Today's Reading

The station had light shuttles for this exact scenario. Regardless of how the brochures touted the safety of space tourism, there'd always be a risk that guests or crew might go overboard. Altaire Security would have been alerted the minute he left the station's range, since his EVA suit would have been relaying his last known location until it lost contact. Once someone realized he was missing, a shuttle should have no trouble locating him. Untethered with no propellant and no means of communication, his best bet was to wait.

Yet Henry also knew that the Altaire wasn't his only bet. He asked his suit to run a scan for nearby bodies: a probe, or a satellite, maybe another luxury orbital. If he came close enough, he might be able to communicate with it. If it were crewed, it could send rescue.

His own field of vision gave him nothing, and the screen indicated two weather probes below him, both farther than Altaire, and a satellite overhead. That last one had enough modules to be crewed. Henry asked the suit to identify the craft, but it had no information aside from its orbit, location, and speed. No information meant defense sat. In any case, it, too, was too far above him.

He patiently watched his screen as it scanned for other crafts. Space is crowded, he told himself, this small part of it at least. More crafts would come around as he transited around the planet. It was only a matter of time.

In the lull of waiting for a flyby, Henry's consciousness reassembled the moments that led to his stranding. They came to him mostly as whispers of sense-memories, slowly cresting above the louder thoughts in his mind: calculations of elevation and distance, comm range, etc.; projections and readouts from his helmet. Underneath the data and the noise, the murmurings of his recent experiences made their presence known.

Like the spacewalk he'd taken that morning. The view of the sunrise, the feel of his husband's gloved hand in his. They returned to him in flashes. The black bow tie too, the one he still wore now, and the feel of Nick's hand as he adjusted it, made it straighter. Henry had never been able to tie one right the first time, and Nick always knew to check. He made sure the butterfly ends were level yet askew enough to evince an air of sprezzatura. He made sure it was tight. Henry felt that constriction now. The sense-memory suffocated him even as he stared at the loosened tie reflected on the glass of his helmet.

The world turned beneath him, and Henry found himself straddling the line that bisected the Earth between day and night. Half the planet basked in the glow of the sun and the other slumbered in shadow. The line was narrower than he remembered from prior space-walks. Starker, with little gradation on either side. One moment an island was there, and the next it wasn't, swallowed by the dark. As he hovered over that twilight meridian, Henry felt himself bisected too. Schrödinger's spaceman: in the same moment both alive and dead.

His orbital path soon passed over to where the sunlight never reached, over an ocean that had been sapphire blue, but now was black as jet. Plunged into the darkness, Henry was overwhelmed by more sense-memories. He smelled the hickory of their suite's fireplace. He felt the thrill of a hand under the warm waters of the Moon Pools, the rumble of the shuttle engine as they rocketed off the launchpad. He tasted champagne on his tongue, as when he toasted the Altaire's captain over dinner. Then, above all these sensations, a melody. Cymbals and trumpets and strings.

Henry heard the sound so crisply he thought he was hallucinating. His consciousness chased after it, clutching at it, and once caught, Henry found it to be more than just a disordered cacophony in his jumbled mind. It was the opening notes to an overture. The sound began to swell into a song. He remembered now.

Summertime. The theater box.

His final moments aboard the Altaire.

Henry gasped as he realized what had happened. He gasped like someone who had just been brought back to life.

Then, from beneath his multilayered gloves, his fingertips tingled with a burning sensation. First on his left hand, then his right. This felt different from the blunt impact on his head. This felt like fire.

Henry knew it wasn't external, not a tear in the suit.

He didn't need to see his hands to know what they looked like now. This was a sensation all too familiar. His palms throbbed violently, and he gritted his teeth as the heat flowed in his veins, like his own blood had transformed to acid, searing him from within. The pain moved up his arms, his shoulders, his neck. He caught his reflection in the glass and saw, through welling tears of agony, that his entire face had turned an alarming shade of red.

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