“Night! See you in the morning.” I waved as I entered my new room.
I looked around with a bittersweet sigh. It felt so weird to no longer be in a shared dorm with Gem and Peggy. The light cream walls were strangely bare and the empty bookshelf seemed hollow, reflecting back how empty I felt inside. I didn’t feel comfortable there. Or safe. But I did love having my own bathroom and shower.
I stepped under the water and felt my muscles relax as the hot water washed over me. The world was silent apart from the gentle rush of the water. I grinned as I relished the feeling. I’d not felt comfortable showering in a while but Andy wouldn’t have let them put cameras in here too, he was too furious when we told him there were cameras in our dorm bathrooms after we got back.
For the first time since we had been released from the trial, I was fully alone. Even when we were first released back to the base, we were locked in our old dorm together. Every time I showered or went to the bathroom I was aware of the cameras and could hear the others talking or thinking through the door but not now. Even when we were using the changing rooms I wasn’t alone, Peg and Gem would come with me.
Now there was nothing. Nothing to distract me from my thoughts. Nothing to stop me from spiralling into them. I swallowed nervously, knowing the water was flowing over my skin but feeling strangely distant from it, almost as if I wasn’t in my body at all. I shook my hands out roughly almost smacking the tiled wall, hoping the sensation would bring me back like it sometimes did when I was having a flashback. They’d been happening ever since we’d returned. I’d see the planet explode, feel the ship shake and be buffered by the debris from a dying planet. The cries from the people on board my ship as they mourned the death of the ones we couldn’t save would block out almost all other sounds except Cory fighting to keep Gem alive. That sound echoed in my head until I wanted to cry. Sometimes I did cry. I’d find myself sobbing and gasping for breath, feeling exactly how that other ship would have felt as the air leaked out and they slowly suffocated.
Does anyone need more snacks? The servBot’s just dropped some off for me. Cas’ thought shook me out of my spiral and I realised I was wasting hot water.
I’m good thanks. I thought back as I stepped out of the shower and changed into my pyjamas, breathing heavily and wiping the tears off my face.
I lay back on my mattress, trying to focus on physical sensations like Doctor Suel had taught me.
This mattress is softer than the ones in the dorms. I thought as I forced stretched out, pulling my blanket up to my chin.
Are you really surprised the tutors have the best beds? Cory thought back with a chuckle.
I don’t think these are much different, I think you're just used to the prison. Or sleeping on the ship, that’s like sleeping on a big slab of metal. Gem replied sleepily.
It is a slab of metal. Peggy laughed.
Yeah but she’s our slab of metal now. Cas shot over, clearly grinning.
I’m sleeping. Night, love you all. Gem barely managed the thought before falling asleep.
There was a chorus of night in reply.
“I told them. I told them! Why wouldn't they listen to me? The mines are collapsing in on themselves. There’s an explosion coming, it’s going to wipe out the planet! Everyone is going to die!” Peggy clutched the back of my chair as we sped towards Irision, tears streaming down her face.
My heart was pounding but my head was clear. I needed to do this, I needed to save everyone. I could do this. I had to.
“Come on, we can make it in time. You’ve already spoken to the planet leaders. They’re organising an evacuation. It’ll be okay.” I checked the planet scan one final time before pulling in to land with shaking hands.
A huge group of people swarmed out towards our ship as we disembarked but we were too late. The ground shook threateningly below me and my head whipped around, trying to make sense of it. The crowd continued staggering towards us, falling to the ground and trampling those in their path. My heart raced as I looked back towards my crew, seeing only the distorted faces of Peggy and Cory grimacing in fear and pain as they realised we were dying.
Cas’ scream split the air and I turned desperately to find him. He should have been with me! I know he was on the ship a second ago. He cried out again and again, agony making his screams sharp.
Dying. He was dying.
I needed to do something. I needed to help.
I couldn’t see him. I turned, my eyes scanning the darkening planet so quickly the world was spinning, but I couldn't see him. The terrified faces of the Irisians with blood pouring from their eyes were crowding me, making it hard to breathe. I tried to ignore it and push past them, needing to find my crew. I could hear their cries echoing in my head and out loud and I needed to help.
I saw a familiar shape staggering forwards in the swarm. Gem. Thank the Gods.
I rushed to her side and grabbed her arm, opening my mouth to speak but I stopped when I realised there was no need. Blood from the gaping wound in her side was pouring down her uniform and soaking my hands.
“Arie, I think I’m dying.” Gem whispered shakily before crumpling into my arms, blood slicking her body and making it hard for me to grip her.
