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Author's note: Listening to the song, "Space Oddity" by David Bowie gave me the thought of a story of a man lost in space. Everyday when I walk to the bus I look up at the stars and I wonder what could be up there. I realized that a story in space about a man who is alone would be amazing if done right. I think I have successfully done it right.
The metal plating groans when I try to sleep. The computer's hum echoes through the narrow and empty halls. Sounds of air in a hollow hole whisper around me. I hear my breathing, the inhale and exhale, and then I stop, and manually start to breathe, the breaths heavier and slower. I find myself daydreaming more often than I used to. My eyes leave me by the tall trees of the forest, standing by a river that flows gracefully. The rush of water is so precise that not a wave splashes out of rhythm. The birds are chirping somewhere high up in the canopy but I don't see them. Looking closer, I can see the cabin I had built years ago. By the door is the garden that I created for my beautiful Savanna whose smile has yet to disappear. Her hands press against her lips as she steps in front of me towards the cabin in awe of its beauty.
Lips parting to speak but quivering as she holds back the joyous tears, she softly says, "It's perfect."
"It's perfect." It echoes through my mind and I hold on to those two meager words. They're quiet, just barely audible, but I can understand them and they make me smile. I smile looking at her but it doesn't last long. The silence of loneliness looms over me once more and I find that the words have all been spoken and there are no more words. They're gone, just like my beautiful Savanna. Everyone and everything is gone and it's just me, myself, and I up here where no eye can see. Where no ears can hear. Where no nose can smell. It's all grown to me. I have become part of this empty facility that is my tomb. My rear has become glued to the office chair in front of the large mainframe as I stare at a wall of pictures that I had brought with me. I reach out to them but my arm is weightless and I feel it drift away like the memories.
My name is James Palmer. My name is James Palmer and I am from Richmond, Virginia. I am alone. Every second of the last seven years, I find myself still waiting for a rescue ship that will never come. I was left behind by Icarus Industries on a research mission, analyzing a disease that had been quickly spreading and affecting the people of Earth. On the moon, I am alone. My original saviors died five years ago when their ship, the Infinity had gotten caught in a meteor shower and they were all killed very quickly.
Five years later, and here I am, alone, staring at the paneled ceiling counting the ridges, the corners, and just about every other detail there is to observe in the panels. I am alone and I acknowledge the fact that I am losing my sanity. At first, I only had the severe claustrophobia to keep me company. After adjusting to the idea that I may be here for the rest of my mortal life, I have found new things to fear. Silly things too.
Xenophobia: Fear of aliens
Astrophobia: Fear of space
Agoraphobia: Fear of open spaces or crowded places
The list goes on but I will limit myself. I tend to think too much about things now that I have all this time to think. Unfortunately, my thoughts often run dry and I find myself no longer thinking but I become lost in the memories of a dead man. A man who existed once but was abandoned and left to rot.
Every day, I come by the mainframe and reboot everything and return to the large console near the center of the station that once connected me with Earth. Now, the console is blank. I receive no signal from Earth nor emit a signal to Earth, or at least I imagine so since no one seems to respond. There is only radio silence accompanied with the white noise that has drilled itself into my ears. I stare at that same screen, the one full of letters that spell the names of people I knew once but are now people that have all gone. I look at their contact pictures and recall some memories of them.
I see Robert Holland, an old friend from college whose picture is of him on his new motorcycle that he bought after getting a bonus with some law firm he worked at. The day he bought it, he swung by my home in New York and told me that we were getting drinks. It was the drunkest I had gotten in a while. I have no recollection of the night besides a minor detail involving him throwing up on a taxi. Then, I see Laura Wilson, a co-worker from Icarus and a best friend until my departure. She and I would often discuss the latest in just about everything but our favorite topics were video games and movies. She could recite the entire café robbing scene in "Pulp Fiction" without hesitation.
I continue to scroll down the list as I always do routinely, constantly reminding myself of the memories and the faces. I do so for about thirty minutes and when I finish my daydreaming, I get up and move to the fitness center to aimlessly exercise. Something within me tells me that one day, I would leave this station and I would need to be prepared to return home. Being out of shape was no way I wanted to return. After the exercise, I shower for however long I feel the need to. Often times, I tend to drift away into daydreaming for an hour or so while I shower. When I come back to reality, I go to my quarters and lay in my cot with my tablet in hand, viewing all of the videos on the tablet over and over again. I watch the fortieth anniversary of Icarus that had been recorded and sent to me my first year here, a video of a battle in Pakistan that had been sent from a news network, a Coldplay music video seeing as they are my favorite band and have been since before I was trapped here, and I watch several homemade videos sent by family. The one I watch the most is the video of Savanna the morning after our wedding. In the cabin, she is cooking in a tank-top and her underwear, bacon sizzling in the pan while the pancakes become firm on the griddle. I listen to her voice with my eyes closed, opening them to see her short brown hair dangling in front of her face, nearly covering her bright green eyes that glisten with glee as she glances at me. She moves in to kiss me and I move the camera aside, and in that moment, I place myself in my shoes, feeling her warm lips press against mine, her soft hand grazing my cheek. I yearn to know how it feels to be kissed again. Opening my eyes, she pulls away and the camera is back on her but I pause the video just in time to stare at a frame of her smiling at the camera and I smile too, rubbing the picture with my finger, simulating my finger trailing along her cheek.
"I love you," she says, when I resume the video.
"I love you."
I miss her. I miss all of it. I can never have it again. I am stuck here until the day I die. I always seem to remember that every night just as I prepare for bed. This station will be my tomb. It is all that's left in my life. It is my life. I close my eyes and I listen closely as my mind drifts to a dreaming state.
The metal plating begins to groan. The computers hum as they put themselves to sleep. Echoes of circulating air in this hollow and empty station are a background noise to all that I hear. All that I feel. The soft cot beneath my body. The warm pillow under my cheek and beard rustling against the fabric. Rubbing my cheek, I think of Savanna. I see her lying next to me and she stays there, staring into my eyes, smiling from ear to ear. Starting to shut, my eyelids waver to my tire. Savanna begins to fade to black before me. When darkness falls, all noise is muted.
I only hear the quiet whisper, "We're going to be okay." I believe her, so I will stay another day.
It would have been my birthday today, according to the digital clock running on Earth's time. I remember past birthdays, spent with family who gathered together to sing, eat, and celebrate the day I was born. Now, I merely recognize the day and reminisce. Out of all the things in life, I miss the surprises most. I miss waking up every day, unsure of what'd happen. Of course, there aren't many surprises left to me anymore besides the mystery of how this ends. I contemplated taking my own life at first. Staring out of the windows of the moon station, up at the starry universe and at Earth, I wonder what'd it be like to end it all. Of course, I haven't but besides doing that, I don't see any other way that this will end besides waiting it out and dying of old age. Crazy how I always thought that living on Earth, I'd die of heart failure or a car crash or something like that. Up here, I am healthier than I was down there. There would be no heart failure, nor car crash.
I'd die alone.
The computer terminal reads the same names and shows the same pictures. It's another day gone by in isolation and the connection between Earth and I is still severed. The faces never change; never update. Every facial feature is just the same as they were yesterday and as they were for the past seven years. It's all the same to me but I've grown to it. I don't feel alone anymore. I don't feel scared. I'm just...here. Isolated in my own Purgatory to live the rest of my days here. Ask me, do I believe in God, and I will tell you that if he exists, he isn't anywhere close by. He's not watching over me or those on Earth. He's just sitting on his golden throne watching as the world rots at the mercy of humans and our disease, war, pollution, and famine.
I prayed the first year of being stranded here that God would get me off of the moon and deliver me safely to Earth. I quickly learned how useless that was when all those left in my life, those that had accompanied me to the moon died off one by one and I was left alone to the mercy of God. To the mercy of a random chance that someday, they'd come again. I know they never will.
I open the door to the Medical Ward where the corpses of all my dead co-workers that accompanied me here rest in their sarcophaguses of glass, metal, and ice. I pass each chamber, nineteen in total, eight on both sides of the room, and all of them are occupied by the dead. Arms down by their sides, eyelids peeled over, skin grey, and hair weightlessly shifting about, the bodies rest peacefully in the freezing gel-filled chambers. I visit this ward often, though it's freezing and most of it empty besides entering. Further into the ward leads to a long abandoned medical clinic that grows old with dust with the passing of the only medical professional on the station. The clinic had never been used since most of the crew had been dead when they were due to wake.
I found myself standing in the middle of the medical clinic, wondering what it'd be like to have a crew standing amongst me, all working hard through each and every day. If the meteor storms had never destroyed the ships, this station would have flourished, and Earth would have gotten its cure a little sooner, if it hasn't already which would mean...I rather stray from such thoughts.
My hands run across the steel medical tools engulfed in the dust of ages. Careless and forgetting the hazards of the sharp tools, my fingers run across a blade and begin to drip small drops of blood that is pulled to the dark, tiled floors by the station's artificial gravity. For a second, I forget where I am. A flashback plays through my mind of me, twenty, standing in my apartment kitchen and cutting my finger making a sandwich. I jerk my hand back in pain and suck at the wound but a drop escapes from my lips and falls to the tiled kitchen floor.
"You alright?" I hear Savanna asks from the bedroom. I look to see if she comes out but she never does, and I never see her beautiful face. "James?"
I look down at the wound and the few drops that escape it. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just..." I look up from the wound to my right where the bedroom door is, but it is gone and I am no longer in my apartment but back in the medical clinic staring at myself in a mirror. "...cut myself." I said, furrowing my brow and sagging my shoulders as I inspect my body, slender, a full grown beard on my face, and my hair drooping down the sides. My white jumpsuit looks gray in the dark room. I step closer to the mirror to get a closer look at the man staring at me, who for a while, I fail to believe is me. I am skinnier than I was, hairier too. Rubbing my face, I step back, turning to leave the clinic before knocking over a tray of medical tools from a counter. One last glance at myself as I stagger away, my eyes are glazed over and lip curved into a defined frown that did well to express my sorrows. Yet again, I was reminded of the awful truth that I was alone. When I attempted to forget about it, something is always there to remind me. I drag myself through the dark corridors back to the center of the station where I stand, gazing out of a window into the black of space. Where are the others, I think. Are there others?
Earth rotated on its axis, revolving around the Sun on its three hundred sixty-five day orbit, and I watched it all as it happened from the lunar station. I rested my back against the outer hull of the station, admiring Earth from such a distance. Its inhabitants of humans were growing ever more sick by the day at the relentless disease that is soon to infect all human life.
Here on the Moon, the disease is irrelevant besides the fact that the research team I am coupled with is tasked with creating a cure, along with several other stations that are spread out across the surface of the Moon. There's been barely any communication between the other stations ever since communication with Earth went silent two days ago. The remaining researches in my team who haven't died from the cryogenic sleep are slowly dying to a rapidly spreading insanity that is consuming their minds, one more fatal than the disease brewing on Earth. I feel as if in a number a days, someone will snap and all hell will break loose. I pray that Earth reestablishes contact before then.
Meanwhile, to escape from the tensions, I slip away outside of the station and observe the Earth. I've never quite gotten used to being out in space, even if I am on the Moon. It's surreal, the weightlessness, and hard to imagine anything more empty than space. Even amongst the other scientists I fell an isolation I cannot describe. Looking in any direction, you see the blackness that accompanies the stars and you begin to take in just how vast space is and just how empty and lonely it is. Being away from Earth gives you a feeling of separation that I have dealt with for quite some time now, but even the strongest of us feel the separation. That's why we're all slowly losing our minds. That's why I come out of the station and stare at Earth where I know life is and where the people come together, despite this disease bringing mankind to a bitter end.
"James?" I hear from a womanly voice to my left.
I glance over and see Gabriela, a young, raven haired scientist from Illinois standing in the archway leading inside the station with her deep space suit on. "Something wrong?" I asked, assuming the worst which has been happening more often recently.
"Nothing, just couldn't find you inside."
"Well, you found me," I said, putting my hands up mimicking surrender.
She laughed and made her way towards me, standing beside me and sharing the view of Earthrise. "It's beautiful."
"Yeah, takes your mind off of the things happening here."
"But then you worry about the things happening there too."
"I guess that's why everyone's going mad. We're worrying about too much."
She shook her head and sighed, looking up to me and she asked, "Do you worry too? It never seems like it, the way you're always so calm and rational about things. Hell, Tom shouldn't be the team leader, to be honest. You should take the helm."
I chuckled, flattered at the suggestion of my taking of Tom's position but I shook my head, disagreeing. "No, I worry too, maybe even as much as Tom. He's just trying to make the right choices and finish this cure just like the rest of us, except he has to tackle our team's problems alone."
For a moment, there was silence in which we both looked at Earth but I would occasionally glance over at Gabriela and she would to me. The two of us had been close on this entire mission from the first day of training. We've been the go-to for venting and voicing concerns. I knew that I could always count on her as she could with me. She looked at me one last time before saying, "I think, we're all alone."
I held in breath for quite some time, unable to let it go as I pondered on the thought. Despite her standing next me, she was right. I felt it from the moment we arrived. We are alone. Even in the company of friends. I wanted to reach out to her and convince her otherwise. Convince her that I was here, but I couldn't lie, nor would I lie.
She leaned her head on my shoulder and I rested my hand on hers and we stared at the Earth, swallowing our loneliness.
Three days ago, it was my birthday. I celebrated it alone, lacking a party, a cake, balloons, and friends and family. I celebrated it with a dehydrated meal and water, sitting in front of the central console, looking at Gabriela's portfolio picture. It was a change of pace from looking at Savanna all day. Gabriela had features I had yet noticed from a dark freckle on her right cheek, to the smile that curved at the ends, and the thin, silky hair pulled back into a ponytail, and her vivacious olive eyes that flickered with the camera flash. After hours of studying her features, I shut my eyes and tried to place her in a memory. I imagined holding her soft hand, hugging her small, nimble body, and laughing softly at a joke she's said. My imagination ends with the only memory of her I possess. Kneeling down before her cold, dead, limp body, cradling her as the blood spills from her chest where she's been shot. I am crying as I rock back and forth, begging her to stay with me but she doesn't. I brush back her hair, feeling the ripples as they move from my hand, and I reveal her stoic eyes that stare blankly at the ceiling.
I return from the memory with a racing heart and rapid breathing, clutching the armrest of the chair. My eyes stare down the picture of her on the central console, smiling happily, but I cannot shake the memory of the death written on her face.
I rush from my chair towards a restroom where I soak my face in the sink, letting the water trail down my face, down to my beard where it collects and drips back into the sink. I scratch at the rapidly growing beard, realizing I probably look like a hermit. I can't remember the last time I'd shaven. Months, maybe years since I last groomed myself. With no mirrors in the restrooms, it was hard to notice that any hair had been growing out of control. Of course, the absence of people also attributes to the fact that keeping myself tidy hasn't been a priority. I didn't why but I felt compelled to do something with myself as I felt at the long hair on my face. Not right now, but maybe tomorrow, I would better myself just to see how I feel afterward. Might as well since I am lacking on activities. It'd keep my mind off of the people in my life.
"Don't believe their lies! We're all due to die! You, you, you, all in due time!" a man cries on a dirty street corner outside of work. I can hear him from my office as he chants for hours at a time. He preaches of the disease that's made news after surfacing in California.
The disease, PUL-32, originating in Japan and first spreading to South Korea, is starting to take the world by storm. It starts with normal cold symptoms and slowly turns into feverish symptoms. At this point, it is observed, that there is no treatment available. Victims often get the chills which are followed by a severe coma in which they will die in. Due to the cold symptoms it produces upon first infection, PUL-32 is highly contagious. Despite the strongest efforts, one seventh of Japan's population is already infected, with a staggering one sixth of those dying. At this point, the disease is highly unpredictable as its DNA mutants at random, giving scientists, doctors, and researchers all over the globe difficulty curing it.
I am amongst the many struggling to fight the disease to prevent further infections. There are already reports of the disease affecting many mid-western states as well as Florida, and Georgia, despite it just recently reaching California. Three deaths have already been reported in a hospital in Los Angeles with many more to follow.
I sigh, glancing away from a computer monitor to a dark winter day in Washington D.C. Down the road, wearing protective equipment, National Guard is trying to maintain order after many protests against Marshal Law which has been instated two days ago. Not bothering to waste time, FEMA already has mobile sites set up all throughout the city. Some stand at the entrances to buildings checking people as they come and go for infection before letting them enter. Just today, they pulled away three from my department for being infected at the doors. You never know when you're going to be next. A single cough is enough to be placed in isolation.
Tensions are high in the office with everyone struggling to make do with providing something that researchers can use to make a cure. I am only glad today is my final day before going to Texas to join a team due to launch into space to research at a facility on the moon, far from the infection down on Earth. My things are packed and waiting in my car and my office has been thoroughly cleaned out. I can only imagine the stress this puts on Savanna who is spending time with her parents in Canada after taking time off from work. Not only does she have to worry about being sick or her parents being sick, she has to worry about me going into space for several years. Not your average stress I imagine. Still, I am needed for this work and cannot say no. If there's even a remote chance that I can help, I will do so, no matter what the cost.
I could not have imagined that the costs would be so great, and for what? Damnation on this lonley moon that revolves around the silent Earth. There were many ways that this scenario could have played out and I have been stuck in the harshest one. I can tell myself that it doesn't bother me even when it does. I can tell myself that I don't care about what's going on on Earth even though I do. I just don't have what it takes to do a thing about it. I can only wake up every morning, alone, with my hope quickly fleeting, and pray that someone comes to save me.
There is a lot of fear accompanying the thought of never seeing another living soul for the rest of my life. I traverse the empty corridors of the station, fear constantly lingering, and look for something to occupy my days. Today, I groom myself for no one and stand in front of the mirror in the clinic, staring at myself for quite sometime. I am stoic, my expressions abesnt but the fear dwelling deep in me. Flashing through my mind are the thoughts of tearing the hairs from my scalp, clawing my eyes out with my nails, scratching the flesh from my muscles but these terrible impulses are only thought and nothing more. That's all it takes though, in the beginning, is for it to be a thought. This is I, the lone astronaut, falling to the mercy of insanity. When it sets in and makes a home of my mind, there is no impulse I can resist, no thought I cannot act upon. I know this, and it only adds to the fear. How long can I be here until I watch my insanse self tear my body and flesh to pieces, a self-destructing feral beast?
