A/N: Thank you so much for the incredibly flattering reviews, so far! ^^ To be honest, upon starting this fic I knew going into it that there's not much of a fandom (with only 6 fics posted at the time in the category here on this site) so I was prepared to not receive *any* feedback, despite how daunting that is for a task like writing a long and plotty multi-chapter fic. But I had to get this fic out of my head, after rewatching the movie so many times and reveling in its sheer brilliance, and wishing there were a continuation…so I pressed on with it. And I'm pleasantly surprised—shocked, even!—at how many are reading this, and how many are enjoying it!
So read on…I can be a bit of a slow writer sometimes when real life gets in the way, but I will try to update as often as possible! Reviews are food for my writer's soul.
Not much action in this chapter…just a lot of character development and interaction. But there will be some exciting stuff in the next two chapters and beyond. At any rate, enjoy!
Question is, what would be more stupid—trusting that the ship will hold to see another day, when it's kept me alive for all these years? Or trusting somebody who's desperate enough to say anything, just as I'm about to carve a steak out of his girlfriend?
We're meant to move on…and we're meant to survive. And now, it's more important than ever.
Nadia startled awake, with an uneasy feeling as though she'd had a bad dream; when she tried to recollect what she'd dreamt about, though, her mind drew a complete blank. She drew herself up on her elbows on the bedroll and attempted to shake off the last vestiges of sleep. It was light, and the sound of the ocean waves breaking across the nearby beach reminded her of where she was. Tanis.
Beside her Bower was on his side, softly snoring. He looked so young, in repose—his face had momentarily lost the etchings of concern and pragmatic worry that he carried during waking hours, and seemed peaceful, even content. His eyes fluttered underneath his lids and she found herself absently wondering what was running through his mind in the last stages of REM sleep.
She recalled their exchange before she'd fallen asleep, and the discomfort it had sown in her. You don't need an excuse. I want you there.
Her attention was drawn to movement next to her. Bower's eyes were moving more rapidly behind his lids, and his brow was deeply furrowed. He was twitching. A nightmare? She watched, sitting up beside him, as his breathing became more erratic and his frown intensified.
Finally she took pity on him and shook his shoulder gently, whispering to wake him. "Bower. Bower, wake up." When he startled awake, his sweeping gaze panicked, she shushed to calm him and spoke quietly. "It's alright. You were having a bad dream."
He sat up abruptly, clutching at her arms, panting and dazed from the nightmare. "Are…are you all right?" His other hand moved from her arm to span her waist, feeling over her clothes and along her rib cage for the bandage that covered her stab wound. She squirmed against the onslaught of his prying fingers.
"I'm fine—stop that, wha—"
He expelled a loud sigh of relief when his fingers found the bandage, and he fell back against the bedroll, hands scrubbing at his face and then carding through his close-cropped blond hair. "God." His voice had a ragged edge.
"What was it? What were you—"
Bower shook his head. "You don't want to know. Trust me."
"…Maybe I do want to know." He met her eyes from where he lay on his back, and she held his gaze unflinchingly.
He sighed, resigned. "It was back on the ship. We were suspended and chained up in that guy's lair."
She knew where this was going. Already you've said enough, she thought, but said nothing.
"…He'd stabbed you. I yelled at him, argued with him, but…" he paused, throwing her an anguished look, "…this time he didn't listen to me about the ship." Nadia tried to keep her expression blank.
"He carved you up in front of me," he whispered.
"It was just a dream," she insisted quietly, inwardly flinching all the same. She wouldn't deny she'd harbored her own dark thoughts about what could have happened in that room. "It didn't happen."
"It could have happened." Bower sat up beside her, his eyes roving over her and coming to rest again where the bandage lay underneath her tank top. "I should have never allowed him to do that to you."
"You were in chains, hanging from the ceiling. We all were. You couldn't have stopped it."
He shook his head, determined to blame himself. "I should have never been that gullible..."
Nadia snorted. "You think you were the only one who was gullible? All I wanted was to have some time to rest and breathe, after being chased for so long. So to have someone offer to give you shelter, to let you clean your wounds, to cook for you? Yes, it should have been obvious that it was too good to be true. But I wanted to believe it as much as you did."
