512 years in the future.
A Thursday afternoon.
It had been 9 hours and 48 minutes since Captain Singh cut Dr Zivai adrift from the Symphony, and she had now drifted more than 294 kilometres away from the ship.
She continued to float at 30 kilometres per hour, in the same straight line, past staggeringly superb celestial sights; incandescent gas clouds, psychedelically-hued ringed planets, asteroid belts that appeared as thin and sharp as knife blades, and always, always, those infinite hosts of bright white stars, thickly spattered across the inky black firmament.
‘Pretty,’ she thought.
Dr Zivai knew that ten minutes from now, her spacesuit’s oxygen would run out. She knew that ten minutes from now, she would be dead.
Inside her helmet:
Her breathing rate had slowed, to 12 breaths per minute. She was no longer perspiring, and her pupils were dilated, as she continued to greedily drink in the awe-inspiring spectacle that enveloped her so very, very completely. Her eyes were smiling.
Inside her head:
‘No one on the Symphony will mourn my death. None of them wanted me there. And they’re rid of me now.
It is what it is.
I did bring that upon myself, I suppose, when I murdered Ms Stuppeck, Mr Vickers, and Mr Serrano.
Oh, and that pirate in the cellar. If any of my victims had any families – did they? I don’t know, I wasn’t really that close to any of them – those families might derive some satisfaction from seeing me die this way. They’d think I deserve this. Maybe I do.
In just a few minutes, my 43 years will be over.
43 years – not a very long time.
But I have brought this upon myself. Was the thrill of the kill – kills, actually – worth it? Those few fleeting rushes, that handful of moments; were they worth this? Were they worth not having the next 40 or 50 years of my life?
They were not.
Not much I can do about it now, though.
Not much I can do about it at all.
How will I be remembered? Will I be remembered?
Chronometer? Six minutes! Argh! Don’t waste time on these thoughts – have better ones! Come on, Tara, come on – I should be having grand thoughts, profound insights. I should be realizing The Secrets To Life, now that mine will be over in – what, five and a half minutes?
Damn, I wish I wasn’t so hungry.
And thirsty. Thirsty too. Just a glass of water would be nice. A simple glass of water, that’s all. I’d kill for a –
I’d love a glass of water.
Should I be feeling some Last Desperate Burst of Hope right now?
No, Tara. No. The time for hope has past.
But can I be sure about that? That this is really, definitely, absolutely 100% certainly the end?
Yes, Tara. It definitely is. No last minute reprieve for you; no escape, no Dramatic Rescue Just In The Nick Of Time. This is it. It is what it is. And hey, as far as deaths go… well, at least this one has a sensational view.
I wish I’d read more books. I always wanted to learn a musical instrument. Oh well.
Well, at least I won’t die wondering what it’s like to kill someone. Ha! Was that in poor taste? Probably. On the other hand, it’s not like there’s anyone around here to be offended by it… Eh – it’s just a thought.
It just is. Let it be.
It’ll be nice not to be hungry anymore.
These are my final thoughts? They’re not very profound, are they, Tara? Pathetic, in fact.
Eh, I should be kind to myself. They are what they are.
Maybe I should just relax and enjoy the view. Perhaps I should be grateful for that.
Is that it, though? Is that my grand final epiphany?
Damn! Only three minutes left now.
I was going to say ‘but I have so much left to do’! But there’s not really a lot I can get done, all the way out here. Ha.
I do feel bad now for my victims. I had no right to take their lives.
I am sorry, Devlin.
I am sorry, Anton.
I am sorry, Tania.
I am sorry, Mr Serrano – don’t know your first name, sorry.
And I am sorry, drunken-fat-pirate-in-the-cellar.
I know none of you will believe me – you can’t, because you’re dead. But I do feel for you. That’s too little too late, I know. But it’s something, isn’t it?
Yeah, don’t congratulate yourself too much, Tara. You’re not so great.
She now noticed her breathing was becoming more laboured.
‘I guess this is it.’
It began quite suddenly, that feeling of profound sleepiness. And now it infiltrated and overtook her quickly, as though her veins were filling with pure torpor. She blinked, noticing how even that tiny reflex action felt slow and dull. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier.
‘This is it. Definitely. Hm. So.’
A penultimate thought took her completely by surprise;
‘I’m sorry, Mum.
I’m sorry, Dad.’
A tear came to her eye, and she yawned, as the final coherent thought she would ever have crossed her mind;
‘… Well, it’s about time.’
And as Dr Tara Zivai continued to drift off…
She drifted off.
Author’s note: I’ve recorded a short video diary entry about the writing of this chapter, and if you’re interested, you can watch it right here.
Text copyright (c) 2020 Stephen Hall
All rights reserved.
No portion of this story may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher. For permissions contact author@TheStephenHall.com