From the moment he woke up, Maj. Smith knew something was wrong. His oxygen levels seemed normal and he hadn’t heard any alarms throughout his sleep, but there was a disturbing sense of absence that chewed on his nerves. Releasing himself from his sleeping harness and floating to the ceiling of the sleeping chamber, he bounced himself lightly with the fingers of his left hand, trying to work out what was bothering him. Col. Davinson’s sleeping harness was empty but that wasn’t unusual: by this time in their schedule, he would be checking the instruments and recording the latest string of data in their now-defunct 24-hour cycle.
Swimming through the air, Smith made his way to the intercom on the sleeping chamber wall. If something was wrong, Davinson would know about it. Smith paged once, waited, paged twice, but there was no response. Something was wrong. Pushing his way through the chambers of the craft, he made his way through to the equipment room; the view through the porthole filled with the black vastness of space, lit with the crystal glistening of stars and the red orb of Mars.
The equipment room showed nothing wrong: atmospheric levels, cabin pressure, food and water levels, waste disposal . . . everything was in order. From what he could see on the displays in front of him, there had been no breech to the hull and no opening of any of the hatches – wherever Davinson was, he had to be within the ship.
Smith searched every chamber and corridor of the shuttle; in his rational mind he believed it logical that Davinson had perhaps collapsed somewhere, victim to a previously unforeseen medical condition. But a greater sense of unease occupied him and the longer he looked without finding Davinson, the more unsettled he became and the more convinced he was that he was entirely alone.
Making his way back to the equipment room, Smith loaded the monitor screen for Davinson. Lines snaked across the screen, showing his heartbeat, blood pressure and analysis, respiratory rate, level of brain activity. Wherever Davinson was, he was still alive and conscious. Swimming over to the communications centre, Smith grabbed the microphone:
“Control, can you read me? Over.”
Static filled the line as he waited with a racing pulse for the response; his heart sinking, he counted off the seconds before relief finally came: “This is Control, go ahead Smith. Over.”
“Control, I’ve got a problem. Col. Davinson is missing. Did anything happen in the past seven hours while I was asleep? Over.”
“Nothing unusual to report.” There was another pause before the static broke again. “What do you mean Davinson’s missing? Over.”
“He’s not here. I’ve searched the craft but I can’t find him. How are his readouts? Over.”
“All normal at this end. He can’t be missing, there’s no anomaly in our data and everything is fine. He’s got to be there. Over”
“What location do you currently have him in? Over.”
“He’s in the communication room with you. Over.” Despite the white-sterile coldness in the craft, Smith could feel the sweat dripping within his suit.
“Copy that. Can you see him on the cameras? Over.” A high pitched whine pierced through the static as the cameras mounted in the room swivelled to catch every aspect, giving the control room back on Earth a full view.
Smith could barely breathe as he waited for the voice to reply through the white noise on the speakers: he knew there could be only two answers to his question, and he dreaded the implication hidden in both.
This was written as part of a short-story-a-day challenge in 2008. The word of the day was “Vacuum” – I don’t know much about space travel, but that’s just what came into my head at the time.