Disclaimer: I own nothing of this that I write of here. I make no excuses for the liberties I take other than that they are my preference and what would fit within the admittedly limited storyline.

1

Sorry for Everything

We are the burden that we carry

From here to there to here.

--The Book of Counted Sorrows

In space, no one can hear you scream.

--tagline from a forgotten film

((A))

I feel a million years old.

I stand, surrounded by steel-frame bunks, in the officers quarters of the executive shuttle Harmina. Beyond the viewport the stars are cold and still, roaring balls of fusion, some by now flared into brief glory as supernovas…others already gone, though no one will even know for millions of years.

The ship is clean. I've hunted through every compartment, under every bench, inside what wall spaces I could access. I've taken the commode off its mounts and stared down at the steel sphincter that seals the waste storage compartment.

I still feel someone's watching me. That one brief moment, that instant of…insanity, when I looked over and saw her, dead…

I'm at least partially insane. I know the textbook definition. In the last twelve hours I've been through enough stress to crack anyone, and I've never considered myself particularly strong in the mental department. Just the intellectual.

I don't know whether I would be better off if I were truly alone onboard. Nicole is still with me. I can remember every move she made, every intonation of every word, that familiar sad look in her eyes…

I think Nicole is dead. I've seen the video…again…over. But I'm no physician. At the moment I wish I were, because Kendra probably doesn't have much longer.

I'm still not sure why I spent those few moments to get her onboard. She felt like a bag of goo and sounded like one when I put her down. Besides the basics, there's not much more I can do for her, and she needs a lot more. Immediate surgery, more like, which is part of why I'm standing here, trying to get my courage up to go in and face her…and see if she's still breathing.

It's something like an engineering problem, actually. I know how things can break, and what sort of things can be used to fix them if they break. Machines, that is. Human bodies…that's another thing entirely.

There's a pretty comprehensive autodoc onboard—at least, for an executive shuttle. It's told me that Kendra took enough damage in those seconds to kill her pretty much instantly. Fractured skull, fourteen shattered ribs, breaks in appendages too numerous to mention, a partially severed right arm, a collapsed lung…

She's still breathing with the other one, at least. The autodoc's slowed the bleeding, but there's only so much a machine can do. Thank god her RIG saved her spinal column. What I really need is a permanent stasis unit to keep her alive until we can get back to…to wherever it is we're going.

Which is nowhere, right now. Another sign of my insanity, I guess. Any normal person would be hell-bent, running tail high for Earth or some other colony world, where there's green grass and air and sky that's blue and not black all the time…where stepping outside doesn't mean suffocation and death from overheating.

Not sure why I'm hesitating. Little enough time as is. I step away from the viewport, flicking my eyes toward the doorway, half expecting to see a lurking creature there, poised with bladed arms to skewer me…

There's no one there.

I step out, into the cramped corridor, and across into the medical bay.

Kendra's v/s: pulse 186, blood pressure 40/20. I'm amazed that tentacle-thing didn't simply crush her heart, but there it is still pumping away.

It's a little hard to look at her. I've seen plenty of dead…people over the last little bit, but not many of them were this badly hurt…and still alive.

The dispenser to my right hums and clicks, and slides out a pair of non-latex, hypoallergenic surgical gloves. As I pull them on, I think…try to think…just another engineering problem. A to B to C, back to B if C doesn't work...

On the upside, she's still alive when I finish. Thank god for the autodoc. Truth, if I were ever hurt this badly, I'd rather be shot than live.

But I'm not going to give Kendra that choice. She'll live, dammit, and she's going to answer me for just why she tried to do what she did. Part of me hates her. Part of me wants to make her hurt for what she did.

But, truth as well, I didn't much care for Kynes, M.D. I didn't know him long enough, whereas Kendra…

Anyone who spends hours guiding you through corridors and cargo bays infested with what look like the refugees from hell deserves at least a little consideration, even if she left me to die. Doesn't mean I will.

See? I'm insane. Another perfect example.

On the downside, she's still a mess. The autodoc doesn't have the capabilities to deal with stuff like this.

The Ishimura does, though.

The thought pops into my mind, at once terrifying and alluring. At the same time, something else tickles my brain. RIG…Kendra's rig kept her from permanent paralysis, bracing her spine and taking a lot of the impact from that tentacle. Why's that so important?

