Junker - Common memories
His head was in her hands. Dead. Cold. Staring up at her. Like he did sometimes in the morning, limbs in all directions, hanging out of his bunk, tongue lolling and eyes rolling.
“Hey, Syra”. She’d pop a pod in the processor and pull out a bowl. “Syra!”
He’d flail until she looked at him then fall back again. “Look I’m dead”. The processor would ding.
“You dumbass”. She’d thwack him on the head with the daily bulletin and lay their breakfast out on the table. He’d huff, struggle to get up, fall, land on the floor, and scramble to his seat, hair a soft mess.
She ran a hand through it, brushing it back from her brother's face. His skin had lost all dimension, he was just a drawing in her hands, like graphite she could erase. She felt herself copying him. She was cold, losing colour, sinking into the floor. She couldn’t breathe and didn’t want to. She didn’t feel the hands upon her shoulders as much as she sensed them hovering above her skin, afraid that she would break if they touched her.
“Have two teams of regulators take rebreathers around to residents in the immediate surrounding area in case there’s anything they could have been exposed to, and send three down for autopsies”
Syra flinched, clung tighter to Mika, and screeched.
“Don’t touch him!! I’ll kill you!!” She rocked him back and forth in her lap and muttered it over and over. “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you if you touch him.”
She felt Fletcher beside her right knee, ignoring them as she pressed her forehead into Mika’s chest.
“Mika’s going to stay with you’ they said gently, ‘no one’s going to take him away”. They were sat close by but didn’t make a move to touch her. “But Syra, at some point we’re going to have to take you down to the med bay to be checked out okay?”
“I’m not leaving him, I’m staying here”
“Syra, you rushed in here without the proper gear, you could’ve been exposed to whatever got them” She started to dig in her nails, hoping he’d stop pretending.
“I’m not leaving him!!” She hissed into his chest. Fletcher sighed.
“Yeah ok, I’ll get someone to come see you here” Syra flicked her head down and to her right to look at Fletcher.
“He’s careful, what makes you think it wasn’t a Gnat or a Heretic?” Fletchers ears twitched and they leant forward, to a whisper.
“Syra, look at him.”
She did. He was dead.
She frowned and started to turn back to Fletcher with a slurry of fowl words growing on her tongue, but Fletcher looked up at her with big yellow eyes and she looked again.
He was dead. And not much more than that. He was cold and grey. The scales on his jawline and chest had dulled, no longer the vibrant purple they had been two weeks ago. But other than that.
She ran a hand over his eyes to close them.
He looked like he was sleeping. No burns, no gashes. No bruises or scrapes. No holes or cuts or wounds to speak of. He was just, dead.
She couldn’t do this.
She scooted back and he slid to the ground. She stood, Fletchers unblinking gaze following her, bare feet on the smooth metal. She felt cold and nothing at the same time.
“I’ll go to my examination now.” She turned and started to leave.
“Woah, sweetheart” Fletcher scampered after her and put a covered paw on her calve. “I’ll take you”.
Genevieve unzipped the neck of her suit and pulled the hood back up over her head.
“You seem perfectly healthy to me”, she smiled softly and offered Syra a hand down from the bench. She flashed a weak smile in return and pushed out the door.
Beyond, a pile of misfits had formed, none of whom were sitting correctly in their chairs, and had somehow made the musty med bay even dirtier. Her friends seemed half asleep, occasionally muttering half a sentence to each other, returning to a tangible silence.
Ramsey noticed her first and immediately stood to greet her, letting Socket, who had been resting her head in his lap, flail and tumble to the ground. They all scrambled to their feet in turn and enveloped her. No words, no tears, just presence.
They didn’t let go for a good while, and when they did they looked from face to face, understanding exactly what they meant.
“Syra,’ Scarf Monkey started, holding the fabric of her pants in her tiny hands, ‘we’re so, so sorry”
“We all loved him” said Elliot, the soft pink fibres on the back of their head bobbing gently.
“Do you remember anything?” came Ramsey’s muffled voice.
“Ramsey, you insufferable prick!’ said Socket, ‘why the fuck would you ask something like that?”
“I, sorry, I wasn’t thinking” Ramsey shook his head, expression unknowable behind his gas mask.
“You bet you weren’t, you absolute dipshit” Socket looked at Syra, eyes red rimmed and searching her face. “We’re here for you Syra, whatever you need”. Syra nodded and smiled weakly.
She didn’t sleep. She didn’t try. Didn’t close her eyes. She’d hear him talking and start screaming at him.
“Hey Syra,’ she’d turn to see an empty room, ‘look, I’m dead.” She started to howl and ripped the stuffing from his pillow and sunk to the floor cradling its tattered remains in her arms. Eventually she just sat against the door to their apartment and didn’t move for five hours. Her friends had tried to comfort her and she asked them each to leave. Worry etched into their faces, they did. She noticed that the regulator rotation had increased. They walked by her front door every ten minutes now. They’d knock occasionally. She’d stuff a feather from Mika’s pillow out under from under the door to tell them she was still there. And they’d keep walking.
Sleeping hours came and she heard voices begin to build in song. She started to join in, it was habitual and familiar. The song was quiet. Word had spread. They must know how she felt, or at least, they were trying their very hardest to sympathise. Most people on Junker had family, but few were related by blood, like she and Mika were.
