A Space Between Us
I floating along humming a comforting tune from a long time ago. Back when my feet knew what grass felt like and the sun was warm and inviting. I hummed to the rhythm of the insistent beeping in the background, wishing it away, but still uncaring of its existence. Another will replace it just as that dies, so I saw no need to bother anymore. Something about the blinking light that accompanied it I enjoyed. It gave me a point to focus on in the emptiness that surrounded me. Stuck in Osiris 23, my ship and home for some ten years now, there wasn't much to do or we could do. We were well on our course to the next solar system in the vast dark dead of space between suns. That's all space was, death. Something I knew very well with losing Sarah. Perhaps there was something else out there, and I did hope we find it soon. For we had to endure it with our cryo chambers broken like most else.
There was a disturbance in the air, and I stumbled to turn in my idle state to find my friend and fellow-surviving crewmember, Joseph Spitz. He was wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts like me. There was no need for formality anymore. Together for over a decade and well JESP or Joint Space Exploration Program to the uninitiated has been silent for years.
"Another failing system huh?" he so casually said as if routine.
"Yup," I responded equally unamused.
"What's it this time?"
"Another air scrubber."
"Shit. That will only leave one left before we only have the natural systems to keep the air clean."
"Well, I'm not worried."
"Not all of us want to die," he said with a degree of snark.
I just looked over at him with sharp eyes but then drifted off as I often did. Not that I wanted to die. Just what we were doing now, you could barely call it living. We just existed. I had no purpose. Sure I was the pilot, but the ship ran itself at this point.
"You never get used to that sound do you?" Joseph said knowing to move the subject along or deal with the long silence that came with me.
"No, you don't," I said being civil. "Then again, you probably wouldn't want to if it turned out to be serious."
Then right on cue, the beeping died, and the blinking light went cold. I lazily spun around towards the control panel in the central section of the cockpit and flicked the power switch below Air Scrubber 3 off. Not that it made a difference being it broken, but it gave me something to do in the non-life that we lived.
"Well, it's been fun, but I'm gonna see what Alice is up to," he said hastily. I was in one of my moods, and I could see it in his eyes the need to escape that. We've been friends long enough that Joseph knew I would be silent, and silence made him uncomfortable. Not a good trait to have when in limited company.
"You do that," I said pointing my finger at him with a smirk. He laughed a bit, as we both knew what Alice was doing. As the only remaining botanist on the ship, she had the pleasant task of keeping our farms and natural adornments alive. The trees and plants throughout the ships interior, there to keep us somewhat sane and improve the quality of life all rested on her small shoulders. No doubt right now she was glued to her desk staring down the microscope at another sample. They, of course, coupled up some time ago. It wasn't uncommon as we all did. JSEP was not so fond of the idea as it could cause problems when a relationship went sour. Honestly, how could they even stop it? Luckily no one on our ship was a weasel that stuck to JSEPs every wish. I laughed as he floated off to meet her. Alice and Him hit it off though don't ask me how. He was your classic jock type, big and built which was necessary being the ships mechanic and Alice was a typical dorky scientist with her pulled back messy hair and large round glasses. Opposites do attract though except sometimes the resulting chemistry can be toxic. You could say that about my relationship with Sarah. I was a bit of a loner though still friendly, and she was not very liked by many of the crew burdening her with loneliness. She would often find me lazing about by the large tree in the central corridor. She always had a remark when she saw me. Her directness was sexy to me, but to others, it was grinding. Worst off I don't think she ever really noticed. She knew people didn't like her but like most they kept to themselves and often even I felt awkward for her. I guess that's why we hit it off, as we were both often alone.
In the end, though her rough directness even got to me and it was bad. "The fight heard around the world" as many would put it. It was heard throughout the entire ship.
Still, I cared for her. She was a Paleo-Archeologist, so she didn't do well with the living, which I found cute, and her sharp tongue got me going. It was too much the day I lost her for good. If I didn't miss her after we split, I did then. For such a routine thing to go so wrong. Such a terrible way to go.
The cockpit began to feel cramp and I needed to leave. The walls seemed to be moving in, and the nobs and switches were seeking to puncture me. I casually floated away down the narrow corridor towards the main junction. The walls were constricting myself from freedom on the other side. My breath was thin and shallow as I moved through. Not another attack, I thought to myself. My chest hurt as the breathing increased in difficulty. My mind fooling me into thinking the air was draining away. I spread my arms out pushing the walls back and strangely it helped.
Finally, at the central hub breath returned easily. I was glad only to have a mild attack this time. They were getting better. Perhaps it was the massive tree, with its branches wrapping around in every which way it could in the confines of the spaceship. It made me feel that something still held everything together. At this point with the Osiris rotting away from the inside, and this massive plant with its sturdy trunk and many limbs was the only thing holding it together. We all mocked at the idea of having plant life throughout the ship in the beginning, but now I'm glad the JSEP Physiologists had the foresight for our need for something to ground us. The farms in the botany section were off limits to all but the crew that managed it and it offered no form of comfort being all hydroponic farms. This tree, however, was such a beautiful thing. It reminded me of my youth. Up on a hill near where I grew up was a similar tree. I melted under it as I floated by its course and caring trunk. Thoughts of lazy Saturdays of the terrestrial tree. My first kiss warmed my mind, hell even thoughts of the first beer I had as a teenager. Oh, beer, How I missed that cold amber liquid. We drank mostly crap back on earth, but it was better than what we had on board. Something about being able to transfer it into space they said, but honestly I think they just were being cheap with the quality. SPA, Space Pale Ale it was called as some joke.
