She kept telling everyone that she couldn’t cook. At all.
But nooo, being an astronaut wasn’t enough, apparently. Having two expert-level skills also wasn’t enough, apparently. ‘Men don’t want an EVA specialist or an acceleration manipulator expert,’ her mom kept telling her.
For the first few years, Heliodora refused to accept it. No, she’d dazzle a man with her wits, with her skills, and sure, why not, with her toned butt. All that zero-g training didn’t exactly leave you unfit and ugly.
Then five standard years passed. Still no dazzling of anyone, at least not anyone who bothered to hang around for breakfast afterwards.
So, now she was, having caved this day and deciding to learn to cook ‘like a proper wife,’ as her mom kept saying.
Adrift, in space, debris floating all around her in spinning vectors.
It was quiet. She liked that.
Sure, the side of her face that was licked by the sun was already medium-rare, but she couldn’t really feel it, her body must have been in shock, her nerves instantly fried and frozen by the vacuum.
Ha! Medium rare. See, mom, she did manage to cook something, even if it was her own stupid face.
Normally, a hardvac drone would be deployed and come pick her up. Sure, space would kill you eventually, but not for a few seconds more. How many had passed?
Heliodora didn’t know.
All she could remember was her trying to follow the instructions on a recipe, and her messing it up so royally that her cabin exploded outwards and blasted her into space. Like an itchy boil on the skin, squeezed to burst out.
Her communicator floated in the air, but of course she couldn’t reach it, having nothing to change her delta-v with. A cooking pot also flew beside her, and no-
It struck her head. Seriously, she had two highest-level specialisations, she should be able to figure out something as simple as cooking.
It hated her. Everything, the pots, the stove, the vegetables, as it was all apparent by the explosive decompression and the ingredients spinning out into space all over her.
Water, flash boiled.
Pot, hitting her head.
Veggies, showering all around her like a vegetarian firework show.
Rugged tablet, still playing the cooking video she was following. Still mocking her in her face. Seriously, just break down already!
She cried, but she didn’t know if it was the vacuum of space sucking out the moisture from her eyes or if it was her emotional breakdown.
And where was the damn hardvac?
Nowhere. Somewhere else, saving some other woman who could cook and clean and take care of her husband, someone who could contribute to the space station’s population by squeezing out two or three babies with a mere five-month interval.
Dammit. She couldn’t even cry properly in this mess. Her left eye was getting boiled, probably gone for good already. Now that was a reason for men to skip her over.
She could rock an eyepatch, though. That would be badass. She’d get one 3D printed with something on it, like a skull and bones. Yeah. Her matter allocation would be worth spending on that purchase.
But that hardvac drone had better hurry or else her eye would be the least of her worries. She could barely feel her chest, her training having kicked-in and her having breathed out all the oxygen, despite what her natural instinct told her.
That was the problem with space. Every single instinct you naturally had was wrong. People were not meant for space, we don’t have the evolutionary experience for that. Everything you want to do when doing an EVA is pretty much the opposite of what you have to do.
So you drill down new instincts with meticulous training, over and over and over.
How could you have time for romantic entanglements in-between all that?
Seconds passed. Heliodora couldn’t feel her fingers now. Her toes were pretty much a goner by now, she didn’t even bother with those. If she had to choose, she’d always choose to save her hands instead of her legs.
EVA specialists didn’t really need legs, they usually got in the way.
Heliodora felt like crying some more, but nothing came out of her tear ducts. They were either burned or frozen, she really couldn’t tell. She tried to calm herself down. It had been too long.
There was no chance of anyone saving her anymore.
She slowly spun around, her back on the space station.
Space was cruel, even in that detail. In her dying moments, she couldn’t even see her home.
She felt a tug, but her senses were pretty much shot already. She couldn’t tell if it was just a piece of debris. Perhaps her stupid frying pan, coming back for vengeance after she burned it yesterday?
She saw a light.
Oh, that wasn’t good.
Nope, that light was definitely artificial.
Someone spoke to her.
“Can you hear me?” a warbled voice came. It was a man? Probably.
“Imiamia,” she replied fluently, her tongue not working.
“You are in shock, it’s okay,” he said with an accent.
“This will hurt, I’m sorry, but there’s no time to wait till I get you back inside the station,” the man said from somewhere around there.
“No!” she managed to blurt out when she realised what he meant.
