Trey stared at the chunk of meat on his plate.
‘It has a bone sticking out of it,’ he said, lifting it with his fork.
‘Duh,’ Jinny said. ‘Animals have bones, fool, if you don’t like it you should have had the Vegan option like me.’
Trey looked at her plate. Three different coloured cubes jiggled as she cut into them, resting on a smear of bright orange puree, surrounded by petals and a purple powder. ‘It does look a damn sight better than mine,’ Trey said. Lowering his face, he sniffed at his food, adding, ‘But wow, does mine smell good!’
Jinny laughed. ‘You are such an animal, Trey,’ she said, smiling. Then, ‘So, I sent my paper off for peer review today.’
‘Paper?’, Trey asked, as he stabbed what looked like a small tree, dipping it experimentally into a pile of starch.
‘You know, the W Boson?’ Jinny looked exasperated. ‘The thing I’ve been working on for the last year? Oh my god,’ she said. ‘Quit teasing me, stop pretending you have no idea!’
Trey smiled, ‘Just kidding. The W Boson, that’s great, I knew you could do it.’
‘You,’ she grumbled with a smile. She loaded her fork with a piece of each coloured cube, offering it across the table. ‘This is delicious you have to try it.’
Trey went to take the fork but she ‘nuh-uh’ed him, saying, ‘My fork.’
He leaned forward and let her feed him. She was right, it was good, much closer to what he was used to, although a little grainier maybe.
‘Is it good?’ she asked.
‘It’s good,’ he smiled. ‘So the W Boson paper…’
‘I am super excited,’ she continued. ‘It both confirms the theories, and blows the field wide open.’
‘Uh-huh,’ he said.
‘So, the Head of Faculty sent it off this afternoon. We should get it back in 3-4 weeks, and then…’, she hesitated.
‘…and then, maybe I get to work with Donald Perkins at Oxford or... or maybe even CERN.’ She looked at Trey expectantly.
‘Oh,’ was all he said.
She reached a hand across the table. ‘Trey, I don’t want to do it alone, I want you to come with me.’
‘What do you mean?’ he said.
‘You practically live at my flat anyway,’ she said, smiling. ‘Leaving you behind would be like leaving my favorite furniture. If I get the internship, I want you to come with me.’
‘So I'm a chair now?’ asked Trey, desperately wondering what else he could add.
‘Pretty much. So will you come?’
‘Yes?’ Trey said, hoping it was the right answer.
Grinning Jinny did a little victory dance in her chair. ‘It’s going to be so exciting,’ she said. ‘Professor Perkins is like a hundred years old but he is so sharp. I saw him speak twice in my Masters- he’s just so inspirational!’
‘Great,’ Trey said, feeling a bead of sweat form on his brow.
‘This could open up huge opportunities for me-’, Jinny paused. ‘Are you okay? You look pale.’ Reaching out to take his hand once more she added, ‘Look, it will be okay. I love you, we were meant to be together, remember?’
‘Yeah, yeah Jinny, it’ll be okay, I’m just a little…’ Trey’s world went woozy, and he felt his stomach lurch.
Jinny stood, placing one hand on his shoulder, the other feeling his forehead. ‘Oh my god Trey, you’re burning up.’
A waiter appeared as Trey clutched the edge of the table. ‘Is everything okay here?’
‘No, he’s burning up, maybe an allergy?’ he heard Ginny say.
‘Trey,’ came a voice that was neither of theirs.
‘I’m… I’m…,’ Trey stammered.
‘Quick, get him some water, quick.’
His world upended to gasps and the clink and clatter of tableware.
‘TREY, Wake Up.’
It was hot. So hot. Pain wracked up his body in waves. He shook his head trying to fend it off.
‘TREY, YOU HAVE TO WAKE UP!’ The noise of the slap across his face was lost amidst the crackle of fire.
Trey opened his eyes briefly, orange light danced across a red hue. He squeezed them shut again, drawing a sharp breath and coughing at the acrid smoke that poured into his lungs.
‘Trey, if you you stay here, you’ll die.’
The air was thin, and filled with thick smoke. Reaching out towards the voice he felt someone, a person, a girl.
