Yeah… I got lazy and didn’t change anything from the other posts, except for maybe Romero’s name correction. All critiques and notes welcome. 🙂
“It’s so bright.” She whispered.
“Well, what were you expecting?” Shmee’s older sister continued to gaze at the blue and green surface that loomed before them. She blew at one of her braids floating in front of her face.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t think a planet could be so bright. The stars are bright, and, you know, really bright when you get close enough and it becomes ‘the sun,’ but a planet’s just dirt and water right? God, it’s making my eyes water.”
Shmee gripped at the thick edge of the large, reinforced window protecting them from the ever present vacuum and rotated herself away from the view. She kept her long, colt’s legs tucked under and rigid to keep from losing control of her movement and floating away from the wall. The blue light of the planet lit up the viewing deck in a way that was very unnatural to her 11 year old eyes. She took comfort in the hum of engine vibrating though the skin of the ship to her fingers. Shmee had never known a time without that presence, having been born en route to this new world.
“Perdie… what’s it like?”
The teenager didn’t break her gaze.
“Dude, stop asking me stuff. I was barely 5 when we left. I don’t remember anything.” She gently kicked off the wall to float backward through the empty viewing room.
“You used to.”
“It’s not even the same planet. How should I know?”
Shmee kicked off the wall as well; expertly aiming for the center of the hatchway just as her sister pulled herself through with a backstroke.
The once familiar hallway now seemed ominous and shadowed after the blaring vision of the planet. Shmee knew things would change once they arrived. How could they not? Her parents, her friend’s parents, all they could do was talk about what to expect when they arrived. It was their mission after all. But She didn’t expect it to change how she saw her home.
“Perdie? What do you think Mama’s doing right now?”
The older girl sighed as she grabbed at the handle next to their hatch and dragged herself in head first, her legs held out stiffly behind her to avoid bumping the frame. “I don’t know. Setting up our rooms in the habitat? Or….”
Shmee swung into their home in a slow acrobatic arc, diving feet first through the center to the beds strapped against the back wall.
“Probably running the computers through the landing sequence again so they’ll be super ready next month.”
“I wish we were down there now.”
“Well, if you had completed all your hours on the hamster wheel like you were supposed to, WE would.”
Shmee flinched at the irritation in her sister’s words. It was her fault her sister hadn’t been able to go down with the first and second waves. Now all that were left were a few stragglers like her who hadn’t acclimated to the planet’s gravity… and their guardians if they were too young or sick to be alone. The “hamster wheel” was an exercise platform connected end to end in a circle. Once properly strapped in, Shmee would have to endure the artificial gravity generated by spinning her against the floor with centrifugal force. If that wasn’t bad enough, once she got past the dizziness and stomach lurching, she was expected to push herself to a standing position and do exercises!
“I’m sorry! I’ll get them done before next month.”
“You better.” Perdie shrugged into the straps of her bed sack hanging from the wall. “You haven’t even lasted more than 5 minutes on there. It’s for your own good, you know.”
“I know.” Shmee sighed as she folded her legs up and zipped herself into bed.
“Just go to sleep.”
She had been fast asleep and dreaming when something woke her. Something wrong. Shmee’s heart was racing and she didn’t know why.
Shmee looked over and could barely make out the silhouette of her sister curled way from her in her own bed sack, her braid pigtails standing out before her head like antennae.
What was it? She looked around the room which her entire life had been dimly lit by undeviating lights embedded in the wall yet suddenly seemed so alien. She realized the cool light she was now seeing was the faint glow of the planet filtering in from the open hatch of the observation deck into the hall. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Instinctively, she slid out a hand to the wall for the familiar vibration to comfort her-
“Perdie!” She hissed. “Perdie, wake up! The engine is off!”
“The engine is off! The engine is off!” Shmee’s began to scream the words shrilly with panic.
“What? What!?” Perdie began to struggle out of the zipped up blanket and straps.
“The walls are quiet! The humming’s stopped!”
“That’s impossible!” She snapped, “There are like a million fail-safes. There would be alarms, flashing lights, backup generators?” Shmee could hear the fear in her voice. The both stared helplessly into the darkened room.
“What do we do?” Shmee asked.
