1814 words (7 minute read)

Chapter 1.

WARNING. 

AUXILLIARY POWER: 5%.

SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT….

*              *              *              *              *

Loud clanks and venting coolant signalled the pods would soon be opening.  Locks thumping release then and cold vapour spilling out, old rollers shrieked painfully while upper lids slid jerkily down.  Nothing more happened for several hours after, then, the first of them began to stir.

*              *              *              *              *

Rising through black and heading toward consciousness, he became first aware of the furious pounding in his head.  Feeling that he must be ill, he tried to let himself fall again, sink back in to unconsciousness, and found that he could not.

Grimacing, he snorted air in through his nose, feeling it rip through his throat and claw at the top of his lungs. Cracking open his bone dry mouth, he expected to hear himself crying out, but all that he got was a barely audible squeak.

Why?... he wondered, What the hell’s wrong with me?

He thought then that he must have been in an accident- that he’d taken a blow to his head or something, and that he must be lying in some wet ditch somewhere, out in the cold of night.  His perception clearing however, he realised he was actually in some bed- maybe in a darkened room in a hospital, or, mistakenly, he’d been delivered to the morgue- What the fuck?..  The pounding in his head though, the too dry throat and how nauseous he felt… this also could be the worst hangover he’d ever had. So, perhaps, there’d been no accident, and this was just the self-inflicted torment of the morning-after -the aftermath of a bender that he could not yet recollect.  If so, he thought, he must have pissed this bed…

“Get up!” came a sudden hoarse demand from by his side, making him screw up his face with it rattling around inside of his head, then someone was shoving him, quite roughly.  So, bender… he admitted, and sought once again to slip back in to the sweet ignorance of sleep.

“Dalen! Get up!” the voice said insistently- It was a woman, and, “Something is wrong!” she said.

 *              *              *              *              *

 She woke with the shock of gasping in breath.  She was coughing then, fiercely rattled with the pain of it and so she rolled over, trying to make it pass easier.  A sudden drop though and the floor came up to hit her, jarring an elbow and cracking her across the head.  Still she coughed, forcing her to ignore the brutal blind assault and driving her to prop herself up a on her injured arm as well as the other, so that she could puke in the dirt without lying in it.

Dirt

Still hacking painfully, and failing to bring anything up beside blinding tears, her sharp mind nonetheless was telling her that it all was wrong- Dirt... So much dust in the labWhere the hell is everyone?

Shrugging off the coughing fit and trying to ignore her arm and her now pounding head, she climbed to her feet- Have to...  pulling herself up by reaching up and holding the side of a pod- The pods!..

And there was someone there! on the bed of the pod.  Da… Da… Dalen’s on my left!  she remembered- Dalen… J-James!  Engineer!..  She could barely see him though- her eyes still streaming and struggling to focus- So dark, too… and he only made a squeak as her hand found his arm.

 “Get up…” she croaked, and shook him “Dalen, get up!” she begged, “Something is wrong!”   

He’s waking, she thought, but not fast enough.  Meanwhile, alarms where going off in the lab all around her.   

  *              *              *              *              *

 He was dreaming of a time when he was just a kid- only fifteen, and he stole his dad’s little ‘helly’ for a ‘joy-flight’.  Zig-zagging over rugged terrain, he’d never felt so alive! and, spotting a herd of camel, already pumped up on adrenaline, he buzzed them.  Naturally, they bolted, and the thrill of his wild flight increased as he banked and went back at them- herding them this way and that, just as his dad and his brother did in the muster.  Another wild change in direction though, and he rolled the helly a little too hard.  An alarm went off- a flashing light on the dash and that high pitched beeping, then lift was lost and he began to drop.

In his dream, his dad’s little helicopter vanished.  He was falling free now, looking up and seeing the clouds soar away from him.  Rolling over, he saw the ground rushing nearer, but a chasm was opening in it right beneath him, growing wider and deeper and darker by the second.  He would fall in to that hole, he knew, and be gone forever, and part of him was okay with that thought.

Rolling through the air again, he righted himself- head up, feet down, his arms flapping loosely in the too cold breeze that stole his breath and burned his lungs… and, he was okay, to die like this

        The girl appeared and was hugging him then, sliding her hands over his chest, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing him tight.  He liked this girl- The girl from school… and so he hugged her back, nuzzled at her hair… their eyes meeting and their lips coming together in a slow, warm kiss as they fell. 

