Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 7
Some of the items among the retrieved supplies were:
A selection of scientific tools for the laboratory, including inside one of the heaviest boxes, a tool that Zeta referred to as a centrifuge. She said it was for separating a sample of something into the various elements based on their weight. She gave me the notion that she planned to check on the water reserves of the station, including a sample she had taken the days before when our water was seemingly contaminated.
Gamma was happy to find electrical tools, specifically a drill and several robust bits, able to be powered by battery from anywhere. There were also other larger crates of building materials, such as packed insulation and panels of the light-weight plastic used on many of the fixtures. He said they could be used on a vacuum former, in the likely case that there were parts for one to be built.
I came across Epsilon also working with the tributes he had found. He was hanging the compact planter on the clear window of the auxiliary room by use of a pair of suction cups. “So, they did send up soil, did they?” I joked at him.
The dirt inside the individual cups had been disturbed and slightly dampened. “Those seeds I talked about…” Epsilon described. “They have a place to grow now. We can have even the slightest amount of fresh greens in our diet now.”
“That could be just the start, Epsilon.”
I found Gamma working with Delta, talking over the communications system. “The suits don’t have enough power to broadcast long distances.” Gamma explained sternly.
“Wherever that… command signal is coming from… it has to be from some high-powered source.” Delta huffed. “The dish outside can pick that up just fine, but nothing else.”
I sat down with the two of them at the dining table. “We have to assume that there is nothing else out there.” I suggested.
Delta crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair. “Gamma here says he wanted to make a few more trips out to that supply pod to finish getting the crates, and to see what he can salvage off it.”
Gamma nodded in accord. “They obviously must intend for us to use it, right?” He nodded emphatically. “And then, there’s likely going to be another one in the future, and who knows where that will end up?”
I ground my teeth in silent reflection. “There is plenty of power to spare now.” I finally announced. “Could a signal be… sent faster if it has more power?”
Delta shifted up to attention. “Well, yes. Not faster though- with more intensity. You’re talking about a signal booster. If the suits can’t produce a stronger signal, the station may be able to hone in them better- in essence, listen better.”
“You wouldn’t need a full signal from the suits anyways.” Gamma patted his hand on the tabletop. “They can be modified pretty easily for continuous wave, so we could send… Morse.”
“Morse is ancient.” Delta rolled his eyes.
“But all it takes is a single electrical contact to be added to the suit’s controls. I could test it as soon as… an hour.” Gamma shrugged hopefully
“You know Morse?” Delta shook his head.
“Same here…” I answered sheepishly, the dots and dashes returning from somewhere deep in my memory. “I mean, it’s worth a try. This is all in the name of progress, isn’t it?”
Some time later, Gamma was stepping into the modified suit, complete with a simple electrical switch under the layers of fabric upon his chest. He depressed it several times, allowing the obnoxious beep to play through the speaker. The same tone played from the station’s receiver in the next room. O-K- the message said.
“There’s nothing stopping you, Gamma.” Delta’s voice came through the suit’s speaker.
“Keep in a straight line, and we can see just how far away the regular radio line cuts out.”
“You sure you don’t want someone to come with?” I asked.
Gamma ignored me and shoved the helmet onto his head, locking it in place. “This shouldn’t be long at all, Alpha. For now, its just a test.” His voice was muffled behind the mask of clear material. He shuffled into the airlock, leaving me behind.
I joined Delta in the dining room, where Beta had also come to examine the experiment. “Testing.” Gamma’s voice crackled through the speaker. Dash dash dot dash dash dash.
“Go.” I mumbled under my breath, listening to the beeps coming through the speaker.
“If only they were able to drop the supply pod closer…” Delta hummed to himself, the transmit button pressed down purposefully.
“Well…” Gamma’s voice came back at us. “Maybe they didn’t wanted to drop it on us directly.”
“I wish they would give us some sort of timetable for the long run.” Delta returned, glancing at me.
“It’s true that everything seems kind of short-sighted.” I shrugged. “There’s no way to tell that command signal that we’ve got to the pod? Or maybe they just assumed that we would have already.”
Delta leaned back, his hands on his lap. “Gamma seemed amped to do this first. One step at a time, I guess.” He finished, returning to the ‘transmit’ button. “How far now, Gamma?”
“Just lost sight of the station.” There was a slight crack in the transmission.
Delta confirmed. “Copy.”
I stood and paced a bit, glancing out the window through the doorway of the adjacent room. Epsilon was going through more of the boxes on the floor, spreading out his pertinent supplies around his legs splayed out before him.
“Do you still copy, Gamma? Give us some of the continuous wave. Keep an eye to see how much power your suit is using, as well.”
I stood behind Delta as he awaited the reply. Thirty seconds of more passed before Delta repeated. “Copy, Gamma?”
By that time, Beta had joined to listen. “Maybe the transmitters here lost power?”
Delta bit his lip and pushed back his chair, twisting past Beta before looking to the computer screen with the station’s power readout. “Comms is still drawing the same power.”
I looked at the illuminate buttons of the transmitter. “Them maybe the antenna’s misaligned?”
“At this range- it would still reach. Especially with the CW being able to function on a perpetually weak signal. It’s ancient technology, Alpha. Anyone could figure it out.”
