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The Cosmonaut's Child

Page 3

Alison Knight

I cast myself into the void. I train my eyes on the hatch as it recedes. The cord holds firm, keeps me safe. Stars dance into ever-changing patterns above me. Below me, Mother Earth shines blue against the black sky, spinning like a majestic ball as it journeys round the sun. Majestic, but so fragile. For suddenly I comprehend that the atmosphere cradling our planet is tissue-thin. And beyond that delicate skin there is no oxygen, no possibility of life.

My growing child, who swam and tumbled inside his mother, now feels the womb wall close around him. But I have cast off gravity, float weightless in the boundless void. The silence is absolute but for the hammer of my heartbeat, the whispering tide of my breath. There is no life here but me. In the face of the universe I am but a grain of sand, yet I hold eternity in my gaze.

A firm tug reminds me I am tethered. I have reached the limit of my exploration. Mantled in sunlight, my spacecraft glows resplendent. That tiny capsule, created by human ingenuity, has brought me into the cosmos and will return me home.

My headset crackles, splits the silence. ‘Alyosha, it will be dark in five minutes.’ As we orbit the Earth, night follows day follows night in rapid, disorienting succession. I know I must haul myself back to the spacecraft before I’m plunged into impenetrable night. But it’s the saddest moment of my life.

When I reach the airlock, I make a terrible discovery. I cannot find my hands or feet. In the vacuum of space, my suit has inflated, grown rigid. My fingers are adrift in my gloves; my feet have slipped out of their boots. I am supposed to enter the airlock feet first so I can close the hatch behind me but I cannot do that now. If I delay, I will jeopardise our return trajectory. I will run out of oxygen.

‘Alyosha, come in!’

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