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Extract from Mission Longshot: How far will you go to save one life?
Celeste’s Last Breath
Celeste stood by the window gazing up at the moon.
It was so close to the planet she could see spider veins on the surface which she surmised were either the scars of long dried-up rivers or lava flow.
Either way, it didn’t look very hospitable. She was freezing, her oxygen level was almost at zero now. She glanced over at Svimon who was busy charging the drone. He was hatching some plan to get the drone to fly to the shuttle and try and raise Command, but she thought it a waste of time, although not for them if they wanted to get back to Nova.
Something to the side of the cell her caught a reflection in the moonlight. She switched her flashlight back on and ventured into the recess. There were all kinds of shiny objects on a shelf. Pebbles or semi-precious stones that must have meant something to the bees that had lived in this cell. She bent down and pulled out a gossamer blanket, paper thin but very wide and she wrapped it around her to give her the illusion of being warmer. Strangely, she did feel warmer and wished she’d found it earlier.
She thought about her life. The early years on Earth. The fantastic storms she’d witnessed. She remembered being seven, definitely seven and her mother has taken her and Charmaine to St Augustine for a weekend break. She remembered the lighthouse, no particular reason, but she’d been fascinated by that. Charmaine was scared of the big waves, but she’d loved it and once she’d got to the beach it was hard to get her out of the water.
She sighed. It was the fish that first alerted her mother to trouble.
“They’re scared. They’re too close to the shore, it’s not natural.”
Porpoises, actual porpoises were swimming close to the shore, she’d thought they were sharks at first. They were opening their mouths and panicked fish were jumping right in. How crazy was that? "Storms coming", a local fishermen had told her. “You need to get inland pretty damn quick, kid. Real big storm, you’ll see.”
That night in the motel her mother was crying and packing in a hurry and Charmaine was being a pain as she had sunburn. They were putting the suitcases in the car when the hurricanes hit. Two at once, the radio had said, both Category Six. “Go back inside,” her mother had yelled as she tried to get through on the phone to her father.
One minute after they got back inside the room, the car disappeared. Seconds later the roof was torn from the motel. They cowered in the bathroom in the bath. All three of them clinging on to each other. It was raining inside the room, wild water swirling around the room. The wind howled and screamed around them, and they were terrified they’d fly off in the bath, just like the car.
In the morning, the sun was shining like nothing had happened and St Augustine was gone. Like they’d wiped it off the map.
They got a ride back to Gainesville where Daddy was working on his fusion engine and the next day, they were relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where they said the hurricanes couldn’t get them. The tornadoes were another matter entirely as they later discovered.
She’d lived thirteen years on Earth and twenty-three in a life-pod. She was supposed to be the beacon for a new era for mankind. That’s what they had said when they assembled to embark onto Nova. You will be the best of us and our future. She frowned, anger stirring, she didn’t seem to have lived at all.
Her oxygen monitor began to beep. She turned to Svimon. “This is it, Svimon. I’m out of air. Thank you for being my friend.”
Celeste slid down the wall to a sitting position, wrapping the blanket around her. She wanted her last memory to be of the moon shining through the window. She took a breath, a shallow breath coming up short; there really was no more oxygen to get. She angrily twisted off her helmet and set it down. She left her flashlight shining on the bee drawing on the wall. She exhaled at last and drew in another breath, the one that would kill her.
© Sam Hawksmoor September 2021
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