“No!” I sobbed, lowering her to the ground as gently as I could as tears poured from my eyes.
My hands gripped her flight suit as tightly as possible as I gently lay her on the ground, staring at her pale lifeless body. Her head rolled back limply and I saw trails of blood trickling from her mouth and nose.
Fuck. Was all I could think. I wanted to give her comfort or love if she could still hear me but no words would come out. Only overwhelming heartbreak.
“NO! Gem! Don’t leave me! Please!” Cory sobbed, lurching towards us.
He dropped to our side, taking Gem from me and holding her tight. The noises of despair coming from his mouth were inhuman but I’d heard them before. They weren’t any easier to deal with this time. He looked up at me and my breath caught. Blood was pouring from his eyes and dripping onto Gem’s motionless body.
“You’ve killed us.” He told me. “You killed all of us.”
The earthquake intensified and I cowered on the floor as I watched the Irisians fall slowly to the ground, their bodies writhing, their faces contorted by pain. I crawled towards to nearest person, wanting to help. Their bodies were reflecting weirdly in the low light but as I got closer I stopped in shock. It was the sun, dully reflected by the blood coating the corpses.
I pushed myself away from them as vomit rose in my throat and looked around desperately for the rest of my crew. I couldn’t let them die here, surrounded by horror.
Finally, I saw Peggy and Cas, both covered in blood but somehow still climbing the mountain bodies to reach us. As I watched Peggy cried out and fell down, her body twitching before falling still as it finally gave up. I needed to get to them.
I stood shakily and staggered towards Cas who was still standing, tripping and stumbling over the bodies separating us. I went down. Hard. My hands landed in something squishy, warm and wet but I couldn’t bring myself to look at what it was. All I could do was crawl and drag myself over the bodies between us until I reached them. Peggy was lying still, the blood slowing to a gentle flow from her mouth and ears but Cas was still moving, crawling determinely. His eyes were glossy as he stared around at the carpet of bodies and blood.
I finally reached him, grabbed tightly and sobbing, apologising and begging him to survive.
Please. Just survive. I need you. I’ve lost everyone else.
He stared at me with fury in his cloudy, bloodshot eyes.
“You could have stopped all of this.” He managed weakly before coughing, his chest convulsing frantically.
My hands fluttered to his face uselessly as I tried to work out how to help, trying desperately to recall the first aid and medical training we’d had. There was nothing I could do.
“No, no. Please Cas, hold on. I’ll do anything.” Blood dripped down my face and splashed onto his.
He tried to talk but blood bubbled out of his mouth, the only sound was a wet gurgle.
“Please Cas! I love you, hold on. Please! Come back to me.”
I couldn't control my sobbing as he choked one last time and fell still, the blood still making its way slowly down his face.
My crew was dead.
I’d killed them. I did this to us.
A loud bang went off behind me and I whipped my head around. The Guardians were descending upon us, holding guns and batons. I couldn’t bring myself to care. I’d lost my crew. I’d lost everything that mattered to me. I clutched Cas’ body as I watched them march closer, trying to block out the squelches and crunches coming from the bodies they were walking over but then I saw who they were focused on. Cory was somehow still alive, he was trying desperately to resuscitate Gem, pounding on her chest and breathing into her mouth. Hope flared in me briefly and I pulled myself to my feet. I had to stop them, I could save Cory. I needed to. My eyes were fixed on the Guardians as I raced towards him, stumbling over bodies as the planet continued to shake but determined to reach him before the Guardians did. I slipped, barely managing to stay on my feet and managed another few steps before falling hard this time. I looked up, preparing myself to continue running but I was too late. They’d reached him before me.
One lifted their gun and held it against Cory’s head.
“NO!” The word tore its way out of my mouth but he didn’t even look away from Gem.
The shot rang out across the space between us and I watched as Cory crumbles forwards over Gem’s body.
Now. Now my entire crew was dead.
There is no point living without them. I can’t. I don’t want to.
Despair and hopelessness spread through me as I watched the Guardians continue marching forwards. My heart thumped in time with their steps, certain that it was racing towards its last beat but not caring. I looked back towards the face I love so much, knowing that death was coming for me and that I’ll never be able to see him again.
I’ll never be able to see my crew again.
I’ll never be able to fly with them again.
The Guardians reached me. I waited for death but it didn’t come. Instead, they hauled me to my feet, dragging me towards a ship I hadn’t noticed before. It looked out of place on this planet, it was too nice, too clean.
