She held on to the window, watching as it slowly floated away, tears welling up, refusing to run, fogging her vision until she swept them away, flicking them off. She stayed vigil at the window, looping through tears, fog, clarity, until it was long out of sight, gone, departed, until the tears no longer welled. She made not a sound while she watched, there was none that could mask the sound of her hope being shredded, so she was quiet. There was only her to hear it now anyway.
She pushed away from the window, gently twisting and flipping to correctly orientate herself as she went down the short connector between modules. Drifting into the central hub, she grabbed a handle and swung herself around and edgewards down another connector. She passed the offshoots to the tertiary and quaternary labs and continued along, running her hands along the sides to bring herself to a halt at a t-junction. With a sigh, she pushed off to her left towards the accomodation module.
Passing through, she glanced at the lockers of the crew that had now gone. Of the nine that were stationed here two days ago, eight had decided to step out of the airlock. As the most junior crew member, it was now her turn to find out why. None of the others had said a word before going. Whatever she was about to discover was apparently harder to deal with than hard vacuum. She paused long enough at her own locker to grab and pocket an unopened envelope before continuing on.
Drifting into the meals area, she came to the dining table and tethered herself so she didn’t drift off. Sitting just above the table was a sheet of paper and a folder marked Protocol 17. They looked innocent enough – not like a brain in a fishbowl or anything – but the combination had killed everyone else. She pulled them towards her, tucked the folder under a band to hold it in place, and started reading the letter.
Once finished, she re-read it straight away, trying to wrap her head around what she was reading. It wasn’t until the fourth time through that she finally let the letter go and let it drift off through the module. She sat there, body staying there but her mind drifting off as the reality of the letter finally sunk in.
She was humanity. Or would soon be.
The letter was just printed off the station printer. Nothing fancy or florid. Simple language putting out a simple statement. There has been an asteroid detected on a 92% chance of impacting the Earth on a date and at a time that was about 72 hours from now. The impact would be cataclysmic, the crew would not be able to be de-orbited, and they were to initiate Protocol 17. She pulled the folder towards her and started to make her way through it. It was basically the instructions for quietly putting the station into a deorbit to burn it and it’s residents. She flicked through the few pages that were there, it was a simple process, one designed for extreme emergencies. Looking at the info screen beside her, she quickly pulled up some telemetry info and saw that not one of the crew before her had initiated it. They had all decided to let the next person work it out. For now, she was safe.
Untethering herself, she slowly drifted away from the table. There would soon be nothing to go back to. If she stayed on board, she’d have front row seats to an extinction level impact event. The biological scientist part of her thrilled just a little bit at that, and then saddened as she realised that it was on the death of the planet and not the rebirth that she would be watching. She pushed off back to the cupola to think about this.
Curling up against the window, she began to try and work out what to do. De-orbit the station and go with it, go out the airlock and leave the station to it’s own inevitable demise, or hang on for as long as she could. It was just her now, it was just a decision for her. No one else would be would have to deal with her choice. It was just her for as long as she ignored the unopened letter in her pocket.
Schrödinger’s Envelope. Two possibilities, both existing simultaneously until she opened the envelope. Both would inform the choice she had now, to continue on or to let it all go. She thought about how long she could survive up here. There was a couple of months worth of food for a crew of nine, so that meant a couple of years for a crew of one. The lettuce patch was up and running, she could keep that going indefinitely. The cricket experiment, if she kept it running would provide a source of fresh protein for some time. There was enough propellent to keep the station aloft. She could survive for quite a while if she decided to. But she’d be alone.
And then there was still the letter.
She pulled the letter out and started to read it. Like everything she’d read today that altered her life profoundly, it was simple, perfunctory. Just a few words, stating the facts. Her Schrödinger state broke down, one possibility collapsed and she was left with what is.
She lay in the cupola for a while, the earth spinning below her, a few tears that she had left stored up making their way out. She probably would have named it Edwin or Edwina. It was definitely just her here now. The decision was going to be easier.