Disclaimer: I do not own Defying Gravity nor any associated characters.
This is a companion piece to my story "Still Breathing," but they don't have to be read together to be understood!
Gripping the smooth white tiles of the hull, Maddox Donner precariously inched his way along Antares towards the site that Ajay had mapped out for him. Over the speaker lodged in his ear, he could hear his friend's quick, worried breathing and the tap-tap of his fingers along the keyboard as he worked from his desk at the central command station in the ISU headquarters.
Something was wrong, Donner could sense it. Had been sensing it all day. But the fact that Ajay wasn't yammering on about the permutations and probabilities in the ship's computer system only added to the weight that lay heavily on his chest.
He felt his stomach rumbling, and wished he'd taken up Evram's offer to eat lunch together. He had brushed him off, afraid of another attempted psychoanalysis. No thanks. Really. He'd seen enough shrinks in the first five years after Mars to satisfy his lifetime quota.
Unfortunately, when he'd settled down to eat about an hour later with Jen and Paula, the ship had been hit by some sort of small meteor, puncturing one of the tiles that lined the outer hull.
"Everything ok out there?" Ted asked from safe inside the ship.
Not really. His heart was pounding, racing, in all actuality. Standing out here, on the side of the ship, he felt closer to Sharon than he had in years. Closer than he had felt a five months ago, when she and Jeff had appeared to him on the side of the ship, beckoning him to follow them deep into the darkest abyss. He'd nearly followed, been sorely tempted to, until the soft tones of Zoe's voice over the radio called him back.
"Okay, you are about fifteen feet away from the damaged hull segment. You have the insulation and tiles in your pack to fix the damage?" Ajay asked.
"Roger that. I'm coming up on it now."
"I've got you standing next to it on my readout," Ted confirmed from inside.
"Good afternoon everybody, y bienvenidos a los estudiantes del Colegio Maya en la Ciudad de Guatemala. While most space travels go smoothly, sometimes we run into technical problems. It's up to the ship's engineer to diagnose and fix these issues so we can continue on our journey." He could hear Paula's cheerful but nervous voice over Ted's instructions.
Eyes scanning the tiles of the hull, Donner searched for the damage that had been caused by the stray meteor. "Where'd you say, Ajay?"
"Right where you are standing, Donner."
Nothing. There was nothing there. No reason for a red alert on the system computers. Everything was as it should be.
Come to think of it, had anyone felt the meteor's impact? Those little balls of rock and dust sped along through the darkness a hundred and thirty thousand miles an hour. No possible way impact would have gone unnoticed.
"What are we looking out Donner? How long is this fix-up going to take us?" Ted asked.
"No time at all. There's nothing wrong out here. Hull's in perfect shape."
"What the hell…" he heard Nadya mutter, continuing to swear under her breath in German. Furious pounding of the computer keys filled his ears.
Donner couldn't help but agree with her. Nothing made sense with this whole mission, from Rollie and Ajay suddenly getting ill, to the Mars dust on the acidic water tanks, to the hallucinations that each of them had been experiencing. Who or what was controlling this mission? It sure as hell wasn't ISO.
"I'm gonna look around a little more, see if I'm just missing something," he said calmly, not wanting to panic the others. His heart was thudding against his chest, now, seemingly determined to jump out and rip a hole in his uniform.
"Donner, we have an anomaly appearing on the screen," Nadya said.
"The hell kind of anomaly is that?" Was muttered, probably over Nadya's shoulder. He was definitely being picked up by two mics. "It's moving fast. Donner keep your eyes peeled."
It felt strange to hear Was acting serious. He was never serious.
With a sigh, he looked up from the undamaged hull. And then he saw it. A meteor, dark and intimidating and nothing like the images depicted in the books he read as a kid, was flying straight towards them. It wasn't huge, but it was large enough to cause debilitating damage to Anteres. Large enough to rip through the hull and kill everyone aboard.
"Prepare to change course," Ted shouted. "Nadya, prepare…"
It wasn't going to work. Donner knew the math, could do the calculations. At the speed the meteor was traveling, there was no way, absolutely no way.
Dead. Like Sharon and Jeff, their bodies certainly reduced to dust by now on Mars, they would be small pieces of space garbage, floating into eternity until the next big bang or black hole. And they had no choice, no chance to save themselves.
Unless... they did.
In the mere seconds, his mind flashed to that day when tested the water chambers. Nothing had indicated the water was acidic, no litmus paper or sensor. But a hallucination had hinted at it over and over, the dark red dust seared in his memory. What if it wasn't a hallucination, but a warning? Something unseen and unknown aboard the ship, watching over for the crew?
Space was full of mysteries, but this was almost too much to believe.
There wasn't time to contemplate the complexities of the universe, though. In two-point-oh seconds they were all going to be in pieces. What did it matter?
It matters, Donner thought. He could make a difference, he realized, as he felt the heavy weight of his oxygen tank on his back. It was basic chemistry- Lord, he was certain he'd learned it in high school. Combine high pressure oxygen and heat. Exothermic, endothermic, some sort of reaction- he could never keep them straight, even for exams. Facts weren't so much the important part- no the important part was the explosion.
A small sacrifice. They signed on to the job knowing this was a possibility. And Donner would be damned if he sacrificed all his comrades…. his friends… his Zoe... when he could just as easily sacrifice himself. No, this was his duty.
And moreover, if he had a choice, this is the way he wanted to go. Here among the stars and in zero gravity. In the place he'd found to be more of a home than he'd ever found earth. A little bit closer to Sharon. A little bit closer to Jeff.
And it didn't hurt that he would be able to hear his Zoe one last time.
It wasn't long til impact. He'd have to act fast. With a split second decision like this, there was no time for proper goodbyes, for confessing long held secrets or proclamations of love. But he could make time.
"Hey Zoe," he said quietly over the comm. He was surprised at how even his tone was.
"Yeah?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, full of terror. He couldn't blame her. There was no other noise in the background, as they waited with bated breath for the end.
As he pushed off the hull of the ship, leaving his tool box behind, Donner could swear he could see each tiny pore on the surface of the meteorite. Of all the things he faced in his life, he was going to be taken out by a hunk of rock. He couldn't help but laugh.
"Son of a bitch, what's he doing?" he heard Ted shout. "Somebody, get him back here!"
"Donner?" Zoe questioned. Next time she said his name, it came out a half-wail, half-scream. "DONNER!"
Closer and closer it flew, heat radiating off, starting to make him uncomfortable. He squirmed a bit, then stopped. In a few seconds it would all be over.
He wished he could see Zoe through the windows one last time. Her face would do him good. Donner was too far out though, and the ships window a blur. So he thought of Sharon, waiting on the other side, waiting patiently for the black to claim him as it claimed her.
And if he had to confess, Donner was content.
His eyes met his inanimate adversary in silent battle. There was no turning back, the meteorite practically in his grasp.
As he closed his eyes and braced for impact, his mind went back once last time, to the day he decided to become an astronaut. His eight year old self had dreams of this- of flying the shuttles and walking on the moon, and floating in mid-air. And then there was that pinnacle, the moment every kid dreamed of: the first countdown.
This would be his last.
So I'm not quite sure how I feel about this story. I started it a while back, meaning for it to be combined with "Still Breathing," but they didn't mesh together into one well. So I decided to post them separately, and while I like how the other story turned out, I don't think this is all that great a story. Probably because I stopped writing it for a while, and then came back to it. Still, I really wanted to share it with all of you, as there aren't all that many Defying Gravity fics out there. Hopefully you enjoyed it. Either way, leave a note! I love feedback, no matter positive or negative! Thanks for taking the time to read!