OUT OF SIGHT is a short story written by Kin I.
Chapter I
In Limbo

Eion Henare got so accustomed to his call sign that hearing someone calling him by a birth name was an instant throwback to the days of youthful innocence. Airy female timbre emphasized it on “i”, making it sound like the Maori people of his native New Zealand. The voice kept getting louder and louder until a sound in a helmet of his Augmented Exo-Skeleton found its way into vivid landscapes of memories of lush Wellington pastorale and kept announcing with repetition akin to a wound toy: “Attention required”, “Attention required.” It was the same voice as Harmony, an intelligent assistant that controlled computers aboard Hesiod, but as soon as Eion gained consciousness, he found himself outside of his usual realm of sterilized white interior of the ship’s sleep cabin. It was too dark and he didn’t see neither his bunk bed nor his pearly white uniform.

The unexpected darkness soon lifted. Two flashing lights disturbed the heavy blanket of black void. Still in a dream-like state, Eion extended his arms to pull the dark air back. His heartbeat increased drastically, though his arms didn’t feel any weight. Opening eyes slowly again, Eion looked at the source of flickering. As he looked away, paying little attention, a long stride of an oscillating tail followed his vision. The lights’ flicker pulsated with an exact tempo of his heart, decaying as a purple blur, only to be reignited second later. He dismissed the emergency message in the helmet by pressing a button on a PDA that wrapped his left arm sleeve. His eyelids dropped again, leaving the purple blur as the only remnant of his surroundings. Eion put arms on his chest and felt a grainy, non-slippery surface of a polycarbonate buckle with his bare left hand. The right hand had a thermal glove on. Odd, he was definitely inside an AES suit, but why just one glove? “Harmony, turn on the lights”. There was silence. “Harmony, report..”. Words bounced back from a front UV cover of AES’ helmet. He wasn’t in Hesiod, as ship’s intelligent assistant “Harmony” would’ve responded momentarily. He glanced back at the source of flickering, this time sans the purple blur. The red light was a reserve power indicator of an… escape pod. Eion jerked forward, only to be caught back in the ergonomics of the pod seat. His heart raced and he inhaled deeply to calm it down. A rush of blood sent his head into a counterclockwise multicoloured twirl. As the visual spinning intensified, Eion instinctively bowed his head to the left preparing to empty the stomach, however nothing, but a gasp for air came out. After few more attempts, his head finally settled down and Eion leaned back in the control seat of the pod. It all makes sense now. A mild hallucinogenic trip from a cocktail of drugs, that AES automatically injected in case landings experienced a certain amount of technical distress. It induces a short, artificial coma that completely shuts off consciousness for an extended period of time and leaves lingering side effects like lightheadedness, whiplash and extra sensitive hearing.

One of the unfastened straps hung from the seat and swung tirelessly in circles with pendulum-like motion and its movement reflected on the narrow wall on the front of the pod, faintly illuminated by the flashing buttons. One of the capacitive buttons was blinking faster than the rest, creating an odd unison on the pod's wall by projecting a banshee-like shadow dancing. Eion was now precisely in the condition that was so dryly described in the “Emergency Manual for Outer Missions”. He did experience this before, during his first pre-flight training on the Indian island of Ceylon. His group of astronaut rookies spent 3 days in induced coma, to have their awakening studied by a group of scientists. The drugs, coupled with strict oxygen ration in the escape pod, cause a temporary memory loss due to its effect on the hippocampus. Eion closed his eyes, observing pulsating blood vessels in his eyelids.He didn't know how much time was spent on the lifeboat. The helmet projected an earth clock of 18:52, which seemed completely arbitrary. Although his Augmented Exo-Skeleton would've kept him alive for days by slowly injecting vitamins and amino-acids into his bloodstream, the lack of external stimuli and apogee from earth disabled his circadian rhythms. Has it been an hour? A day? Can’t be a week, he would have remembered everything by now. He cranked an external microphone located outside of the helmet and started listening. Silence. After a while, even silence is not so silent. You start distinguishing sources of noise. He bumped the gain tenfold and picked the sounds of slight ticking of the capacitive button and barely audible vibration of the escape pod's power module. It was running on stand-by, producing only oxygen and very minimal electricity to support incoming radio signals. His heart. It was beating unevenly. Arrhythmia. With nothing else to be entertained by, Eion started listening as his heart was slowly calming down and resuming its regular pace. Babies in the womb tend to listen to their mothers’ hearts all the time and it seem to calm them down. But how many people actually listen to their hearts this? Would you go insane if you do it for long? thought Eion, laying motionless in the seat. He increased the microphone sensitivity and a pleasant groove of his heart turned into a heavy thump. 

Eion reached the buckles and slowly unfastened himself from the seat. Quick glance at the sleeve to check the vitals. Everything is normal, still some cardiac instability. While performing tests, Eion felt almost complete lack of resistance and effort; moving his arms was easier than ever before. He checked the exo-skeleton to see whether the assist feature was enabled - it wasn’t. In an effort to check the rest of his body, he pulled his legs to his chest and kicked himself in the helmet. Again, no resistance. Faintest gravity. He got down almost in float-like motion, engaging his gravity boots for better traction. Eion slowly approached the side panel on the left side of the pod, pressed few buttons to open a diagnostics bay and aligned his sleeve with an infrared scanner inside the bay. After few seconds, raw data started coming in with AES decoding it instantly and projecting the log right on the helmet front cover. The pod’s computer was working, so he should be able to pull the flight logs from the emergency boxes. The system was running on reserve, so Eion didn’t want restart the pod to obtain the information directly from the flight log, as it would put additional strain on already limited resources. While the pod was reporting both boxes functioning, a decoded data was coming in garbled and unreadable. The connectivity must’ve gotten damaged.. The boxes were located outside, in the back of the pod, shielded away from fuel tanks with a large alloy plate. He’d have to pull the data out directly, but it could be only accessed when the pod is completely shut down. Eion tapped his PDA against the control panel once again and typed in a shutdown command. The pod went completely dark. He then enabled an omnilight stripe on top of the helmet and walked towards the back of the pod. Slowly getting on his knees, he located and slid a metal plate that exposed an emergency exit lever. Putting little resistance, he pulled the lever and the rear end of the pod started slowly separating from the ceiling, exposing the striking contrast of Saturn’s sixth-largest moon Enceladus.