I blink and I am in the chair, sitting before the large, central console, reading the names routinely, longing for the people. An impulse surfaces and I find myself checking the signals again, expecting the connection to be reestablished but it won't be, I know it won't. Yet, I continue to run the program and the signal search begins. The station becomes a beacon, lit up brightly on the radar for any station on the moon or mission control on Earth can see. I sit at the edge of my chair and wait, intertwining my fingers as I impatiently await a message that will never come. My tired eyes scan the screen, desperate for a response. Forty seconds in and I begin to lose hope.
I look down to the floor, defeated, and I press my hands over my eyes, keeping the tears from coming. Eventually, there is no point, I am alone with no one to see, so, I let the tears come with ease and I sob. Pleas of mercy escape my lips and I beg whatever deity it may be that is watching to spare me. I want it all to end but I know it never will. I push out of my chair and make for the small armory closet. I grab a handgun from the rack and stare at the sleek, matte black gun, considering what I was preparing to do. I take the safety off of the loaded gun, and inspect the instrument of my end, cherishing the last right I have on this solitary rock. Walking with the gun back to the central console, I fall into the chair and stare at the gun as the central console beeps in front of me, the scan ongoing with no results. One last glance at the large screen and I decide it isn't worth it anymore. Disregarding the scan, I stare down the barrel, and for once, I feel a since of relief and of freedom. This is it. I slide the barrel into my mouth, biting down on it. My eyelids slide over my eyes slowly and I descend into the darkness of my consciousness.
They say you see your life flash before your eyes in the end. I don't see it, but only see myself standing before the mirror in the clinic. The reflection I see is altered though, and I see not myself, but a man in a tattered deep space suit with a full beard and long hair. A beast, by definition, standing before me at full length with a gun in his hand and blood seeping through his lips. It was hard to realize and hard to fathom but this beast, the monster standing before me, was me. Upon this discovery, the horror of my insanity had gotten its grasp on me but I wouldn't let it pull me away. My finger began to ease against the trigger and I anticipated the bang.
It was all so relieving actually, my wish to leave this station is about to be fulfilled and it was all in my hands. I would be the one to carry myself away from this place. I don't need any ships, rescue teams, the survivors, or even a cure. It doesn't matter anymore and I finally see that.
"You aren't getting near her," I said, the words easing past my grit teeth. I tightened my grip on the gun, steadied my aim, and kept my sights on Lionel who stood with his gun drawn on me.
"Get out of the way, James," Lionel said, hissing the warning as he slowly eased his way towards me.
I held my ground, an unmoving wall between Gabriela and he. The barrel of the gun pressed against his chest, holding him at bay. I told myself that I would not hesitate to fire and I really hoped that that was true. His intent was written on his face in bold letters. Gabriela was somehow infected by the disease we fought so hard to destroy. Lionel, upon discovering this morning, lined himself in front of her room, gun in hand. I only learned of Gabriela's infection last night. I understood the paranoia that had stricken Lionel but this was no way to handle the situation. Lionel was so hell-bent on killing her that he was not thinking rationally, not seeing the options that we have.
Oliver, the team technician appeared at Lionel's left, mortified at the standoff in the doorway. He pulled at Lionel's shoulder to gain his attention and he definitely got it. Lionel acknowledged him with a shove, causing him to stumble back, his hand sliding against the wall for support on his fall.
"Stop this, Lionel!" Oliver begged.
"She's infected and needs to be dealt with before she infects the rest of us! Hell, we might be infected already!" Lionel said, not bothering to look down at Oliver, his eyes glaring at me.
His face was reddened with anger, face contorted to reflect his fury. I looked past the raging beast standing before me and pressed my gun into his grey shirt in an attempt to push him out of the room but he did not budge. Oliver staggered to his feet and tried to push the guns down but Lionel swatted him away with the gun, drawing on him.
"I told you to stay back!" Lionel yelled.
It was a blatant mistake in his actions that he should have thought of before he turned from me to Oliver. I sprung upon him like a tiger, landing on the wall across from the room. Wrestling for his gun, Oliver moved past us and into Gabriela's room, hauling her out. I could see only from the corner of my eye that he was trying to take her to safety. Apparently, Lionel did too, and I felt him fight harder to remove me from on top of me. I brought my fist back behind me and pounded it into his jaw in an effort to subdue him but it did little but stun him. I fastened my hold on his gun and dug my shoulder into him, pushing him up against the wall with what strength my small average body had against the man who could be mistake for a professional athlete. Oliver was out of the room now and running down the hall, most likely to the clinic, seeing as it was the closest room with containment doors. Seeing them vanish down the hall sparked a new strength in Lionel that I could not match. His knee jutted out, smashing into my hip. There was little pain until he grabbed at my face, rolled over, and smashed it into the ground. The pain echoed from my face to the rest of my body. I was slow to realize that Lionel had gotten to his feet and dashed down the halls, struggling to keep on his two feet. I followed suit and sprinted down the halls chasing after Lionel through the maze of a station.
Bruises were forming where I'd been hit on my hip and chest. I blocked the pain, keeping my mind on hounding Lionel. I knew that Oliver was in the room by now knowing Lionel, he'd find a way into the clinic. He's proven dangerous to us all and now, the thought I resented the most of having to kill Lionel seemed to become a reality that I had failed to realize as inevitable. My grasp on the gun was grip as I pivoted around corners, pushing off of walls as I ran into them to keep up. Ahead, the containment doors to the clinic had shut and Lionel was pounding on the doors to get in. He had picked up his gun when darting away and it hung by his side as his fist smashed against the metal doors.
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!" he yelled, growing more impatient by the second.
I raised my gun as I approached, questioning whether or not to shoot him now. Twitching, my finger hesitated on the trigger. "Lionel!" I called. He turned and looked at me through the corner of his eye and raised his gun on me. I was thirty feet away, staring down Lionel's gun as he stared down mine. The sweat rolled down my cheek while I struggled to catch my breath but I kept the aim true. "Lionel, put the gun down."
"You don't understand, James. If she hasn't infected us all yet, she will. It's gonna happen."
"We can find another way."
"There's no other way," Lionel said, backing up to the door and typing into the keypad. He was inputting the override code and within seconds, he'd be in. There was little I could do anymore.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, hoping that once they opened, everything would be back to how it was. That I wouldn't be on this damned moon and everyone still has their sanity. That the disease hadn't hit Earth like a ton of bricks. I want to be back home, back in Chicago where everything was normal. Where I was still with Savanna, knowing that I would not stoop to the level of killing someone out of survival and fear. When my eyelids peeled back, I saw nothing had changed. I was still in hell, surrounded by the chaos of isolation and the doors were opening. It was now or never.
IA gunshot rang and my heart sank. Eyes widening to the horror I watched play out before me, followed by my gun shooting, I cried out. "NO!"
Gabriela fell to the floor, the blood hitting the wall behind her as the bullet coursed through her chest and coming out clean. Her limp, lifeless body fell to the floor with a sloppy thud. I was so focused on her that I hadn't noticed my round had made its way into Lionel's shoulder. He spun around, taking the heavy hit. My eyes drifted to him, my cry still coming out, and I could see him raise his gun to me again. The world had not picked up in pace as my gun dragged through the air as if wading through water. In an instant, it all came back to regular speed. Lionel shot, and I shot, and now, I am on the floor, groping for the wall in confusion. My entire right shoulder was numb as I stared up at the grey ceiling.
I grasped my shoulder where a bullet wound oozed warm, thick blood onto the tiled floor beneath me. Trying to stand proved futile and I met the ground once again, falling face first into the small puddle of blood beneath me. I knew now that I had been shot and that I had shot, but I didn't know if my bullet met my target as Lionel's had. There was a ringing echoing in my ear, pulsing through my head and making it hard to make sense of anything. I fought back the ringing and pushed myself to sitting up, my hands clasped down on my ears as the rang carried on through the enclosed corridors. There were two bodies on the ground in front of me. Gabriela and Lionel both lied in a puddle of their own blood.
I fought back tears getting to my feet as slowly as possible. Oliver's lips were moving but I could hear no words coming out. He wore a face of perplexity as I stumbled towards him, kneeling down next to Gabriela. I lifted her head in my bloody palms, staring into her blue eyes that blankly stared at the ceiling. Tears formed in my eyes and fell onto her limp corpse as the sobs came despite my efforts to hold it back. I brought her head up to mine, praying, begging for her to come back. I didn't want to open my eyes and see her dead. I wanted to keep them closed and keep her how she was in my mind, alive and happy like she'd always been. My eye lids peeled back and there she was. Dead.
"James?" Oliver said, his voice finally clear behind my madness.
My head rose and my red, glazed over eyes glared into Oliver's. "What do you want?" I asked, my voice vicious and aggressive.
"I-I'm sorry, but, we need to get out of here."
"I'm not leaving," I said, returning my eyes gaze to Gabriela.
"We need to find a way off of this station, man. Send an S.O.S. or something. We can't do that here with our communicators down."
"We're not going ANYWHERE."
"Screw this," Oliver said, making his way around the mess to the hall.
I watched him go but wouldn't let him get far. Leaving this station would be a mistake, no matter how much hope he had in anyone outside of the station. I sighed deeply, finding this situation is quickly becoming more dire by the minute. I pardoned myself from the dead, getting to my feet slowly, grasping my shoulder as the bleeding came to a slow halt but the pain grew immensely. I knelt down to get my gun from the hall floor and continued down the hall, forgetting all about morals and forgiveness. This was survival now. With a wounded shoulder, pounding heart, and flowing adrenaline, I marched down the halls in Oliver's footsteps. With every step, my shoulder ached as gravity weighed down on me. I took deep breaths, clearing my mind and bracing myself for another hard decision that I had put little to no thought into. I was running on automatic with no intentions to yield or become oblivious to the threat leaving could pose with only two people left. No two stations were to be in contact with each other and to leave the station is a death sentence. I was only gathering myself to do what must be done.
Rounding around a corner into the center of the station where I knew that Oliver would be, struggling over the central console to open the airlock doors to escape. There would be no escape from Station 116 because to escape would be to compromise this mission. Oliver was failing to see things from my perspective. To leave the station is to abandon Icarus and when we abandon Icarus, they abandon us. I knew this well after thoroughly reading the contract time after time.
"Oliver, you go out there and there's no going back. No coming back to this, or to how it was, or just Earth in general," I said, attempting to reason with Oliver but his mind had pondered the idea for too long to the point where it was his reality.
"No, James. We're going to die on this damned moon no matter how you look at it. Out there or in here, it's all the same. I'm just not trying to die alone here."
"You go out there and you will die alone looking for the company you desire so much. Just stay here and Icarus will be here eventually to take us both back to Earth."
"No, I'm sorry but I'm not staying with you. Don't take this the wrong way, man, but I can see it in you now. You're just as crazy as Lionel was, only more tame. Hell, maybe we're all as crazy as Lionel but you, man, you're letting go of the humanity. You're losing it, the way you wave that damn gun around. I'm sick of it! I'm done!"
He turned around continue the process of opening the airlock doors, turning his back to me. My fist clenched, struggling to raise my right arm to take aim. My nostrils flared, veins protruding out of my forehead in rage. My finger was itchy on the trigger but I was quick to pull. Oliver fell onto the console, arching his back in pain as he rolled off of the console and onto the tiled floor, leaving a trail of blood from where his body had dragged from the console onto the floor. He was alive and heaving painfully, grasping his chest where I'd shot him in the lung. He coughed and blood spat from his mouth onto the floor beside him. My blood boiled because he made me do this. I despised the thought that Oliver had made me shoot him because he wouldn't heed my warnings. I told him that he'd be dead leaving and I suppose that didn't get through his head. And now, he's dead and it infuriated me.
I stood over him rubbing my shoulder that ached from the recoil and stared into his pleading eyes. He choked on his blood, holding his hand up weakly. I knelt down next to him and grabbed his hand. Despite what I'd done, I never desired this path. I only wanted to go home. Being here had done this to me and had brought all this chaos. My eyes glazed over with tears at the rage. I had to look away from Oliver as I scowled, in denial of what is happening. It had all happened so quickly and I only now realize what I'd done. I was holding the hand of the very man I killed, comforting him until he dies because of my bullet. I could feel the warmth in his hands quickly fleeting and his face whitening but he wouldn't die so easily. This would be a painful death for him. My lips quivered, as I tried to understand what I was about to do. Oliver would have been the only company I have for the remainder of my stay here and now, I was soon to be alone. Alone, a word that terrified me. I understood that if I didn't do what was necessary, Oliver would endure a painful death. So, as a final act of mercy, I pressed the gun to his temple as he cried and echoed, "You.. k-killed me, James. You...you killed me."
My hand nervously shook, my nerves wrecked and my mind falling blank. This was it. "I'm sorry," I said quietly, trying to hold the tears as they trailed down my cheek.
"W-why did you...why'd you...kill me?" he asked, coughing painfully.
I shut my eyes tight and eased onto the trigger as Oliver continued to give his last, painful words. "I'm so sorry."
I slammed the gun down on the console, breathing heavily in a panic. Looking up at the screen, there was a blimp on the screen coming two kilometers away from my station. At first, I thought that I had been imagining this. Had I pulled the trigger and blown my mind away? I looked down at the gun with a cold barrel and questioned my very sanity as I seemed to do more often now. I let the blimp ring for a good two minutes, staring in denial. There was no way that after seven years that now, out of all times I find someone. This wasn't fair. On the verge of taking my own life, something keeps me from doing so. Finally, it is apparent that I am not alone in Purgatory.
In a sense of panic and confusion, I activated the radio signal scan but the same error that occurred for seven years popped up. My hands clawed at my face in agitation and slammed down on the console. "NO!" I yelled, pushing the chair back behind me as I stood over the console trying to enter an override code. Entering the code time and time again produced no solution. I ran a diagnostic scan. I couldn't remember the last time that I had ran the scan but it was necessary now. Whoever was out there, I had to hear them, I had to know they were there and it wasn't some automated signal. The problem was centered around an issue on the exterior hull of the station where an antenna had been structurally damaged. My heart sank and I felt a great anxiety build up within me at the thought of going out there. I denied the scan and ran it again, waiting the full two minutes for a return on the scan. Same results, same anxiety.
The blimp remained, blinking and beeping in synchronization. Five kilometers away, someone remained. Whether they knew what had happened to Earth or not, they were most likely stranded on this rock like me. Maybe it was only a lone survivor, or an entire group and maybe they were crazy, and maybe they were sane. There were many variables, many different scenarios in which I have now placed myself after activating the beacon. I could take the beacon down, sure, but if they were smart, they would know that I am still here. They would know where to look. I had made my presence known and would have to see this through.
I had to identify where this signal was coming from. I could find a map with all the stations on the moon marked down. I opened a drawer under the console, digging through the papers for the map. The corner of the map was poking out from under a pile of files. I grabbed it and jerked it out of the drawer, flattening the map against the console, my eyes scanning the moon's surface. I matched the coordinates, identifying the location of the signal. It was International Station 19A2. International Station 19A2. I memorized the station's name and thumbed through the papers in the drawer again, looking for a file on 19A2. In a folder at the bottom of the drawer were the documents on station 19A2. I placed the paper on top of the map, reading the names and pictures of those at the station.
There were five original researchers at 19A2. Daniel Nguyen, Oscar Orville, Yuri Karpov, Daniella Ross, and Marianna Cruz. Each of them were employed by the United Nations and were stationed in 19A2 for six years. Each came from distinctively different backgrounds that all led them to join the UN and work in a World Health Organization-led disease prevention and control task-force. 19A2 is one of seven WHO stations on the moon, two being on the dark side. There was no way that I would come into contact with the dark side but as far as I can see, the other four stations are absent, communication severed between all of the moon. These men and women were up here for the same reason as I. Everything in me hoped that they were all still in one piece, unlike my team. I needed to contact them because I needed to know. This was dire. But that would never happen unless I went outside of the station to repair the damaged antenna. I was neither prepared to face the exterior of this station, nor did I desire to leave.
I pulled up the chair from behind me and fell back into it, resting my chin on my fist. The blimp continued to blink and beep. "No Radio Signal Found" hung on the top right corner of the screen in flashing orange letters. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind while I watched the blimp, wondering what lied on the other side. Part of me was sure that I was still imagining this. Another part was more than positive that it was an automated signal. Deep in the recesses of my mind, a thought lingered, a hope, that beyond the blimp someone sat, thinking the same thoughts that ran through my shuffled head. I wiped my eyes, exhaustion apparent with the red around the irises. My watch read past time for me to sleep. I sighed, cruising my fingers through my long hair and I closed down the console. Tomorrow would be another day to find to decide the next course of action. I need to sleep on what to do. I got up from the chair and walked to my chambers, the beeping fading away as the computer slowly goes to sleep behind me, the hum of the large console dying out.
Immediately upon waking I went to work. I went to the central console and began the signal search again, staring at the screen until the blimp returned. They were still there. I left the central console towards the airlock, standing outside of the door and contemplating what I was about to do. I was dressed in my deep space suit prepared to leave but the anxiety returned. Irrational fears were eating away at me. Anything that could go wrong, I believed, would go wrong. Taking a deep breath did nothing to my nerves. I fought the fear, pushed past it, and walked into the small airlock, shutting the magnet seal doors behind me. I shut my eyes and listened to the filter that hummed with each breath. I drained out the fear, letting it come from me with every breath.
