Unforeseen Like A Dream That Turns To A Scream

With the briefings all done and Ben now in the membrane suit there is only the space walk itself left to do. It’s the most difficult and dangerous part. Ben knows it and while he may have been joking and kidding around with Pedro he feels the fear sitting on his chest like a solid mass. It isn’t crushing him but it does make his chest feel tight and uncomfortable. Ben’s just pleased that none of the science team, who are monitoring him through the sensors in the suit and the cameras all over the station, have passed comment. They know as well as he does how dangerous this could be if something fails. There isn’t much to fail other than the re-oxygenation system or the seals, but it’s enough. Especially, as failure of either of those areas could result in his death. The former is more likely to be survivable. The latter is not. Ben knows it. As yet the suit has never had a failure on either, Ben knows that too. There is always a first time, is the thought that goes through his head as he stands with his magnetised boots firmly fixed to the deck of the airlock. That is not helpful, Ben says under his breath too low for his microphone to catch and the science team to quiz him on. It’s true though, the voice in his head responds. This time Ben doesn’t entertain its taunts and instead focuses on the small space around him.

The airlock is a two metre square with smooth grey metal walls emblazoned with red warning about it being an airlock, while the deck beneath his feet is ridged to give grip. Ben hasn’t a clue why. He doesn’t need grip or tread. He’s got magnetic boots. Then it hits him that the grips may have been for when this section was constructed on Earth, as all the sections of Prometheus were. It makes the most sense even if he has no way of knowing for sure if that is the reason. It doesn’t matter and while he knows he could ask a member of the science team, he decides better of it.

This is serious and as such he needs to keep his focus, which is why he quickly glances up to see the light panel that forms the ceiling. The light panel is emitting a stark harsh white glow, which he finds utterly uninteresting and so then begins to focus on the airlock doors themselves.

They are red in colour. Still fashioned out of metal, but Ben can’t say if the metal has been painted or dyed during manufacturing. His guess would be the former but only because the red seems too vibrant to be the result of metal dyeing. However, in addition to the red of the doors, both a half metre wide, the surface is also affixed with warning and danger in large yellow letters, as well as two caution bands that run horizontally above and below the warnings.

Ben can hear his own breathing in his ears. It’s deeper than he would like it but he understands why it’s the way it is and makes no attempt to fight it. Doing so might result in him descending into a panic attack leading to hyperventilation and the need for the test to be cancelled. The Asian-Canadian has not got this far only to end up being the point of failure.

“Doors will cycle in thirty seconds Ben, do you copy?” The female voice of scientist Molly Reilly says over the in-ear communications system that Ben has. The speaker of which is built into the stalk that is running from the tiny earpiece down his cheek to near his mouth. The stalk of the microphone is pressed against his face. Ben can still remember the first time he’d worn one of these communication systems and had found them deeply irritating. But that was then and after hundreds of hours of use they are barely noticeable to him. Or at least they were until now.

He’s become acutely aware of the stalk pressed against his skin again now. He puts that down to the anxiety he can feel and consciously makes the decision to push it aside to confirm, “Copy Molly.”

“Vitals are good.” Ben hears Molly’s Australian accent in his ear as though she is stood right next to him. She isn’t. In fact, she’s across the station in the lab she and the team she is a part of have been based out of since they first arrived.

“Take it easy. This is big. Deep breaths. Just like training.” Molly continues trying to keep Ben calm. He knows that means his vitals are higher than she and the rest of the science team, she’s a part of, would like. Unfortunately, that makes Ben think about his vitals and in turn they begin to climb. Molly catches it within seconds, as out of the corner of her eye she gets a glimpse at a colleagues monitor and so asks, “What will you do once the mission is over and we’ve succeeded Ben?”

“Go again.” Ben replies with a chuckle.

Molly’s distraction is working as a colleague continues the countdown. Ben isn’t aware of the countdown now though. Instead he’s focused on Molly’s voice. It’s what she wants. After all she is not only a scientist but a psychologist and as such is here to help keep Ben as calm and on task as possible.

“Ha. Yeah, that sounds like you. But really, what will you do? Whether that’s back on Earth or while you’re still on Prometheus?” Molly continues as the count gets into the low teens.

Ben is aware the time is almost here but it’s a subconscious recognition and without thought he prepares for it by taking deep in breathes followed by out breathes, even while answering honestly, “Take you to dinner.”

Molly blushes. The blonde haired woman with hazel eyes was not expecting that as a response and is about to agree when Ben giggles. In an instant Molly feels relief mix with admiration for Ben’s ability to keep positive in the face of potential fatality.

Then the count hits one and then the airlock doors begin to cycle open. Ben can hear them through the membrane suit, the black skin tight covering layered with a gold mesh and a small square pack that hangs off the right side of his hip. The only section of the suit not a black and gold mass being the bronze tinted faceplate that runs from the very top of Ben’s forehead down to a couple centimetres above the point of his nose. His eyes and face are hidden by the bronze mirrored faceplate but its job is to block out any blinding lights that could otherwise result in permanent damage to his eyes, including being rendered utterly blind.