“We… uh,” Perdie finally released herself from the bed and floated away from the wall as her mind raced, “We should suit up, then find the others. Doctor Souchong will know what to do.”
They dove for the suits waiting, outspread behind simple, touch panels in the ceiling in case of emergencies. Shmee’s suit had the tale tell accordion expanders in the limbs and midsection to allow for a child’s growth spurts between emergencies. Perdie’s adult suit had sleeker design to allow for more maneuverability. Both were sterile white with neon green reflectors to indicate they were civilian children. Once Perdie had double checked Shmee’s air was flowing and locked on her helmet, they pushed from the nearest surfaces to the hatch.
The air rushing through the helmet helped buffer the silence in the hall. The ship was dead; really dead. The gauge on Shmee’s wrist told her that the temperature was already dropping as the engine’s remaining warmth siphoned off into the vacuum of space.
“Doctor Souchong?” Perdie’s voice emitted through a speaker at the base of her helmet.
There was no reply as they neared his hatch. The hallway suddenly plunged into even deeper shadow. Shmee gasped and spun herself around to see what was blocking their light, but there was nothing in the hatchway at the end of the hall.
“We must be moving behind the planet… to the nighttime side.” Perdie reached up and switched on the helmet’s flashlight. Shmee switched hers on as well before following her to the Doctor’s hatch.
Peaking in, there beams lit up the dull, metal panels that lined the walls until they spotted the Doctor. He was wrapped up in his bedding like a corpse prepared for burial, his long, white beard, tied off in segments, floated in front of him.
Shmee swallowed hard. “Doctor… Souchong?”
The man snorted, flipping the tail of his beard over his head and scrunching up his face.
“Doctor Souchong! Wake up!” Perdie pulled herself through the hatch.
“Huh? Wha? What is this?” The old man cringed in the beams of light focused on him and he struggled to pull out an arm to protect his face.
“Doctor Souchong! Doctor Souchong!” Shmee yelled. “Wake up! The ship’s engine’s stopped running!”
“What? Lakshmi? What are you saying?”
Shmee was gripping him by the shoulders, her flashlight focused on his high forehead.
“The engine’s off!”
“Get off of him, Shmee!” Perdie shoved her little sister’s shoulder, causing one hand to lose its grip, and the girl swung away like a door on its hinge. She bounced off the wall beside the Doctor and steadied herself. She was too embarrassed at her childish display to snap back. Mama was always scolding her for always literally clinging to the nearest person. It was cute when she was little, but she was too big for that habit.
“Look, Doctor Souchong, we just woke up and all the lights were off, and there’s no hum from the engine anymore.”
The two girls floated silently to give the old man a chance to listen for himself.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He whispered, “That’s… that’s impossible.”
“What should we do?” Perdie asked.
“Well, er… you have the right idea. I’ll suit up and see what’s going on down on the flight deck. You girls find Romero and tell him to check the engine.”
“Okay!” Shmee kicked off the wall back to the hatch.
“Then wake everyone else up!”
“Okay!” Perdie called back after she had pushed herself toward the hatch as well.
“Tell them to suit up and fall back to the escape pods… on my orders.”
Both girls had already disappeared into the hallway, leaving him to grope for the emergency panel in darkness.
The rest were easier to wake up, and no one needed further instruction once the escape pods were mentioned. Once Frank Romero was in his suit, he called Perdie and Shmee to him.
“Girls! I may need more hands with the engine.”
“You think we can help?” Perdie asked skeptically.
The young engineer shrugged, holding his helmet in one hand and smoothing out his wild, black hair with the other as he drifted aimlessly in the hall. “Everyone is too old or sick. Now come on, there’s no time!”
“I’m coming, too!” Shmee prepared to kick off the floor of the hallway.
“No!” Perdie pinned her down by the shoulder. “You go to the escape pod with everyone else.”
“What? No! I’m staying with you!”
“Go!” Perdie used her little sister as leverage to push herself away, down the hall. She looked back, “I’m not kidding! I better see you bulked in when I get there!”
