And Silent Were The Stars
Part 1: The Survivor
Distributed by Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Kate Amedeo
The long corridor stretched ahead and no matter how fast she ran she could not reach the other end of it. Rebecca stopped and looked around. The metal walls were too tall; squares of fluorescent lamps cut into the dark ceiling above her head every couple of meters; the door handles were so high above the floor she could barely reach them. She felt so small. So alone. And only Tom’s voice, coming from somewhere up ahead, was there with her in the cold emptiness.
“Enie, menie, miny, moe…” His voice echoed through the corridor.
“Tom!” Rebecca heard his name come out of her mouth and reverberate, dissolving into the never-ending corridor. “Tom!”
She heard his laughter bounce off the walls, one moment sounding far away, the next so close it made her turn around, her thin brown braids spinning in the air and slapping her cheeks. But he wasn’t there. He was never there.
“Beccs…” he stretched. “Come out, come out wherever you are…”
“Tom!” She called out louder and felt tears stream down her cheeks. “I don’t want to play anymore!”
Another whirlpool of laughter surrounded her and then dissipated into the darkness which now was gathering behind her back. She turned around and fear traced its chilly finger across her backbone, raising every smallest hair on her skin. There was something in the pitch black. It was watching her. And it was getting closer, slowly, patiently.
“I don’t want to PLAY!” She sobbed, rubbing the tears off with the sleeve of her checkered dress and backing up. Suddenly, she felt someone grab her by the shoulders from behind and heard Tom’s voice loud in her ears, “WAKE UP!”
A pale blue light of the holoscreen lit up in the darkness of the tiny cabin and a quiet beeping sound filled the silence. It took Rebecca a couple of seconds to realize the sound was coming from somewhere outside her dream. She threw the thin thermal blanket off and sat up on the cot. Her bare feet touched the rubber covering of the floor. The tank top soaked in cold sweat stuck to her skin. Rubbing her eyes with one hand, she reached out to the screen and touched the answer button.
A man’s face appeared in front of her. His pale blue eyes planted deep within the thin face were partially covered by the heavy, drooping eyelids similar to those of a basset hound. He stared at her from behind the thick lenses of his glasses.
“What is it, Arthur?” she asked, squinting at the light of the holoscreen.
“Hey, Becky,” he said, revealing pearly white teeth as the narrow line of his lips split into a smile. “They are heading back. Prep the quarantine area.”
She cringed at Becky. For a second she wanted to remind him that it’s Rebecca but decided to let it go.
“How many?” Her eyes were now wide open and focused on the screen. The light of the cabin grew brighter as her hand reached the touchscreen on the wall above the narrow bed, moving the light control slider to the right.
“One.” His smile shrunk.
One. She tried to bring up the numbers from the report she’d read last evening before the rescue vessel took off for the colony. There were supposed to be at least a hundred and fifty-eight colonists down there.
“And the rest?”
“No trace of anyone else. No bodies either. Doc said that they managed to get only to the second level. The third is sealed off. One of the techs has tried to get the elevators running but with no luck. Captain’s orders. They are on their way back to the ship.”
Only one survivor. Quarantine. A standard procedure but there was something that made her uneasy. Her eyes shifted away from the screen and traced the thin line of light that stretched all the way across the wall under the low ceiling and illuminated the room with a soft white glow.
“You still there?”
“Meet you in the Medbay.” She terminated the call. A logo of the Sirius Corporation substituted the image of the man on the screen. Underneath, in the right bottom corner white numbers glowed on the light-blue background, 4:14 A.M.
Rebecca stood in front of a large window. On the other side, a man lay on a cot, red, blue and green tubes coming out of his body, connecting him to the medibot. She touched the controls on the holoscreen which were projected onto the glass pane. A robot arm with a large orb at the end rose above the man and scanned the body from its head all the way down to the toes, passing a ray of blue laser light over it. A skeleton appeared on the screen. Next to it a string of text blinked:
Scanning for personal ID… Microchip found… Retrieving data…
The words disappeared. New ones replaced them:
Vasily Anatolyevich Kazakov, 39
Novaya Nadezhda, AF-235-B
Miner, level 4 security
The skeleton grew shape of a body, and a red dot at the back of the neck indicated the place where the microchip had been inserted. Rebecca turned the image around, zoomed out and looked for any fractures or anomalies and then manipulated the scanner into showing the internal organs of the survivor. A detailed map of blood vessels permeated the shape on the screen. Every contraction of a raisin-like shape in the man’s chest echoed into a beep on the speakers and revealed thin pulsating lines – each vein, artery and capillary.
