And Silent Were The Stars
Part 2: The Awakening
Distributed by Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Kate Amedeo
And Silent Were The Stars
Part 1: The Survivor
Part 2: The Awakening
Other short stories:
On The Beach
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And Silent Were The Stars
Part 2: The Awakening
Large purple jellyfish were the only source of light. The glow they emanated ripped out a small patch of the mess hall from the clutches of darkness. A thick shadow submerged the rest of the room, silhouettes of the metal dining tables and chairs with plastic seats sprouting out of the gloom behind her back. Rebecca put one hand in front of her face. The shape of her slender fingers – dark and unclear – was surrounded by the mauve glow coming from the huge aquarium in the background. She touched the thick, cold glass which separated her from a large, bulbous shape with long tentacles the color of pomegranate stretching behind it as it silently floated through the water.
The deep, cold silence was interrupted by faint, unclear noises that were coming from far away. Rebecca turned around. She felt the humid, cold air on her skin. It was coming from the other side of the mess hall, invisible, creeping closer and enveloping her, sending shivers through her body. She took one step back and the darkness seemed to have crawled a little closer towards her. Somewhere near, she heard the legs of the chair scrape the floor.
“Who is there?” she asked, hoping that the answer would not come. Her voice sounded faint, a faint echo followed every word until the sound was erased by the silence. For a moment everything fell quiet, only the distant moaning persisted, penetrating through the thick walls of the Syracusae hidden in the darkness. The floor and the mess hall furniture in front of her seemed to be shifting, lingering as the jellyfish behind her back floated by, one moment closer, the other farther away from the thick glass pane, creating a game of light and shadow where every object seemed to be alive. A muffled groan came from the bowels of the ship deep down in the engine rooms.
Rebecca leaned forward and squinted her eyes. For a second, she thought she could make out a shape in the darkness, a man sitting behind one of the tables. She took a step into the darkness and tried to make out if the shape she was seeing was really there.
At first, she heard just a low humming which then grew in strength and permuted into words.
“…twinkle little star…” It was her brother’s voice.
“Tom?” Rebecca took another step closer. Her voice trailed away into the penumbra in front of her and dissolved in a vague echo. Now the light from the jellyfish tank seemed to penetrate deeper into the darkness and she was sure that the man she saw sitting by the table was actually there.
“Up above the world so high…” His voice was weak, the intonation on the last word broken, making the song sound crippled and eerie.
“Tom, is that you?” Rebecca took one more step closer. It was hard to concentrate. Her mind felt heavy, the sounds repeating themselves – muffled and unclear as if the entire room was submerged under water. “Tom, it’s me, Rebecca.” The light seemed to follow her further into the mess hall with every step she took. Now she could see the man sitting at the table with his back turned towards her. She could see the upper part of his body above the plastic back of the chair. He was naked, his head shaved, revealing the structure of the skull. He sat there shivering.
“For you n-never sh-shut your eye…” He was stuttering. He skipped a whole chunk of lyrics, melody now barely recognizable.
“Oh, my god, Tom…” Rebecca gasped.
“Though I know n-not what you are…” With every word, his voice turned more gritty like a rough sandpaper. His shoulders trembled and Rebecca rushed towards him, taking off her jacket at the same time and putting it on him.
“I’m here, darling.” She hugged him, closed her eyes and felt him shiver in her arms. “Shhh, I’m here now.” Tears streamed down her face as she slowly swayed back and forth, pressing him against her breast. “Shh…”
She rubbed his cold shoulders under the jacket and felt something sticky and cold under her fingertips. Rebecca opened her eyes and looked at her hand. The dark brown goo covered her fingertips. She drew back from him and saw that the man was all covered in this slime.
“Twinkle… Twinkle…” Now the words sounded almost distorted, barely understandable, the last part of the song muffled and instead of words he gave out a groan and turned sharply in the chair. Rebecca backed up as the creature – it could not have been her brother – slid down to the floor from the chair which collapsed to one side, making lots of noise. Her jacket was still covering the thing’s shoulders as it crawled towards her. It was reaching out its long limbs, trying to touch her. The face of what slightly resembled a man was distorted, pale skin stretched over the skull, black eyes deep in the eye sockets. Its nose had sunken in, no cartilage to support it, and the lips were drawn away from the teeth. The dark-brown goo seeped from the gums and dripped in clots from its chin. Rebecca moved away. The creature almost grabbed her ankle with its bony fingers. It gave out a disappointed cry, followed by clicking and a low growl.
