THERE ARE NO emergency calls in deep space.
Twenty crew members had embarked on the longest manned space expedition, earth itself now five years behind Asterisk III. Expectations were built on the shapeshifting foundation of predictions: it was all they had, estimates of variance.
Change occurs across time, an endless flux, and in a chunk of hollowed cutting-edge metal floating through space, there’s no limit to the changes. According to personality tests we all scored in the upper percentile for emotional intelligence, for IQ, for team work, for adaptability, our skills and personal traits had been analysed to the point it reached a new point in science. Our height was matched. Same clothes. Same eye color. Matching bone structure. Foot size, medical history, family history, multi-generational gene tracing… Ten women, ten men. All calculated, vetted, compared and matched. We were perfect for one another. So perfect.
The lead scientists missed one key factor. Somebody brought a passenger with them. And after five years, he came out to play.
One satellite link was still operational. Perhaps it was vanity – no, unquestionably it was – which made me hesitate as I gripped my emergency-axe, ready to swing downwards through the exposed cables. I looked into one of the many cameras that had been watching life unhappen. We were like Schrödinger’s cat: with a five year delay in transmission, we would be considered alive for half a decade, a novel twist on the puzzle, in which case, did it matter what had happened either way?
Peering into the lens as I stood in one of hundreds of identical looking corridors, I wanted them to see…to really see what they had created. They’d see our mission had failed. We were never going to find an alternative before earth ran itself into a man made apocalypse crawling with bodies. And as I stared into that lens, I wondered if they were alive. To avoid panicking the masses, public estimates and realistic ones were understandably manipulated. Hundreds of years sounded a lot better, to a fool or genius, than twenty five. Even the smartest are capable of entertaining a grand delusion, for life times, for millennia.
Stepping back I looked myself up and down in the brushed aluminium corridor panels. My green jumpsuit severely stained. My hands looked naturally red. I still had one more person to hunt down. Gripping the axe tighter I wandered along through corridor air locks as noiseless as electric cars, the illuminated labyrinth lit up intermittently, the red light meant to signify emergency SOP.
My arm was tired from swinging, like I’d spent a day felling trees. I let it drag behind me as if walking a dog, the metal hissing as it trailed behind on the hard black rubber dotted with white guide-lights. They could be anywhere. Anywhere on the ship. I lost myself in the halls of murderous silent techno, catching my distorted face on the walls, in glass panels, unrecognisable, gone, everything familiar replaced.
I broke into spontaneous tune. “You’ll see! I’ll find you, wherever you may be…”
Turning left at a t-junction the signs reminded me I was nearing the emergency escape pods that hugged the bowels of the ship. The red glowed, then dimmed, glowed then dimmed as I descended the gentle slope.
I stopped, eyeballs rolling, ears trying to silence the steady hum of the ship. Kelvin?
Louder. It came from behind me. I peered up the corridor, the red lights bursting then fading. There was a shadow. And they called me once more.
Retracing my steps, I stared ahead, searching for it’s source.
A screech this time. And there it was, alone, lonelier than space itself, a shadow, a voice so hollow, and I followed it once more, like I always did.
Tssssssss said the axe, sliding merrily along. “I see you!” I said, as if we were playing hide and seek, as if their body were concealed but their feet poked out from under the curtain.