“I’m not going to die here,” I said, gripping the oxygen tank.
“Then you’re fooling yourself because we’re trapped,” Tia said.
The emergency lights of our pod flashed.
“They won’t find us in time,” said Tia.
Her dark hair was plastered to her sweaty forehead. We had already taken off our suits due to the air unit failure.
“I don’t know how long we’ll last but I’m not giving up,” I said.
“How much air do we have left?” she asked.
I looked at the canister and honestly, it wasn’t enough for the both of us. Tia’s eyes were too wide. She was scared.
“I thought you weren’t afraid of dying,” I said.
“I’m not scared of death, I’m scared of how I’m going to die.”
“That’s the same shit,” I said.
“No, it isn’t. I can be afraid of burning to death but not afraid of dying. I just want to go peacefully.”
“Suffocation is peaceful.”
“How the hell would you know?” she asked.
I tried not to breathe in too deeply as the alarms pinged and the red backup lights came on.
“When I was seven, I went to that water park on Mars with my neighbor’s kid, Diana,” I said. “You know those big wave simulators they always have? I got in without an inner tub and I was having so much fun that I kept going deeper, believing some magic held me up. Well, one wave caught me by surprise, right in the face and before I could spit the water out, another one crashed into me.”
Tia was silent.
“It only took two more times before I realized I hadn’t taken in any air and had begun to sink. Below the surface, I opened my eyes and everything was so clear. My lungs started to hurt so I just let go, I breathed in and everything felt so…right. It didn’t hurt or anything. As I sunk to the bottom, everything seemed serene and beautiful. I realized in that moment that I had a choice to make; I could fight to live or die.”
I took a breath.
“So, I swam up to the surface with every ounce of strength left in me and got to the surface. I clung to someone’s inner tube despite them slapping my hands. Then I swam back to shore.”
“What did Diana say when you got out?”
“After I got out, she found me and I told her everything. She looked at me and asked me if I wanted to get ice cream,” I said.
Tia just looked at me.
“So, don’t tell me aren’t afraid. You are. Everyone is afraid of the unknown.”
She shook her head and opened her mouth but I stopped her.
“I don’t want to argue,” I said.
“I’m not arguing.”
“I’ve known you since grade school. You were going to.”
The alarms were the only noise in the pod. Tia took the oxygen mask and breathed in.
“You told me you couldn’t wait to die,” she said. “You remember? You told me you couldn’t wait to get out of your ‘flesh prison’ and be done with all this. Why are you always fighting to hang on?” she asked.
It was a good question. I always wondered about that day I almost drowned and why, despite the abuse I hid from my parents, why I chose life. Was it instinctual?
“You joined the Omega Exploration Unit because it’s a highly unpredictable job. Who knows what can happen to us out here. Look at us now, trapped and dying,” Tia said.
“I took it because it pays,” I said. “Calm down, you’re taking all the air.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” she said, voice cracking. “I don’t wanna die.”
I didn’t look at her but I heard her tears. My chest felt cold. Was there a choice?
“I don’t want to die, Jenni. I want to get out of here and see my family and friends again. I want you to get out of here too,” Tia said.
“That’s not possible. We both can’t make it. There’s just not enough air left,” I said.
I couldn’t look at her. My hands tightened on the canister. I could bash her in the head and she wouldn’t see it coming. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying.
“Then what do we do? We already sent out a distress signal,” said Tia.
“They won’t be here in time,” I said. “There’s only enough air for one.”
She didn’t have much to say to that. It was already hard to breathe. I finally looked at Tia, my best friend.
“Do you remember when we were at that summer camp and they made us do the night walk and you were so scared you thought a bear would come out the darkness and kill us?”
“And I said, ‘I’d distract it so you can get away. I’d die for you if I had to.’”
Tia stared at me, red rimmed eyes full of tears. It was almost funny. She wouldn’t be so sad if it was her dying, would she?
“So, I guess I’ll make good on that,” I said, handing her the canister.
I sat back, heart suddenly racing. Calm down.
“Take the oxygen and live.”
She shook her head.
“I can’t let you do that,” she said.
“Then give me the oxygen and stay behind.”
We shared silence. Tia took the canister and held the mask to her face. My heart was racing wildly. I felt light headed, but maybe it was the lack of oxygen. My skin was tingling, vibrating with adrenaline. I had made my decision. This was it.
“This is the one time I think I’ve ever felt so damn alive,” I said, taking in a shaky breath.
Tia placed her hand on top of mine. I let her.
“It’s exhilarating, knowing it’s your last moment. I’m thinking so many things.”
Tia didn’t speak. She just slowed her breathing and tried to relax. She listened and held my hand. I tried to relax as well, but my body felt like it was on fire and my vision was hyper focused, just like when I was under the waves of the pool.
“I told myself I would never be afraid of dying,” I said. “Because I do not die. I simply enter Death’s domain.”
Tia squeezed my hand and I squeezed back. My heart pounded in my ears and I listened to it as everything darkened. This was the end. Tia would live and I would die; but I would be the one to truly escape.