I WOKE UP ON A spaceship.
I’d crawled into bed, my hair still damp from the rain, and shut my eyes, expecting to wake up in the same place I fell asleep. As one tends to do. But, no. When I opened my eyes, I was most definitely not in my room any longer. Nor was I in my apartment in Seattle or even still on Earth.
I didn’t actually wake up on the spaceship. Rather, I woke up outside it, wearing a spacesuit. Drifting in the vacuum where there’s no oxygen or gravity, and basically everything wants to kill you.
You might be thinking that I knew I was in space because I saw stars. It’s a good guess, but wrong. The first thing I saw was a note on the heads-up display inside my helmet.
You are wearing a Beekman-Hauser X-300 Vacuum-Rated Spacesuit.
You are in space, floating outside a ship called Qriosity.
There is no reason to panic.
My name is Noa North, and I am not ashamed to admit that I panicked.
“Help!” I screamed so loudly that my voice cracked. Not that it mattered—there was nowhere for the sound to go. It’s a common misconception that sound doesn’t travel in space. It does; it just doesn’t travel well. That didn’t stop me from screaming, though. And flailing my arms and legs as if doing either was going to help. Cut me some slack. It was my first time in space.
Also, hopefully my last.
Warning! Your heart rate is exceeding the maximum recommended beats per minute. Please attempt thirty seconds of relaxed breathing.
“Are you kidding me?”
Your health and well-being are no laughing matter. This alert has been a courtesy of Vedette Biometrics, a subsidiary of Gleeson Foods.
“I’m sorry, what?”
The notification disappeared, replaced by a series of readouts that were no doubt intended to be helpful but which meant nothing to me. I wasn’t totally useless. I could build any piece of furniture from IKEA without committing murder in the process, I played a mean game of Mario Kart, and I could whip up a salted caramel buttercream that would blow your mind, but I had no business being in a spacesuit.
And, yet, there I was.
I did manage to locate the suit’s oxygen levels in the mess of information overload. I supposedly had seventy-four minutes remaining. I hoped that was enough time to get somewhere safe, though I wasn’t sure what “safe” even meant anymore.
“This is fine. I’m not going to die. I am not going to die.” My helmet was transparent on three sides and let me get a good look at my suit, which was pea-soup green with eggplant accents. “I am not going to die in this outfit.”
Being in space seemed unlikely. People didn’t just wake up in space. But I had two choices: one, accept that this was real and that I wasn’t dreaming or on drugs or in hell being punished for the time in sixth grade that I tied tampons I’d stolen from Mrs. Russo’s desk to Luke Smith’s shoes; or two, do nothing, wait to run out of oxygen, and pray that I hadn’t made a horrible mistake.
I was tempted to do nothing, don’t think I wasn’t. It was the path of least resistance, which my mom and all of my teachers from first grade on would agree was my favorite. But I wanted to live, which meant I needed to stop freaking out and start trying to save myself.
I patted the suit down and discovered a tether attached to my belt around the back. The ship my hud had named “Qriosity” was immediately in front of me within reach, so I fumbled about, using the hull to slowly turn myself around.
That’s when the harsh, unrelenting reality of my situation hit me. I wasn’t looking at the stars, I was surrounded by them. Space was empty and filled with shards of light. It was terrifying and brilliant, and I was just a minuscule part of creation. I choked on the beauty of it, and I was strangled by fear.
Immediately, my brain short-circuited. It couldn’t process that I was floating when it thought I should obviously be falling. Wave after wave of nausea flowed through me, threatening to overwhelm my senses.
“Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t puke.” I squeezed my eyes shut even though that was the worst thing I could do, but I didn’t care. All I knew for certain was that vomiting inside the suit was probably an awful idea that I should avoid at any cost.
I quietly repeated Mrs. Blum’s macaron recipe until the sick, dizzy sensation subsided enough that I could open my eyes. Nothing had changed. The stars were still there; I was still outside the ship. It was time to remedy that. I grabbed hold of the tether and pulled myself along it hand over hand.
Despite the stars, most of the useful light was coming from lamps on my suit, and those did little more than create a weak bubble of illumination that extended about a meter around me. I could see the hull of the ship as I passed it, but I couldn’t see the entire ship. I didn’t even know what the other end of the tether was connected to.
“This is ridiculous. Who the hell wakes up in space?” I’d heard of waking up in Vegas, and once, the year my mom sent me to summer camp, Danny Forge woke up in the middle of Stonecana Reservoir in a canoe, but no one ever woke up in space. Except that I had. My brain kept trying to point out that it was impossible that I’d gone to bed in Seattle and woken up in space, but I couldn’t deny what I was seeing with my own eyes.
“This is how people lose their minds, isn’t it?” I said aloud. Talking helped keep my stomach calm. “You have to consider the possibility that you’re actually sitting on the forty-four bus in your jammies, mumbling to yourself, and that a bunch of strangers are filming you so they can post it online for the likes.”
That scenario seemed more likely than me being in space, but I had to assume that this was real until I had proof that it wasn’t, or I’d spend all my time questioning everything.
Ahead of me, pale orange lights bloomed around an open hatch that I prayed was an airlock. The tether was connected to the hull on the side of the opening. I pulled as quickly as I could in the suit. It wasn’t as bulky as movies had led me to believe it should be, but it was still awkward to move in.
Gentle blue lights filled the airlock as I floated inside. The moment my boots touched the floor, a notification appeared on my hud. Lithos Inc. Mag Boots have engaged. I shifted from leg to leg, grateful to no longer feel that I was going to spin off into the dark nothing. I detached my tether and watched as it was slurped up by a mechanism outside and disappeared.
The airlock was about the size of a small elevator, but I’d take its cramped confines over the endless expanse of space any day. I just needed to figure out how to shut the door and fill the room with oxygen so that I could get out of the suit, which was growing more claustrophobic by the second. I spied a palm-size touchscreen built into the wall that looked promising. I tapped it with my finger to wake it.
I had never wanted anything more in my life. I was going to get out of the suit and breathe air that didn’t smell and taste faintly of tin and sweat. I was going to get on my hands and knees and kiss the floor. I didn’t know if there was gravity in the ship, but if there was, I was going to jump up just so that I could fall back down. Sure, zero-G sounds fun in theory, but the reality sucked and I wanted off the ride.
I reached out to tap the button that would affirm my deeply held desire to cycle the airlock when a voice spoke to me in a soothing Southern accent. “Uh, hello? Is anyone out there?”
I turned my head, trying to pinpoint the voice’s source.
“Anyway, my name’s DJ. I don’t know how I got on this ship—at least, I think it’s a ship—but I’m pretty sure it’s going to blow up.”