Many hours I spent under Osiris' tree with Sarah. Her head nestled in my shoulder with both of us deep into work or just a book. We never talked very much. We didn't need words and she was the only person on the ship that understood my need for silence. Only the occasional passing short conversations usually laced with sarcasm. I couldn't have asked for more.
My thoughts froze as I realized, what am I doing? My intended location lost to me. Then again perhaps I didn't have one. I was just a ghost wandering the halls of this abandoned vessel haunting any who dared to enter my domain. I laugh, but I felt as if there was a ghost haunting me. The frozen face of Sarah staring back at me waiting to pull me into the darkness with her. Perhaps my room could use a visit. Has been a while and it would be good to get a proper sleep for once.
I pushed off from the tree down the corridor leading to the crew quarters. The emptiness really struck me entering these halls, now seemingly all abandoned. Alice was always in her lab, and Joseph was almost always with her. I doubt he has returned to his room. Sophia perhaps still used her room, but you would have better luck finding a mouse then her on this vessel. She was nearly as quiet like one.
The air felt stale, as even the particles floating around me were reluctant to be disturbed. My presence bothered them in their slumber. The halls were dark from its lack of use only making the corridor appear deeper in a continuous gradient of darkness. I froze at the emptiness and expecting the ghost of Sarah to pull me into the endless black beyond.
I stood and watched hoping lights would turn on from someone using the corridors. Like every other time nothing. Just the dark and the chilling silence that fueled one's fears of the night. Eventually, boredom would overcome any fear developed, and I would move to my next dull routine. I would stare at my door before mustering up any energy to open it. No fancy swoosh auto-door as that system failed ages ago. Lucky for us all the there was always an analog means around the computer controls. The door could open with a lever. Eventually, my hand reached for the control lever. I pressed it down with no fanfare and the door release allowing me to slide the reinforced plastic door open.
The stale, musty air flew into my face as I slid open the door. My hand was still clinging to the handle far too tightly, afraid I was being sucked in. It felt cold as if her ghost was hugging me. I began to breathe laboriously thinking of what she must felt when space engulfed her. That rush of the absolute cold her body was suffocating and radiating all at once. A winter as a child came to mind, but even that wouldn't compare. The time I fell into the ice still was nothing to space. She was dead within a minute. My grasp slowly relented as I let the imaginary force suck me into my small room.
The door remained open. I couldn't let myself become boxed in. I needed a means of quick escape from the nonexistent danger. Even if the walls fell apart and my tree did not save me, I'd be deep into space before I had time to react. Still it comforted me and no one used this part of the ship anymore. No need to shut out the noise of activity. Such a thing rarely existed anywhere on Osiris, especially here.
"Was the drive to find life that important to keep going?" I said to myself under my breath with a laugh. Not like there was much to return to on earth, our dying home.
I scanned my dwelling as one would for a long lost friend. The room would be a mess if it weren't the fact that then everything would float around like the space debris choking our home planet. Everything was away just without care and nothing tightly closed or sealed. And there was the errant juice pack floating by with a few drops leaking out the straw. It was a small room but comfortable. There was a bed just large enough to contain me that had a little poly-carbine clear window above it. It was nice to have a view though there was not much of one these days between star systems. I looked out the window with no fear of an icy death. Opposite of my fear of getting sucked into space, I also desired its ending grasp. With my lover pulling me into the grave with her frozen, iced over pale face gazing into my eyes with her blank, lifeless orbs. Some images just didn't leave you. I just didn't have the courage to let it take me. I'll let fate decide that for me. I looked around my room as if I didn't know it anymore even though it was simple. There was no need for extravagance here. I never knew such luxury growing up, so it was nothing for me to miss. Hell just having the security of a bed was more than I could say about my teen years. That's why many like me joined the military and a few lucky ones got to leave the planet.
I strapped myself into the bed and wrapped into its cocoon. Thinking of Sarah's face staring down at me, with thoughts her cold lips against mine and somehow that sent me into a gentle sleep.
I woke being pushed against the wall making a plastic thumb against the interior paneling of my quarters. Joseph with his piercing blue eyes stared down at me. This better be good, I thought, yet all I was able to muster out was a weak, "what?"
"We are going to need your ability soon," he said with a small amount of hope in his voice. What could he be on about? We were in the middle of nothing. It would be two months before we got close to a sun. The sensors were probably acting up.
Joseph was speaking, but I didn't hear, with my attention out the window still in a dream. Oh, I wish this was only a dream, and sleep still comforted me.
"Get the shuttle ready, something big came up on our scanners," he said again with the same enthusiasm. I only sighed. Joseph shook his head as become custom to my sighs.
"You sure it's something?" I asked.
"Of course, we were skeptical at first. Thinking they were on the way out as well, but then we saw the ship."
"Ship?" I said broken completely from my sleep now.