Shmee watched helplessly as her sister disappeared after Romero. The younger girl remained there, drifting alone in the dark hallway, her helmet’s flashlight the only source of illumination left. Tears welled up in her eyes, blurring her vision. She moved to wipe them away out of habit, and her gloved hand knocked into the face plate of her helmet. In a fit of frustration, Shmee fumbled at the safety locks behind her head until the helmet pulled off. The shock of cold air against her face had a calming effect, and she already felt silly for getting so upset. Of course Perdie should tell her to wait in the escape pod. Mom left her in charge, and it was the responsible thing to do.
A faint, metallic groan echoed from the bowels of the ship. Shmee reached for the nearest surface as she listened to the dead silence. She couldn’t breathe. The stillness of the air sat heavily around her, and Shmee found it difficult to breathe. She should go to the escape pod, she knew she should, but she couldn’t make herself move. She just had to get to the pod, strap herself into a seat and wait for Perdie to show up. Another groan shuddered faintly through the skin of the ship and Shmee whipped her hand away as if burned.
She looked around the abandoned hallway helplessly. The helmet’s beam of light shrank to a small bright circle on the floor to her as it floated away, allowing the darkness to grow and envelope her. Shmee’s hands found indentioned grips in the floor through muscle memory and she threw herself at the helmet before continuing on to the hatch she watched Perdie disappear through.
Even though children weren’t allowed near it, Shmee knew the route to the engine room. An entire childhood spent in the cramped hallways of the science colony ship left few corners unexplored. She could have turned off her flashlight and made her way by touch alone.
In the eerie, dead silence, she heard voices bubbling up from the darkness long before she reached them.
“Okay, Perdie, keep an eye on that panel and tell me if you see anything.”
Shmee saw a flash of someone’s light and jerked herself to the side of the hall, instinctively hiding her own light to avoid detection.
“… Uh… I’m not sure?”
“It’s not a trick question. Any glow or flicker will give me hope.”
“Oh! …No, sorry.”
Shmee heard Romero laugh at her sister’s uncertainty, and felt a confusion of jealousy and withdrawal swirl through her insides.
There was a static noise that caused Shmee’s heart to jump with hope, but she realized the noise was coming from their helmets. She pressed a hand against the speaker in hers as the familiar gruff voice of Doctor Souchong spoke through it.
Shmee ducked another flash from the hatchway as the engineer adjusted the position of his own helmet to pinch the send button at the chin.
“I don’t know what happened. Everything is fried up here. Even if you get the engine going again, we’re still dead in the water.”
“We can always switch to driving her manually. Land her that way?”
“If she were a shuttle, yeah, but she’s a little too much… uh, lady… to dance, shall we say.”
Shmee heard a Romero sigh, and her heart sank. There was nothing they could do. The escape pods were their only option now. Helmet in hand, she quietly kicked herself backward through the hallway.
Perdie pressed her chin down to join the conversation. “So is that it? What happens now?”
“With luck she’ll hold orbit long enough for one of the shuttles to come back up for repairs. For now… we can’t trust our luck to hold out. Everyone to the pods.”
“Got it. Let’s go, Perdie.”
Perdi pulled herself over the organized confusion of parts that was the engine to meet Romero at the hatchway.
“I knew you were the right person for the job. Not many people can squeeze in over there.”
“Oh, really? Um, thanks.” Perdie wasn’t sure if he was paying her a compliment or stating a fact. Regardless, she felt herself blush as she approached the young man and was thankful she had kept her helmet on. “How do, um, you get through when it’s running?”
Romero shrugged. “Very carefully. We usually don’t have to wear the suits.”
“Oh… yeah!” Perdi chuckled. Her helmet’s flashlight spotlighted his figure drifting away from her.
“You coming?” He looked down at her from the top of the hall.
“Y-yeah, right behind you.”
“You’re taking this very well, you know.”
He waited, helmet in hand, for her to catch up before pushing lazily through the next hatchway.
“Well, yeah. This has been our home for so long, and you’ve spent most of you life on this ship, right?”
“I remember the old world!” Perdi shot back defensively.
“Ha! Well, yeah, but you were just a little kid weren’t you?”
Perdi mumbled a noncommittal grunt.
“Well, I was just saying, this place has been our only safe place for so long. And now, suddenly, it’s not a safe place anymore. It’s an upsetting thing, especially for kids like you and Shmee.”
