Moonrise was imminent. Throughout the station, lights were flickering, struggling to keep up with demand. The third cabin was losing atmosphere, and the airlock was activated. The doors opened, releasing the contents of the room: years of work and research lost to the cold expanse of space. Leida watched as they floated into the black. Another section abandoned. Someone had miscalculated.
In the sixth cabin, mayhem and fear had evolved into understanding, grief, and grim purpose. The temperature was already dropping drastically as life support systems compensated for dwindling resources. Fully automated, incredibly efficient, and unfortunately solar powered, the outpost on Minerva was nearly perfect. The crew had already discussed their options four months ago, when the effects of Minerva’s sixth massive earthquake in as many years had begun to take shape. The days had been getting shorter.
“And the back-up power supply?”
The energy supervisor shook her head. “Damaged,” she’d said, “in the last meteor shower. We’ve tried to repair them, but we would need twice as much time as we have in order to replicate the materials necessary, and that would use more power than what is available.”
“What about the reserves?”
“Even at minimum capacity, all two thousand people in the station wouldn’t last more than a few months.”
“And the escape pods?”
“The power needed to operate just one would drain everything we have left.”
“So what are our options?”
She had swallowed, clinging to professionalism like a shield, clearing her throat before saying, “We have none. We’re not going to make it.”
Seconds ticked by in shocked silence before the room erupted into chaos: their deaths laid out before them, the crew devolved into beasts. They could go willingly, salvaging what was left of their dignity, or they could wait to see what came first: hypothermia, suffocation, or starvation. Several were injured in the ensuing riots. The three year night was fast approaching.
Mission control could not be reached for advisement. Communications had been spotty for the past two years, until finally it was accepted that the group was alone on this desolate rock, light-years away from home. They had come to Minerva to establish a colony, knowing full well it was likely to be a one way trip. There would be no rescue mission. Leida suspected they had been written off as a lost cause. It didn’t matter. She had a plan.
Gareth was operating the airlock in the fifth cabin, ushering the last three hundred or so to their deaths, ten at a time. They would file into the room, stiff, scared, eyes widened in disbelief, the universe laid out before them just beyond the reinforced glass. They listened to the countdown. They closed their eyes. They grasped each other’s hands. And then they were gone. Leida met Gareth in the station center.
“Did you get them?”
“Yes,” he said, making an effort to smile, if only for her sake. She was grateful for the attempt.
Leida took his hand and placed it on the crest of her steadily expanding belly as the baby kicked and turned, its accelerated growth nearly reaching its end. It was almost time. The last of the crew exited the airlock, and Leida and Gareth watched them briefly before activating the shutters. Blue and silver clad forms shimmered like stars, growing more faint as their bodies floated up and away from the surface and into the black beyond. The derelict space shuttle, half a mile away, was already shrouded in twilight. The room was dark when she gave birth to the seven pound baby girl. Gareth wept. Not long, now.
“Are you sure we can’t stay?” he asked her, brushing sweat-soaked strands from her forehead, slick with effort.
“I wish I wasn’t.” Her arms held the tiny bundle closer, breathing in the tiny wisps of hair; counting the delicate fingers; stroking the puffy, reddened cheeks.
The station’s operating system was efficient, outputting only the amount of oxygen, heat, food, and water necessary for the number of people on board and the size of the space. Two adults, even, were too much for its delicate systems to maintain during the long night. A baby, however… A baby in stasis could last the three years it would take for night to end and the bots to repair the station. After that, she would wake up, cared for by the bots. And maybe someday she would make it to her parents‘ home. Gareth and Leida held her for what seemed like hours before laying her in the stasis chamber. They named her Nadine.
The countdown in the fifth cabin began. The two held hands.
“Do you know what today is, Leida?“ Gareth asked.
“What?“ Leida whispered.
“It’s the first day of spring,“ he said.
The tranquilizers began to take hold, and as consciousness slipped away from them, they smiled through the tears. All was not lost.
AUTHOR BIO: Ashley Rose Nicolato lives and works in Philadelphia, PA. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking, Netflix-binge-watching, making terrible puns, and all things sci-fi. This is her first published work, though she is reasonably sure it will be followed by many more.