Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 3
It was some time during the dark hours that a voice that did not belong to Gamma or myself was heard from the back room. I came across Gamma walking the same direction to the sound of the calls. It seemed frantic and muffled, and as we came closer, it was mixed with a clamor of knocking and pounding.
The back room was as we had left it, save the flashing of the nameplate above the second compartment: Beta. The pounding continued, both against the compartment door and the cabinets behind it. There were panicked calls in an unintelligible cry. The metal of the surface rattled.
“Calm down! We are here to help!” I called out instinctively. The panicked movement did not subside. I heard the faint words ‘help, help,’ come from within. I began to shove my fingers at the cracks around the compartment door, hoping to find my grip upon the smooth surface. Gamma rattled at the opposite edge. Helplessly, I turned back to the computer screen, looking for anything that resembled an emergency override.
The cries turned to sobbing and yelling. I tried and failed to concentrate on either the screen or the compartment door. “Alpha, is there anything?”
My eyes glanced around the screen, hoping fruitlessly to take notice of something I had not seen before on the already simple readout. “I’m trying!” I shouted.
Gamma shook his head and began to run off down the hall. “I’ve got-” I heard his voice trail off before he could speak the rest of his thought.
I turned back to the compartment door. The movement had mostly subsided. I rammed my kneed into the surface, causing it to rattle violently, but still refuse to move. Gamma came rushing back, a large prying instrument in my hand. He pushed me aside with a shove of his shoulder before shoving the wedged end into the crack at the left of the door. The metal on either side crunched and buckled as he shoved at it.
Little by little, he moved it downward, forcefully opening up the crack. With one final push, there was a loud pop, and the door came undone. Another man like us fell forward, landing loudly on his knees. I caught him before he was able to fall farther forward. “Beta!” I called out, shaking him. His eyes refused to look my way, rather dancing about in their sockets.
Gamma tossed down the tool and helped me set him back. His wrists and ankles had scuffs and minute cuts on them from the straps, but no blood was drawn. After a few minutes of trying to steady him, his eyes seemed to finally focus. “Beta?” I asked again.
“Is that… my name?” His first proper words were spoken.
Gamma stood against the wall, looking to the buckled compartment door. “Did something malfunction? What if the others end up like that?”
“Shh-” I stopped him. I looked again to Beta, who was holding his arms tightly. “Beta… let’s get you into uniform. It will be more comfortable.”
I pointed back to the compartment and the cabinets behind. His eyes turned back for a moment, before he leaned back forward, rocking back and forth. “No, no, no, I won’t.” He cried. “I won’t go back.”
“You won’t.” I assured him. “We need to get you dressed.”
“I… can’t go back… to the darkness.”
“Gamma, what should we do?” I looked up to the other man.
Gamma crossed his arms. “I have no idea.” He huffed. “This isn’t anything I know about. Just keep at it, and he’ll come around, I guess.”
Beta was clenching his fingers and toes, rocking back and forth on his bottom while his eyes focused unblinkingly on the patch of floor before him. I glanced at Gamma for more help, but he had already turned to the computer screen to peer at the power readouts.
“Beta…” I mumbled, crouched down beside him.
“Well, Alpha.” Gamma distracted me once again. “At this rate, we may see the others waking up sooner than later.”
I stood and glared back at the other compartments. “It doesn’t stand to reason that we should have any other malfunctions… but if we do, we should have Beta at least out of the way.”
Gamma shrugged and knocked at the metal surface of the battered door, examining the would-be latches, now strained out of place. “I can look these over, but…”
“Do what you need to do.” I nodded at him. “I’ll get him to a better place.”
Gamma turned to his work, and I looked down to Beta, who had inched towards my leg, as if for support. I hunched down and took his hand, lifting with the strength I could muster. Beta held on as if out of reflex as I lifted him to his feet, doing my best to keep his gaze ahead.
Beta dragged his feet as I pulled him down the hallway. I felt a sudden resistance in my pull, as the sheepish man caught sight of the growing sunlight on the horizon outside. He ran his hand across the clear surface, his eyes locked intently to it. “Beta?” I relented my grasp on his other arm.
