Taking space hops the amount of times I do, you get used to how much of your average scientists’ chatter boils down to doing things for no reason, or for reasons they’ve long since forgot.
I’ve been in deep cryo-jumps where the eggheads had us dehydrate first so the deep freeze would have less chance of damaging our system. Then you swap companies and you get ready for another hop with a different batch of eggheads and, sure enough, they tell you to over-hydrate and get into the freeze practically needing to piss so as to allow the return from stasis to happen as fast as possible.
Seems to me that they both can’t be right.
Or maybe they can. Hell, they always got me there in one piece, and I’ve been to more stars than I care to count, so I don’t mean to imply that they don’t know what they’re doing. Not a chance I could have done that by myself. I’m just saying that sometimes when they don’t have it all worked out, they do what they think sounds smartest, just like anyone else would.
First sign of trouble was when I came out of cryo, there wasn’t any noise. There’s always noise. A spaceship waking up makes all kinds of noise. And usually? Usually there’s a problem. And that problem has a siren or warning announcement attached to it. Things go wrong travelling around in space. It happens all the time. You don’t plan one of these trips and expect nothing to go wrong. You plan and you expect everything will go wrong and then plan how to fix it.
But this time, nothing. Silence.
I’d have been more comfortable waking up to a klaxon going off or a computer telling me that something’s running out of something.
Instead, I got quiet.
Not a sound.
Well…not a human sound.
Just that damned rustling.
This time around the company that hired me was crazy about my eating habits pre-launch.
Man, you should have heard the guys and gals in the white lab coats talking about our chow. I think sometimes they get tired of trying to solve mysteries about space travel that they can’t get their heads around, so they jump all over something like the best way to fatten up a terraformer because it’s fun for them. They charted everything you could think of about food and my body, they had more different names for different types of food than you’d think could ever exist. I mean good god, a sugar is a sugar ain’t it?
Everything that I put into my body was measured and all of my exercising was monitored and damned if they didn’t fatten me up in the healthiest way possible. Or the way they put it, I developed a sufficient layer of subcutaneous fat to provide ample body fuel for my journey.
I definitely jiggled more than I did before.
They were all worried about the way it tasted too, wanting to make the perfect meals for me and my crew.
That was nice.
Man, in the corps one time I lived for months on a thin gray sludge that I was told was a perfect mix of nutrients. Gray sludge, three squares a day. Fuck that crap, if this new company wanted to fatten me up with real food on their own dime, I had no problems with that.
No problems at all.
Coming out of cryo I at least knew that some of the reactors were still up and running. If everything had shit the bed at once I wouldn’t have woken up, I’d be a frozen corpse. The mission was mostly cold-phase, but there was enough heat still in the ship to keep me alive, so something somewhere was running. That didn’t mean much, as the resistance heaters linked up to the core reactors would probably keep running after bouncing off of a star. Still, though, I was alive. Cold as hell, but alive.
My crew? I have no idea. Like it said, there was nothing but quiet. Believe me, I tried yelling but there was no answer. Everyone else on board this ship is either still frozen or never waking up.
It’s just me in my bunk. And as for the rest of the ship’s functions? Well I’m no engineer, certainly not an electrical one, and figuring out what power was still routed to where came down to flicking switches and seeing what worked. The lights, they were gone. But the emergency crate in my bunk had working portable lights. The door locks? They were gone. Everything was locked open.
The door mechanisms?
Well that’s where I possibly might be a bit fucked.
Maybe the eggheads don’t guess. Maybe they know more than I give them credit for. Hell if I know the difference between what’s needed if we’re heading to Pluto verse if we’re headed to Proximi-8, or if we pass close by to a star for a bit or if the mission’s all way out in the depths. All that probably matters.
But I like to think everyone has a bit of human in them, even scientists, and while I can tear down and rebuild a XC-459 Terraforming Unit blindfolded, sometimes to get the thing to start up I just give it a kick and hope for the best.
Makes me comfortable to think that everyone has some parts of their work that they don’t fully get.
And of course there are the things they do agree on. Like electrolytes when we wake up. You always come out of cryo and fill up on some sort of sweet tasting drink. It’s usually room temperature too. That always bugged me.
Can’t believe it to think about it but not having ice in my drink after travelling to a new star used to piss me off. Room temperature. How the hell did I ever complain about room temperature drinks?
I’m pretty sure they’re harmless. That’s some good news. I mean, they have caused some harm that’s for damn sure, but that’s not their main purpose. And they’re driving me fucking crazy with that rustling, but I think they’re just as lost and confused as I am. I guess they pupated or cocooned up or whatever while we were travelling. Some idiot let in a spore that he shouldn’t have.
