“OPS-3 do you read? OPS-3 do you read?”
I launched myself for the radio receiver, and jerked up the mouthpiece. I wiped away the film of sweat from my forehead before replying.
“Receiving.” My throat was tight with a lump the size of a golf ball.
“It’s good to hear your voice comrade.”
“You too. How are you doing?” Leaning towards the porthole, I stared out into the cold void, hoping to catch some glimpse of the Soyuz capsule somewhere out in the twinkling stars.
“All systems great. Amazing view of the Pacific right now.”
“Have you managed to reach ground control yet?”
“Comms are still down because of the solar flares, I guess. Should be back up in a couple of hours.”
“I hope so.” The lump in my throat was getting bigger, pressing against the wall of my windpipe. I swallowed, trying to make room for my next words. “I get worried up here on my own.”
“Only seven days to go now Boris, I’m sure you can last that long. I’ll see you then.”
“I can’t wait until you get here. Talk to you soon.” I put down the mouthpiece, and turned back to the porthole, pressing my eyes into the great blackness, to the divine curve of the Earth’s glowing horizon.
Without Flight Engineer Zholobov, the station seemed very empty indeed. It was a hundred cubic metres of beeping radios, flashing lights, and often blaring alarms, but silence slid beneath these thin distractions, an ever-present threat. Soon enough, I would tune out all the noises, and fall into a state of uncomfortable, clutching, reticence.
I sighed uncomfortably, suddenly extremely self-aware, and tore back from the porthole. Pulling myself through the stale air, I headed for the living area. The sliding door which lead to the cramped toilet compartment was half open, and it squealed as I pushed it into the closed position, the sudden noise making me cringe. The half-hearted chuckle that spilled from my lips was a force of habit; there was no-one else on the station to hear it.
I had no appetite for the generic meat in my food storage cupboard; truth be told, I hadn't eaten more than a packet of dried apricots, a couple of crackers, and some meat spread, in the last two days. If the people back on the ground knew how little I’d eaten, they would've had me on the Soyuz and heading for re-entry in the blink of an eye. If I hadn't been out of contact with them, I might have even considered telling them just to get off.
With no appetite, I decided to call it a day. It was then a simple matter of flicking off the main cabin lights, crawling into the restraints of my sleeping compartment, and praying that the station wouldn't fall apart while I was asleep.
It was warm. Uncomfortably warm. The fabric of the sleeping bag clung to my skin, slick with sweat. I fumbled with the zip, my fingers slipping on the cold metal. The air in the capsule was like tar, and I swam through it with an uncomfortable lethargy. The thermometer displayed the temperature of 19.8 ° C, exactly as it had the day before, and the day before that.
“That’s got to be mistake.” I tapped the screen, as if that would somehow make it display change, but it just ended up leaving a sticky finger mark on the glowing green glass.
Either way, I needed a shower. I used the back of my forearm to clean off my forehead, and sighed. This could wait, it was probably just another sensor problem that I wouldn't be qualified to fix. The whole place was probably only ever one fault from depressurizing and spiraling back down to earth, as brittle as a feather.