Perdi narrowed her eyes, unhappy with being lumped together with her little sister.
Romero looked back again as they reached the last turn in the hallway.
“I mean, it would be understandable if you wanted to cry… or something.”
“Thanks,” Perdi spit out, “but I couldn’t wait to get off this claustrophobic, metal wad of junk. I’m only still up here because of my sister.”
“Oh.. okay.” Romero stammered.
The reflector strips along the walls guided them to the escape pods. The handful of flashlight beams emanating from one of the hatches told them which pod they chose.
“How’s everybody doing?” Romero said as he slowly dove through the entrance.
“You took your sweet time!” Doctor Souchong barked gruffly.
Perdie heard a symphony of sniffles and whimpers from the silhouettes around her. Everyone had the lights on, giving her dozens of spots in her eyes and making it impossible to tell one suited person from the other.
“Shmee? Where are you?”
“What? She’s not with you?”
Romero and Perdie looked to each other.
“No,” Romero said slowly, “she was supposed to come straight here.”
“Shmee??” Perdie pushed her chin down to open the radio. “Shmee? SHMEE??”
She was answered by another metallic rumble from the depths of the ship. Romero flipped his helmet in his hands and secured it over his head.
“Do you know where she could be?”
Perdie’s mind raced.
Someone started unbuckling themselves from their seat against the wall. She knew it was Doctor Souchong as soon as he spoke.
“Right, I’ll need volunteers to search the ship.”
“No wait!” Perdie held up a hand. “I… I know where to find her. Give me 10 minutes?”
She couldn’t see his eyes, but he seemed to look around in uncertainty.
“You know? Why? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I just… I think she’s okay. She’s just scared.” Perdie shot a glance at Romero. “I think she’s hiding.”
“You have 5 minutes. 5 minutes and I want to hear visual confirmation from you or I’m sending everyone to crawl over this place.”
“Okay.” Perdie nodded.
“-I’m not liking they way the ship’s groaning out there.”
Perdie hadn’t floated much farther than the mouth of the hatchway, and she reached back up to scramble through. She hoped she only imagined wall vibrating under her gloved fingertips as another booming groan echoed through the hallways.
After a few twists and turns, Perdie was diving back through the residence hall. A quick glance in their dark apartment confirmed it to be empty. She flung herself farther down and caught herself on the hatchway to the observation room. It was still dim in the shadow of the new planet, but she easily spotted the small figure of Shmee in the pail light of the stars, curled against the far window as best she could be in her bulky suit.
“Shmee, what are you doing?? Can’t you hear that? We have to go!” As if on cue, another metallic, mournful groan had emanated from the hall.
Shmee had taken off her helmet, and the two skinny braids reaching out stiffly behind her head wobbled as she wordlessly shook her head.
“Then go!” She sniffed, and Perdie realized she was crying.
She eased into the viewing deck and toward her little sister, the panic in her chest suddenly tempered by her sister’s tears. She took off her own helmet and reached out a hand in time to cushion her stop at the edge of the large window.
“Shmee, what’s going on?” Perdie’s tone had softened to a whisper.
“I’ll be fine. You heard Doctor Souchong. There’s a chance the ship will stay in orbit….”
Perdie cut her off with a shake of her head, her own braided pigtails swinging around her.
“There’s no way you can stay, Shmee. Those noises mean bad things are about to happen.”
“Soon!” She watched the young girl process this.
“Why would you want to stay behind? And by yourself? That’s crazy.”
“The hamster wheel.”
“I never,” Shmee swallowed, “I never even started logging exercise hours on there. You didn’t notice. Mom didn’t notice.”
Perdie’s mind reeled with the implications. Shmee’s body had not been conditioned to gravity at all. Spoiled by a lifetime of weightlessness, the shock of it might be too much for her system to take.
“Mom’s been so busy preparing for the landings… and then she put you in charge of me ’cause I kept getting in her way, but you don’t want anything to do with me anymore.”
