“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme? Zuòbiāo?”
“What?” Abraham tried to type any of their words into his translator but what came out was gibberish.
“I.S.S.” Broken english came through the radio.
“Yes. ISS!” he shouted.
“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme?” Abraham clicked on a link in the app that promised key phrases.
“Màn diǎn” he hurled imperfect Mandarin in their direction ““Màn… Diǎn” He said again more intently, urging them to speak slower.
“Zuò” They spoke each syllable forcefully, Abraham typed it in. “biāo?” He spelled it out phonetically in the dictionary. Nothing came back. He tried a different iteration.
Then finally without the space
Zuòbiāo pinged -
“Coordinates” Abraham shouted “Zuobiao?” He repeated to confirm.
“Zuobiao.” They verified.
Abraham lunged to the flight deck and searched frantically for the few little numbers that indicated the ISS’s specific location in relation to earth. An impossible feat in space. One that NASA had mastered years before with the invention of the J2000 system.
“Ten point six two five and forty one point two” Abraham shouted and repeated himself slowly. "Ten… dot… six… two… five… and… four… one… dot… two.” He hoped they knew English numbers, or this would take forever.
It was an hour before their ship docked with the ISS and three Chinese cosmonauts emerged from the airlock.
One man pulled off his thick white helmet revealing a matte of sweaty hair beneath. He smiled.
“Abraham.” He pointed at Abraham. “Kang.” He pointed at himself.
Abraham clasped his hand and shook. “Very nice to meet you” He gushed and proceeded to the other two astronauts with the same enthusiasm as Kang introduced the two women: An and Chun. “I didn’t think I would ever see another human again.”
The three astronauts smiled and nodded politely, but without comprehension.
Abraham looked around as they hung there, clinging to the walls of the ISS so they wouldn’t float into one another.
There were just enough berths for all of them, but his food rations were just cut in quarters. Abraham began to count the months they had left. Perhaps even weeks. He considered the eventual nastiness of expelling each of them separately into space as they starved to death. The underlying complications of living the final weeks of your life with three people who didn’t share a common language and did not have enough time to learn it.
“Food?” He asked and indicated eating, opening his mouth and pointing inside it like a child. He was asking if they wanted to eat, but Tong turned into his ship and waved for Abraham to follow. Years of food packets lined the walls of the capsule. It was clear that the Chinese had stuffed as many people and as much food as they could in that capsule as a last ditch effort to save humanity from annihilation. If rationed they might have a decade, maybe more. That was long enough to learn Mandarin. That was long enough for them to learn English.
He pulled himself out of the craft and moved back to his computer. He typed into the translator and returned with a grin.
“So,” he said in Chinese, floating in the center of the space capsule. “What do we do now?”