A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson




ONE


I WOKE UP ON A spaceship.

I’d crawled into bed, my hair still damp from the rain, and shut my eyes, expecting to wake up in the same place I fell asleep. As one tends to do. But, no. When I opened my eyes, I was most definitely not in my room any longer. Nor was I in my apartment in Seattle or even still on Earth.

I didn’t actually wake up on the spaceship. Rather, I woke up outside it, wearing a spacesuit. Drifting in the vacuum where there’s no oxygen or gravity, and basically everything wants to kill you.

You might be thinking that I knew I was in space because I saw stars. It’s a good guess, but wrong. The first thing I saw was a note on the heads-up display inside my helmet.

You are wearing a Beekman-Hauser X-300 Vacuum-Rated Spacesuit.

You are in space, floating outside a ship called Qriosity.

There is no reason to panic.

My name is Noa North, and I am not ashamed to admit that I panicked.

“Help!” I screamed so loudly that my voice cracked. Not that it mattered—there was nowhere for the sound to go. It’s a common misconception that sound doesn’t travel in space. It does; it just doesn’t travel well. That didn’t stop me from screaming, though. And flailing my arms and legs as if doing either was going to help. Cut me some slack. It was my first time in space.

Also, hopefully my last.

Warning! Your heart rate is exceeding the maximum recommended beats per minute. Please attempt thirty seconds of relaxed breathing.

“Are you kidding me?”

Your health and well-being are no laughing matter. This alert has been a courtesy of Vedette Biometrics, a subsidiary of Gleeson Foods.

“I’m sorry, what?”

The notification disappeared, replaced by a series of readouts that were no doubt intended to be helpful but which meant nothing to me. I wasn’t totally useless. I could build any piece of furniture from IKEA without committing murder in the process, I played a mean game of Mario Kart, and I could whip up a salted caramel buttercream that would blow your mind, but I had no business being in a spacesuit.

And, yet, there I was.

I did manage to locate the suit’s oxygen levels in the mess of information overload. I supposedly had seventy-four minutes remaining. I hoped that was enough time to get somewhere safe, though I wasn’t sure what “safe” even meant anymore.

“This is fine. I’m not going to die. I am not going to die.” My helmet was transparent on three sides and let me get a good look at my suit, which was pea-soup green with eggplant accents. “I am not going to die in this outfit.”

Being in space seemed unlikely. People didn’t just wake up in space. But I had two choices: one, accept that this was real and that I wasn’t dreaming or on drugs or in hell being punished for the time in sixth grade that I tied tampons I’d stolen from Mrs. Russo’s desk to Luke Smith’s shoes; or two, do nothing, wait to run out of oxygen, and pray that I hadn’t made a horrible mistake.

I was tempted to do nothing, don’t think I wasn’t. It was the path of least resistance, which my mom and all of my teachers from first grade on would agree was my favorite. But I wanted to live, which meant I needed to stop freaking out and start trying to save myself.

I patted the suit down and discovered a tether attached to my belt around the back. The ship my hud had named “Qriosity” was immediately in front of me within reach, so I fumbled about, using the hull to slowly turn myself around.

That’s when the harsh, unrelenting reality of my situation hit me. I wasn’t looking at the stars, I was surrounded by them. Space was empty and filled with shards of light. It was terrifying and brilliant, and I was just a minuscule part of creation. I choked on the beauty of it, and I was strangled by fear.

Immediately, my brain short-circuited. It couldn’t process that I was floating when it thought I should obviously be falling. Wave after wave of nausea flowed through me, threatening to overwhelm my senses.

“Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t puke.” I squeezed my eyes shut even though that was the worst thing I could do, but I didn’t care. All I knew for certain was that vomiting inside the suit was probably an awful idea that I should avoid at any cost.

I quietly repeated Mrs. Blum’s macaron recipe until the sick, dizzy sensation subsided enough that I could open my eyes. Nothing had changed. The stars were still there; I was still outside the ship. It was time to remedy that. I grabbed hold of the tether and pulled myself along it hand over hand.