Breath

The metal catwalk shook violently under John’s feet. Any misstep would send him cascading into a city of generators below, which lined the bottom of the Shepherd-class freighter’s engineering deck. He could hear the distant sound of crackling from the machines beneath him, transmitting energy and information via bolts of light. But he didn’t dare look, for fear of losing his footing. John kept his eyes focused on the large, round metal door at the end of his path. He took a few uneasy steps towards the airlock, his pathway continuing to convulse with every step. Just then, a monotone electronic voice beeped through his helmet. “Warning: oxygen levels critical. Oxygen at ten percent.”

With the damage his suit had undergone already, John doubted that the oxygen would last much longer. He resolved himself to limit his breathing as much as possible. He took a large gulp of precious air and began to hold his breath.

As he stood steadying his feet, John dared a look through the tear in the hull of the ship. He saw the curvature of the planet Armos, a deep red contrasting against the black void of space. Everything out there was silent, at peace. Until the next blast shook John. A Zephyr-class fighter, swift, streamlined, and piloted by a skilled Kortharian, whizzed past the exposed damage, unleashing its payload on the freighter. The explosion thrust John forward, forcing him to lose his carefully-placed footing, fall forward, and exhale. Kortharian pirates were ruthless and they wouldn’t stop until the Shepherd was reduced to scrap.

John took another large gasp. “Oxygen at eight percent,” the helmet stated. He began to stand back up and refocus his sights on the catwalk and his ultimate goal of the door. The massive impact of the fighter’s attack dislodged part of the walkway and caused it to drift out of place, creating a gap between John and the door. John grabbed the handrails with all of his strength and slowly dragged himself to the edge of the gap. Against his better judgment, he risked a glance to the bottom of the ship. It was almost completely black at the bottom of the freighter, but the occasional bolt of energy from the generators would illuminate the darkness for a moment, exposing the machinery. If there was air resistance and he fell, he estimated it would take nearly ten seconds for him to hit the machines. John attempted to gulp, his throat dry. He stepped back, steadying his feet once more. Out of anxiety, he risked another breath.

“Warning: oxygen levels dangerously low. Oxygen at five percent.” John began sprinting, or as best he could in the vacuum. He struggled to move his heavy boots against the rough metal surface of the walkway and let his hands go from the cool poles of the walkway, pushing off with all of his might. He floated through the air, flying towards the other end of the catwalk. He seemed to hang in the air for eternity, losing his balance. If he didn’t hit his mark perfectly, he could drift into the generators below or be sucked out into space. He willed himself to readjust his equilibrium and, after what felt like an hour, finally collided with the other end of the walkway. As he impacted its surface, he let out a heavy breath. He took another gulp of air as he stood up.

“Oxygen at two percent.” It was a straight run to the airlock now. With his remaining strength, John picked himself up and ran toward the door. The weight of his suit did not affect him, whether it was due to adrenaline or the weightlessness of space. As he continued to run forward, another impact from a Zephyr struck the Shepherd, this time directly hitting the engineering deck. As the lasers battered the machinery, the bolts of electricity flew in every direction. Ricocheting off of the hull, they impacted a few feet away from John, striking the walls and the supports of the catwalk. Though the explosion shook the catwalk even further, John remained unaffected, still sprinting towards the door. As he finally reached the round obstacle, he pressed his identification badge against the scanner on the right of the door. A resonant beep filled his helmet, signifying a positive match. The airlock, without an environment to depressurize, slowly slid open. John let out a breath in relief.

“Warning: oxygen levels depleted. Oxygen at zero percent.”