The Bowie Men
Artwork by Rabeea Noor
Nikolai finally managed to open the jammed vacuum latch. One misstep and all the effort would be in vain. It was a major risk for Major Tom and he, yet it was the last resort to survival.
“Major Tom. Can you hear me, Major Tom. Goddamit!” Nikolai screamed through the intercom. He has been breathing judiciously; for now, more than ever, oxygen seemed so much more precious.
“Major Tom, we need some air-pressure up here, it’s going down. Can you hear me Major Tom!”
Desperation was clearly etched on his voice as he kept on with the intercom. They had gone dark with the Ground Control hours ago. It was only Major Tom and he who had to finish the job.
He climbed up to the Active Heating panel and patted his waist where he had tucked his tools. It was crudely done but the lack of time called for no other option.
There was no reply from Major Tom but this job had to be done nevertheless. So he unscrewed the panel open and started working on it.
Seconds passed like hours up here as Nikolai tried to rewire the system. He couldn’t monitor the temperature but the calculations, that he was doing in his head simultaneously, told him it was more or less dropping. Only if Major Tom could confirm. When suddenly, the intercom stuck inside his ear sprang to life.
“Colonel… … Li- … … Eigh-… …”
“Major Tom, you okay, Major Tom? I am almost done; I’m coming inside Tom, just hang in there my friend.” Nikolai tried to haste. His seventh mission up here, he thought, he had plenty of experience. It was just one wire out of place. He would figure something out. How many times has he rewired it for Ziggy’s amplifier; piece of cake, really.
He wondered what Ziggy would say if he couldn’t fix this one. After all it was imperative now, more than ever, more than all the times Ziggy couldn’t plug in his guitar. For, unlike then, now there was shortage of Oxygen in his suit and inside the shuttle.
Boy, Ziggy could play that damn guitar, thought Nikolai! With those chops and licks, at his age at seventeen, he could rule the world. He made a mental note to tell him when he was back. This thought made him realise that it was so unusually quiet out here. A haunting silence. It was spine-chilling.
He pushed the panel close and started crawling his way towards the hatch, holding his breath as much as he could.
He would be seeing Major Tom soon and tell him to fire up the shuttle engine and ready it for descent. He thought he’d check the intercom again but that would take his focus off and delay him from getting inside. He couldn’t afford that.
He pulled himself up to the shaft and with a loud clank, he shut the hatch. He couldn’t wait to take off his helmet but the communication to the Ground Control was still dead.
Major Tom was nowhere to be seen. He was sure Major Tom was supposed to be here somewhere.
“Nikolai, you there?” Nikolai’s intercom flickered again. This time it was loud and clear as a telephone.
“Tom, where are you! I have fixed the Active Heating system. We’re gonna be okay. Let’s make our way back.”
“We passed upon the stair, we spoke of wars you remember Nikolai?” Major Tom continued with his bizarre eccentric voice which alarmed Nikolai because he knew this voice so well and it didn’t suggest placidity.
“This ain’t funny now Major Tom!” Nikolai sounded concerned of his old friend. “Tom, goddamit Tom, come at the server pod right now, I need you, man!”
“I am floating in the most peculiar way. The stars look very different today.”
“What on earth are you talking about Tom! Report back at the Pod-9 right now, goddamit!”
“I’ve never wanted to sit inside a tin can while you did all the cool work. Oh no, not me, you’ve been face to face with the man who sold the world…”
Nikolai’s heart sank faster than a lightning bolt as he glanced outside the window. He saw Major Tom on top of the communication dock on Pod-13. He knew he didn’t have enough oxygen with him to make it back to the main tunnel. It was just too far.
“We both know Nikolai if one of us could make it back, who that’d be.”
“You dare defy a direct order, goddamit, I am still your superior out here!” shouted Nikolai, his voice cracking and his heart clocking.
“Tell me you’ve been named after Tesla. Tell me I was right, weren’t you?” Major Tom said laughing. And as Nikolai heard a big thud over the intercom, the communication channel lit up in the console.
“Major Tom, give us your status, Major Tom.” said another set of voice all through the shuttle.
“Yes,” blurted Nikolai, defeated. For he knew Tom was as stubborn as anybody he ever knew. “Why, Tom, why…”
“… Colonel, Major, anybody, please reply” the console kept ringing with voices from the ground control. And before communication with Major Tom went dark, Nikolai could hear him sing:
“Because, my friend, love’s such an old-fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves, this is our last dance…”