And maybe it had been his fault that she'd allowed herself to have just the smallest amount of trust in her fellow man, after seeing how trustworthy Bower himself was—the old Nadia, the pre-Bower Nadia, would surely have picked up on all of the red flags and gotten the hell out of there—but she would never tell him that, not now. "The blame rests just as much on me as it does on you."
She was dimly aware that he'd moved closer, that he was now not much more than a breath away from her, and that the sadness in his eyes was quickly being replaced by something else. She rose to her feet, feigning nonchalance, and made her way to the portable stove. "Besides," she threw back over her shoulder conversationally, "it was Manh who led us into the lair, remember?"
She noticed Bower had schooled his features again, emotions on lockdown, and she felt his eyes on her as she busied herself with food preparation. "Manh…do you think he made it out?" His question sounded dejected, as if he already knew the answer.
"I don't know," she answered honestly. "If he made it into a hyper bunk, perhaps he did." But it wasn't likely, she knew. Manh had drawn the creatures away from the reactor while she and Bower had restarted it. He had bought time for them, most likely with his own life.
There was instant coffee—which paled in comparison to brewed, but was preferable to nothing—and instant soup for breakfast. Most of the rations were freeze-dried and could be reconstituted with water. Nadia filled two cups with the watery brew and brought one to him, sitting back down cross-legged a further distance away than before. She noticed that Bower eyed the extra space with what was obvious displeasure.
"It makes me wonder if there are other survivors out of hyper-sleep still running around on the ship," she mused, hoping to divert his attention.
Bower looked up from his coffee in surprise. "You mean like we were? Wouldn't they be drowned?"
She pondered it. "Not necessarily. The ship is only partially submerged." She nodded at the tent's window, out to where Elysium's outer ring rose in a graceful arch above the water, miles away. "The reactor is stable. If they were able to seal themselves off from the water, they could have survived. The biolab wasn't the only self-sustaining area onboard."
"…I hadn't even thought of that."
She shifted uneasily and lowered her eyes. Of course, that means that some of the Hunters could have survived, as well. She looked up. "We have to go back there, you know."
After a beat, he nodded slowly in unspoken understanding. "…I know."
They were interrupted by someone coming through the entrance of the tent, and both of them jumped a bit in surprise—Nadia's fingers found the hilt of her concealed blade before realizing the man in the military uniform wasn't a threat, and she inwardly cursed herself for not being more aware of her surroundings. She saw Bower visibly relax; he was still on edge, as well.
"I'm sorry to barge in, Corporal Bower, Dr. Mueller," the private said, quickly saluting Bower and nodding in Nadia's direction, "but Sergeant Wilkes requests your presence immediately." When Bower rose to his feet but Nadia stayed put on the floor, the flight crewman turned to her specifically. "That means you too, Doctor."
She tightened her lips and rose to join them.
In the tent, the other members of the flight team had already materialized, and had been awaiting their arrival.
Wilkes turned to Bower and Nadia as they entered, observing the way they stood side-by-side, and she caught a glimpse of something smarmy and self-righteous in the sergeant's eyes as they raked over them. Bower fired off a quick salute, and the sergeant nodded. "At ease, Corporal." Bower's posture relaxed and he clasped his hands behind his back.
The sergeant looked from Bower to her and back again, but his sarcastic words were for Nadia. "…Keeping a close eye on your patient, Doctor? You're taking your caregiver role quite seriously." He smirked.
Her body stiffened. She bristled, fixing Wilkes with a withering glare. Beside her, Bower furtively grazed her elbow with his fingers in an attempt to keep her from reacting; don't rise to the bait, it suggested. Despite the fact that it was meant to soothe, his touch inadvertently gave her gooseflesh.
Wilkes turned and addressed the other dozen officers and enlisted personnel. "We need to begin permanent establishment of the colony. Dr. Mueller, here," he turned briefly back to Nadia, "will be the scientist primarily responsible for ecological development. She's the most qualified, and with only a few researchers left in her discipline, we're going to need to rely on her expertise. Hopefully there are some species of animals here; otherwise we might all have to suck it up and become vegetarians."
Some of the other crew members chuckled in amusement; Nadia's mouth remained firm in a grim line.
"I will need the assistance of engineers and mechanics, as well—we're going to take these capsules and dismantle them piece by piece, in order to salvage whatever we can. After the debriefing this morning, I will have each one of you rounding up the necessary personnel with the skill sets we need."