She hadn’t tried to remember yet. She didn’t think she’d ever try. Seeing him dead was one thing, seeing him die was another. But most people here had lost someone, so they sung with her. Not a sad song. She was grateful for that.
She rested her head against the cold door, the song vibrating around the room, until the words began to taunt her.
Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine!
Not that she knew the story behind the song.
Not the sun but maybe one of its beams
She didn’t even know what sunshine looked like.
Rich man, poor man, black or white
Alive or dead.
Everybody gets a bite
Everybody just hold tight to your dream!
You just left him there.
Everybody’s got the right…
To their dream!
She screamed and tears streamed and she shouldered the door open and collapsed into the hallway, howling. She griped her horns so tight she felt them throb and creak. A few doors swung open but no one approached her. She wailed into her hands until a regulator advanced to her right and she snapped her attention to them. She swayed to her feet and stumbled forward, grabbing onto the startled Nostron’s forearm.
“I want to see Fletcher.” The regulator nodded and began to lead her down the corridor. When they arrived the regulator knocked on the door and upon seeing the blue light begin to blink above the door, opened it for Syra to step inside.
Fletcher had been sitting in an alcove on the opposite wall that looked out into the dark void of space, broken cruisers and battleships littering the view. Syra caught them mid-stretch, front paws stretching wide and tail flicking upwards. When they saw Syra, their big yellow eyes widened and they hopped down from their perch and up onto the oversized desk in the middle of the room.
“Syra, what are you doing here my dear? You need all the rest you can get”. Syra sat herself down in a patchworked armchair.
“I need to do something, please let me do something,’ she let her eyes and nose run, ‘I’ll investigate the ship, I’ll work in the recycling docks, I’ll, I’ll help with the autopsies, I just can’t sit there anymore”
Fletcher sat on the edge of the desk, tail curled around their feet.
“Syra, you need rest, I can get Genevieve to proscribe you some REM inducements”
“No! Please, I don’t want to know what I’ll see if I close my eyes.” She was clutching the tattered fabric of the chair. “Let me do something”
“I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to, but, we don’t know what happened. Gen has looked over the bodies and they just, stopped. They’re dead but from what we can see, there’s no cause. Everything in them just shut down.” She tried to force images out of her mind, focus on the words and their meaning.
“We haven’t seen anything like this before which means it could be a threat. We need to know what happened.” Fletcher seemed to drain of colour when they looked at her.
She could already hear him egging her on.
“Chicken”. He waggled a finger in her face and smirked.
“I am not a chicken!” She started, hands on hips.
“I mean if you say so but,’ he sniffed, ‘what’s that smell?’ He began to bend his arms into mock wings, ‘Man I’m just so hungry,’ he started to flap his arms slowly, ‘the smell of that deep fried”
She jumped at him and he darted away flailing his arms and squawking, out into the corridor.
“I’ll do it”
“Syra, I need you to really think about this first, it won’t be easy.” Fletcher’s whiskers twitched.
“I’m not chicken”
“We all know how brave you are”
“I’ll do it right now” Fletcher frowned.
“Syra, you have nothing to prove”
She closed her eyes and accessed the doorways in her mind. Memories and thoughts. Each one a different time and place. Not all of them hers.
Now, let’s start with something easy. Lift off.
She walked through a door and saw the room through two sets of eyes. She hugged her brother, and she was her brother hugging his sister.
“I’ll miss you”
“No you won’t”
“Bring me back a souvenir”
“Or at least some tissues you grot, get some rest”
“Love you too”
He boarded the ship, she headed down to med bay.
Fast forward five days. He’s landing now. Smooth, well-rehearsed. He’s made trail mix. They climb off the ship and find themselves in a desert. Pretty standard. There’s a bunker, not like ours, a real one. Buried in the ground and everything.
They go down. It’s dark, and cold. He shivers. She shivers. There’s a pale sickly yellow light. Test tubes and syringes. Cages and tanks. That’s the Symphonies emblem. At least we’re with friends down here. Empty, just about. Abandoned. Bottles are broken, research is neglected. They gather up what resources are salvageable and pack it all back onto the ship. Whatever it was, it didn’t get them here.
Fast forward a week. They should be arriving in a day now, and they’re all, fine. Happy, laughing, fine. He’s making a sandwich, with sauce the high-price prick. He’s flirting with Tressle. Geez, he never learns does he?
Fast forward three hours. Fine. Five hours. Fine. Six. Eight. I don’t.
“Locking trajectory now, Sir. We should be docked within the next 20 minutes.”
“Brilliant, thanks Marnie. Fantastic work everyone, very successful expedition I’d say”
I don’t, understand. I don’t.
“Syra, Syra what’s wrong?”
I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
“Syra, your nose is bleeding! Open your eyes” Fletcher was in her lap now, paw on her cheek pressing her eyes open.
They docked. Position locked. Doors opened. The waiting crew are there, they look. Horrified.
“I don’t understand”
He’s in our apartment. Searching the corridors. He’s trying to find me.
“I don’t. He’s”
Watching me hold his body.
Hugging our friends
“Someone get Genevieve down here now!!”
Watching me tear apart his pillow
“Syra, I need you to lie down sweetie”
Watching me watching him
Syra started to her feet and spun to look at the doorway. Empty. She wiped her nose and drew back a hand coated in blood and looked down to see it soaking into her shirt.
“I don’t understand”