The Voyage Chapter 5

“We’re in med bay, turn on the AGS!” I hear the frantic call from Alyona over coms. I’m not sure how long I had stood there staring at the blood, but the call pulls me back from some trans like state. I glide over to the science station, and hit the series of buttons and switches to bring the artificial gravity system back online. As The power runs into the system I can feel myself becoming heavier, being pulled back to the deck. I know I need medical attention myself, now out of the bulky space suit I can see my left arm is swollen. It’s too painful to roll my sleeve up over the swelling, and my ribs make every breath painful. I go back to the pilot’s station, the gore I see brings back many memories. It’s not the first time I’ve seen blood, even in this quantity, nor is it the first time I have seen a friend’s blood. Somehow this is different though. I remember when I came around the corner of the co-pilots station and saw Axelson there, her vision was fixed on the screen, her hands on the controls, still flying the ship, still making sure we were all safe. Even with Alyona there trying to get to the wound, to save her life, her ship, and her crew came first. I wonder how many people would have had such conviction, such intensity of duty.
“Hoffmann, I need you to gather all the hull kits, you can.” I call over the communications interface, we have a lot to do, and not much time to do it in. “Already ahead of you, I’m in section 1 port side.” As I turn to leave the bridge I glance back at the hole in the front of the room. It’s so small, you would never even see it, unless you knew where to look. “I’m on my way.” I call leaving the room, the ship only has a finite amount of O2 in storage, we are far from low on supply, but every molecule matters on flights like this. Our air came from a combination of LO2 or LOX as it is sometimes called as shorthand for liquid Oxygen. The ship also employed CO2 scrubbers that removed the carbon from the gas allowing the O2 to be breathed again. Typically sealing the many little holes in the ship would be easy, silent work. However, my tasks were made more difficult, having only one good hand, and I believe I had created several new swears resulting from the usage of my left arm. But in the end, I made due completing my tasks in just a couple hours. I had concluded that the break in my arm must only be a fracture. While I could use it for my tasks, the pain was verging on unbearable. I found myself enjoying the pain from time to time, it was a welcome distraction from the last several hours of my life. While working I could see the message playing in my mind, every frame etched into my memory. The look on the woman’s face, how sick she appeared. I had not heard anything from the med bay, I can only hope for the best, but I know not to get my hopes up. I kept going back to the scene of that pilot’s seat. I try to block the memory, and the thoughts of others that had lost that kind of blood out of my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone to suffer that kind of injury and survive. I need something to distract me, and I find myself pushing on my left forearm, or squeezing my arm against my ribs periodically for a distraction.
Finally done sealing the holes in the ship I contemplate my situation. The rational side of my brain was telling me to seek medical aid for my broken body, but my emotional side was warning me, “that’s where Axelson is”. I decided to head to the galley to get something to drink instead. I find Hoffmann there, his head bowed over a cup of tea. Looking around I find the aid station and I retrieve a med kit from the wall. Placing the heavy kit in my left hand the pain again pulls me away from the painful memories. Wishing to inflict more pain on myself, I decide on a cup of coffee from the dispensary. “I saw the bridge” Hoffmann’s voice is hollow and quiet, almost like he’s talking to the cup of tea. “yeah…” I contemplate if I want to be around anyone at this point, “It’s been a day…” I say finally sitting across from him at the table. “What the hell is going on?” he asks looking up at me, “I’ve been on at least 20 or 30 flights, some short, some long… I’ve never seen anything like this” he says, eyes red, either from exhaustion, or crying. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.” I am so lost in my own thoughts even my speech seems to be automatic now. “When I was a drop pilot, I would watch the ship next to me get hit on the way down.” For a moment, I am lost in thought, remembering my last drop, one of many, but perhaps the worst I had ever seen. It was my main deciding factor on leaving drop ship command, and going into fighter piloting. “It would be there, then suddenly, it was gone” I look at him, “In that blink of an eye, I knew twelve good men and women just died.” I return my focus to the med kit, “I knew that I had just as much a chance of being hit as the next ship.” I am using my one good hand to retrieve a pair of medical sheers from the med kit. “I had taken my share of damage too, one time my ship made it to the ground, but we had to be picked up by a rescue jumper.” Honestly the memories were no better than the ones I was trying to avoid now.” I guess it’s like they say, sometimes it’s just time…” I look down at my arm, and begin cutting a line from the cuff of my jumpsuit to the elbow, using some sheers from the med kit. “That looks bad” Hoffmann says looking at the large yellow, and purple swelling mid-way down my forearm. “Yeah, feels bad too wouldn’t you know…” I say quietly, while retrieving an elastic bandage from the med kit. “Perhaps I’ll see the doc later” I say as I try to wrap my arm with the bandage. The pain is excruciating but there’s no way I am going to med bay right now. I take another drink from my coffee “I’m going to lay down…” I say standing to leave. “What did you find over there?” Hoffmann asks, once again looking over his cup of tea, as I get up to leave. For a moment the memories flood over me, promising to take me away, the video, the commander, the technology, the computer. “Nothing that can’t wait…” I recall the look of pleading in the poor woman’s face. “Honestly, I don’t think it matters anymore” I say as I leave to get some rest in my quarters. At this point I was not sure that it mattered anyway, the video had mentioned our ship by name, claiming that it never made it to its destination. Perhaps she was right? Perhaps we all die out here? Did I make the right choice? Did I have a choice? Potentially be some guinea pigs for future humans to test and try to save themselves, or return to my ship, and make sure the signal is never heard again. The possibilities were endless, perhaps I should have just followed the commander out the airlock.