Debriefing? Nadia wondered.
As if he'd heard her unspoken question, Wilkes continued. "As for the debriefing—I've fielded over 50 questions from colonists this morning, alone." He put his hands behind his back as he continued. "People are talking; they're gossiping and whispering amongst each other about what happened to us. It's better to come clean to everyone with the truth—" he glanced at Bower and Nadia, "—at least, what we believe to be the truth, of what happened during the mission. We need to make certain that there's no misinformation spread."
Nadia bit her lip, biting back a sarcastic retort, but kept her expression neutral.
"There are only fifteen enlisted personnel left, and nearly a hundred colonists for every one of us," Wilkes continued. "This colony needs structure, and order. To maintain some semblance of it, we are going to have each member of the flight crew take eighty or so individuals, and debrief them on what officially happened to the ship, what happened to the rest of the crew, and what happened to Earth."
Nadia glanced at her companion beside her; Bower returned the look, and she read her own thoughts in his blue-gray eyes. This isn't going to be pretty.
To her surprise, he then turned to face Wilkes and said in a strong, clear voice, "Permission to speak freely, sir."
Bower only hesitated slightly. "Telling them that Earth has been destroyed…may not be the best course of action right away."
Bower shook his head. "I just think the shock of finding out that the mission went disastrously wrong and nearly failed, is in itself going to be more than the survivors can collectively take."
The sergeant clasped his hands together. "So you're suggesting we should lie to them by omission, because they're fragile snowflakes who can't handle reality?" The mockery in his question was unmistakable.
"Not lie," Bower corrected, his blond brow furrowing, "but I think that's something that can be kept from them until the timing is a little better. We don't want chaos and mass panic, Sergeant."
"And we won't have it," Wilkes quipped, his voice rising, and gestured to the far end of the tent where Nadia saw a container that had washed up with the other supplies from Elysium—the wrist-guns that she recognized Bower had used on the ship, to protect them from the Hunters. Anti-riot guns. "We'll see to that."
He would use these, without hesitation, on the very people he's supposed to protect?
Bower had seen it too, and she saw something in his eyes like horrified disbelief. "You're talking about a thousand people, who just woke up after nine hundred years—"
"Yes, and they need to know that Earth is gone." Wilkes scowled, his eyes blazing. Nadia was suddenly reminded of Gallo, and she shivered surreptitiously.
"They need to know that there will be no going back, no further transport ships, or help, or anything else coming to Tanis—that we are all that's left." The sergeant turned away as he paced the center of the tent. "They need to learn to be completely self-sufficient in every way, and they need to learn that now."
"That's exactly why we have to go back to the Elysium," Nadia interjected loudly. She could feel Bower's incredulous stare on her, but she ignored it for the moment and focused on the group of officers at large.
Wilkes turned all the way around to face her, and the look on his face suggested she was crazy—or that she'd sprouted two additional heads. "Excuse me—what?" he demanded.
"The colony's long-term self-sufficiency and survival depends on retrieval of the plant and animal embryonic vault in the biolab," she asserted firmly.
The sergeant shook his head, and inclined it in what was meant to be an intimidating gesture. "Not nearly as important as other issues that need to be dealt with here," he warned.
"We have a limited supply of rations. Ecological development must be top priority, especially because of the length of time it will take to reanimate the specimens and adapt them to the environment—"
"—So domesticate the animals and vegetation here for edibility." Wilkes fixed her with a stern look. "That's your responsibility, Dr. Mueller, as being the lone survivor of your team."
Her voice rose. "You're speaking as if there are any animals—and that is a job for an Agriculturalist, not a Developmental Biologist—"
"—Everything else can be dealt with later. You'll do your job, Doctor."
Nadia seethed; no one would get away with treating her so dismissively. All of her former decorum went out the window as she raised her voice further. "Fuck that."
The sergeant's eyes narrowed in fury. Bower took her arm, worry in his eyes, but she shrugged him off impatiently and stepped toward Wilkes. "Don't be fucking stupid, there are so many oth—"
"—This discussion is over." Wilkes folded his arms as he walked slowly to stand in front of her. "If you feel your opinions are being treated unfairly, maybe you need to reassess just what your role is, in this settlement."