My eyes opened slowly and saw the sunlight as it reflected off of the surface of the moon, giving the moon the image of white. For miles, the moon's surface stretched on before me in an infinite plane. I knelt to the side and picked up the toolbox full of whatever I thought to be necessary to fix the antenna. It sat at the top of the station, just above the center console. Tools in hand, I carried one foot off of the ground through the weightlessness as I stepped out of the airlock into outerspace. My heart beated like a drum line and I breathed heavily like an aged engine spouting out smoke. Once out of the confines of the airlock, I took a second to ingest the feel of being out of the station. I was still, feeling like I was not present but floating off into the distance. I trucked on towards the ladder at the side of the station, climbing with the toolbox in tow. On the top of the station, I held on for dear life despite the magnetic boots that would keep me locked to the ground. My hands glided against the outer plating, climbing the stepping bars to the top. It led straight to the antenna. Once at the top, I felt my confidence had returned. The fear was gone and I felt free. I stood to full height and looked at the dark side of the Earth. It was strange, seeing the Earth with no lights to map out the cities that were ripe with life. Now, up here, it seemed as if Earth had died.
Pushing aside the wandering thoughts, I got to work. Seeing it before me, it seemed simple. Tinkering with the antenna after about twenty minutes proved to be difficult. I cursed a few times, coming close to stripping the bolt a few times. Once I was finished, I stepped back and examined the job well done. I was hoping that I'd only have to make one trip and that this attempt had been successful. Gathering the tools, I made my back down and into the airlock. The oxygen poured into the sealed room and the door to the station opened. A sense of relief came over me but the anxiety of being out there seemed to diminish. I slipped the helmet off and zipped out of the gear and stuffed it back into the locker next to the five other suits that hadn't been used in so long. I didn't look at them with fear that I'd remember memories I'd tried to repress.
Back in front of the center console, I sat down and activated the beacon again, looking for the signal scan. I didn't have to wait long for station 19A2's blimp to come up. It was the moment of truth. I ran the radio scan and sat back, waiting for a confirmation of the signal's connectivity to the station or maybe even Earth. My fingers tapped nervously at the console as the scan continued. I assumed it was a good sign that the scan hadn't immediately failed. After several minutes the console beeped like it hadn't in years. I shook my head in disbelief at the message that came up. "Local Signal Found," appeared in green letters at the top right of the screen.
"Yeah!" I cheered, clapping my hands together and spinning the chair around.
I chuckled, grinning from ear to ear as I thought about what to do next. I leaned back in the chair, contemplating whether I should attempt to call or not. Anxiety returned at the thought of actually speaking to someone for the first time in seven years. It was surreal that I had found someone in what I had believed to be a vacant moon. What I had wanted for so long after years of isolation, I was now questioning. Do I really want to do this? I don't know anything about who I'm about to face or how many people I'm going to face. I let out a heavy sigh, my finger hanging above the button to initiate the call. Taking a deep breath, I let my finger fall on the button and the call began.
There was a ring as an mirror of me appeared on the screen. I stared at myself as it ringed again, wondering how the person or people on the other line would see me. Could they see the fear and depression in my eyes? Was it apparent that a growing beast existed in the recesses of my subconscious, one that has killed out of spite and self-interest?
"Hello?" I heard. Looking up, I saw a pale-skinned man leaning on the console, looking into the camera. He had light brown hair, deep pale blue eyes and a burly beard.
My heart came to an immediate stop and all the breath in my lungs had vanished. I opened my eyes to speak but no words came out. The words stuttered as they came out. "H-hello?"
"Who am I speaking to?" he asked in a thick Slavic accent.
"My name is Dr. James Palmer," I said, warping my mind around the idea that I was actually talking and seeing someone. I examined his cheeks, how they moved when he spoke. His eyes as they scanned the screen. Here was a living, breathing person right in front of me.
"Ah, Dr. Palmer, I read your file on the console database. I am Dr. Yuri Karpov of International 19A2. Are there more of you?"
"No, I'm alone." The news struck me as a shock. We two were the lone survivors of our teams, alone for all this time. Surely he had gone insane by now. Any sane man would. Yuri sunk back into his chair, rubbing at his weary eyes. "How about you?"
"I'm alone too," I said looking down at my feet, imagining the effect this news would have on him. If Yuri was anything like me, surely he'd be partially devastated. Part of me prayed he was just like me so he could sympathize with me. It was a selfish thought but who knows, maybe he was having them too.
"What happened to your team?" My mind drew blank. The question should be a simple, "They're dead," but my mind ran to extremities. The vivid images of the violence and all the blood came back to me. In replay, I could see Gabriela's chest draw back after being shot and her body going limp and collapsing under her weight. Ever her, who Lionel had killed, had fallen under the category of one of my victims. I could have prevented her death but I was too slow. To me, that meant I'd killed them all. To me, that made me the monster that I find is eating away at my conscience.
Blinking, I come back to reality where I am looking up at Yuri on the screen as he stares at me. I can feel the judgement seeping in and I haven't even told him what's happened. Were it so simple to tell him, I would have but I try. "They're...dead," I manage to say, my eyes drifting from the screen again to hide my guilt.
Yuri nods solemnly as he processes the idea. "I am sorry to hear that." Does he know? He has to, being like me. He must know that being the only survivor in my team does not just happen. I have taken part in their demise. Then again, if Yuri is anything like me, wouldn't his reason be just as sinister. I push him on the subject.
"What happened to yours?"
"Some have left, some have died. Such seems to be the way of life up here."
"Yeah," I said nodding. "Have you had contact with anyone up here?" I asked, changing the subject with fear that he could see right through me.
"Two, but both have gone dark, and you?"
"None," I said shaking my head. "The radio was damaged. I just reestablished connection in the station. You are the first communication I've had with anyone for six years, Dr. Karpov. I've been waiting for word that we'll be rescued."
"No communication for six years? Christ, you don't know then, do you?"
My brow furrowed as I adjusted in my seat, trying to figure out what he could possibly be talking about. "Know what?" I asked scratching at my neck nervously.
Yuri buried his face in his palm and sighed deeply. "Dr. Palmer, no one is coming for us."
"Why the hell not?" I asked, irritation setting in my system almost instanteously.
"There is no one left to rescue us."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you talking about, Dr. Karpov?"
He was silent and the meaning behind his words were settling in but I refused to believe it. I shook my head, sliding back in my chair, the horror of reality striking me like a bomb. "No, no, no," I repeated getting up and walking in circles around the room. Yuri was witnessing my mania cripple my senses and the insanity slipping over me like a blanket of insanity. "You're lying!" I yelled, slamming my hands down on the console.
"The disease could not be cured, Dr. Palmer. Earth is-"
"Shut up!" I cried out, hands flailing as I stomped around in a tirade that progressively grew violent. I threw things from shelves, swipping things from desks, pulling on my head as I broke down mentally. My plans to return home, to see Savanna again had been crushed by an iron fist. She was dead. Everything I wanted to do when I got off of this moon were ruined. She had died alone without me by her side. I was not there. I was trapped on this damned moon. My dreams of leaving were tarnished. Hope that I would see the Sun's rays shining through the oak leaves of September were struck through the heart by the mad spearhead of reality. My manic depression tugged viciously at my heart. This insanity, the beast within me had no reason not to surface now. In the back of my mind I can hear the voice of reason. Karpov was calling to me.
"Dr. Palmer, please, listen to me."
"WHAT?" I roared, eyeing Yuri through the eyes of a beast.
"This isn't it, damn it! Shut your mouth and pay attention. There is one last hope."
"What? What is there left to look forward to?" I said, my voice drowning out and eyes falling to my feet.
"Solaris, doctor, a station on the border to the dark side where the rest of my team who hasn't died has supposedly gone. They've been constructing a vessel capable of delivering the survivors back to Earth."
"Why would we go back to Earth if everyone's dead?" I said, sinking into the chair with thoughts of Savanna flooding my head.
"Not everyone. As there are survivors here, on the remote moon, there are bound to be bands of survivors on Earth, surviving. There's a chance of going home but we need to get to Solaris."
It was all too much to take in. Just minutes ago I had been informed all hope was lost. That Earth had parished. Now, I am told that there is hope. That Earth may have a chance and there may be a chance to reach it. If only I can reach Solaris, a station miles away. It's more than difficult to reach this Solaris, it's impossible. Such a journey would mean long periods of starvation and the chance of running out of oxygen during the hike. If I could endure the journey, Solaris would prove to be my saving grace.
"How am I supposed to get to Solaris?"
"We, doctor, will unite and do as others have on the adventure. A strategy of 'station-hopping.' We'll make our way to a station where we'll resupply, rest, and move on again. We will do such until we reach Solaris. It will be a six day journey after uniting."
"And you're sure that Solaris even exists and they're building this ship?"
"The two stations I lost contact with have claimed that they will brave the journey. If they have that much faith in a journey, risking their life, why shouldn't it be true?"
"No offense, Dr. Karpov, but having faith in things has not proven beneficial to me. I'm going to need more than that."
"Is the chance to see Earth not worth it?" he asked. The sentence sunk deep into me. Deep down, I know that it is. I have not risked anything for any gain in the past six years. I've been too afraid to do anything and I still find myself afraid and questioning. Before I knew that anyone was still out there, I would have snatched up this chance with no doubt because I believed Earth was still around to a certain degree. Now, Earth being practically destroyed, I still knew that it was worth it. Seeing the trees, the grassy hills, the clouds in the sky, and all the life was worth risking my life for. Upon this realization, I leaned forward, looking down at my feet as I thought about what I am ready to say. "So, what do I need to do?"
Tonight, the metal plating was silent. The computers were all off and silence lingered through the narrow halls of the station. I chose not to sleep, keeping myself awake so I can think about the decisions that are layed out before me. My eyes aimlessly ran along the creases in the panels. Like a mouse in a maze, my thoughts searched for a way out but continued to collide with the walls keeping me contained in the confines of confusion and fear. Fear will follow until the end. Fear will tug at the leg sleeve of those vulnerable. I am vulnerable, fighting the tug and pushing myself through the troubles. Am I coward?
At the foot of the bed, a picture of Savanna and I hangs on the wall. I stare at it through the night, reminiscing on my past and trying to figure out the future that stares back at me as a blank slate, empty, only to be filled as the days go by. The thought that my future is not predetermined terrified me. Everything was crashing down on me and I felt that I would not be able to support it. I was Atlas, my world, my future on my shoulders until the inevitable occurs and the world proves to be too much for what my body can hold.
I had to make the decision now. Push against the fear and the anxiety or collapse, crippled by burden, guilt, and fear. I sat upright, putting my face into my hands, trying to wipe away the stress. It would not happen as easily as I believed, I knew that. I wiped my eyes, looked into the mirror, and judged myself. Can I do it? I stare through myself, breaking myself down and inspecting every bit of my being until I am at the core. I used to be much stronger than I am now, braver too. I had courage and I wasn't ready to flee from confrontation the moment it presented itself. I like to imagine I could be what I once was. It would not be a simple, overnight change. Today, I would wake up and face reality as much as I could. Today, I am making the change. This monster within me that burrows the pain, the anger, and the fear will not take over. I will not let it. Solaris is the goal to reach and I'd have to work my way there.
Satisfied with my reform, I lied back in bed and my eyes trailed across the panels of the ceiling. Slowly, my eyes came to close, drifting into my subconscious as the dreams come with an overflow. I am asleep, ready to face the troubles of tomorrow.
"The first duty of man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it, he cannot act till then."
"Testing, testing," Yuri said through the communicator in my helmet. "Am I clear?"
I fixed the helmet firmly onto my head, the latches locking it into place. "Yeah, loud and clear," I said sliding the oxygen filtration tube to the back of the helmet. I wouldn't want to suffocate on my hike to 19A2. With a tank of oxygen on my back, it'd be enough to carry me. Also in tow were the personal effects I couldn't leave behind including the family videos, some photos, and a few files all stuffed into a single bag to bring with me wherever.
Taking a deep breath to repel negative thoughts and fears, I opened the airlock doors. Stepping out of the station's airlock chamber for the last time, I look back, taking a glance of the station that had been my prison for so long. I could hear the voices in my mind telling me to return but I knew I was beyond that. It was time to move on with things and leave without looking back.
"So, I'm headed west?" I asked, hopping the weightlessness in the direction of my destination. Earthrise was to my right. The dark planet came into the light and presented a new day for the lonely survivors.
"Yes, you'll see the station soon."
I closed my eyes and let one foot carry me forward and then the next, listening to my breathing and the circulation of oxygen through the filter. The world beyond my eyes were still. When they opened, I could still see Earth to my right, the Sun falling behind it, a blanket of dark preparing to fall over my side of the moon. Soon, I'd be wading through the black with only the lights of my helmet to guide me. I took another glance back at the station as it shrunk behind me with the ever growing distance between us. I'm leaving and it feels good to put it all behind me. Was this change too sudden? I can't tell. The remorse for such a sudden change had not hit me yet. I felt confidence and optimism. I wouldn't let my mind stray to any thoughts of regret.
Looking to the Earth again, I felt the overwhelming sense of sadness of being absent for the death of my lover. For abandoning her in such a vital time. I looked away from Earth and hushed such thoughts. Had it not been for me being here, I would be dead too. Yeah, I'd have shriveled and died in a corner, madness paralyzing me as a coma slowly pulled over me. Instead, I am here, alive, and with hopes to returning to Earth, but what is there on Earth for me? There's no Savanna. No friends. Nothing. I stopped. Looking at Earth, my heart starts to sink. Why do I want to go to Earth? I search for various reasons and out of the dozens I composed, seeing life again and all of Earth's beauties was enough to inspire me to continue my journey. It was the way Savanna would have wanted it.
"You should be coming up to a debris field over a hill soon," Yuri said, estimating the distance I've gone to monitor my movements and act as my eyes in the sky.
Ahead, I see the hills he spoke of, protruding out of the rocky surface of the moon. I continued the moon jog towards the hill, imagining what lie on the other side. Debris on the moon meant it belonged to a satellite or possibly a ship. My movement slowed and the gears began to kick in, my thoughts processing what lie on the other side. Could it be the graveyard to the ship I had longed to save me? I climbed to the top of the hill, going my fastest now. As my feet scratched at the peak, my eyes fell upon a somber sight. I reached out before me, past the weightlessness and emptiness of space, and I reached for the final resting spot of the large frigate with letters written onto the side in bold white.
"It's the Infinity, Yuri."
"You're...up...you say?" Yuri responded but his message was fuzzy with a lot of interference.
"Yuri, can you hear me?"
I tapped at the antenna on the side of my helmet but it did nothing. The interference had to be coming from the debris. Somewhere in the Infinity, there was something still functioning and it was jamming the signal. The skeptic in me grew hesitant to investigate. Common sense coupled with fear and doubts would say to go around. But it was common sense, fear, and doubt that kept me locked in the station for so long. That James was behind me. To venture forth is something I'd now. It had to be or else this change of mine isn't all that it appears to be. So, I clenched my fists, bit my lip, and put one foot in front of the other, making my way towards the field of debris.
I made my way down the side of the hill, careful not to go too fast. One slip and I could throw my balance off and go tumbling down the hill in slow-motion. At the base of the hill, I stopped and looked up at the towering debris of a ship the size of a cruise liner. The writing on the ship was aging away. In a couple more years, the side would be blank and the name of this ship will be lost for good as will the memory. I straightened up and trekked on, approaching the lifeless ship. At its side, my gloved hands glided across the metal plating. I closed my eyes to picture the ship in its prime, sailing through the stars with grace. The burns on the hull told the sad fate of the Infinity and her crew, caught in a meteor shower that would prove to be their demise. My eyes opened and I stepped into the Infinity through a hole in the hull. I grew tense and cautious at the eerily empty ship that had been trashed. Metal beams, plated walls, and the floors of the ship's interior were thrashed about. It was an empty temple with a history unbenkown to those who haven't braved the horrendous end. I could only imgaine partially what those within this ship were thinking as it were struck to the ground. A corpse is hidden beneath a pile debris. Another is huddled against a wall, the man whose body had been frozen in space was relieved of his right arm which could be found elsewhere in this large room. I stepped over the trash and made my way towards the entrance to a hallway. I jumped towards the hallway and grasped the sides, pulling myself into it the dark corridor. On my feet, I stared into the darkness that stretched out before me that hugged the walls of the inner parts of the ship. Signs hung above the intersections of hallways reading directions to different parts of the ship. Various rooms lined the walls.
I fought well to choke back any fears that had begun to cripple my mind. I dreaded every step that I took, my hands gliding against the walls with the other hand on the gun at my side. I wasn't going to let anything get the jump on me, no matter how sure Yuri was that this ship was empty. Someone could surely survive here. Couldn't they?
I rounded the corner, heading in the direction of the bridge. I hadn't realized that I was holding my handgun now as I trekked silently. I had stopped in front of a dark room that had been trashed with clothes that had spilled out of a closet and drawers. I couldn't imagine what it'd been like on-board the ship during the crash nor did I want to. Instinctively, I jerked back, aiming down the hall after hearing shifting metal. My heart had been racing the entire time but only now as it prepared to jump out of my chest did I notice. Every part of me told me to run and get out of here. Every part of me told me this place was not where I should have been, yet I didn't leave. I probably should have.
A wave of fear washed over me when all around me, the lights, one by one, began to turn on. The air filtration systems hummed to life and I could feel the artificial gravity begin to weigh down on my shoulders. I ducked into the room, feeling eyes on me from every direction. Someone was here with me. I could tell that someone was here watching me. What they would do, I didn't know.
“James, are you there?” Yuri asked over the radio as it came back to life.
“Yuri, the power's on, you have to tell me what is going on! Get me out of here!” I said frantically, hiding behind a pile of clothes.
“Talk slower! I can barely hear you. What did you say, James?”
I took a deep breath, backing against the wall as I fought to recollect my thoughts. The lights were flickering to full life throughout the ship. I rested my arm on the pile of clothes with the gun aimed at the door. I stammered as I spoke. “The Infinity has full power again, Yuri. I think there's someone on-board.”
“That isn't possible. It's been, what, six years since the crash?”
“If the generators aren't blown to hell, which they obviously aren't, someone could live here alone for decades. I'm telling you, there's someone aboard.”
“Okay, well don't panic. If there's someone on-board, why risk compromising themselves if they're trying to kill you. If they were hostile, I'm sure they would have done their best to ensure their presence wasn't known.”
I pondered the thought. Yuri's words of wisdom made sense but at a time where nothing made sense, his sense brought nothing but confusion. I knew he was trying his best to ease me but my mind was in shambles, fumbling for an appropriate approach to this but with a gun in hand, facing an unknown number of survivors, an appropriate approach was far-fetched. I slowly rose to full height and peeked my head out of the door, looking down both ways down the halls, seeing nothing.
