Last Breaths

By Jacob Spann

Lilandria and Joseph sat in the dark hold of the Cutlass. The only lighting was the faint twinkling of stars through the window of the docking port. They heard the slight wheezing of oxygen escaping the ship, an ever present reminder of the severity of their predicament. They faced each other, each slumped against the wall on the opposite side of the hull. Lilandria held a gun. Joseph couldn’t keep his eyes off it for very long. It was a sleek, black, evil looking instrument of death. It made him nervous. The cold, rigid metal they were leaning against began to make their backs ache. Both of them were too tired to move. Lilandria racked the gun, that one terrible note reverberating through the entire ship. The two of them were the only ones left to hear it. The air was already starting to thin.

“Okay. We’ve only got a few minutes left.” Lilandria raised the gun to her head.

“Wait,” Joseph pleaded. “Just stay. A little longer.” 

She said nothing but lowered the gun. Joseph half crawled, half floated over to the window. Gravity was beginning to fail inside the hold. He pressed his face right up against the immaculate glass, the sweat from his brow smearing against it. Outside, there was an infinite sea of stars. Wispy tendrils of white, running like rivers through the inky darkness of space. A few asteroids floating listlessly against the backdrop of the Cosmos. Joseph thought the rocks looked very lonely. Their battered grey surfaces gave him a feeling he could somehow relate to. 

As the silent ship drifted further along its damned course, an eerie green light swept through the viewing port, causing Joseph and Lilandria to shield their eyes. They were approaching a cosmic maelstrom. A massive storm raged at its emerald core. The ship drifted back into a dark spot. Joseph and Lilandria lowered their arms once the pervading light had receded. Even still, impossibly bright shots of plasma lighting would shoot out of the gas cloud every now and then, lighting up their faces with haunting flashes. Metal fixtures groaned on every inch of the Cutlass, sending a dull echo reverberating into the hull. It was a mournful opera, sending pangs of regret through the hearts of the two doomed survivors. The ship was slowly being pulled into the gravity of the storm, causing bits of it to come loose and fly apart. That didn’t matter much to the only remaining crew. The two of them would be dead long before their vessel was drawn in and torn apart by the celestial giant.

 A loud humming sound that quickly faded into silence signified that the artificial gravity had gone out. Joseph began sliding away from the window, toward the ceiling. He pawed at the window, trying desperately to catch one last glimpse of the strangely beautiful force that would soon consume him. Instead, his hands made a loud wiping sound across the glass, and then his back made the soul-crushing sound of a thud against the ceiling. He floated there, pressed against the cold frame, gazing at the unnatural rays of light once again filtering into the hold. It felt like he was in a very spacious coffin with a view.  Lilandria began floating upwards too. She rose face up, but before she reached the ceiling she gracefully twisted in the air so that she landed gently on her back. The two watched the ethereal display of emerald beams dance and flitter on the ground. They observed in silence. Even in spite of the circumstance they thought it was quite beautiful. Joseph craned his neck to face Lilandria. She continued to look straight down. Her shoulder length brown hair was untied, and it drifted around her head like she was under water. 

“Gravity is gone. So oxygen will be next then. I plan on using this before that happens though.” She twirled the gun around her finger, almost playfully.  

“Only when the oxygen goes out. Please. Promise me.”

“Ok. Just don’t talk that much, yeah? There’s been enough talking for an entire lifetime these past weeks. I’m quite honestly sick to death of it.”

“I’ll try I guess. There’s nothing you want to say to me though? I mean, we are about to die together.”

“Why should that matter? I didn’t even know you until a few days ago.”

“What the hell are you saying? I’ve known you since we were kids Lilandria.”

“You knew of me, sure. But c’mon. We didn’t know each other. We still don’t really. We just happened to be recruited for the same assignment aboard the Cutlass. I would see you sometimes on the colony and at school, and when we graduated sometimes you’d drive past my AgriSquare and if you’d looked you would’ve seen me toiling away on my little plot of alien dirt. There’s not really much of chance you won’t see anyone more than once on a colony. But we never talked did we? Why should now be any different?”

Joseph tried to speak but his voice cracked and he sputtered out something unintelligible. He took a deep breath and regained his composure. “It should be different now. It should be, probably because we’re about to die. I don’t want to spend my last moments in utter silence when there’s a perfectly good person by me to speak to! Seriously, find some compassion!”

“A perfectly good person to speak to,” she repeated. There was animosity on her tongue. “I wish you’d felt that way before we were about to die. Before we got on this damn ship.”

Joseph was about to speak again, but the entire hold began to shudder with an intensity previously unfamiliar to the two. After their surroundings stabilized, their bodies began to slide towards the wall on the left. Joseph hit the corner first with Lilandria pilling on top of him. 

“There,” he said. “That is a much more agreeable attitude to be having.”