“Shmee, that’s not-”
“No one does. Just like this ship.” She turned to her big sister. “The ship is all I know. You at least remember something about the old world before. Most everyone does, and so everyone’s been so eager to leave, and go back to a real world.” Her gaze drifted to the dark mass looming below them. I don’t care about living on a real world. I thought I’d stay here with the ship and… we’d keep each other company.”
Another low groan, accompanied by a series of booming creaks demanded their attention. The skin of the ship vibrated with each pop.
“Shmee, the ship… she’s old and tired. This was all she was built for, you know? To get us here. Now, I think she would be ready to let us go.”
“But what about me?” Shmee squeaked. The girl seemed to shrink, to revert back to a younger version of herself; back when the word “sister” was synonymous with “best friend,” before teenage growing pains pushed Perdie away. The older girl reached out and gently drew her sister into a hug.
“I’ll take care of you. Okay? It won’t be any fun for awhile, but I’ll make sure you get on your feet down there.” Perdie chuckled to herself, “Literally, I guess.”
Shmee pulled back. After a moment of uncertainty, she offered a weak smile.
“Look,” Perdie continued. “I’m sorry I’ve been so short with you lately. I don’t mean to be.”
The younger girl sighed, “It’s ok-”
She was drowned out by a thunder clap that shook the room around them. Static burst from helmets that had been floating aimlessly away from them.
“Perdie!” Barked Doctor Souchong, “Do you see her?”
She plucked her helmet out of the air and squeezed the communicator at the chin.
“I found her.”
“Get back now!”
Before she had a chance to protest, Shmee was pulled away from her spot against the window. Her head bumped against her still free floating helmet, and she was able to grab at it before Perdie had towed her too far.
“We’re on our way!” Perdie shouted breathlessly into her own helmet as she launched herself anew into the hall, her little sister trailing just behind.
This time they didn’t bother switching on their lights. Helmets in hand, they thew themselves from one wall grip to the next in the diminishing light of the observation deck; trusting their sense of touch and memory as the darkness swallowed them whole. A fresh wrenching of metal bellowed deafeningly around them, and Shmee screamed as the handhold she was expecting jerked down, barking her knuckles.
Shmee heard her sister’s voice slip from above to behind her and her mind’s eye envisioned her body flipping forward in a slow tumble.
“Shmee! Are you okay?”
“I’m! I’m okay! I just lost my grip.” She held out her limbs stiffly to slow her spin. The helmet bumped against the smooth surface of the nearest wall just as Perdie’s light popped on below her. “Ah! That hurts!”
“Sorry!” They were plunged back into darkness and glowing streaks floated stubbornly in Shmee’s eyes.
“Okay, let’s keep going.”
“God damnit! If you girls aren’t back here in 1 one minute, so help me, I am willing to face down your mother-”
“We’re here!” The two figures were lit up by multiple beams of light as they slid in through the hatchway.
“Romero! Lock’er up!”
Perdie helped Shmee into her straps against the wall. As the engineer triggered the emergency lock.
“Got it! Perdie get yourself buckled up. I got Shmee.”
“Good!” Doctor Souchong barked from his perch. “Everybody, make sure your locks and straps are secured. I can’t have you bouncing around in the turbulence.”
“Turbu-?!” Romero locked Shmee’s helmet into place, temporarily muting her before the communicator could be activated.
He walked his hands over to Perdie and double checked her straps and buckles. She tried to hold a brave face while he hovered so close, but another nightmarish growl shuddered throughout the ship and left her breathing shallow gasps. Romero looked up and flashed a wry grin.
“Relax, kid. Nothing to do but enjoy the ride now.” Her universe shrank to the breathing in her ears and the framed view of her visor has he locked her helmet into place.
Doctor Souchong’s voice buzzed to life in everyone’s ears.
“Now listen to me carefully. The beacon on this pod will activate as soon as we are released. It will get a little bumpy on the ride down, and losing consciousness is not out of the question. This thing was designed to keep us alive, not comfortable. Just don’t panic and know that you will come out okay.” He reached up, flipped open a panel identical to those over everyone’s head, and pulled down the lever behind it. The girls felt a series of knocks through the wall at their backs as the release gears were set into motion. “Once we land, the first to wake up is to man the radio until help arrives. Understand?”
