title taken from Asylums for The Feeling by Silent Poets
The ship is cold. The heating has been running at the bare minimum for the past ten months, just enough to not cause any damage to it’s sleeping cargo, all nestled in their own compartments, neatly organised. The pods had reminded Sykkuno of capsule hotels, just enough space in each to roll over from one side to the other. The bedding is Skeld Standard, crisp grey cotton, the pillow dense and flat. He’s grateful his frame isn’t any bigger, or that he doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia. The pods are a one-size-fits-all.
He wasn’t the first to be woken up, the top of his pod hissing as it lifted, stirring him from his artificial hibernation. He hears a buzzing in his ears before he opens his eyes. Too fast, he lifts himself up and swings his legs over the side of the pod, one arm going straight to his stomach as it churned. Hearing a retch from across from him, he sees another crew member who must have made the same mistake that he did, a foil lined bag clutched in his hands.
They make eye contact, and Sykunno pretends to not notice the beige-coloured bits of vomit stuck in the top of his moustache as he smiles across to him, one arm extending out to offer him the half full spew bag. He waves his hand silently, refusing the offer, throat still too dry to speak and even if he could, he couldn’t remember the other man's name quite yet.
Other crew members had already started the coffee by the time he had stumbled out into the cafeteria. It takes a while to get used to being awake again, rubbing blood and warmth into his fingertips as Sykkuno sat down at the table. The coffee jug is passed around, steam rising up from the mugs. Biscuits, porridge, mashed potato, rice, different containers of food all landing somewhere on the spectrum between white and brown. Everyone else seemed lively enough, the chatter all overlapping into white noise. Slowly names started coming back to him as he watched and listened to them, wrapping his hands around the warm mug.
“Give me another ten months, then maybe.”
“Pass the milk over-”
“-you know, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, did you-”
“Oi, has anyone seen-”
“Shit, it’s cold. Nobody’s turned on the heating yet?” Sykkuno’s coffee splashes as he jumps, the hot liquid scalding his fingers. The brunet man from earlier suddenly appears at his side and takes the empty seat next to him. With a quick glance at his face, Sykkuno can see that he’s cleaned off his mustache. He’s wearing his uniform like the rest of them now, a small patch on the left side of his chest reading that he’s the Navigator.
Ludwig, his memory finally supplies his name. That would have been so embarrassing if he couldn’t remember, he couldn’t start their mission by being so rude. Sykkuno had planned for this, reading through the crew list and looking up everyone's profile, reading up on what they studied, what their role was going to be on the ship, laying in bed memorising everyone's names and matching them to their faces.
Ludwig is mid-sentence when Sykkuno zones back in, realising that he was having a one sided conversation with himself while he was too busy worrying over names.
“-gonna eat anything? I’m craving oranges, something other than this bland shit. Scurvy's a real thing, right? Isn't that why they put lemons on old ships? Hey, you’re the science officer, d’you know if we get to plant any crops while we’re down there? Please tell me we don’t have to eat this shit for the next five years.”
Sykkuno sips at his coffee, stalling before he answers. “Well...we can’t really introduce any foreign species to, to their environment, especially plants. Besides, the food’s not so bad...” he replied as he snapped a biscuit in half and dunked it into his coffee.
Ludwig seemed to deflate a little at his answer, sighing as he serves himself a medley of potato, rice, and dry cereal. It probably hadn’t been the answer he’d been waiting to hear but it was the truthful one.
He chews on his biscuit slowly, still getting over the nausea of waking up from hibernation. Maybe throwing up would have been a good idea after all, seeing the way that Ludwig was digging into his meal, his attention turned to another one of the crew as he chatted.
They had gone through the easy part. If something had happened to them while the ship was travelling and everyone was asleep, it would have been a quiet death. The idea of being completely helpless for months on end had been one that had kept him up at night in the days leading up to boarding the ship. He hadn’t heard anyone else talking about the same fears that he had, so maybe he was the only one. Of course, he shouldn’t doubt the other crew, they were all brilliant in their respected fields, all experienced, all prepared for the mission they’d been assigned. Why would they waste their time worrying over something as useless as a crash during hibernation? Nobody smart worried about things that they couldn't control, and everyone here was smart.