“No…” Rebecca whispered, her feet shuffling backwards, backing away as the creature tried to get closer. “No…” She hit the wall of the jellyfish tank with her back and heard it crack right before the glass shattered. And as the ice-cold water poured over her she took a deep breath and closed her eyes…
Rebecca opened her eyes, still holding her breath. She exhaled until her lungs were empty and sat up on the bed. Catching her breath with her mouth, unable to get enough oxygen into her body, she shuddered and looked around. The she saw the numbers on the digital clock glowing in the dim illumination of her private cabin – 02:13. The thin thermal blanket lay crumpled on the floor by the bed and next to it an empty pill container. A wave of shivers coursed through her and she broke out in a silent sob, hiding her face in her palms.
Rebecca kept her eyes closed and felt warm water flow down her body. She moved her face under the stream and let it caress her skin and pass through the short auburn hair. The palms of her hands slid from her shoulders down to the small breasts and further down to the flat belly. The sound of water hitting the rubbery surface of the shower filled the silence.
She felt it again. The feeling of someone watching her crept over her like thousands of tiny spider legs, crawling on her skin, making her hairs stand on end. Rebecca opened the eyes and turned around. For a moment she thought she’d heard a noise. It was as if it was coming from the locker room located just out of the shower area. She reached for the taps and turned the water off. As the valve of the faucet turned it gave out a sad screech and then the silence hung in the humid air. From somewhere deep inside the walls a constant humming sound quietly reverberated through the hull of the ship. The Syracusae made all kinds of noises as life support systems pushed enormous amounts of water and air through the filtration systems every second of the ship’s lifetime to support more than a thousand souls aboard. It took Rebecca some time to get used to live with the constant humming and droning.
Rebecca looked out into the long narrow space between the two lines of showers, placed one if front of the other, convincing herself that it was just her imagination playing mind tricks on her. She washed the face and the hair, the foam disappearing into the drain in the floor, and as she did so she heard the same sound again. The shrill, cutting noise as if someone had scratched a metal surface with the tip of a screwdriver. This time she was sure the sound she’d heard was real and that it wasn’t the Syracusae ‘breathing’. Slowly, she leaned out of the shower, looking at the end of the narrow passage. There, behind a corner was the locker room. Her fingers found the tap and she turned the water off and reached for the towel hanging right outside the shower cabin. As her feet touched the rubbery surface of the floor, she could clearly hear the hinges of a locker squeal and metal hitting on metal as someone opened the door of a locker.
Rebecca wrapped the soft, white towel around herself, brushing the short curls back with her palm and letting the water drip from her hair onto the back. A small puddle formed under her feet. Barefoot, she walked down the corridor between the shower cabins. Right around the corner, the tall metal lockers were organized in four rows, a narrow bench dividing them.
From somewhere up ahead she could hear rustling and another sound that distantly resembled soft purring or gurgling. She passed the first row and looked left and right, making sure there was no one there. Rebecca walked on, placing one foot in front of the other very slowly. The second row was empty as well. Wet footprints trailed behind her as she moved further ahead.
Two more rows remained. The sound seemed to be coming from somewhere up ahead. There was no doubt that the noises she heard were there and that they were real. By an ironic coincidence, her locker was located in the very corner of the room, in the last row. Right where the sound seemed to be coming from. She tried to breathe so as not to make any noise. Having passed the empty third row she was about to look into the last one when, suddenly, she felt someone touch her shoulder from behind and her heart skipped a beat.
“Wow, chill,” Jen laughed as Rebecca spun round and backed away, hitting the side of a locker with her back.
“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me…” Rebecca drew in a deep breath and exhaled, holding the towel up with both hands and leaning her head against the locker.
