Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 9
Beta had been wrapped in the only other spare blanket we had. I carried the bundle in which Gamma was encased over my shoulder to the airlock door, followed by Beta on Epsilon’s back. I set Gamma down as gently as possible, propped in the corner, before I suited up.
Epsilon helped me push the bodies further past the first set of doors. I bent down to hoist up the first of the indistinguishable remains. I remember some practiced action in my body to lift with my knees. With the end of the airlock’s cycle, I shifted outside. A couple of meters outside the door was an area of flat space, where there were only a few rocks needing to be displaced. The light of the station was just enough to reach out into the dark of the night, illuminated otherwise only by the stars above. I set the first body down and returned for the second. Epsilon watched silently through the window as I worked through the solemn task.
“Delta.” I initiated the radio feed, peering at the parallel bundles one last time.
“Whenever you’re ready, Alpha.” The communication returned.
I flipped on the light on my helmet and wandered back to the station and around the side to where the ladder led up to the rooftop. The dish still stood in place, stoic, the same as we had left it. “I’m here.” I announced to Delta as I approached.
“Look for a single wire, about as half as big as your pinkie, wrapped in yellow insulation. The bare copper at the tip is already folded over for you.”
“Understood.” I shined the thin beam around. I caught sight of the conduit in a dull flash. It was intertwined with the prefabricated bundle of wire already attaching the communications dish with the station’s systems. “I see it.”
I landed on my knees and shoved my hand into the tangle of wires and metal supports, finding the of one note just in reach. I gave it a gentle tug to bring it up within reach of the bolt Delta had described to me.
“I’ve got it, Delta.” I said, unsnapping my breast pocket and retrieving the wrench inside.
“The system is disconnected, so you should have no worries.”
I leaned in and fumbled with the end of the wire, attempting the precise task of looping the end around the minuscule length of bolt. My fingers trembled and shifted back and forth, before it finally made contact. With a flick of my wrist upon the tool, I secured the installation in place. “It’s in.” I declared, shifting myself away slightly.
“Okay, then…” Delta sighed loudly. “Well, then, I guess we can give it a shot. Hold up there for a bit, okay, to see if the system does anything funny.”
“I’ll keep an eye out.” I nodded reflexively.
Delta hummed a faint tune, something I noticed he did often while in concentration. “Here goes.” He said.
I sat back nonchalantly. Within the blink of an eye, I noticed the ends of the wire begin to glow. Before I could move back, a series of glowing sparks jumped about, some landing upon my arms. The material of the suit caught fire and immediately extinguished itself, but I could already feel the singed flesh beneath.
“Damn it!” Delta’s voice cracked. “Alpha, did something happen?”
I scrambled back, rubbing down my arms. My feet searched behind me for the top rung of the ladder. “I’m coming back in.”
The stinging continued as I impatiently waited for the airlock to cycle and allow me inside. Epsilon poked his head out of the door as I was struggling to rid myself of the top half of my suit.
“Epsilon, get Zeta for me, I need medical attention.”
Epsilon frowned and shook his head. “I’m… sorry.”
I caught his helpless expression before waddling into the room after him. My sensation of pain abated as I saw Zeta slumped over the counter, her body bent at an uncomfortable angle. “When…?”
“Just as you placed the other two outside.” Epsilon shuddered. He was digging through some of the supplies. I looked at my wounds- slight black marks upon my flesh from the burning material, and underneath, a spattering of shallow red marks in my skin. Epsilon faced me with a cotton ball and a bottle of isopropyl.
Delta joined us as Epsilon dabbed away at the spots on my arms. “No good, the whole system is fried.”
“Epsilon…” I winced as he touched the damp cotton to my skin. “How… what…?”
Epsilon pursed his lips. “She said… ‘I’m tired,’ or something like that, then… she collapsed.”
“And we don’t know anything new, do we?”
“She said the the tests on the inoculation were pointless, as well.” Epsilon sighed and shoved the bottle of rubbing alcohol back in its place at the back of the open cabinet.
By the early light hours, a sandstorm had picked up outside. There was a faint din of the wind and the tiny particles impacting upon the metal shielding outside. Zeta was propped against the wall of the airlock, uncovered, as we had no spare blankets left.
Delta stuck to silently fiddling with more of the wiring in the walls. There was a small section of charred conduits and paneling inside the compartment, still hanging onto the odor of smoke and ozone. I took to my moving about the station, watching the storm rage on outside, and stopping at certain times during my though process to write down more words in my log of records so far.
Epsilon crossed my path sometime early afternoon. “Epsilon…” I called him out of his distracted state.
“Oh, Alpha? What is it?”
I came up with a reason for calling upon him. “Do you think any systems are at risk from the sand outside?”
Epsilon pursed his lips and shook his head. “I don’t imagine so. Everything I’ve noticed lends me to think that the systems inside here are meant to be fully self-sufficient.”
