A return to a bigger sci-fi world this work. Dave and I have big plans for this stuff. Part One of Four
The night is long, and quiet.
Akane sat poised on her bunk, slowly easing up the sleeves of her Cabinet-issue uniform. The ship was warm, most of the time – the heating slightly off-kilter, rusted and cracked like everything else. Akane still chose the long sleeves, despite the cloying artificial atmosphere and all of the fucking dust.
Akane ran her shivering fingers along her forearms, as she did every night. Nails traced along the swirling grey and white lines scarred into her skin. Small questions, unanswered, written in faded colour. She would ask herself over and over, always before she slept, until her dreams finally left her behind, alone to rest as long and as quiet as the goddamn night.
Akane let go of her tattooed arms and ran her hands through the soft fuzz of her cropped hair. Squeezed her eyes tight. Tapped three times on the back of her head, and opened her eyes again. Step by careful step.
A final one: she reached under her feet, and extracted a coil of thick, braided wire. Dark stains softened the silver glisten under the fluoros of her room.
Akane wrapped the coil around the top of her left arm. Twisted the metal around itself to form a tight bond. Pulled, hard. The wire pushed deep into her skin, pressing into her bicep, tearing at her body, tearing away strips of her. She watched the strips fall and felt a lifting, picking her up, floating through the fluoro, dropping away the dust, swimming into the vacuum outside the ship and evaporating, billowing outward, turning inside-out –
A knock at the door, and Akane came crashing back into herself. Felt the wire searing her skin.
“Akane.” Howard, through the door. “I’m coming in.”
“Wait—” Akane’s voice wavered through the pain. She ripped down her sleeves as quickly as she could, didn’t have time to remove the wire, felt it pull tighter under the clothes—
Howard, the ship’s captain, overrode the door lock and stepped inside. Akane stood, fast, too fast. Held up her left hand against the bulkhead to steady herself.
Howard’s face carried so much bitter weight, it was starting to crumble. His eyes were redder than usual.
“Akane. Get to the fucking bridge. Did you switch off your comms?”
“Yes, sir, the—”
“Why? Why would you do that? Strictly against Company, that kinda shit.”
Akane lowered her arm. Sucked in the pain for what it was. Enjoyed it. Tasted it all over, and felt it slowly start to pass into dull background. Settled in with the hum of the ship.
“Was just trying to get sleep, sir. Need to sleep.”
Howard studied her closely. Shook his weary face. “Get to the fucking bridge.”
Upstairs, in the tiny blister of the Arctor’s bridge – perched over the front of the ship like an old watchtower – Dolph and Raoul were already there. Dolph was everywhere, the creep, but Raoul didn’t go anywhere he didn’t expressly need to be. The sweat pooling around his neck made Akane nervous. He noticed, played his hand.
“Is hot. You not hot?” He nodded at Akane’s long sleeves.
Akane looked away. “This is my uniform.”
“There’s been an issue with the navigation system. Computer says we’re off course,” Dolph muttered, throwing eyes at Howard, who slumped into the broken old captain’s chair and hung his head, anger bubbling through the veins in his chequered forehead. The forward viewports were shuttered, as was standard when the ship was in autopilot, and the only light was electric and harsh as it picked up Dolph’s shifting eyes. “We can’t get in without your pilot override.”
Akane stepped over towards her station. “Howard can. Captain can always get in. Can get in anywhere.” Akane kept her gaze low at the computer as she punched in commands into the mechanical keyboard, heavy clicks punctuating the rumbling silence of the cockpit.
“Not my fucking job though, is it?” Howard didn’t look up.
“We need you to tell us what’s going on, Akane,” Dolph continued. “I’m supposed to be reporting back to Cabinet with updates every 8 hours, and Captain Howard needs all of the most up to date information to run the ship effecti—”
“Shut the fuck up, Dolph. What’s wrong with the NavCom, Akane?” Howard bristled.
Dolph’s eyes slinked back into the darkness.
Akane punched command after command into her station. Click after thunderous click. The screen trickled over, burnt scan lines furiously attempting to refresh.
“It’s… it’s not on.” Akane turned to her Captain.
Howard opened his eyes. “What?”
Dolph leaned into his station. “I’ll open the shutters.”
In front of Akane, the NavCom glimmered, cold and quiet and lifeless. Dead to the world. Peaceful at rest.
Whirring and scuttering as the thick steel shutters over the cockpit’s wide windows slowly rolled back. Tiny, cool pieces of starlight picked over computers and faces. Akane remembered what it felt like to be exploding.
She would one day answer for her sins. They all would.
Outside the viewport, a sprawling asteroid belt. Huge masses of mineral drifted ominously through the cold dark, dangerously close to the comparatively tiny ship. Fragile in the long, quiet night.
Dolph, for once, said nothing. Howard stood up. “Jesus Christ.”
Akane felt her heart stop.
They were dead in the water. All of them, ready to burst.
Raoul turned away and headed for the door. “You bleeding,” he offered as he stepped past Akane.
She looked down her arm.
Red snaked around her balled fist and dripped to the floor.
Deep, deep red.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.