. Perhaps they have realized that leaving me out here is a fate worse than death. Sometimes I wish that they would find me and destroy this pod too.
I wonder if anyone will ever find me. I doubt anyone from Earth even knows to come looking for me. For all they know, the entire crew went down with the ship. I wonder if anyone else made it out alive. I wonder if I was the only one cowardly enough to flee to an escape pod the instant danger struck. Even in the chaos, the rest of my crew likely strove to protect the ship. rather than rushing to save themselves. Perhaps there was more that I could have done.
Could I have done something to help my crew fight off the alien attackers? I don't know. I don't think so, but I don't know. I will never know now. Even if I couldn't do anything to help save us from the attack, I should have gone down with the ship with all the others. Now I am trapped out here in this sardine can of an escape pod, drifting through space with no defenses and no way to call for help. Eventually I will run out of food and starve, if I don't go crazy and end it all long before that happens.
It's so lonely out here in space.
© 2021 Jennifer Wilber