Bower pressed his lips to her ear, and his words were a low hiss for only her to hear. "Stop it. You don't want to do this; not now."
Wilkes eyed them both, and directed his words to his subordinate. "Get her out of my sight."
"Wichser," she spat venomously, as Bower led her outside.
"Hey," he reprimanded her lightly, pulling her out of earshot from the sergeant's tent. "Nadia, calm down."
She tossed her hair in defiance back in the direction of the tent. "He's being fucking stupid. He won't even listen to fucking reason!"
"Hey." He held her by the shoulders. "You can't just say anything you want to him. You know that, right?" She fell silent at what she saw in his eyes; it wasn't his own embarrassment at her lack of respect towards the sergeant, but concern for her.
"Look, this guy already has it out for me," he reasoned with her, his voice soft and gravelly again. It was the voice she listened to—perhaps on a subconscious level, Bower knew that. "He's made that painfully obvious. But I don't want him to do the same to you. Don't give him a reason to."
Nadia cocked her head as she regarded him, her voice quieted as well. "So how am I supposed to convince him to let me go back to the ship, if he refuses to listen to anything I say?"
"I don't know. It'll take some time, it's not going to happen right away. Just…" The worry was evident on his face. "Don't make an enemy of him."
She frowned. "You know as well as anyone that I've handled worse—"
"—It's not that, it's politics. If we were both to piss him off badly enough, he would do something…he might even take you away from me." Bower's lips tightened. "And there would be nothing either of us could do about it."
She wanted to ask how that was even possible, but before she could the meeting had been adjourned and the other officers were exiting the tent, and Bower was pulled away to begin assembling the colonists for debriefing.
It took nearly an hour to simply assemble all of the survivors together and divide them into groups. There were just too many people—twelve hundred, Nadia upped her estimate to—and too few of the enlisted military working as enforcers. Nadia did her best to help Bower attain order, but mostly it was he alone vying for the colonists' attention. There were no microphones or voice amplifiers, so he had to practically shout to be heard over the ambient noise of the crowds.
When they'd finally quieted and turned their attention to him, Bower began to speak.
"I'm Corporal Bower. I'm—I was, also, Elysium's lead Mechanical Engineer." He clasped his hands behind his back in a gesture of deference. "I've been ordered to fill all of you in on what's happened to the mission."
A man near the front spoke up. "It's about time; we've been waiting for that." Nadia shot the man a stern glance.
Bower ducked his head as he hesitated, but only slightly. "The trip to Tanis took approximately one hundred and twenty-three years, as we were told it would before the launch. During that time, an incident happened on board that disrupted the normal flight crew rotation. Consequently, many people were awakened aboard the ship without proper authorization, and then left to their own devices while the perpetrator put himself back into stasis…"
Murmuring went up in the crowd. "'Their own devices'?" a dark-haired woman asked. "What exactly does that mean?"
"It means they were left trapped in a portion of the ship, without food or sustenance for an extended length of time," Bower explained, his face as deadpan as Nadia thought he could manage.
Many of the colonists were already horrified, and Nadia felt a vague pang of dread surface as she looked at the faces around her. This is only the beginning, folks—you haven't heard anything, yet.
"Who would do such a thing?" another asked.
"It was a member of the first flight crew team. It was only two years into the mission when these incidents occurred." The murmurs increased in volume.
"Is this person still around?" An older, graying man surveyed his surroundings fearfully. "Is it someone here with us, on Tanis?..."
Bower shook his head. "No, he's—" He paused, his eyes searching the crowd until they settled on Nadia's; only then did he turn back to the questioner. "He didn't survive the breach of the ship's hull. He's dead." He began again, more uncertainly this time. "As a result of being left to fend for themselves in the bowels of the ship, the passengers…some of them, we think, at least…were forced into…cannibalism."
More gasps. The vague dread that Nadia had felt surfacing had turned into a leaden ball of it in the pit of her stomach.
"They had to eat each other?"
"Oh my god."
There were many colonists who were simply silent, absorbing the information given. It didn't make Nadia feel any better to observe them—they were most likely missing someone here on Tanis, a friend, a relative, a spouse brought on board, and were slowly coming to the horrifying realization of what their fate might have been.