I have been laying down for hours, unable to sleep, the pain in my arm is throbbing, my chest hurts so bad I can’t think of anything else. Anything other than perhaps that look Axelson gave me as they carried her away. There was something that haunted me in that look. I have watched people die more times than I could count. There was something different in that look, the sadness wasn’t fear, was it perhaps, pity? “Daniel, you should come to med bay” I hear doc Harris call over the coms. I don’t want to go, I am terrified of what is waiting for me there. I know the doctor well enough to know that if it were good news, his voice would be beaming, joyous. After a moment, I tap my coms set “on my way” I say voice a bare whisper. As I get up out of the bed, pain shatters my body with every move. It takes me twice as long as it should to reach the medical bay. “Medical Services Bay” the sign by the hatch reads. I look at the button by the door that will open it for a long time before I press the button. The hatch slides away into the wall, and I look up. There are 6 beds in the room I am looking at, recovery beds, for people to recuperate from surgeries or other medical procedures. I can see Alyona laying in one of them, still in a medical surgical gown covered in blood. I feel sick, I want to leave, I want to run, but I find myself heading into the room. There is a door at the far side of the room, “Surgery” the sign over the door reads. I slowly make my way across the room, as I do I look around, the only occupied bed is the one with Alyona, not a good sign. Without saying a word, I go to the door to the operating room, and press the open button. The door pulls away just like the first door, but this time there is a brush of air that pushes past me. The air pressure is kept higher in the surgical room to prevent contaminants from the other room from entering. I see doc Harris standing at the table, he’s still working on Axelson. As I enter I can see her laying on the table, mask over her nose and mouth, multiple bags of IV fluids, and blood hanging above her, even more laying on the floor around. Her skin is pale, I can see her beauty in a new light. I see her as the attractive woman she is. Blonde hair stained and stuck to the side of her face with blood, she’s probably 10 or more generations separated from her family homeland, but you can still see some of the Swede in her features. “I need your help” I hear Harris say from the table. “What can I do?” I ask quietly. Horrified that he will ask me to assist somehow. “Most of the crew’s records were lost when we blew up Sheila.” The doctor says without looking away from his work. “But I know two things, one, you are the closest thing she has, as far as next of kin on this ship, and two, ironically you are the same blood type…” the doctor says without breaking his concentration on what he’s doing. Just then the door behind me opens, and I am startled to see Alyona pushing a second gurney into the room. “You mean?” I begin, suddenly my heart starts to race, perhaps there is hope after all. “no promises, but we are out of A positive, we don’t want to use the O negative until we absolutely have to…” Alyona’s Russian accent seems stronger than before, perhaps it’s how tired she is, perhaps how tired I am. Without missing a beat, I lay down on the table grunting with the pain as I do. “Shit, Harris, he’s busted up bad…” she says wheeling me over alongside Axelson raising the table so I am above her. “Look, doc I don’t care how bad I am, do the transfusion” I say, there’s nothing that will stop me from giving the blood. “Yeah, the problem is your body is making a lot more fibrin, trying to stop the bleeding in your arm, and possibly in your ribs” Harris says without looking up, “So, what, just do it!” I snap back. “You could throw a clot, kill yourself, or her…” the doctor responds going back to his delicate work. I realize the implication, we are the only pilots alive, or not in cryo stasis. As it is we are going to have to wake up some relief crew from the passengers, but with over 500 to choose from, we have a lot of options, many experienced pilots, doctors, engineers, etc. It’s in the contract they sign that if there were an emergency we could wake some of them up as replacements. But for the time being we are the only two. Waking someone up from cryo sleep early can take days to get them on their feet. “Do it anyway…” I say looking at the ceiling. “We can’t give you anything for the pain you’re in” he adds, “Look, do I have to do this myself?” I respond, I can feel tears rolling down my cheeks. “Spike’em” Harris says to Alyona. I can feel a sharp sting in my right arm as Alyona sticks a large bore needle in my vein. “Doc…” I start to try to say something but the weight of everything is crashing down on me. “Shut up, lay back” both the doctor and the surgeon say in unison, continuing to work on Axelson. Within moments, either from the draw of the blood, or my state finally catching up with me, I fall asleep.