I make my way forward and settle into the pilot's seat with a glance to my right. No lurking things there.

Then I look back. Still nothing.

I bring up the Harmina's ship-to-mothership com system and tap into the Ishimura. It asks me for ident and I key in a standard CEC maintenance code.

A glance to the right. Behind me. Still nothing. The hairs at the back of my neck are standing straight up. Out the main viewport, Aegis shows as a fractured sphere with a massive hole blown into the northern hemisphere. I'm surprised pieces of the planet aren't flying all over the system by now.

//Personnel logs, location/time:

Ident? The computer asks. This time I key in a slightly more guarded CEC maintenance password. The screen clears.

Crew member name:

//Brennan, Nicole, M.D.

The com system chatters with the Ishimura for awhile. I sit back in my chair and rub at my eyes. I look over at the copilot's seat, then twist and look behind it.

Hope and fear seem to be running rampant all over this system.

Brennan, Nicole, says the holo screen before me. M.D., Ph.D. Chief Medical Officer.

Status: unknown.

I blink. In all my time dealing with tech, I've never seen a computer show an unknown status. It runs along a scale from healthy and living to dead, and various states in between, but any comp properly synched with a RIG is always accurate. RIGs don't often fail…unless they take a hit like Kendra's.

//Location, RIG

The screen blurs, then focuses

Crew Quarters, Sleeping Bunks B, Crew Deck.

I think I glared at the screen for awhile. I don't know how long I did that for. When I look away, the seat to my right is still empty. No one else around. Kendra definitely isn't getting up.

The crew quarters? That means that Nicole's RIG is in the crew quarters. The rest of her might be somewhere else…but then the comp would have told me she was disconnected, or something similar.

Crew quarters. My god. Not dead and lunging at me, not down on Aegis, now a fractured ball of rock, turned into light. Somewhere on the Ishimura after all…

Back on that ship.

In the crew quarters, there's probably Nicole's RIG, with part of her spine still attached to it, sending conflicting reports to the ship's computer and out to me, and Nicole is dead or…or wandering around somewhere onboard, drooling, bleeding, and lashing out at everything that comes near.

But that doesn't make any sense. She's dead…I saw her do it, wherever she was. It wasn't saline she'd put into her arm, and even if it was just some ancient drug—diazepam, or the like—that was still enough to kill her.

Why, Nicole? For Unitology? For that bunch of fucked up freaks? For Mercer, who wanted to bring these things back to Earth? For what?

I've found I can't close my eyes anymore. They just won't shut but for quick, flashing blinks. Learned reflex by now, I guess. Can't relax…sure as hell can't sleep. I probably won't sleep unless I lock myself in a 6x2x2 box with multiple locks and steel walls…and light all over the place so I can see I'm alone in there.

I shake my head. Off the subject, off the subject. I'm doing that too much now. No sleep, no stimulants, nothing to keep me sharp. I'm dulling down, like a used drill bit. I was thinking about Nicole…

What if she is alive? She's probably not…what the hell, Isaac, she isn't?...but if she is

If she is…even if she's one of those things…there's got to be something I can do, or earth scientists can do, to help her.

If I ever get back to Earth, that is.

Too much stuff. Too much that doesn't make sense. I still haven't figured out who it was who guided me through the mining deck, or who it was who got onboard with me on the Ishimura, went down to the planet with me and then vanished. Nicole? Another hallucination? And if I was just hallucinating her over there, behind the seat, then who unlocked the cabin door when Kendra had locked it? I didn't, I know that.

There's another reason I can't even close my eyes. Nowhere's safe. It hasn't been since the Kellion crashed.

Does it even have to make sense now, though? Nicole's RIG is in Crew Quarters. Even if it isn't on her anymore…it's something. It's very hard to get a RIG off without someone taking it off willingly.

Or maybe I'm crazy. Maybe Nicole's dead, and I misread the status into something interesting because I don't want her to be dead. I look back at the holographic screen, more carefully this time

Status: unknown

//Location, RIG

Crew Quarters, Sleeping Bunks B, Crew Deck.

Until I see another glimpse of that damned ghoul Nicole, I'll trust my eyes, thanks.

But first…probably something I should have done immediately after I lifted off. Even if I'm just hallucinating, I'll probably die somehow out here. I'm getting weirder every minute I stay awake.

