3.25/5 (1)

The airlock is small and dark. The exterior door is illuminated dimly by a square of hard yellow light cast out from the interior bulkhead window. I sit staring at the square of yellow light, my feet against the outer door. I am so cold I have stopped shaking now. I want to open the door, get back to my shuttle, escape. But I am compelled to be here. With her. I can’t say why. She holds the key.


I have served in the Administratum on the relays my whole life. Our home world suffers from angry electromagnetic storms that surge and swirl in the stratosphere. From space, they are beautiful, shrill blues; the purest greens and ghostly whites spit and crackle across the curvature of the planet. But planet-side, they interrupt ship departures and block Astropathic communication. So instead, we place our ports on the top of towering stratospheric lifts, and we float our Astropaths in orbit. These orbital relays are small. Most house one or two Astropaths, transmission chambers, solitude bays, miles of cables and towering emitter arrays required for them to receive, transmit and forward messages across the vast, empty nothing of space. For my role, I am but a small cog. I trace faults on the relays and repair them.

Relay 1468 Gamma had been showing as +DISCONNECTED+ from the stratospheric communications network for two days before I was sent to investigate it. Its orbit was steady and predictable, so this appeared routine. But as I stood in the airlock waiting for the external doors to my shuttle to close and the station’s internal ones to be unlocked, I could tell something was wrong. Ice had formed on the inside of the airlock window. The yellow light inside was being refracted across my face, jagged and sharper than the emitted hue from the interior strip lights.

This relay was home to one Astropath, and as I peered through the icy window, I wasn’t surprised she hadn’t come to meet me; they weren’t welcoming. The truth is I almost fear them at the best of times. But I was more than uneasy this time. Only they permit access in and out of the stations. So, I waited for her to admit me through the airlock. She held the key.

As the door slid back, I immediately noticed that the air mix felt wrong. Normally, it is dry, perfumed and heavy with incense. But it was sweet with ozone, almost overpowering. And cold. So cold.

As I shuffled hesitantly down the short gangway to the transmission chamber, I saw her. She was hanging limp in the middle of the room. Suspended by a nest of cables connected to the base of her skull leading up to the roof. She swayed in the centre of the room at least six feet from her chair as if maybe thrown away from it. Or perhaps the cables had restrained her from leaping forward.

My lips were dry, and the rubber neck seal on my suit was sticky with sweat. I took a torch from my chest pocket and activated the push switch.

Her left eye snapped open. A jade pool stared back at me. A child screamed inside my brain, and I pissed myself. My entire soul willed me to move, but my body would not obey. She wheezed a thick, greasy exhale, which instantly turned to condensation in the freezing chamber.

Her legs skated over the floor towards me. Her body arched forward, her hips, belly and legs clambering towards me, her torso and head restrained by the mass of straining cables. Her green eye bore into my mind like a white-hot needle.

Finally, I ran.

The twenty feet to the airlock felt never-ending. I scrambled into the small space and hammered on the interior door closure controls. The door slid shut. My heart sank; she held the key. 

A palm hit the window in front of my face. She must have broken free from the wires. I fell to the floor and squeezed my eyes closed. Tears froze as they rolled down my cheeks. My breath condensed in front of my face. So afraid. Too afraid to make a sound.

I had heard of the madness. It’s a story told to children planet-side about the men and women in boxes who speak to the stars high above the electric clouds. They have listened for too long and now take naughty children back to their boxes high above the clouds. In truth, Astropaths are people, gifted and different, but people nonetheless. Like all people, they break. There was no doubt she was absolutely broken.

She sobbed, a raw sound of pure sadness. I could barely move. With the airlock closed, I shouldn’t be able to hear her, but I could. It is as if she were in here with me. Her sobs were spluttering, childlike. Pining for something.

Tap, tap, tap.

Fingertips drummed on the window above my head.

Tap, tap, tap.

I forced my eyes open and kept them fixed on my feet. Trying to pull myself together, initiate the alarms and call for help. I was compelled to stay, and she held the key.

Tap, tap, tap.

The shadow of her fingers flicked across the square of refracted yellow light on the outer door in front of me. I slammed my eyes shut again. Her breath felt warm inside my brain.

Tap, tap, tap.

The air was becoming thick, becoming harder to breathe. Airlocks aren’t designed to be stayed in.

Tap, tap, tap.

I don’t feel cold anymore. I feel we are comforting each other. She has the key.

Tap, tap, tap.

I feel drunk. The small, enclosed space spins around me. 

Tap, tap, tap.

I watch my last breath condense in front of me. Inhaling the thick mug does nothing to quench my lust for oxygen. She is happy, I think. Happy to not be alone.

The door unlocks.

About the Author

Max has always been into creating stories and makes his own spin off worlds and tales from science fiction and historical battles when time allows. Hailing from the south of England, he has been penning ideas and developing characters for years. Sometimes they even come together into a story.