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Asylums for the Feeling

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Sykkuno bounced his foot against the floor, chewing on the inside of his cheek. They were inside the main annex of the dropship, thick canvas alloy shielding them from the sun that rested high up above them in the sky by now. Hours had already passed since the morning, his stomach reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything substantial yet.


Glancing to his side, he looked over at the stranger as they sat in the med bay, hands cuffed together at the wrists. They noticed him looking through the glass door and raised both arms up in a meek wave, and Sykkuno sharply turned his head away.


“We don’t know who he is. Or honestly, even what the fuck he is!” Rachel shook her head, lips pressed together into a thin, tight line.


“What do you mean, ‘what’. The dude’s obviously human,” Ludwig replied, earning an unsure sound from Leslie.


“Why don’t we ask him?” Sykkuno suggested.


“He looks human, doesn’t mean he is. There aren’t any people here, Lud. No recorded flights even coming near this system,” she argued back.


“It doesn’t matter what’s been recorded, he’s obviously here. And by the state of his ship, I’m guessing it wasn’t his intended destination,” Ludwig continued.


Sykkuno looked over at their captain, who had stayed silent from the moment the stranger had stepped out of the cargo bay. Even now, he had his chin resting in his hand, brow furrowed. He wondered if he was even listening to the argument that was happening around him.


“Can we really be sure it’s even a human? We can’t see it’s face,” Leslie spoke up, sounding hesitant as she looked into the medbay.


“Exactly,” Rachel agreed. Sykkuno wonders if she’s just as afraid as the rest of them and hiding it underneath a mask of anger.


He follows Leslie’s gaze, through the reinforced glass door. The cuffs holding his wrists together are connected to a chain that’s been locked to the bed, too short to allow him to stand up properly if he wanted to. For the most part, he seems content to just sit there and wait for them to argue it out, his shoulders relaxed, helmet turning towards them again as if he sensed their eyes on him.


“...Who’s the medical officer?” Sykkuno asks, unable to hold eye contact even through the tinted helmet, turning back over his shoulder to look at the others. Surely it would be simple to run some basic testing and put the argument to rest. Well, it would be easy if the stranger consented to testing. He seemed to comply so far, causing no fuss as he was put on the back of Sykkuno’s bike and taken back to the dropship. Leslie blinks back at him.


“You’re medical,” she replies, confusion obvious on her face as she frowns, the expression mirrored on the other three crew mates as they all have their attention on him for the first time. He feels himself pale.


“Me? What- me?” He stumbles over his words. “Wait, no. I’m just an ecologist, I’m here for plants, lifeforms, I mean, I was recommended for my terraforming work, not- I’m not a doctor. Come on, guys,” he runs out of breath.


“Your profile said you were qualified. That you spent four years in residency before taking biology,” Rachel replies, sharp words cutting through him. He didn’t think that anyone but the recruiting team would have bothered to read his profile, and he realises that she knows much more about him than she had let on when they first walked through the ship together. “Are you telling me you lied to us?”


“No! I would never lie,” he rushes. “I just thought, I thought that there would be someone more qualified. Than me.”


Rachel looks like her eyes are impossibly wide, mouth agape, “Four years!” she exclaims, getting cut off as Ludwig laughs.


Disbelieving, the Navigator shakes his head. “Great! Fucking great. So the guy I go to when I need to be stitched up can’t keep his hands from shaking,” he says, and Sykkuno winces, internally. A heavy hand claps onto his shoulder, holding him just a little bit too tight. “At least it’ll make a nice looking scar, huh?”


Leslie looks even more nervous than she had a minute ago, finger worrying at her bottom lip. Any faith the crew might have been holding out for him is gone now, he knows it.




Hearing his name, he quickly looks over at the captain as he finally breaks his silence, shrinking smaller in his suit.


“What is a pulmonary embolism?” he asks. Sykkuno pauses, unsure why he’s asking that question now, of all times. He realises that he might take his pause for not knowing the answer and he clears his throat.


“It’s a blocked artery in the lung…” he answers.


“What’s the Rh factor?”


“A protein that coats the surface of a red blood cell. What-”


“You know how to run our equipments system?” Jeremy interrupts before he can ask why he was getting a basic medical knowledge quiz right now. Sykkuno just nods his head in silent reply. Ludwig lets go of his shoulder and goes to lean up against the opposite wall, muttering quietly with Rachel too quiet for him to hear. He’s sure they’re talking about him.


“Well, I’m just going to have to trust you on the answer to those questions because I wouldn’t know the answer myself. You can run the systems, you have the experience, you’re the one we go to for medical. Understood?”


Sykkuno just nods his head silently again, feeling like a teenager again being chastised in class for not finishing his exam. The captain pauses, and he can tell that he’s staring at him even though he’s not looking back, before he sighs, turning to address the rest of the team.


“So far the Unknown doesn’t seem hostile, and if the ship belongs to him, it looks like it came from Earth. Sykkuno will do some tests, confirm that he’s human. Ask him what the fuck he’s doing here, and see if back home can confirm any of his story,” his words are clear, confident. Leaving no room for argument. Everyone nods their heads, and the attention is turned back on Sykkuno.


Leslie steps away from the medical door, getting instructions to be ready to rush in the moment she thinks things are getting dangerous. Sykkuno takes a breath, steadying himself before going inside. The door feels like it takes an age to open and close, and he knows then that if this stranger wanted to kill him, they wouldn’t have time to get inside and save him before it was too late.


The medical bay is overpoweringly white, it makes him uncomfortable. Nowhere to hide between the sterile beds and the computer monitor.


“...Hey,” he says, mirroring the first and only words he’d heard from the other when they’d picked him up. From the moment they had him on the bike to when he was being attached to the bed, he hadn’t said a word.


