Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 8
The early hours of the day were dreary and silent. Those who chose to eat did so out of the dining area. There was still reddish sand tracked in from the airlock to the center of the structure. I somehow convinced myself to walk around the traces, leaving them where they had been deposited.
Zeta and Epsilon took to examining samples of what they assumed could have been Gamma’s downfall. “This is from another packet of that Mac and Cheese he likely ate up.” Epsilon passed a glass slide to Zeta. She shoved it in the clips just above the glowing bulb of the microscope before squinting her eye to the lens. Her lips moved back and forth in concentration as she shifted around the sample of yellow-orange powder.
“Just as I thought.” She concluded finally, stretching back up. “No live cultures, or dead ones for that matter. I doubt this even started as cheese in the first place.”
Epsilon crossed his arms and slumped against the wall. “Funny.” He sighed. “How much longer do we have for the centrifuge to separate out those samples of inoculation charges?”
“Could be an hour or more.” Zeta patted the machine sitting at the back of the dark speckled acrylic counter. “I don’t know all the component weights to it.”
“And if there is something funny about it?”
Zeta’s glance traveled to the door, where I was standing quietly, awaiting the answer. The look I received gave off a faintly threatening vibe, and I pulled myself away. “Well, if there is something off… we all received it.” Were the last words I heard as I made my way off.
Delta had been fiddling with the transmitter for some time. When I returned to him, he had taken the back panel from it and disarranged some of the wires sitting inside. I rounded the corner to find that one of the panels of the wall had been removed, with wool-like insulation and more wires dangling from it.
“Don’t touch anything in there.” I heard Delta call out before rounding the corner to meet me.
“-I… wasn’t.” I glanced into the slim space full of various workings.
“One of those lines runs up to the dish on the roof.” He explained, tugging on some of the rubber sheaths. “Gotta find just the right one with the voltmeter. Hopefully I can also splice in some extra power.”
“That should help us send off a proper message, should it not?” I looked to him hopefully.
“It will, or it might possibly fry the system. But I don’t see any other way.” Delta glared. “But seriously, I wish I knew more about these systems. If only I still had Gamma…”
“We don’t.” I growled back. “If we did, this wouldn’t need to happen.”
Delta grit his teeth and slumped away. “I may just end up heading to the roof again to run a trace wire, or something with a higher gauge down into wiring junction.”
“If you go outside, bring someone else.” I paused. “To be safe.”
“Are you volunteering?” Delta grumbled back. “Actually, Beta would be better help.”
I let a slow breath out my nose before looking up and down the hall again. “I’ll see where he is.”
Beta was not at the airlock looking to the outside, nor next door with Zeta and Epsilon. I passed back by Delta and to the back room. I first noticed the hump of blanket encasing the still body within. I almost turned back out when I saw Beta sitting inside his old compartment, the door partially shielding him from view. His knees were up to his chest, with his face buried within.
“Beta.” I called out warily, hoping to grab his attention. He gave no intention of wanting to respond. I hunched down before him and gently placed my hand on his shoulder. “Beta, sulking will get you nowhere.” I increased the urgency in my voice. “I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I didn’t know what I’m doing. We’re only human, here.”
Beta remained in place. I felt my thighs aching from sitting in place. I shifted down to my knees before Beta, coming even closer. “Beta, there are five of us now. We need everyone to pull their weight.”
With another non-response from Beta, I felt my teeth grinding together. I grabbed at the side of his face and pushed it up. Beta’s eyes were held open, and his face expressionless. I jumped back, landing on my butt and allowing his head to fall back in place. My hands ran into a set of boots behind me. As I returned to my feet, I caught sight of Delta standing frozen at the doorway. “How… long have you been there?”
Delta stood shaking his head. “When you said… that we were only human.”
I pursed my lips and shook my head before taking a deep enough breath to steady myself. “Zeta!” I called out. She came marching down the hall, and I pushed past her.
“Alpha?” She glanced back to me.
“We’ve lost Beta now.” I continued back out.
Epsilon joined shortly after. Along with Delta, they remained in the room for a long duration. I sat at the dining table, my hands propping up my chin. I studied the tiny specks embedded in the beige laminated material. Delta was the first one to return, sitting across from me where he had laid the communications device.