When I wake up I can barely open my eyes, it feels like I’ve been drugged. Looking around the med bay I see two other beds occupied, I try to get out of bed, but pain, and feeling like I’ve been drugged keeps me fixed where I am. “Doc?” I croak out, it’s now I realize how unbelievably thirsty I am. Immediately someone takes my hand in theirs. I can feel a straw pressed against the side of my mouth. “Drink” a thick voice orders me. I take a sip of the liquid, it’s tangy and sweet, horrible, it must be orange juice. I cannot open my eyes, but the hand feels small, soft, feminine, perhaps, could it be? “Rest Daniel, rest…” I hear the voice of the surgeon Alyona say softly. “Axelson?” I manage to croak out. “Don’t worry… Just rest, you were pretty bad off yourself… Everything is in its place…” I hear the surgeon say. ‘Everything is in its place’ doctor code, for I have bad news, but don’t want to burden you. I can feel tears on my cheeks, my entire body hurts, my mind is screaming at me to get up. I manage to sit up and sacrificing one eye for the other I can keep one eye barely open looking around the med bay. I can make out the hazy, blurry, outlines of two other beds being occupied, then I see the surgeon sitting in a chair next to me. I heave a sigh of relief, “I’m sorry Daniel, we did everything we could” I hear the words from the surgeon sitting by my side. It feels like the surgeon hit me over the head with a brick. “Wha- “ I try to talk but it’s no use, “She’s alive, but she’s on life support…” I can hear the surgeons own voice cracking, and accent setting in more and more with each word. “We were able to recover the crew files from one of the backup computers…” as I can hear the slight Russian accent getting thicker, I realize that it must be Alyona’s stress reaction to have her accent thicken. “Just please, get some rest, we can discuss this when you wake up.” I feel soft yet firm hands grab my shoulders and push me back down to the bed. “We’ll talk when you wake up” I feel a sharp stick in my right shoulder as the surgeon makes sure I will not get up again. As sleep washes over me once again, I hope, I pray that I will not dream, I know that I would never be able to handle it. I fight to keep my one eye open, fixed on one of the figures I see on the other side of the room. Almost thinking that I could will Axelson to wake up.
