Helios Monday

Good Morning! I wanted to share this kind of scrappy extract taken from a short story I’m writing about astronauts, loneliness and boredom.

Please don’t read too much into the title. I date my work like that to sort it in my computer files (which are actually pretty horrendous in terms of organisation) and just happened to start writing this on a Monday. It has kind of a vaguely appealing, ominous and “edgy” sort of ring to it though, so I left it in. It would be nice to be a kind of intellectual writer-y person who thought up cool titles that also mean things. But I guess it would also would be nice to own a Nintendo Switch and you just have to accept that some things are unrealistic and I’ll never be able to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

That isn’t the point of this introduction.

I hope you like the story!  

The alarm wakes me up in a throbbing deluge of sharp sound. I surface into the unbroken ringing saturating the Helios station. Alert. Alert. I bounce up, no longer sitting cross legged under the desk, and my head bumps on the central chair as I start floating like hot air rising. I turn my head like a mounted camera but my eyes are woolly, still heavy with sleep, and lag. I look round the control room but barely see anything. Then, quick, I smack the keypad. The skin spreads tight between my fingers but the sticky keys hold my hand together at the seams. The ringing stops. I’m active. I’m here. My receiver isn’t broken! Open message. Open!

From shoulder to palm, my arm is straight, still and flat like a bayonet whilst defrosting, my legs feel brittle behind me. One foot is drifting like seaweed in the zero gravity. The other is sturdy and broad to prop me up on the rocky desk. I’m bleeding avidity. I feel static and bloodless like electricity.

I notice I’m floating in a nimbus of garbage pieces in various shapes. Old wrappers swimming around in my peripheral vision are cut and shaped into looping chains of rings, men or flowers like a tight shoal of small sleepy fish. I guess, I must have fallen asleep making decorations for the ship again. I swat the scrappy chains out of my eyes and let the calcified current of the air-con carry them off, chugging away in the background.

Then the lights wake up and glow in a discordant chorus like an orchestra warming up, crabbily resuming blinking. Noise build and we look at the main screen. I lean in. Larger than the others, it’s the brightest in the control room. I’m so close to it my face is pretty much pressed against the glass. A kid at the aquarium impatiently waiting for the clownfish to load. Come on, signal. Patch through.

We focus on the centre, on the loading box. We wait for it to hatch.

When did we last get a message? Screens glow arranged like an amphitheatre behind the wires curling together, knitting data above me. Everything whirs, close like the rainforest, and my station is breathing. It’s living, like me.

My eyes are wide open, gulping up the light from the screen. The white parts absorb the blue glow and spread like airy sponges whilst the pupils blot thicker and bloat darker. Face first, I soak in the inky Electroluminescence and stain increasingly green. I’m hungry for pixels. For news. Contact. Anything. I shut my mouth and hold my breath. Please.

“This is Kronos,” Static. “Fuel” Static.

Yes! “Kronos! This is Helios”.

My response sounds distorted, clumsy and boosted as though leaking helium. Recoiling from the mic softly shell shocked I shut my mouth with magnetic snappiness, draw my neck in like a turtle and hug my knees. I haven’t said anything out loud in a while. My ears and my throat are callous and the words, too big to fit through my brain, tangle in them. Sounds smear and once solidified, are unrecognisable. I feel like I found a Fishbone stuck in my throat.

Kronos is quiet.

The silence is an Easter egg. “This is Helios.” It melts eventually. “I read you a little garbled” By straightening my spine, I shake off the shrinking fragments of quiet. “How do you read?” The heavy background noise on the line heats the control room and my head.

Blinking, the lights harmonize and the walls turn glitzy, like sandpaper wasted, scrunched and crumpled in clusters and heaps. The ship is frustrated.

“This is Helios. How do you read?” White noise.

“This is Kronos. F-” I can feel the lights flinch. “Requesting permission.” The message snuffs, loud, like bees are trapped in the speaker. The signal is barely there, it looses consciousness and pulse periodically, but it manages to weather through and I swear I can hear life from beyond the gag of distant space and under the spluttering chunks of blue static. Hidden in humming, I hear a lonely spaceman. In my head, I stare at a helmet and the deep black visor stares back, unblinking, cycloptic and blank then suddenly gone.

It’s been so long. “Kronos, I read you.” The keys are dripping clicks and babbling when tapped. “I’m trying a different UHF set. Do you read?” The computer screen adjusts and clears it’s throat, coughing up algorithmic spit and the bees from earlier.

“This is Kronos.” A surge of quiet lightning gluts the screens in the room. “Fuel is low.” The monitor spills its guts. “Experiencing Difficulties. Requesting permission to board.” The message rolls, linear and unobstructed. Banners of tabs and bolts of windows string thick and instant across the boxy glass. The control room feels injected, reanimated and flushed with details, coordinates, thousands of readings and millions of tiny swarming numbers. I turn right, full tilt, towards a smaller gridded screen. On cue the Kronos station appears in the net, sanguine red like a dead koi carp. The lights are blinking faster, lapping it up and applauding themselves. X Marks the spot

The dead fish moves.

