Drip...drip….drip. The engine fluid fell methodically out of the busted pipe. The murky fluid had a dull shine from my headlamp. The drip rolled down the cracked broken helmet. Her flight suit was torn on her thigh, with old black blood clumped around the open cut. “Ryanne Bose, dead. Number ID: 176726.”
Even though I couldn’t see Jesse’s face, I saw his shoulders sag. He stepped over the broken glass and torn metal, trying to maneuver through without his flight suit catching. I moved forward with him, being as careful as he was. I put a hand on his shoulder, having him stop for a moment. “I know it’s hard Jess, but we can hopefully find someone. Just keep hope up alright.” Jesse nodded, picking his shoulders up slightly. “We need to get through this year, and get better jobs.” He laughed slightly. “ Two more months, Asa.”
Glass crunched under our feet as we walked back to the group standing in the shattered control room. The room was dark and dusty; the faint stench of death hung in the air. Two of my coworkers stood around the destroyed black box. Kent, the oldest in the group, stood hunched over the cracked backbox, while a far too chipper Harlan hovered over his shoulder. “27 dead in Hallway 220.” Jesse sighed. Kent only slightly looked up his coms before he spoke. “Go hit Hall 230, this stupid box still ain’t working.”
We didn’t say anything more, we just turned down the hall. Half the ceiling had fallen down and an unknown liquid was leaking from the ceiling. I grabbed the edge of the sliding door, pulling until the collapsed ceiling stopped me. I plucked my thermal knife off my belt, carving out the chunk of ceiling that blocked my entrance into the room. I gasped once I saw the scene that was freshly unfolded. “There’s a person!” Jesse whispered. There, wedged in the vent on the wall, was a crew member of the Couxton. His head hung, lifeless. His arms were wedged under his body, gripping the edge of the vent. He was in his cloth uniform rather than the several other bodies who were in their pressure suits. The desks in the rooms were flipped, papers scattered this way and that. The body’s nails were scratched and ripped off as if he struggled to get out after being wedged in the vent. “Why would he crawl in the vent for a loss of power?” Jesse put an arm around me to support himself as he stepped around the mess of glass to look at the man’s tags.
“#942671. This is Clyde Knnap!” Jesse looked at me in bewilderment. “He wasn’t supposed to be on board this ship for another three weeks.” I could slightly make out Jesse’s features though the dark helmet, all I saw was shock. We both stepped away, backing out of the room. “Okay, so all we know is that all of this was not caused by the haul going out. Besides, we got gravity back on, so it’s not a total loss of power.” I bit my lower lip and squeezed Jesse’s hand. “Let’s just get to the reactor and see if there is any light we can turn on.”
We walked around the metal shards and miscellaneous dark liquids on the ground. I placed both hands on the door and leaned my body weight into it, but it didn’t move. Jesse placed a hand on my shoulder, gesturing for me to step aside. And with one swift motion, he kicked the door in. I raised a dark eyebrow. “Well alright then.” I could tell Jesse was all cocky now, he put a hand on his back and extended the other. “Ladies first.” I pointed a finger at my head. “I know you can’t see it but I’m rolling my eyes under this helmet.”
There was a metal hatch to the electrical wires. “Hand me the electrical tape.” I pushed the wires back in place and flipped the big red switch in the back of the tiny box. The lights flickered to life, they buzzed for a second before going silent. I looked back at Jesse, and with the newfound light I was now able to see Jesse’s face in great detail, even down to his now slightly grown-out deep blonde buzz cut. We were strongly suggested to keep our hair short, but I kept my dark honey curls about at my shoulders. But I always had my hair pulled into a small ponytail at the nape of my neck.
I stood and faced Jesse and put my arm on the wall behind him. He pulled his head back in surprise. “Well, this is forward.” I chuckled at him and flipped the switch behind him that stabilized the ship’s lights. I could practically see the blush on Jesse’s face. He knotted his fingers together in his nervous little way. “Not funny, Asa.”