There was a chorus of stilted answers, cutting in and out as they awkwardly worked the communicator buttons for the first time. Everyone was suddenly overwhelmed by a violent shaking and the many flashlight beams darted and whipped about frantically in the dark, windowless pod. They felt what seemed to be a muted explosion from the other side of the locked hatch, and after a final shake everything was still and quiet again. They were floating free.
Heavy breathing cut in and out over the helmet radios as people accidentally triggered their com buttons.
The beams of light settled on the helmet of Doctor Souchong, including those from Perdie and Shmee. They couldn’t see his face behind the visor but it was a comfort to have someone to look to. The pod continued to float in that stillness for so long, the thought occurred to Shmee that time had stopped. She could remain suspended in the moment forever.
And that’s when they hit the atmosphere. At first it was a subtle vibrating in the wall at their backs. The vibrating became increasingly violent and the roar of fire and wind drowned out clips of radio chatter. Shmee felt the belts of her harness strain at her shoulders and hips as the new earth’s atmosphere resisted their entry. Then it lurched and the harness yanked her back, her head and limbs flailing helplessly as an unseen force seemed to drain the life out of them. She tried to look over at her sister, but managed to see Perdie’s head hanging limply in the small beam of her flashlight just before her own vision went dark.
Shmee came to slowly, feeling of pitching angles and violent jolts flickered through her memory. She blinked furiously but her light must have been damaged, its weak beam barely piercing the dust floating calmly before her. The roar from her unconscious dreaming was still there somehow, but hushed. Her arms moved sluggishly as she raised a hand to her head to check its flashlight.
She pushed her chin down.
“Perdie?” Her voice was weak and tiny, even within her own helmet. There was no reply.
Shmee looked over and could dimly see the suited figure of her sister, limbs waving slowly before her. Her stomach jumped.
She looked around for help, but those closest to her were also unconscious. The other end of the pod was still shrouded in darkness.
“Hello? Can anyone hear me?” No response again.
Shmee struggled with her belts, her limbs frustratingly slow to respond. When she finally broke free she was floating again, but something was wrong. She could feel a pull inside her head and stomach, as her body gently rotated with the inertia of leaving the wall, that pull seemed to move as well. At the same time, she felt a pulling way. Her body kept trying to rotate and move without her guidance. The two sensations didn’t grow stronger or hurt, but it made her stomach feel queasy, and she felt an uncomfortable pressure build behind her eyes. She tried to move her hands back to her head, and her entire body slid down toward the floor of the pod, as if she had pushed off the ceiling.
Shmee froze. What was going on? Was this how gravity worked? She realized it wasn’t just a pressure behind her eyes, her entire body felt compressed. She waved a hand in front herself experimentally, it was like she was pushing away invisible fabric. As her arm moved, her body would rotate in the opposite direction. Panic began to creep into her chest. How could she stand living in an atmosphere like this? It was too thick, too oppressive.
A bump from behind startled her out of her paralysis, and she made small movements to reach for the body behind her. She struggled to turn herself around in the heavy atmosphere and was face to face with an unconscious Romero.
“Romero!” She tried to shake his shoulders but his straps and heaviness around her made that attempt futile. “Romero, wake up! Please, wake up!”
She saw a spastic movement from behind his faceplate. Eyes fluttered then squinted into her light.
“-t’s going on?”
“I don’t know, I think we landed. Everyone’s asleep! It’s hard to move! Is this- is this really what it’s going to be like?”
“Wait, slow down.” He reached a slow hand up and adjusted her helmet’s flashlight so that it pointed over his head. “What are you…” His left his arm to hang out beside her, then waved it slightly. “Dio mi… are we under water?”
Shmee blinked, processing what Romero just said.
“Wait, is that what this is?” It had been explained to her before, of course, by adults and her sister. She just never expected it to feel so… claustrophobic. She had assumed from their descriptions that… swimming… in water would have felt much like her movement on the ship. She had not been properly warned about the extra pulling she felt in her head and muscles, and she fought another wave of nausea.
“Did you open the hatch, Shmee?”
“No! I just woke up and it was like this.”
Romero started the awkward struggle out of his straps.
“Well, someone must have. Do you see anyone missing?”