With a quiet hiss a door slid open behind her and an elderly man came into the diagnostic’s room.
“Doctor,” Rebecca said politely, not taking the eyes away from the holoscreen.
“How are we doing?” he asked, stopping by her side and looking through the screen into the room where the man moved slightly and gave out a sigh.
“Still unconscious. Dehydrated and malnourished. But otherwise, there seems to be nothing wrong with him.”
She zoomed in and looked at the man’s brain, woven through and through with blood vessels, searching for arteriovenous malformations. Not finding any abnormalities, Rebecca turned her head towards the newcomer. Tall and lean, he was bearing his age as few men did. One could still see the remnants of the military past in his posture and the way he carried himself. It was no secret that more than half of the personnel on board the Syracusae had some kind of military training under their belts. The corporation preferred to keep their staff prepared. Just in case. No one ever did speak about what ‘the case’ they were prepared for was.
The doctor held his left arm to his chest, the elbow of the right one resting on it, with the fingers rubbing the short, neatly trimmed beard on his chin. Even though more than twenty-four hours had passed since he had had any sleep, his short hair the color of ashes was combed neatly to the back of the head and his clothes had not a single crease on them.
“Arthur is working on the blood and tissue samples in the lab. The analysis should be ready soon.”
She saw the man beside her nod once. Then silence filled the room, disturbed only by the beeping of the heartbeat monitor.
“Frank?” Rebecca turned away from the screen and spoke hesitantly.
The man seemed to have come out of a trance and stared Rebecca right in the eyes.
“How is it possible that an entire population of the colony disappeared without a trace?” A moment of cold silence hung in the air of the small room.
“Well, that is what we need to find out. Maybe we didn’t look good enough.” He kept silent for a moment and then continued. “I have spoken to the Captain about dispatching the second search party but,” he turned back to the patient still lying unconscious in the room behind the glass pane, “he wants to find out what we are dealing with here first. And for that we need this man to come to his senses and tell us all about it.”
Another kind of beeping filled the room, louder and more frequent. Rebecca turned back to face the screen. The vital signs showed a greater heart activity, the heartbeat line jolting up and down frenetically. Through the glass, she saw the man first move slightly and then his whole body started thrashing in a seizure.
Rebecca ran to the airlock and pressed the buttons on the access panel. A woman’s voice notified that the airlock was now pressurized and the metal door slid open, releasing a hiss of air coming out from the small containment area. Rebecca stepped inside. The door behind her closed and the same voice announced that the pressurization was in progress.
It took her just over a minute to get into the biosuit. It was made from a special synthetic fabric, strong enough to resist tears and at the same time light enough to allow an almost complete freedom of movement. The inner door of the quarantine area hissed open and Rebecca stepped into the room. She hurried towards the man.
“Nyet, nyet…” It seemed as if the man was trying to scream but all that came out of his frail body were faint whispers. His chest heaved up and down with every heavy breath. Rebecca touched a button on the medibot and a holoscreen lit up.
“He’s crashing.” She heard her own breath as it passed through the filters of the biosuit and into the speakers.
“Five hundred ccs of Ephemerin. Get the restraints!” Doctor’s voice in the speakers had a metallic tinge to it.
The man on the cot lifted his arms, his fingers bent and twitching, his chest arched and legs pressing into the hard mattress. His eyes opened suddenly as he drew a deep breath, producing a loud wheezing noise. Rebecca was manipulating the controls on the holoscreen when he grabbed her by the arm.
“Anechka, ya zdes…” She tried to pull her hand free but his grip was surprisingly strong, fingers digging deep into the fabric of the suit. “Ya ne hotel, Anechka! Eto oni…” He stared at her, his body contorted, his head tilted backwards and the mouth gaping open, lips drawn away from the yellow teeth. A web of red capillaries spread through the whites of his eyes which drilled into Rebecca’s face behind the plexiglass of the face mask.
“It’s okay. Vasily, you must try to calm down. We are here to help,” she spoke, trying to restrain him, not sure if he could understand a word she said. His body was so rigid that she couldn’t press him back onto the cot. She heard the door hiss behind her. The doctor in the second bodysuit appeared next to her. He moved to the other side of the cot and grabbed the man’s other arm.
“Restraints!” the doctor almost yelled as he tried to press the man’s hand towards one of the belts on the bed rails. The man thrashed violently, kicking his feet high up in the air.