“If it's any consolation, I can try to raise them on the radio. Their frequency is overlapping ours anyhow so it should not be hard to find them.”
“Do anything. I just want to know what's happening.”
The radio went silent as Yuri searched for a voice behind this. Meanwhile, here I was, standing alone in the hall, contemplating whether or not I should seek out these survivors or make a hasty retreat. Repealing the protective full face visor, I let the artificial oxygen that pumped through the ship fill my lungs and breathed out the anxiety. Taking deep breaths soothed me slightly but I was still so very on the edge. I bit my cheek and turned on my heel in the direction of the bridge, continuing my harrowing journey into the unknown, fear trying to hold me back.
An automated feminine voice from the ship's Artificial Intelligence spoke. “Hull breach in Ward Two and Five. No survivors.”
I ran up a small flight of stairs, cautious with every turn, my ears on alert. My eyes scanned for movement but there was none. Metal shifted and the ship groaned. The echo of my footsteps as I began a slow jog carried down the hall. If anyone were ahead it'd be obvious that I was coming. Maybe they were just as afraid of me as I was of them? It was a comforting thought but I didn't count on it.
The bridge was only a few more feet away. The AI's voice returned over the intercom. “Life Support systems activated in Wards One, Three, Four, and Six. Two survivors in Ward Three.”
My feet froze, I was stuck in place, panicky eyes glancing around me. Hanging on the wall was an indicator to my position in the ship. Ward Three, of course, and that meant that whoever else was here, was not far away. They had to be in the bridge or the command center just beside the Bridge. I was either closing in on them or they were closing in on me. My heart beat to the rhythm of a drum line in my chest, the percussion suffocating me to the point of which breathing became a chore. I was running on adrenaline now. Should this fail me, I don't know what I'd do.
With one hand, I smashed a fist against the button to open the doors to the Bridge. It was by far the brightest room in the ship, with several consoles including the Captain's console still functioning, lights brightly illuminating every corner of the room while some hung idly from the broken ceiling tiles. I was ready for anything to come out at me now. The barrel of my gun ran across all of the room looking for the lone survivor but from what I could see, I was alone. Where are you?
“James?” Yuri called on the radio.
“Yuri, did you hear from anyone?” I asked silently.
“No, there was only an SOS on the radio frequency that is overlapping ours. It might be an automated SOS.”
“It isn't. There's someone here with me.”
“James, the ship is abandoned."
The ship shifted again, settling down on its left side. I held on to a console for balance, looking around for anyone being tripped over by the shift. Loose objects rolled along the ground, clattering as it hit the walls. I let the console go and rounded it, checking the rows of consoles for anything. My throat closed, fear's pressuring on my temples. The ship finally settled and all grew quiet once again. The power began to flicker, the hum of the consoles dying out until the lights finally cut out.
“Vacuum detected. Oxygen seals initiated,” the computerized voice in my suit announced as the glass visor rolled over my face. I was exposed to the emptiness of space again and inhaling the oxygen in my tank. The sunlight was pouring through the broken windows of the bridge reflecting off of the metal consoles. I took a breath, reconciling my thoughts for optimistic ones until my mind grew blank.
“So, power's out again, Yuri.”
“You should leave. Wouldn't want to risk running your oxygen levels.”
I pushed off of the console and made my way back to the staircase out of the bridge. My footsteps echoed throughout the dead ship. They echoed through through my mind. I listened to every step as it bounced through my mind, echoing. There was little to think about anymore. There was no Earth to think about-Earth was dead, no love to fantasize about-my love was dead. My love had died and I found myself at a loss. The woman I saw who I knew to be my love was Savanna but when the word came to mind I didn't see Savanna. No, I saw short locks of black hair, dangling above me as her arms wrap around my neck, her lips puckered and coming closer. I thought that everything I'd do here on the moon could be washed away by time. I thought I'd leave this rock and forget about the things I'd done. I almost forgot. I almost forgot about the crew I'd killed. I almost forgot why I really did it.
“Don't move,” a female voice behind me asked, her voice sharp and tone cautious.
I turned and met with the barrel of a rifle. In front of me was a skinny, pale woman with long red hair covering her steely gray eyes staring at me from behind the rifle, her brow furrowed, teeth grit, wearing a scowl if I'd ever seen one. I backed away from the barrel, leaning my head back in an attempt to lure it from my face but she only jammed it into my throat.
“Who are you?” she asked, same tone, same threatening look, staring into my eyes and I stared back, fumbling around the answer but I felt the presence of death hugging me tight, and so, I would only tell her the truth. I would tell the tell the truth. For the first time since it happened, I would tell the full truth of what I truly am.
First, there was one thud of Lionel's body falling and hitting the floor, his gun clattering as it skidded away. Then, I hit the floor, falling on my right shoulder, the bang still ringing in my ears. I could feel the warm, thick blood oozing out of the bullet wound in my shoulder. I wasn't dead which was good, but it hurt like hell and burned like it too. I let out short gasps, fighting for my breath after the brush with death. My heart raced, beating in my ears but it all drowned out when I heard the footsteps. Footsteps that crept closer rang through my ears, echoing down the hall. Towering above me I saw the curved figure of Gabriela's body and she knelt down to cradle me.
I was welcoming to the gesture but pushed her away when I heard Lionel's raspy breathing. A fury burned within me that he was still alive. I struggled to my feet with one good shoulder and dragged my aching body to the heap of a bloody mess that was Lionel. My grip on the handgun was firm. He groped the floor reaching for his, believing that it was within his reach. It wasn't, yet, he held onto the fleeting vision that fooled him-a fleeting image of hope. I knelt down beside him and pressed the barrel to his head, the reverberations of his pulse moving through the gun. I took a great satisfaction in this and was ready to kill him-ready to end it all and never look back but then he said it-words that would haunt me and sting like a hornet. No matter how badly I'd want to forget what he said, I would never.
Choking back the blood from a bullet to the lung, he spat out the words, “If I didn't say anything...she would keep going. I'm...I'm just a man, James. She lied to you. To...all of us. She's infected...I'm infected...hell, maybe you're infected. She didn't want anyone to know so, she...she would sleep with me and now...now, we're all dead.”
Every muscle in my body froze. Every thought ceased. I didn't want to believe him. I looked into his dying eyes that reflected the ceiling lights and I prayed that he spoke lies.
“Do it!” Gabriela said aloud, eager to finish the deed. Eager but, why? It was as clear as black and white now. Nearly biting through my lip, I wrapped the thought around my mind and I processed it times over and little did she know, Gabriela had pieced together the final piece of the puzzle. The final words I needed to hear to make it conclusive. I turned and looked back at her, the mascara bleeding down her eyes, her lips quivering in anxiety. Her eyes were bloodshot, skin paler than usual, dark veins revealing themselves behind thin walls of skin. It was true that she was infected. From what I see now, it may be true what Lionel said.
I got to my feet, Lionel grasping my legs to pull me back down. I looked down at him, resenting him for killing me-for ruining the feelings I had. I resented him for telling me the truth. I resented him for showing me what a fool I was. I had betrayed Savanna with whore, an infected one at that. I had killed a man for her and here he lie, dying at my feet while she cheers it on behind me. What I resented most, was that now, I knew, I would kill everyone. And I did, turning around with my gun aimed at Gabriela, and I pulled the trigger, the bullet cruising through her sternum and piercing her heart. A blood splatter coated the wall behind her that she fell onto, sliding down onto the floor and leaving a trail of blood going down. As her rear met the floor, I returned my attention to Lionel and put a bullet into his left eye. It all went by so quickly and in a blur that I had almost forgotten Oliver who was hugging the wall desperately, mouth agape in horror at what he'd witnessed. I looked up at him, eyes narrowing on his as I grasped my shoulder.
"James!" Oliver said, his voice clear behind my madness.
He was terrified. That much was clear in his voice. He was about to run. That much was clear in his stance. He was about to die. That much was clear as I grit my teeth and asked him in a vicious and aggressive voice, “What do you want?”
My eyes fluttered open, the world around me faded and above me hung a bright white light that flickered. I was floating on a cloud of anesthesia, my thoughts bouncing off of the walls and I could hear voices in the room but they were distant, their voices muffled by miles in between us it seemed. I lazily lifted my head, my brain anchoring me to the cushions under me. I looked to my feet but my body was enclosed in a thin white sheet, toes peeking out of the bottom of the sheet. I attempted to lift my arms but they were cuffed to the side of the bed. The small chains connecting the cuffs rattled with every jerk. Where was I? I couldn’t remember much. My brain was in a fog, memories hazy and muted. I fought for recollection of such thoughts but could only remember a face. A face that I’d never seen before staring at me with steeled eyes, her lips curled into a sneer, brow furrowed.
I looked to my right, coughing painfully. When my eyelids peeled back, a tear of pain trailing down my cheek, I saw her past my watery eyes standing by the wall, whatever she was wearing shining in the single light in the room. I opened my mouth to speak but felt the irritation of scratchiness in my throat and I coughed violently again, head dangling off of the side of the bed.
“Hey...you, where am I?” I asked out of breath, throat barely open.
She did not answer. Pushing herself off of the wall, she walked to a door and opened it, peeking her head out and speaking to someone on the other side. She stepped back to let someone in, a taller man with long, dirty-blond hair and a burly beard. I could not make out his face with my glazed over eyes. His steps were heavy as he came close to the bed and I straightened up in the bed, resting my head on the pillow as he towered above me.
“Where am I?” I asked groggily, narrowing my eyes to focus on his face but his face was still faded. I tried to wipe my eyes but the cuffs restrained my hands. “Can I wipe my eyes? I can’t see anything.”
“You’re Dr. James Palmer, correct?” the man asked, his deep voice booming throughout the small room and echoing in my ears.
“Are you the only survivor on Station 116?”
I was growing impatient in my desire to find the truth and my heart raced, irritation settling in my tone. “Why all the…” I paused and coughed violently again, grasping my bare chest. “Why the questions?” I asked.
“Are you or are you not the only survivor, Dr. Palmer?”
“Yes, I am the only survivor.”
He breathed out deeply and turned away, walking back to the door and leaving me alone with the red-haired woman. He tossed her a set of keys as he left and shut the door behind him. My eyes followed the keys as they landed in her gloved hands. My vision slowly returned to me. A black armored suit of metal hugged the woman’s curves, the long red hair hanging to her shoulders. It was a soldier’s armor and the emblem read U.N. but they were like no soldiers I’d ever seen. A handgun hugged her hip as she glided towards me, dangling the keys by two fingers. She unlocked the cuffs, freeing my arms from restraints and I reached up and rubbed my face and let them drop off the side of the bed, dangling. The woman looked down at me wearing a smirk grin, her steely eyes looking down at me. I remembered her. She was the woman from the ship who held a gun to my head.
I sighed, leaning forward to sit. I felt like death as if a terrible flu had fallen onto me. I was sick and I feared what might be the cause. There could be no other reason for a sickness on the moon other than a leak of PUL-36. I pressed my fingers against the corners of my eyes and rubbed the stress out of them, attempting to relieve myself of the pressure behind them. It was a crippling headache.
“How do you feel?” she asked, leaning against the bed and supporting herself with her outstretched arms.
I looked back at her, choking back a cough. Inhaling deeply, I threw my head back to drown the cough, thinking of all the words to describe my current state. “I feel like hell.”
She laughed, retreating to the back wall and grabbing a glass of water from a medical table. “It should subside. It’s your body fighting the virus.”
My brow furrowed and I felt the wrinkles form on my forehead of angry confusion. I didn’t reach for the water but swung my legs off of the side of the bed and leaned forward toward her. “What do you mean?”
The door moaned as it swung open and a familiar face stepped into the room, smiling from ear to ear, missing a tooth on the bottom of his mouth, light brown hair dangling by the sides of his face, pale blue eyes reflecting the room’s light. Yuri shut the door behind him and met the woman and I by the bed.
“He didn’t give you much of a fight, did he?” Yuri asked the woman as he put his hand on my shoulder. I could see him eyeing the healed bullet wound but he disregarded it.
“No, he tried to fight but I put him to sleep,” the woman said, chuckling.
I cleared my throat loud enough for all to hear, dropping the small talk, still determined to find out exactly why I was sick.
“You’re sick too?” Yuri asked.
“Yeah, why am I sick?” I asked, turning my attention to the woman.
“We injected you with a vaccine for PUL-36. We want to ensure that Solaris is safe for everyone.”
“I’m sorry did you just say Solaris?”
Yuri chuckled and slapped my arm. “In the Infinity, Rebecca here was looking around for supplies and you just happened to be here. You tried to fight her but were subdued quickly and she brought you here.”
“In which you soon infected me?”
“We have safeguards in place to prevent Solaris from dying out,” Rebecca said. “They’re for the best.”
“Cheer up, James, it turned out better than we thought it would and in a quicker time as well.”
“How did we get here so quickly?” I asked Rebecca.
“Solaris has an arsenal and a garage of lunar vehicles. We brought you back from the Infinity only to find out that Dr. Karpov was miles away and so, we sought him and brought him here, taking less than a day.”
“So, we’re here then?” I said, looking up at Yuri, trying to crack a smile.
“We’re here, James.”
I was in Solaris. A two day trip had been cut down to one. I didn’t feel a difference in the environment around me. Things were still eerie and a lingering sense of silence hung over me. I got up and dressed myself, following Rebecca and Yuri who led me out of the room and into a long hallway that connected the Medical Ward to the rest of the station. Automatic doors separating the two opened slowly and the atmosphere changed drastically. I was nearly deaf at the bombarding of sound from all directions as we entered the Commons, a large, circular room in which people moved about leisurely or relaxed in chairs conversing. Engineers and mechanics coming from a hall to the garage came stomping into the Commons, draped in leathery, protective clothing holding tool boxes in hand. From the Mess Hall, men and women in aprons stumbled out, chatting about their day. People migrated from the Commons to the Quarters in bunches, oblivious to a world around them that was dead.
It was clear that Yuri and I were cavemen in this environment of intellectuals. We were taken aback by the liveliness of the station and wasn't sure that this wasn't all some sort of dream. It couldn’t be true. But was we waded through a sea of people, every bump shook me, every voice echoed in my ear, and every eye that fell upon me judged me. These were actual people, whether they came with the United Nations or not, they were all stuck on the moon just like us but for how much longer?
“I hear that you guys are building to an expedition off of here?” I mentioned as we strolled along, entering the Quarters.
“You heard right,” Rebecca said, holding the door to a large room with eight smaller rooms connect to it with bed. “It’s a major project for us here in Solaris and everyone plays an active part in building up to it.”
“What about us?”
“You’ll receive your duties in due time,” she said smiling. She shifted her weight to her left, hip jutting out in a feminine manner. I pretended not to notice as I looked around the room, soaking in everything around me. “Like it? Your rooms are fifty-six and fifty-nine.”
I wandered into fifty-six, hand caressing the smooth, plastic door frame, leaning a head into the small, quiet room of fifty-six that consisted of a full bed with drawers built into the bottom, a small desk built into the wall, and a nightstand with a square lamp. I stepped in, coughing into a fist, and lied down on the soft bed, staring at the blank wall. The hum of the air conditioner was the only clear sound in the room.
It was strange to arrive into the welcoming arms of Solaris, once a myth and once a journey that I feared to endure. I was here but I didn’t feel any different. I’d report to my duties to contribute my part to the great project of Solaris. Aside from work, I felt that all that I had to do was over. I’d arrived without much of a hassle but what now? The more I thought of Earth, the more indifference I felt towards returning. I couldn’t imagine it being any different now that I have arrived to Solaris, believing that I would feel the great presence of hope. There was nothing. There was silence aside from the hum of the air conditioning unit. I was alone with my thoughts.
I looked up and saw Rebecca standing tall in the doorway, hand on her hip. I nodded because I had no reason not to dislike Solaris. It was safe. It was my only chance to return to a bit of normality. Solaris was a change from the isolation of Station 116. It had a vibrant community of which I hadn’t met but had clearly seen. It was a functioning community.
“I’m sorry for giving you the vaccine without notice, and knocking you out, and handcuffing you to the bed. When we found out you were with Dr. Karpov, I decided to overlook the fact that you attacked me.”
“I guess the beatdown explains the massive headache,” I said, rubbing my temples.
She grinned and walked into the room, leaning against the wall by the desk but she kept her eyes on me. “Are you okay?” she asked, prying at something. Was it obvious how sick I was, physically and psychologically? I hardly cared anymore. Let them look at me like a sick monster. If they found out the truth, then so be it. I refused to let it bother me.
I looked down at my feet, twiddling my thumbs around each other. “I can get over the cough. Does it work?” I asked looking up at her.
“It has so far, but I’m not worried about your physical health. Being alone for seven years does things to people. I want to know if you’re okay in the brain.”
“Yeah,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek and returning my eyes to my feet. “I just think that I need to get to Earth. Maybe then, I’ll feel better.” I tried to convince myself that being home would make everything better. I tried to lie and convince myself that I actually cared to go to Earth anymore.
“Going to Earth would be best for all of us.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, we could start a true community there. Survivors would come to us and we could help them. Give them shelter or a vaccine or anything of the likes. I mean, there are dozens of settlements of survivors.”
“Are there? How do you know they need our vaccine or shelter?”
“Considering the vaccine was created a few months ago here, I doubt Earth has seen it. Or at least one that doesn’t infect you.” We sat in silence for a few minutes with her looking at me in wonder and me keeping my eyes on the floor, thinking. “Ready to hear your job? It’s pretty important.”
“Sure, why not?” I said straightening up, eager to hear my newest duty.
“Considering your name is a big one in the researching field for your founding of PUL-36, Colonel Grant wants to make you a lead researcher in the lab, working directly under him with whatever he needs.”
“But the Colonel doesn’t even know who I am.”
“Your name’s come across his desk before, so, he asked to see what Dr. James Palmer could do.”
I’d never met the Colonel but I worried about setting a good first impression. Especially with my name coming across him before. He wanted to see what I could do for him-for Solaris. I saw little I could contribute to such a successful station but I had to do something. After all, these people were “saving” me.