“It is almost morning.”
Beta nodded slowly, allowing himself to slide down the surface, his legs falling beneath him. “That is the sun.”
“I guess, it is, yes.”
“We’re so far away, aren’t we?” His voice wavered, but in turn, he managed to make eye contact with me for the first time. I nodded in response.
“I’ll bring your suit for you. I will be more comfortable.” Beta didn’t return any gesture, keeping his eyes locked to the glow. I slid behind him and returned to the room.
Gamma looked up at me from the interior of the faulty compartment as I entered. “How is he?”
I attempted to get a look at what Gamma’s work as I came closer. “He is calm now.”
“See, you are just fine at this whole person-to-person thing.”
“I’m going to grab his gear.” I pointed behind Gamma to the compartment.
He nodded and shifted outward. “Nothing I can see out of the ordinary here.” He said with a shrug. “I can take a look around for the breakers or the main wiring harness for this compartment.”
“You are reliable, Gamma.” I smiled at him.
“I suppose that is what I am here for.” He rolled his eyes and parted ways out of the room. I flipped open the hatch to find, predictably, the gear embroidered with the patch displaying the name of the third man. I swung it over my shoulder and grabbed at the boots next, wedging them between my fingers.
Beta perked up as I approached again. I set down the boots carefully and picked up the man by his underarm, forcing him to present before me. “Put this on.” I ordered, pulling at the zipper just slightly to start it out for him. Beta continued to shift his attention to the outside while dressing himself and putting on the boots.
“What do you want me to do?” Beta asked suddenly, making eye contact for a second time.
“For you to do…” I pondered aloud.
“You seem like… the person… to ask for something to do.”
I pursed my lips and nodded my head deliberately. “Gamma seems like he is handing himself…”
“Gamma.” Beta echoed.
“The other man.”
I folded my arms and looked out at the window. “Yes. You can help by… setting up some of the equipment in the lab. I believe there some sealed samples that we may make use of. Go look for them.”
“Samples…” He mumbled back before wandering off down the hall. I turned back to the first chamber to begin tidying it once again. I shut all of the open compartments, even Beta’s, despite it not being able to close completely. I double checked the energy reserves. They were climbing again, predictably, as the sun grew greater outside. I glanced at the still unvacated compartments, imagining that one of them would open soon or later. I took a seat on the ground before them, wary that another complication similar to Beta’s would happen.
My eye finally caught the movement of one readings upon the screen, being the change in energy reserves dropping from an elevated level. “Gamma!” I stood and called out around the corner, hoping that he would hear me.
I heard a faint whirring beyond the final compartment door, followed by a clear mechanical click. Gamma arrived into the room just as it opened.
Behind the door was Zeta, ostensibly a woman. She made direct eye contact with me and Gamma as she stepped out, dressed in the same tight, brown coverings. “Alpha… and…?” Her voice rose in a questioning tone.
“Gamma.” He presented himself a half step forward.
“It seems introductions are becoming easier.”
She nodded, her face plain with lips pursed. “I can read, you know. How long have you been awake, both of you?”
“This is my… third day.” I spoke up. “Gamma was not too long after me.”
Zeta looked about the room, noticing the beat-up door from which Beta had been extracted. “And there is a third one? Beta?”
I caught Gamma’s worried glance. “Where is he?”
“I sent him off to do more… unpacking.” I shrugged.
“Are you sure he is fine?”
Zeta cleared her throat. “It seems you had some… trouble?” She noted, running her fingers along the bent edges of the compartment door.
“Yes, he was a bit shaken up…” I paused.
“I’m sure I can look him over.” Zeta held her arm, going to her compartment to retrieve her clothes. I felt my instinct tell me to turn away as she dressed herself. Gamma distracted himself the same by looking at the workings of the display.
“We’re at the prime of the day now.” Gamma made conversation. “We’re gaining power pretty quick now that the panels have been cleaned.”
“You’ve been outside the station?” Zeta perked up as she finished pulling the zipper on her suit to her throat.
