Breathe

A short story

Published by Clarkesworld

Breathe.

The water is cold.

Breathe.

Lightless, the ocean is without dimension, only a blackness unyielding. There is no sound, no movement. Nothing but the percussion of ventricles in labor and the frayed rasp of your breath as you suck in stale, processed air.

Breathe.

Ah. There. You see it in the distance, a speckling of iridescence; indigo and motes of searing cyan, adrift on hoarfrost filaments no bigger than the width of a hair. Noctiluca Janus, the only color in this alien world and somehow, the only life.

The theory of its biology is faultless; unicellular simplicity, self-devouring, self-sustaining, both predator and prey, alternatively cryptobiotic and savagely proliferative, a perfect answer to an imperfect world. But it is still bizarre to you that nothing else exists in tandem. Not even a divergent subspecies differentiated by a single genome. Nothing but this gasp of cold light in that endless dark.

Breathe.

Like floating in God’s womb, Lisa had joked. The others laughed and you laughed with them, nervous, unwilling to admit to miscalculated bravado ten thousand light-years away from viable resolution. The truth is you’re terrified. No matter how hard you try, you cannot participate in the communion of your crewmates’ rapture, cannot decipher their willingness to plunge into the abyss, over and over, pirouetting like children unburdened by parents, or atheists untethered by scripture.

Breathe.

The water is black, cold. Eternal.

Breathe.

You glide fingertips over the equipment on your belt, enumerating them by touch: flash light, flare gun, nitrox analyzer, knives, strobe. Their presence is a benediction, the solidity of the rosary beads you abandoned with religion.

You breathe; you shudder.

Read (or listen to) the full story at Clarkesworld.