It was the eighth day, and there was nothing left.
His food would last him a while, maybe a year or two if he rationed it. But then what? Unless some benevolent alien came along (which didn’t seem likely) he was stuck. Stuck in the tiny ISS until he starved to death. Or worse, was pummeled with space garbage and he and the crickets and kale suffocated in the vacuum of space.
He began to don his space suit. He had decided a few days before that it would be the perfect self-contained casket inside his unholy tomb. He didn’t want to be eaten by crickets in death, and he certainly didn’t want his body to float around endlessly knocking into god-knew-what in the hull of the ship, damaging potential history. If aliens ever did find him, he would be like a mummy. Perfectly preserved. Placed in their museums as a great discovery. MAN. He would have to leave them some sort of note so they would know what to call him. The word NASA on his chest would be their first guess certainly. He pulled off a piece of masking tape and wrote MAN in big sharp letters before sticking it over the red N-A-S-A. He fingered the capsule again and removed it from its packaging before clicking his gloves into place.
He held it up to his mouth and inhaled, one last deep abiding breath.
* * *
“Let me tell her.” Abraham had insisted to Alvin once they determined the irrevocable truth of the thing. “I don’t want her to hear from the government. She’ll think something’s wrong.”
“There is something wrong.” Alvin joked wryly. Abraham just nodded.
When he spoke to Abbey later that day he wished he had just let Alvin tell her. He didn’t have the politicians words to say, “You will die, soon. And I will probably live, at least for a bit.” Or better yet the language of the newscasters later that night who could say with certainty and camaraderie that, “we are all in this together. Humanity will die without a breath in the universe, without a fleeting goodbye.”
“We have achieved great things,” The newscaster would go on to say, “And that, folks, is something to be proud of. We conquered the seas, the stars, we have explored every inch of this planet, and though there is still much to know and much left to achieve, we can be satisfied that we, Humanity, achieved a legacy to be proud of. Take solace in your families, pray to your gods, and be at peace. Now stay tuned for A & E’s presentation of the twenty greatest movies of all time — excluding Armageddon for obvious reasons. Please enjoy this and our display of NASA’s Impact countdown, as we and our entire staff go home to be with our families.”
Abraham didn’t know what the best movie of all time was. He couldn’t soothe his wife with companionship or words of the Dali Lama, or even the solace of a mutual fate. He could only sit there, thousands of miles away and try not to cry.
* * *
“Ni hao?” a voice crackled into his helmet. “Zài rènhé rén ma?”
Abraham’s heart leapt. “Ni Hao” he shouted into the radio in his helmet and flung himself toward the cupola to look out the window. He saw nothing.
“Hello Hello! This is NASA - Captain Abraham on the ISS.”
Chinese poured out of the radio and Abraham sped back to his computer and began typing text into the translator.
“Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?” He shouted the phrase as quick as he could tumbling over the phonetic Mandarin asking a question with an obvious answer. If the recipients of the message could speak English. A long pause met him. A crackle arrived like a spark in the dark, and then nothing. He muddled through the memory of the ancient tongue, one he only knew enough of to get him through Shanghai in his twenties. “Where is the toilet?” - “nǎlǐ yǒu xǐshǒujiān,” “How Much?” - duōshǎo qián, and “which bus should I take” - “Wǒ yīnggāi zuò jǐ lù chē.” Literally nothing that could help him now.
* * *
“I can’t believe you won’t be here,” Abbey said when she finally calmed down.
“I wanted to come back, but it’s not safe enough.”
“No, it’s better my love. Better you survive.” She smiled. “I’ll be the only wife who’s mourned. I’ll know the only surviving human in existence.” Then she tucked her chin in her hands and looked up at the screen. “I just won’t have anyone to brag to.” She smiled at the pettiness of it.
“Think you’ll be able to haunt me all the way up here?”
“I’m certainly going to try!” She laughed, and moments later they fell into lugubrious silence.
“How are you going to tell Jordan? Should we tell her together?” Abraham asked dreading the thought of telling his daughter that she would die.
“Maybe we shouldn’t.” Abbey exhaled heavily and furrowed her brow. “No fear, no anticipation. Maybe that would have been better for all of us.”
“Sorry,” Abraham winced.
“No, I’m glad I heard it from you. I just wonder. Now I have what - thirty hours to anticipate death.”
“Twenty-eight.” Abbey shrugged and pressed her lips together. “Don’t you think she deserves to know?” Abraham asked unsure if he knew the answer himself.
“She’s two, Abe. She doesn’t deserve any of this.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Will you stay on the line with me? When it happens?”
“Of course.” He said. After that, they hung up. There was nothing else to say. They would save their goodbyes for later.