Whispers of Mars [Chapter 23]
Locked away in Agrippa’s quarters, there was only the low hum of the station’s systems to keep him company. They were once the sounds that carried him off to sleep, a sign that everything was working as it should. In the otherwise silence and solitude of the room, those sounds were deafening.
The sounds kept him awake, even if the darkness wanted to drown him. The occasional passing of voices beyond the door shook him into a state he couldn’t recognize, a stimulus that had escaped him. The passing commotion was never there for long enough.
The night of that first day, one of the other crewmates came to bring him a tray of food and escort him to the facilities and back. He didn’t dare engage the man, someone who he likely had interacted with before but because of his condition, he would never recognize. Someone who had likely been given the solemn task of dealing with the system’s weak link, before putting him back into quiet isolation.
The morning of the second day, Cecil was brought yet another tray of food and allowed to use the facilities once more. After his return, the tray sat like the one delivered the night before, uneaten, before turning cold and foul-smelling.
The second visit and delivery came later that day by the medbay’s male nurse and a second crew member. Cecil sat passively facing the wall while the nurse took his vitals and the crew member watched as if he were expecting Cecil to lash out.
“You’re as stable as one might expect, but you should be keeping your strength up, Ruiz,” The nurse said, glancing at the old trays of food. “We’re going now.”
The second visit on the third day to relieve Cecil was made by the black man with the familiar southern drawl. “I’m coming in, Cecil.”
“Markus?” He said, turning back.
The visitor flicked on the light, causing Cecil’s eyes to flutter and adjust to the brightness. “Were you sleeping?” He asked, glancing around the room and to the unevenly stacked trays. “I was told not to bring you anything. Guess I see why. You know you shouldn’t be wasting food like that.” He paused, hands to his sides. “Come on, up, though. Stretch your legs and use the latrines.”
Cecil followed the direction, but he didn’t know why. His legs were weak, but he was just able to carry himself forward. He shuffled out past the open door and into the dim hallway, where Markus began to follow after him.
“If I could trade places with you, I would,” The dark man started what he thought would be a one-sided conversation. “I imagine what some people would say is… this is for your own good. But hey, you remembered my name.”
Cecil shook his head. “I… remembered your voice.”
“That’s better than nothing.”
“When… it first started speaking to me… I couldn’t help but pay attention to the sound of its voice. I started picking up on the way other people sounded, too.”
“So what you’re saying is that you’ve been trying to improve yourself?”
Cecil stopped before the latrines and leaned on the door. He shook his head and glanced back slightly. “It used to be… that people would leave me to do my own thing. To let me work on my own undisturbed. I… don’t like being doted on.”
“You’re an independent person.”
“When it was just me and my mother… she was usually busy working, or dead tired when she was at home. I had to be.”
“I see. Go ahead, I’ll be here.”
Cecil felt empty already. Behind the closed door of the latrines there in the command block, he could only stop to look at himself in the mirror. His reflection was blurry, and the features he could pick out were strange, sloppy, distorted, and unfamiliar. He wiped water from the tap up and down across his cheeks and brow and smeared his moist palm across the mirror. Nothing seemed to change. He had noticed that even the sound of his own voice seemed distant.
Markus awaited him beyond the door, back against the walls and arms crossed over his chest. “All done?”
“Sorry for what? Taking too long? No, I needed the break.”
Cecil began walking back before being directed. Markus spoke up again.
“Things are picking up over there at Secundus. Hopefully, it doesn’t seem like I’m prodding you. But maybe… the faster you take to getting yourself back to normal… the more you’ll get to see of the process.”
“I’ve… done my part.”
“That you have. I mean that, by the way. Maybe you would mind too much the frenetic pace down there right about now. Lots of people being transferred for running the different systems down there. I hear they should start pumping soon for the geo system. Meanwhile, we’re setting up to accept the water from that strange reservoir up there. Got a whole pipe system being run from up there to here.”
Cecil paused at his own door, waiting for Markus to unseal it for him. “The… pool?”
Markus nodded. “Yeah. We’re going to put it in the gray water storage for processing and filtering. It’s going to be used as a hydroelectric energy source in the future, too. I’m sure you know how a system like that works.”
“Strange to think of it, huh? I suppose it’s been cleared for general uses. Maybe not for drinking. I think they want to seal off the reservoir once it’s empty to keep it from eroding and putting silt into the filtered water.”
Cecil felt his temples throb. Markus’ eyes pierced his skin before he eventually opened the door and ushered Cecil inside. He stood beside the door while thinking of his final words. “I hope to see you up and active around here sooner than later. Even if you end up not recognizing me.”
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