I laughed and patted him on the shoulder before I squeezed through the pipes beside us to look at our situation with oxygen. “You know this ship so far isn’t half as bad as The Blue Moon.” Before I could say anything else Jesse cut me off. “Yeah, but this one has three times the crew and so far they’re all dead.” I looked back at him, he was trying to squeeze the bulk of his body through the tiny space I crawled into. Turning back to the wall I looked at the oxygen tank, pacing around it until I saw the problem. The tank had five giant gashes across the middle of it. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed. Jesse, who had finally made it through the pipes, shot his head up to look at me. “W-what is it?” I hesitated before replying. “Something tore through one of the oxygen tanks.”
The light gray metal oval had been ripped open, but the large spare refresher had been left alone. I reached down running my gloved hands over the light red copper wires, ripped, mangled, and torn.
“We have no oxygen, all we will have is our rebreathers for now.” I ran a hand over the torn metal, it was rough and not a clean cut. It was more of a hash than a clean cut. “Well, anyone alive would have tried to fix the O2 levels. But, the ship’s log books of where it stopped haven’t been updated in a long while.” Jesse puffed, he basically crawled under the pipes to look at the oxygen tanks. I extended a hand to him, letting him stand. He had to hunch over, as he was at most a head taller than me.
He glided a gloved hand over the slash and agreed with me. I heard Jesse’s com click and pop meaning it was connecting to a com farther away than 20 feet. “Hey Kent, we found something strange. The oxygen tanks are dead, and can’t be repaired. How is the black box going?” Harlen responded instead. “Kent and I can’t get the box working, just glad to have the lights working.” Harlan’s voice was bouncy, the opposite of Jesse’s dark tone. Harlan had only been on the team for a month and hadn’t seen the atrocities that Jesse and I had seen, on ships like these.
I looked around the small room. Everything in the room had been pushed against the sides as if someone had been looking to make more room. The equipment in the room, other than the oxygen tanks, was all in working order despite the damages.
We crawled out of the closet of a room, weaving between the pipes and wires. I shook my head, moving an exceptionally long hair out of my face. Then, I helped Jesse back out of the room.
Pop, CRACK, pop, crack, crack.
We walked back out into the half-collapsed hallway. Jesse shoved aside some broken equipment, letting us get past them more easily. Jesse held out a hand, helping me over a particularly large sheet of metal. We swiveled around to check a room next to the reactor, shoving the door open slightly. I stuck my head in, however inside was only a mess of glass and metal.
We kept walking down the hallway, away from the reactor. Jesse took the charge, keeping in front of me. We searched through the hallway, but we were tenser than normal. This should have been a routine ship search, find the bodies, console the family, and bring back the survivors.
The lights flickered slightly, then cut out before sputtering. Suddenly, my feet left the ground. I yelped and stuck my arms out, grasping for something, anything. A hand gripped my arm, steading me slightly. I rotated my other arm like a windmill, trying to float horizontally. “Jesse!” I felt my eyes get hot, heavy, and well up. Something smacked the right side of my helmet. My lungs burned hot like they had been scraped out. My breath was fast and shallow.
I wrapped my arms around Jesse, suspended in the dark. “Hey! Asa, breathe! Breathe!” He placed a hand over the helmet, running his fingers over the glass of my helmet. “Breath, you will break your rebreather!” My breath slowed and I gulped down the fresh air my rebreather just put out. “You’re okay, Asa. I got you.” He set an arm around the small of my back, before using his other hand to flick on his head-mounted light. He looked around, slicing the darkness. The glass and metal we had climbed around now floated amongst us. A shard of glass was kicked up from my flailing, it floated about without a care. “I am going to hook my cable line to you, then we are going to try and look around.” He clipped and locked his line onto my clip right above my belly button. Jesse’s com clicked. “Kent, Harlan?” The com just scratched back. “Harlan, are you there?” There was only silence.
“Okay, let’s just get to them. Just hold onto the line while I pull us through.” He flicked the switch on my helmet, but only one light on the left side of my helmet came on. I searched his eyes for the same trepidation that ran in my gut, but all I saw was a calm, level-minded man.
