Warning: This gets a little heavy, so prepare your feels.
“You gotta let go of me, Anders.”
Emily Anders looked up from the controls. She readjusted her headset, blocked the sun from her tiny window, and squinted at the only friend she had left drifting through outer space inside a white bulky spacesuit while tethered to their fleeting satellite.
She was going crazy. The lack of hunger — the hallucinations were setting in.
“Do you copy, Anders?” the voice asked, crackling through both speakers. “I said you have to let go of me. You have to cut me loose.”
She shook her head. “You said you wanted to check the solar panels, Sheik. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“Yes. And I’m about to tell it to you.”
“Good. ‘Cause for a second, I thought I was hallucinating and hearing you say you wanted to call it quits.”
Emily blinked. She straightened and looked through the window again.
Sheik pointed to her chest. “It’s back, Em.”
Gravelly dread sunk down into the pit of Emily’s stomach. “No.”
“I… I thought it was in remission!”
“I thought it was, too.”
“B-But the radiation out here! Shouldn’t that be enough to kill it?”
Sheik chuckled, folding her arms as best as she could in the space suit. “Probably enough to restart it, too.”
“Sheik!” Emily slammed her fist against the window .”Why didn’t you tell me before? We could’ve — I could’ve figured something out! I could’ve cut ’em both off for you and thrown ’em out the airlock!”
The astronaut laughed. She rotated 360 slow degrees. “That would’ve been something! Haha, man.”
“I’m serious, Sheik!” Tears gathered at the corner of her eyes. “I would do it. I will do it the moment you climb back here.”
“No. I’m not going to make you cut me up like I’m some animal. I, at least, deserve to go dignified… unlike Captain Nikos.”
Emily bit her lip. Her gaze turned to Earth, to American, where tiny mushroom clouds dotted the east and west coast, and tiny stars of missiles fired back at Russia over the Pacific. She remembered Captain Nikos’ rage on the station the moment communications went down. She remembered the stab wounds of her crew, their bodies.
She remembered everything when she didn’t want to remember anything.
“You know why I tell you to call me Sheik, right?” Sheik asked.
“‘Cause she’s your favorite character in Smash,” Emily muttered.
“There’s more to it, though.”
“In Ocarina of Time, Zelda was trying to run away from Ganon. She had no home left once it fell to him, and she had to go into hiding because of it. She had to become another person. And she did. She did the training, and she became more than just some princess in some castle. That’s what I like about her so much. She got to be somebody.” Sheik sighed. “I got to be somebody.”
“No! You’re still being somebody! You’re going to be somebody for your kids!” Emily’s hands trembled near the glass. “It’s not like you’re contagious, Sheik — if that’s what this is about, if you think you’re going to hurt me or something.”
“Em… I’d hurt you either way.”
Emily’s throat clenched. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Sheik was right. She was always right. Always.
“My kids are grown, Em,” Sheik whispered. “They got the talk. They knew I might not come back. And the last thing I want to do is waste the rest of my life away on the ship with no strength in me while you watch me suffer. I’m not going to have it. I’d rather get it over with.”
Emily grit her teeth. “I know you’d rather get it over with, but what about me? What about how I feel? What if I want you to stay, ’cause I don’t want to be the dumb blond all alone at the controls? What about that?”
“You’re not, Em. You’ve got me. You’ve always got me. You’ve still got some juice in com, too.”
“In the event that they can hear me. And even then, why’d you ask me to let you go, when you can unbuckle yourself?”
“Because as my best friend of twenty years, I wanted to be upfront with you about it.”
At this, Emily Anders nearly screamed through the controls. “How is being in a spacesuit away from the satellite talking to me through a radio being upfront about it?”
“Heh,” Sheik said, wagging her finger. “Fair point.”
“Come back to the satellite, Sheik. If the comms come back online, we can get the situation. We can land this thing and get you to a doctor.”
“All due respect, Em, I’ve done the chemo-cancer dance. I’m not doing it again.”
Emily wiped her face. The satellite fans hummed, the controls beeped on and off. It was absolute insanity. Why’d she even think of coming up here?
And now, Sheik of all things.
Emily buried her head in her hands, calming herself. “You just want to see Neptune, don’t you?”
The astronaut made a circle with her thumb and forefinger.
Starting the sequence, Emily detached Sheik’s Primary Life Support System remotely from the satellite. “Permission granted, Green Leader.”
Sheik detached herself from the tether and floated away from both. “Green Leader out.”
Emily nodded. She waved back, even though she knew her friend couldn’t see it from the small window.
Sheik waved back, regardless.
A white light blinked repeatedly over communications. Emily drifted to it and turned the dial slowly.
“—Houston. Do you copy, ISS? I repeat, this is Houston. Do you copy, ISS? Captain Nikos? Is anybody out here?”
Emily looked to Sheik, barely a speck of light now. Barely moving.
She flipped the com switch and spoke slowly. “Copy, Houston. This is Link aboard the ISS. Captain Nikos, Commander Riggs, Sheik — Everybody but me is gone, and I pray to god you’ve got a way to get me off this thing.”