|Posted on September 8, 2010 at 6:06 PM|
This is an aside to the novella I'm trying to get knocked into shape, set at the end of my take on a zombie holocaust. I'll be posting 'Reconnections' just as soon as I can get the second half of it to pretend it's half-decently written with a coherent plot. Parts 1-4 are good and, I think, rather nicely written but I don't want to post anything until the conclusion's nailed down.
In the meantime, whilst I take a break from shouting at my keyboard and wondering why my fingers can't find the correct letters, I hope you like this
“I’ll have to leave today,” the captain said to himself, looking out through the little window as the Atlantic Ocean sped past. “Can’t put it off any longer.”
Back in the days of empire, the British had the biggest but they weren’t the only ones –even the Americans used Gunboat Diplomacy to open up trade with Japan – they decided that lighthouses built on rocks and islands out at sea should be manned by three people at all times. They did that because a pair of lighthouse keepers were cut off for months by winter storms and when relief was finally sent they found one lunatic talking to the corpse of his dead mate.
The captain wasn’t sure where exactly that happened but he knew it was somewhere off the British coastline, that country with a witch’s face he could just see passing over the horizon if he pressed his face against the window. Three people, it was reasoned, would provide the dynamic needed to stop irrevocable damage – would stop one man getting cabin fever and killing the other. It would, they also reasoned, stop one man being left alone with the corpse left after an accidental death.
The captain, he couldn’t remember his name – it might have been Jim Jones, or maybe John Jones, or maybe just Jones – couldn’t escape the thought of the dead man’s arm banging on the window everytime the wind blew. Couldn’t escape the thought that he was alone and everyone was dead, nothing more than ghosts eager to plague his every moment. Waking or during the few moments when he was so physically tired he passed out as much as slept, that's what he thought about.
The name Jones was printed on the label of his uniform but the uniform didn’t fit properly and he wasn’t sure anymore if it was his or if he was wearing it because his own had been torn and covered in blood.
“Gotta do my exercises,” he said, the words emerging with the thought in such perfect synchronicity he didn’t even know he’d spoken aloud. “I’m heading back to gravity, gotta keep my muscle tone or my bones’ll crumble, won’t they?”
He spoke to the airlock as he floated past it, a small part of him terrified at the thought of having to walk again. Desiccated, perfectly mummified, the face of Cameron – James Cameron or Cameron James, he couldn’t remember – stared back. Before he left, before he took the escape capsule and hurtled back to gravity and devastation, the captain would eject the corpse into space, let it drift in orbit until re-entry gave Cameron’s soul a fiery send-off.
“You were a good man,” the captain said as he drifted past, as adept in zero gravity as a dolphin in the sea. “I wish you’d stayed with me.”
Far below the blighted coast of North America swung into view, it’s vegetation and cities an indiscernible mass of grey death, and the captain used a long defunct scientific experiment to propel himself towards the escape capsule he had to finally use. Halfway through the next compartment the grief overcame him and he lost some time grieving for his two colleagues and the world he had to return to.
“There is no food left, the scrubbers are clogged and I’ll not die here,” he told the decayed remains of the ant-farm and the incubator that had contained the eggs he ate so long ago – back in the days when he could remember his name with certainty and knew that they had to be eaten before they went rotten.
“Fuck science,” he mumbled, a few strands from his unkempt beard catching in his mouth. “You’d be alive if you’d have listened to me!”
Jones was his name. Captain Jones. He was sure, so sure he’d pledge his immortal soul on it. Jones wasn’t the one killed by Cameron, wasn’t the one whose droplets of blood had floated in the air for weeks after the things that happened below, down where gravity mattered. Cameron killed the other one and he, Captain Jones, had been forced to seal Cameron in the airlock. Had been forced to watch and listen as the man used up his oxygen and died.
“You should have listened to me,” he said as he floated past the spent cartridge hanging in the air, the only remnant of the single shot fired when the thing below happened. The shock of realising the rumours about the Russians keeping handguns on the ISS was just a distant memory, the floating cartridge a memorial he didn’t quite dare touch. “I can see clear air, I can plot the trajectory. I can take us somewhere safe.”
They wouldn’t listen. They wanted to use the escape capsule the moment they saw the mushroom clouds breaking earth’s perfect profile, they wanted to run to their dead families, to join the armies massing and lose their lives in futile defence of kith and kin.
Cameron hadn’t agreed, he’d pulled the gun and fired the shot, blew the Russian’s head all over the place. There were still smears of brain and blood over half the controls, velocity had carried them so far and no matter how hard the captain tried he couldn’t scrape all of it into a bubble he could flush out with the waste. The crack in the main window the bullet made as it left the Russian’s body was still holding firm, would probably hold firm until the space station dropped out of orbit and burned up.
“I did what I had to,” the captain said as he closed the door on the main compartment and pushed himself towards the escape capsule. “I had to lock you in there; you wanted to go back down when it wasn’t safe.”
Fighting in zero-g is hard, all those clever flips they teach you in Judo class don’t coun tfor much when they send you into a spin. The captain couldn’t remember how it happened but he was grateful to the god he cursed that he won the fight, was able to push Cameron into the airlock and seal the door, isolate the air supply.
It took eight hours for the oxygen to run out and that last choking scream was the thing that broke the captain’s mind, the sound that he heard when exhaustion made him sleep and the dreams came crowding in. Cameron beating on the door, begging to be let back in where there was air to breath.
“You’ll be alive,” he said to the photograph he kissed, two-dimensional images of people he couldn’t name but knew were important, a woman and a child. “You’ll be alive.”
In the escape pod the training kicked in, he pressed the right buttons and flicked the correct switches to ensure a safe disengagement and a tenable return to Earth. He looked at the windowless walls and imagined being with his family again, imagined seeing blue skies and green trees and tried not to think about the devastation that had kept him alone in orbit around a dead world for six months.
He was the captain, he did what he had to do to survive.
He’d deal with the war when he landed.
"Fuck, I didn't eject the corpse," the captain said as the fire of re-entry started.