Eliana the Argonaut #storyaday

Eliana stretched as best her “sleep cocoon” allowed her to. A microplush womb designed to block light and retain optimal body warmth, it was a little too cozy by morning to suit her. She’d never liked camping with a “mummy bag,” either. For some, it was comforting, like an embrace. For Eliana, it was a trap. The panic would start as a tingle or an itch at the base of her skull that registered, at first, as restlessness. She’d flip and flounce, and when that didn’t get her anywhere, she’d start to kick out involuntarily. Her breathing quickened as her rational brain fought the rising scream that threatened to rip through the outer nylon shell like a knife. She’d grown adept at fighting it. She’d practiced with Jake for weeks before applying to the Argonaut program. They had camped atop Mt. Massif, spooning in fluffy bags of ever decreasing size until finally, she could make it through the night in a mummy bag, alone. It had paid off – she’d passed the psych exam with flying colors, and they had accepted her, along with Jake, for the expedition to Mars. Inside, she was a mess – but she managed, even, to fool the telemetry. Even Eliana wasn’t sure which motivated her more: not losing her husband to the two-decade expedition, or the science itself. But now, she would never have to answer that question.

She had made it through the first seven months with her sanity intact. Jake was showing signs of space fatigue, but they had each other. A month ago, he confessed that he probably could not have survived it alone. He would have tried, he assured her. Before applying to the program, he’d promised to come back to her in one piece. But the enormity of space and time had to be tasted, first-hand, to be understood, and Jake was not as prepared as he’d thought he was. Eliana nodded. Twenty years – as long as she had Jake – was doable. That’s what Eliana told herself each morning, and each night as she crawled into the cocoon, reciting the Periodic Table while waiting for the Lethinol to kick in. In any case, there was no lighted sign marked “Exit.”

Eliana unzipped the cocoon slowly, with practiced and disciplined fingers – fighting the urge to rip it with teeth and nails. She did her breathing exercises as she moved the double-walled zipper with controlled precision, and emerged from the thing with a smile. She stretched. Freedom in a cell that measured 4’x7′.

Something wasn’t right.

Eliana couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she sensed it at the first touch of cool air as her feet hit the floor. It was the stillness. The silence. She’d grown accustomed to the faint vibration of the Argos, the constant thrum of the engines and the ecosystem – so acclimated to the ship that she didn’t notice it at all until it wasn’t there. Adrenaline was still fighting the whiff of Lethinol she’d taken at bedtime – two whiffs, easily explained as necessary to regulate her sleep cycles, excited as she was about her first trip into space. No one need know that she had to drug herself, nightly, just to get to sleep in that thing. So the Argos was sleeping, too, perhaps. Eliana pulled the shade on the portal of her personal pod – a section of the ship not much larger than the lavatory on an old earth cruise liner – that served as her private “apartment” aboard the Argos (and discouraged crew from spending too much time in self-imposed solitary on slow days). She liked to look out on the sun’s light; it reminded her that she was still within the bounds of a familiar solar system, and not merely adrift in the black void of a cosmic sea.

Breath control failed her. Panic swept in like a raging typhoon. Sunlight glinting off metal blinded her, momentarily. Eliana’s brain tried to backpedal in denial as it processed the data: She was adrift in a sea of ragged bits of a spaceship formerly known as the Argos. Her hands on either side of the portal were all that kept her knees from buckling beneath her as she watched Jake’s pod drift slowly by. Numbers became meaningless. Oxygen, water… “You could, theoretically, survive for up to a week in the self-contained sleep quarters. But once you’ve passed the three-week mark–”

“There’s really no point. The rescue vessels would be out of reach.”

“Right.”

“So what would one – theoretically – do during that week?”

The commander had simply stared back at her while both of them pondered that unhappy thought. Insanity, the Last Frontier.

Twenty years had seemed an eternity, once upon a time. Suddenly, a single week seemed infinitely longer.

Eliana strained for one last glimpse, but Jake’s portal remained dark as it floated slowly out of sight.


The fourth of thirty (well, that’s the goal!) short stories for September 2015’s Story a Day challenge. This one’s loosely based on the prompt: Sept 4 – Friday Favourites 1.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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14 thoughts on “Eliana the Argonaut #storyaday”

    1. Thanks! Yes, I don’t shy away from gory, but it’s not my go-to, you know? I don’t believe in gratuitous gore. I used to love the classic horror stories that left a little something to the imagination (God knows, mine probably filled in the blanks with more horror than the writer would have, had they been explicit!) The reader should do some of the work! 🙂
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