“I…” Shmee struggled to count the outstretched limbs floating through what she now knew was murky water. “I can’t tell.”
“Try to wake everyone up! I’ll check out what’s going on outside.”
She brought her legs up to kick away, but the movement spun her forward. She pushed her hands up and gripped Romero’s shoulders to steady herself before bringing her legs up again.
“Ha! You’ll get used it.”
Shmee kicked away and felt the curious sensation of the water rippling along the skin of her suit as she sluggishly made her way back to her sister’s side of the pod.
Shmee got the feeling Romero had meant to add that last part to himself.
She had almost slowed to a stop before reaching Perdie. With a few experimental motions, she managed to spin herself around to face her unconscious sister. Gripping a shoulder for leverage, she pushed Perdie’s head back so that her light shined into her face.
“Perdie? Perdie! Wake up!”
There was a fluttering of the eyelids, then nothing.
Shmee thudded her sister’s helmet backwards against the wall. The movement was frustratingly weak through the water but it elicited a groan over the communicator.
Her big sister screwed up her face and lethargically tried to push the light out of her eyes. Shmee breathed a sigh of relief. That would have to be enough for now. She gripped the empty traps along the wall to move to the next unconscious passenger.
It was only a few minutes before most of the passengers were waking up. Shmee left them to unbuckle themselves. She couldn’t tell which person was missing through the helments, the only other passenger she was sure of being Doctor Souchong. He was having the hardest time waking up, and was still struggling to open his eyes when Romero returned. He looked at the people helping each other out of the safety harnesses, their helmet lights sweeping dimly through the water.
“Everyone! We’re not to far from the surface! Grab a buddy and hold on tight.” He held himself in the hatchway. “This hatch is facing down.”
Down, Shmee thought. The hatch is down.
“Once you go through, you just follow the side of the pod all the way up and then it’s a clear rise….”
Up? Shmee thought. But the pod was round. How could following the side of the pod be up all the way? When would she know to leave the pod? She looked around. Everyone else seemed to take this direction easily. She was about to ask when the person next her began to spasm. It was Doctor Souchong.
“It’s Doctor Souchong! There’s something wrong!”
She watched Romero paddle his limbs to swim toward them and marveled at how the motion easily propelled him forward. He spread his arms and suspended himself before the stiff suit of the old man.
“He’s having a seizure! What? Doctor Souchong!” Shmee watched them for a helpless moment as Romero peered through the glass of the Doctor’s helmet. “He’s out of air. I gotta move him now!” He hooked an arm under one shoulder and kicked his feet to swim backwards. “Everyone move now! He’s out, we should all be out!”
She watched the legs of the two men disappear through the hatch. It was quickly crowded by the rest of the panicked figures. The lights of their helmets blocked by their own bodies, swamping Shmee and Perdie in darkness.
Shmee turned to Perdie and grabbed her hand.
“Are you ready?”
Her big sister seemed to nod but didn’t answer.
It was hard to tell through the random sqawking clipping in from the others over the radio, but Shmee thought she heard a moan. She let go of her sister’s hand and pulled a shoulder toward her instead. Through the mask of the helmet, she could see that Perdie was awake, but her eyes were tired and unfocused.
“Perdie, look at me?” There was a moment when her eyes seemed to focus, but their gaze slid through Shmee to something far away. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no! Perdie, come on, we have to go!”
She pulled at the arm of her sister and tried to kick away, but the drag yanked her back.
“Come on, Perdie! You’re running out of air! You gotta,” she tried to kick like Romero had, “You gotta move. You said you’d make sure I got through this! Help! Me!”
Without warning, the older girl pushed from the wall, and the younger held on, trying to kick as they moved toward the now vacant hatch. Perdie reached through it like one in a trance, her movements sluggish even for the thickness of the water. Shmee felt a strange rush to head as she pulled herself through and her stomach protested again. The thought occurred to her that they must both be running low. It caused panic to spike through her chest and she started breathing heavily.
“Stupid!” She said to herself. “Stupid, stupid, why did you have to think that?”
Once clear of the hatch, her helmet’s light illuminated only the cloud of thick debris swirling in the water around them.
“The hatch is down. Now… we go up.” She said it out loud to herself; the sound of it comforting her, even if she still doubted where she knew when she had reached “up.”