“Eto vsyo oni, slyshish?! Ya ne dam im tebya v obidu! Pustite, suki! Anya! Ja ne dam! Anechka…”
The sedative kicked in immediately as the pale liquid entered the patient’s vein. The man’s body went limp, his voice becoming fainter with every second. He was still repeating the last word over and over, until it was only his lips moving in the same pattern with no sound coming out of them. His eyes were the last ones to give up, still open widely, staring at Rebecca. The beeping sound became less frequent and as Rebecca turned to the screen she saw the line of the heartbeat regain its normal rhythm. His fingers were still clutching her sleeve. She pulled her arm back and freed it. Before he closed the eyes, Vasily gathered the strength to whisper the word one last time.
Rebecca finished her rounds. It didn’t take long. Except for a couple of twisted ankles and minor injuries, Medbay had only one other patient admitted. A tech from EVA team was in the tissue regeneration pod after one of the panels had burst open, crippling him. The deep wound in his thigh would leave a scar but he was luckier than his colleague who’s spacesuit helmet got shattered by the impact with the debris, leaving him in the morgue till the return trip. Things like that were not common but accidents did happen.
Rebecca put the palm of her hand onto the scanner by the door. It slid open and she walked into the empty room. Arthur or Doctor Dawson should have been in the diagnostic’s, keeping an eye on the condition of the quarantine patient.
The light grew brighter as she walked in, illuminating the sterile environment. The only live thing, a large ficus on the floor in the corner of the room, created a sharp contrast with the white color of the walls, floor, and ceiling. Rebecca came up to her desk and took the jacket off, leaving it hanging on the back of the chair. She put the palm onto the scanner on the surface of the desk and a holoscreen lit up.
“Welcome, Doctor Porter,” a woman’s voice said softly.
Rebecca sat down and reached into the drawer of the desk, taking out a small container labeled Aspex. She opened it and let two pills fall onto her palm, popped them into the mouth and swallowed. She closed her eyes for a second and drew in a deep breath. Then she turned the pill container around and for a couple of seconds stared at the label. To be used for relief of anxiety and sleep disturbances. May cause side effects – nausea, drowsiness, rash, joint pain, hallucinations. Do not use when pregnant. Contact your doctor if you have any unusual problems while taking the medication.
She hid the pill container back inside the drawer and as she closed it, the small light on the lock turned from green to red. Then her fingers touched the controls on the holoscreen and opened the medical history of the survivor from the colony. She scrolled down to the last entry.
Patient briefly regained consciousness. Demonstrates signs of a severe emotional shock. Blood and tissue sample analysis showed no abnormalities. Medication: Ephemerin 500cc every four hours for the next twelve hours.
Rebecca closed the report and switched to the view of the camera in the quarantine area. The man lay still on the cot, the same way he did when she’d left him during the previous shift. She switched to another camera and the diagnostic’s room appeared on the screen at an angle. There were two people there, Doctor Dawson and Captain Richards. The captain, a large black man, was pacing back and forth. It took him only a couple of strides to cross the small room. Rebecca could see the doctor’s lips moving. Then, all of a sudden the captain flung both of his hands up into the air and spun round on his heels, turning his back to the camera located in the upper corner of the room.
Rebecca slid her fingers over the sound controls and zoomed in the image.
“…those goddamn crazy fanatics! I will not risk my own men! I will not, Frank!” the captain’s voice boomed, his index finger of the right hand was pointing at the window behind which the man from the colony lay unconscious.
“I understand, Leonard. But we were the ones who intercepted the signal. You know yourself that we are the only ones for God knows how many light years away. The Corporation laws clearly state that any distress signal must be dealt with by the ship…” Captain Richards did not let the doctor finish.
“By the ship, that has its own men to tend to. We do not even know what happened down there,” he roared, one hand on his side, the other one flying up and down as he spoke. “For all I know, they might have all suffocated, popping open a gas pocket with all their digging in the dirt. Or worse. And we are not equipped to perform large-scale rescue operations.”
“We can’t just leave those people down there! And you know it!” Doctor’s voice also grew in strength.
A heavy silence filled the room. Doctor Dawson looked at the glass pane. The room on the other side was dim, the lights on the screen of the medibot shining brightly.
“You know yourself that every hour, every minute we spend arguing may mean people’s lives.”
The captain turned away from him and now was staring at the door.
“Back on Thalos…” He rubbed the bridge of his nose as he spoke, his voice low and bitter.
“Back on Thalos, we had no choice.” Dawson seemed to have regained his composure, his voice deep and calm as the sea after a storm.