Ben continues to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply as he feels the air ripped out of the airlock and then the pressure equal. If he wasn’t wearing mag boots he’d have been torn out of the airlock and flung into space.

His breathing takes on a more dull tone in his ears, yet he knows that all is well. This was always going to happen. It’s the result of air no longer filling the space beyond the membrane suit. It at least means that it’s passed the first test of surviving a controlled decompression.

Now with the airlock doors having completed their cycle open, Ben feels a strong sense of joy wash over him and he lets out a long pleased sigh while a smile is plastered across his face.

“You are free to walk Ben.” Molly says in his ears before adding, “This is all you. We’ll just be here monitoring your progress.”

“Aw, and here I was thinking I might get some company.” Ben says with a chuckle as he dares to take the first step. He’s still a half metre from the open airlock beyond which is the void of space and the arm of the station. It’s what he’ll be walking along. Well, in truth he’ll be walking a three hundred metre stretch then doing an about and returning. Even if he wanted to he couldn’t go any further in that particular direction as the three hundred metre length will take him to the end of this arm of Prometheus.

I’ll get the best view from there, Ben thinks as he finishes taking his second step and then begins his third. He expects to be told to slow down and not overexert himself, but no such warning comes. That means my vitals are still well within tolerances, he thinks as he crosses the open threshold out of the airlock and then steps onto the outer hull of the Prometheus space station.

Immediately, bright light comes glaring in through his visor, but the bronze mirror does the trick and stops him from being blinded. Still, he winces and closes one eye. It makes him wonder if the bronzing needs to have a couple extra layers added before the next deployment mission in four months time. He makes a mental note of it and files it away for later to bring up with the team when he isn’t doing a space walk in a state-of-the-art piece of tech.

Still, Ben can’t fault the view. It’s magnificent, breath-taking even. For some reason it is entirely different to the view through the windows and ports in Prometheus’ hull. Maybe it’s because he knows there is thirty centimetres of armoured poly-glass between him and the void, whereas in the membrane suit there is less than ten micrometres between him and the vacuum of space. That’s about the size of fog droplet.

It’s invigorating and terrifying to think about all at the same time. Yet, it does nothing to quell the wonder Ben feels as he continues to put one magnetised boot after the other down. His breathing is softer now. It’s because he’s no longer paying conscious attention to it and as a result his vitals have settled.

They look good to Molly who has to admit that Ben is doing even better than the team would have anticipated. In part it was why he was chosen as the subject, which sounds like a terrible term she thinks, for this mission and round of testing. But by the looks of things Ben won’t just be the subject for this test but all upcoming iterations. If he wants it, that is. From what Molly has come to know about Ben Wu she would put money on him jumping at the chance. Still, she finds it prudent to remind herself that first they must successfully conclude this test and return Ben, alive and well, to the interior of Prometheus before trying to forge ahead with future ifs and maybes.

Ben is nearing the end of the first three hundred metres of his walk. Beyond what’s left of the arm of Prometheus is just the inky black of space. It’s somehow more inviting than he would have expected it to be and it makes him want to stay out here. There is no way Molly Reilly and the rest of the team she is a part of will let him do that and if this suit were not going through its first test Ben might be inclined to take it for a walk alone sometime. Even he won’t do that until he can be sure that it’s safe and one vacuum real-world run isn’t enough to convince him of that. Especially, as doing that would be without everyone on this team monitoring his every move. Hopefully, I’ll still get the chance, Ben thinks as he reaches the end of the arm he’s been trudging along. Trudging is exactly how he’d describe his movement. It’s the result of the magnetised boots which mean at the start of every step he has to twist his boot to release the magnet before he can take the actual step. But even when he does the boot is heavy. Ben would never have guessed that in zero gravity that boots would still be heavy but for some reason they are. It enters his head that he may want to consult one of the scientists on why that is. Ben loves learning from anyone willing to explain and unlike other members of the stations crew none of the scientists are reticent about answering questions when he asks them. Maybe that’s because he’s a part of a project himself, but he can’t say for sure if that’s true. If it is then it is sad, but to a point understandable, perhaps.

Still the view, no longer obscured by the bulk of the Prometheus, is something else. Ben would call it otherworldly except for the fact that Earth is very much his world. He can see part of his home planet which is down and off to his right. This side of the green and blue marble is currently facing the sun and the mass of white blotting out the land and water below are clouds. Ben smiles and stares down at the globe. He remembers seeing pictures of Earth from space as a child and they filled him with wonder. They are what made him want to venture up into this void. But in no way do those pictures compare to seeing it with his own two eyes.