She planted her feet in his stomach then, pushing off his body towards the other side of the room. Gravity would pull her back, so she grabbed hold of a pipe snaking down the right wall. She floated in the room completely horizontally, her feet dangling in Joseph’s direction. 

“What is your problem?!” Joseph rasped when he recaptured his breath. 

“No problem. I just don’t see why we need to be so chummy all of a sudden.”

“Maybe you don’t recall, but when those things ate most of our crew and then tore apart the ship, I saved your life by dragging you in here! So maybe you could indulge me given the circumstance. All I want is to have someone to talk to before the end.”

“You speak as if you’ve done me some favor! We’re going to die in here too! I least before I could have died while unconcious! Well it seems like you’re already getting what you want. Despite my previous request. It’s honestly incredible. Even now, men are still getting what they want at the expense of women.”

“Oh don’t start that bullshit with me! We are about to die Lady! And you’re talking about male privilege?!”

Lilandria did her best to sweep her floating hair out of the way. She craned her neck to look at her crew mate. Her left arm was beginning to hurt from fighting the pull of gravity. “I just think it’s funny. That’s all.” Her tone was calm and even. This just pissed Joseph off even more. 

“You are a piece of work. It’s no wonder I never spoke to you back at the colony! I just want someone to speak to before my life ends forever. But no! Now I’m some misogynist villain! Now I’m some burden!” His face became ashen, and then he whispered in a meek voice, “Oh god. We’re about to die.”

The two floated in silence for a few minutes. The light from outside was raging brighter and brighter. The pair could see each other quite clearly now. Silent tears drifted out of Joseph’s eyes and began to be pushed into small pools around his head. Lilandria saw this and gazed at him incredulously. Nevertheless, she let go of the pipe she’d been clinging to and floated back to reside next to her conversation partner. They were fated to die here, she thought. Brought together by some sort of design or dumb luck. So she resolved to do one last good thing with what she had been given.

“You’re right. I shouldn’t be so difficult. What is ill will going to accomplish now anyways?” Her words had softened, but her tone was still slightly detached. 

“Now how come that was so hard to admit?” he said.

“Because I resented you I guess. You were part of a big shot military family on the colony. I came from nothing. We lived very separate lives, even though we shared the same relatively confined space of the colony. I had to work hard to get where I am. It was a huge deal when I had made enough credit to buy my way onto this expedition and off the colony. You were literally born to be on this detail.”

“Yeah, all the good it’s done me. Having an Admiral as a father has its ups and downs. I never even wanted to come on this little wonder cruise, but dad thought it’d toughen me up or something. I’m a grown man and he still strong armed me. I don’t know why I let him, the bastard.”

“You still get the point. I guess I was just mad. You’ve never had a reason to give a rat’s ass about me, and now here we are. Having never spoken a full sentence to each other until a few days ago, even though we’ve seen each other almost every day since we were five years old. But none of that matters now. I don’t want to talk about any of that. What do you want to say? You can vent more about your dad if you want.”

Joseph waved his hand dismissively. “Eh, the guy’s a tool. What more is there to say?” When the silence began to drag again, he suddenly broke out into an impression of his old man. “Stand at attention! Fire on my command! Plunder these new worlds for all the shit they have! God bless humanity, and God bless America!” 

Lilandria giggled. “That’s actually pretty good.”

Joseph maintained his rigid pose and stiff lip. “Did I give you permission to address me crewman?! And that’s actually pretty good, Sir. Don’t forget the sir.”

“Alright, now you’re pushing it,” she said, still grinning from ear to ear. 

He went to open his mouth to reply. No sound came out. A look of wild confusion passed over his face, but it was gone in seconds. A fear more intense than anything Lilandria had ever witnesses entered his eyes. A desperate impulse from the brain to stay alive, even though no hope of survival existed. The oxygen had finally gone out in the hold.  The searing emerald light from the window spiked suddenly, becoming so bright that all they could see was each other. Lilandria looked at Joseph with all the calm she could muster. She nodded, as if to say it was all going to be okay. Her sweaty hand clutched the gun fiercely, her knuckles whitening from the strain. She placed the barrel on Joseph’s forehead. Globs of liquid swirled around his eyes. She wiped them so he could see her. She mouthed a message to him. Let’s talk more sometime. Then she pulled the trigger. Droplets of blood and chunks of wet brain floated onto her face and body. More remains swirled but a few inches in front of her, and then were gone out of sight, absorbed by the blistering brightness. Joseph’s corpse disappeared as well. Something smelled burnt inside the hull, and Lilandria realized it was her skin. Without another thought, she turned the weapon on herself.

 Hours later the hold was torn apart by a massive stray bolt of energy from the maelstrom ripping through it. Everything inside was disintegrated in a flash of brilliant green heat, leaving no trace of the two lives that had run parallel for so long, but had finally been connected by their last breaths.