I had never imagined that metal could voice fear of its own destruction. The back wall vanishes in flames, wailing like a dying man.
People howling. My own screams suppress every other sound, leaving only wide-open mouths on grotesque, silent masks that I will never forget. I probably look the same to them.
Fewer people howling. A pressure wave wrecks the space ship, cracks running faster than people. All my instincts vanish in that tiny moment, leaving behind a human bag of flesh and skin, pushed in the opposite direction by the shock of the explosion. I have no fear. No, that is misleading; to be paralyzed is rather different to being fearless.
“We lost the engines, commence evacuation.” The captain’s miserable voice fills the speakers. “I repeat, commence evacuation.” As if he really needed to say anything. Debris is floating chaotically between human bodies, speaking louder than any words. Brainless, I push, pull, grunt, contorting myself like a distressed snake, between the flying fragments – some instincts had found their way back into the flesh bag. I really don’t know where our instincts live; there is nothing useful left in my mind, apart from short bursts of an inner voice shouting at me: run! Maybe that is enough; you don’t need too much in the way of philosophy to run.
My left hand stretches to grab a mask from the wall. I miss it. There is no easy way to coordinate a floating body. It was a small mask you put over your mouth, just a filter. Better than nothing. My foot touches something that is flying around me. I kick fast, and gain a tiny momentum to move back to the wall. I grab the mask. Now I have time to see that the something my foot kicked is Den. He is a man that I call the closest thing to a friend. I met him on the spaceship. He is no longer my friend; his eyes are sparkling hate and anger. And mostly fear. I delayed him. It’s not really hate, more like an animal reaction to a threat on its life. He pushes me, and my back hit the wall. I think it was a hook that I hit. It punches my ribs, and I gasp but no sound leaves my mouth.
Like deadly snakes, gases hiss out from broken pipes, expanding down the corridor, colorful and poisonous. Sirens blare morbidly. On my left, a flying bird takes shape in slow motion. Beautiful. Sometimes my mind recalls it: the pocket of gas bursting from the broken pipe, forming a pair of imaginary wings – a surreal dream. Wrong. Death is by no means surreal. The other end of the corridor is my unique goal; the escape hatch is there, half closed. In a moment, the ‘bird’ embraces a girl moving a few meters ahead of me. It looks so gentle. Having no mask, she reaches out desperately, trying to grab onto something that could save her. Too late. With a last spasm, she becomes a body, still moving under its own momentum, until a flying table intervenes, a blow turning her white, frozen face towards me; her wide, unseeing eyes staring at me: black, black, black.
Rotating, she resembles a clock’s hand. Besides her, Den’s body is rotating too, in the opposite direction. It’s like they are dancing, just that they are not.
“Move!” someone growls, and thrust me up against the girl’s thin body.
“Nooo!” I cry, trying to escape, her white skin pressed into my face. Another blow stops my cry.
I arrive at the door in a weird horizontal position, unable to pass through, as my legs hit the wall. Then my head. People looking at me may think I look like a flying acrobat, but no one is looking at me. At least not in that way – I am just an obstacle for their chance to survive. A tall, red-haired woman grabs my hand, and pushes me into an emergency capsule.
“Press the orange button,” she says, her voice edgy and desperate.
The knowledge of that button was there, inside me, from the many emergency simulations we had in the past, but you can simulate everything apart from the panic killing your mind when the necessity arrives. When I press the button, blue protuberances grow from the walls immobilizing my body. They are soft and rigid at the same time. Like my mind. There is the smell of ozone around me, and a sour taste in my mouth stirring the memory of the poisonous gases, even when logically I know that I am safe now. Safe from those gases.
“Take care,” the woman says, her edgy voice carrying a touch of gentleness and sadness, and I see tears in her eyes. Every time I replay that moment I have the feeling that she pronounced my name too, but I can’t remember. My clenched mouth offers no answer, and she closes the hatch, expelling me into the void just seconds before the ship explodes.
There is no time for fear; with a terrible sound, a flash burns my eyes. Silvery white, mixing with the white of the girl’s fading face, her black wide eyes staring at me, the last thing I remember before the darkness falls, and the world becomes soundless.
That is all I remember of my entire life; everything else was erased by shock and burns. The doctors worked hard to reconstruct my body, but they never could recover my memories. Even the fact that the red-haired woman was my mother returned to me from the news; her picture and mine bound together by something waiting to resurface.
Cold, coming from far away; the white light gently passed through my closed eyelids, switching on a part of myself that was slumbering outside time. Somewhere, in a corner of my mind, explosions still drummed in a strange, frightening rhythm that made me keep my eyes tightly shut: boom, boom, boom…! Vivid images burst inside, erased by flashes, before a new one would emerge – a fragmented movie. It ended as fast as it came.
That color is wrong, I murmured to myself. The light inside the emergency capsule should be blue. The light around me was white, as white as the face of the unknown girl… The flash…
“It was not an accident.” The unknown voice sounded worried, and not without effort, I realized that ‘he’ was worried about me.
Some things became clear in that moment, some much later; my vocabulary was limited by the memory loss, but my new mind was ready to absorb, memorizing everything. Until that second, I was neither dead nor alive. Not that I have any memories about my deep coma, but medical knowledge suggests that second should have come much later, after my brain had been fully rebuilt. The machines were still growing neurons and whatever else was needed for my recovery, a benign process with one drawback: pain. My sudden spark of consciousness failed to control my body; some essential parts of my brain were still missing so my mouth remained shut. The doctor had no idea that I was conscious again, and I could do nothing to change his view.
You stupid doctor! I am awake. Help me! Heeeelp! I cried hard, from both pain and frustration, yet it happened only inside my head.
“The ship was destroyed by a missile,” the voice continued, reminding me that I was lying in a hospital bed because of it. A touch of curiosity made the pain bearable, but it never stopped. “And of all the emergency capsules, only one was destroyed. His.”
Without seeing, I realized that he was pointing at me. Why am I so important?
“Who did it?” someone growled, yet something in his voice told me that he already knew the answer. Later, I found that it belonged to Doc, the doctor taking care of me. The owner of the first voice seemed to be different.
In the sudden silence, I hated them for killing so many people. At the same time, a parallel string of animation flooded my mind. The word still existed in my memory! It was followed by a short definition: ‘friendly aliens that help us’. They helped me to die. Friendly.