“Ben, you should head back now. Do you copy?” Molly’s voice chimes in through the earpiece Ben has. At first he pays no attention to it. He knows who spoke and what she said, but he just wants a few more moments to stare at the Earth in all its beauty. The closest anyone has ever gotten, at least in terms of the thickness of matter between him and what surrounds him. Somehow it makes him think that his view is different as a result of that. It isn’t, but he isn’t about to give up on such a belief.

“Copy.” Ben says with a sigh. He’s delayed about as long as he can and feels his shoulders drop in disappointment. The truth is he could stand out here for hours, maybe even days, without wanting to leave. Plus, he is convinced he would never get sick of this sight, this view. If there were more suits he’d urge the others to come out here and join him. That is not going to happen anytime soon and Ben knows it, so he turns slowly a hundred and eighty degrees to head back the way he came. It takes four steps for him to complete the turn and end up facing the opposite way.

The fourth step he counted as part of his turn he could have counted as his first step forward after turning, but he sees little point in semantics as he urges himself not to turn and look over his shoulder.

In theory he can do it, practice might be more difficult and restrictive than he would like, but that isn’t why he refuses. Instead he refuses because it dawns on him that if he does then he really won’t head back inside until he’s ready. That would be selfish, reckless, stupid and would certainly jeopardise any chances he might have at continuing to work on this project. If he does re-qualify for such an honour then he would be one of the few. Most do one tour on a project, unless they’re engineers like Pedro or particularly qualified scientists, and then head home to the confines of Earth to work back within an atmosphere and natural gravity. Ben doesn’t want that. He wants to be out here, in space, doing what he does best for as long as he possibly can.

“We’re getting readings?” Ben hears one of the male scientists say.

“What sort of readings?” Molly queries leaning out of her seat toward the colleague who is on her left. There are seven on the team in total, but three are medical certified personnel who are gathered around the inner door of the airlock encase something were to happen and Ben needs immediate medical attention. That leaves four in the lab including Molly who is technically the lead here.

“Sorry, that’s me.” Ben replies sure they are referring to his vitals. They’re almost certainly elevated because of the joy and devastation he feels right now as myriad thoughts rush through his mind.

But Molly and her colleagues ignore Ben. They haven’t even heard what he’s said as they are focusing on something else. It’s something that can’t be possible and has appeared out of nowhere. At first Molly is lost for words. It feels like she has swallowed her tongue and then suddenly she manages to blurt, “Ben hurry. We have a sudden cosmic anomaly.”

“What sort of anomaly?” Ben fires back calmer than he would have expected.

“Radiation. But…but it just appeared.” The male voice announces.

“It wasn’t there moments ago.” The male scientist continues, sounding baffled.

Ben doesn’t like that. He’s seldom heard any scientist baffled. Unsure, cautious even, but never baffled and tripping over their words. As a result he feels the mass suddenly materialise back atop him, making his chest feel tight once more.

“How long have I got?” Ben manages between ragged breaths. He doesn’t’ know why they’re ragged. They shouldn’t be. His breathing was fine seconds ago.

“We don’t…Ben run. You have to run right now. Run!” Molly blares, her tone panicked and frantic.

Ben is about to ask what’s going on when he sees a flash. He stops, turns and hears Molly scream, “BBBBBBEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNN!”

The flash of yellow wavy light hits Ben. It tears through the membrane suit and his body but causes no physical damage to either as every nerve in Ben’s body overloads and he blacks out. Except the blackout is more like a whiteout as his eyes are consumed and then erupt with blinding light that almost tears his magnetised boots off the hull off the Prometheus space station. Somehow the magnets hold and Ben is instead left leaning backward at a severe angle unconscious.

“It-it’s gone. The anomaly has v-vanished.” The male scientist with thick lensed glasses, blue eyes and thinning black hair proclaims in shock.

“What do you mean it’s gone? How is that… Oh shit, Ben.” Molly exclaims as she remembers the man who had been testing the membrane suit.

Her hazel eyes drop to the monitor and the numbers that dictate his vitals. They’re bad, impossibly bad. Somehow both almost flat line and off the scale at the same time. Molly doesn’t understand. She doesn’t need to and she reminds herself of that as she spits, “Ben, do you read? Ben, do you copy? Ben!”

It shouldn’t surprise her that she gets no response. There is no way he could be conscious with the readings his body is giving the science team, yet she felt she had to try. Though, she wastes no more time in swapping channels and demanding, “Med One, reclaim protocol is a go. Repeat, reclaim protocol is a go.”

“Copy, Molly. We’re on our way.” A neutral female voice says in to the mic built into her cumbersome and bulky space suit. They’re like the kind that astronauts have used for more than a century. They’ve had plenty of refinements and even slimmed down some, but still they are a far cry from the membrane suits form factor.

Molly and the other scientists hope the trio of medical personnel, only two of which are suited and ready for a space walk, will be able to retrieve and stabilise Ben. That’s why Molly is nervously chewing on her bottom lip as she watches the camera feeds from both the space suits as well as the cameras dotted all over the hull of the station.

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