Ice slipped through me as I realised why it was here. Who was instead.
A hysterical wail built in my chest, forcing its way upwards. I could feel it fighting to get out as I fought against the Guardian’s cuff like grip on my arm.
“Hello again.” His voice came out of the Guardians helmet beside me.
My eyes forced their way open, still trapped in the dream. I was sweating and nauseous, my face damp with tears and my heart was pounding wildly.
I gripped the duvet, trying to force down the scream that was still trying to escape.
That’s not how it happened. We all survived. We saved thousands of people. I tried to convince myself that I had done everything I could to save them but in that moment, I felt like I could have done more.
We helped save thousands of people and my crew survived. We did the best we could… But hundreds still died. Gem almost died, did die multiple times! Cory lost two fingers, Peggy will always blame herself for what happened, Cas will always blame his dad. But they're wrong… They should be blaming me. I could have done more. I could have saved more people. They died because of me.
My chest clenched again and refused to release. Sweat gathered on my top lip as queasiness raced through me, curdling in my stomach.
No. Stop thinking about it. I shouted at myself, unable to deal with the guilt that sat on my chest like a boulder.
I rolled over trying to get my breathing under control and force myself to fall back to sleep but it was too quiet.
Once I realised that, the silence became deafening. My heartbeat was the only sound I could hear. It seemed to be getting faster, pounding loudly in my ears. Racing faster than I could cope with.
I can’t breathe.
My breath was coming in gulps but it wasn’t enough. No matter how much I sucked in it still didn’t feel like enough.
This must be how the people on the other ship felt as the oxygen leaked out of the hole in the side. I realised as I gasped, unable to breath and getting dizzy.
I was suddenly freezing and my hands shook as I fumbled with the blanket, trying to wrap it tighter around myself but it wasn’t enough. I was still freezing and shivering. Bright lights erupted in my vision and my room lazily begun to twist. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to focus on my breathing but it wasn’t enough.
Is anyone else awake? I thought to the group desperately, needing my racing heartbeat and unsteady breath to not be the only thing I could hear anymore.
I am now. Cas replied sleepily yet kindly. Everything okay?
I’ve not managed to sleep yet. Peggy thought.
She sounded sad. I knew she had spent the night so far beating herself up for what happened just like every other night.
Me either. Cory thought back.
My crew needed me to be calm and under control right now. I was their Captain and their needs were more important than my own. My breathing became easier as I focused on them.
Ship style sleepover in my room? Bring duvets and bedsquares. I asked the group, forcing my voice to sound normal.
Cory, can you wake up Gem and bring her in? She’ll hit me if I wake her up again. Peggy replied, a slight smile in her voice.
Sure. I’m in with her anyway.
I breathed again, deeper this time, feeling slightly relaxed by the knowledge my friends were coming and I didn’t have to be alone. Them being near me always helped and knowing that they were struggling too made it easier for me to be stronger. I am the Captain, I have to be strong. Even now.
I was scrubbing my face with my hands, trying to erase any trace of the bad dream and the beginning of a panic attack when a gentle knock came from the door. Cas stood outside, his duvet trailing from his shoulders and his eyes not fully open.
“Bad dreams again?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak just yet.
He reached out, wrapping his duvet and arms around me, holding me tightly. I clung to his familiar warmth feeling the ache in my chest lessen slightly. Breathing in his comforting smell, I felt able to talk.
“I saw everyone I love die.” I tried not to let my voice shake.
He pulled back too soon and looked at me, concern evident in his now awake eyes.
“We saved everyone we could. We did our best and saved so many people.” He smiled gently before leading me back to my bed and lying down on the bedsquares that I hadn’t bothered removing earlier.
“Next time, we’ll save them all.” I promised, not wanting to lie down before the rest of my crew entered.
“There won’t be a next time.” Gem entered with a yawn, snapping her squares onto the bottom on my bed and dropping onto them. “They won’t be such ignorant assholes in the future.”
“I hope.” Cory laid down next to Gem, who was already snoring softly, his arm encircling her protectively.
“I’ll make them listen.” Peggy promised passionately as she curled up in her usual position on the other side of me.
Surrounded by my friends, their gentle breathing filling the room I felt myself be able to relax. Peggy’s snuffling breaths eased into long exhales as she finally fell asleep. Now certain that the rest of my crew were sleeping soundly, I allowed myself to feel tired. I focused on the sound of Cas’ breathing, watching his chest move up and down in the gentle light from the screens and matched my own breathing to his rhythm.