“Sorry.” Jen smiled and opened the second locker of the opposite row. The door of the locker hid the young woman from Rebecca. The name plate on the metal door said Jennifer Simmons, MED0005. “And I thought that a hot shower was supposed to help you relax.” Jen peaked from behind the door, her eyes smiling, looking at Rebecca who was still standing there, clutching the towel to her breast.
“Jeez, girl, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” She frowned.
“I… I didn’t expect to see anyone here this late.”
“Yeah, neither did I.” Jen leaned into the locker and started searching for something at the very bottom. Rebecca felt her heart start to regain its normal pace. She stood still and listened. Now the only sound was Jen cursing while searching for something she couldn’t find. “Where the hell did I leave them…”
Rebecca made a step away from the locker, her fingers rubbing one corner of the towel, “Jen, have you seen anyone in here?”
Jen stopped digging in her things and looked out from behind the door at Rebecca, a puzzled look on her face.
“I mean, when you came in. Was anyone else here? Or did anyone leave?”
The young woman started to undress. She pulled the top over her head and threw it into the locker. As she reached down and took the purple rubber slippers out she said, “Nope.” She pulled the black legging off, followed by the underwear and slid her bare feet into the slippers. The she added, looking at Rebecca, “No, haven’t seen anyone. Why?”
“No, it’s nothing.” Rebecca pulled the towel higher up. “Just thought I’d heard something.”
“Something? Those better not be the guys from engineering spying on us again.” She smiled. “Although, there’s definitely stuff to see here.” She spoke the last words louder and turned first to one side, then to the other, grimacing and acquiring positions aimed at seducing a nonexistent spectator. Rebecca smiled at her antics and shook the head side to side. Jen blew a kiss to the vent in the ceiling and whispered in a seductive voice, “Those naughty, naughty boys.” She then shook a finger in the air, her full, dark lips pouting. Rebecca couldn’t hold the laugh in.
Jen closed the locker and looked at Rebecca. Her dark skin created sharp contrast with the white towel tucked under her arm. “Seriously, you should get some sleep, girl. You look awful.”
“I’ll try,” Rebecca lied, memories of the nightmare still lingering in the back of her mind.
“Well, I’m going to enjoy my shower then. Come see me in my kingdom of the dead. We can have a cup of tea. Irish.” She winked.
Rebecca nodded once.
Jen walked towards the showers, singing a song from ‘Let’s Run Away to Mars’, a popular musical. After a couple of steps she turned halfway and looked at Rebecca, putting one palm up to her mouth, covering the lips with the fingertips, and used the towel in the other hand to cover her private parts, a fake shamed expression on her face. They both laughed and Jen walked on. Rebecca watched her as the woman disappeared behind a curve, her voice sounding more distant now.
Rebecca exhaled and said under her breath, “More sleep… Yeah right…” Before she walked up to the last row of lockers, Rebecca stopped and listened. All she could hear was the water running and Jen singing in the shower. Nothing else.
Slowly Rebecca turned the corner. The locker row was empty. She gave out a sigh of relief and a soft smile touched her lips as she heard Jen give out a high-pitched note, trying to imitate the female singer. But as she got closer to the locker that had her name on it, the smile vanished from her face. The door was slightly ajar. She could have sworn she had closed it. She always did. Hesitantly, her fingertips reached the door and touched it carefully as if afraid that it was burning-hot. She pulled it slowly open. Everything seemed to be as she’d left it, the clothes neatly folded on the upper shelve, the boots down on the locker floor.
Rebecca looked at the small mirror on the inside of the door of the locker. There she saw a woman in her thirties. Large green eyes stared at her from under slender eyebrows. She brushed away a wet curl that had fallen onto her tall forehead and took in a deep breath, staring her own reflection in the eyes.
The feeling that there was something missing took over Rebecca for a moment. She touched the corner of the mirror and then looked down at the floor under her feet. She crouched and found a semi-transparent plastic picture under the bench by the locker. Rebecca stood up and looked at the happy faces, her own and Tom’s. Just a couple of minutes older than her, he looked so young, the illness and all the medication and therapy draining him, leaving his body frail but never able to crush his spirit. She remembered the day they took the selfie. It was more than ten years ago, the summer before the disease took him. Fourteen years, it felt like the longest and at the same instant the shortest time. A time given to them to fight the illness together. It still felt like he was still there, that he’d be there when she’d get back from the mission. Rebecca passed a finger across Tom’s face and put the picture back where it belonged, its corner under the frame of the mirror.
