There goes my safety record, Dot thought numbly.
It’s strange how the human mind can think of the most irrelevant thing in a moment of great crisis. Asteroid miner Dot Hennessey had one such moment when suddenly sucked into space through what asteroid miners call a ‘blowhole’ from asteroid ‘KU48721.’ These occur when a mineshaft passes too close to an asteroid’s surface, and as atmospheric pressure builds inside the mine from the life-support systems, the rock wall suddenly gives way. As the air and debris rushed into space, a miner once witnessing it from a shuttle said it reminded him of a blowhole in a whale, and thus the nickname stuck. As with most miners finding themselves in this situation, as the mineshaft depressurizes instantly there’s no time for Dot to do anything. She finds herself moving through space with only the sound of ragged breathing inside her helmet to provide the soundtrack of the miner’s dramatic situation.
A shiver ripples through Dot watching smoke, air, and debris billowing into the vacuum of space from the newly formed hole and then disappearing in the darkness as if never existed. After several minutes of free falling, Dot forcefully collides with another nearby asteroid that immediately knocks the wind out of her again. She knows from years of safety training the best chance of rescue is to grab onto the nearest asteroid and wait for the rescue ships to arrive. Therefore, that’s what the asteroid miner attempts; Dot turns her body to face the asteroid. It appears long and narrow with half of it illuminated by the sun, and the other in darkness.
Clutching desperately at the asteroid’s surface trying to find something to grab onto, Dot finds the surface of her potential lifeboat is almost smooth. Try as she may, Dot cannot find anything to hold onto as she silently speeds inches above its surface. Gazing up, the woman can see the surface of this asteroid’s about to end and beyond that is oblivion. What are the odds, she thought, desperately trying to grab something. It’s the only smooth asteroid in fucking creation, and of course, I had to find it. “Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Dot groans as she retrieves from her tool belt what appears like a handgun that has a metal spike sticking out the end.
She attaches her safety line to the spike and then aims the gun at the surface knowing that if this doesn’t work, then all she’ll achieve is tripling her speed toward the direction of Jupiter. Newton’s Laws of motion aside, this is Dot’s only chance of surviving this. Dot fires and watches the spike hit the asteroid surface and bury itself much to her relief. Nevertheless, her momentum still takes her away, so she just closes her eyes and prays the spike will hold. After what seems an eternity, the safety line suddenly goes tight and yanks her hard winding her again, but thankfully, the spike holds. She has overshot the asteroid, so Dot starts to reel herself in until her feet thankfully touches the surface. Then she collapses to her knees trying to catch her breath and her senses.
“X245 to Ceres Control. Do you read me?” the woman shouts into her communicator.
Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, slightly closer to Mars’s orbit. It’s where the mining operation headquarters are located, and the rescue teams too. Suddenly there’s a massive burst of static, which hurts her ears, so she has to turn the volume down fast. Then after her hearing recovers, she tried again.
“X245 to Ceres Control. Are you receiving, over?”
Dot waits, listening to the static. A familiar but frantic voice breaks through. “Dot … Read … Shaft thirty-nine … Dot…”
The frenetic tone of her supervisor’s voice is obvious, but the interference keeps breaking the signal, so the words are gibberish mostly.
“Hal … HAL…” Dot screams into her microphone. “I’m marooned on an asteroid next to shaft thirty-nine, section twelve. I can even see the blowhole from where I am. Send a rescue skip to fetch me. Do you read, over?”
However, all she gets in return for her effort is more static. Activating her emergency location beacon, Dot sits and listens to the static of her radio hoping to hear Hal again. She feels sure they’ll be coming soon as the woman is that close to asteroid KU48721 she can practically touch it. As Dot sits watching asteroid KU48721and the blowhole still spewing atmosphere into space, and hoping for any sign of human activity, she cannot believe just how tired she suddenly feels. Slowly her eyes closed and Dot falls asleep.