 *              *              *              *              *

                 Dalen was coughing behind her now, so “Dalen!” she cried, “I need help!”.  Frantic, she continued pumping on B-B-Bennet!’s chest- Bennet, Victor, Pilot... hoping she hadn’t just lost count.  “Dalen, please!” she called again, barely holding on as she struggled against the pain and disorientation, desperately trying to keep Bennet alive. 

A few more pumps and she went to Bennet’s head, pinching his nose and tilting it back.  Her lips sealed on his and she gave two lung-filling blows.  Damn you, Bennet, she thought, lifting her head and going back to pumping his chest- Just a ploy to kiss me you sleazy prick.  “Dalen!” she cried again.

Dalen, still coughing, staggered around the foot of Bennet’s pod, using it to hold himself up.

“What… the… fuck, J-J-“ he managed to get out.

“Jones, I’m Jones, Dalen” she told him, “Althea, Biomedical.  I need you to get it together”.  She grabbed his hands as soon as he was across the pod from her, put them on Bennet’s chest and pushed down on them.  “Here, like this- one, two, three, four”.  Dalen was still coughing but he was starting to hold it at bay now, falling back to his training and doing as he was told.

“I can’t see very good” he said..

“Dehydration”, Jones told him, “Blow twice when you get to thirty”.

Dalen coughed and nodded, and kept on pumping Bennet’s chest.  Jones left him to it- her eyes were clearing and she could see the shelving beyond the head of the pods now, remembered there was a ‘defib’ there and so she went to where it should be. 

Lights flashing about her, half a dozen panels beeping, and her mind still hazy, Jones hit the shelving, thumping her already injured arm in to it. Hissing, then blowing out the half uttered curse of “Fffff…” she ignored the pain as best she could, spotted the defib just below her head height and took it from the shelf.

Spinning about, she half lowered half fell to the dusty floor- So much dust!...   with the defib pack settling between her knees. She ripped off its detachable lid and jabbed her finger at its power button.

Nothing.

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen,..” Dalen chanted behind her.

Jones stabbed at the button with her finger again and again, then a dozen times rapidly, and still nothing.

“Fuuuah-Uck!” she yelled, pushing the defib away from her, sending it skidding across the dusty floor for several metres.  She wanted to sink further to the floor and just give up, just breakdown and cry, but Bennet, the sleazy prick!, was going to die, and it was down to her if he did or not.  Think think think she told herself, rocking on her knees, but it was so hard- her arm throbbing and head pounding, all the dust and lights and the beeping- Where the fuck is everyone? What the fuck is going on?

It came to Jones then- there was an ‘epipen’ in the drugs cabinet, that’s what she needed!  Picking herself up, she dashed to the shelves again, making sure to shield her arm this time.  Skidding to a stop, she grabbed at the handle of the cabinets top drawer and yanked, but it did not open.  Stifling a curse she pulled again, then again, then several times more, rattling the cabinet against the wall beneath the shelves.  “Ugh!” she cried.  Locked!..  Keys?.. she thought, and then she saw them- one key in still in the cabinets lock, and the other on a ring and dangling from the first.

She didn’t take the time to curse herself, just turn the key and pulled on the drawer.  The epipen was there! and so she took it, dashed from the cabinet and back to Bennet’s pod where Dalen still counted and pumped.

“Move!” Jones told Dalen, and the engineer staggered back, his arms out behind him and feeling for something to hold on to.  Jones didn’t hesitate, lifting her injured arm with epipen in hand then bringing it down sharply in the middle of Bennet’s chest.

Panting, Jones waited for what seemed an eternity, her hand still on Bennet’s chest by the lopsidedly upright epipen.

“Jones?..” Dalen asked.

Bennet’s chest heaved, violently, lifting him a little from the bed of the pod and dropping him again.  As Jones backed up into her own pod, and Dalen shied back and fell on his rump, Bennet was gasping in breath and coughing.

Recovering, though still panting, Jones then went to him, quickly removing the epipen and letting fall to the floor, and placed a hand on his chest, telling him “Easy”. With her other hand she took his wrist, checking his pulse.

A few minutes later, Bennet was beginning to breathe easier and Jones was satisfied that his heart was still beating.

“Daaaamn” Bennet croaked meekly, and Jones smiled down at him, thankful he was alive.  “Never thought it could be so wild in the sack with you, Jonesy” he rasped.  Without thinking, Jones slapped him.

      

Next Chapter: Chapter 2.