Fully awake I made an effort to flow out of the bay, nearly pushing Joseph back against the wall of my cramped room. I glided over to the small sink area and pulled out the compartment. I quickly washed my face with the moist towel to removing the grease. It was a routine dating back to my teenage years as a means to prevent an invasion of acne. All in vain really in my teens. Still I did it every time I woke if I didn't immediately shower. Honestly, I just felt all the better for it. Joseph just waited in the corner as I washed my face. I turned to him after disposing of the towel in the chute that sent all soiled clothing and fabrics to the washing chambers. He was just floating there leaning against the wall. His arms crossed and nodded at me with a smirk. I returned the gesture.
I floated ahead of him out into the dark corridor and scanned down the dark and forgotten halls further down. I wish I were more excited at this moment, but everywhere I looked her ghost appeared and distracted me. I know this because I suddenly felt myself flying toward the door across from mine. It was a soft bump in no way hurting but still I let out a sarcastic,
"Ouch." He only laughed. I smiled in return and floated through the hallway.
As we moved closer to the docking bay that housed our shuttles, I felt myself more awake and moving faster than the usual lazy drift. I was pulling the bars of the corridors that help us along with such a gusto than I probably ever had. I was excited which felt so alien. At points, I was overextending my grasp as if I was to reach my destination faster. My mood for the first time was lively. We passed the central tree without me needing my usual stop to laze about in its tender embrace. Bursting through so quickly I nearly missed the exit, and the wall came on hard and unexpected as my mind still found time to wander. Drifting off to times spent under the tree with Sarah. She mostly likely taking a nap and myself, still ambitious going through my small tablet with system checks. In fact, where is that tablet?
"This is why I usually stop in here," I said defensively at Joseph as if he had any inkling of what was running through my mind. He said nothing. I'm sure he knew it had something to do with Sarah, and he didn't want to know. The crew grew tired of the troubles between Sarah and I long ago. Well before only four of us remained. We were not pleasant to be around. Our witty banter turned malicious, at points just full on arguing. I couldn't even tell you why. Many would turn the other way just hearing us go at it in a random hallway. The worst time I could remember was a crewmember waiting for a full ten minutes for our argument to end, so that he could go to bed after a long shift. You could see the dreariness in his eyes as I stormed passed him. I don't remember feeling sorry at that moment, but it remained in my mind long enough to eventually get to me. I could see in his face the disbelief of what he heard.
I was obviously so lost in thought again since before I knew it, we came to the airlock leading to the docking bay. I couldn't open it. The effort needed to pump charge the e-lock was too much for me. If the door still worked as intended, only requiring a scan of our key implant I could have saved Sarah.
Joseph pat me on the back of my shoulder seeing me only stare at the door. He gently pushed me aside as father would his infant son out of something too dangerous for him. He looped his feet into the hooks in the floor and grabbed the long lever beside the door. Then he crouched into position as if ready to push an elephant. His muscles tightened as he forced the rod causing a buzz of electricity to hum from the interior compartment. The indicator light only flickered. Again without hesitation, he thrust the lever down with strength. The buzz was louder and with a longer flash, yet still not enough. The sound echoed in my soul causing it to chill. Each time Sarah's face, full of fear clouded my vision. The tears were streaming down my face. Even now I felt the dampness drop away my cheeks and float into view. It took Joseph seven pulls to get enough of a charge for the door. Each time I felt the icy sharpness of a dagger in my heart. Even the manual parts of the ship were going. I saw the excitement of this alien vessel even more now. We needed parts, and this was a potential answer, or just abandon Osiris 23. Leave our ghosts behind, though I feared mine would always follow me. Finally, the locking mechanism released with a clunk and a breath of air. The breeze of a sealed chamber gently brushed my skin as the door slide open. Only partly on its own as like everything else it didn't work. I jumped forward and pushed the door aside. My frustration got the better of my sadness as I couldn't be bothered anymore and escape seemed real. Leaving this tomb was now my priority even if I knew I couldn't escape her ghost.
The small corridor opened up into the docking bay that the two shuttles attached on to the Osiris. It was a large spacious room with a central lift for moving equipment outside which of course no longer worked. Along the walls near the entry were twenty lockers with each crew members space suit. Sophia was already preparing herself for the trip with the black tube infested liner already fitted on her. I found myself lost in her direction for a moment, as I never noticed how slender her body was. For an Asian she had some impressive curves. Alice was not here as it would be only the three of us on this mission. I'm sure she couldn't be bothered to pull away from her plants even with the excitement of a new ship within our midst. Someone did have to remain on Osiris anyway to help with the recovery procedure.
Though I don't even know if she would remember any other part of the ship.
Sophia was fitting on the outer layer when she managed to slip. I couldn't even tell you how that was even possible in zero G, but that is the best way to describe as she flipped back and lightly tapped her head on the metal floor still hard enough to make a clunk. Joseph and I let out a faint chuckle. She quickly readjusted and with a shy blush and rubbed the back of her.
"Don't worry I'm okay," she said in her shy quiet voice. Sophia always managed to cheer up moments with her klutziness. Being in Zero G was somehow more amusing. She would always laugh it off never showing it bothered her at all. She chuckled a bit herself.
"Ah, if you can't laugh at yourself then why bother," she said in her same low voice. Which was something of her catch phrase of hers when slipping or bumping into things. My favorite was most definitely when she would bump into a wall and claim it hit her. She looked at me already fully suited with sharp eyes.
"Take a picture, It'll last longer," she remarked with a sarcastic yet still shy voice. My bubble of thought broke from her uncharacteristic words and panicked to respond only managing out, "What?"
