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empty chairs at empty tables
In space, no one can hear you scream.
Riley Takahashi learned that when she was ten, reading old Human books about space by the light of an old, flickering LED sign she found in a dumpster. She learned it for real when she was nineteen, watching her friend’s vacuumsuit disintegrate around the scorch mark of a plasma bolt. Jacob had been seventeen, part of the same internship program as Riley, and she would never forget the look of terror on his face as he tumbled through space without a tether, without a comm, without a way to get back.
She was never supposed to experience it firsthand.
Riley Takahashi, four days past her twenty-second birthday, was singing along to the words of her favorite song. It was a night for celebration on the ship; they had just finished a two-month long delivery, and they were going to go back home. The crew, all thirty-four of them, were crowded into the mess hall, and the speakers were blaring and her friends were laughing and all Riley could think was that she was home.
Riley Takahashi, five days past her twenty-second birthday, was smilinglaughingblushing as she stared enraptured at the girl who had captured her heart. The virtual chess board sat abandoned in front of them, a half-full cup of water on the floor to their left, and all Riley could think about was Kay’s laughter.
Riley Takahashi, seven days past her twenty-second birthday, was sprinting down the hallways, desperately trying to keep up with her taller friends, stomach hurting and cheeks aching from laughing so much.
Riley Takahashi, eleven days past her twenty-second birthday, was three days out from seeing her old home, but it didn’t seem to matter when her maybe-sorta-kinda girlfriend was holding her hand and Alyss was laughing into Will’s shoulder and Sal was dancing dramatically on the bed and she had never felt more content in her life.
Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was woken up to plasma bolt fire and screams, and she nearly hurt herself trying to make sure her friends were okay.
Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was barely in proper clothes before she stumbled upon the lifeless body of one of her best friends. Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was up at four in the morning ship time, crouching behind overturned furniture and shooting at figures soaked in red through the tears blurring her vision. Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was screaming through her sobs, struggling against the hands of her captain as she watched Sal drop to the floor like a broken puppet, in death as in life only ever trying to save everyone else. Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was bundled into a vacuumsuit, clutching at the one person who remained of the group of five that had laughed together not half a day before. Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was catapulted out of Kay’s arms and into the emptiness of space as her former ship exploded under the strain of air pressure on weakened bolts. Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, lost everyone she loved in the span of forty-three minutes.
Riley Takahashi, twelve days past her twenty-second birthday, was drifting in the cold vacuum of space, surrounded by the debris of her ship.
Riley had never been one to give up. Ever since she had been a kid she had worked and fought for what she wanted, and so far, it had paid off. Twenty-two years old and already a mechanic on a long-distance transport ship; it would be impressive for anyone, and for a Human from Kiraeyi, it was just short of a miracle.
But now? With the faces of the people she loved hovering behind her eyelids when she blinked? Riley wanted nothing more than to give up, to cry, to curl into a ball and grieve for the people she had lost.
She couldn’t tell if there was any hope for her. Seven light-years out from the nearest inhabited planet, a vacuumsuit with approximately twenty-four hours of battery power and oxygen left, a ships’ worth of debris surrounding her, and the distant, fading lights of another ship – presumably the one that attacked them – dashing off into space.
Maybe Riley would stay alive. Maybe she would try. Maybe if her friends were here, maybe if they had stayed, maybe if a ship passed through, maybe, she would try.
Riley tried to scream. She turned on her comm, tried desperately to contact anyone. In space, no one can hear you scream. In space, no one can hear you scream. In space – Kay would have been able to hear her scream. She always knew, somehow, when Riley was in trouble, and she always came to help. Alyss would have heard. She could fix just about anything, from girl troubles to a broken respirator, and she would have talked at Riley until the two of them had fixed the situation and managed to survive. Will would have heard, would have been a shoulder to cry on. He always was the calming force in the group, a steady presence that held them all together. Sal would have screamed back; he was bright and fierce and he would (did) give himself up for any of them at any time. But none of them were there to hear, none of them were there to hold Riley’s hand and grieve for the others. None of them were there. All of them, gone.
And if the faces of the dead appeared every time she tried to close her eyes, then maybe she would let them take her with them. Why was she the one to survive? Empty chairs at empty tables, empty people in empty space.
Riley Takahashi, thirteen days past her twenty-second birthday, was drifting away even before the oxygen alarm in her suit started beeping. And she had never once felt more alone.