The nanobots flooded her system, going to town. She felt her nerves reattaching, her flesh mending, her eye filling up with fluids.
With a start, she stood up, panting wildly. Oxygen was so, so sweet. She’d never take it for granted again.
She hurried and checked herself, her hands, her toes, her face.
She was fine. She was whole. More than whole.
“What did you do to me?” she screamed at him. Now that she managed to actually get a look at him, he was cute. In a… space pirate sort of way.
“I injected you with nanos to-”
“I know what you fucking did!” she screamed again.
“Then why are you asking?” he said annoyed.
“I meant, why did you do that to me?”
“You weren’t gonna survive ten seconds, girl, let alone all the time of me docking in the station, even with a mayday from my end. You’re welcome,” he said with an accent, and turned his back to her.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” she screamed at him.
He turned to her and winced. “You might have gone deaf, but these are tight quarters. I can actually hear you just fine, girl.”
“I’m not a girl!” she screamed back.
“I can hear you,” he said, turning back to his ship’s controls.
She stopped yelling. She coughed a bit, her throat coarse from all the screaming and the, you know, gulping down space vacuum. “You’ve killed me,” she whispered.
“I can’t go back to the station. Ever. Nanos are banned, you stupid bastard!” she got up and struck him in the back.
“Hey, hey, calm down now!” he said, covering up his head. “I know, but you have to admit that’s stupid, isn’t it? Moreover, why would you wanna go back to that stupid space station?”
She couldn’t contain herself. She screamed in his ear again, “You’re fucking heading there right now!”
“To refuel, trade, perhaps dip my willy in a willing girl. Not to stick around, that place is a shithole.”
“That’s my home, you… you rude space idiot!” she said, lamely, pointing a finger.
“Not anymore,” he shrugged.
That struck her harder than the fucking decompression blast when she breached the station’s hull. Heliodora sat back down, staring towards infinity.
He was right. It wasn’t her home anymore. They wouldn’t let her through quarantine, not after what happened in the grey goo incident.
She was alive, but she owed that life to the nanobots swarming through her veins.
Then she heard her mother’s voice. Not really, just in her mind. ‘Heliodora, you’re being rude to the lovely man who saved your life.’
Not a lovely man, mother. Just a space captain with questionable intentions.
‘He has a nice bum, though,’ her mother would reply.
Stop it, mother! Jeez.
Okay, Heliodora nodded and she had to agree he had a nice bum. And piercing blue eyes. And a chin to die for. But that was it!
“Thank you,” she finally said with a small voice. She pulled her legs close to her body and wrapped her arms tight around her. She wasn’t even gonna be able to see her mother. Not even a hug.
“What?” the man said, cupping his ear. “I can’t hear you after all that shouting, my ears must have been blown out.”
“I said, thank you, for saving my life.”
“You’re welcome,” he said simply, and smiled at her. Then he turned back to his navigation.
Heliodora looked around the ship. It was a piece of junk, but she was in no position to complain. She was stuck on it until he could drop her off at his next port. She wasn’t stupid to voice her opinion about the ship in words, and thankfully he was looking the other way and not at her facial expression of pure disgust.
The ship aligned with the docking bay and tugdrones flew close and eased it in. “Now you show up,” Heliodora said with her palm extended towards them. “Could have used one of you five minutes ago…”
The man snorted. “Shit happens.”
“Sure does,” she said, squeezing her legs tight on her body. Sure, she was happy to be alive. But everything in her life was gone now. She wanted to scream.
The ship docked. “Well, I’m off to your lovely space station, I’ll take a look around. Any recommendations?”
“Fuck you,” she snapped back.
“I’ll just ask around then. You… stay here till I’m back. Don’t try to hijack the ship, I’ve put safeguards in place, you won’t like them if you try anything.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, by the way, what can you do?”
“I’m an EVA specialist.”
“Cool! That’s always handy in my line of business.”
“Which is?” she said in a mocking tone.
“Totally legitimate retrieval and trade operations,” he said proudly.
She snorted. “Right.”
“Well, I’m off, see ya later, space elevator!” He turned to leave through the airlock.
Heliodora stood up. “Hey, wait! What am I supposed to do while you’re gone?”
The captain shrugged. “I dunno. You could cook or something? But none of that vegetarian crap.”
Heliodora balled her fists and screamed “Aah!” in reply until her throat bled.
The captain took of in a hurry.
The nanos healed her throat.