She reached inside the locker and took the neatly folded clothes out. Rebecca pulled the dark-blue pants on, then the sports bra and a gray T-shirt with her name and number embroidered on it. Then she took the jacket off a small hook inside the locker and put it on. As she reached into the right pocket for the bracelet, her fingers touched something sticky. She took the hand out and looked at it. It was some sort of a clot of a brownish substance, snotty like, stretching between her fingertips. The fetid odor of the goo was slightly sweet. Rebecca look down at the side of the jacket and saw that a large part of the pocket from the outside was covered in the same gelatinous substance, some traces of it on the floor by the locker.
Rebecca was on her way to the Medbay when the new bracelet on her left wrist lit up. She looked at the words on the minuscule screen and sped up.
When she entered the diagnostic’s room, Doctor Dawson was already there. She greeted him and after returning the early morning hello, he said, “Our patient’s up.”
“How long has he been awake?” she asked, coming up to the large screen. The man on the other side of the mirror was sitting on the cot, his eyes staring into the emptiness, his arms in his lap, multiple tubes penetrating his skin.
“A couple of minutes,” the doctor replied. Then Rebecca watched him change into the biosuit and soon he was on the other side of the glass pane. The patient, Vasily was it, looked at the newcomer with an estranged look and shifted on the cot.
Doctor Dawson walked up to the man. Rebecca heard his voice in the speakers.
“Hello, Vasily. My name is Frank Dawson. I am the chief medical officer aboard Syracusae, a class six harvester ship.”
The man didn’t seem to have heard anything of what the doctor had said. Dawson moved closer and took out a small flashlight out of the belt on the biosuit. He reached out and shined the light first into the patient’s one eye, then into the other. The man kept still, allowing Dawson to slightly move his head.
“The reflexes are normal.” Dawson spoke quieter and then added, addressing the man again, “Vasily, do you hear me?”
Rebecca saw the patient’s eyes shift from one corner of the floor to another and she heard him speak, barely audible words coming from the speakers.
“Medical officer…” The man had a strong Slavic accent.
“Vasily,” the man looked up at him. “We received a distress signal. From the colony.” Dawson waited for the answer.
“Signal… Kolonia…” the man looked at him like a child seeing a strange apparition for the first time in his life, then his stare got lost on the tiles of the floor once again.
“Partial disorientation,” the doctor noted. “Do you understand what I am saying?” he spoke slowly.
The man nodded hesitantly and then added, “Yes.” He stared at the doctor for a second and then asked, “Where am I?”
“You are aboard Syracusae, a class six harvester vessel. Have you got any recollection of what happened?”
“Ya…” Vasily brought his hands to his temples and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Vasily, what happened back on the ground?”
“Golova…” he squeezed the eyelids together and bared the teeth.
“Vasily, I need you to help me. So I can help you.” Dawson spoke calmly.
The man opened the eyes and looked at the doctor. “My head, it hurts.”
“It’s the sedation wearing off. The discomfort will pass soon. Do you remember how you got here?”
The man shook his head and stared at the floor again.
“What happened to the rest of the colonists?”
Vasily shook his head once again, slowly, his eyelids taking a part of a second too long to cover the eyes and then to open back up again when he blinked.
“What is the last thing you remember?”
“Ya ne… I don’t remember.”
“It’s all right. You are safe now.” Doctor’s voice sounded reassuringly. Rebecca saw Vasily’s hands grip into the mattress as he repeated the words over and over, “I don’t remember. I don’t remember…”
Doctor Dawson filled the glass from the water dispenser. Rebecca approached him and said, “What do you think?”
“Partial amnesia. Possibly caused by shock.” He made a sip out of a paper cup shaped like a small pyramid.
“Do you think he might be lying?”
“We’ll just have to find out. The Traveler has landed twenty minutes ago. I am expecting Arthur to report in the next half an hour. Let’s hope it’s going to be good news. For all we know, there was no way off the planet, not for a hundred and fifty-seven people to leave all at once.”
