Space: A Short Story by James M Smith
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Adam’s head was slow, grey, foggy. That kind of mental molasses that you have to work through after awakening from a deep sleep or a fevered dream. The sucking whoosh of air hoses and the cacophony of sirens helped lead him out of slumber and into the panicked crisis of waking reality.

Warning, Unit 2442 de-pressurizing. Suspended animation ceased. Immediate resurrection procedure activated, said the slightly feminine computerized voice. She repeated the message. Warning, Unit 2442...

As best he could in his hazy condition, Adam opened his suspended animation bay and climbed out on to the ship’s cold metallic grate. He groped around along the wall until he found the large green “All-Clear” button. He pressed it and silenced the alarms. A cheerful bell tone alerted the ship that everything was now, in fact, just fine.

Except that it wasn’t. Adam was awake, halfway through a four year journey.

That realization had yet to cross Adam’s mind yet though; he was still reeling from the nauseousness often attributed with long distance suspended animation. Under ordinary circumstances the “resurrection process,” as it was called, would have been done very gradually, starting roughly fifteen days before the ship would enter the orbit of it’s destination. The life support systems would begin thinning the chemical cocktail that slowed the body to a near death state and gradually replace it with much need salts and sugars to jump start the bodily systems.

Adam’s body did not get that luxury however and his stomach almost immediately tried to expel the mixture. The result was a splattering of bluish-white vomit across the floor. His head spinning, his stomach revolting, Adam leaned against the cool metallic wall of the spacecraft and sank to his knees, passing back into a half delirious state.

It must have been a few hours later (or at least felt that way since there wasn’t any real way to tell time inside the life-support bay) when Adam came to. He still felt nauseous but at least the need to puke had passed. Looking around at the rows upon rows of glass coffins stacked upright next to each other in perfect polyhedral symmetry; his was the only side out of alignment in this perfect human chrysalis. Only then did the severity of his situation dawn on Adam. It was at this point that the tiny voices of panic and terror began to resonate in the back of his mind.

He fell down to his hands and knees and crawled toward the base of his now defunct stasis chamber. He found a loose hose and attempted to reattach it to the pod. Eventually he got the piece slipped on and it stayed in place. Adam sighed with relief. That had been a close call. If he’d not been able to repair his pod then he would have been forced to ride the rest of the 700 some-odd days until their ship reached its destination in complete isolation. Adam would be surrounded by nearly a quarter of a million humans and not a soul to talk to for over two years. That’s how people went mad. A trip like that might make a man search for ways to check out early...

Adam grimaced and shook his head trying to clear out such morbid thoughts. Slowly rising to his feet, he steadied himself against the large lid of the chamber. It was sturdy and made of the latest polymers and carbon alloys. Light weight, but nearly indestructible. He turned himself around and slid back into the reclined position of the pod. Lying on his back with his face towards the lid, Adam felt up his left arm for the point at which the nurses had installed an IV receiver before take-off. He found the small metal hole just to the left of the main vein running up his arm. The fingers of his right hand felt for the chord of the stasis pod’s internal circulatory system. Finding the thin tubing he pulled it towards his hand, sliding it upwards towards where the needle attached to the injector hung limply. Holding the syringe-like ending with his free hand he gave the device a quick shake. A few drops of liquid spilled out into the air. Good, he thought, the fluid is still flowing correctly. He slid the needle into the receiver on his arm and within seconds felt the hot burning as the stasis fluids flowed back into his veins.

Plugged in, Adam reached for the lid of his pod and shut the door. Once more his reality was bathed in darkness.

And Adam stayed in darkness. Waiting, patiently, for that moment when his waking consciousness would end and his body would once more slip into slumber for the remainder of his trip. He felt nauseous again as the blackness enveloped him and Adam slept.

When he awoke the second time there was no clamor of claxons, no flashing lights. In fact, only the opposite. There was now an oppression of silence and a terrible emptiness. The first thought racing through Adam’s mind as he awoke was simply, I’m dead.

