“I found more wires. I hope these are the ones we need.
P. S. What’s your favorite colour?
‘Blue. My favorite color is blue.’ I reply on her notepad.
I hope She never asks me where the meat is from.
I cut the grey flesh into jagged pieces, a piece of control panel as my makeshift cutting board, and a jagged metal slat as my knife. The twisted metal juts from the bulkheads and dangles from the wall like the broken ribs of a dying animal. The skin on my cutting board tears and rips, into tiny bite sized pieces. I am thankful my hands are working.
I put the control panel over one of the many holes in the floor. This hole, a ruptured exhaust line, burps heat. God knows this planet is hot enough without the ship spitting out more fire, but it’s concentrated enough to cook. Soon the discolored meat on my tray begins bubbling on my makeshift grill.
The life support generator hums beneath my feet. It rattles precariously, like an old dusty man on a ventilator wheezing his last breaths. Dim yellowish lights flicker overhead, shuffling in irregular in time with the palpitating power supply.
I run my hands over my face and my arms. Sunken eye sockets, narrow tallow cheekbones, scratchy scabs along my forearms. But at least the skin is there. At least my skin has grown back. My eyes fixate on the only other light in the room besides the faint ruddy yellow glow of the life support lights– the blue glowing tube in the corner of the room.
– – – –
The headache starts. Soon it’ll be the teeth. That’s how I keep track of time. Not by a ticking watch or a blinking light, but by how sick I am. I lost count of the days. All I know is every day I die a little, and I come back a little less each time.
There probably were a lot of us at first. Survivors. Huddled together in the darkest bowels of the ship, like fleas clinging to the carcass of a rotting lamb. Most of them probably died alone and scared in the dark. Trapped under debris or burnt to death in the subsequent fires that tore through everything. I still encounter pieces of them. Bodies fused into the side of the ship. Skin and metal charred together, bones wedged into walls, femurs and steel girders, hair and wires all thrown together in a chaotic smoldering tangle. I scrape off what I can’ into my metal can.
I was lucky. I found the Medical Officer. “We’re on a planet too close to a sun.” he said. And sure enough, within a few short hours there was the thirst, and then the vomiting, and then later the blisters and the peeling. Our hair was falling out, and then teeth, and then the skin just sloughed off in sheets and people collapsed into piles of used-to-be.
It was the Medical Officer’s idea to use the tubes. With a crew of two-thousand people, injures happen. Every ship is required to have at least two. We had four. A lot of good that did us. Two smashed in half in the crash by a collapsed beam. One too broken to repair, and the last one… miraculously intact with a patient still inside.
– – – –
I never asked why she was in the tube. I was awake during the whole crash. Tumbled around in the wreckage, trapped in the smoke and chemicals, hearing the cries of my crew mates echo through the darkness. I know how we got here. But to see her startled face, awaking to five charred survivors looking expectantly at her, forcing her out of the only safe place left on this whole planet to share in our misery. It felt like we were robbing her.
I never asked her why she was in the tube.
– – – –
“It takes complex proteins” the Medical Officer explained. “A slurry of DNA to rebuild the damaged cells on the human body. We have the commercially synthesized stuff, stocked to the brim in cans. But really, anything will do.” I scrape my collection of my fellow travelers into one of the cans. I stir it around with a long metal rod and then pour it into the intake feed top of the tube. Really ‘anyone’ will do.
My teeth already hurt like my jaw was clenched all day. I sneeze into my dirty shaking hand. There’s the tell-tale dark stain of ash and blood. I’ve just got to hold out for a few more hours.
– – – –
The shakes make it almost impossible to get any work done at the end. I slump down at the foot of the tube. My vision swims and doubles. If only we had two tubes. I imagine yanking her out of there and taking my turn early, just to ease my agony. I shake my pulsing head and push that dark thought as far from me as I can. Guilt, makes me throw that thought as far as I can across the room. In the darkest corner of the far wall, faintly illuminated in the ruddy yellow light, it lands amongst four small bundles stacked neatly side by side.
Desperation makes people do savage things.
Soon I can’t even sit upright. The shakes have me doubled over, and curled up in the fetal position. My knees rattle against my chin, my fingernails raking against my shins. Loose skin comes away like peeling paint. Just a little bit longer now.
– – – –
The timer goes off. My eyes are permanently fixated on the tube, my eyelids shredded away into tiny flecking scabs until nothing but my burning eyeballs remain. My fingers, contorted into twisted little talons clutching desperately at the base of the machine like some plague victim pleading for salvation. The tube opens with a chromatic hiss, and an Angel steps out and helps me hobble inside.
– – – –
It’s like waking up, but to the same bad dream. I’m alive again, but just a little less than where I was before. She’s at my feet, like a broken withered tree. This time she’s gnawed through her cheeks, her tongue flopping lifelessly in the skeletal cage that is her mouth. Her pale blue eyes look up at mine. It breaks my heart every time. I pick her up. She weighs so little. I put her into the tube.
She left me another note:
“ I found more sheeting. Stacked them in the corner for you. I like blue too. After this, let’s escape to somewhere blue.
– – – –
We keep escaping for a few hours at a time, but never long enough to fully be free. I’ve made a decision. Something heavy that’s been in my heart for the past few weeks, growing in weight and size until it’s crashing through my chest like a ship launched off its trajectory as the only thing left.
I skip breakfast and begin work. The headache begins early without food. My fingers work furiously bending and molding the metal to fit alongside the tube. I use the bits of wire she collected to fasten it, and twist the sharp angles into place. I add more metal upon metal, building upwards from the bottom until it nearly touches the ceiling.
There’s no time to stop and admire my handiwork. My face is already numb and I can feel the skin bubbling off from my fingers. I begin opening all the remaining canisters of protein and pouring them in. All of our supply every bit and scrap of human I could ever find, emptied into my makeshift hopper on top of the tube.
My knees begin to shudder. Soon I won’t be able to stand. I need to make this quick. My knotted fingers punch clumsily at the dials on the tube. I adjust the timer, from just a few hours, to a few days, to a few months, to… just on. Permanently on. At least one of us can escape to somewhere blue.
In the final hours, the shakes have me doubled over and on the ground. I hope you can escape to somewhere blue. Escape to somewhere blue. It repeats over and over in my head as the pain begins to wrack my body with shudders and convulsions. Somewhere blue, as my arms begin seizing and shuddering uncontrollably. Somewhere blue, as my teeth begin falling out of my dangling jaw and my eyelids are blinked off for the last time. Somewhere blue. My eyes fixate on a distant point on the floor. Something I’ve never seen before, possibly dislodged by my recent construction. It’s a medical report:
My burning eyeballs read further down the page. These will be the last thoughts, the last memories for me…
Patient is terminal. Medical Officer recommends prolonged stasis until she can be released to her family to spend her final days at home.
…What, have I done?