Jesse walked his hands along the busted hot water pipe that spanned the length of the hallways. The umbilical tow attached to me pulled, pulling me behind Jesse. I looked ahead of us, making sure we didn’t run into any flying scrap. I could hear the slight struggle in Jesse’s breath.
We were halfway through the hallway when we reached the collapsed ceiling that was now limply floating. Jesse easily walked across it, however, the rebounds of his movement made the gap smaller, forcing me to squeeze through. I couldn’t because the cord pulled me close to his hip rather than his back. I reached up, keeping a hand on the same pipe Jesse held. I held my other hand on the cord, the ceiling bounced slightly under my feet.
We rounded the corner into the dark control room. There was a soft light that bounced around in the corner of the room. It bobbed up and down. “Kent? Harlan?” I spoke into my mic. “I’m here!” Harlan’s voice was stressed, and faint and his breath was shallow and fast. “Okay, we’re coming to you.” Jesse looked at me. “I am going to push off the wall to get to Harlan, I need you to do the same. On the count of three. One..two…” He turned his head towards the light and put his feet against the wall. And I did the same. “Three!” We pushed off the wall, sticking our hands out in front of our face to block the flying bits of the control room. We were about fifteen feet from the bobbing light. Fourteen feet left. Twelve, ten, five. Jesse flew his arm out catching a broken bar of metal slowing us from hitting Harlan. I gripped my cord and braced myself for the jerk. There was a human figure back stuck on the wall. I could hear Harlan’s labored breathing through our coms. He was starting to hyperventilate. “My suit is stuck on the wall, I can’t move!” He was panicking. Jesse held a hand out to shush him. “We are going to help you kid, just calm down.”
I moved close to Harlan, trying to get a better look at his situation. The back of his suit was hooked on a metal piece on the wall. It was embedded into his suit. I swore under my breath, it was stuck. “We are going to have to cut the metal.” I pulled out my hot knife, slowly cutting into the metal about an inch from his suit.
Click...pop, pop crack.!
I was about an inch through the bar, Jesse was cracking stupid jokes to Harlan wanting to keep his spirits high. “Hey, Asa, how much longer do you think we have?” I leaned back to look at him. “Like two more inches left.” Jesse flashed a signature smile. “So like three more minutes.” I made an ‘Eh’ sound. “Oh come on, when have my calculations been wrong?”
“Well there was that one time on Seek where yo-”
“Oh, shut up. That was one time.”
I chuckled, letting the tense air dissipate. I was another inch in, but it was getting tougher as I was getting tired. Jesse kept Harlan calm. Harlan was barely twenty, and this was his first job. He was young and stupid like we all were when we first started. The job was good pay, but not everyone could handle the confusion you feel from not being able to figure out what happened.
I cut through the last of the pole freeing Harlan. “Don’t get that pole pulled out until we get back to our ship. And what happened to Kent?” I looked around in the darkness, but there was no one. Harlan shook his head. “I don’t know. Once the power went out, I fell back and got stuck on the wall.” Jesse drew a deep breath and held it for a moment before releasing it. “We gotta find him and call to get you back to the Yellow Jacket.” We sat for a moment before deciding. “We have to find Kent first, because he might be in the same situation as you were, Harlan.”
Harlan nodded uncomfortably. I knew he wanted to call and get back to the Yellow Jacket as soon as possible. Jesse’s eyes searched the room one more time. “Harlan, do you think you need to be tethered to us?” Harlan shook his head. “I can take care of myself.” I bit my lower lip. “Well alright, just remember this is different from the simulations.” He shook his head in affirmation.
While Jesse started to move towards the hallway, I leaned my head back to get a better look down the hallway. This time there was no bobbing light, only thick dust. I bit my lower lip again, thinking about which hallway Kent could have gone down while Jesse radioed him. But, Jesse was only met with static. “Kent ain’t picking up, and we have no visual on him.” We all looked at each other. “Let’s go down that hallway and if we don’t see him, we’ll come back.” Harlan looked at me. “But if he’s stuck, then we shouldn’t be sitting here!” Jesse swung a finger at Harlan, almost knocking him in the head. “If you are too rash, then we won’t be able to help him. Keep your head on, kid.” Harlan moved to make another stupid remark but stopped before he could get in any more trouble.
