As Halloween creeps up on us, all of October’s Fractured Fragment Fridays will promote stories from my themed collection WEIRD, But not TOO Scary Tales.
“Breathing is Overrated” earned me my second of four Honorable Mentions in the Writers of the Future contest. It started when someone I know was having breathing problems, and the title appeared unasked in my mind (as many things do; even someone else’s suffering is fuel for the muse…) With that as a seed, I then had to figure out who was saying it, and I wound up with Jansen, castoff in a spacesuit, speculating whether he would run out of air or if something else would kill him first.
Here’s the Blurb
Left to die in the abyss of space, Jansen finds something to live for – or it finds him.
“Breathing is Overrated” is a speculative fiction short story with a touch of light horror…
And Here’s This Week’s Excerpt
Breathing is overrated.
The fact that my brain can’t go without oxygen beyond six minutes would be a larger concern if the scrubbers in my envirosuit were to fail, but they’re top of the line. I can survive without water for three days if my water reclamation cuts out, but it’s good enough to keep me hydrated for a month or more. I’m in pretty good shape, despite the bruises; my suit will keep me alive the twenty or so days it will take me to starve to death.
The stars circle around me slowly – no point wasting energy to stay still. With each rotation, the Just Deserts has been further away; now it’s finally disappeared from view. They could have jettisoned me without the suit, so that had me thinking Cisco planned to come back for me – that he was just teaching me a lesson, or was softening me up for more questioning. No – he was serious about leaving me out here; he’d even ripped out the suit’s transponder.
Damn it, I told Cisco I wasn’t the one who talked. There’s a code among smugglers, and besides being thrown into space an informant had a lot to lose.
“Who else would deal with me if I ratted on you?” I asked Cisco as he held his blaster on me and watched Maddie suit me up.
“Stop lying, Jansen,” Cisco said.
“Tell him, Maddie,” I said.
I tried to look directly in her ice blue eyes, but she didn’t give me the chance – just kept locking down the seals on my suit. I knew she could be cold back when we bunked together, but not this cold.
“Don’t you try getting between me and Maddie again. She was the one who intercepted the message from Furman,” Cisco said.
“You know I wouldn’t deal with him – we compete for the same routes,” I said.
“Shutting Cisco down would leave the two of you more room,” Maddie said.
“That’s not how I operate – you know me better than that,” I said.
At least I thought she did – it hurt, and I would have said more, but then the helmet was on and I was in the airlock, and there was no point wasting my breath.
Whoever set me up, I’m going to kill them. Well, not while I’m still floating around out here. but if I ever get out of this mess, someone’s going to pay.
Maybe I’m hallucinating, but there’s a patch of darkness off in the distance that’s either getting bigger or closer. How long does it take to go crazy in isolation? It’s not hypothermia – my envirosuit’s thermals are still working, and the readout says my internal temp is fine. Malnourishment?
It’s been what – six days? I could be seeing things, except my last dozen spins it’s always in the same spot, blotting out a little more of the star field each time I come around. It wouldn’t be unusual for a ship to be running totally dark; anyone you run across out here is skirting the boundaries of the Federation and the law.
I haven’t gone out of my way to get on anyone’s bad side, so whoever it is should haul me in – it’s what any of us would do. Of course, I never would have thought Cisco would jettison me; being out here with no witnesses, you can never be sure how some people will behave. I’d rather take my chances with a Federation ship and some time on Argos 4. But beggars can’t be choosers, can they?
I turn my suit lamps on and wait. Each spin my rescuers seem closer, but they still haven’t turned on their lights. I don’t know if they’ve seen me, or if their course is just bringing them to me. My lights aren’t strong enough that I would expect them to reflect back, but whatever’s coming, it doesn’t reflect anything else, either – just obscures what’s behind it. Some sort of stealth composite, maybe? It’s hard to make its outlines – it would be easy to mistake for a cloud. Maybe I am seeing things; my last few turns it seemed like it was getting smaller, and I thought it might be heading away, but this time my lights hit it, so I know it’s almost here, and not a ship at all – just a dense, murky mass, maybe five meters in diameter, and too close to avoid.
And then it’s all around me, blocking my visor, but the impact I’m braced for doesn’t happen. Even if it’s just a gas cluster, it seems dense enough I should have felt something. The readouts in my visor tell me nothing has changed – my spin, my vitals, my suit integrity are all unaffected.
Except there’s a smoky haze seeping up through my heads-up display – it’s penetrating my visor, like my helmet is filling with black, oily smoke. Whatever that thing is outside, it’s flows in until I can’t see the readouts, or anything else through it. I’m still breathing – but maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t feel it touching my face, but I didn’t feel it when it hit my suit, either. How long can I hold my breath? I feel light-headed – I’m going to pass out.
What is it?
Not enough energy.
Too much mass.
The darkness subsides.
Did I black out?
The inside of my helmet clears enough that I can see my readouts again, and everything looks perfectly normal, except the stars are still obscured in the direction where the cluster has gone. I feel a strange urge to follow – like I’m being abandoned.
What are you thinking, Jansen?
I must have lost consciousness – that’s what it was. And now I’m hearing voices. With each rotation I make, the cluster is a little further off, a little harder to see, until it’s finally…
Thank God! Now I can die in peace.
Except Jansen is wrong – today is not his day to die, but how he survives? Well…
“Breathing is Overrated” is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“Breathing Is Overrated” is also included in the seasonally appropriate WEIRD, But not TOO Scary Tales, a collection of 21 stories:
Smashwords (currently 50%-OFF with coupon code GE97X – 21 stories for $2.50): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1044795
Honest ratings and reviews are, as always, appreciated. Hope you enjoy it!
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William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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