He awoke from a dream, a recurring story behind closed eyes, floating, suspended in deep space.
There it was, after walking a few steps, the trail that he left few meters away from the previous stop. Without memory, like an elephant´s heavy footsteps with each new step, he kept walking.
The stones got stuck under his boots, pointy, sharp, toothed carnivores like a praying mantis about to mate.
The countless hours that had passed since his last communication with the central were, as every step that further alienated him from where he came, as long generations descending from a single tree that withered and was going to stop growing. The ancient peoples, their memory branched generations-trees, each following a different family name, each of the branches a true story of wars and survival, recounted to the last vein from the leaves.
He was the last offspring of a large grove, already condemned to extinction. He knew that there he was, lost, dying, in the long road to nowhere. Turning, in revolution around a center that was not there.
The next steps proved to be crucial, thought-arrested, he had to decide what to do with the meager provisions they had brought in emergency. He had packed his survival bag with some books, a pack of gum, an army knife, a small flashlight and fifty packages of superproteic syrup. Enough to last a hundred days if he could find water, which he only carried a liter of drinking water in circulation, renewable but not infinite in his biosuit. Nonetheless, he knew that under those conditions he could not survive more than a handful of days in the dust exposed nostrils, inhaling thousands of particles that clogged his airway and would achieve their purpose if not prevented.
There it was, the first decision.
If his survival training had taught him something, was always to remain in the same place of the accident or were he had found himself stranded. Make a sign to be discovered, streamline your belongings and stop, think, plan. The three key steps to survival in emergency situations.
But at that moment he realized that nobody was going to look for him, there was nobody that knew he was there, there was nobody else in the world. He was stranded, staked on the loose dust of the earth. Accompanied only by his own tracks and those of anyone else, as a path for himself that no one had traveled. He was unique, one as the path by dragging his legs.
He made another entry on his log with the central, then raised his handy and said:
–Fuck. The fucking whore. 15 hours, 24 minutes, 50 seconds, mile 25 of the exploratory mission to the surface, no survivors, no sign of anything, shit, north-northeast direction, no point of reference, I’m fucking lost… in any place. END OF ENTRY Num. 3: Exploratory mission. At 14 miles of the nearest survival habitat unit.
His training had prepared him for all sorts of contingencies: forest, marine and domestic coastal deserts, urban landscapes, guerrilla warfare, classic combat camouflage strategies, an endless list.
But they had not prepared him to hear his own voice. An echo that did not stop. An order was simple to execute, but he acknowledge no other sound but his own voice, even his breathing echoing with the stones, with the fine dust particles that were ascending and descending in ghostly spirals everywhere, braids and spirals which blinded him, and did not let the air reach the lungs.
He cut a wide strip of his shirt and used it to cover his head, mouth and nose. He went a step further, one more footstep. The heat began to rise in his body, the sun was perpendicular to his head and began to dehydrate the sweat drops, droplet by drop. He decided that it was imperative to lower the temperature of his body at all means possible. He possessed some things at his disposal, he thought of the water supply he carried and could not waste it that way.
He turned his eyes to one side and then the other. He look´d back and forward again. Nobody. Only traces, stones and the encouragement evaporating in himself, as a thought leaving the place deserted. He lowered his pants and took off the bandana he had prepared with his clothes and began carefully peeing, wetting soaked with urine. Once completed, he put the wet bandana over his head and covered his face. It was unpleasant, to say the least, but no one was there to tell him anything. He had learned that trick in one of several survival courses he had taken, swore then that he would never do it, no scenario would apply that nasty trick. But here he was alone, dehydrated with each step, walking, not knowing where, and desperate.
Now the smell of piss.
There was a rock formation in sight, a few miles of steam on the horizon that made the top and bottom difficult to determine. The internal compass turned on his brain, he walked around with his heart pounding on his ears. Six hours had passed since the last entry in the log, and six miles separated him from there. The wind had shifted and now the dust was getting stuck in the neck as an angry teacher pushing him forward.
The first rocks emerged between the subtle lines of powder that fell off the surface. An echo began to torment him, something bounced sound off the small mountain. At first he could see what was and then he awaken to the simplicity of the effect. His palpitations, accelerated by the physical effort bounced off the mountain, noise produced nothing, not even the wind that accompanied it. The rhythm of his heart, opening and closing each ventricle, pumping each quadrant of the body, leaving him to connect with the encompassing outside environment.
Night came behind the highest mountain that broke the skyline.
He lit a fire with some plastic remains and cardboard pieces he found surrounding the survival habitat. A bit of paper from an old book, a broken tape of a VCR and a slush of molding twigs. A few bits of litter that covered the area where he was.
The fire was silent, a dull yellow and blue crackling, the puffs of liquid black smoke from the fire. He began to sing, perhaps, a product of the silence or an ancestral need. A root that joined him as a shady tree to a land that was not already his own. The music began to rumble with no reason in his esophagus and cover the throat, vibrating with his teeth. The lungs were sending the vital force of the song.
–My wild life is burning.
Burning on the pyre.
My wild life is burning,
burning through the night.
My wild life is burning.
Burning on this pyre of mine.
As an old drum, words rattled in his chest just leaving the air to circulate through the body. He had achieved a sort of unity with the place. One night of fire that left him deaf mesmerized by the dance of the demons crackle.
He woke up in his floating harness, two hundred and eighty six miles above Earth, countless few days after the final event. The alarm sounded in the central panel, above the compartment he occupied in Zvezda. Floating weightless. It sounded like the rhythm of his heart pounding against his chest and the circuit board on the upper left quadrant.
That last-day he didn’t knew he would be the sole survivor of his family, their entire country, a nation orphan. A tree, last. One chosen by chance, one in ten people from different countries that was expected to survive. Orbiting around the location of a forgotten celestial body, in the International Space Station, his home, his place until …
The land disappeared under his watch, like a gush of dust corkscrew powder through the crack in a lattice in his old family home on a warm summer afternoon …