“Do you think they’re still there? All of them?”
The doctor kept silent and tilted his head back, finishing the remaining water and then crumpling the paper cup and throwing it into the bin.
“Do you think they might still be alive?”
“Alive…” he stretched, staring into the empty bin, only the small ball of paper at the bottom of it.
Rebecca held her arms one on top of the other and turned to face the large window. The man behind it was still sitting on the cot, an empty expression on his face.
Rebecca walked down the corridor towards the tram and took a seat on the yellow line that would bring her to the mess hall. Jen barely made it as the doors slid shut and the tram took off. She landed heavily onto the seat next to Rebecca.
“Hey,” she said, panting, holding on to the metal railing of the seat in front of her.
“Have you seen him?” She asked and looked around the car of the tram where a couple of others were seated, some with e-books in their hands, others dozing. When a puzzled look appeared on Rebecca’s face, she added, “You know, Mister Tall-and-Handsome…”
It took Rebecca a second to realize that Jen was talking about her new ‘addiction’, as she called it. “No, haven’t seen him.” Jen was prowling on a hunt for one of the bioengineers.
“Weren’t you seeing…” Rebecca tried to remember the name of the guy. “Ralph or Rudolph, was it?”
“Oh, him… Nah… That would’ve never worked. You sure you haven’t seen him today?” Jen still kept looking around the car of the tram with a flicker of hope in her eyes. Because of this new guy she made Rebecca take a lunch break twenty minutes earlier every day now.
“Not today, no.”
“Damn,” Jen swore and looked at Rebecca. “Anyway, I’ve heard that the sleeping beauty has woken up.”
“Yes. This morning.”
“So? What did he say? What happened down there? Did he go psycho and kill everyone?”
“Oh, come on. You know I’m joking. But seriously, what did happen down there?”
“He said he doesn’t remember anything. And doesn’t know where everyone else is.”
“Wow, creepy.” Rebecca could see Jen was enjoying their conversation. She loved everything mysterious. This translated into her choice of guys as well. As soon as she know ‘too much’ about them, she quickly lost interest.
“Yeah…” Rebecca stretched, looking at the banner occupying the right wall of the car, large glowing letters spelling: Healthy spirit in a healthy body. Regular exercise promotes a longer and healthier life.
The quiet music filled the car.
“I don’t know. I have this feeling that he is hiding something,” Rebecca said.
“By the way, have you heard?”
“I’ve seen Mike last night. You know, the navigator.” She put her hands together and then drew them apart measuring the distance between them.
“Oh, Jen. Really? You’ve got an unhealthy addiction. Not now, please, don’t spoil my appetite.” Jen gave out a short laugh.
“Oh, get over it. You could use some ‘physical exercise yourself. It’s only healthy,” she nodded towards the banner and emphasized the last word, “Maybe it’d make you less of a grump.” She pouted her cheeks at Rebecca and both laughed. “What I wanted to say is that he told me that the guys from the communications have lost the signal from the Traveler soon after it had landed. Some kind of a sandstorm or something on the surface of that black rock. He said it’s a miracle we picked up the distress signal in the first place.”
“You mean there is no contact with the rescue team?” Rebecca wondered why Doctor Dawson hadn’t mentioned anything about it. She tried to recall who was sent down. Arthur and James were among the rescue team.
“Nope. He said that they are trying to get the communications reestablished but with no luck yet. Not until the storm quiets down. The Captain doesn’t want the word to spread so is keeping it all hushed. Not to cause panic or something.”
“It means that we won’t be leaving until the storm’s subsided.”
“Probably. Anyway, I’m starving. You?” Rebecca was used to Jen’s switching from one topic to another all of a sudden. But she could not make herself think about food now. Her thoughts lingered on the cold dark sunless planet. The more she thought about it, the more she had to find out what had happened down there. But there was also something about the idea of staying in the orbit of the planet that pinched Rebecca’s stomach. Since they got here, all she wanted was to get as far away from this place as possible. Call it an instinct of survival, she could not explain what it was, but every hour spent near this wandering dark planet made her feel uneasy.
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 crew members 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.