She smiled and looked away. I gave her an awkward smile as I floated towards my locker only causing her to look away more. Grabbing hold of the handle beside mine I banged open the lock nearly forgetting the combination. The locks were one thing on the ship still the old school kind. You know, the classic combination locks we used in high school gym. It made sense in that this needed to be accessible in the direst of events and an electronic system would fail. You could always bolt cutter these off if needed. My suit just shoved in; no way put away according to code and regulation. I couldn't bother after the incident. I just wanted it off and out of sight. Touching the fabric I trembled. Not that I feared the thin but strong carbon fiber jumpsuit failing, just that the last time I touched it she died. It took me some time to get it on as if forced against my will. The task and any cheeriness I found with the pending adventure vanish in my usual cloud of depression.
Finally with my suit on I looked up to find Sophia waiting by the airlock and Joseph preparing the equipment for the trip. He was moving with ambition, but it was the only way he knew. That man was a hard worker. It made sense since he came from a farm back on earth. Like me, the reason he left for the space program was, his family farm failed. A story all too common back home. I floated over towards them, and he shook his head at me and I gave him back a sharp look. We smiled. Sophia just stared blankly not sure where she fit in with our exchange. I could never read her face. It often seemed blank with only small cracks of expression from time to time. She let out a slight smile when I looked at her waiting by the airlock, but it faded just as it came.
"Ready?" Joseph said with a smirk. I only looked at him with another look of disapproval. This time, Sophia laughed, and I turned my gaze towards her more in confusion than an annoyance, yet it still caused her to recoil. I smiled at her letting her know it was okay, and her soft, flawless skin became flush.
She moved aside as I came to the airlock. She grabbed hold of the airlock lever as I raised my left arm with the RFID implant towards the control lock. I had to open the lock since unless in a moment of emergency only pilots could open the shuttle bays. The red light switched to green and Sophia pulled down the lever releasing the airlock. Without delay, I floated along the short corridor into the small shuttle. It was large enough to be a lifeboat for half the crew with five seats on either side that folded up for cargo missions, but still space was a bit cramped. Sophia followed closely behind as Joseph prepared the crates he marked for the expedition.
The ship was dark and the air even staler then within the lost corridors of the Osiris. I guess plants made some difference, I thought as I found my way towards the front of the ship. Sophia managed to get the lights on, something that just slipped my mind to bother with as I preoccupied myself with worry. It's been so long since I flew anything. Let's hope it's like riding a bicycle, a multimillion-dollar bicycle.
Grabbing hold of the handle I pulled myself into the large well-cushioned pilot's seat. The seat beside me would remain empty. There wasn't a need for a copilot, just like everything, there were redundant systems in places. That included humans. And just like everything else these days we were on the last legs. I strapped myself into the seat as not to be distracted by the constant movement of no gravitational pull. Actually, just putting off fiddling with the controls as if I couldn't remember anything. I grabbed hold of the joystick, and it felt alien to me yet still familiar like a friend from long ago. My hands brushed along the buttons of the engine panel, and they began to move about as if detracted from my mind, as I couldn't remember why I did anything. The ship slowly started to warm up, and the engines and other various systems began recharging for our journey.
Behind me, Joseph was pulling in small storage crates as Sophia secured them into place. Honestly, I didn't know what he was expecting but just like him to over prepare. Why he bothered with the Taser gun was beyond me. What was he expecting?
"Oh shit," I exclaimed.
"What?" responded Sophia slightly panicked.
"I forgot to give Osiris updated navigation orders."
"Oh. Probably should do that right?"
"Yeah," I quickly said as I rushed out the seat and flew passed Joseph, knocking him back.
"Someone has to shit," he mockingly said to me.
I let that go and flew back out of the shuttle bay.
Rushing along the corridor towards the hub I reached out for the handle leading up towards the cockpit area. My arm felt a moment of resistance hurting not used to such stressed with a zero-G life. Even with daily exercises. Planting my feet on the metal floor, I pushed up and flew up into the narrow cockpit corridor.
Once inside I leaned over the navigational computer imputing the new coordinates for Osiris. Leaving it to stop a good ten Kilometers away just for some precaution. Such a thing was standard procedure which thinking of following a procedure caused me to laugh. I felt myself wanting to sweat from the minor ordeal but the temperature on board was too cold to allow it. Normally I wouldn't be handling both ships but considering I'm the only pilot left I had the double duty.
The way back I didn't rush. The shuttle was only recharging, nothing serious. It was just a matter of letting it warm up. If anything bad did occur, the others could simply hit the kill switch. It wouldn't be such a big deal, just that I would have to start again. I doubt this alien vessel was going anywhere soon, so I leisurely strolled along and took my usual moment of reflection under the central hub tree. Sarah didn't cross my mind for a time by it, and I left almost as soon as I arrive back towards the docking bay. Floating casually back into the docking bay opposite of how I left it the others didn't seem to notice me. Sophia startled at my sudden appearance was standing at the shuttle airlock waiting for me. She smiled with her rosy lips bright against her soft pale face. I smiled as I floated passed feeling my face grow warm.
"All good?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah. That would have been bad," I said with an awkward laugh. She shyly smiled. I entered to find the hold filled with several crates leaving just enough room for Joseph and Sophia to sit. Joseph already strapped in had the Taser gun on him as if ready to be deployed for battle. I seriously couldn't tell what he expected but we all have our strange comforts.