In a groggy haze, I start to wake up again, I can see the form of Doc Harris standing over me, he appears to be taking vitals. “She’s in a deep coma” Doc Harris tells me, as he notices me waking up. I stare at him for a moment, then look over to the other side of the room. “Honestly, we doubt she will ever wake up…” he adds looking at the floor. “We were able to recover her medical directives… and well, we wanted to wait for you to be awake…” I can feel ice crystals forming down my spine, my mind goes into a frenzy, there must be something, some way we can reverse this. Instantly I feel every pain in my body every fear in my mind, and every unwelcome thought screaming my name. “No, doc, no…” I manage to groan out. “Look, we have her wishes to consider here…” the doctor refuses to look me in the eye, instead looking to the motionless figure laying on the bed. “Like I said, we wanted to wait for you to be awake, we know she would have wanted that much…” Doc Harris looks around the room again, notably avoiding making eye contact with me. I can feel tears streaming down my face once more. “She had… well, she had a recording for the crew, then there was one recording marked with your name… We’ve been respectful, and not watched it…” The Doctor again looks at me, but still avoids eye contact, “Alyona, and I have begun screening passengers to wake up, for various positions on the ship…” he says happy to have something else to talk about. He sets down a tablet on the table by my bed. “You’ll have to make the final decision…” He looks at me with solemnness. “You see… you’re the next in the chain of command around here…” He puts his hand on my shoulder, your bones should be mended, at least enough for you to get up and pay your respects… Alyona, and I will be in the hallway” the Doctor says turning and leaving the room. Looking over at the table, I see the tablet sitting there, with a single file highlighted on the display. Picking up the tablet I see the file name just says, “For Daniel”. Swallowing hard, I press the image of the small file. A video begins to play, I see Axelson sit down on a chair facing the camera. She looks so beautiful, so alive, this video would have been recorded just over 2 years ago, when we were preparing to depart. I can recognize the backdrop behind my friend. The video was taken at Antarctic transit station, where we staged and departed from. “Well, I’m not sure what I should say here” Axelson says laughing. “There’s so much I want to say… So much to say, yet so little time…” she says looking up at the camera again. “We’ve always been close Daniel.” She looks down for a moment, then back up at the camera, “I just don’t think you realize how close at times…” she laughs again and looks away as if embarrassed. “Well if you’re watching this, I guess it won’t hurt to say it…” she says laughing, I’ve never noticed how comforting her laugh was. I’d heard it so many times, yet it seemed like the first time now. “I’ve always loved you Daniel…” she says and looks back up at the camera, I can see a tear on her face which she wipes away. “I knew that while we were in the service, there were rules, and reasons, and so on…” she says, then sniffles. She takes a moment to recompose herself then looks back at the camera, “But ever since I first met you, as the deck commander, on good ol eighty-four” she shakes her head. “good ol eighty-four” she repeats looking down, lost in some distant memory. “Somehow I get the impression that I still have never gotten around to telling you this…” she wipes more tears away from her cheeks looking down again. “I just hope that you are okay…” She looks at the camera and shakes her head. “because, if you’re watching this…” she chuckles then wipes more tears away. “Just don’t ever think I ever regretted… anything… between us…” she peers into the camera, almost like she’s looking straight into my soul, “and especially my calling in a favor to get you scheduled on this flight with me…” she laughs again, looking down, “But then again, if you’re watching this… We’re probably not having the happy go lucky cruise we imagined” she laughs, wiping away at her eyes again. “Well… You take care of the ship, of the crew, I know you will, it’s been my greatest honor to serve with you. Both in the ULF, and aboard the Horizon… Take care…” the video cuts out. I instinctively reach up and touch the glass. It’s Cold, hard, and lifeless. In that moment, I reflect on everything I have known about Axelson, about this voyage, and our time in the service. I realize how obvious her feelings were at times, and how well she kept them hidden at others. Then I think about this signal, Sheila, my friends, the Pioneer, and everything that has happened since we left the transit station on Earth. It’s all so overwhelming, I can feel the room spinning around me, the tablet falls out of my hand and crashes on the floor with a loud bang. Suddenly I am back in a fighter, I’m trying to make it back to the 84, and all my guidance systems are fried, the 84 has taken a lot of damage, and I can hear Axelson talking me back in. Mine is one of the last ships to return, and I can hear Axelson’s calm collected voice talking to me. Guiding me home, had it not been for that calm, focused voice, I would have never made it. I would be a skeleton on the surface of an alien world. Then I see her again, that focus, the determination, flight controls in hand. She’s flying the impossibly large ULF TS84 through intricate patterns, weaving an intricate flight to recover every dropship that is out there. Then she’s on the bridge of the Horizon, again flying impossible courses through a cloud of deadly meteors. Then there are suddenly blood droplets floating around, coming from her mouth, but none of it mattered, and that look she gave me. She had a course to fly, and until she had the auto guidance turned back on, she was going to fly that course. I remember falling out of the bed, however I do not recall hitting my head on the hard floor. Just seeing that pleading look in Axelson’s eyes as they drug her away to the med bay.