“Then…” Beta spoke up timidly. “Is he alright? Maybe a… fault in his suit systems.”
“I’m heading out there.” I declared, beginning my march to the air lock.
I felt a failed grasp at my shoulder from Beta. “I’ll come too.”
We had already drawn the attention on Epsilon and Zeta. “Gamma isn’t able to communicate?” The woman called out.
Delta called out from around the corner. “We just have lost contact with him, that’s it.”
“That’s what we can hope.” I hurled back, the suit already down from its storage compartment. “I’ll go, I’ve had plenty of time outside the station.”
Beta was struggling finding the holes for his feet by the time I had encased myself and stepped into the airlock. I glanced back at my crew-members as the system cycled.
In the sand outside, Gamma’s footprints were fresh, leading off in a straight line. I began to follow them, one by one, in long, careful treads, so as to not disturb them.
“Alpha, do you copy?” Delta spoke at me.
“Just fine.” I said curtly, my focus resting on my breath.
“If I can get you, but not him…” Delta wavered.
The breath from my nostrils gathered in a fine layer of condensation on the front of my mask. Through the cloudy water droplets, I caught sight of something- the white silhouette of one of our suits, laying face down upon a drift.
I sprinted forward the best I could and jumped down to my knees, rolling Gamma over. His eyes were shut, and none of his limbs seemed mobile. “I have him.” I called back.
“Is he-?” I heard Zeta’s voice.
“He’s not responsive.” I growled as I shoved my shoulder under his arm, attempting to heft him up to a manageable position. Gamma slumped over my back, his arms dangling. My feet dug into the soft sand more easily than normal from the extra weight. I made it some way back when I caught sight of another crew-member coming my way.
“Alpha, let me help.” Beta waved to me. He yanked at Gamma’s opposite side, allowing his weight to fall between the both of us.
“Let’s hurry.” I shifted the weight of the body once again. “Zeta could still help him.”
Gamma’s feet dragged after us. My back ached, but the station slowly appeared in the distance. At the door, we wedged the three of us into the airlock. My heart pounded and my breath ran ragged as I waited for it to re-pressurize to the atmosphere of the station.
Epsilon and Delta took Gamma from us and dragged him into the dining room. Zeta unlocked his helmet from his suit while I hastily stripped down.
“Get the suit down some.” Zeta shouted directions.
Epsilon took a foldable knife out of his pocket and slashed down the thick material, flaying the layers of cloth from Gamma’s chest. Zeta moved in next, beginning compressions on his chest. “One, two, three.” She chanted. “One, two, three. Alpha, take my place.”
I moved into action, copying the actions as best as I could produce. Zeta ducked out of the room and returned with a stethoscope. Gamma’s body was cold under my touch. Zeta pressed the diaphragm to his chest, before reaching out at his neck with her fingers. I continued the motions the best I could, when Zeta finally pulled at my arms.
“You can stop.” She sighed. “There’s nothing.”
I lifted myself up, bumping into Beta. He was still stuck inside of the suit, bits of the burnished sand clinging to his boots.
Epsilon lifted Gamma’s wrist to look at the readings on his suit. “87%” He mumbled.
“Huh?” Delta replied drearily.
“He had plenty of oxygen.” Epsilon said, resting Gamma’s arm back again.
“Of course.” My heart jumped and my fist clenched at the accusation. “He grabbed a new canister. I made sure, too.”
“So, what happened then?” Epsilon returned the same glare that I found myself making.
Zeta held her arms across her stomach, shaking her head. “I could look him over, do an autopsy of sorts-”
“No!” I shouted, interrupting. The others shot up and looked my way. “I mean…”
“Like I was saying…” Zeta continued. “We don’t have an xray machine, or anything for any blood tests… I’d be hard pressed to find anything if it was internal.”
“We’re supposed to be all healthy here, aren’t we?” Delta said, his eyes fixed to the ground.
“Alpha, you and Gamma were the first up, right?” Epsilon looked to me. “I know for sure there’s nothing wrong with our air, or the water. If something was wrong with the food, perhaps…”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged, looking the Gamma’s pale, unmoving face.
“Alpha!” Beta finally shouted, shoving me from behind.
“Hey-” I began to turn back.
He shoved me again. “Why, Alpha? Why don’t you know?!”
“Calm down, Beta.” Zeta shifted to him, attempting to grab his wrists.
“You told me, Alpha!” Beta pulled away and continued shouting. “You said you don’t know anything about what’s going on here! Why does everyone listen and look up to you, then!?”
I marched around the table, avoiding his eyes. “Shut up! You’ve been useless yourself, this whole time!”
“You should have left me trapped in that compartment then!”
Epsilon pushed past Zeta and shoved Beta into the wall. “You need to stop. This isn’t helping the situation.”
Beta pulled away and sulked off, shrugging the suit father down off his shoulders. I glanced to Zeta and Delta, who refused to make eye contact.
“Wrap him up in a blanket.” I ordered, making my way around the table. “Put him in the back room until we can decide on what to do with his body.”
Zeta stomped her foot and shook her head. “His body will start to smell in a day, if not several hours.”
“Just do it!” I shouted without thinking. Beta cowered away, and the others deflected their attention to the lifeless body before them. “Delta, do what you must to contact those people. They need to know what happened.”