Colonel Grant was how you would envision a survivor. He was wrinkled and scarred. A mustache hid his upper lip, thick beard hugging his jawline. He wore an eyepatch on his right eye, the left eye a dark, murky green. His jet black hair was held slicked back with water only, curling at the ends from excess growth. He was a tall, intimidating man wearing a short sleeved white shirt with the U.N. emblem pressed on. It was clear that he was in charge of things but I could not make out any fierceness or gentleness with his face as he scratched at his chin with two fingers.
He flipped through a file he had of me, reading the lines carefully. I was dying to know what those files told him but I kept myself calm from as far as I could tell. When he slapped the folder shut and set it down I nearly jumped out of my chair. He leaned forward, wearing a smirk of many meanings, his eyes reading my thoughts.
“So,” he began, his voice strong and deep with a strong Scottish accent, standing up and walking to a large map of Earth that hung on a wall next to his desk. “You were in Egypt and your team first reported PUL-36, correct?”
“Yes, sir,” I said respectively.
“I’m quite impressed to have the man behind it all in front of me, yet your name is overlooked too often.” He sat down in his chair once more and poured himself a glass of juice. “Would you like some? Freshly squeezed from our botanic garden.”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“Very well. What was it like? Finding PUL-36 for the first time?”
I thought back to the memory of the hot days in Egypt that I spent picking and examining specimens with no real directive on what I should be doing. We were all so clueless with the constant walk-in patients that were facing the same symptoms of cold by the start of the week only to be dead by the end of it. I remembered the dread I faced at the realization that there was a new disease spreading faster than we realized and we had no idea what it was. “It was scary not knowing what you’re up against. Had I known what it’d do, I would have been faster and harder at work. Too late for that now.”
“Well, I’d appreciate having someone who knew this thing from the start leading an experiment we’re about to start. It’s top-clearance so you have to accept my offer before I can lay down the information and trust me, it’s worthwhile.”
I sat back, thinking on the decision. What else would I do if I didn’t take up this job? Sweep floors, plant vegetables, or make juice? Anywhere would I could be in a lab with a minimal amount of physical exertion would be suitable. There was little else I could do, so, I sighed softly and shrugged my shoulders.
“I'll take it,” I said. “What's this project I'll be working on?”
Colonel Grant clapped his hands together and cheered to himself. Standing up, he motioned for me to follow and he rounded his desk and nearly bolted towards the door. “Follow me,” he said, moving fast.
I did my best to maintain pursuit. We cut through many maintenance halls and rooms, an unremarkable amount of turns through the station to get to a large lab that had been caged away-secluded- by the rest of the station. I grew anxious at what awaited in the quiet lab. Entering, there were two doctors standing by a computer reading off information. Another was fiddling with medical trinkets. Colonel Grant brought me to an even smaller lab within the lab.
A researcher in the lab stood from his pivotal chair and greeted Colonel Grant who merely disregarded him. “Can you open this door?” Colonel asked, pointing at a magnetically sealed-off door on one side of the lab. We walked into a long, dark hallway until we reached a circular room. All was quiet and Colonel ensure I remain so too. Besides our footsteps, we were as quiet as a falling feather. He turned on the lights and I soon wished that they stayed off. Lining the walls of the room were ferals, all appearing doped out of their minds to bother themselves with us. Their groans filled the room at our presence. I nearly collapsed at the sight of so many of them surrounding us from all sides. When we walked in they began to moan louder, practically barking at us now.
“Don’t worry, they’re secured,” Colonel Grant said walking deeper into the large den.
“Why are you holding these things?” I asked, voice shaky in fear.
“When we walked in here, what did you notice about them?”
“Uh, it seemed like they were docile and in some trance.” I moved around the room looking at each of them. It was surreal, staring death in the face, the feral’s skin sticking to the brittle bones beneath, trails of dried blood staining the skin beneath their eyes and noses, the tell-tale that whoever this person was when they were alive, died a slow and painful death to PUL-36. Their eyes were pale, bloodshot and wild, longing to devour anything living. As I crossed in front of them, they lunged forward, secured in place by a metal cage. The thing was wild, smashing itself against the cage, erratic in behavior slapping the cage. “When we came in they were still, and then they became aggressive.” I gazed across the room at Colonel Grant who stood by a cage smiling at me, expecting some epiphany. I examined them further with Colonel Grant watching, moving in between the aisles of them, watching as one by one, each that saw me became aggressive. The correlation was as clear as day when it hit me. It was a fascinating discovery but I saw little use of it outside of the confines of this lab. “They are docile unless given prey and then they become aggressive.”
“It’s a kind of hibernation mechanism that the virus has come up with. If these things were wandering around all day, every day, they would deteriorate and fall apart, seeing as they’re mostly dead.” I stepped back into place next to Colonel Grant who stood at the center of the circular room. “So, they make themselves still, in a hibernation state at command in which no energy is wasted and they can survive and live longer. They’ll only wake when in the presence of prey. How do they know they’re in the presence of prey?”
“By seeing them?” the Colonel shook his head. “Smelling?” Once again, he shook his head. “Hearing.”
He put a finger to his lips and I tried my hardest to become silent. I listened to the active ferals around us that looked directly at us but the longer that time dragged on in silence, the quieter they became until not one was stirring. A shushed coo came from several of them but the others fell into this fascinating hibernation, stasis in their cages. The Colonel motioned for me to follow silently and we crept out of the sealed, circular lab in complete silence until the magnetic doors behind us sealed shut, trapping the ferals in a den of silence.
It was a great discovery, sure, but what good was it? I looked past the thick glass separating the hall from the lab. “How are we going to utilize sound?” I asked, hypothesizing a possible solution to feral control. Sound manipulation seemed a viable option but such technology was not within our reach on the moon.
“Drive them crazy,” he said, exiting the hall back to the station.
I followed in his shoes, admiring the technology of the lab. I imagined that this project wouldn’t be much of a challenge for the researchers working with me-for me. “I think that you have this all thought up in your mind, Colonel.”
“I know what we need, but not how to make it. That’s where you come in.”
I stopped, halting the Colonel to set something straight. “Colonel, I’m a doctor, not an engineer. I examine, and prick at patients, and I procure aid for infections. I don’t specialize in crowd control.”
“I don’t need you to be a Nikola Tesla or a neurosurgeon, Dr. Palmer.”
“But you want me to melt their brains with sound? I’m not exactly specialized in that.”
Colonel Grant smirked, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, we need you to be and I know you can. I know you won’t disappoint.” He backed away and disappeared behind the closed doors to the Commons.
I was left in the silence. I opened the door and walked out into the busy Commons, the sounds drumming at my ears-the voices, the footsteps, laughter, all these humanly sounds. It was new, it was claustrophobic. I felt the voices closing in. They were passing by, bumping into me, disregarding me as I stood aimlessly lost, scared and weak, anxiety settling in. I felt my back hit the wall and I hugged it tight, overwhelmed. I stayed there in a panic, on the verge of a sanity break. Why now? I’m here, I should be fine-I should be feeling great at the fact that I was safe for now. All these people that surrounded me wanted to live in normality, or however much normality we could find on the Moon. I wanted this-I wanted to be normal so that I would not be afraid anymore, and so that I would not feel this crushing pressure on my mind-the weight of a thousand guilts-the anxiety of an extreme change to my environment. I felt all eyes on me. I felt judgement with every passing glance. I shut my eyes, mute my ears, and placed myself in the center of darkness and isolation-in the desolation of a void in which I was alone.
When my eyes opened, I had found myself in such place. The reticence of this place was undisturbed by the presence of people. It was a comforting place. I found peace in the stillness, save for the pur of a console on the desk. How I got here was the least of my worries. I had worried that I had lashed out again, keeping face of past antics when blacked out. Such thoughts wandered away with the exhaustion that stress placed on me. I allowed my body to sink into the plush of the mattress, let my head weigh down the thin pillow under me. I turned my head to the see the desk-a pulsing green light shined from the console. Someone had tried reaching me. I returned my gaze to the black ceiling, running my hands through the strands of my long hair. It had grown back quickly, much like the migraine that’d been paralyzing my thought process on occasions.
I sighed, rubbing at my temples where the pressure was most affecting. Sitting up, I turned on the lights but not all of them came on. I turned them off and on again, witnessing the same pattern. Something was terribly wrong as I noticed that through one eye, I could see all the lights were on and working. I covered my eyes-first the left, and I could see the same. When my hand glided over the right is when I noted the complete blackout. I poked at my left eye, reassuring myself that it was still there and it was. I could feel it well and right but I could not see. I became panicky. I darted forward for the console and turned it on. Immediately, I saw that I had one missed call from the clinic. I called back and waited, listening to the dial tones. With every passing ring, I felt an increased dread crippling my mind.
“Hello, is this James Palmer?” a nurse on the other line answered.
“Yes, this is he, there’s something wrong.”
“Sir, we would much rather you come into the clinic.”
“No, why can’t you tell me now? There’s something wrong and I can’t see out my left eye!”
“A brain tumor.” I was grasping my knees tightly, nails digging into my skin. My lips trembled as the words slipped through-the dire news had been delivered and I was wishing that it hadn’t. Resting my elbows on my knees, I buried my face into my hands, shaking nervously. “How bad is it?” I asked, refusing to look up at the scan’s results.
“Well, when we brought you here, we performed a full body scan with all the instruments and we saw that you have a grade two brain tumor.”
“Cancerous?” I let out a desperate and torn sigh, holding back the sobs. No tears came forth but anger and frustration surfaced. I was so close, I had come all this way, survived this entire time only to be done in by a brain tumor. I slammed my fist into the bed, and cried, “God, why?”
“Mr. Palmer!” the nurse called, placing her hands on my shoulders and trying to ease me but she couldn’t possibly understand. No one understood.
“Let go of me!” I yelled, backing away from her, standing off of the bed and moving to a corner of the room.
I was ready to lash out as the nurse approached, I knew it. I could feel my balled up fist ready to strike the nurse in her chubby face but the door flung open and before I could attempt any such thing, in came Rebecca, dressed in casual clothes, hair put up in a bun, but most recognizable was her look of disdain as she stormed in. She shoved her palm into my shoulder, pinning me into the wall with unknown strength. I was amazed at her strength, feeling a bruise forming where my shoulder blade hit the wall.
“Calm down!” she ordered, waving a finger in my face.
I opened my fist, wavering at her command and mashed my head into the wall behind me. She stared into my eyes, her eyes stabbing mine. I felt her pressure on my shoulder weaken and she leaned off, straightening her clothes.
“I’m sorry,” I said pathetically. I rolled my eyes away from her and to the floor, hiding the disparity and wrath behind my eyes. “I just don’t need this, not after everything.” My mind wandered to the past, to what rash and violent lashouts had done. I had killed because of it. I thought I had put that wrath behind me but evidently not. It still lingered. Growing unnoticed like a cancer. A cancerous anger.
“I know you’re upset but it’s not the end. We can treat it if you let us but you can’t lash out on people because you’re depressed or angry or just plain senile. Let us do something!” Rebecca said pointing to herself and the nurse.
I coughed violently, my body reminding me of the vaccine that coursed through me-the virus that waged war within me. I felt terrible. But in the midst of all this depression I had noticed the return of my vision. I glided my hand over the eye again and felt a fraction of hope restored. “How soon can it be treated?”
“As soon as possible. We need you up to par for your project.”
I glared at her, feeling the pressure of keeping up demand weighing down on me, the worse news I believe I could receive delivered a kick to my stomach, and a resurfacing rage gnawed at me, urging me to lash out. I drew a deep breath and nodded. “Okay,” I said, pushing off of the wall. “This doesn’t change anything then.”
“No, it doesn’t.” She quickly left the room, returning to whatever duties awaited her.
I sat back down on the bed, gripping the sheets in anxiety. The nurse, shaken from my tirade, did her best to continue with her job, asking me questions about how long I’d been experiencing blackouts and loss of vision. I answered the questions however I could but my mind drew blank. Deep in my thoughts, I told myself that things are going to get better. I told myself that they could fix this and I could be healthy again but the lingering doubt was at play once more and I wondered what I’d do if the tumor returned after surgery. In that case, I might be off of the Moon, and then what? I’ll go through the motions again only to let this thing kill me? Weighing my chances proved disheartening when it was coming from no one else but me.
The nurse dismissed me and I wandered out of the clinic and sat down at a table near the Mess Hall. It was late and most were asleep with the exception of those working the longer or late shifts. The noise was at a minimum and provided a nice background sound for me to think. I watched the people pass by and they appeared to be going about their lives as if nothing were wrong. How could they when it was common knowledge that everything was going wrong? How could they cope under the circumstances? Humanity was on the verge of extinction and they appeared unphased. It was that or they were well-versed in hiding their afflictions, more so than I ever could.
I spent an hour at the table before getting up and leaving to the silent Quarters. Not a person stirred within the Quarters. Everything was quiet and peaceful. I wished that I could easily sleep like they could, or was I assuming that they slept easy when in reality they were just as bad at it as me? I wondered if Yuri or Rebecca or Colonel Grant lied down and stared at a black ceiling for the better part of the night before they officially closed their eyes and drifted away into a brief sleep full of nightmares and terrors. I prayed that I wasn’t alone. That someone knew my pain-knew my sorrows. I needed someone to relate with so I could sit down next to them and we vent together, crying if need be. I wanted to have someone that wouldn’t judge me despite my lesser comings. I envied those who could voice their troubles easily. Here I was, alone, frustrated, and tasked with important assignments. All I wanted was a little help from someone.
At the dawn of the next working day, Solaris was up and busy again. I found hours of sleep before needing to wake and join the workforce. I dressed myself in a short buttoned-up, gray shirt and black slacks that I found in the drawers of my room. With my measurements, it seemed that a tailor in Solaris had fitted me with several articles of clothing for my stay. The clothes fit nicely, along with a pair of dress shoes I had packed that I found still in the bag at the foot of my bed. I slipped out of my room and joined the flow of migrating workers to the Commons. I absorbed what I could from my surroundings. The talking, shuffling feet, and brief run-ins with passing folk. A few would surprise me with a “Hello,” or a “Good morning.” I’d return the gesture, unsure of whether they heard me or not. I felt a new assurance of this place. Once in the mix of it all, I found myself nicely integrated to the entire process. I made my way into the Mess Hall and snagged a cup of coffee. I couldn’t remember my last cup. Years ago, maybe. The hot, bitter drink eased its way through me and chilled my nerves. It was strange, feeling old routines from Earth coming into play. I took a second to stop and observe it all. No one noticed my overlooking eyes that scanned the faces that passed by, noting each smile or frown, each tired eye or enthusiastic glee.
This was perhaps the first time of a long time that I felt alive and a part of something bigger than myself. I had to break the lone mindset and set the gears in spin to work for something more than myself. I could feel the tingling anxiety and apprehension inside of me but I wouldn’t let it consume me. This overnight change in thinking was proving to be amazing, but how long would it last? I took another sip from the coffee before deciding that it wasn’t all bad. I could do this.
Making my way to the lab, I passed by workers doing their best to stay busy within the lab. The window separating the hall from the large circular lab of ferals was covered, sparing me of an awful sight that would taint this morning. I entered a small conference room where several people were waiting, their heads to turning to me as the doors opened. I also noticed Rebecca and Colonel Grant standing at the front of the room, Colonel Grant smiling as I appeared and Rebecca nodding.
“Hello,” I said into the awkward silence, closing the door behind me and making my way to the only seat left open in a U-shaped table. It was the very base of the table, where the head of whoever would be meeting would sit. I suppose this meant that they all knew that I was the lead researcher in this team. It was an enlightening gesture to be regarded highly from the start.
“We’re glad you could join us, Dr. Palmer,” Colonel Grant said. “We were all voicing our opinions on the matter of the ferals.”
I adjusted in my seat, using it as an excuse to come up with something to say. I had not thought about this sound device since I last saw the Colonel. “Anything good?”
“Dr. Fiedor over to your left had a good idea that I think stands tall amongst the rest.”
Dr. Fiedor, a frail, light-skinned man with thinning light brown hair combed over, the sort-of picturesque scientist, stood, raising his hand at the mention of his name. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Dr. Palmer.”
“Likewise, what was your idea?”
“Well, contrary to Colonel Grant’s idea of driving the ferals mad with a complex sound, I think we could utilize them, much like sea animals, and find sounds that will control them.”
“You want to control them? Like drones?”
“Very much like drones, yes.”
“You think they’d be responsive to this?”
Colonel Grant interjected. “Prior to this meeting, Fiedor demonstrated how he believed sound could be used to control the ferals.” He stepped away from front and center and the lights in the room dimmed as a projector project a video onto the wall. It showed Dr. Fiedor with Colonel Grant in the lab of ferals. One was loose, but contained in a space where it could do no harm.
“Here, I am attracting the feral with a sound and you can see it is responding nicely with aggressive attacks on its cage. But, with a change in the sound,” as the sound changed, so did the feral’s attacks. It slowed from its vicious and erratic flurry into sluggishly slamming its fists onto the metal cage. “Unfortunately, soon after the sound is emitted and the feral’s rate of attack changed, it quickly returned to its normal rate.”
I watched it curiously as it looped. As if someone flipped on a switch, it slowed, and then, adjusted to the sound and continued to attack. Perhaps these ferals, once humans, are now more like animals than anything. Domestication seemed out of the question from their behavior. Was it so farfetched? I didn’t think so, but then again, this virus has had a history of mutating to ensure survivability. Perhaps it’d find a way around this as well, though, it was only sound.
I looked up at Colonel Grant who was still wearing a proud smile that nearly crosses cockiness and pride. Rebecca was detached from the entire conversation standing off to the side of the room, something burdening her from the looks of it. Her brow furrowed, a common look for her I’ve noticed, when she looked up and saw me glancing up at her. I looked back up at the wall, but the video had already stopped. The talking had stopped. All eyes were on me. I immediately became confused and returned the glances and realized they wanted me to say something.
“I’m sorry, I kind of spaced out,” I admitted. “It’s the, uh, vaccine. It’s making it hard to focus.”