‘Marie?’ he asked, choking through the confusion.
‘It’s Luiz, Trey.’ Hands grabbing him, trying to lift him out of his seat.
Grabbing her shoulder, he hauled himself up, yelling in pain and collapsing back down. ‘My leg, my damned leg,’ he cried.
She swore and fumbled with something plastic. Opening his eyes he saw she was holding a glass syringe with flames reflecting in its long silver needle. She put two charges in, saying, ‘Opiates, and adrenaline. You’re gonna feel the pain but you’re not gonna care. What you are gonna do is damn well get the hell out of here.’
Jabbing it into him he felt the meds wash over him, a warmth, a happiness, and an urgency.
‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Let me see that leg.’
Looking down he could see his bone sticking out of it. It reminded him of… a plate, a plate of food. Behind the acrid smell of burning componentry, he thought he could still smell the cooked meat. ‘What happened?’ he asked.
‘We crashed,’ was all she said.
Luiz, owner, crewmate, what was their relationship? ‘Luiz,’ he said.
‘Yeah?’ she answered, looking up into his eyes.
‘No shit.’ Then, ‘Let’s try again, wrap your arms around my neck and pull yourself up.’
Trey did so, stumbling and tripping over a body on the floor. ‘The Lieutenant, he didn't make it,’ she said. ‘We need to brace your leg then get you into his suit.’
‘You take the suit,’ Trey said.
‘Boy, I'm 250lbs of pure woman, that boys thin-ass suit won’t fit me, but it'll damn well fit you, now get your ass on the ground and let me tend to that leg.’
Trey sank to the floor, reaching one hand back to feel the Lieutenant, the other slipping slightly in a pool of sticky blood. ‘You sure he's dead?’
‘Very,’ she said.
‘Can we revive him? Get him back to the rescue ship?’ It was coming back to Trey now – they were in a space station that had been attacked by terrorists. They were meant to be ferrying rescue workers back and forth and collecting evacuees.
‘No, his head’s off,’ Luiz said. ‘Even if I could find it I don’t think they could do anything with it.’
Trey looked around. The canopy frame was still there but a thick pole jutted through it, taking half the roof off the cockpit. Probably why the escape pod didn’t activate, he thought. He noted the flames and the fire outside, as well as a roiling black smoke coming from the bent doorway to the crew quarters.
Luiz made a splint with some pipe lagging and bound it to his broken leg with Space Tape. ‘Help me get his fire-suit off him.’
Trey did, and together they got him into it, although they had to cut a strip down the leg, tying it above his knee like a tourniquet and taping it down. The fireman’s boots were cavernous and had to be secured with yet more spacetape.
‘Right, get your helmet on and I’ll tape it up too,’ Luiz instructed.
It was surprisingly effective, and Trey found that he could move relatively freely despite his damaged leg. Must be the meds, he thought, no doubt he’d pay for it later.
Luiz was going through the first aid kit. She popped a pill or two herself – stims probably – and started unfolding a series of silver blankets. She tossed the Space Tape to Trey saying, ‘Here, tape these onto me. Double them up if you can.’
As he finished he said, ‘What a pair we make.’
‘There’s no-one I’d rather have crashed my ship with, Trey,’ she said, pulling a helmet over her head. ‘Now tape this up and let’s see if we can find anyone aft.’
The ship had settled at an angle, meaning they had to use the ladders and grav hooks to propel themselves forward. Gravity couldn’t have been more than 0.2 or 0.3G, so they had an easier time of it, but there were still many obstacles to get through.
Several times the corridor they were going down ended in crumple of metal, and it soon became obvious that the there was no way through to the back of the ship. The smell of cooking meat was stronger here, too, making Treys stomach turn.
‘It’s no good,’ Luiz shouted down the comms channel. ‘We’ll have to leave through the front and try to find a way in the back.’
They did so, working their way back into the cockpit, and found it was easier to haul themselves out through the hole in the roof than access the escape hatches. Once there they realised there wasn’t much point in searching for survivors – the 850 ton ship had been folded in half like a tin can, and the back half where the fuel was stored was well and truly ablaze. The fire was so bright it hurt just looking at it, the het causing them to cower and reel backwards despite thier makeshift safety gear.
