Vignette - Green Sky

Her eyes opened, slowly and painfully. The green-white light of the overhead lamps burned as if she were staring out at the surface of the sun. She blinked and turned away, preparing her body for the pain of consciousness. Steeling herself, she swung out of bed and rested her feet on the cold titanium deck plate. The wall clock read 05:52. Two hours of sleep. More than last night, and definitely more than the first.

Under the clock, a display pulsed a message that she was needed in the medical bay. Again.

The sounds of coughing and creaking bunks told her that the others were waking up as well. She had the luxury of having an individual bunk in the Lander — the “Commander’s Quarters”. Nothing more than a bunk and a closet, a sliding plastic partition denoted its special status. She stood up, slipped on her jumper and socks, and opened the door.

Immediately she could see out of the window opposite her quarters. It sat above the stairwell leading to the lower decks of the Lander and provided natural light into the cone shaped pod. She and fifty other people called this place home. The light poured in, unchanged since they arrived three days ago; cold, dim and a sickly shade of green that reminded her of bread mold.

The air smelled foul; the mingled scents of body odor, sweaty feet, iron, and methane. The air processors tried to compensate, but the smell always stayed in the air and condensation from evaporated sweat clung to the walls.

“Good morning, Commander,” a hoarse female voice called from the bottom of the central spiral stair.

The Commander looked down and blinked quickly, attempting to focus her dry eyes. Loorea Mitchell, chief planetary geologist, gazed up at her. Her dark brown skin in sharp contrast with her gray jumper.

“The air is bothering you as well huh?” The Commander asked, barely able to suppress the rasping of her own vocal cords.

Loorea answered back, “yes,” she frowned, and then brightened back up, “but at least it is temporary.” 

The Commander smiled and Loorea made her way through the bustle over to the galley. The main deck served as a staging area, meeting room, and galley. Right now it was doing all three.

We have to get those habitats built. We won’t be able to be cooped up in here for long, she thought and skipped the last few stairs, hitting the deck plates hard, her ankles clicking with the strain. Not showing the pain, she pivoted and headed toward the main hatch, passing the food dispensers. One had its main door open, all manner of tubes snaked in and out of it, broken already. From behind the dispenser a male voice called out.

“Ma’am, don’t tell me that you aren’t going to eat?”

The Commander stopped and turned toward the voice.

“Uh, I guess not?” 

He threw a packet to the Commander. Surprised at her own ability, she caught it.

“At least try to eat this one, OK?” He called after her, and then turned his attention back to the malfunctioning dispenser.

The packet held a dry ration bar, made mostly of soy protein and fat. It also contained a tube of water, ample enough to wash the food down, but not enough to satisfy a thirst. She knew that these packets would quickly become rare, and eventually they would have to start living off the soy grown in the Agricultural Dome. Whenever that was finished. 

She climbed down another stair, and threw the hatch that led to the airlock. Here the methane and iron smell overwhelmed her, and she wasn’t sure if her stomach turned because of the smell, or the absolute hunger.  

She stopped and looked around. The Med Bay hatch was closed, the airlock empty, and no one descended the stair. She ripped open the packet, ate the protein bar and hurriedly washed it down with the water. Checking around again, she stuffed the empty packet in a pocket and wiped her face. One less. It barely took the edge off the hunger. She had to stretch the rations as much as possible, and if that meant eating every other day, then so be it. 

Reaching out, she pressed the door contact, and opened the Med Bay hatch. As it opened, she witnessed a med tech pulling a sheet over the body that lay on the bay’s examination table.

She froze. The reality of the death hit square to the soul. As if the last nine billion weren’t enough. Every death meant one last person to help keep humanity alive.

“Was it…?” she croaked out to the tech.

The sturdy Chinese face of the med tech turned away from the body and up at the Commander.

“Old age, stress, new planet. Take your pick. But yes, the compound fracture in his leg probably didn’t help.”

The Commander stared absently at the wound; blood covered bits of flash-frozen flesh, a jagged snapped femur, torn seams. 

“Did he have any family, ma’am?” the tech asked.

“No,” replied the commander, shaking out of her reverie, “at least not anymore.” 

“I see.” The tech turned off his monitor and stepped away from the body. He asked in a quieter tone, “you know, we never established a procedure for what to do with the deceased.”

She had never thought about that. So focused on keeping all the colonists alive, there was never a consideration of what to do if someone were to pass on. Quickly, she became pragmatic.

“Is the suit functional?” she asked the tech.

“It can be repaired.”

The Commander took a breath, “strip the suit, wrap him in his sheet and store the body in the empty rover container next to Cargo 1.” 

She realized that must have sounded incredibly harsh, although the tech made no sign of it. “Until we can have a ceremony for him in the Ag Dome. When it’s finished.” 

“Yes ma’am,” the tech uncovered the body and started removing his pressure suit.

“Well, I’m glad we have a procedure now,” stabbed the icy voice of Specialist Morrison from the other side of the Med Bay.

The Commander snapped her head around, unaccustomed to being addressed so.

“Ma’am.” Morrison added, with much delay, acid dripping from her voice.

“Is there a problem, Specialist?” the ranking officer asked, stripping all emotion.

“Yes Commander, there is.”

The Commander took a long step toward the Specialist. She stood with her, staring down at her fierce gaze.


“Well, ma’am, Since Chief Brown is gone, we are now left without our best hydrologist. How are we going to find water without him?” 

“I guess you will have to make do.”

The Specialist bristled.

“See if you can find someone with similar interests and get them to assist you. I hereby give you the field rank of Chief Hydrologist.”

Morrison stood speechless, after a long moment she bowed perfunctorily and walked quickly out of the Med Bay.

“I don’t envy your job,” said the tech, removing the final bit of suit from the body.

The Commander turned back and then looked down at the naked, blood-covered corpse.

“Nor I yours.”

Photo by Chris Ried    on    Unsplash

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