We didn't know what we would find on the vessel. It may have some surviving members but life readings were low. There were a lot but nothing significant. He gave me a smirk and I just shook my head at him.
The ship was primed and I fired up the engines. Sophia sealed the hatch and took her place next to Joseph in the cramped hold.
"Let's go already," mockingly demanded Joseph.
"Don't make me turn this car around," I answered. We all laughed. "Well, here goes nothing."
I pulled down the release lever and the shuttle broke from Osiris and jilted forward. Okay so I was a little rusty, but I managed and moved the vessel away from our home for the first time in forever. Osiris began its deceleration as it reached the coordinates I gave it and we sped past into the darkness towards the silent and unknown ship. From a quick glance, it appeared to have been from earth. Yet it wasn't an Osiris series vessel. It almost seemed newer. The ship was dead, though. Barely any electrical activity coming off of it other then backup systems from what my scanner could tell. Something hit it hard as much of the rear quarter of the ship was smashed and spilling its guts into the endless sea of black. We still couldn't fathom though how an apparently newer vessel was further out into space than us. The only thing it could be was engine technology had improved significantly. I moved us close enough that spotlights would be able to light up its exterior and surveyed the vessel. This was definitely new. The design and build were vastly different than the utilitarian build of the Osiris. It appeared to have an aesthetic appeal to it just as much as it was a functional vessel. The new ship looked more like a sleek aircraft carrier with an enclosed top of a poly-carbyne glass and a nicely cultivated park inside, spared any damage from the crippling hit the ship suffered. The park was a marvel of its own. It looked like a chunk of the earth was removed and planted on this vessel. Below was an array of dome-like structures, similar to the compartments of Osiris. It was what had me originally conclude its earth origin. I circled the vessel, and the strangest thing was to me the apparent lack of a cockpit. At least, nothing I could recognize as one. Perhaps that was an outdated notion and the ship flew itself. How boring. I came to the back section and my dream of fleeing on a new ship vanished. The damage was severe. The left engine completely destroyed and much of the internals for the middle engine heavily ruined.
"Do you think it's from earth?" asked Sophia.
"I don't know. Appears so," answered Joseph.
The two of them were looking through the small porthole windows in the back not able to see the same view as me.
"Oh, it is," I said with a cocky tone.
"What makes you so sure?" bit back Sophia.
They laughed. ISV was the abbreviation of International Space Vessel, which was what all JSEP spaceships were designated with, and I shouldn't have to explain what Yellowstone is.
"Well then it should have some parts useful for us," said Joseph still focused on his goal. He didn't seem to care that we may find other humans on this ship and they would be the first people we saw in so long. Repairing Osiris was the only thing on his mind. Thought perhaps so was Alice.
"That's true, but I'm sad it isn't alien in origin,” said Sophia with a frown.
"Do you think the name has to do with the plants on the top deck?" I asked.
"Perhaps. That seems logical," answered Sophia.
Joseph laughed but Sophia gave a sharp look his way causing him to stumble in his humor. I laughed more and turned my attention back to piloting the shuttle. There was something cute about the way she gave that look. It was similar to Sarah when she was annoyed, she would scrunch up her face and give sharp eyes. Except with Sophia, there was a piece of innocence in her eyes. You felt the genuine anger in them behind Sarah's look.
After the Initial pass around the scanners only picked up small birds and a few small animals but no indication of anything else. There seemed to be no sign of any humans on board. It was likely the ship had a smart enough computer to keep things running without human interaction. If that were true, that would be amazing.
Deemed safe enough to board I flew beside the airlock on the most intact side of the ship and pulled her in. This seemed to be the same standard airlock of Osiris. It made sense to me they wouldn't change this with the possibility of the older ships meeting, the newer ones. Besides, no need to fix something if it wasn't broken. I eased it in like I've done it millions of times, which were true if you counted all the simulations and was powering down the main systems of the shuttle like clockwork.
"Like riding a bike," I said.
"Yeah a multi-million dollar bike," snapped back Joseph.
So unoriginal I thought to myself.
We stood by the door as the air pressure equalized in the airlock. I laughed thinking I would see something new in what were ages. Joseph had his Taser gun at the ready even though no larger life signs registered on the scanners. With the air balanced I punched in the passcode to open the airlock. Normally to dock on one of our ships you had to type in this code. Otherwise, one wouldn't be able to enter. It was a quirky feature or annoyance. Many of us thought a JSEP engineer put it in case of Space Pirates. If only space was like in the movies. Instead of just death and more death, with lots of nothing.
The light turned green when I hit enter and the lock released. I pulled down the lever and the doors to open with a burst of fresh air flooding our senses. It was nothing like the air on Osiris. It was so clean I nearly gagged. Looking back at the others they must have felt the same as their faces were painted with a mixture of confusion and joy.
Once used to the air or as one could be after years of stale oxygen we slowly moved towards the inner door of the airlock. The atmosphere indicator was green meaning we didn't have to worry about breathing so I punched in the inner door code. Yeah, I'm going with it's an annoyance. The lock indicator turned green again and I was able to open the door into the cargo hold we appeared to have docked beside.
"What an outdated code," said a mysterious female voice.
We all froze and ducked as if being shot at. Joseph had his gun pointed and aimed. He was looking all around the dimly lit cargo hold.
