The plan for now is that there is no plan. She isn’t in immediate danger. She’s low priority. She’s to sit tight, over and out.
The sun rises again. Josephine takes a second to look at it, inhaling deep through her nose. Number forty-five alone, and counting.
“Are you still there?”
The question makes her breath catch, but the mic isn’t on. There’s no one to see her close her eyes or her hand shake as she lifts it, first to press over her pounding heart and then to flick the mic on. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Are you okay?”
Warmth spreads over her face. Astronaut Josephine Mendoza wants to blame the sun, but she knows that’s not it. She glances that way anyway. There’s still too much thick cloud cover over Earth. It is like someone has pulled a fluffy blanket over most of the planet. The view seems quiet from space, too far away to assess the true damage happening below. The continents are hard to see under the storms, but there, there, that might be the edge of Florida peeking out. Or the Gulf Coast of Texas? It might not be the United States at all.
“Don’t worry about me,” she says, again. She’d said it to Houston before they’d had to evacuate. She’d said it in the blind to whoever in Moscow might’ve been listening, but she’d heard nothing from them since the shift change that never was. She couldn’t even get the static of a one-sided connection from Beijing, so she didn’t say it to them, but would have.
Something’s happening down here, was the only detail they were willing to give. Stand by.
The plan for now is that there is no plan, but Josephine cannot bear the sound of silence, the kind that sings to her that it’s the apocalypse and she’s doomed to watch it through the windows like it’s happening on TV. She might not be able to help, so far from Earth, but if anyone on the planet called out, at the very least she’s someone who can listen.
“But you’re all alone up there,” says the voice on the other end. They sound young, but controlled. Someone after her own heart. Easier to worry about someone else than yourself, Josephine thinks. The caller had identified themselves as a dispatcher for emergency services somewhere in Missouri, locked in a closet because they’d heard it was the safest place to be in a tornado and that was their only basis for emergency response, but now in the silent aftermath is doing the same thing Josephine is trying to do: connect with another living soul. Any living soul.
“I’m safe,” Josephine says. “I’m not hurt. Believe it or not, but I think this orbiting hunk of metal is the safest place in the world right about now. I’m okay.”
There’s a thickness to her throat as she speaks that she muscles through.
Josephine rolls her shoulders, sits up. “Can I help you?”
It doesn’t take much prompting from there. The dispatcher, whose name is Cameron, wants to know what she sees.
It gives Josephine something to do other than wait.
She talks about the stars instead of the Earth. She talks about the moon and the sun and the satellites she can see sweeping by sometimes. She talks about her favorite constellations, and presses Cameron for hers, and lies about being able to see Orion waving at her from where she’s sitting to make her laugh.
She loses Cameron the Dispatcher after about ten minutes. It’s a reality of the orbit, the cloud cover, and the electronics blackout that seems to be happening below. Cameron the Dispatcher has a generator, but not much else.
Josephine the Astronaut has much more than that.
Josephine the Astronaut has much less than that.
The others made it back; she knows that much. She was set to be alone in space for ninety minutes, while the others she’d shared space with for six months shuttled back down and a new crew launched back up. Moscow reported cloud cover and concerns there, but they were monitoring the launch.
They didn’t call her back; they called Houston, and Houston told her that they were aborting, stand by for more. And Houston told her, sit tight. Houston, who wasn’t answering her calls anymore.
She doesn’t know what is actually happening down there. From orbit, she can see the clouds, like storms, swirling hurricanes, impossible hurricanes. How could they have formed so quickly? Were they under attack? Was this a series of planet-wide freak storms? The rising of Godzilla and those monsters? Her guesses grew more wild for every second she spent in silent solitude, hands still.
She was only supposed to be alone for ninety minutes.
While her situation isn’t immediately precarious, it is troubling. Alone in space, locked in a corridor about the side of a closet to conserve power. If communications itself was as much a struggle as it seemed to be, all her lifelines radio silent, she was in trouble. The odds of happening into communicating with anyone who could even start the complex discussion of how to get her down safely were slim to none.
She has food. She has water. She has air. She’s not in immediate danger.
The walls aren’t closing in. They feel like they’re impossibly far away, like if she reaches her hand out, she’ll find them stretching from her.
Josephine remembers that little swell of excitement to be able to enjoy one sunrise alone, in privacy, when she’d had no alone time for months. Her own personal orbital sunrise.
The heat of the forty-fifth sunrise is like a blanket settling over her. Whatever is happening, at least the sun is still rising.
It’s not much, but it’s something. It’s not much, but it’s all Josephine can hold onto.
The radio clicks. Static, someone trying to reach out. Josephine keeps her eyes on the sun as she presses the button. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
Her voice is steady. The sun is shining.