Bower continued, the anguish becoming steadily more apparent in his features. "Cannibalizing one another meant…ingesting more of the enzymatic fluid we were all fed in the hyper bunks," he went on to explain. He looked again towards Nadia, nodding in her direction. "Our resident scientist has explained that over time, this enzyme can readily change us…altering us into something else entirely. It was meant to help us adapt to Tanis, but…instead…" He faltered, meeting her eyes, and Nadia stepped forward.
"…It made them adapt to the harsh environment on the ship," she said clearly and firmly, turning around to address those around her. The survivors looked to her curiously, and she saw Bower's grateful glance out of the corner of her eye. "It altered them, fundamentally…and it changed their descendants as well."
"So can someone tell us how long exactly we've been asleep?" another in the crowd asked, and several other voices chimed in with choruses demanding the same answer. "Over a hundred years? Longer?"
"At some point we landed on Tanis," she answered truthfully, "but in the ocean, because there was no flight crew. We were under the water for eight hundred more years."
The responses were too many to catalog. People began shouting, crying, their faces marred by disbelief, horror and anger. Their reactions mystified Nadia; she'd expected some disbelief and surprise, but she couldn't quite fathom the anger. Why would they be angry, when they've been spared from the hell that was being awake and trapped on that godforsaken ship?
"People, please," Bower called out in an effort to pacify them. "Please, I need you to calm down and listen to me."
A young man called out, "Why didn't Earth send help?"
Nadia's breath stopped in her lungs, as Bower met her gaze once more and held it fast. They want the truth, but they don't know what they're asking. She could see in his eyes that he was ready to give up, that he knew he could no longer keep this crowd under control with the information.
"…Because Earth is gone," Bower said to them at length, his voice hollow with regret.
Instead of a fresh frenzy, there was silence and denial. "Gone? How could it be gone?"
"What happened to it?"
Bower grimaced. "There was a message intercepted…there's some evidence that it may have been destroyed—"
"May have? So you don't know, is what you're saying?"
"Why would you tell us this, if you aren't completely certain of it?"
"What kind of bullshit answer is that?"
The questions became progressively more heated and accusatory, and the crowd began slowly advancing on Bower, who looked as though he were at the end of his rope. She knew he had no evidence for them, no certainties, no easy answers any longer. She felt fury seething and boiling up inside of her at the sight of it.
"Stop it, all of you," she shouted above the clamor, stalking to Bower's side and placing herself directly between him and the throng of people. "You should be getting down on your knees and thanking whatever god you believe in that you're still alive…weil Sie wissen nicht!"
The colonists looked at her in confusion; Nadia bit her lip. In her anger, she'd lapsed into German again. She quelled it a bit to control herself and spoke again.
"You want answers that we cannot give you right now. There is no way we can attempt to contact Earth to verify the claim that it's gone. The ship is underwater and breached. Do you know why there are only twelve hundred of us left, out of a crew of sixty thousand?" She schooled her face as expressionless as she could. "Because the remaining 58,800 crew members were fucking eaten alive right out of their hyper bunks, by a handful of de-evolved monsters."
The shock value was successful; the colonists froze, their mouths gaping open in surprise and horror, and she took advantage of the momentary silence.
"The only reason you are all even standing here is because you were lucky enough not to get eaten. And because of a fortunate accident, we all made it out of the ship." She gazed out at the crowd and pointed behind her at Bower, her features scowling. "So don't you fucking dare attack this man for not having the answers you want—he was the one who freed you, regardless if it was intentional or not."
She didn't turn around to see Bower's face in that moment, but she imagined he was just as stunned as the rest of the colonists were that she'd given him credit for saving them. She realized, with a heavy heart, that she hadn't even thanked him herself for saving her own life—for having pushed her into the capsule and given her his air, during their ascent to the surface of Tanis.
"…Is Earth really gone?" a woman near the forefront of the group was asking, beginning to break down in tears, and Nadia's attention snapped back to the present. "Oh, my god…"
"There's nothing left," another man wailed, his voice sounding broken and shattered. "There's nothing left." The crowd dissolved into laments and expressions of grief.
Nadia swallowed past the emotion that had reared its head in her throat and raised her voice again, letting it carry above them. "—We are what's left!"
In the brief silence following her words, she went on, "You say that there is nothing left, but we are left. We are all that remains of what our species once was. And we survived."