"You must be from that Osiris vessel nearby. I am the ship's computer AI."
"Wow this is some real Sci-fi like stuff," said Joseph easing his defensive posture.
"You could say that. You may call me Sarah."
My heart nearly smashed into my ribs hearing a woman say that name. In fact, I may have had a minor heart attack then. I am getting to that age. Why? Why did the computer have a female voice and have her name? I didn't need this right now. When I looked over at Sophia, I could see her concern towards me. I just turned away. I didn't need that from her. What did she know? Even at my age, even in my forties, I still acted like a teenager.
"How can I help you? asked the computer.
"Well, we need parts for our ship and considering yours is dead in the water I don't see why we couldn't salvage what we need," said Joseph always straight to business.
"Also, what happened?" asked Sophia butting in as if to counteract the Rudeness of Joseph. Though I suppose her field made her the type to want to know such things.
"Five years ago an asteroid hit the ISV Yellowstone causing massive damage to the ship and crew. We tried as best we could to repair the ship but many gave up and fled in the shuttles. Only six of the crew remained, but between accidents and disease all but one has been lost. Now even him," said the computer. It gave pause. It almost appeared to have emotions and the last part hard for it to muster out. "My dear Franklin has fallen ill. I couldn't save him so I put him in cryosleep. He has cancer and we discovered it too late. But there must be a way to save him!"
My fist tensed up on that last line. A computer crying to save someone. Acting as if it was human like us. And worst of all having that name, her name. Why did it have to be Sarah? It's as if my ghost will always follow me wherever I am. The cargo hold felt cramp even with it being nearly empty and only three humans in it. The Computer seemed to take up too much space. I needed to get away even if it was apparent the computer was everywhere, just to feel like I was leaving would help. I felt Sophia's eyes on me and it stung. She looked at me as one would their distant lover, but that couldn't be. Sophia having an interest in someone living. All she ever cared about was those from long ago. She never really shown interest in anyone.
Ducking behind some large crates I was able to sneak away from the others. Even in its current state, this ship was far more futuristic than our vessel. In its decay and neglect, the Yellowstone was far cleaner than the Osiris. Even with a name like ISV Yellowstone, it was far more of a name from a proper space traveling civilization.
Finally, alone I wandered the corridors still brightly lit in its rotting state. Perhaps the strangest part of the ship was the fact as I found myself deeper into the vessel the stronger I felt a pull on the ground. My weight grew as I walked. My Breathing became difficult and rhythmic as if exercising.
"This ship must have some sort of artificial Gravity," I murmured to myself as if I was keeping it a secret. Perhaps I just didn't want to say it loud enough to prompt the computer to respond.
"Yes it does," answered the computer in its cold nearly perfect female voice. Failure. I jumped hearing the disembodied voice. My heart pounding, thinking my ghost had finally begun talking to me. The computer did sound as I remember the real Sarah did, but that could just be my mind playing tricks on me. I looked around thinking of some way to escape but that was obviously foolish.
"Sorry," it said as if that would mean anything coming from this thing.
"You and your fellow crew members are not accustomed to me."
I don't think I would ever be used to this.
"No, we aren't. And it's not that anyway," I said laughing it off.
"What is it that bothers you then?"
"Nothing. None of your concern." I said walking faster as if I could get away. The computer seemed to understand my dislike of it because it didn't speak again.
After some time aimlessly wandering around, passing the crew quarters and a common room I noticed a sign stating, The Meadows. I titled my head reading the warm words. I softly said then under my breath, and the words felt sweet on my tongue. Time seemed to skip as I thought of the phrase and what it meant, as I was suddenly standing before the door. It didn't open automatically like every other. It had a scanner looking device next to it that said door controls. I placed my hand on the scanner and a green light lit through my skin. The door opened. I walked into another closed door as the first closed behind me. I turned as to run but it had trapped me. The air felt tight around me, and I found myself grasping for air. I saw so vividly in my mind Sarah floating away in space, her hand reaching out. Mine reaching as best I could for her but still she floated into the darkness. The second door open and it began
just as the first closed. My mind just didn't have a good sense of time right now.
As the door opened, I felt something invisible touch my skin causing it to crawl with goose pimples. After the initial shock of the invisible entity, I stood gaping as the realization of what it was, a breeze. My eyes focused on the sight before me and my mouth only grew wider. I was no long on a space ship but in a park on earth. I was in some strange dream. I was amidst the grass fields and trees not remembering how I got there. The air was sweet and warm with a gentle breeze comforting my body. The smell of wet grass caused me to melt. I felt my whole body relax, myself needing this moment even if I didn't know until now. The sounds of the birds in the distance and the trickling of a small stream feeding into a pond only added to the effect. Looking up and gazing up at the stars I saw them as I once did on earth and not the endless pit waiting patiently to end my life, but rather a spectacular show of lights. I remembered why I joined the program. How I once dreamed of nothing but living among the stars and leave my decaying planet. How romantic it all seemed back then. Besides, I had nothing going for me on earth. Unless you came from the elite, your only real option was to join the military. It was just about the only thing left not taken over by robots for some self-righteous nonsense reason. Those in power thought it best for a man to kill another man. But what did I know. I was a poor young boy from a failing farm with no other option. I rose quickly through the ranks as I had determination. I wanted off, and JESP was my ticket out. Sarah was in a way just rebelling from her parents. She came from elite. Obviously, she had much schooling being she had a degree and in a ridiculous field like paleo-archeology. It was a match made in opposites heaven. She the well-educated socialite, even if she was more grinding than pleasant and I was just another military flyboy. Yet, when it came to women, I tended to crash and burn. It was no different with Sarah, and generally, I'd walk off from the wreckage and fly again, but with her, I couldn't. Finally, I was injured.