It was unlikely that it would happen anyways, he reassured himself. They weren’t travelling through any known hotspots for debris, and the systems were all the highest technology made available. It had to be. They were travelling for millions on millions of miles out into the depths of space, searching for somewhere safe, somewhere they could live. Their government wouldn’t risk sending them out here in anything but the best.
That’s what he told himself at least, to keep himself from spiralling down into what if’s. What if a stray piece of rock hit them at just the right spot to send them off course, and by the time they awoke they were across the other side of the universe without enough fuel to get back home. What if the heating failed entirely, and they were frozen, doomed to drift endlessly into darkness. What if the wake up system failed, and they stayed in their artificial hibernation for years, until their bodies withered away into nothingness? What if-
A firm hand drops onto his shoulder and for the second time, Sykkuno nearly spills his coffee.
"Hey, science guy. Captain wants you out the front before we start to descend," a brunette with two long braids running over both her shoulders lets him know. He nods quickly, leaving his half finished coffee behind on the table as he leaves the cafeteria.
The woman, Rachel, he's fairly certain, doesn't wait up for him to follow, walking with a confidence that he would be right there behind her. He catches up, following in rhythm half a step back. The sound of their footsteps isn’t as loud as he expected it should be against the titanium alloy, making the silence between them more noticeable.
“So, how’d you get roped into this?” she asks, looking back over her shoulder. Sykkuno figures she’s just trying to be polite. He should have said something first, properly introduced himself.
“I, ah, was recommended by a colleague. Friend,” he quickly corrected, unsure which sounded better. “Lily and I worked together on a terraforming project in the Daintree.”
“You were the one who led that? Bet you’re freezing up here now, after getting used to that desert, right? Well, I guess it’s not all desert anymore.”
Sykkuno shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t mind it. You do get used to the heat after a while.” Once the project really started working and the rainforest rehabilitation phases began, he’d been wishing for the hot, dry heat of the scorched desert again. At least that was more bearable than the stick humidity that clung to his skin.
Rachel just hummed, and they were back to silence as they crossed through the ship. He’s not sure why the Captain would request to see him before landing, surely someone like the navigator, or maybe even one of the engineers would be more helpful for them. He was only here to study, he didn’t know anything on how to fly a ship, not compared to these people.
He wasn’t left wondering for long, the Captain raising a hand to wave him over as the door slid open. Rachel let him go in ahead, hanging around to the back of the room.
“You look like shit,” he greets, a smile contrasting his words. Sykkuno stumbles mentally, unsure what to say in response. He couldn’t talk to his captain in the same way, he needed to be professional. Maybe he should have stopped by the med bay and tidied himself up instead of getting dressed and rushing straight to the cafeteria like everyone else. He ducks his head in a shallow nod, not meeting his eyes.
“Yeah. I’m about ten months overdue for a shower,” he replies quietly, which earned him a laugh.
“I feel like I’ve got the worst fucking hangover, and the coffee doesn’t do much to help,” he complained, shaking his head before offering out his hand to shake. “This mission was kinda rushed so I didn’t get time to meet everyone before we were tucked into bed. Jeremy,” he introduced.
Sykkuno took his hand as he introduced himself back, the others grasp firm and sure while he felt about as limp as a dead fish. God, bad first impression. He couldn’t even shake his captains hand right. If it bothered Jeremy, he didn’t make any comment on it, motioning the other to follow him over to one of the monitors.
Sykkuno scanned over the screen, seeing atmosphere readings. He assumed that they were for the planet below them, visible on another projection across the room. Leaning closer, he frowns as he concentrates.
What he’s looking at makes sense, it’s almost worryingly perfect, matching up exactly with all the reports he had studied on the planet. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide… Some of the smaller percentages are a bit off, but nothing that would make him worry. The air is cleaner than it had ever been back home.
“Is it safe?” the captain asked, shaking him from his thoughts. Sykkuno paused, double checking.
“Yes. Yeah, textbook. A little dense, but nothing the air filters will struggle with,” he replied.
“Too good to be true, you mean?” Rachel spoke up, and Jeremy huffed a half-smile.