I sync my RIG into the shuttle's system and dump all of my video log of the past twelve hours into it, from my waking up two hours out from the Ishimura on the Kellion to now. Saved, copied, and saved again.

Then I sit and think for awhile, about what the hell I'm doing.

I really am insane. It's kind of funny, really. The more I think about it, the funnier it gets, the more…

I start laughing. It's ugly. It sounds like one of those witch cackles from 19th-20th century mechanized Hollowseve toys. Damned waste of space, those things were.

Then I cut off and swing toward the door to the corridor. A sound out there, maybe—dry scratching. My cutter hangs from a strap on my tool belt—an anachronism, as it's partly real leather and only mostly steel. I snatch it up and step up to the doorway.

It's brightly lit, and empty.

I back slowly away from it, until my back hits the pilot's chair. Then I reach behind me with one hand and start shutting the shuttle's doors. Lavatory, med bay, crew and officer's quarters, briefing room/mess hall. I seal each section off from the others, then open only the med bay and return to the doorway. It's still empty, and the corridor beyond.

I step out, left and right, and go to the med bay. Kendra's still there, breathing if anything a bit easier. No one else.

I go over the whole ship again, down to the cabinets underneath the sink in the officer's quarters. Nothing. I feel like something's crawling around wherever I'm not looking, going here and leaving just when I step in. The whole ship is lit up, every room. I go back to the bridge and shut all the doors again.

Then I sit down, and look over at the space between the copilot's chair and the wall.

Nothing there.

I punch up the video logs and open a new one. The 1mm camera swings to follow me. I stare down at it.

"This is Engineer First Class Isaac Clarke, formerly of the Kellion, dispatched on a deep-space mission to restore communications to the mining ship Ishimura. I am making this report…" I glance over at the empty seat, then at the chronometer on my suit. "…nine hours and forty two minutes after our arrival on the Ishimura and several hours after our departure. The video logs with this message catalogue everything up to this moment. I am now on the Ishimura's executive shuttle, on the bridge. Computer Specialist Kendra Daniels is the only other survivor, and she is seriously injured."

For the first time in what seems forever, I feel my eyelids drooping. Not a good sign. I need stims, or that old fallback, coffee. But first, to finish this. My voice doesn't sound as rusty and disused as I feel it should be. I haven't talked to someone in…

An hour. Less than an hour, actually, since I brought the Harmina into a geostationary orbit close enough to the Ishimura to see it…but not close enough to collect any unwelcome guests.

I clear my throat and continue. It's insanely funny for another minute, me sitting here, being all solemn, with a half-dead person in the med bay and half a thousand half-living creatures off in that ship over there, and I'm talking as if it's my last will and testament.

Well, maybe it is. After all, I was crazy enough to save Kendra's life even after she left me to die, and I'm definitely crazy to even consider…what I'm considering.

"I'm making this video log in case my body isn't found and no one knows what happened. You'll have found this shuttle in orbit around the remains of Aegis VII—that is, unless I actually survive and bring it back to people. I'm planning on returning to the Ishimura, to get aid for Specialist Kendra Daniels and search for Chief Medical Officer Nicole Brennan. Her RIG shows her as being in the Crew Quarters. As soon as I'm aboard I'll send this shuttle back out, maybe with Kendra onboard, and only bring it back in when I'm done. That way there'll at least be a record."

I pause, staring out at space. I'm not a poet, but at that moment it looked like the mouth of hell.

"If I didn't come back from that ship, do us all a favor and nuke that damned thing. If anyone is left alive onboard…they'll probably consider it a blessing. Clarke out."

With that I save the file, stand, and go down to get some coffee from the officer's quarters. Then I come back, set the cup down, and plot in a course for the Executive Shuttle dock of the USG Ishimura.

Part of me feels like a man whose been given a pardon turning around and walking right back to the electric chair, willingly.

But part of me is feeling a really weird thing: hope.

((A))

A/S: I realize it's unfinished. I finished the game itself yesterday morning, and frankly hated it. Thus, creative license and a chance to let myself sleep at night…seriously, I think I get too involved with the characters in these damned games…

And writing this at 11 p.m. definitely isn't helping my state of mind. Ta ta.

K. Stramin