The cargo bay hummed with activity; loader-drone motors whirred as mechanical arms moved boxes and crates into tightly packed spaces. Metal skittered against metal in silent protest as wheels and tracks collided.
A loader arm moved down to pick up a dented, scraped crate. As the pincers clamped down on the sides, they continued closing, and closing, and closing, the pressure sensors failing to notice. The crate shuddered and groaned as the metals strained to keep their shape.
Suddenly the pincers stopped, a barely visible safety override light appeared on the armature, and the cargo bay slowly shut down.
A jolt of the interstellar freighter’s engines jostled her out of bed, bringing her mind to the beeping tablet next to her. She rubbed her eyes, unstrapped the blanket’s safety hooks, and rolled off with the precision only experience could buy. Her feet fell into the mag-boots, her arm reflexively grabbing the tool belt from her locker and strapping it around her waist. “Elovyn Kenovyc here,” she answered. An automated voice rattled off instructions: Repair job, aft cargo bay. She didn’t expect a human response; despite the ship being over a kilometer from bow to aft, the crew was only a handful of shuttle jockeys, her, and the Captain.
She took a long drag of the stale air, adding replacement filters to her mental checklist. She pulled up the camera and gazed out into the void between starlight.
Something, or someone, was always breaking on this ship.
A few days ago, she’d sent the Captain a message about replacing the filters, only to get no reply. His quarters were right on her way to the freighter’s internal tram, so she figured she’d make a stop there. “It’s Vyn,” she said as she knocked, and heard only silence. She sighed and overrode the lock.
Booze stained the synth-fiber carpets of the Captain’s quarters. The air tasted like rotgut. The Captain slumped in the corner, legs sprawled out on the floor, arms limp, bulbs of alcohol swaggering with the rumble of engines. The man stared at her, eyes strained with red.
“Y’know what they say ‘bout angels in Paradise?” he mumbled. “That there ain’t no struggles?” Pained words. “That’s some stardust, that is.”
She helped him up, then made the mistake of looking into those distant eyes. “Let’s get you to the doc,” she said, a pit forming in her gut.
The cargo bay was dark, hellish, her helmet lights barely poking through. A small digital diamond highlighted the broken loader crane, and she kneeled next to it, opening an access panel. She saw it immediately: an incorrectly soldered wire had frayed and finally given out from the inevitable march of time. A simple surgery.
“C’mon buddy,” she said through gritted teeth as she pulled out a replacement wire from her belt, cutting off the faulty ends and grafting the new one back on with her multi-tool. She activated local control on her tablet and tested it out. “You’re okay now.”
A priority call buzzed in her ear. “Vyn, you there?” Connors, one of the ship’s shuttle jockeys, asked, his voice rushed and panicked. Someone had died again.
“I’m here,” she replied.
“Cap just spaced himself. En route to retrieve.”
“He have a suit?”
“Understood. Warming up the auto-doc.”
People always broke, and she never knew how to fix them.
The medical bay was sterile, a far cry from the used hallways and rooms of the freighter. They didn’t have a dedicated doctor; she was the only one here with any medical knowledge.
The Captain’s corpse rested in the auto-doc’s tube, visible bruises and deformities from the rapid expansion and decompression of his body, popped blood vessels, and the boiling of external liquids. His lungs were probably ruptured. For all intents and purposes, he was dead. She couldn’t do this every single time.
Angels in Paradise, indeed.
It took over a day for the auto-doc to practically rebuild him, cell-by-cell, neuron-by-neuron.
He opened his eyes as if he was waking from a deep sleep, back into a nightmare. He looked around, mouth agape, and then glared at her.
She made the mistake of looking into those distant eyes, into the galaxy of ennui, the spiral of time and lost purpose, and that one-word question: “Why?”
She took a deep breath. “Soon as we’re in-system and dock with a port, I’m off.” She swallowed hard. “Figured I’d let you know.”
Photo credit: “Space Engineers,” Ivan Laliashvili, deviantart.com
Max Mitzel is a 23-year-old autistic author who primarily writes speculative or science fiction, and is currently enrolled at Central Connecticut State University.