A lady to my right drew attention to herself, a short, Asian woman with short black hair tied back into a bun. “You were mentioning the virus’s tendency to mutate when a threat is introduced.”
“I did?” I rubbed at my forehead, a migraine slowly returning. “Yeah, I’d like to see some scans of the virus in the stages its gone through. Maybe find a pattern.”
“A pattern?” Dr. Fiedor said curiously. “You think the virus could develop some protection against sound?”
“It’s a very complex thing, Dr. Fiedor. Countless people before us have underestimated this virus, now, look at where we are. Stuck on the Moon trying to fool something we don’t understand.”
The room grew silent and the smirk on Colonel Grant’s face vanished. This was a matter of survival, I knew that all along, but it seemed that some of these men and women were oblivious to the fact that we were losing and we still are, drastically. I turned to every face in the room, examining their concerned faces. I had reminded them that the world itself succumbed to its knees before the virus, never to get up. Here we were, some of the last fibers of hope, debating on whether or not we could defeat this virus and I had reminded them of the high chances of failure.
“We have to be smart. Sure, you have a vaccine now, but when will that be useless? We had one on Earth and gave it to millions but that proved useless when it mutated, infecting many of those vaccinated, killing most of the infected. We can’t let that happen. We’re trying to control something that doesn’t want to be controlled.”
“So, you’re saying it’s impossible?” Colonel Grant said, moving to the center of the U-shaped table, in center view of all.
“No, not at all impossible but time consuming, very much so. You won’t get whatever you are looking for when you’re looking for it.”
Colonel was not content with this at all. His frustration was evident. He turned away from the table, leaving us all tense. Even Rebecca, standing in the corner with a gun at her hip was nervous. When Colonel raised his hand, the people in the moon, not including me, sat back in their chairs, veering away from whatever may come and when he dismissed us all, they scattered, soaking in his last words, “I want it done, no matter what you do.” While they fled, I remained, sitting upright in the chair looking at Colonel Grant who inhaled deeply but held his breath for a while. When he turned and saw that I was still sitting in the conference room, he grit his teeth and stared me down for a good minute, trying to decipher me, from what I could tell. Did he not trust me anymore? Could he not rely on me? I hadn’t lied to him-I had been brutally honest. Perhaps he only wanted me to say what he wanted to hear.
“You say that I won’t receive what I require in the time I require it in,” he said, with little surprise to me. He leaned onto the table in front of me and asked sternly, “Why?”
“Do you honestly think that this will be a breeze? Colonel, we’re dealing with a virus that wiped out Earth!-A virus smart enough to survive this entire time and still give us this much trouble!”
“I think that I’m trusting you with this and that if I don’t get what I want, I will be very, very upset.” He got off of the table and stood by the door, motioning me to join without laying his eyes on me.
I got up without protest and walked with Colonel Grant, who was stiff and obviously angry. I knew where we were going and braced myself for the large circular room where the ferals were held, docile until we stepped in. Colonel Grant’s hand was pushing against my shoulder, leading me into the room against my protest to the point of shoving me into the room. My loud, shuffling feet scratches the concrete floor as he drags me, stirring the ferals and alerting them. They groan wildly, growling even behind their rotting teeth and snaky tongues. I was dragged before a pen of a feral. When it turned around, revealing itself from the darkness I could see what it wore-a lab coat similar to one worn by those who worked in the labs of Solaris. The feral saw us and roared, darting toward the pen and slamming itself against it. Colonel Grant shoved me against the pen and I panicked for my life, kicking and screaming, flinging my fists behind me to hit Colonel Grant but the more I resisted, the more pressure he put against my head.
“Open your eyes, Dr. Palmer. Do you see him?” When I didn’t answer, he slammed my head into the pen. “DO YOU SEE IT? Can you tell me who this man was?”
“NO!” I cried trying to push away.
Rebecca interjected, somewhere nearby in the room watching the ordeal. “Colonel, stop!” she demanded.
Colonel Grant drew near to me, hissing into my ear. “His name was Michael Kraus and he was the last man to disappoint me. Are you going to disappoint me?” he asked viciously, shaking me and further slamming me into the pen.
“No, I won’t! Please, stop!” I pleaded, for the first time in a long time, feeling fear instilled by another human being-fear of being killed.
He grasped my collar, and thrashed me about, throwing me to the floor. I landed hard on my side, bruising ribs as my side smashed against the concrete. I groped the ground to crawl away but I could not escape the tortuous Colonel who stood over me. “Maybe this will give you more of an initiative to give me what I want, James,” he spat, leaving the room and pushing past Rebecca who was standing by watching in disdain.
I was gasping for breath, a mountain of emotions piling onto me. Fear, anger, frustration, uncertainty, I felt it all go through me as I watched the Colonel leave. The magnetic doors sealed, separating us but I wanted to leap forward and tear him apart. I wanted to break him despite me knowing that he could well take me down. I was thinking though. All that ran through my head were all the vicious desires I felt, the rage spilling out of me. When Rebecca came to me, offering support, I slapped her hands away, crawling into an upright position against a stack of crates.
I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, watery with fear and hatred and I choked back my swears, held my tongue, and only glared at her. She knew what I was prepared to say but shook her head in disapproval but I didn’t care. She hadn’t been shoved against a pen just now-her life threatened.
“What the hell was that?” I yelled, further stirring the ferals around us.
“Shut up!” she yelled, gripping my shoulder and leading me out. Once again, I was being pushed around. She dragged me into Maintenance, a part of Solaris I hadn’t seen before but when we got there, it was an entirely different atmosphere. The people there seemed downtrodden, working relentlessly on mundane tasks in the dark, cramped spaces of Maintenance. Piping rattles, high-pitched whistles ring throughout the tunnels. I thought she was never going to stop dragging me through the maze, but eventually, she shoved me into an even smaller room, large enough for just the two of us, and she slammed the door shut behind her and shut off her radio on her wrist.
“So, what were you expecting to happen, confronting the Colonel?” she yelled.
I was confused, blowing raspberries and shrugging my shoulders. “What do you mean confronting? I told him the truth and he snapped!”
“Listen to me, and listen closely, James. You’re not here to be a realist and tell the Colonel the truth. Now, you see what happens when you try and do that. He is a very angry man and will not take no for an answer.”
“So, what do I do? Lie and bring him fake results. Tell him things are going good when I have nothing?”
Rebecca pressed her fingers into the corners of her eyes, sighing deeply before looking up at me. I didn’t know what she wanted. I didn’t know what would please her or why she even cared so much about what happens to me.
“Why are you helping me? You’re like, his right-hand woman. Why go through this trouble to make sure I’m in line? Making sure I’m healthy and tumor free and making sure I’m in check in the eyes of the Colonel. Why did you even allow me into Solaris?”
She bit her lip, looking away from me, but I wanted her to look at me. I wanted her to acknowledge my confusion and give me something to work with. Was I that important? What difference would I make that the next guy can’t or the guy before me couldn’t? I pressed her and continued to press her until she was backed into the corner with only a bit of air separating us and then, she put her hand up, pushing me away gently and putting a finger to my lips. She inspected the room with a quick glance but for what, I didn’t know. Making sure the door was locked, she turned the handle, locking it twice again and then looking at me. I was ready for the news, or thought I was, when she nodded slowly, thinking for a way to tell me, but she was forthright. Her lips parted and the words soon followed. “I’m with the CIA, James. I’m working for the United States government, or what’s left of it. I need to escape the moon and I need to do it with you, taking with us a few of my people in this station.”
“Are you serious?” I asked, the thought itself being too radical for me to comprehend.
She nodded, looking at me through hardened eyes. I returned a stare of disbelief, obviously bothered greatly by this. No, I was infuriated by this. “There’s been a government this entire time?” Once again, a solemn nod. “Where the hell have they been? We’re dying of insanity up here and what are they doing?”
“They aren’t going to come for us, James.”
“And why not?”
“Because they can’t, or else they would’ve already. All they can do, is help us build this ship which you are going to help me take once it’s finished.”
“Why would I do that? I mean, why are you telling me all of this?”
“Those I work under believed it’d be best if I did,” she said biting her lip, believing the contrary to what those above her believed. I had to side with Rebecca on this.
“You shouldn’t have told me this,” I said pinching the bridge of my nose, hiding my anger. I thought I couldn’t hate the government anymore than I did but that was obviously false now. “Can you contact them? Maybe ask them a favor? Ask them to hand us a bone or something!”
“It doesn’t work like that! I don’t report directly to them. There’s a chain of command. It just so happens, the man above me, the one who thought it a good idea to let you in on this, Chambers, is the only one that speaks to the government here.”
“But he can contact them, right?”
“Then why aren’t they talking to us? I thought I was alone in Station 116. I was nearly driven completely insane at the thought of being alone forever and here they are, fully capable of speaking to us.”
“That’s not how it works! That’s besides the point. I have to know if I can trust you with this-that you’ll do what we say and behave yourself now that you know why you’re here.”
“Why I’m here? I’m here because you knocked me out and brought me here!”
“Do you really think I just stumbled upon you, James?”
I reeled myself back from this, considering what she was saying. If she didn’t just stumbled upon me, how did she find me? I tried to make sense of it but I began to wonder how much I really think I know about her. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying we’ve been watching you, James. We’ve been watching everyone.”
I nodded slowly to prove my understanding, gritted my teeth to demonstrate my growing discontent, and I took a step forward, prepared to leap on Rebecca again, sure that I would not lose the fight this time. “How much do you know?” I asked menacingly, fists balled, prepared to meet her mouth at any second.
She stepped forward to meet my advance, toes against mine. Her fingers softly patted the gun at her hip as her lips parted and the words stung. “I know more than enough to say that if it weren’t for Chambers, I would leave you here for dead. I know that you’re a sick man who must’ve done something to his team because three people don’t just disappear overnight.”
There was a knock at the metal door behind Rebecca but I ignored it. I hoped someone was standing by, ready to knock the door down because Rebecca and I were neck to neck, ready to square off. “What are you implying?” I asked, adrenaline pumping battery acid through my veins. My muscles ached to spring into action but I held them as much as I could but they were ready to go any second now.
“I think you killed them and I think, you try anything, you so much as mention the CIA-”
“You’ll do what?”
The door opened slowly and in stepped a tall, broad, hairy man. His thick, blond hair was long enough to be tied back in a ponytail. His beard was of the same color, long, and curly. His thick brow was furrowed, shading his dark green eyes in the pits of his deep eye sockets. He was a hulk of a man, trying to fit into the small room that was stuffed with Rebecca and I.
“Stop this,” he said sensing the tension in the room and commanding for it to stop. His voice was familiar, the ring triggering a memory in my mind. I looked up at him, his eyes boring into mine. I unclenched my fists, backing away from Rebecca but quickly bumping into the wall behind me. “We need to talk somewhere a bit more secure and private.”
The room was cold. It wasn’t just the air. The walls were cold, frozen even. The cold on the floors seeped through my leather shoes. There was no air conditioner that I knew of that poured cold air into the room. It was as if this room were made for secret meetings of the like where the agents would creep to discuss their fiendish schemes. Here we were, somewhere in the recesses of the station where people would never look, Rebecca and I, waiting for Chambers to return after making sure that we were safe talking in here. We returned cold glares whenever we met eyes but we avoided it. In a sense, I felt relieved to have someone know. I didn’t have to say sorry for anything that I’d done-I didn’t have to come up with a tear-jerking confession. It all came forth with ease at the expense of the trust of probably the most important person I can speak to in this station.
The metal door creaked as it eased open and Chambers stepped in, a backpack hanging over his shoulder, and his broad shoulders barely fitting through the doorframe. He stood in the center of the room, Rebecca and I in our respective corners, and he looked at the both of us, sighing and shaking his head, wearing a deprecatory face. “Are we done being children?” he asked, lips snarled in anger. “You’re too damned proud,” he said pointing at Rebecca. He redirected his finger to me and said, “You’re a lunatic. I’m an angry alcoholic who has to babysit a ton of agents on one moonbase and has to personally pick ten to take with me. Nothing, as you can see, has gone to plan but I’ll be damned if we don’t get off of here but that’s not going to happen if we don’t talk about our differences right here and now.”
“Okay,” Rebecca said uncrossing her arms. “Let’s talk.”
I nodded at them, hoping they weren’t expecting some cliche acknowledgement from me. With all eyes on him, Chambers sighed again, nodding.
“Okay, so, you know who we are,” he said to me.
“Yeah, I know but it doesn’t make sense. What are they even doing down there?”
“When you think of a government that is still standing, what are you imaging, James?”
I opened my mouth to answer but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what I pictured remaining on Earth. A large central government with the whole chain of command-a President, Vice-President, Secretary of State? I shook my head, knowing that I knew nothing of what remained on Earth. I couldn’t even tell you what month it is.
“There are one-hundred and fifty-four men and women left to make up this ‘government.’ That is, if you want to call it that. The President is dead, his Vice-President, Secretary of State, Defense, nearly everyone. This government was pulled together by a couple of high-ranking officers and surviving soldiers with the addition of surviving citizens who decided to join them. Now, you keep asking why they haven’t come up here to save us. Maybe you can put the pieces together now.”
“Okay, there’s no government, so, what are we doing?”
“What does the Colonel want from you?”
“Something to control the ferals but I don’t know if it can work.”
Chambers dug through his backpack, retrieving a flimsy notebook. He held it out to me and I took it, flipping through the loose pieces of papers. They were instructions of some sort. I read through the lines of handwriting that appeared to be written in a rush and examined the crude drawings on several pages. The last page of the notebook told it all. It was a device, just as I needed, that would control the ferals apparently. How well it worked was beyond me. I looked up at Chambers who was expecting questions. “Did you get this from Earth?” I asked, trying to image the hassle it’d take to receive it.
“Yeah, I copied it down from an email. It’s what you’re looking for, right? Can you get it done?” he asked, an unmistakable urgency in his voice.
“I don’t know. You do realize this is just a draft? What if it doesn’t work?”
“It doesn’t have to.”
My brow shot up, and I looked up at him, hoping he could read through my trivial look of concern. He obviously hasn’t been threatened as I have otherwise he’d understand the predicament I have found myself in. I brushed my hair back, waving the notebook around in front of me. “The Colonel doesn’t want something defective. He wants it to work. Trust me, he’s made that very clear to me.”
He glanced back at Rebecca mouthing a question and she shrugged. “I never got around to telling him.”
“Well, tell him,” he ordered.
Rebecca looked at her feet shaking her head wishing that she could keep all contact with me to a minimum. She looked up and I felt those cold, steely eyes stabbing mine, grabbing all of my attention. “Essentially, we’re going to steal the ship everyone’s working on. This device won’t control the ferals, it only generates sound. You’d know that if you read through the whole thing. When the Colonel is prepping his men with the device, with a remote control we’ll activate them all and release the ferals on them.”
“And then what, kill how many people in the process?” I asked, skeptical about the entire plan.
“I didn’t know murder bothered you so much.”
Once again, I felt the anger surface. My blood was boiling at the remark and I was ready to show her how much it bothered me but Chambers held his hand out, halting me before I could even move. “Hold your tongue,” he said, his voice fierce. “Keep talking.”
She sighed and continued. “We release the ferals and while they’re occupied, we make our way to the ship and leave with a select few of our people, including you.”
“Wouldn’t the Colonel want to inspect the devices before putting them to use or even mass producing?” I asked.
“Normally, yes, but if I tell him that, say, it won’t be ready until near the day of but we can mass produce, I’m sure he wouldn’t disagree. Maybe be a little angry but he wouldn’t opt for another solution. Not if I praise this one to heaven.”
“And I get the blame and another close-up with the ferals? No way!”
“James, this is the only plan we have that may work and I say may objectively,” Chambers said.
I sighed, rubbing the pressure in the corners of my eyes. I looked up at both of them covering my mouth and thinking. I was sure that every plan I could think of they have ran through more times than once. I sat back against the freezing wall, chills running up my spine from the plan. It gave me a bad feeling trying to trick the Colonel when nearly everything seemed to go through him. I hadn’t been here long but I was sure that word got around and came back to the Colonel fairly quickly. It only took a loose pair of lips. When I looked up at Chambers and Rebecca to find their eyes on me I wondered. Could they think I was the loose pair of lips?
“So, one plan that may work in hopes that the Colonel listens to our stupid excuses.” I sighed and shrugged. “I’ll get to work then.”
The days are slow and filled with restless work. I’ve felt tired and fatigued post-surgery, often losing my trace of thought to painful memories. In the mornings I barely want to get out of bed. I brush my hair back as I stare into the mirror, feeling the bald spot behind my head where the incision had been made. It’s healed rather quickly thanks to a large supply of medical gels that are a catalyst in the healing skin. I wander out of the bathroom, and ask around for hair clippers. I find some after a couple of minutes and retreat back into the bathroom and face my reflection. Turning the clippers on, I run them across the top of my head, shaving the hair off little by little until but a head of fuzz remained. I was like a soldier now with my head buzzed but I wasn’t finished yet. I took the razor to my growing beard, shaving it all off. I looked somewhat decent now, only small black pricks remaining on my head and a face as smooth as glass.
I was ready to tackle the day, feeling enthusiastic once more. I kept my wits about me in case I was being trailed by some of the Colonel’s men. I wasn’t sure if Rebecca had broke the planned news yet and if so, I can’t imagine that the Colonel is rather happy. I made the usual stop by the Mess Hall for a cup of coffee. I sat down at a small table and stared at the people as they passed by, once again, looking at their oblivious nature, living their lives reading and hearing about the events occurring on Earth and fearing what is ahead of them vicariously. They would never see Earth. Even if we failed and the Colonel stopped Rebecca, Chambers, or I, you could be sure that the ferals would be released by some of the remaining agents, who remained unknown to me.
“Ah, James!” I heard an Eastern European say from somewhere behind me. I knew it was Yuri. I looked back and spotted him coming my way. I couldn’t help but grin at the sight of the overweight, long haired and bearded man who juggled a sandwich and drink in his hands. He plopped himself in the chair across from me, patting my arm. “You look good, James. I mean, bald, but good!”