“Mistakes were made. All those people… Now is our chance to make it up for it.” The doctor put his hand on the captain’s shoulder but the large man shook it off. For a moment, they stood motionless. Rebecca felt the tension tingling on her skin. She could barely breathe, the silence buzzing in her ears.
Finally, the captain spoke. “I put this entirely under your responsibility. You have forty-eight hours. I do not care if you find anyone down there or not, Syracusae is leaving with or without you.” He stormed out of the small room, not even shedding a glance at the man standing behind him.
“Hey, there!” Arthur’s voice poured over Rebecca like a bucket of ice-cold water. She turned in her chair to see him watering the plant in the corner. Not taking her eyes off him, she reached with her fingers over the controls of the screen and minimized the window with the video stream. From his smug smile, she tried to understand how long he had been standing there.
Finally, she broke the silence, “You scared me.”
“Anything interesting on tonight?” He carefully poured the water into the synthetic turf of the flower pot, giving her a sideways glance. Right at that moment, the door leading to the quarantine area hissed open and the large man strode into the room.
“Captain Richards.” Rebecca got up from her chair.
“Good evening, Captain,” said Arthur.
The man stopped, probably not expecting to see anyone in the room. “Doctor Porter. Doctor Doyle.” For a second, his stare lingered on Rebecca and on the holoscreen behind her back. He took in a breath as if about to say something but then just nodded at Rebecca and headed for the exit.
“Someone’s in a funky mood today.” Arthur poured the remaining water into the container with the plant and raised his eyebrows.
Rebecca didn’t answer and turned back to the screen.
“Isn’t your shift over?” he came up closer and she felt his hands rest heavily on the back of the seat. The pungent smell of his perfume stung her nostrils. She shifted in the chair and moved slightly forward.
“Yes. It is. I just wanted to check one thing…” She let the sentence trail off unfinished. What was it that she came to do here? To check on the man in the other room? To see if he was still unconscious? Did she want him to wake up? To know what had happened down there on the dead, sunless rock? Did she really want to know?
“Doctor Dawson asked me to make sure that all the vitals are in order.” She managed, knowing he would not buy into it.
“I see…” Arthur put more weight on the back of the chair, leaning closer to her. “Listen, I’m finishing in a couple of hours. Maybe we can grab dinner together. I have some great movies we could watch.” His face was at the same level with hers now, almost rubbing against her cheek. She couldn’t see him but knew that he was smiling.
“I’m not hungry,” she said, opening another document and pretending to go through a report on the screen.
“Okey-dokey, suit yourself. Although, I hear they are serving Mexican tonight.” She felt the pressure on the chair disappear as he moved away. “Maybe then we could just skip the food and watch ourselves a movie or two? Seeing how you like reality TV and all.” He spoke as he slowly walked to his desk. Rebecca’s hands clenched into fists under the desk but she said nothing.
Rebecca walked down the wide corridor towards the tram when the bracelet on her left wrist gave out a signal. She looked at the small screen. It was Lynn. She pressed the answer button and brought the hand to her ear.
“Hey, what’s up? Where are you?” Lynn’s voice sounded in the small speaker.
Before Rebecca managed to answer she heard a man’s voice in the background and Lynn continued, “James has already studied the menu of today three times. Won’t be able to keep him off the food for much longer.” Then Rebecca could hear Lynn giggle and say, trying to keep the speaker further away “Stop it, you!”
“Hi, Lynn!” Rebecca spoke into the bracelet. “I think I’ll pass tonight. Not very hungry.”
“Oh, come on, you sure?”
Rebecca heard James’s voice in the background, “James says hi. He’s saying they are serving Mexican today. Sure you want to skip that?”
She heard James yell into the microphone, “Hi, doctor!”
“Hi, James,” Rebecca said, a smile appearing on her face. She heard him say something else but could not make out the words.
“My ever-hungry husband is asking if he can take your ration if you won’t be needing it.” Lynn giggled and added, addressing James, “Oh, stop it now! I’m serious.” Rebecca imagined Lynn’s face right then, her almond-shaped eyes squinting at James, a smile on her lips. She never met a couple that seemed made for each other the same way these two were. Five years of marriage and still a relationship heated up by passion.
“Sure. No worries. You still have my spare card, don’t you?”
“Thanks! You’re a sweetheart, Rebecca!” She heard James in the speakers.
“Don’t mention it!” Rebecca reached the platforms and saw that the blue line was leaving in three minutes. She headed towards the open doors of the second car. Shifting noises came from the other end of the call.
