“We’ll be dead in five minutes.”
Space was never supposed to end this way.
Death had always been a possibility and a strong one at that. Vera had prepared for that as much as she was able. What she had not prepared for was this: approaching death, not alone as she had once feared, but alongside a crewmate. A crewmate who did not know when to shut up.
Reid had just finished his list. When five minutes to die had been twenty minutes to die he had begun regaling her with his regrets. He’d made it funny, somehow: the places he had not been; the men he had not loved; the food he would never taste; the paths he would never walk. By the time he had finished he had filled the craft with hundreds of different lives, intersecting, so vivid that the weight of them almost made them feel as real as anything he had ever done. Vera wondered at points how someone could carry so much around with them. How did their vessel remain airborne despite the weight of it all?
But then of course, she thought, it would not be for long.
“So? What would you do, if you had another chance? What would you change?”
Vera fought, then. She tried so hard not to summon his face that she had no armour strong enough to protect her when his voice spoke into her ear.
“What’s so great about space?”
She had not loved him at first. Incapable, then. She had liked him, admired him even, but she had lived by the gut. She’d prided herself on her rationality (was she not a scientist?) without recognising her own biases. She had not loved herself all that much at the time either.
Four minutes. She thought he might have loved her.
Vera had believed that cruel men were honest men, when she was young. She’d still had so much to learn.
He had stayed close. He had taken nothing.
In time he became the places she had not been. He became the food she would never taste. He was the path she would never walk. She had always learned the important things far too late.
“What’s so great about space?”
He had kind eyes. He owned lots of terrible jumpers that he thought were much funnier than they were. He listened to people when they spoke.
He did not ask me to stay.
We can’t be together. I’ll hurt him. He’ll hurt me. It isn’t a good time. He loves someone else. I need to love myself. I’ll hurt him. He shouldn’t love me. He doesn’t love me. I need to leave. I’ll hurt him.
“What’s so great about space, anyway?” He had smiled as he said it. She thought she might have been convinced by that, if she had not known him better.
“I won’t have to listen to your singing, for one.” She had known it was weak, but what else could she have said? There was too much. If she let a single word of it out she was sure she would bury him in it.
“Unlucky. I’ve actually made you a mixtape of my greatest hits to take with you.”
He was the man she loved.
He didn’t ask her to stay. She did not tell him she wanted him beside her.
She held him. She held him.
She held him.
“Two minutes, now. Two minutes to make the world right. Tell me what you would change.”
He was worlds away. He had always been worlds away. She had made sure of that.
“Not a thing,” she said, finally.
“Bullshit,” Reid said.
So did she, just before the end.
It probably would not have worked out, anyway.