The warm air rushes past her as the dirt bike speeds through the outback scrub. Dotty and her brother are chasing a mob of red Kangaroos and having a great time in the process. Her mum said it’s unladylike for a young girl like her to act so like a boy, but Dotty was never one for dolls and tea parties. Especially when surrounded by the wildness of the Kimberley’s. Dotty rides her dirt bike screaming like a banshee trying to reach the big alpha Kangaroo they had named ‘Nomad.’
The game aimed to see who could actually touch Nomad, but they never did get that close to the wily old Kangaroo. However, on this bright sunny day as Dotty’s closing in on Nomad, terrifyingly the front of her bike goes down a hole, and over the handlebars, Dotty goes. It all seems to happen in slow motion with her flying through the air all arms and legs until she hit a big old Boab tree and falls to the ground with a yelp of pain.
Dot wakes with a gasp gazing around the asteroid on which she’s now the sole resident. Checking her air and seeing she has an hour’s worth left, there’s still a chance of rescue if only a slim one at that. The surface of the asteroid grabs her attention again, Dot notices that where she has rammed her spike, there’s black ooze escaping and then freezing in the coldness of space. It looks like oil, Dot thought. The urge to touch the ooze is overwhelming, but after forty years in the asteroid mining business, she knows better than that. A shadow suddenly covers her and Dot gazes up to see a rescue skip about fifty meters above. She stands and starts waving fiercely at the rescue skip.
“Down here … I’m down here, rescue skip alpha three … I’m directly below you … Do you read me, over? Hey, come back…”
However, the skip just passes over Dot in silence without any indication it had seen her. She watches it travel about another two hundred meters and then bank left in the standard search pattern.
“How the fuck can they not see or hear me?” Dot said staring at her communicator display in her helmet to see if there’s any malfunction. She knows the static indicates something is jamming her signal and as Dot scans the area, the source of that interference is allusive. “Dotty, you’re in deep shit here,” she said feeling very tired again.
She sits with a sigh and falls asleep in moments.
Dotty sits up and lifts her helmet off. She has a nice gash on her arm, but apart from that, she isn’t severely injured. The redheaded, freckle-faced girl glances to her left and to her surprise, she found Nomad, the big red Kangaroo, lying there chewing on some long grass, watching her.
“Hey, Nomad,” Dotty said to him.
Nomad just sits there regarding the twelve-year-old girl like some strange new life form. Climbing to her feet, Dotty begins inching closer and closer to the animal, but Nomad doesn’t move. This is weird to the girl because wild kangaroos are generally very skittish even the friendlier ones such as Nomad. Dotty gets closer to him and slowly extends her arm to touch Nomad on the neck. The big male Kangaroo sits there passively watching the girl, allowing her this privilege of contact. Realizing she’s finally done what no one else has, not even her annoying older brother Steven, Dotty feels her heart leap and surge of happiness rushes through the girl.
“Oh, Nomad, I’m the only human to have ever touched you.”
She strokes the soft red fur on Nomad’s back, and the Kangaroo seems to enjoy it.
“Fuck, what’s wrong with me?” Dot said shaking her head as she wakes. “This is no time for fucking nanny naps.”
If the rescue doesn’t come soon, then she’ll die on this weird asteroid staring at the very place she’d just been working in. Dot stands and checks the line is still secure and then starts moving back along the asteroid to explore the surface. She walks over to the edge, keeping steady with the line, and surveys the side of the asteroid. The surface appears the same all over, a kind of rough marbled surface, with dust and some small pockmarks but no actual craters as such. The asteroid seems similar in shape to a blimp, this is unlike anything Dot has seen before. The effort is making her feel very tired though, and to top it off she has developed a splitting headache as well, so she sits to get her breath.
Dotty wakes sitting under the Boab tree in the shade, and Nomad is standing in front of her moving his head wildly. She doesn’t understand why the Kangaroo is acting so strange, it’s almost as if he’s telling her to look. Therefore, Dotty stands and peers behind the tree. Not far away, a prominent outcrop of red rock looms, and halfway up is a cave. To young Dotty’s surprise, there’s smoke coming out of it.