No. No a spore isn’t what moths come from.
Hell I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. The moths like the walls, maybe because the walls are warm. And there are hundreds of thousands of them, their still wings coating the entire hallway outside.
One or thirty will occasionally rustle and flap briefly, but they rarely take flight. It makes the whole thing look like it’s undulating. It’s like a massive, living camouflage blanket. The ones on the edges will take off, or hop really, now and again and head towards the center of the mass.
That’s why I think they like the warmth. They’re staying as still as possible and congregating towards the centers of the walls.
Oh. And water. Or any liquid. They appear to like that.
It’s those idiot scientist’s fault. Well, and the moths. And whoever let the moths in and I could go on and on like that.
The door to my bunk is open, but it’s lodged firmly in place only partly opened. The emergency release must have started rolling it back and then some other thing the moths broke made the door seize up in place. There’s a slim bit of space between the steel door and the bulkhead.
I figure a few more kilos ought to do it. It’s pretty embarrassing, my damn gut stopping me from slipping through. Just a few more kilos. I can almost fit through the gap in the door as it is now. I tried not to long ago, sidling through it sideways. My arm, left shoulder, left leg and all made it through. But pushing through with my waist it felt like my skin was going to slide off so I backed off.
I’m not sure that was safe.
What I am sure of is that there’s emergency rations at the communal room at the end of the hall.
So a few more pounds of this, what did they call it, incubating layer of subcutaneous fat, and yeah I can get through the door.
It’s just good god almighty I’m so thirsty.
The headaches aren’t too bad anymore.
The stupid god damned rustling of their wings isn’t even bothering me that much. It’s the flickers in my eyes that I really find irritating. They keep catching the corner of my vision, wings opening up as a few more decide to take their chances away from the edges of the walls.
Or there’s the ones in my room. I’ll forget they’re there and one will flutter on the wall, over by where they all congregated. Dozens of them leaked in through the door like fallen leaves. A few dead ones are on the ground, the majority of them are around my supply bin.
One or two are on the tins of dried food they had no use for. The rest of them amassed on my emergency water skin, which they drained entirely.
The headaches are bad; not being able to concentrate is worse. Nothing compares to trying to swallow though. It’s just…there’s nothing there. My mouth goes through the motions but it’s all friction and pain. There’s some sort of sores on my gums and the entire process is excruciating. And then pounding starts behind my eyeballs and I tune out for a bit.
There’s no clock or anything in here. I think we’re orbiting around a planet, it’s possible that the emergency protocols went off. That means it’s possible that emergency beacons went out. That means it’s possible a passing ship might stop.
That doesn’t matter, though. I can see, just looking at my fingers, that I’ve lost weight. I’m losing weight. I’m getting thinner. I tried to fit through the door I think an hour ago and I couldn’t make it, it felt like my organs were going to rupture.
The hallway was so close though.
The floor is starting to have more moths on it than the walls.
They’re losing weight too.
I just need to forget about water long enough for my body to lose enough weight. Then I’ll be free. Then I’ll be okay.
I can’t look at the floor in my room anymore. It’s disgusting. I thought there might be some liquid in them, anything might help, but the feel of their furred wings on my tongue and their legs against the sores on my gums and I retched. There’s a small puddle of sick with moth bits in it on the floor now. I can’t stand to look at it.
The headaches are endless now.
An hour? A day? How long has it been?
My muscles are trembling. I’m worried I’ll get too weak before I get thin enough.
A few more pounds and I can fit.
My wrists look skinny.
I’m not sure what to make of that.
I know I forced it too much just now.
If I had a mirror I could judge this whole situation better. Get a sense of how my stomach looks.
Or a clock so I know how much time I’m taking between tries.
Instead I keep trying to force it. It has to happen one of these days, though I don’t know if it even has been days…or only hours.
The flashing lights behind my eyes is making me dizzy.
But I have to be thin enough to get through that door soon.
Just not yet. I tried and it didn’t work. But soon. I tried and I pushed. I got my legs in the air and was able to push against my bunk and force myself through the door.
I heard a rib crack.
But that’s okay. I’m not as dizzy as I was. My mouth hurts. It burns actually. But I’m not as dizzy and that’s good.
Soon I’ll be thin enough.
My arms will fit. My shoulders will fit. My head will fit.
Soon I’ll be thin enough.
Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph Devon is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.