None of that weight me down right now as I found myself perched on top of a hill lying in the grass. It was soft against my skin and the perfume of the greenery along with the bird's
songs lulled me away.
There was a thump beside me causing my eyes to fly open. Sophia was looking down at me beside me with the large bright lights of the meadows giving her an almost angelic glow. She had a joyful smile painted all across her face.
"Comfy are we?" she said with an unusual snark.
"Yeah," I said sarcastically and finding myself in a familiar place. "Have I been out long?"
"Perhaps. How long have you been here?"
I sat up to meet her eye to eye and not have her radiant self-towering over me anymore. Though I seemed to enjoy it. I smiled at her realizing this and she just shrunk up and her smiled faded. I didn't think much of it. Sarah was the same way. She had a hard time with people being nice to her since in her world niceness always had a cost. But as far as I saw it the price was already paid to be in the presence of a beautiful woman. I did as I often did with Sarah, nothing. You couldn't push her.
I looked over at the distance and saw two black and brown rabbits hopping along the path leading to the pond. They were chasing each other around a tree. I laughed. Sophia looked over at me with her soft lips slightly parted about to gasp at my behavior but held it back.
"Rabbits," I said to explain myself. It was another thing I found. Sometimes just talking helped. "Something I haven't seen in a long time. Almost forgot what they were called."
She looked over, scanning the horizon. I saw her smile return and its infectious effect got to me as my smile filled my face.
"Oryctolagus cuniculus," She said. I looked over at her confused. Her eyes widened from my glance.
"Its the scientific name for the common rabbit," she added.
"Oh. Well, what I would do with some real meat for once, even if it is Octolag cunnilingus."
She let out a laugh so fierce that she snorted. She could barely breathe. I never saw her act in this way. She even hit me mid laugh. Sophia just was unable to control herself.
"Oryctolagus Cuniculus," she managed out.
I laughed it off as well. What did I care? It was cute seeing her this way. I wanted to tell her that but I was afraid of her returning to her shell. But why did I care?
She caught her breathe and we sat in silence again. There was nothing awkward about it. It just felt right.
"This may seem so cliché, but I would love some sushi right now. And like the good stuff. Not the crap you get in America."
"I don't even know what that is."
She shyly laughed.
"Its a delicacy from Japan."
"That's where you're from, right?"
We sat there for some time on the soft grass. I didn't lay down again as I still felt dreary in the dream-like moment. I felt like a teenager again. Just hanging out with a cute girl from school. Still not understanding emotions and feelings towards someone but finding yourself wanting to be closer to them, yet just as equally not knowing how. Sophia was a lot like Sarah, just a mild, nicer version of her. I found myself looking at her more than the scenery. Just, Sarah wouldn't let it be. I still saw her ghost and I felt cold. I looked away needing to change the mood.
"What's Joseph up to?" I asked while playing with the grass.
Already planning what supplies to take and how to efficiently store them. Also arguing with Sarah," She said with a hint of mockery.
I cringed when she said that name. I know she meant the computer but hearing that someone was arguing with Sarah just hit too close to home.
"That guy never rests does he?" I said in hopes of distracting myself.
"No, I suppose not. I heard Sarah and," she started but seeing me tighten up she stopped.
"It's fine," I said not feeling fine but I didn't want to upset her.
We sat some more once again in silence. This place had that effect on you. I've been in Zero gravity for so long but finally I felt such a weight lifted off of me here. It was strange. Sarah's icy grasp on me was becoming loose. I could spend the rest of my life here. What did it matter? As far as I knew this was the only life out here. I'd take it at this point. I looked over to Sophia as I felt her warmth radiating on me. She was closer. I couldn't say who moved but we found ourselves inching near. I looked at her pink lips and our eyes locked.
The black sky opened up with a massive explosion causing me to pull away from her. It was worrying especially since it came from the direction that Osiris would be waiting. The sky was dark again but a spray of particles dusted along the domed roof in a hail of debris. Sophia jumped from the noise not aware of the explosion.
My face was still locked on the emptiness causing a concern to grow on Sophia's face. She looked at what had my gaze so fully caught only to see the blackness of space.
"What happened?" she asked shaking me out of my trance.
"There was an explosion." I blankly said. She looked again frantically.
"What do you mean?"
"There was an explosion."
"Yeah. I got that!"
"And it came from where Osiris was."
She froze. I don't blame her. That was possibly the worst thing one could hear. Her gaze fell to the ground and her cheery mood was lost to the past. Once again she escaped into herself. She looked up towards me her eyes puffy and red as a tear drifted from her irritated eyes down her soft cheek. I watched it fall from her as if time had slowed. I marveled at how a tear should fall from one's face.
"Poor Alice," she mumbled.
"Shit," I quickly shouted realizing what Joseph would be doing. I jumped up for the door.