“Yeah, there’s a fire, so what?” Dotty said to Nomad with a shrug. “Maybe it’s just someone from the Kurnangki people up there? They use caves as burial sites, you know.”
Nomad’s shoulders sag, and it seems to sigh, which bothers Dotty because when do Kangaroos express emotions. This particular odd animal is showing some kind of frustration with Dotty. Nomad then hops close to her and pushes the girl with his head.
“Hey? Whatcha do that for, stupid kangaroo?” Dotty shouts.
Nomad’s eyes seem to bulge, and the Kangaroo suddenly hops away from her, which makes Dotty feel suddenly alone.
“Come back, Nomad. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be angry. I’m just … Scared…”
Nomad stops and glances back at her, the Kangaroo’s ears up in that classic kangaroo pose. He regards her again.
“Ah, what’s wrong with me,” Dot groans as she wakes again.
Glancing at her air gauge, there are twenty minutes of air left, and the woman’s stomach roils. She gets to her feet, even though physically exhausted, and grabs the locator beacon. The rectangular metal box is still flashing on the top, which indicates its working. Then why has no one found me yet, Dot wonders? Is it the same interference affecting my communicator? Dot activates her communicator again.
“This is X245; I’m stranded on an asteroid about fifty to a hundred meters from asteroid KU48721 level with section twelve. I have less than twenty minutes of air left. Does anyone read me, over?” Nothing but static again, Dot falls to her knees with tears streaming down her face. “Why can’t you assholes hear me?” she screams into the communicator. The woman falls onto her face sobbing softly. “Why can’t anyone hear me?”
Dotty wakes under the Boab tree with Nomad the red Kangaroo strangely nodding its head wildly toward the cave in the ridge, the one with the smoke coming from it.
Dotty sighs. “It’s just some Kurnangki business, Nomad. Why has it gets you so excited?”
Nomad goes hopping off past her toward the cave and then stops looking back at her. The girl thought he must want her to follow and so sets off after the Kangaroo. Nomad hops along slowly for a Kangaroo so Dotty can keep up, and she follows it for what seems like a kilometer. Eventually, she loses the animal in some scrub and long grass. Dotty keeps running in the direction she thought the Kangaroo went when Nomad suddenly appears beside her out of nowhere. The big red Kangaroo collides with the redhead girl. Dotty falls to the ground feeling winded, sore, and begins to cry.
“Hey, whatcha do that for?” Dotty said standing and rubbing the dirt off her jeans.
Nomad stands still, gazing forward and ignoring her protests. Dotty came up to stand beside the beast to discover the ground just disappeared into thin air. They’re on some kind of a cliff, looking over at the same cave entrance to which Nomad seems so obsessed. Dotty shivers in fear as she realized Nomad’s painful bump actually prevented her from falling down the cliff.
“You saved me, Nomad. I’d have been a goner if I fell down there,” Dotty said, absent-mindedly stroking the neck of the large red Kangaroo.
Nomad just gazes at the cave, with the smoke still coming out of it. Then Dotty stares at the cave too and sighs.
Dot wakes and pushes herself onto her feet with great effort scanning the horizon for any sign of rescue. Strangely, it appears as if this asteroid has moved as she’s now standing on the edge of gazing directly at KU48721. The blowhole’s still open, but there’s no longer anything spewing out of it. That means the miners inside have sealed the section-twelve mineshaft, and will probably start repairing the blowhole soon. I’ll be dead by the time the crew is looking directly at me, Dot thought, and sighs. The air gauge now reads only ten minutes of air available.
However, what’s troubling Dot the most is she somehow disconnected her safety line from the spike and then walked all the way over to this part of the asteroid while she was asleep. Anything can now knock the woman into space, as nothing now secures her to the blimp-like asteroid. Still, what’s even stranger is Dot has never sleepwalked in her life before. Dot peers down over the edge of the asteroid, into the infinite nothingness of space and shivers in fear. I’d have been a goner if I fell down there, she thought.
