A Titan Nightmare

This is a short-short story I wrote a little while back. It’s short and simple but I hope you will enjoy it.

The first thing Paul Winclef noticed was the complete silence that was only broken by the sound of someone breathing heavily. He struggled to open his eyes to find the source but could only see darkness. After a few more minutes of listening to the breathing and trying to see anything at all he reached up to wipe his eyes only to have his hand hit the face plate of his helmet. He quickly realized where he was and the sound he was hearing was his own labored breathing. Things were not right with his world. In fact, things could not be more wrong.

Commander Paul Winclef was Earth’s first human to reach Saturn’s moon, Titan. The training and preparation had started several years ago to get him ready for this historic event. He had departed from the Mars Orbital Space Station. The trip had taken just shy of a year thanks to a new nuclear propulsion system married to an ion drive. Everything had gone according to plan, at least up until now. And right now his world was dark and full of questions. He needed to find some answers if he was to ever have a chance of surviving.

Paul concluded he was still strapped into the lander’s single chair but found he was lying on his back and not sitting up as expected. Reaching for the harness release across his chest his hand hit a large object and caused a sharp, searing pain to run through him. This caused him to take a deep breath doubling the pain. Only now could he feel the weight on him, but thanks to Titan’s gravity being slightly less than that on Earth’s moon the weight was not great. Grabbing the bulky object with both hands he easily moved it off his chest grimacing with pain with even just that small amount of exertion. Probably a broken rib, maybe more. At least the suit seems intact.

Once the object was moved, Paul tried to look around. Darkness met his gaze. Releasing the safety harness he steeled himself to climb out of the chair. Reaching out he grabbed where he expected the handhold to be, but instead, found a ragged edge of metal. Reaching further he felt an exposed brace and used it to haul himself upright. Lights flashed in his eyes and a wave of nausea came on from the pain in his chest from the effort. Standing still for several minutes Paul concentrated on steadying his breathing and letting the pain ebb slowly away before opening his eyes.

Looking around he began to make out the outline of shapes familiar and yet not quite right. Light, why is there no light? What happened? These and other questions ran through his mind in a jumbled mass. Paul shook his head to try to clear the fog that was clouding his thoughts. Remaining motionless for a few more minutes his mind cleared enough to recognize that inaction meant certain death. “Light! Of course. What is wrong with me?” he muttered and reached up activating the flood lights in the sides of his helmet.

The inside of the capsule sprang into clear view revealing a jumbled mass of consoles lying on the floor having been violently ripped from their mountings. Broken braided ropes of fiber optic cables hung down from the open cavities. Grabbing one of the ropes he examined the broken end. No light from the ends meant no power. How could this be? There are supposed to be redundancies upon redundancies. “OK, Paul, stop for a minute. Think through the situation. You have been unconscious for an unknown amount of time. One step at a time, what to do first?” he said. Looking at the pad on his left wrist he was shocked to see that he had “landed” over 24 hours ago. Have I really been out that long?

Moving slowly around the cabin, which he now understood was laying on its back, he inspected the scene. At least the door should not be blocked from the outside. Just moving the few feet to the opposite side of the cabin was tedious having to step around equipment and the pain caused by the slightest exertion. A rather large console had been ripped from the opposite side of the compartment and blocked his path to the door. Paul considered it a small miracle that it had not hit him and caused serious injury. Reaching down, he easily moved the piece of equipment while vainly trying to ignore the flashes of pain in the process.

Paul turned back toward the door and moved to it. At the door he began examining it closely. The framework appeared intact with no signs of buckling. When he reached what would have been the top of the door he noticed a long, irregular rip in the carbon nanotube-polymer fabric that extended completely through to the exterior. Well, definitely stuck in this suit for a while. Must have been quite a hit to tear through this stuff. Guess I should be lucky to be alive. But then maybe a quick death would have been more preferable to what is to come. After a few more minutes of inspection he was fairly satisfied that the door should operate and activated the manual release. He breathed a sigh of relief as the door slid into its recess.

A dim orange tinted light filtered in through the now open portal casting an eerie pall within the cabin. Paul looked out onto the surface of Titan for the first time. A strange feeling of awe and dread simultaneously filled him. I am the first human to view this and it might just be the last place I see. A shiver ran up his spine at the thought. He gazed at the horizon and searched for the ship that was to take him home. That ship had flown robotically and landed successfully a year prior according to the data it had sent back to the United Earth Space Exploration Agency. His landing was to have been within two kilometers from it. The land was flat but too dark to see very far thanks to the sun only providing one percent of the light as it did on Earth. He looked down and saw it was a three meter drop to the surface. “Well, that’s not so bad since there is little gravity. But no climbing back in once I’m out. Need to stock up first,” he said to the lifeless moon.

Due to the thick atmospheric pressure his space suit was not bulky however, without an intact spaceship it was now his only life-support system. Moving from one locker to another Paul gathered everything he thought he could use and stacked it first into a pile to inventory before dropping it to the moon’s surface. All that activity took its toll leaving his skin covered in sweat and him feeling weak from the pain. He braced himself and jumped down nearly passing out from the tidal wave of pain that washed over him as he hit the ground.

After a few minutes the worst of the pain passed and he got up to get his first look at the damaged craft and surrounding area. Walking around the wrecked ship it was obvious that the main cabin had torn away from the landing section which housed the batteries and nuclear power plant and rolled across the ground for a considerable distance. He could just make out the remains of the landing section about a kilometer away. Just beyond that seemed to be another familiar shape. A wave of pure joy and relief flooded through him as he recognized it as the return ship. I might just make it out of here. Paul considered walking to it immediately but a voice in his earpiece warned that his oxygen supply was low. The sudden sound caught Paul off guard and he turned sharply tripping and falling face first to the frozen ground. While the fall wasn’t hard the impact on his broken ribs sent waves of nausea and pain through him so intense he felt himself blacking out.

Paul awoke enveloped in darkness and immediately reached to his helmet and activated the flood lights. Instead of seeing Titan’s surface he saw the inside of the wrecked capsule. Pain racked his body with the movement. Looking down he saw everything was as before with the door still closed. He pushed the debris off his chest. He tried to get up and stabs of burning pain shot through his right leg. Turning to look he saw it was angled at an awkward angle, obviously broken. The pain eased and his mind cleared. Carefully examining himself and the capsule the realization came with certain clarity. “My God! That was only a dream but this is my nightmare!” he screamed to the empty moon.

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