“This is Kronos. Fuel is low. Experiencing Difficulties. Requesting permission to board.”

Identical to the first – It must be on a loop.

“Roger. Permission granted.”

The lights, sun setting, sink, dipping low like my stomach as I turn off the mic. In the pit of the control room surrounded by information and numbers, it’s alarming how much I suddenly don’t know. In my murky memories, Hindsight is sonar and the outline of a mistake takes form. Kronos, faster than expected, stitches a bee line across the monitors for the Helios from the black of space. I only know the location and name of the incoming ship. Numbers are concrete but not at all grounding. I’d rather have an airbag in a car crash than the annual statistics for road accidents.

Closing my eyes, ignoring the lights and screens I give myself time, meditatively hovering, arms folded, to decide what to do. I arrive at the decision, eyes open, that I don’t have a choice to make.

“Experiencing difficulties.”

I should help Kronos and I’m going to help Kronos – the debate ended before it began. But really, I whisper turning towards the lights conspiringly, what does “helpful” mean?  We’ve been stationary for months, I continue, a guest speaker in the Morse code, on their harmonic frequency, so we have fuel we can afford to trade. I can ask for food and soap. But what if Kronos won’t cooperate in return?

The lights blink faster and I remember the broken kitchen cupboard. A plastic rod, once the bottom edge of the door, is lurking for me under the counter toothy and fanged. Oh.

Roger that.

I turn back to the screens and my hands plunge back into the light from the computers.

I must fall asleep a lot. More than I know about. When I wake up again, I’m numb, disorientated and Kronos is locked onto the station.

Kronos is locked onto the station? A raised screen on my left shows me the fuzzy ultrasound of a limpet or, possibly, a tumour. Now, fully awake and feeling a strong sense of Deja vu, I push off the desk, tumbling through the dizziness which festers in the tightness of the control pod then head like a dragon fly through the door, into the corridor towards the airlock. Maggoty wires and blisters of buttons line the corridor but, like the stomach of a rotting snake it also has a skeletal quality behind the exposed circuits and the mess of technical gore. Chrome coloured rings, the matt octagonal ribs, sit at regular intervals to hold up the arid geometry of the burrow like dog show hoops. The white walls lining the tunnel are medical and pearly; tactile like square bones.

Between the wires on the walls, I’ve drawn my family. I wave as I float past. I’ve also hidden drawings of my house (floorplan, street view, electrical wiring) and my pets, my friends and my dog. I doubt how accurate the drawings are. I can’t remember if I had even a dog. Vandalism is still incredibly sentimental even if somewhat arbitrary and capricious, I guess.

The kitchen lists the names of all 720 Pokémon, my bed lists countries (alphabetical, continental) and the bathroom names capital cities. I can’t remember what I wrote in on the walls of the cupboard. Something is there. Not food, for sure.

Maybe I drew lines. Just squiggles. Frowny faces. Angry faces. I ran out of ink a month ago. Snap out of it, the lights interrupt.

They’re here too, gemstones everywhere, like a rash. In some places, the garbage decorations I used to make to cover them, to stop the rash itching and spreading, still hold up but many have disintegrated into the invisible hydraulics and traction of the corridor air circulation and recently I’ve given up entirely. The remaining decorations were made for entertainment, presumably. I have plenty of garbage and it’s something to do. Every day is my shitty birthday party. Hooray. The lights chew on every surface and like a spilling swarm of wasps and, always blinking, they outnumber me. Here in the corridor however they are less contagious and buzzing, buried under an overgrown layer of wires, pipes and tubing. The field is levelled. The lake is flat. I stretch out like a starfish, the kind with detachable limbs, and think.

Kitchen Cupboard!

I don’t pause to turn properly. I flip my body like a tape and before stopping slide backwards, playing the corridor on rewind along the way I came, past the control room and feeling like I’m riding a mile-long waterpark flume. Wires and wires and wires- I almost miss the kitchen but stop myself sharp just in time snatching the left side and grabbing right side of the open entrance, pulling hard and then skidding to a halt in the air resisting the flow of the corridor. Scrambling inside the kitchen, which is small like a cupboard, I reach under the broken cupboard which is smaller still, like a shoe box left to go soggy in the rain and filled with dead moulding kittens.

The broken piece is about the size of my forearm and I hold it in my teeth as I make my way back to the airlock. If this was a road, there would be red lights and I would be ignoring them.

The airlock door is circular and heavy, like the vaulted door to a safe with deep grooves running around it like tribal markings. its puffy and solid like a cake left in the oven to rise with a grey lip sealing over the edge of the doorway, then burning. A small cycloptic window at the top is crystal ball. It lets me see through it to the other side. To Kronos.

Helios Monday