68 Degrees by TheMagnanimousMaylee

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Maria Alejandra Foirella Isabel Luna Magdelena Contreras grumbled as she twisted the thermostat knob for the sixth time that day, polishing the glassy 68 degrees that shimmered on its surface. Go to space, they said. Surely the International Space Station needs custodians too. The International Space Station and its crew of incompetent astronauts needed a lot more than a custodian. It needed a bath.

In their first three weeks on the 245th International Space Station's maiden voyage, she had mopped up three bouts of vomit, unclogged the water filtration system twice, and scrubbed orange juice splotches off the inside of Lt. Corbin's bunk. He had yanked the tear away tab to hard and caused the whole thing to explode, turning his sheets into an orange Jackson Pollock painting. He apologized profusely but it hadn't stopped Maria's grumbling. Clearly, cleanliness wasn't part of the astronaut entrance exam. His daughters, who watched the whole fiasco via video chat, thought it was hilarious though.

Today's battle had been the thermostat. The American government has splurged on everything else – artificial gravity, ion energy turbine, anti-particle deflection shields – but they couldn't get a working thermostat. Maria had specifically remembered the instructions from the handbook. The temperature of the space station needs to stay at a balmy 68 degrees. Anything below or above the pre-programed settings will compound into a deterioration of living conditions. Yet, every time she looked at the blasted thing, the number got lower. She woke up this morning to find set to 60 degrees, then after bleaching the space suits, she came back to find it on 58. It seemed to drop every time she took her eyes of it, and every time she caught it, she cranked it back up. That's how the duel had progressed for most of the day- 60, 68, 58, 68, 54, 68, 46, 68, 44, 68, 32, 68. Maria knew they were floating through the cold vacuum of space, but she didn't understand why it needed to feel that way. 68 was far too cold for her rusted joints if you asked her. But nobody ever asks the custodian.

Maria shuffled into the living quarters, the cleaning cart's right back wheel squealing as she dragged it along. Not that they were much of living quarters, more boxes in the wall. That was another thing NASA wouldn't splurge on – spring mattresses. Out of the corner of her eye, Maria noticed the pale yellow of a sticky note dangling from the wall. Her eyes squinted, trying to make out Commander Houston's unintelligible squiggles.

Maria, could you take a second look at my personal computer? It seems to be bugging out on me again, and even Tim in all his techno-wizard glory couldn't make anything of it. I think you are the only one left that it likes. He even wrote in a smiley face. Thank you in advance! I don't know what we would do without you!

Commander G. Houston

She plopped down in the commander's office chair, the seat groaning under her weight. She clacked in a set of seeming random keys, and the computer humming ceased for a moment. Then, picking up the handle of her mop, she whacked the side of the computer console. The computer chirped to life, displaying the monitor wallpaper- a grainy picture of Commander Houston dropping his college-age son off at his new dorm. Maria allowed herself the smallest smirk of satisfaction. What would they do without her?

All the astronauts were pains in her rear end, but they were the only semblance of family Maria had out here. She loved them in the only way that she knew - with grumbling, sarcastic laughter, and the occasional cursing in Spanish - but it was special. At least that what's Lt. Nunez said when Lt. Higgins asked what Maria had shouted at him so vehemently in Spanish and Estella didn't have the heart to translate such dirty language. Another satisfied smirk pulled at her lips. Maybe they weren't that bad.

Maria cranked up the volume on the music player attached to her hip, trying to drown out the whine of the vacuum cleaner. The volume was so loud, she didn't notice the frost crawling up her titanium plated shins. She didn't notice her heat compressor kick in and keep her internal wiring from seizing up. She didn't notice the draft blowing through the living quarter or the hissing coming from under the door. She didn't notice the thermostat steadily counting down.

32

12

5

0

-37

-68

She didn't notice the four bodies floating in the vacuum of space amidst shrapnel from the busted hull, so very close and so very cold.

The End

~~~ 

Writing has been TheMagnanimousMaylee's a passion and pursuit for as long as she can remember. Her smashing debut consisted of a second-grade assignment about mice out on the town, and everything since is history. Her writing topics have matured since writing about rodents, complied mostly of science fiction and fantasy. Go check her profile for some appetizers. 

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