‘Where do we go now?’ Trey asked, surveying the new hell they found themselves in.
‘Down,’ called Luiz. ‘The landing pads – where the containment cells are.’
Once again Trey found himself standing on top of a ship wondering how to get down. Luiz just jumped, falling in the semi-gravity with her arms out and silver blankets flapping behind her. Trey thought he’d never seen anyone look more like a superhero… until she overshot and clattered into the side of a building, bouncing off and landing butt first on the ground.
Trey couldn’t help but laugh and thinking, ‘This is not the time to get the giggles’ only made it worse. That is until something exploded behind him and he hurled himself off head first, rolling and tumbling gracelessly through the dense, smokey air, connecting with the same building Luiz had and landing heavily on his back.
Age didn’t matter so much in space, where you could spend a decade or more in cryofreeze and for a price just about every part could be replaced, but at this moment Trey had never felt so old. Luiz crawled over to him, asking, ‘Are you okay buddy?’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I just hurt.’
‘Maybe you need another shot… damn,’ she said. ‘The medkits back in the ship.’
‘Don’t worry, let’s just get below deck.’
You never understood just how big these docking bays were until you tried to walk across one. The cargo vans regularly traversing them had wheels taller than a man – you needed to climb multiple ladders just to get into the control seat. The ramps and buildings were hundreds of metres long, and none of them were designed for humans to make their way around them.
Treys head was thumping, and a dull ache had returned to his leg, causing him to limp like he did before the Feds had fixed him up. He didn’t know if they’d been walking five minutes, or five hours, but he was in trouble.
‘Wait,’ he called. ‘I gotta stop. I don’t know if I can go on.’
Trey leaned against a railing that normally would keep the maintenance staff from being sucked into a giant set of extraction fans. Now, just when they were needed most, those fans stood defiantly silent.
‘Come on, Commander,’ Luiz order. ‘We’ve got to get to that landing pad.’
‘I can’t, I can’t,’ said Trey. ‘You go I’ll…’
Luiz put one arm between Trey’s legs and braced her shoulder against his body, easily hefting him onto her shoulders. ‘I said, we’ve got to go,’ she repeated, half stumbling up the long ramp onto the access road.
An Imperial Courier twisted above them as it made for the mailslot, its backwash bowling them both over, lodging them against the metal armco on the other side of the ramp.
‘Luiz, you go ahead, I’ll wait here,’ Trey said. ‘Send someone back for me.’
Luiz’s shoulders shook as emotions overcame her. She crawled towards Trey one more time. ‘Damn it Trey Joranger, think of your boy, think of your son! What would he do if he saw you give up like this?’ She stood up, dragging him with her.
She was right of course. Trey had to go on, he had to live because he had to know. ‘Levi,’ he said almost under his breath.
‘How much does he mean to you Trey? How much does he mean?’
‘He means everything.’
‘And what would you do if he was standing right there?’
‘I’d hold him,’ Trey said, tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘I’d give everything just to hold him one more time.’
‘Come on then Commander, move your god-damn ass!’
Trey did, one, painful, step, after, another, the unbearable heat finding the taped up seams in their makeshift suits. They could feel their skin blistering, but they had to go further into the belly of the inferno. At the top of the ramp they had a view of the entire length of the docking bay – it looked like a someone had a tantrum and bashed it to pieces. Not one landing pad was still intact, flames and gas spewing from most of them.
Trey sat down heavily, knowing this was the end. Luiz sunk down next to him. At least the barrier offered a tiny bit of respite, something they could lean against while they slowly baked, but it was very much like tipping a deckchair off the Titanic.
'If we’re gonna die,’ Luiz said. ‘Let’s die in each others arms.’
Trey held his arms out and pulled her close, both of them sobbing at the ridiculousness of their defeat, the futility of all their actions.
They barely felt the wash of the Imperial Courier as it circled above them, lowering its ramp.
This is part 13 of The Void:ed. If you liked it hit the heart below and read the next episode of The Void:ed here