"Everything that used to define who we are is gone," an older, white-haired man argued as he spread his hands in defeat. "There's no more art, no more music, no more history, no more scientific discoveries…"
"It's true," she admitted, canting her head toward him as her hair fell into her eyes. "There will be no symphonies written, no paintings commissioned, and I doubt anyone had the foresight to bring the entire history of everything we've ever known. But if that's all that defines us, those four things…I disagree. I say it's much more than that." She looked out into the crowd again, raising her voice. "We are the blank slates, the canvases that will be used to create everything new. Don't you see? It's our choice what defines us, now—we are pure, raw, unwritten potential. And as the seeds of a new world, we have a responsibility to see it through."
"But so many have died…"
She nodded in understanding. "There are people who have lost loved ones that were brought with them on that ship…and their sadness and loss is justified. But life goes on; we are proof of it. Your loved ones would have wanted you to live on, for them, and now you must gather your strength and persevere so that those already dead haven't died in vain."
"And what if we don't want to stay alive here, without the ones we lost?" a young woman asked, tears swimming in her eyes, and Nadia felt her heart lurch.
Despair was something she was all too familiar with. How many times had she thought about taking her own life aboard Elysium, after waking up to discover their mission to Tanis had gone horribly wrong? After her team had died? After she'd considered the possibility that no one was running the ship any longer, and that she might possibly be the only real human left awake…and that she would likely die in degrading and excruciating agony, being ripped apart as she was eaten alive?
But every time the thought had even remotely crossed her mind there had been something pulling, tugging at the edges of her awareness—something raw and primal that wouldn't let go, that demanded to be heard, telling her she would eventually go down but it would be while kicking, screaming, fighting. The survival instinct, in its most base form.
Slashing with my knife at the belly of the beast. The beast hadn't always been something as tangible as what had hunted her aboard Elysium; sometimes it had been fear itself.
Overcome with compassion, Nadia approached the woman—a slip of a girl, blonde with green eyes, perhaps younger than she was—and laid her hand gently on the girl's shoulder. "I'm sorry for your loss…but you have to be stronger than that. You have to find the will in yourself to live, even if that person's not by your side."
The girl's lips trembled. "I don't want to be alone," she whispered.
"You're not alone." She directed her words to the group at large. "None of us are alone." It struck her, then, just what she was saying—and she thought of Bower, who had stayed by her side even when she was untrusting and dismissive of him, who had prepared a place for her to sleep, had fed her and sheltered her, and asked absolutely nothing in return. Her voice lost its edge as she looked out among them.
"All we have here is one another."
The crowd had grown calm now, quieter with introspection, and Nadia moved away slightly from the throng of people. "This is home, now," she said, as a final thought. "This is my home, and your home. And it is the only home we will ever know for the rest of our lives."
She wasn't even aware of Bower's approach from behind her until she felt him enclasp her hand in his, entwining their fingers and squeezing briefly.
His head inclined ever so slightly towards hers as he stood beside her, his voice low and whispering in her ear. "Thank you." Out of the corner of her eye she saw that he was gazing at her, but she was unable to meet his eyes at that moment; there was too much that she was afraid she would see. She could only manage a slight nod in reply.
She felt it as his hand released hers, and he stepped forward to address the colonists again.
"Listen, everyone, I need your full cooperation with this." There was a clear strength now in his voice that Nadia hadn't heard since they were aboard Elysium. "I need those of you who are trained engineers and mechanics to report to me immediately. I will need to know your identification code, which is the tattooed number on the inside of your arm. Please see me if there any questions about skill sets, or designations in general…"
Nadia moved away from the group, turning away toward the beach to collect her thoughts. All around her, other groups of colonists were also being briefed on the events on the ship, expressing varied and visceral reactions—shock, fear, sadness, elation that they were among the privileged few to survive. They held one another, touching each other as though they were emotional lifelines.
They would have to thrive, and propagate the species. They had to, in order to survive. All who had lost someone precious to them would need to find that person anew, here, on Tanis, among the survivors; loss and grief left scars, but would heal eventually with the passage of time. It was just that question of time, before they would find and choose their mates.
As she looked out again at the water, at Elysium's arch rising above the waves, Nadia wondered if she'd already made her choice.
Wichser: (German) literally "wanker", but is often used to mean asshole
weil Sie wissen nicht: (German) because you know nothing (...Jon Snow)