Symbiosis

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Chapter 2 - Fatal Folly

I walk through stark, bare corridors and down flights of stairs towards the stasis pods for the general crew. At the time of its creation, The Hegemony Star Cruiser, or HSC Arcadia was the most advanced piece of human engineering ever created. Despite the world’s greatest minds coming together to create this 1,000-meter-long hallmark of human ingenuity, the signs of the utilitarian nature of this craft are apparent in its every aspect. Despite being a city unto itself, there are exposed wires along the side for easy access and the unpainted titanium walls bring to mind the submarines of centuries past.

As soon as I arrive at my destination, I begin optimistically checking the condition of the crew in each one. But with each pod that shows its occupant has expired, like food left to spoil, my hope dims a little more. A few look like they died peacefully, but only a few. There are no decomposers in space, pre-launch sterilization made sure of that. Bodies don’t rot the way they do on Earth, they just... dry up, like they had been mummified.

When I finally find a pod whose occupant is still alive, I nearly shout in triumph. I immediately deactivate his life support and bring him out of stasis. I eagerly watch as his heartbeat and breathing resume. Only, in my haste, I fail to realize that the pod’s release latch has been warped with age and jammed. As soon as I notice it my stomach drops and panic sets in.

As the crew member’s eyes slowly flutter open, I begin trying to open the pod by working my fingers into the small crease along the pod’s side. The crew member is off life support, but with the pod still sealed he’s trapped inside a tube that’s cold enough to kill in minutes. The fog in the crew member’s eyes clears as he comes to consciousness. I can do nothing but watch in horror as he begins to shiver uncontrollably from the blood neutralizer freezing him from the inside out. Soon after, his breathing slows to a crawl.

Realizing I’m never going to open this pod with my bare hands, I spin on my heels and take off running to the nearest supply room to find something to pry the pod open with. As soon as I arrive, I begin frantically searching, throwing lids off crates and rifling through their contents. I’m not sure how long it takes to find what I’m looking for, but given that I only have a couple minutes before my crewmate freezes to death, it was too long for my liking.

With my newfound wrench in hand, I sprint back to the pod and start furiously hammering away at the release latch. I look through the small viewport into the pod and see that the crew member is no longer shivering. That’s bad, very bad. He’s looking at me in confusion and fear. “H-hellp… huurrtsss,” his muffled, slurred speech spikes my anxiety further. But, unable to do anything else for him, I just work faster.

Going by the stages of hypothermia, I can tell I’m running out of time. His body is shutting down which is causing his slur. The nerves in his skin will be malfunctioning in the extreme cold, making him feel pins and needles across his body. With a grunt of effort, I manage to hammer the latch far enough back into shape to allow the pod to open another few centimeters.

Reinvigorated by the progress, I jam the head of the wrench into the widened seam and use my feet to stomp on the handle to pry the pod open. I grab a beam above my head and use it to lift myself up and slam both feet onto the wrench. I feel a bolt of pain race up from my left foot with each strike, I’m guessing I just broke something in my foot. I don’t care, I don’t have time to care. The crew member isn’t moving anymore, I can’t even see the rise and fall of his chest. As if in response, my heart rate quickens even more, as if it’s trying to beat enough for the both of us. If only it could.

Finally, with a glorious crash, the pod door flings open. I lose my grip on the beam above and tumble to the floor. I’m on my feet a moment later pulling the crew member out of the pod, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my foot. I lay him down carefully, like he’s made of glass. I take a moment to catch my breath and bask in the relief of having made it in time.

That relief lasts only a few seconds when I don’t see or hear him breathing. With a quick prayer, more of a plea really, to any god that may be listening, I put my hand to his mouth and sure enough, feel no air flow. With a muttered curse I lower my head to his chest to listen for a heartbeat. Silence, but I refuse to give up. I start doing chest compressions like a man possessed. I’m so frantic that I fuck up the timing at first. Calm down, 30 compressions, then two breaths, nice and steady.

I soon get lost in the rhythm. I keep waiting for my concentration to be broken by a shuddering intake of air from the crewman, but it just doesn’t come. When lightheadedness causes me to pass out for the second time from the constant rescue breaths, I admit to myself that I need to stop. He’s gone. I don’t want to stop, to admit failure. It’s too much to bear that I just inadvertently killed my only chance to not die alone.

If I just took things slower, noticed that the pod was broken then maybe... The guilt is enough to make me want to curl up and die. That guilt is compounded by the fact that I’m torn by his death for such a selfish reason as ‘not wanting to be alone’. I’m alive where so many others are now dead. I want to believe I survived for a reason, but all I have to show for my actions is one more person added to the body count.

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