Suddenly, Dot sees sparks coming out the blowhole that ejected her to this place. She starts to wave her arms toward it, hoping someone might see her. I’d give anything for a fucking flare right now, she thought. Her air continues to run down, the effort just made her feel very tired, and the woman gives up quickly and sits to conserve her remaining air.
Dotty strokes Nomad the red Kangaroo’s neck again trying to find comfort in these feelings of loneliness now overwhelming her as they stare at the cave. Glancing down at the animal Dotty notices her hand has a space suit glove on it. With a gasp, her head snaps up to see the blowhole on KU48721 and then a red Kangaroo standing beside her. Dot jumps to her feet at the realization she’s with a red Kangaroo on top of an asteroid in space.
“What the fuck?”
She strains her eyes at the Kangaroo, not really understanding what’s going on, and why it’s here in space, on an asteroid. Is Nomad an angel here to take me to the afterworld, Dot wonders? Maybe I’m just going crazy with lack of oxygen? She decides its lack of oxygen.
“If I’m to die, then I’m glad it’s with you, Nomad,” Dot said falling to her knees as her strength withers.
The strange asteroid slowly begins to move, making Dot fall onto her hands. Gazing up she can hazily see asteroid KU48721 is getting closer and closer.
“It’s … too late … for me…”
The arrow on her air gauge just hit the red zone.
Asteroid KU48721 begins rocking, as the smaller asteroid Dot’s on impacts with the larger. She’s now barely conscious, lying prone on the front tip of the blimp-like asteroid. At the point of impact, Newton’s laws of motion come into play again. The woman finds herself catapulted toward the blowhole on asteroid KU48721, as two wide-eyed spacesuit-wearing men reach for her from inside section twelve.
“Quick grab her … Get her … Don’t you dare let her go Bluey, or I’ll kick your ass,” one of the men screams into his helmet communicator.
The men grab Dot as she gets level with the blowhole, and her momentum carries them all inside to end sprawled against the back wall of the shaft.
Bluey flips her sun visor up anxiously looking at Dot’s face. “Jesus, Hal, her lips are fucking blue.”
Hal grabs the emergency air hose from his own supply and connects it to Dots suit, while Bluey does the same on the other side. Hal begins shaking Dot.
“Dot … Breathe Dot, goddamn it, breathe … C’mon Dot … Don’t you dare give up on us…”
It takes a few minutes for the woman to return to her senses once her air supplies replenished, but when she does finally open her eyes, Hal and Bluey are kneeling over her very concerned. The woman extends her arms out which they grab tightly, holding her with palpable relief.
“Don’t you ever do that to us again, Dot…” Bluey said his eyes watery.
“Help me up will ya, I need to see if… If he’s still there,” Dot said weakly, and the two men pull her to her feet easily in the low gravity.
The three of them connected by air hoses jostle over to the blowhole and peer out. Nomad, the red Kangaroo, is gone, of course, that was all in her mind she realized later, but instead, there’s a large black silhouette now moving away from asteroid KU48721.
“What the hell is that thing?” Hal said standing beside her.
“It’s … Nomad,” Dot said, feeling sudden grief watching the blimp-like asteroid move away.
She waves to Nomad, knowing it’s a futile human gesture the alien creature probably would never understand. How do you thank a thing like that for saving your life, Dot wonders? How could such a thing feel compassion for something as insignificant as a human life?
A voice suddenly echoes in her mind.
The voice is Dot’s from when she was twelve-years-old, yet the words are meant for her.
‘Nomad, I’m the only human to have ever touched you…’
Then Nomad is gone.
Hal and Bluey are insisting they take her to get a medical checkup. They all head for the admin area on the asteroid. Hal communicates with his supervisor; he has recovered Dot and is bringing her in for a medical check.
“Roger that, good to have you back Dot,” a female voice said. “We were all anxious about you.”
“Not as worried as I was,” Dot said with a wry smile.
Bluey then said between the three of them, “Um, Dot, what the fuck was that thing?”
“I don’t know,” Dot said. “But let’s not tell anyone about it, OK. They’ll think we’re crazy.”
“Agreed…” Hal said. “We’ll just say we saw you just outside the entrance passed out.”