“Hey,” she heard Lynn say, her voice sounding more somber. “Everything all right with you?” She could hear Lynn walking. “Yes, I’m coming! I’m ready! Yes, I am!” she must have covered the microphone with her palm but Rebecca still could hear what she was shouting at James.
“Sorry, that man simply loves his food,” she gave out a sigh.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”
“Yes, Lynn, totally fine. Nothing to worry about.”
“You didn’t seem that good yesterday evening. Are you getting enough sleep?”
“Yes. Just tired. That’s all.”
“I said I’m coming!” Lynn screamed, keeping the microphone away but the words still sounded loud enough for Rebecca to hear them. “God… Okay, honey, I’ve got to go now. Call me tomorrow, will you?”
“Love you! Coming, for heaven’s sake!” She heard Lynn make kissing noises into the microphone and closed the call.
The voice announced that the tram was about to leave and then called out the stops. She had to get off at the third one, the Archive.
She sat at the terminal, a large holoscreen glowing in front of her, the rest of the room submerged into semi-darkness. The line of light under the ceiling was dim and only a couple of other screens glowed with bluish light. There were other people sitting by the terminals but no one paid any attention to anyone else, everyone submerged in their own business.
Rebecca put her hand on the scanner and a text greeted her on the screen.
Welcome, Doctor Porter
Rebecca opened the search window and typed in Thalos. The search engine gave out results. Most of them were news clippings from more than twenty years ago. The headlines read:
A tragic accident on Thalos
Thalos – Death station
Ambiguity shrouds accident on Thalos
All the rest were similar in nature to the first ones. Rebecca scrolled down and opened one of the found items.
The unfortunate accident on Thalos, a space station located in the orbit around Empiria III, took the lives of more than four hundred people. The station belonging to the Sirius Corporation was considered one of the safest of its generation. The details of the malfunction of the life support systems remain undisclosed.
The Valkyrie, a military transporter vessel belonging to the Sirius Corporation, was the first ship to reach the orbit around Empiria III after the distress signal was sent. From the words of the official representative of the Sirius Corporation, the station was compromised and there was nothing that could have been done for the residents of the station, four hundred and seventeen people in total. Official reports state that the malfunction of the life support systems was the cause of the accident but fail to provide any further details. All the information remains classified until the investigation takes place.
Unfortunately, the seven members of the rescue party sent from Valkyrie had perished in the gas explosion; three more gained severe burns and died right after they were returned aboard the ship.
The spokesman for the Sirius Corporation informed that the whole thing was nothing but an accident and refused to add anything about the claim that the rescue party could have been sent earlier, declining the fact that the sensitive cargo aboard the spaceship played any role in the timing of the rescue operation. The official statement made was that the staff of the station was professional and there were no records of cases of negligence reported.
The captain of Valkyrie, Leonard Richards, refuses to give any commentary about the accident.
Rebecca picked at the hangnail on her right thumb.
Lower in the screen, there was a picture of the crew of the Valkyrie. She recognized the younger self of Captain Richards and in the next row next to him was Doctor Dawson. Even though he had no beard then he still had the same somber expression on his face. Below was another picture – one of the station. The left side of it had a large hole in the hull, the debris floating in the open space, a planet covered in purple clouds in the background.
Rebecca read a couple of other news articles, which repeated the first one, some adding more colorful details with pictures of the deceased, some of which were families with children. In some articles the reporters wrote about a ‘sensitive cargo’ the Valkyrie was hauling, guessing at the nature of it and supposing that that was the main factor which had played the crucial role in timing of the rescue operation, stating that the people aboard the station still had over eleven hours of air when the distress signal was received, whereas the rescue vessel was sent more than sixteen hours later.
Now the conversation she overheard made more sense. She rubbed the hangnail with the index finger. A small drop of blood came out on the nail where the skin had torn. She put it to her lips and sucked on it. For a moment, she felt uncomfortable as if someone was staring at her. Rebecca turned around but there was no one behind her. The archive now was almost empty, only one other person sitting by the screen at the farther end of the room. She felt goosebumps crawl over her neck as the feeling of being watched still lingered.
After receiving a distress signal from the mining colony on AF-235-B, a rogue planet also known as Nyx, a sole survivor is brought back to the ship. While the second rescue party is dispatched on the search for the hundred and fifty-seven colonists, which seem to have vanished into nowhere, the atmosphere aboard Syracusae gets more tense with every passing moment as crewmembers start to go missing. Rebecca Porter, a medical officer, tries to solve the mysterious disappearances and is forced to face the horrors that are now lurking aboard the spaceship.