I wake up again, the pain of Axelson’s video still fresh in my memory. As I look around the room, I see doc Harris by her side, checking the readings on the machines she was connected to. “Doc…” I say sitting up. “Take it easy Daniel.” Harris says while walking over to check on me. “How are you feeling now?” He asks while checking my pupils with a flashlight. “Horrible” I manage to get out after a few attempts. “Well, not as bad as before at least.” He says lifting my left hand “Squeeze” he orders putting his hands in mine. “When?” I manage to ask again, I can feel I’m on the cusp of losing it, becoming an emotional wreck. There are only two things I can think about, one the video Axelson left for me, the other, the look in her eyes as they took her away. “When you’re ready.” He says feeling my ribs. “I guess the good news is, by knocking yourself out like that again, you’re pretty much healed up…” he says writing something down in a chart. One of the wonderful advances in medicine had been drugs that mend bones in days rather than weeks. “We’ll have you review the crew replacements later today. For now, well, take your time…” he says looking away and leaving the room. I get out of the bed, and feel unsteady at first, but quickly regain my balance. I walk across the room to where Axelson lay. Looking down on her features, I can see that the doctors had washed all the blood away from her face and her hair. If it weren’t for the machinery, tubes, and lines connected to her, one might think she was just sleeping. I reach down and touch her hair; how soft it feels. I kiss her forehead, “Forgive me” I say quietly taking her hand in mine. “Doc!” I yell, I know that if I don’t have them do this now, I will make every excuse not to. The door opens, and the remaining crew all walk in. I look up tears in my eyes, and I can see the same visage looking back at me. Alyona, she looks so pale, almost like she could collapse dead herself at any moment. Harris likewise tears, and solemn face, then Hoffmann, again same expression. “Does, anyone have anything they want to say?” Harris asks, placing his hand over a control switch. Everyone looks down and shakes their heads. Closing his eyes, Harris, hand trembling presses the switch down. There’s a moment that nothing happens, everyone looks to the readouts of Axelson’s vital statistics, then they slowly dip, lines becoming longer and longer apart, then flat. The four remaining crew members of the Horizon stand there, tears streaming, looking at one another. “My proklyaty” Alyona says, even though I don’t speak much Russian, I recognize the phrase “We’re cursed”. “Da, vozmozhno…” I reply saying ‘Yes, perhaps…’
The burial of our crewmates had become an unwelcome familiar scene. I delivered an elegy for the departed commander, befitting his grade, and position as our friend. His memory would not be tarnished by his end. No one else had heard the video, no one else knew the bizarre and macabre purpose for the Pioneer, and its long wait around a dead planet, around a slowly dying star. When the time came, we had inflated a body bag with air to simulate his body as it was being cast off the ship. With slow solemn precision, we all faced the view port and issued a salute to a good friend, and leader as he departed the ship for the last time. When it came time for Axelson, I had no idea what to say, how to send off a friend, companion, who I had so many feelings for, and only recently had come to find that those feelings had been reciprocal. As if by some great mercy from the fates, her crew recording was listed as being a self-elegy. So, we replayed the video on a monitor in the EVA bay. “Well, hey there everyone,” Axelson’s face fills the screen with a wide smile. “I know this can’t be easy, especially since you’re probably going to have to depend on Daniel to get you to your destination…” she joked and smiled. Everyone momentarily laughs through their tears. “Actually, if you’re watching this, I guess I should be serious…” she says looking down for a moment. “Look, it’s been a great honor to pilot this ship, and to serve with every one of you.” She smiles again “and Palmer, don’t feel bad, I just requested Stark as my co-pilot, because I couldn’t stand him less, than I couldn’t stand you” she grinned “Just kidding, but I had my reasons” she continued laughing. “I know you are all probably sad, especially poor Aaron, now you’re going to have to take my shifts on the stick” she chuckled to herself. “I really am terrible at this whole solemn thing… So, let me just say this.” She said standing up straight, and looked at the camera “If I didn’t die behind the controls of a ship, then don’t waste one more second on me.” She says in all seriousness. “My life was making sure the crew and the ship were getting where they needed to be. I hope, if that’s the right term to use… that I died doing what I do best.” She says looking considerate of the situation. “Don’t be sad for me, I lived a good life, and I had a hell of a crew to keep me going!” She smiled. “So, relief pilot, Aaron Parks, it’s up to you to get them the rest of the way home… Take care of one another, and safe voyage” she says, then looks away as the video cuts out. The pain of seeing our friend one last time is underscored by the impossible scenario that the people she was talking to had already died, and been buried in space just as she was about to me. I can hear Alyona’s voice crack as she suppresses a sob. “To out pilot, to our friend, may she never be forgotten, and may she always have a ship to fly, and a star to steer by” I somehow manage to say without collapsing. We all turn to face the port, and once again, and we pray for the last time, issue our salute as a bag slowly drifts out and away from the ship, into the eternal void of space.

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