Everen groaned. She’d been in her room when she’d first felt the pain. The worst thing she’d ever felt. Kerra sometimes sent her pain accidentally across the connection, and when she’d gotten her skin replaced, both Everen and Shandi had been too flooded with it to stand. But this pain had been so much worse. And now that she knew Shandi was gone… it was too much.
Trying to think about anything else, Everen wondered how long she’d been there. She’d fallen to the hard, plastic floor, but she was fairly certain she’d been there quite a while. Her joints were stiff and her muscles ached and she was oddly really hungry. No one had come in to see her like this. Everen was pretty sure that if she had screamed someone would have come in to see what was the matter, especially with the whole ship on high alert from Wallen Tallow’s murder.
Everen could have sworn she had been screaming, but maybe that had actually been Kerra, screaming across the connection. Either way, she was sort of glad that no one had found her collapsed on the floor like that. But only sort of glad. If she’d been unconscious for that long, shouldn’t someone have come looking for her? Was she that unimportant to the ship that no one even noticed she was gone?
Her head and heart still throbbed with pain, but she knew the real damage was all emotional. She tried to look at the problem as objectively as she could. Shandi was gone. But everyone had to die sometime, right? Shandi just left earlier than maybe she should have. Although, but any other sense of time, all three of them and everyone on the ship should have died hundreds of years ago.
Now Everen would never see her again. But she knew that. She knew that she’d never see Earth ever again. She’d come to terms with that easily. So why was this so different? It was just another tie to Earth that had been severed. And at least she still had Kerra! Shandi had never really liked Everen anyway. It was always Kerra that Everen had talked to the most.
But it was that sense of incompleteness. That sense that there was something missing now. Something deeply wrong inside. Tears started to form in her eyes. No. She had to be logical. She would get over this. Shandi had gone on to something greater, as everyone eventually has to. Everen had to let go. There was no time to be emotionally incapacitated. There was work to do on this ship. Even if she was just a little better than useless.
Everen slipped out of the clothes that she’d been in and took a quick shower. The hot water soothed her painful head and aching heart. A few tears slid down her cheeks, disguised by the water, but by the time she was toweling off, her face was placid and expressionless. She changed into a fresh uniform and left her room.
The corridors were unusually empty, and soon Everen understood why. She discovered three things in quick succession. First, she stumbled into the largest common room and discovered that Wallen Tallow’s funeral was happening. Second, after remembering that the last time she’d been fully conscious, Tallow’s funeral was scheduled for two days later, she discovered that she’d been drifting in and out of consciousness for about 48 hours. Third, she discovered that two more people had died. Their caskets—which were just their old stasis pods—sat on either side of Tallow’s.
Death, death, and more death, thought Everen. But she was somehow numb to this new development. Everything since she had woken up had felt like a dream, and this was no different. She listened as the captain finished his speech about the three brave people in the pods. She walked with the procession to the docking station on the ship. She watched as the pods were placed in the airlock and then shot into the void of space, an astronaut’s burial.
Some of the funeral-goers left right away after this. Most of these were wiping tears from their eyes. Many more stayed until the pods were a long way away, then left, shaking their heads. Some cursed the stars under their breath. The rest watched until the pods could not be seen. These all wore blank stares like Everen, but eventually, they too turned and trudged away into the twisting corridors of the ship.
Everen was left alone, watching the blackness of space through the window and wondering how Shandi had died, if she got a funeral, and if Everen would ever know the answers to these questions. Then, she internally berated herself for thinking about it again instead of being rational. In her imagination, she loaded Shandi’s body into the airlock and shot her out as well. She imagined a black hole and Shandi’s body slowly flipping end-over-end, drifting toward it. She didn’t step away from the viewport until Shandi had crossed the event horizon, tripped over the threshold of obscurity, and fallen into the endless unknown.
- - - - (I’m going to make this a chapter break here.)
Everen realized she was in the infirmary. Janna was there, writing with one hand, and massaging her forehead with the other. Everen was just sitting on the hospital bed, just staring at Janna’s stylus scratch across her tablet.
Everen blinked. “How are you?” she asked in a halting voice.
Janna looked up. “Oh good. Your eyes are finally focused. I found you just staring out that viewport by the airlock and thought it would be best if you came away from there. I asked if you wanted to come with me, but when you didn’t answer, I just kind of guided you back here, easy as a lamb. I’m glad you’re back with us.” Janna gave a slightly nervous smile.
Everen blinked again. It was as if Janna’s words had to sink through thick honey to reach her consciousness. “Sorry,” was all she could think of to say.
“It’s alright. Death is hard on everyone.”
(This chapter will be continued in the next installment, next week!)