“Yes. We took the suits out. And I bet the other two people will-”
“I believe you should come with me.” Zeta interrupted. “We must fulfill our inoculations. If you two have been outside the station, you’ve already gotten more than you should have, too.”
“For…” Gamma crossed his arms. “Radiation?”
Zeta had already began to feel her way down the hall. “Yes. The sooner, the better.”
I looked to Gamma, who carried an apathetic look. I pushed him down the passage before me, following Zeta.
As she entered the lab, there was a loud shuffling and a clatter of hollow crates on the ground, and finally a loud sound of surprise from Beta. “Who-”
“Calm yourself.” Zeta had a firm grasp on each of his shoulders by the time we found our way in. Beta was backed against one of the cabinets, his knees shaking.
“Alpha-” Zeta jerked her head my direction. “Grab that stool from the next room.
I nodded and ducked around the corner, grabbing the seat and dragging its rubberized feet across the ground with a whine.
“Zeta?” I heard Beta speak up as I returned, presenting the seat to the middle of the room.
“That is my name, yes.” She spoke. She had departed the man’s side and had begun looking through the neatly packed drawers. Beta sucked in a slow breath, holding it for longer than normal.
“Here, you are, Zeta.” I announced, looking in her direction for some sort of confirmation.
Zeta finally got her hands on what she was looking for- a rack of vials, and a set of neatly vacuum-packed needles, each with a syringe.
“What is that?” Beta peered over her shoulder. She began by shoving one of the fresh needles through the seal of the vial, taking with it the deep yellow liquid. “You’re not going to-”
Zeta tapped at the tip of the needle and released a tiny spritz of the liquid. “Who wants to go first? Gamma, you must have been outside the longest?”
Gamma stepped forward and rolled up his sleeve. “How did you know?”
“You are the most versed in the solar array and the other workings, are you not?” Zeta rolled her head side to side, before taking a seat on the stool and grabbing at Gamma’s wrist.
“You… aren’t wrong.” Gamma said, gritting his teeth for the imminent injection. Zeta held her breath to steady her hand as she jabbed the needle into his forearm, just below the elbow. The plunger inside delivered the strange liquid before the needle was extracted.
I pulled up my sleeve just the same, presenting myself before Zeta while she switched to a fresh instrument. “Zeta…” I said to her.
“Yes?” She replied absentmindedly, pulling my arm in her direction.
“How long should this inoculation last?”
Zeta paused and pursed her lips. “Six months.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do.” She shrugged and jabbed me without a second thought. The pain was barely momentary, as if it were only my imagination. There was a sudden, faint sensation of cold down my arm.
“How long have we been here, then?” I asked again.
“Here as in how, specifically.”
“You said this was… home.” Gamma spoke up. He was still rubbing at his arm at the side of the room.
“Home, huh?” Zeta hummed. “I might guess… that those compartments have some form of shielding from radiation.”
“And not the rest of the station?”
“Well…” Gamma groaned. “Likely not as dense. Else we wouldn’t be able to have windows.”
“I’d say you’re right.” Zeta replied. She finally finished with my dose and pulled the needle from my skin. I rubbed the palm of my hand over the injection site to rid myself of the tingling feeling beneath my skin.
Beta shuffled uncomfortably, his eyes locked to where I had received the needle. “What happens… if we get too much radiation?”
“We get sick, we lose our hair, our muscle mass, etc.” Zeta explained, glancing between Beta and the following dose of the liquid.
“I guess… then… I will take it.” Beta sheepishly rolled his sleeve just beyond his elbow.
“We could have been here… a long time.” Gamma placed his hands on his hips and shuffled past me.
Beta was hunched as as far as possible from his arm, which was in the tight grip of Zeta’s hand. “This won’t hurt a bit.” She said, readying the needle.
“Zeta.” I called upon her again, making sure to ask before she had sunken in the needle. “Will you be able to… dose yourself?”
“I don’t see why not.” She said, confidently stabbing Beta with the point. His feet twisted up beneath him. “I’ll be sure to be ready for the next two who come out, as well. Seems to be a bit of organizing still to be done. There, Beta. All finished.”