As she considered this, her back found its way to the wall of pod behind them. She pushed away experimentally and felt herself drawn to it again.
She grabbed for Perdie, who had remained by the hatch in a daze. Shmee began to crawl along the shell of the pod with her sister moving listlessly beside her. She was still worrying over when she would know to leave the pod, when her sister began to float away on her own. Shmee had noticed the shift of pressure in her head, but didn’t know what it meant until now.
Still holding on to her sister, she let go and felt herself get drawn away but an unseen force. The pod was immediately swallowed up in the churning darkness. Her stomach seemed to pull back toward the pod, and the sensation confused her.
The darkness around them quickly retreated below, and though the water was still thick and impenetrable, Shmee could feel that they must be rising toward the surface. She gave another try at kicking, but it seemed only twist her body sideways around her sister’s limp body until a lifetime of habit took over and locked her legs. What kept her from spinning out of control in zero gravity gave her control in the water. If she kept her movements small, she found she was able to keep her body from twisting away. She kicked harder, struggling to push at what she still envisioned as the fabric of the water.
Perdie’s body dragged and tried to pull away. Shmee had taken a break from kicking to adjust her grip when her head and shoulders hit a soft ceiling. It pushed her back, bumping she helmet into her big sisters, and then held her their. She tried to twist toward it, but felt the same force that was helping her rise to the surface seemed confuse the motion, pushing her entire body to this new wall. When she tried to turn her head to it, she was blinded. When she tried to push away from it, her arm pushed through without resistance. With even less resistance than the sludgy water around her, her arm flopped wildly on the other side of this soft wall.
Shmee felt panic rise in her chest. Her mind struggled to understand what she was up against, this blinding wall of light that was thin enough for an arm to penetrate but was strong enough to hold her and Perdie in place. Her breathing roared in her ears and her head began to ache. She suddenly realized it had been a while since she’d heard radio communication from the others. Were they too far away? Were they also trapped against this wall? She didn’t know what to do, so she nodded down to try the radio anyway.
“Help!” Gasp! “Can anyone,” gasp, “hear me?” Gasp, “I can’t-”
“Shmee?” Romero’s voice crackled over the radio.
“I see you! You’re right next to the shore. Can you swim?”
“I can’t,” gasp, “move! Perdie’s…” Shmee wanted to tell him her sister was unconscious but her mind had already abandoned the thought in its panic and stumbled on to the next one, “stuck on the wall!”
“Okay, stay calm, I’m coming!”
Shmee was vaguely aware of a muted explosion, swallowed in a gurgling noise. The wall shook her harder without letting go, not with the rough vibrations she’d felt on the ship, but with a swinging, whiplash feeling. She’d never felt so helpless.
A large hand gripped her shoulder through the fabric of her suit. It pulled her through the wall of light enough to turn her head and body into it. However, instead of dragging her through all the way, she found her self just getting dragged along the surface. After a few blinks, Shmee’s eyes adjusted enough to see that the blinding light was in fact a solid blue. As she buoyed along, she recognized beads of water streaming off of her helmet’s mask. She turned her head to see the a suited torso rise over her. Their helmet was missing and she could just make out the ear and jaw of Romero.
She reached up weakly as she felt a gritty surface push up from behind her. Romero, now standing tall over her, crouched and turned away. Shmee realized he was helping Perdie. Then it hit her that he was also breathing freely without a helmet. The wall of light, the blue… she had reached the surface! She was staring at the blue sky!
Shmee struggled to sit up as the shallow waves rocked her, but thin as the air was compared to the water, she still bore down on her mercilessly. Her mind flashed to the hand of her sister holding her down to keep her from following to the engine room. She laid back and reached behind her head for the locks of her helmet. Icy water rushed in around her neck as she pulled it way, and her first breath of new world air was a gasp.
Romero turned and looked down at her concerned.
“Are you hurt?”
Shmee’s vision swam with tears as she looked up at the impossibly blue sky. The gravity holding her as the waves gently swayed her body. She could hear voices floating in the distance though the hushing of waves and wind. It was over. It was just beginning.
“It’s so bright.” She whispered.