“Hi,” he replies back simply, and Sykkuno can feel the depth of his voice echoing in his chest. He swallows.


“I’m sorry about the cuffs. Everyone’s just a little nervous. We weren’t expecting visitors,” he said, taking a few steps closer and looking at the screen of the medical terminal beside him. It’s basic, simple, he’ll be able to use it.


“Technically, I would say that you were the visitors, since I got here first,” the stranger replied.


Sykkuno struggled to figure out whether it was a broken transmission, or the helmet muffling him, or if that’s genuinely just what he sounded like. Still, he offers him a meek smile. Better to get on his good side, rather than antagonise him. Looking back over his shoulder, he can see the others all watching him through the door with varying degrees of concern on their face.


“Yes, that’s…” he fades off.


“That’s the problem?” he guesses, filling in the rest of his sentence for him. Sykkuno nods. Most people don’t have the patience to wait for him to figure out how to translate his thoughts into words, especially when he was nervous. He takes a breath, getting straight to the point.


“Will you let me do a saliva test?” he requests, looking at his helmet and only seeing his reflection staring back at him. He figures it’s the easiest and least invasive test he could do to get DNA from him. The stranger shakes his head.


“You can take my blood, instead. Gotta make sure I’m one of you, right?” he chuckles a little to himself, like hes not afraid of them at all. Sykkuno pats the side of his suit as if he was wiping sweaty hands on his pants.


Right, okay. He can do a blood test. It would be fine, he’d been the one to offer. He wants to ask why he can’t take his helmet off, surely it wasn’t doing much in the way of protecting him with that giant crack going up the entire left side. Removing his own gloves from the suit, he pulls on a pair of latex gloves instead, still sterile.


The stranger pulls off the glove of one of his own hands, letting it drop down onto the floor. The skin underneath is paler than Sykkuno expected. He has to step closer to the bed to push the sleeve of his suit upwards, exposing the length of his forearm. Well, finding a vein is easy enough, he thinks as he uncaps the needle.


“My name is Sykkuno. Sorry, I should have started with that. What can I call you?” he asks, distracting him from the gentle prick to the inside of his elbow as he pushes in the needle, bright red blood instantly pouring up into the syringe.


“Sykkuno,” he repeats, like he was tasting the way his name sounds on his tongue, dragging it out, and he’s glad he inserted the needle already, otherwise he might have missed his mark. “You can call me Corpse.”


“That’s…” he starts, hesitating as he holds back his honesty. “That’s an unusual name.”


“I should be dead, so. I think it fits,” he answers easily, shrugging one shoulder. Sykkuno finishes taking the sample and withdraws the needle, placing a cotton swab against the pinprick and taping it down neatly. Every time he answers him, it just gives Sykkuno more questions in his head. What was he doing here, why wouldn’t he take off his helmet, why did he think he should be dead?


“Normally I’d get a lollipop to suck on now,” Corpse speaks up as Sykkuno attaches the plunger to a vial, sliding it into the drive on the terminal.


“Sorry. No sugar in space,” he replies, typing in his ID number and starting the terminal up to run it’s test. A flashing screen told him it was running, with a count down timer at the bottom. It would be another ten minutes before he got a definite blood work analysis back. Ten minutes of conversation with this stranger. It may as well be an hour.


“Ah. Is that why everyone is so miserable looking?” Corpse replies, his helmet tilting to the side.


“They’re just worried,” Sykkuno replies. Himself included. He can’t blame any of them for their reaction. He bounces his foot against the ground.


“Mh. So what happens if that comes back saying I’m not human? I get taken around the back and shot?” he asks.


Sykkuno bites down against the inside of his cheek, hard. He doesn’t like the image that flashed in his mind. “I don’t know what would happen,” he replied honestly. “I don’t like the idea of killing you, if that makes any difference.”


“Not really. I’m guessing you don’t get much of a say in what happens to me,” Corpse replies with an easy shrug of his shoulders, too easy considering what they’re talking about. Sykkuno wants to change the subject, but carrying a conversation wasn’t one of his strengths. He watches as the countdown on the computer ticks down each minute.


“Are you the only one here?” he asks. Sykkuno figured the captain would yank him out of there if he was just going to waste time by sitting in silence. There was so much he wanted to know, that he needed to ask, figuring out where to begin was overwhelming.


“You’re the first people I’ve seen since I landed here,” he says. Sykkuno wants to believe him, doesn’t get the sense that he’s being lied to. Though, he’s been wrong about that in the past, not exactly the best at judging a person's character. They should have sent someone else in here to do the talking if they wanted to know more. He assumed they would anyways once he was done with the testing.


“How long have you been here for?” he asks.


“I’ve gone around this sun nearly four times. How many years that is on Earth, I’ve got no fucking idea. I figure it’s been a while, considering the look of this place. All white, it’s like a tacky sci-fi movie.”


“What year did you leave Earth? That might make it a little easier,” Sykkuno prompts him. Corpse tips his head back as if he’s remembering. Or doing some math to come up with a lie.


“2024. March. I don’t remember the exact date anymore,” he gives him after a moment.


“2024?” he echoed, confirming that he heard him right, getting a nod back from the other. “Right. Okay.” The computer chimed in, the count down hitting zero. Sykkuno swings around, putting his ID in again and scanning through the results on the screen.


50% plasma, perfect. White blood cell count looked a little low, iron levels were good, red cells, platelets, he checked off all the boxes. Nothing stood out as abnormal, and he visibly relaxed, exhaling and dropping his shoulders.


“What’s the diagnosis, Doc?”


Sykkuno gives him a small smile, relieved. “Looks like we don’t have to shoot you yet.”