"We need to find Joseph," I said with all urgency but just as those words fell from my mouth there was a thump on the protective canopy of the garden. We looked up at the horror of seeing his lifeless body float away slowly lost to the everlasting darkness.
"Oh my God!" cried Sophia.
I ran towards the airlock and she followed close behind. I was out of breath. Too much was happening and I couldn't keep up. I leaned against the door and slammed my hand on the switch but nothing happened.
"What the hell?" I yelled. Sophia said nothing but just stood there, her breath loud and cumbersome. I banged on the door.
"Is something wrong," chimed in the computer. I had forgotten about it. She was silent the entire time we were in the meadows. Then again maybe this was one place she didn't have a presence. A place for the human crew to escape the omnipresent machine.
"What was that explosion?" asked Sophia harshly. She came out with a temper so demanding I shamefully admit I kind of liked it.
"Nothing to worry about."
"Nothing my ass," I snapped back.
There was a silence as if the computer needed time to devise a lie.
"I'm afraid I am only doing what I was programmed to do."
"Oh so in all your power you are only following orders?" I said unconvinced.
"I'm afraid so. I must protect this ship and its contents."
"So you kill my crew members and destroy my ship?"
"I'm afraid yes. Things had changed since your mission. JESP is no longer. The superpowers
of Earth broke into war and that continued into space. With limited resources to get citizens free from our dead planet, many weaker nations felt it necessary to attack large well-stocked vessels like ours."
"But we’re not one of those ships," said Sophia as if one could reason with a machine.
"Well. I did it because of love. He meant to remove a critical part keeping my love alive,” said the lifeless machine.
"What the fuck do you know about love?" I said with an angry laugh.
"I am no different then you humans when in love. Do you not do crazy things? Are you not as destructive?"
"Not like this."
"Ha! You made a world of death. The world you so loved. You kill for love just the same. Even destroying the planet you so loved. Even abandoning it. All of history so full of destruction and you think you can lecture me what this love is. You humans don't even know."
"Well, will you now kill us?"
There was a look of fear in Sophia's eye, but she knew I was right to ask that. What would stop this machine from sending us to our end just as she did to Joseph?
"No," so precisely said the computer. "You are no threat."
"What if I decide to be?" I angrily asked.
"That wouldn't matter," answered the cold machine.
Sophia just looked over at me scared of the conversation. I think it made her uncomfortable.
"Is our shuttle still attached?" asked Sophia.
"No. I detached it when he was in the airlock. I'm afraid it has floated off too far by now."
"Bitch," I said.
"I'm sorry, but you can live quite well on here. This ship can sustain you all your short lives," said the computer.
"I guess we have no choice really," whispered Sophia.
She was right. We were stuck here with the murder machine. This was all we had left. And honestly not a bad place to spend the rest of your days.
"We should do something for them. At least has some sort of grave," said Sophia.
"I don't know. I'm sick of being reminded of death. I want the ignorance of life that is this place."
She only sighed.
We walked back to the little hill, heads down in defeat where she found me and we sat and watched the small pretend world act out around us; The birds chipping but not knowing why, the rabbits frolicking in the fields below, and even the trees rustling in the manufactured wind. It actually did lead one to believe you were on solid ground. We sat in silence for some time.
"Should we say something about them?" asked Sophia meekly.
"I suppose we could do that," I answered thinking what would I even say. I though and she remained silent.
"Joseph Spitz," I started knowing it would have to be me. "He was a good and dedicated astronaut. Always focused on keeping Osiris running even to the very end. He was a good friend always there with a joke or a jab and my oldest friend in the program. I was glad to have known him. So, so l-long."
I found myself nearly choked up on that last bit. I've known too much loss. Sophia leaned against me and wrapped her arms in comfort around my motionless body. She felt warm and I did feel better.
"You were lucky to have such a friend," she said with a bit of jealousy and sorrow. I looked over at her and she had nestled herself into me. She must have been so lonely on that ship. This was probably the first time she had any real human contact and with me. What terrible luck she had.
She looked up at me gazing at her and her face brightened a faint red. She quickly looked away.
"Sh-should we say something about Alice?" she suddenly asked.
"I didn't know much about her."
"Well, she made Joseph happy so she much have been a good person. She was just as dedicated to her task, as he was his. Probably buried in her work to the very end. It's almost good they both went right after another. No lengthy period of mourning for either of them."
Sophia squeezed me tightly. There was hurt in my words. I know it came out that way. I wanted them to cut. My face flared with tears. I think Sophia was not sure of what to do since she backed away yet remained close. Perhaps she only meant to give me space, as she would have wanted. It didn't bother me. I understood.
We didn't talk for some time. Just watched the surreal world unfold before us. The sounds and sights of this little Eden felt so real. I began to forget it was all pretend. The aroma of flowers from the fields and Sophia's perfume was sweet to me. The air was kind and mellow in the comfortable breeze. I felt the warmth of Sophia's body beside me again. I couldn't say who was moving but eventually, we found ourselves entwined. Our shoulders touching. She rested her head on mine. A smile ran across my face. I was unable to look away. I wrapped my arm around her thin inviting body and she adjusted deeper into my embrace.
"It really is a paradise here," she softly spoke. "Even if it isn't real, it feels like one."
"If paradise does exist then we destroyed it," I said looking out into the vast darkness. Myself becoming tired as if the air was being sucked out of me. "But at least, I found someone to share this with.”