In a panic Adam kicked his legs flinging the pod’s door open wide. As the colder air from outside the pod entered, Adam’s eyes adjusted to the dim blue light that the ship’s electronics emitted. He hadn’t gone back into hibernation, he’d merely gone to sleep. I might as well be dead, his brain clarified.

Panic grew in the pit of Adam’s stomach mixing with the drugs there already causing him to be sick yet again. The nutrients in the blue soup fed by the pods would sustain a sleeping human for years but it was hardly a meal. Hunger gnawed at Adam as he fought to keep the liquids inside him this time.

He got up out of the pod and walked around the steel-like grating that served as a walkway for his row. The chilly air of the ship’s chamber felt calming to him. Deep breaths Adam. He thought. Don’t panic. There must be a contingency plan in case something like this happens.

In the cool dim light of the other stasis pods Adam searched for something, anything that would suggest what his next move should be. He found nothing. Only metal, and wires, and empty space. The rest of the ship had been sealed off to conserve power since no humans were needed to pilot the vessel. Even this room, possibly the most important cargo hold aboard the ship, was kept barely warmer than a winter day and lit by nothing but external sources. The entire ship was designed to get them to their destination safely, but cheaply. After all, everyone on board would be asleep for the full four year journey, right?

Adam returned to his half-open pod tired and defeated. His stomach still ached for some morsel of food. He hadn’t found any. If i plug back in, he thought, I won’t starve. I’ll still be hungry but I’ll survive. My stomach will think it’s starving while my body will be getting the nutrients it needs to keep going. Adam felt alone. Adam felt helplessness sinking in. Adam began to cry, and eventually, Adam fell asleep.

Over the next several wake/sleep cycles exhaustion kept Adam from getting out of his dysfunctional pod. The groggy hours he was awake were filled with a spiralling half-drugged depression. It wasn’t until around his seventh time awake that his muscles began to grow sore from lack of movement. In stasis the muscles were routinely worked by small electric pulses to keep in shape. When Adam’s pod ran the resurrection cycle, that process stopped. If he wanted to still be able to walk by the time this ordeal was over he’d have to get up and move around himself.

Unplugging the IV from his arm he pushed himself off the sterile white padding of the pod using the door as support. He’d stopped bothering to close his pod door shortly after giving up hope that the stasis chamber would work again in-flight. Now he just left it open leaving himself exposed to the cool air.

Maybe I’ll catch a cold. He thought to himself, leaning on the guard rail to support his weakening legs. He looked out across the empty space at the vaguely human shapes sleeping in their functioning pods. Adam felt jealous and sad seeing them just lying there. He wished his pod worked. He wished he wasn’t alone.

Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and just pass away, quietly, in my sleep. He thought with an unintended smile. When Adam realized he was smiling, he shook his head and felt a renewed wave of fear wash over him. Why was the thought of dying making me smile? he asked himself. Almost as a response, his stomach growled. Adam returned to his pod and tried to get some sleep.

The next few wake/sleep cycles all passed about the same. Adam would wake up groggy from the chemical soup he’d been injected with via the IV. His stomach would ache from lack of actual food and nauseous from those same life sustaining chemicals. Light-headed he would slowly get to his feet and walk as best he could using the cold industrial steel railings for support. As he walked, Adam would stop at several of the pods on his row. Each time he’d wipe away the slight condensation that had accumulated on the fiberglass lids and stare inside at its sleeping occupant.

Were they aware of him? Did they know that only a few feet away a man was living out a nightmare scenario on a trip he had spent his whole life waiting for? Of course not! While Adam withered away in almost constant agony they all slept on in a chemically induced dream world of modern technology and the aspirations of all mankind. Only Adam had to suffer.

He added bitterness to the mental list of his daily routines.