“Okay, let’s get going.” Jesse started down the hallway first, and Harlan and I fell in line. We used only stationary objects to propel ourselves.
“Is there no way we can get the gravity on?” Harlan cried as he bounced from one wall pipe to the other. Jesse sighed and looked at me like a disappointed parent. “If the power is cut, we can’t get it back on without the backup generator in the bottom of the ship. Didn’t you learn this in boot camp?” Harlan immediately got defensive, hunching his shoulders. “Of course I did! I was top of my class.” I could tell Jesse was getting frustrated with Harlan. But I knew Jesse wasn’t going to flip out on him, he was a professional. I sometimes slacked, but he always wanted to do his job right from the start. I put a hand on his shoulder, and rubbed his shoulder asureingly.
I thought back on our time in boot camp, how young we were. Jesse and I enlisted together, being from the same small town in West Virginia. We used to run though the live oak trees after class in high school. The soft breeze that would shake the orange leaves in the fall.
I shook my head, trying to redirect my focus on our task at hand. I couldn’t just daydream, this wasn’t high school anymore.
There was a soft haze across my helmet, slightly obscuring my vision. I swiped the haze away and looked back down the hallway. We floated about the hallway. Every now and then, either Jesse or I would click the coms to see if we could get a response. But there was nothing, Kent wasn’t answering. We rounded the corner at the end of the corridor, the only movement being the suspended debris.
Suddenly, a shard of a control panel flew past my face. I jerked my head around only to see a hysterical man. Even though our coms were not connected, I could see his hyperventilating. I put a hand out in front of me to stop the metal he threw at us. Jesse hatched our coms to him. I could hear his harsh, shallow breathing. “Hey! Hey! We are here to help!” Jesse yelled at the man.
But, the man kept throwing stuff, and as he did, his breathing got heavier. I leapt at the man, wrapping my arms around him like a bear hug, successfully stopping him from throwing anything else. But I could feel through his suit, his rapidly beating heart and how fast he was breathing. His heart fought violently in his rib cage, jumping and bouncing around his chest.
Looking at his face, I could see the beads of cold sweat that ran down his cheeks, like his forehead was crying.
He groped at his chest, griping, and slightly ripping his suit. His face was red as he sucked in shallow breaths. I twisted the man around to where he faced me. He sputtered a few times before his eyes shut, cold.
I felt the umbilical tow grow slack as Jesse got over to us. Jesse swiftly checked his vitals. Jesse hung his head. “The heart attack did him in.” There was a pained edge in Jesse’s voice. I let go of the dead man. His body drifted away and out of my arms. Jesse held what was left of the man’s tags. They were broken and bent, only half of the tag remained. ‘S-man Clo-’
I gripped a rope off my belt and tied one end of the rope to the wall and the other to the dead man. Harlan gave me a bewildered look. “What are you doing?” I looked up from securing the man. “There’s no gravity and this man deserves more than to float aimlessly in the hallways.” My stomach twisted, I felt sick.
“What the heck was that man so scared of that he gave himself a heart attack?” My voice was almost a whisper, but Jesse still responded with a shrug anyway. “Was he scared of something? Couldn’t it have been nitrogen narcosis?” Harlan quickly questioned.
We had to keep going. We couldn’t get the retrieval team yet, the retrieval team always came after we did. We were only scopes and we just looked for survivors.
Crack, pop, crack, pop, pop.
We rounded the corner, seeing more of the same broken, battered ship. Suddenly, the com screamed and crackled. The com, still cracking, filtered through a sputtered breath. I looked back at the guys and we knew it had to be Kent. We pulled our way through the suspended rubble, pushing past the broken wires and glass. But, the com’s clicking abruptly stopped. My head was on a swivel, but there was no living thing in sight.
I clicked my com. “Kent? Kent, where are you?” I expected to see another bobbing light, but there was only our own light. Our light cast an almost haunting glow across everything.
There was a soft light in the corner of the room. I pointed at the bobbing thing. “There!” I reached out and pulled Jesse and I forward, towards the light. “Kent?”