“One thing, though-” Delta called out to us, finally breaking his silence. “We haven’t been generating power at optimal rates since yesterday.”
I placed my chin in my hands. “We should head out to clean off the solar cells. Once the storm stops, of course.”
“I mean…” Delta shuffled himself into view. “I don’t even know what we would do with so much excess power, as things are going.”
“It is our duty to keep this station running, isn’t it?” I countered. “I mean… if someone comes our way, sooner or later. We should be… prepared. Even if… we aren’t around.”
“Suit yourself, heading out there, Alpha.” Delta blinked at me weakly before leaning back inside the other room.
“I’ll go.” Epsilon wasted no time volunteering.
I lifted my eyes up to his. “Are you sure?”
“I’m the only one who hasn’t had a chance to suit up and head out yet.” He shrugged. “I want to just… experience it, you know? And if I happen to collapse out there, then neither of you will have to deal with it.”
“Epsilon.” I shook my head.
Epsilon ignored my words and turned toward the window, placing his hand on the clear surface as more of the loose material outside flew by outside.
There was, luckily, enough light left when the torrent finally let up. I met with Epsilon before the storage rack of the suits to help him dress up. “Get your fingers in correctly or you won’t be able to work the controls like you should.” I mimed wriggling my fingers back and forth within the confines of the thick gloves.
Having found himself securely within the confines of the cumbersome garb, Epsilon pivoted around, allowing me to finish zipping and securing the rear seam all the way to the top. He was then supplied with the canister of air and the helmet to seal him off completely.
Epsilon waited by the open set of doors as I hefted Zeta up before him. She was just as heavy as any of the men, albeit her seemingly smaller frame. Epsilon took her in his arms. I gave him a nod and allowed him to begin the lock’s cycle.
As soon as he was out, I went to the short range radio. He was already beside the other two outside, depositing the third beside them. “Copy, Epsilon?”
“Copy. The storm covered up these two a bit.” He said. I saw him wiping the fine, reddish covering off the lifeless bundles.
“I appreciate it.” I watched on. “Though, I would like if you focused on the present task.”
“Yes, Alpha.” Epsilon returned. He stood up and began to make his way back to the exterior of the station walls.
He disappeared for a few moments at the first set of panels. After several minutes, I caught sight of him continuing around the building, finally passing by the windows of the eastern chamber. He placed his hand to the surface, looking in upon me. His planters were still hanging upon the inside of the window. Through the dirt, a couple of the seedlings had managed to push through, producing tiny yellow-green buds.
“Let me know when you’re coming back in, Epsilon.” I spoke into the receiver again. “So I can open the airlock for you.”
My feelings were mixed as Epsilon made his way back into the first set of doors. He offered me up a smile as he came inside and removed his helmet. “Did it the best I could. Hopefully Delta can get more done with the communications system.”
I nodded out a response and motioned for him to turn around so I could undo the fasteners up his back. “You know…” I spoke up. “Your plants have sprouted.”
Epsilon wiggled his arms and then lower body from the suit. “Oh, excellent. I should water them.” He finished, taking up the limp outfit in his arms and returning it to the compartment with care.
The two of us split off into the different rooms. Delta was pacing about the room, going back and forth between the open wall panel and the transmitter. Epsilon came back into the room, holding onto one of our plastic cups.
“Don’t fret, Delta.” He said as he ran the water tap into the cup for a couple seconds. “Sometimes… taking a break from something will allow you to return to it with a fresh mind.”
Delta ran his fingers through his hair and looked back and forth between his projects. I sat down beside his seat while Epsilon exited the room.
“Guess you’re right, Epsilon.” Delta let out a long sigh and retook his seat, shoving the tools and instrument into the middle of the table. He glanced at me and muttered under his breath. “Nothing we do at this point matters anyway.”
“Everything matters.” I shook my head. “We were each put here with a task. Just six of us. Obviously, if someone else could do it, they would be here in the place of us. If this is something that you can’t do, then nobody can.”
“Here, in our place, dying.” Delta scowled, his fingernails scratching into the hard surface of the tabletop.
I grabbed at his wrist, forcing his attention towards me. “Nobody could have foreseen this. The only thing we can do now is try our best.”
Delta pulled his hand away and leaned forward to retake the communications equipment in his grasp. He flipped it over forcefully, revealing the circuit boards inside. I stood up in order to offer up a bit of space.
“Epsilon.” I called out, preparing to head to the next room. “Are you able to tell what plants those seed were for, now?”
My mouth stopped as I saw what was inside. Epsilon was hunched forward on his knees, legs spread, and his head hanging down limply. The cup from his hands had fallen over on the floor, with the remaining water inside spreading out into a puddle that pooled around where he was sitting.
“Delta…” I called out.
“Spare me the details, Alpha.” He returned solemnly. “You know what’s next.”