I could just end it all. Find a way to open a vein or slip through the airlock. Worst comes to worst I could always just not plug back in and ACTUALLY starve to death instead of just feeling like I am all the time. By around the 31st wake/sleep cycle Adam had begun to have this conversation with himself. It was a sort of desperate mental poker game with his sanity on one side, and his final exit on the other. He wasn’t actually serious about it, not yet anyways. It was more just something for him to think about in the hours and hours he had to himself.

“Of course if I did go through with it I’d probably be somewhat famous.” Adam spoke aloud in a raspy voice. “The first person to commit suicide in space.” His voice echoed slightly in the hold bouncing off the flat fiberglass doors of the other pods. “Thousands of people and only me to talk to.” He chuckled to himself about that. “Thousands of people and little ol’ lonely me.” He plugged the IV back in and curled up into a ball in the cramped pod, crying himself back to sleep.

“Suicide is painless.” Adam said aloud suddenly, he was on another one of his walks. “That was the M*A*S*H theme song.” He had decided the best way to keep his sanity was to go over everything he could remember, methodically and precisely. A sort of brain exercise for when he was exercising his body. Today was theme songs to classic old American TV shows. “‘I’ll Be There For You’ was Friends. Let’s see, there was that one show based on those fantasy novels... that was just an instrumental though I think. Let’s not count that one.” Adam continued to rattle off as many as he could remember while he walked the nearly 250 foot circular catwalk of his pod’s row. He’d tried climbing up and down the ladders to the other levels but eventually had decided since they were all pretty much the same, it didn’t make much sense to walk anywhere but on his level.

“Oh, hi Linda,” he said, stopping in front of a pod eight down from his own. According to the nameplate at the base of the pod it belonged to a Linda Lopez. The alliteration in her name amused Adam. He imagined Linda had a good sense of humor. A little corny but hey, sometimes that was ok with Adam.

“Hey Linda, do you remember the name of the theme song to Cheers?” he said, addressing the sleeping woman. “Where everybody knows your name was how the first little bit went, but I don’t think that was the title of the song. Do you remember?” he said pausing for an answer that would not come. “Oh, am I putting you on the spot? Maybe you’re right, maybe that is the title of the song too. Thanks Linda.” He patted the stasis pod then continued on his circuitous loop.

Coming up on nearly a year of being awake in the cold, dark, captivity of the spacecraft had left Adam’s body weak and his mind nearly broken. He had begun to see things in the darkness and was now openly conversing with them. He woke up more and more now either breathless or screaming. He still couldn’t end it though. It wasn’t out of a need to go on, or a burning desire to live and keep struggling through this hardship. The answer was much more basic than that. He hadn’t found anything to do the job quickly anywhere inside the cargo hold. The only option left to him was starvation and he had just been too frightened to attempt it.

He lay there thinking over again and again what he had done wrong with his life that he had been chosen to suffer through such a fate. That had to be why it was just him; why he had been chosen. He’d committed some cardinal sin and had been sentenced to suffering in this everlasting purgatory. It was the only logical explanation Adam could come up with as he walked in an endless circle around the hundred or so pods on his level. All working, all pristine, except his. Except for the sinner’s. When he finally made his way back to his pod, he collapsed inside, completely worn out. The hospital white padding had long since yellowed and was now worn so thin that bits of metal and hard plastic shown through when Adam wasn’t lying inside.

He reached for the IV to plug himself back in for the night. You could not do it, came an all too unfamiliar voice. You could leave it out, just for tonight. See how you felt in the morning. “No, it will hurt.” Adam whispered to the darkness. How do you know? You haven’t even tried.

Adam paused, considering the voice’s point. He hadn’t tried not plugging it in. Not yet anyways. How did he know it would hurt? He probably wouldn’t feel nauseous anymore. And maybe the headaches would go away too. Maybe, just maybe, he’d fall asleep and never wake up again. Staring off into the inky black space of the center of the cargo hold Adam thought about this. About all of this, and tears welled up in the corners of his eyes. He didn’t bawl like he used to, this was just a simple, little cry.

And then he plugged the IV in and fell asleep. He’d have plenty of time later to decide. There was all of next year still ahead of him, after all.