I chuckled, my day enlightened by the man’s humor. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I guess I look better than I feel. How about you? How are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” he said, taking a bite from his sandwich. He continued to talk on and I couldn’t help but listen to his optimistic banter. “With all things considered, it’s pretty good here. I work with a couple other guys actually building the ship. It’s exciting, the thought of going to Earth.”
“Yeah, it is. You’re not scared or worried about going back?”
“Sure,” he said, leaning back and rubbing his cleft chin. “But I like to think that there is opportunity back on Earth. Opportunity to start over again, despite...well, you understand.”
“Yeah, I do,” I said solemnly, using the silence to take a sip from the coffee which was growing cold. “Any family back on Earth?”
He smiled, remembering a family he had and he chuckled a bit, but it was a melancholy chuckle and he nodded. “I had a wife, my beautiful Yelena, and two children, Artyom and Catherine.” It was silent as he remembered them, gleeful in expression. He sighed. “How about you?”
“I had a wife,” I said, recalling the fact that she was my wife, the woman I was to be loyal to. What would she think of me if she could see me now? I couldn’t imagine the disappointment-the resentment. I tried to forget, pushing the memories aside.
“We have to keep looking to the future. It’s what they’d want, no?” he said, looking at the bright side as usual.
I nodded but I understood that I could not allow myself to become so close to Yuri or to anyone in this station. It wasn’t fair for me to be granted the right to leave this station. I wasn’t half the man Yuri was. I wasn’t as ambitious as he was by a long shot yet they chose me, a desperate miser who is absolutely insane. I would help in orchestrating the deaths of dozens of people that deserve better than I would get. I bit my tongue to hold back these awful confessions while Yuri talked. I wanted to listen but I couldn’t help but sympathize. I came back to focus when he looked down at his watch and looked shocked.
“Whoa, I’ve got to go,” he said, getting up and finishing his sandwich. He wiped the crumbs off on his dirty uniform and extended his arm for a shake. I shook his hand and gave him a smile.
“I’ll see you around, Yuri,” I said, dreading letting him walk amongst the oblivious souls.
“I’ll see you too, James. Take care of yourself!” he said before disappearing off to his duties.
I bit my lip, choking back invading tears of guilt and I buried my face in my hands. I had betrayed my wife, I had betrayed my team, and now, I was betraying the closest thing I could get to a friendship all in the name of survival. I wiped my eyes, sniffing back the stream of mucus and sighed deeply. It was time to head to work to continue to betray those who had placed responsibility in my hands. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to curl up in a ball on my bed and never come out. Walking to the lab, I felt the greatest pain I had felt in a while, greater a pain than the migraines or the painful thud of my pulsing veins during a lash-out, greater a pain of losing everyone I could care about. I was hurt upon the understanding that I was betraying myself and what I desired. How far gone was I, truly?
Fiedor was in the lab, already hard at work when I arrived. He greeted me with a smile and nod and continued with his tasks. I sat down at a desk, logging in information that I had forgotten to do the previous day. As I typed away I noticed the room grew quiet. In the reflection of the console’s screen I saw Fiedor looking at me, examining me. My brow furrowed. Curiously, I glanced back and he continued to work as if he hadn’t been staring. Strange, but I thought nothing of it and continued to type. I would have let it go and forgotten of the snooping but it happened again, less obvious this time. I didn’t look back. I could see him well in the reflection. I continued to work but was well aware of his intruding on my business. When I got up and began to test with some samples, he was looking over my shoulder, constantly glancing as I moved past. I don’t think he knew I was aware of him. I was curious as to why he was suddenly snooping around, watching me. Could he be spying on me for Colonel Grant? It would make sense but the invasion of privacy was aggravating me.
I excused myself from the lab and noted him watching me leave and walk down the hallway. Leaving the lab and entering Maintenance, I went to the nearest public phone and phoned Rebecca. I waited impatiently, looking around suspiciously, sure that I was still being followed and watched.
She answered, “Hello?”
“It’s me,” I said quietly into the phone.
I had forgotten that Rebecca and I were not supposed to know each other. She was pretending to be dumbfounded, asking, “Who is this?”
I sighed, preferring casual talk but I kept with the act. “It’s Dr. James Palmer. Would you have the time to speak?”
“Not now, no, I’m sorry. Is it urgent?”
“It’s pretty urgent,” I said spitefully at her dismissiveness at the problem at hand. I was sure that she knew that I was being watched. The Colonel and her conspired together so it was obvious that she was in the loop of my observance, the Colonel considering me a threat.
“I’ll see to you eventually today,” she said, immediately hanging up.
I cursed beneath my breath, slamming the phone down on the receiver. This would escalate and I knew it. I walked back into the lab and Fiedor was pretending to be hard at work. I walked past him and kept working, trying my hardest to not make it obvious that I was watching him watch me. We continued this for several hours in the silence.
The phone by the door began to ring. We both dropped our mundane surveyance on each other and averted our eyes to the phone as it rang. We glanced at each other, a small dilemma developing. With the hasty glances back and forth between the phone and each other, we had a minor argument of who’d answer. Fiedor caved in and got up to answer the phone. I listened closely while feigning work.
“Hello?…Yes…Okay,” he lowered the phone and looked at me. “James, Colonel Grant wants to see you.”
My heart jammed into my throat and choked me. I felt a cold sweat form above my brow as I got up from my chair and floated towards the door. I passed Fiedor whose eyes were supportive. Maybe he did know the wrath of Colonel Grant of which I was preparing to face. I wondered what it was for? Could it be for pushing the release of the device until the last minute? I wondered if he discovered Rebecca’s true intentions or maybe he was suspicious at my calling her. I was crumbling mentally on the walk towards his office. Standing in outside of his office, there were soldiers guarding the door. I hesitated to approach, ready to sprint in the other direction. I took a deep breath, nerves wrecked, and I wanted to convince myself that it wasn’t all bad and if it were, I could face the Colonel’s wrath ably.
I pushed open the door and saw Colonel standing over his desk. His eye was slow as it climbed up to mine and dragged me into the room. Apprehensive, I stepped in, the door shutting behind me. My teeth were about to chatter. A cool draft rode a wave through the room, chills forming on my neck and spine.
“How’s it going, James?” he said, a venomous sting in his question prying for the truth.
“It’s okay. There are some tensions in the lab but that’s expected.”
“Yes, yes it is,” he said nodding. He motioned for me to sit and I obeyed, hating my submissive nature to this monster. I was afraid and he used this effectively. “What’s wrong?”
There were so many things, hardly any of them I was willing to share out of fright of what’d happen to my well-being. “There’s something about Fiedor. I’m just…” I stopped and pieced together what I’d say but there was no right way of saying it. “I think he’s watching me and I don’t know why he’d do that.”
Colonel Grant smirked, shaking his head and looking back down to his desk. “So, you think Fiedor is stalking you?” he asked, chuckling. “What, is he copying your notes? Cheating off of you?”
“It’s not some stupid schoolboy problem!”
Colonel Grant’s smile faded and he sunk into his seat, intersecting his fingers and giving me a hard glare. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I thought you’d know why he’s doing the spying,” I said, regretting my assumptions and accusations. I straightened in my chair and leaned back, fearing a severe punishment for the way I had addressed him but he remained still, eye closed and gritting his teeth.
“So, is this bothering you? Is it impeding on your ability to finish the devices?”
Colonel nodded and stood, leading me out of his office in similar suit of previous times. I followed close behind him, knowing where we were going and I prayed that I hadn’t just done something awful, throwing Fiedor under the bus. I treaded with my fists clenched in the event that Colonel Grant spun around to deliver a blow which I anticipated through the walk. The people walking the Commons paved a way for Colonel Grant and I, stepping aside for us to pass. We entered the hall to the lab and the workers turned around to nod at the Colonel as he passed but he disregarded them. We reached the door to my lab and he stood to the side, allowing me to enter first. I entered the code on the number-pad and entered slowly with Colonel Grant pushing in past me. Fiedor turned in his chair, eyebrows raised and prepared to greet Colonel Grant but Colonel Grant silenced him, holding up his hand. He looked at me and snarled, “So, what did you say Dr. Fiedor is doing, Team Leader Dr Palmer?” I felt the bite of his words and emphasis on my rank within the team.
“He was watching me,” I mumbled, recognizing the fear in Fiedor’s wide, and bewildering eyes.
“I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say, James?”
“He’s watching me, looking at everything I do.”
“Is it bothering you?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, avoiding eye contact.
“Is it bothering you, James?”
“Yes,” I said sorrowfully.
“Why are you distracting the team leader, Fiedor? Don’t you know this is crunch time to finish the devices? We’ve only got two weeks until the ship is ready!” Colonel Grant barked, closing the distance between him and Fiedor who was clutching the bottom of his seat and backing away from the approaching, erratical beast.
“I-I didn’t know that I was…”
“Didn’t know?” Colonel Grant snickered, shaking his head as he stepped away from Fiedor again, his anger appearing to have died off. “Well now you know,” he said, drawing his gun in half of a second and firing, blasting Fiedor’s head off, his brains splattering and painting the stainless steel machinery and the wall behind him in a coat of crimson red blood.
The body feel with a sloppy thud, blood pouring out of his head like a turnt over cup of juice. I wasn’t sure what I had witnessed at first. It was a murder in cold blood that stole the life from me. I blinked, wondering if the sight before me would disappear-if Fiedor would return to sitting upright in his chair, to Colonel Grant with his weapon hidden. When I blinked, my mind captured the moment, processed it, and returned it as an error, unable to process what was currently happening. I backed away from the horrid ordeal that had transpired, hugging the door to the hall. Colonel Grant turned to me, holstering his handgun and making his way past me, pushing me away from the door. I crumbled to my knees, hands groping the cold, concrete floor. I heaved but nothing surfaced. I gripped my stomach as it turned, thrashing about within me.
I watched Colonel Grant pass by but before leaving, he turned to me and said, “I want the device finished before the launch, James. Now that you don’t have any distractions, I trust you will accomplish what I have tasked you with.”
He left, the magnetic doors closing behind him, leaving me alone with a corpse that lied in a puddle of his blood as it glided across the concrete. I had experience the horror first-hand. I experienced the monster, a reflection of myself and I felt sick to my stomach. I closed my eyes to forget. Forgetting was all I could do now but not even I could forget. I saw their faces lined before me. All those I had killed without remorse stared back at me like a nightmare, their judgement casting a shadow over me. In the blackness of my conscience I saw Dr. Fiedor who I believed was spying on me. Was it petty curiosity?-I’d never know and it overturned my stomach because now he was dead to the hands of the Colonel yet i was still to blame. I might as well have pulled the trigger. I killed Dr. Elias Fiedor, a curious student under me. The gray concrete ran red with his warm, thick, flowing blood.
Rebecca took a firm grasp onto my collar, rattling me and slamming my back against the cold walls of the meeting room. I didn’t fight back and I didn’t argue. I let her thrash me about, slamming me against various parts of the room but she never directly hit me. I was yearning for her too. She was dying to. She would trip me and throw me onto the floor, staring at me with a burning enmity, her fists clenched and shivering violently. I turned over on my side, submitting to her pummeling, and I mumbled, “Hit me.”
“Go to hell,” she growled, her heavy foot booting my stomach. I curled up, absorbing the heavy blow and letting the reverberations of pain course through me. She kicked me three more times before grabbing me by the collar and delivering a crushing punch that knocked me into the wall. I groped the wall, trying to support myself but I fell hard on my right side. I struggled to my feet, preparing myself for another vicious attack. I didn’t care if it hurt. I wanted it to. It would be my atonement. I felt the fear that I had instilled and only a portion of the pain I’d caused riddling my bones.
“STOP!” Chambers roared, throwing the door open and barging in on the brutal assault. He jumped in between me and another one of Rebecca’s blows, catching her fist in mid-air. He threw her back against the wall, his bulky body towering over her, frail and insignificant in his shadow. “What are you doing?”
“He got Fiedor killed!” she cried in anger, tripping over her words.
I did not bother retorting or defending myself. I drew a deep sigh, knowing I was guilty of all her accusations. I closed my eyes and listened to her rant.
“Fiedor was innocent. It just goes to show what the hell you’re able to do!” she yelled pointing at me. “I mean, seriously, why do we even need him? We could get any doctor in this station? He’s going to jeopardize this entire operation.”
“Shut up,” Chambers directd.
“You know I’m right, Nicholas,” Rebecca said getting to her feet. She was erratic, ready to charge me at any second and the fury showed in her eyes. She was practically ready to leap at me and I wouldn’t stop her. I’d let her inflict all the pain she liked. I prayed it would lessen the guilt they weighed upon my conscience. Perhaps at the sight of my pain, the Colonel would raise questions. Questions that Rebecca would have to answer. My guilty conscience aimed to dampen itself, seeking vicious targets to blame. Rebecca was to blame for Fiedor, forwarding my message to Colonel to “keep procedure.” I prayed that she would come forth and attack me.
She began to, only to meet Chambers’s gloved palm. The slap was loud and ferocious, knocking Rebecca off-balance and causing her to scramble from the weight behind the slap. The room was still and silent for a minute, Rebecca and I reeling from the blow. When she felt at the increasingly reddening spot on her face, she looked up at Chambers who was sneering down at her.
“Hold yourself together.” He looked at me. “What you did was reckless and caused someone to die. I know you were concerned, but if you’ve got to report it then you wait until you see one of us in person.”
I nodded, seeing no problems to that logic but Rebecca lit up like a firework, jumping to her feet in retort but before she could speak, Chambers held his hand out to halt her and she froze.
“We can handle this later. Right now is not the time, Rebecca. The time is near to finish this. I need you focused for this. We’ve got, what, a mere two weeks. This is it.”
She nodded, understanding that it was her duty to compose herself and I nodded along, agreeing with everything that he had said, chills running down my back when he brought forth the realization that in two weeks the escape would happen. In two weeks, I would leave the Moon, if everything went right. It had been just a thought until now that it was brought to life. It was out in the open now and I could tell that Rebecca had been realized it too. It was almost over.
“We settle this now and move on because if you two keep at it, this mission will be a failure.”
“I’m sorry, Rebecca,” I said, breaking my silence and stepping towards Rebecca with my hand outstretched.
She sighed and stepped forward to meet me, shaking my hand. “I can’t forgive you,” she said, “but I can work with you.”
We shook and formed a mutual compromise. Satisfied, Chambers moved to the door, holding it open for Rebecca and I. “Let’s wrap this up,” he said, his voice deep and sure. I was the first to exit, walking down the hall in the other direction of Rebecca and Chambers. I looked back at them. It’d be the last time I’d catch a glimpse of them until the day of the escape. Now, they were depending on me to finish this device. With two weeks left, I was sure that I could do this, even alone if I had to. Mass production would begin tomorrow since I would be wrapping up any additions to the original blueprint that I had to. No one had grown curious as to what the device could do. They were producing mindlessly-I needed them to work without any questions and operate like drones. This was crunch time. This was my time. The fate of the mission depended on me getting the psychopathic Colonel Grant with the very instrument of his demise. I would equip all of his men and ensure they all paid, even those who had done little to antagonize me-all of them served Colonel Grant’s common goal.
Colonel Grant’s soldiers were lined up at the barracks, armed and armored. Colonel Grant strode before them, examining them and ensuring that the devices were properly equipped onto their helmets. Several scientists ran the wire to activate the device down their sleeves to their wrist where a button would activate the sound. Colonel Grant was irritated at the fact that he could not test the device properly before equipping it but he was sure that he could rely on Rebecca’s word. She was glued to his side as he paced. I stood at the front of the large barracks observing nervously. I noticed Chambers watching to my left. It had been the first time I had seen him outside of our secret meetings. Wrapping up his check, Colonel Grant made his way to me, standing in front of me.
“I’ve got to say, I’m impressed, James.” He held his hand out to me to shake, his green eye staring into mine venomously. I was uncomfortable with the sole eye that stared at me, his calm demeanor as if nothing could go wrong when I was prepared to believe that everything could go wrong.
I shook his hand, keeping my bearing. “Thank you, sir.”
“The engineers say that the ship is ready, sir,” Rebecca said but Colonel Grant did not break his stare. “Should we go now?”
“Yes, we should,” he said, walking away, finally breaking his stare and making his way to Chambers who made the Colonel look meager. The Colonel gave him a more enthusiastic handshake, whatever he was saying inaudible from the distance. I sighed deeply, praying that all was going to plan.
I didn’t notice that Rebecca had not joined the Colonel yet. She was standing in front of me, curiously inspecting me. I returned her concerned glance and asked, “What is it?”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I nodded nervously, biting my lip as I watched Colonel finish his conversation with Chambers and prepare to come our way. “Everything’s going to plan?” I asked, hiding my mouth as much as I could.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Colonel Grant stood beside her scratching the back of his neck. “Everything looks good,” he said, smirking as he glanced back at the handful of soldiers. “We’re about ready to move. You ready to leave this station?” he asked Rebecca, smiling that eerie smile of his.
Rebecca nodded, feigning enthusiasm, or was she? She certainly wasn’t leaving how Colonel Grant thought she’d be. “Let’s move. Make sure these devices are calibrated correctly,” she ordered me which I knew to be the go for launch and the wheels were now in spin.
I nodded, retreating from the barracks to the lab, a thousand thoughts tearing through my mind, each as disorienting as the last. I was feeling sick with anticipation and anxiety. The people-all these doomed fates cheered around me, crying joyous praises at an escape-finally. My heart roared like a thousand explosions all going off in a chain, each more violent than the last. My breathing was hoarse and rasp. I received a few glances as I passed from the jubilant-festive-ecstatic souls that were all accursed-helpless-damned individuals.
I felt an arm stop me from behind. I whirled to meet the face of whomever was slowing me down only to find the friendly face of which I prayed I would not encounter. “James! We’re doing it!” he cried happily, pumping a half-empty bottle of alcohol into the air. Yuri wrapped one arm around me in a tight hug and released me. “Earth is only a step away now!”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, holding back the guilty tears and heavily-weighed conscience.
“Are you okay, James? You look rather pale,” he asked, noting my faint appearance.
