There have been countless studies conducted on the International Space Station to determine the effects of weightlessness on the human body but in 2047 astronaut Carl Whittle unintentionally started a newresearch project on how close quarters can affect the human heart.
Whittle and his girlfriend Teresa Givens were only the second romantically involved couple to fly into space. The first couple, Mark Lee and Jan Davis, were secretly married in 1992 just before they flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. When they returned, NASA changed its policies, forbidding married couples to fly together. Carl and Teresa thought this policy was archaic but when they fell in love during the training camp leading up to their flight to the ISS, they decided to keep their relationship a secret. They’d worked too hard to risk losing their positions in space.
But as they entered the sixth month of their expedition, they fully understood and appreciated NASA’s policy. Working in close quarters puts a strain on any relationship, whether it be romantic or professional. Throw in a foxy Russian cosmonaut named Tatiana and that strain is likely to break you.
In the beginning there were a total of six astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the 357 foot long station. And yet, Carl and Teresa still found nooks to neck in and crannies where they could copulate. The others knew something was up. With no laundry facilities on board and a limited supply of clothes, they tried to be careful when making love but they often emerged from the Tranquility Node looking suspiciously disheveled. Then three of the astronauts returned to earth and growing international tensions, that would eventually lead to World War III, put a halt to all space flights. So Carl and Teresa had more work on their hands, completing hundreds of experiments and constantly maintaining the station, but they also had only one person to hide their affair from: Tatiana.
Carl didn’t mean for it to happen. The flirting was innocent enough at first. Tatiana was in charge of the microgravity garden and needed some help repotting the nightshades. Teresa was in another module completing the neverending preventative maintenance so Carl found himself alone with the Russian. On Earth their respective countries were on the brink of bombing each other back to the Stone Age, but in space…there was peace and harmony. And lust.
Tatiana reached from behind Carl to help loosen the roots of a stubborn Solanum lycopersicum and their hands brushed against one another’s. She laughed breathlessly and then he turned to face her and without meaning to, their lips brushed against one another’s. And before he knew it, they were naked and brushing their everything against one another’s.
That’s when Teresa walked in.
Carl wanted to tell her that it wasn’t what it looked like, but weightless fornication is pretty hard to cover up. He suggested a menage a trois and that’s when she started throwing tools at him. (It is not a good idea to throw a monkey wrench on the International Space Station). To make matters worse, it turns out that Tatiana really was in the dark about their relationship. She thought Carl was a single man and fair game, but as soon as she realized that Teresa had been cheated on, the two women formed an alliance against Carl.
And it’s not like he could pack his things and head for a Motel 6 on Mars. It was a little tense to say the least. The women commandeered the Zvezda sleeping module and Carl was banished to the proverbial couch. He tethered his sleeping bag to the wall of the Destiny lab and slept with one eye open.
The next month was a living hell. He couldn’t escape the tension and after trying (and failing) to rekindle his relationship with Teresa, he stupidly made another pass at Tatiana. The heart wants what the heart wants. And both the women wanted him to stop and stay as far away from them as possible. He centered himself and focused on making it through the next four months.
But then, due to the threat of war back on Earth, the water delivery was delayed. Which meant the pressurized oxygen delivery was delayed. And they were running low on rations. They ate and drank only what was necessary for survival. They skipped their daily exercise regime and the women stopped talking to each other to conserve as much oxygen as possible. After two months they started to lose bone and muscle mass. After three they were too weak to perform all of their required tasks. But after four months NASA finally sent word that they were days away from launching a rescue shuttle to retrieve them.
Carl felt a glimmer of hope. If he survived this he would swear off women, he would find religion, he would become a better man. And one night, as he prayed to God, Allah, Buddha, and the President of the United States in front of the large bay window in the Tranquility Node, he saw a white hot blast of light. It looked like it originated somewhere over Eastern Europe. But then…there was another. And another.
He tried calling ground control; there was no answer. Just static. Teresa and Tatiana had also seen the flashes and joined him at the observation window. Soon the planet below them was peppered with hundreds of explosions and even from 254 miles away, they could make out the sinister shapes of mushroom clouds. The nightmare of a nuclear holocaust was now a reality and they had front row seats in the mezzanine.
As the Earth smoldered below, they ran out of food. Carl suggested they draw straws to determine who would be sacrificed but the scorned women simply licked their lips and pulled out their matching standard issue Victorinox Swiss Army knives.
They were on him before he could even say “Houston, we have a problem”.
BRYAN STARCHMAN is an author, published playwright, and educator from Mariposa, California. In the past year his short fiction has been featured in The Saturday Evening Post and in the literary magazines Litro, After Dinner Conversation, In Parentheses, Scribble, Apracity, The Good Life Review, The Write City Magazine, Flumes, Some Scripts, The New Plains Review, and Avalon Literary Review. Learn more about Bryan at www.bryanstarchman.com