Symbiosis

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Chapter 9 - Psychosis

An insistent chirping informs me of the start of a new day. Well, there aren’t exactly ‘days’ in orbit, but my alarm is set on a schedule to mimic Earth days. I stare at the ceiling, wondering if there’s even a reason to get up beyond fulfilling the routine for its own sake.

After a few minutes of torturing myself with the sound of the alarm, I roll out of bed just to shut it up. I test my weight on my injured foot and am happy to feel no more pain. I move to the gym to start my stretches and exercise in silence. I never could understand how people did their workouts while listening to music. I need quiet to concentrate on the pain in my muscles, without that focus, I never feel like I’m making any progress. I’m just not sure why I care, it’s a pointless endeavor. I could just strap on a set of electrodes and let them tear my muscles fibers for me. I used to do just that, like everyone else had. Now, I forgo them in favor of a traditional workout, just to fill the hours of the day.

With my daily exercise done, I shower off and make my way to the hydroponics garden. It’s just another miracle among many that I was able to get the garden working. I would have starved if I failed to. After three hundred years, the MRE rations on board were a little past their expiration date. I had to send them all out the airlock just to get rid of the smell once I opened some.

Thankfully, I was able to get the crop LEDs and the closed loop water filtration system back online by diverting power from the now useless cryopods and their life support systems. With a still damaged reactor, I had little power to work with and allocate, and since the cryopods weren’t exactly serving their purpose anymore, I made use of a few admin codes I wasn’t technically supposed to know to gain some control over where that power went. The connections I made with some of the engineers is really paying dividends.

I make my rounds, checking on all the crops. I can’t believe I’m actually this excited to eat plain potatoes, but weeks of eating nothing but lettuce and the odd radish will do that to you. After obsessively examining each potato sprout, I make my way to the storage facility to continue sorting and unloading the supplies. I passed the place where Robert had died on my way there, like I do every day.

I had finally given him a burial of sorts, along with the other crew members. Well, it was a cremation technically. There’s nowhere on the ship for the disposal or storage of bodies, so they went out the airlock with the stale rations. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been their first choice, but burning up in an alien atmosphere in a blaze of glory is about as good of a way to be sent off as you can expect, so I doubt there would’ve been any complaints.

It was miserable work. Prying open pods and hauling out desiccated bodies one at a time, then dragging them to the airlock. I respected their remains as much as I could, but towards the end, I just wanted to be done with it.

I said a few words for each of them. I’ve never been a religious person, but I knew some of the dead where, so I did it for them. I made sure to honor their memories by staring at their faces until I could remember each of their names. Not in a verbal sense, their cryopods displayed those, but in a personal sense. I remembered one time in which I had addressed them and committed that moment to memory.

I remember a saying that everyone dies two deaths. The first is when our bodies die, the second is the last time someone says our name. In my mind, they wouldn’t truly be dead until they were forgotten, and since I’m the only one left to remember them, I’ll do so for as long as I can.

I saved Robert for last. I said his name over and over, never satisfied with how briefly the words hung in the air. When I sat next to his body in the airlock, I closed my eyes and gave him a moment of silence. When I opened them, his head was turned towards me, staring with unblinking eyes. After the shock passed, I regarded them for a long while before gently closing them.

I stood up and walked out and sealed the door behind me. But right as I pressed the button to open the airlock and watch him get sucked out into the vacuum of space, I swear I saw a single tear rolling down his face. I must be going crazy.

The first real sign that I was slipping happened about a week after my last clash with the creature. I started talking to myself, not delusions of talking to other people, just long monologues to fill the silence, vocalizations of the constant chatter in my head.

The second sign was my increasingly neurotic behavior around the third week. I would spend nights awake, curled up into a ball at the foot of my bed or in a corner wrestling with despair so palpable I was afraid I would extinguish myself by force of will. Any sleep I did get was interrupted when I would reach for the other side of the bed looking for Avery. I would wake up in a panic looking for her, only to remember all over again that she was gone.

Then, in the fifth week, the hallucinations began. I would see a shimmering rainbow tentacle disappear into the wall just as I turned a corner, I would hear the muted conversations of crewmembers on the other side of a door, then open it to find it empty. The worst time was when I was washing my face after a shower and looked up into the mirror to see a frost coated face staring back at me. I had fallen backwards and started hyperventilating. That moment was the source of many nightmares in the following nights.

Somehow, everyday feels longer than the last, but still manage to blur together. The monotony of my routine is unbearable. It must be a cruel joke for me to have survived this long. I can’t take it anymore, not the voices in my head, not the guilt, not the loneliness, not the fear.

Yes, the constant fear, that’s the worst part. Since the creature gave me a new understanding of suffering, I’ve been living in fear of it. I haven’t even bothered to stay armed because I know it would be pointless. It can kill me any time it wants and yet it doesn’t, because it knows. That fucking thing knows I’m afraid of it. This has all been its fault. It’s why I’m going insane. You’re in my head right now aren’t you? Fuck you, you fucking monster! “Fine, you want this ship to yourself so badly, then you can have it. I can’t bear another second aboard this haunted house!” I scream the words to an empty room, but I have the feeling the creature can hear me.

With a terrible urgency, I pull on a flight suit from my cabin’s closet and start running towards the hangar bay. It’s well within the range of the radiation pollution from the damaged reactor, but It doesn’t matter. I’ll be off this ship and dead before the radiation can kill me. I’ll board one of the drop ships and fly down the surface. If I’m going to die, then it’ll be on my own terms, with my feet on solid ground. I was sent to this cursed star system to land ships on Margo, so I will, even if it kills me.

I made it all the way into one of the drop ships and was strapping into the cockpit seat when I felt a dull pain in my head, followed by a chilling ghostly whisper. “...Dad?”

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