And, of course, zapping a few little green men along the way.
However, few of us will ever fulfil these whimsical dreams. Being an astronaut – an emissary of the cosmos – takes more than just the ability to hold down your lunch after a turbulent take off. It’s incredibly hard work, all physics and chemistry and a good dose of good old fashioned military resilience.
Very few make the cut.
But, for this, you should be thankful.
You see, I was an astronaut, and I don’t think I’ll ever be right again. Every night the terrifying memories come back to flay me alive in my sleep. I wake up cold, drenched in my own sweat and tears, and lacking a breath in my lungs.
All because of that one night.
It started out perfectly normal, or as normal as it gets when squirting out a blob of toothpaste is harder than winning the Olympic relay. My companion, and fellow space farer, Robert, had gone to bed much earlier than me, complaining of an uneasy stomach following the consumption of another of our… less than savoury rations.
“Just make sure you don’t shit yourself, Bob,” I had playfully chided. “You know how much work that’d be to clean up.”
Being sick in low gravity is an unpleasant experience, as I can personally assure you, so my sympathies were with Robert. However, as the evening drew on, and I got sick of losing to the on-board chess A.I. over and over again, I grew painfully bored. One of my favourite past times involved slowly taking off my shoes, watching as the stringy laces were enveloped by the snare of zero gravity, and drifted upwards towards the ceiling of the cabin. Sure, it was childish, but don’t judge me for it if you haven’t tried it for yourself. Even the smallest things can amuse you in such a lonesome and otherworldly environment.
As I watched my rubber soles take off like a shuttle above my head, that was when I heard it. Faintly at first, but unmistakable in the complete silence of the cabin.
It was coming from one of the radios built-in to our helmets.
For a moment I just sat there, mesmerised. Likely, it was nothing. We were in space, surrounded by hundreds of satellites broadcasting multitudes of information. It was hardly out of the question that we were picking up a stray signal.
And yet, my gut told me it was something more.
I got up out of my seat, floating across the corridor until I reached the locker for our spacesuits. The static grew louder when I reached for my helmet, so I knew which one of our radios needed a tune-up. I picked up the helmet and reached inside for the radio.
And then stopped.
There was a fucking voice coming out of the receiver. It startled me so much I nearly-yelped out loud, and I banged my head hard against the metal grill just a few inches behind me.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
I froze, still rubbing the back of my skull. What the hell was going on? We weren’t due a check-in with mission control for another two days. Despite my concerns, I lifted up the radio and pressed it to my ear.
And made the biggest mistake of my life.
“Hello. This is Michael Stanton of the Rising Dawn. Do you read me? Over.”
The voice came back to me almost immediately. It sounded frantic and breathless, and almost immediately I felt ill at ease.
“Thank god. I don’t know how much longer I can last out here. If you hadn’t come along…”
My heart started to race, hammering against my chest. “What’s going on? Where are you communicating from? Over.”
“I’m right outside your ship, Stanton. Can you open the hatch door and let me in?”
I think for a moment there my blood actually ran cold. There was no way anybody could be out there. There were no other human beings for hundreds of thousands of miles. We were alone up here – me and Robert. That had been the point.
The voice became anxious when I didn’t reply. “What are you waiting for, Stanton? Open the damn hatch and let me in!”
My mouth felt dryer than sandpaper. My tongue was bloated, heavy like a wad of butter. No words would come.
“Stanton, come on! Are you going to just leave me out here?”
I found the strength to flick off the radio, letting it slip from between my fingers, and drift through the air. I watched it go, relieved to be away from it. My chest was still pounding, and now I felt my fingers starting to quiver. I wanted to throw up, but nothing would come. The body gets used to harsh conditions – it just didn’t know how to prepare for this.
I pulled myself against the wall whilst I tried to catch my breath. I shut my eyes, trying to escape the endless blackness surrounding me, only to find another waiting for me beneath my eyelids.
Then, when I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, I heard it.
“LET ME IN!”
The voice wasn’t like before – it sounded demonic, no longer humanoid at all but deep, guttural and fierce. The radio continued to float away, silent as the space that enveloped us both. The voice was coming through the walls – from outside the ship.
“LET ME IIIIIINNNN!”
I could hear it breathing. It was raspy, heavy and animalistic – somewhat akin to what I imagine a horned demon must sound like when it breathes. It scrabbled against the body of the ship outside, scratching as though pawing for a way inside. For a couple of merciful moments, it went silent.
Then, the cabin was filled with a cacophony of metallic drumming as whatever was outside started to smash the side of the ship with whatever equivalent to hands it possessed. The sound was relentless, drowning out any and all thoughts that might have been running through my head. I pushed away from the wall and over to the opposite side, desperate to be away from the source of the banging. It cut out suddenly, leaving the cabin with only my whimpering audible – but, after a couple of seconds it started up again on that side too, that awful, harrowing scream continuing.
“LET ME IN!”
“LET ME IN!”
“LET ME IN!”
I must have blacked out some point under the sheer duress if the whole thing, because my next memory was Robert slapping my face. Night had come and gone, and the cabin was silent once more.
Somehow, he had slept through the whole thing. I was incredulous – for a bit I believed I must have imagined the whole experience. But, then we found my radio was missing from my helmet, and the reality of the whole, nightmarish ordeal started to sink in.
Nobody believed me. They all told me what I was describing was impossible – sounds like the ones I was hearing couldn’t possibly travel in a vacuum. Robert, for all of the depth of friendship we had achieved whilst holed up together for two years, thought I was nuts. Well, screw him, because everything that happened to me was real. Absolutely real. Even now, a whole twenty years after I came back home, the memories are more vivid than ever. No amount of forced therapy or visits with gangly, patronising psychiatrists will ever free me from them. They are a part of me now.
But it’s okay. Because you believe me, don’t you? The supernaturally-inclined, the believers. Here in the 21st century we are all so accepting of one another. There’s always an ear willing to receive.
So, that’s why I’m writing this here. The story of Rising Dawn, and the thing that tried to attack us.
The thing that was alive in the vacuous cold of space without protection.
The thing that’s still up there. Somewhere.