I backed away into the crowd nodding, emotionally decaying. It would be the last time I would see that poor Eastern European who made the most out of a bad life that had been handed to him only to likely die to a bunch of ferals. I pushed through a crowd of people, running away, leaving Yuri staring blankly at me as I ran for the lab. I cut through the people, feverishly fighting a mountain of pain on my mind. Reaching the hall to the lab, I quickly ducked into it. It was empty, void of all life. I dashed down the hall towards the security room. With an access card given to me by Rebecca, the locked doors opened easily.
In the ear-piece I wore, I could hear Colonel Grant calling for me. “Does the device work right, James?” he asked
“I’m about to test it now, sir.”
I examined the monitors set up above a large console which held plenty of buttons, all of which were useless to me now. I only needed the one that released hell upon the convoy of soldiers moving to the hangar. They were in the Commons now, the most open room of the station-the most exposed room of the station where the plan was to be executed.
“Rebecca is on her way to collect some valuables for the trip. Make sure they work before she gets back,” he said just as Rebecca came through the security room’s doors.
She tossed a handgun my way and I caught it in the air. “What’s this for?” I asked.
“Just in case. I mean, we are releasing a hellish amount of ferals in the station,” she said moving towards the console and hovering over it. “We’ve got to do it now. Lock that door tight!”
I did as instructed, clearing my mind of a stinging conscience. I locked the doors-double locked them and returned to my place by Rebecca who was typing a passcode into the terminal. “Do we have to release them in the Commons?” I asked, second-guessing the plan and all the deaths that were about to occur.
“Yes, we do. We need to distract them.” She stopped typing, looking down at her feet and sighing. I could tell that she was holding up roughly as well. She glanced back at me, eyes fixed on mine, teeth grit as she attempted to justify what she was about to do but the justification never came. She broke her stare, looking back at the terminal for a few seconds and continuing to type in commands. “We mourn them later. This has to be done.”
I waited with my back to the wall, eyes fixated on the monitors that relayed video from the Commons. The soldiers were slowly cutting through the crowd, absorbing the praise with pride, all of them unaware. I scanned each monitor, trying not to imagine how many innocents occupied the Commons. Examining the convoy, my heart sunk, stomach wrenching within me when I noted that Colonel was nowhere to be found on the monitors.
I nearly slapped Rebecca from how hard I tapped her to get her attention. She turned around, obviously bothered, and asked, “What?”
“Where’s Colonel Grant?” I asked, eyes glued to the screens, searching for distinctive looks of the psychopath but he was nowhere to be found.
“Oh, no,” she murmured. She stepped away from the console, speaking into her earpiece. “Colonel Grant?...Colonel are you there?...Colonel!” She breathed heavily, a terrible worry painted onto her face. “He’s not answering.”
“I’m right here,” we heard before a loud, deafening bang roared through the hall outside of the room, a bullet smashing the glass to the locked security room doors.
I ducked for cover behind a table, Rebecca holding her position, rifle held out before her, aiming at the Colonel. The card scanner outside of the door beeped, the doors unlocking one by one. The doors flung open, slamming against the wall but I could not see from my cover behind the table.
“Oh, s***,” Rebecca said, her voice grave. I cursed, forcing myself to look over with my gun drawn but I hesitated to aim when I saw the Colonel holding a gun to the hulk who was several inches taller. Chambers, face bloody and bruised was gasping for breath after his severe beating.
“How about that?” the Colonel said mockingly, jamming the barrel deeper into Chambers’s temple. “Now, put the guns down, and kindly surrender.”
“Are you alright, Nick?” Rebecca asked to no avail. Chambers didn’t answer. I doubt he could. He squared head was puffy and bruised, lips three times larger than original size. “Let him go!” Rebecca demanded.
“And I thought you were on my side, Rebecca, only to have sources tell me three days ago that you and my most trusted doctor here were conspiring against me, led by this bastard. What ever happened to the original plan?”
“You’re a sick son of a-”
“Ah, ah, ah,” Colonel said, shaking his head and flaunting the gun at Chambers’s head. “You’re gonna listen to me now, Rebecca. You too, James. You’re coming for me and we’re going to give the ferals a little snack. Sound good to you guys?”
“We’re not going anywhere with you,” I said sneering at him.
“What was that?”
“We’re not going with you.”
Colonel Grant chuckled, taking a breath with his eyes closed before opening them and looking at Rebecca and I. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t need leverage anyways.” There was a loud pop, followed by the horrible sound I had heard not so long ago of the head popping, skull busting from the bullet bone popping, blood spilling and splattering onto the metal walls. Colonel Grant threw Chambers to the side and took aim at Rebecca, firing twice. One bullet missed, hitting the console, and the other grazed her arm. Luckily, with her armor, it barely affected her. I fired at him but he ducked out of the room and into the hall, disappearing. The lights were flickering and the lights shut off, the emergency red lights pulsing through the station.
“Warning, warning: lab doors opening. Contaminants exposed,” the computerized female voice announced over the intercom.
Rebecca cursed, running to Chambers’s body and kneeling next to him. She went to feel for a pulse I suppose but hesitated at the bloody mess which lied before her. It was clear that he hadn’t survived. I covered her, making sure the Colonel was gone. He had vanished out of a door to the left of the security room. Most likely making a run for the ship.
“He’s going to pay,” Rebecca said, snarling over the corpse. “Come on!”
She ran out of the room in pursuit. I followed, pausing in the hall and looking down to the other end, hearing awful, pained moaning coming from the darkness. Following the sound of the gunshots, several ferals appeared from the dark, moving at a jog towards us. I had never seen one loose before. It was a horrific sight. I quickly followed Rebecca, not bothering to close the doors. It was a part of the plan, to release these things but I felt fear crippling me as their moans drew close. My adrenaline was pumping now, allowing me to keep up with Rebecca who was in a full sprint after Colonel. I could see him in front of her, rounding a corner into the Commons. Without thinking, she followed closely but quickly dove for cover when she ran head-on into the convoy of soldiers. The people who surrounded them, praising the brave souls looked in confusion, quickly scattering in panic.
“Shoot them! Kill them!” Colonel roared.
I joined Rebecca behind cover, catching my breath. I jumped at every pop against the metal pillar-at every bullet that banged against the floor. I shut my eyes, zoning out the feeling of reverberations against the pillar I hid behind. I held a firm grasp onto my gun, keeping it against my chest. The barrage paused, the soldiers yelling over each other. I opened my eyes at the confusion to see what they were yelling about. A mass of ferals were making their way towards us. This was just what I needed. I was now caught in between the soldiers and flesh hungry, brainless monsters. I fired at the oncoming horde, cursing over the loud gunshots. I could hear more gunshots over mine-not Rebecca’s-but none of the ferals coming my way were going down. There were no reverberations against the pillar. I nearly bit through my lip contemplating looking around the pillar. I worked up the courage for a brief glance. I peeked quickly but it was too quickly to see anything. I did so once more, slower this time, and was horribly confused to see the soldiers firing on ferals who were coming from behind them! Rebecca saw the same as I and motioned for me to move up. She popped up, firing at the soldiers, hitting some in the back, providing cover for me as I ran. I fired along with her until my magazine was empty.
I dove to her side. She placed another magazine in my lap and I quickly loaded it in. My mind was in shambles, trying to rationally piece everything together. I slapped the gun against my forehead, fighting back the stress. “What now?” I yelled over the gunfire that was directed at now us and the ferals.
“The ship is in the hangar. It’s not far now. We can probably make a run for it.” After loading her rifle, she threw her head back against the booth. The ferals before us would be on us in a matter of seconds. We took this brief moment to recollect ourselves. Here we were, two people who practically hated each other sitting side by side with soldiers to one side and ferals on the other and we were ready to dash through it. Amazing what a common goal can do. Done admiring the feat of teamwork, she tapped at my arm. “Now or never.”
“On three?” I asked.
“On three. One, two…”
I took a deep breath, muting the world around me, all the chaos of fleeing innocents who had the misfortune of running into a ferals, of the soldiers who fired in a frenzy, disorganized by the surprise, and of the groaning ferals who closed in on us. I took a deep breath and focused on a paradise far away from here. A place where I could focus and be at ease. I found myself standing in a forest where a river flowed, the water hitting the rocks rhythmically, the leaves in the canopy above rustling. Savanna was standing still in front of me, hand reached out for me to grab. I moved towards her, my hand reaching for hers. When she turned her face, her deep blue eyes stared into mine, her soft pink lips curled into a smile. I felt her hand in mine and her mouth parted to speak. “Three,” she said softly. I was puzzled, drawing away from her. Her face became increasingly blurry until it was but a blot before me. The mirage broke and I found myself sitting at Rebecca’s feet, her hand stretched out to pick me up. “GET UP!” she roared.
I grabbed her hand and she threw me onto my feet, darting towards the edge of the room. I followed in her footsteps, surprised at the overwhelming sound around me. There were cries, there were gunshots, and there were the sounds of bullets tearing through ferals and their frail bodies. I smelled fire-a burning table in the middle of the commons, gunpowder-a barrage of rifles unloading on the ferals. Rebecca and I ran along the edge of the building towards a hallway which would lead to the hangar. We reached it unnoticed, quickly shutting the emergency lockdown doors. The sound was immediately cut off and an eerie silence lingered in the air, the sounds of chaos as distant as cries from miles away.
“Good run,” Rebecca said out of breath. “Come on, it’s just down here!”
We ran with the pulsing red lights lighting the way. Rebecca’s metal armor clacked together as she ran, whatever she carried in the pouches on her belt rattling. It was the only sound in the wide hall towards the hangar. I broke out in a cold sweat, the temperature drastically dropping. My breath was visible now.
“A bit cold?” I pointed out.
“Yeah, means that we should be…” We made our way into a large circular room where two floodlights were shining on the large ship that rested on a platform in the center of the room. “We’re here,” Rebecca said happily. She turned and descended the staircase to the ship. I took a moment to admire the ship and its shine in the floodlights. It was actually here-actually before me. No longer was it a dream. No longer was it tomorrow’s journey. The ship was here before us and we were about to board.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, James.”
I spun on my heels to see Colonel Grant creeping towards me through the dark, a large revolver leveled with my head, his finger on the trigger. I aimed my gun at him, wanting to shoot him now. I waited to hear what the maniac had to say.
“You know, I thought you just might beat me but, you see, I wasn’t going to make it that easy for you.”
“You lost, Colonel. We’ll be going now.”
His thumb pulled down the hammer to the revolver, the click echoing through the room.
“James, come on! We’ve gotta put on these suits and get out of here!” Rebecca called from the bottom of the stairs.
I didn’t glance in her direction, not daring to break eye contact with Colonel Grant. My heart was ready to leap out of my chest. The adrenaline was fading and I was left feeling nervous and scared. I had to pull the trigger now or he’d do me in. Yet, I didn’t.
“Funny, you only see these standoffs in old movies,” Colonel Grant said.
“Yeah, except this time, it isn’t quite that simple.”
“Is it ever that simple?”
Now was the time. Without further adieu, I took in a silent breath, easing my finger onto the trigger. I was sure that Colonel Grant was doing the same. I had to be first or I would be dead. “Yeah,” I answered, “It can be that simple.” I pulled the trigger, the bullet hitting Colonel Grant in his neck. He fired once, reaching for his neck as he choked on his own blood. The powerful bullet grazed my leg and I stumbled to the side. Colonel fell onto his back, gagging and choking on the warm thick blood. I made my way over to his struggling body that clinged onto life. Kicking the revolver out of his hand, I bent over to get it for myself, studying the heavy gun. I could hear Rebecca’s footsteps behind me but I was determined to kill this monster myself. It took one to stop one. I planted my foot on his neck, pressing down heavily on it. I did so, listening to his suffering and enjoying it, taking sick pleasure from it. I kept applying pressure until I heard the crack of his neck and his gagging stopped-his fighting stopped. I breathed in a sigh of relief, a grin forming from ear to ear. I turned slowly to look at Rebecca who looked up from Colonel Grant’s dead body with wide eyes.
“Let’s go,” I said nonchalantly, passing her down the steps, the bottom of my shoe leaving bloody steps.
Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat with all my gear on ready for launch, I didn’t understand anything. Rebecca drilled it into my head not to touch anything so I didn’t. I sat in the cramped ship, staring up at Earth as it passed over the top of the station. It was now or never as always. With the blast doors open, and with the flick of a switch, engines were at full throttle.
“Hold on,” Rebecca said laughing as she eased the ignition forward. The thrusters spurted to life and a power jet engine breathed fire beneath the ship. The room lit up with an orange hue. The roar of engines deafened us but I didn’t care. It was the roar of freedom-the roar of hope. I was smiling the entire time as the ship lifted off and ascended into the open space, the space station below us.
“WOO!” I cheered as we launched. The G-force kept my head pinned back against the headrest. Through the corner of my eyes I could see Rebecca grinning and laughing in her helmet.
“Yeah!” she yelled, as the ship roared on into the black.
She eased the throttle down and the ship steadied, the G-force decreasing and the rush of adrenaline dying out once again. I breathed out heavily, excitedly and looked at Rebecca and she looked at me and we shared a laugh.
Halfway through the trip, Rebecca had raised Earth on communications. I lingered in the back of the ship, gazing out of the windows at the Moon as it grew smaller below us. I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation. I didn’t care. I was leaving. I was finally leaving. I was still smiling and I didn’t realize it. I was elated, so much so that I can’t describe. I was sad, sure, because I would be returning to an Earth where nothing I knew remains-where all I loved is dead-but on Moon where insanity is the closest friend, anything was a welcoming relief. I truly was glad that I was returning now. Even under the circumstances. Rebecca was crushed at losing Chambers-crushed at leaving so many of the people who were to come with us behind but she saw through it. The only death that affected me was seeing Chambers killed. It was quick but ruthless. Reminiscing the Colonel’s death, I felt the same power I felt when I stood over him with my heel on his throat. I’d completely forgotten about Yuri until now. I prayed that he died quickly if he is dead. I hoped that he faced it with courage as he did everything. He didn’t deserve what happened but there was no going back now.
“James?” Rebecca called.
I looked at her, breaking my gaze with the Moon and asked, “What is it?”
“They want to speak with you.”
I sighed, shrugging my shoulders and floating over towards the radio. I picked up the microphone and spoke, “This is Dr. James Palmer. Who am I speaking to?”
“This is acting President Mallory, Dr. Palmer, congratulations on your escape.”
I was genuinely shocked to be speaking to the president, whoever he was but I wasn’t too flattered. His name was likely drawn from a hat amongst other bureaucrats that survived. “Thank you, sir, but I wish more of us survived.”
“As do I but two people surviving is better than none.”
“I agree, sir.”
“Now, you’re on route to Earth where my men will likely intercept you at your landing site. I just want to thank you wholeheartedly in the work you will put out to stopping this plague.”
I drew away from the microphone, giving Rebecca a bewildering glance. “Uh, sir, with all due respect, I don’t want to go back to work. I want to just sit down and go through the rest of my days with as much ease as possible.”
“Well, I’m afraid that’s impossible. We need you and you will work for us.”
I scoffed at his words, finding myself dumbfounded at this newfound knowledge of the true reason behind my return. I had looked forward to freedom to live the rest of my days relaxing, or at least trying to in a post-apocalyptic world. Apparently, that was no longer the case. I was being enslaved to work the rest of my days for the “government” that had saved me only to work me. “Sir, I’m not sure you understand, I’m not working anymore.”
“James,” Rebecca interjected. “Just listen to him.”
“NO! I won’t do it, I’m done.”
“Dr. Palmer think to yourself. If you’re no use to us, then why keep you...in good health?”
I lowered the microphone, setting it down on the dashboard of the ship and retreating to the back of the ship. Rebecca continued the conversation, apologizing profusely, but I had told the truth. I refused to go back and if Rebecca thought she could sell me back into it, then she had another thing coming. I wouldn’t bend over for them anymore. I was done living for everyone else. That’s what I’d been doing for so long. For seven years at Station 116 I lived to see Savanna again. For weeks at Solaris I lived to provide for Colonel Grant. Now, they expected to get me to live to aiding their quest to stop something they couldn’t? I didn’t think so and I didn’t like that one bit. I am going to make my own decisions now. I am going to start living my life now. To do that, I took it into my hands, grabbing the wheel.
I knelt down by a plastic bag where I stored my clothes and essentials from Solaris. I dug deep into the bag and pulled out the large revolver, checking the bullets in the cylinder. There were four left, more than enough for what I wanted to do. There was oxygen pumping into the ships from reserves in tanks. It would serve to allow combustion for the firing of the gun though without gravity, it’d go on, thanks to physics. I secured my helmet on my head, ensuring that I had enough oxygen to last the trip back to Earth. Rebecca, fortunately, kept her’s on for whatever reason so I would have the pleasure of allowing her pain for the entire ride back if I didn’t kill her. Silently strapping myself to a chair behind Rebecca, I took a deep breath and aimed the revolver. When I opened my eyes, she still hadn’t noticed. This was good. She was strapped in and wouldn’t go anywhere when I shot her. Pulling the hammer down slowly, I grinned from ear to ear. One last heinous act for the books-one last evil carrying me a far cry from sanity. This was my sanity-break, yet at the same time, salvation. When the hammer clicked, I pulled the trigger, the booming bang of the revolver echoing off of the walls of the ship. The bullet went straight through her, hitting her right lung. She cried out and coughed up blood, gasping in pain and for air. I only smiled as she strained in her chair, grasping her side. The bullet had gone through the ship and the oxygen was leaking out into the vacuum of space. I watched her panic-watched her blood flow weightlessly. I sat back in my chair, satisfied, but that wasn’t it. The ship would crash and they’d still recover us. It was a dead end for me, quite literally as I had no where left to go. I had only one last humanly right available to me.
I took the revolver and pressed it against the side of my helmet lined up with my brains. I rested my head back, pulling the hammer down slowly. I could hear Rebecca crying out my name, swearing at the top of her lung in pain, he voice raspy. I sighed one last sigh of relief, gave one last grin of joy, and when the hammer clicked, I said my last words as a single tear rolled down my cheek and I caught one last glimpse of Earth, the Sun rising over the horizon. “It’s perfect.”