“I’ll head out with you and help with any task you need.” I said, avoiding the impulse to look up at him in the eye.
Delta laid the plastic device down with a loud clack. “That isn’t what this is about.”
I slapped my hands on the table. “We need to get the communications working some way or another, don’t we? Or are we going to wait for another one of us to… to…”
“What makes you think more of us are going to die, Alpha?” Zeta’s voice responded to my calls. She came wandering down the hall at us solemnly.
“Do you know what’s causing it?” I shot back.
Zeta folded her arms and looked at the ground. “No.”
I kicked the chair back, jumping up to my feet. “Then you can’t say anything for certain! You’ve done nothing for us so far!”
Epsilon came up from behind Zeta. “Yelling won’t help us, Alpha.”
Zeta marched up before me and grabbed at my chin, twisting my face side to side. “What are you doing?” I pulled away.
Zeta pulled her arm down back to her side. “I… don’t know. But so far, you’re the one who’s been awake the longest, then those two.”
“So what have they done- or haven’t done- that is different from me?”
“I couldn’t tell you that.” Zeta sauntered about, looking through the window in the next room absentmindedly. “But…”
“Don’t say it, Zeta.” Epsilon huffed.
“All I can do is try to track the patterns I’ve been able to notice so far.”
“Before then, what can we do?” I asked, looking to the remaining others. “Delta, how long until you think fixing the wiring will take?”
“Maybe a few hours, but-” He licked his lips. “I don’t know what you expect anyone to do if they’re some impossible distance away from us.”
“There was nothing extra special out in the supply drop that you happened to miss?” Epsilon said.
“Why would something so crucial be left out for us to have to retrieve?” I shook my head. “Besides, I already looked all about in there when we were sorting things.”
“You could have missed something!” Delta spoke up.
“Again, we can’t argue like this!” Epsilon reiterated.
“Alpha.” Zeta called out. “Let me have another look at you. Just to be sure.” She hardly gave me another glance before retreating back to the lab.
I glanced at Delta, who had returned to his work with a frown upon his face. “Go. I may need your aid if you are so inclined after she’s done with you.” He said as I walked off.
Zeta had posed the chair before her, evidently awaiting me. I shifted around it and sat back against the hard plastic. She looked me in the eyes with a discriminating look. “Open your mouth.”
I complied. She snapped on a singular disposable glove. Her thumb entered the corner of my mouth and pulled at my jaw. “Tongue out. Ahh.” I followed her directions.
After glancing around with a few curious blinks of her eyes, Zeta snapped the vinyl from her wrist and took to my face again with a bare hand. She examined my eyes again, then turned my head either way, peering into both my ears.
“What are you looking for?” I finally spoke up.
“I don’t know.” She admitted, her voice lacking any guilt. “I can only hope to see anything that stands out as different between you and the other two.”
My mind moved back and forth between words of encouragement and something to chastise her, but I couldn’t rest on any one thing. The whir in the corner of my room that had been going on for the last while finally stopped, detuning the section of the station to an eerie silence. Zeta finally stepped back. “I should check the centrifuge now. It will let me eliminate one possibility, at least.”
I stood up carefully, attempting to keep the feet of the chair from rattling against the floor. I nodded to Zeta before leaving, but she had already turned to her instruments. Back in the next room, I found Delta still toiling away.
I watched Delta for a few moments before he turned up to me. “I found a conduit with a suitable gauge to carry the extra energy for the dish.”
“What do we need to do?” I glanced back at the far corner, where the stray wires were protruding still.
“Outside.” Delta glanced up towards the ceiling. “There is a bolt up there with the rest of the connectors it needs to be spliced to. It’s otherwise already integrated into the wiring harness. Then one other wire to ground it to the station.”
“I can handle that.” I answered assuredly.
Epsilon leaned out of the door from from the next room. “While you are outside… you should… Zeta suggests… putting the bodies out there. If nothing else, the thin atmosphere will stabilize their remains until we find out something else to do.”
I caught sight of the window, and the decaying sunlight. “I will work by the light of the suit, then.”