“That’s what I wanted to hear. I’ll send the data to the engineers, they can fiddle with the suits air filters if they decide they need it. You’ve got three hours before we separate and touch down.”
Sykkuno nods, figuring that he’s being dismissed now that his job is done, thanking them both before leaving. Three hours gave him enough time to clean himself up, scrubbing his scalp under the cold run of the shower, the lingering comment from the captain in the back of his mind.
He’s first to make it to the transport vehicle, strapped in and ready as everyone he saw earlier from the cafeteria starts filtering in. He adjusts his seat straps again, suddenly feeling too tight over his chest as their descent starts, pulling away from the main ship. Taking off and landing were statistically the most dangerous parts of the journey, with most accidents occuring while entering a planet's atmosphere. Too many variables, wildlife, a GPS error, weather, anything could equal disaster.
“We’re in orbit, people. Get ready for a pressure change,” Jeremy announces. Sykkuno wishes he had some gum to chew on for his ears.
Ludwig sat up the front, flicking open the shutters and revealing the planet below them as they began breaking the atmosphere. Sykkuno gets a glimpse of grey clouds, a dark blue-grey of an ocean, before he’s closing his eyes and quietly counting down in his head.
“Turbulence,” Ludwig warns a second before the entire ship rocks to the side. His neighbour sitting beside him swears under her breath. Sykkuno keeps his eyes tightly closed. Overhead shakes as they rock through the clouds.
“We’re dropping too fast, Lud…” the captain warns, earning a grunt from the other as he reaches over and flicks some switches up.
“Fuckin’- clouds are screwing with us,” he replies.Sykkuno holds onto his seat with a white-knuckled grip. This is his fault, he should have checked the air density, not just the makeup, he could have seen the storm coming, could have prepared better-
“We’re twenty away. Fifteen. Twelve. Ten, Lud-” Rachel flicks off an alarm on the dashboard in front of her.
“I’m locking it in,” he snaps back, the compressor groaning under the pressure. The turbulence breaks as quickly as it had begun, air brakes hissing outside the ship as they lowered down.
“Eight. Six. Five, we’re slowing. Easy…”
The engines change direction and the ship stops completely, hovering in place before lowering itself down meter by meter. Sykkuno opens his eyes and sees the rocky surface extending out from underneath them. The landing gear opens, cushioning the final jostle as the ship lands safely. Ludwig twists in his seat to look back at everyone with a grin, Rachel shoving his shoulder as she unbuckles herself from her seat. Sykkuno drops his head back and exhales in relief.
Everyone is silent as the doors decompress, sliding open with a hiss of vapour. Sykkuno is at the back of the pack, but the shine of the sunlight still pierces through over the top of everyone's heads, and he squints through his helmet. He doesn’t think he has ever seen so much green in real life. Photos, maybe, in old textbooks and studies from before the Earth dried out, all it’s rainforests depleted and scorched into nothing but endless waves of sand.
He steps out, disbelieving. He can actually look out and see the horizon, where the land meets the sky, without a haze of grey pollution clouding it over, or the shimmer of heat. He squints, the sunlight glinting off something that doesn’t match the natural jagged edges of the cliff sides surrounding them. The other crew see it too, and Sykkuno fishes his binoculars out from his cargo bag.
His mouth is dry. He doesn’t understand what he’s seeing, it doesn’t make any sense. Passing the binoculars over to Jeremy, he lets him look through and confirm that he’s just crazy and seeing things, a trick of the light against rock. The silence lasts a beat too long for him to keep feeling so hopeful.
“It’s a ship,” he confirms.
Sykkuno feels weak in the knees as the bikes are geared up. There shouldn’t be any one here. They were the first mission to be sent out to this planet, the first to even be in this direction of the galaxy. Ludwig swears their coordinates are right, that they haven’t fucked it up somehow and landed on the wrong rock. Sykkuno wishes they did.
He takes a breath. What kind of scientist is afraid of the unknown? He tells himself that as they ride over. The closer they get, the more defined the ship becomes. There is a logo printed in purple on the back, but he can’t make it out, faded by the sun. It’s been here for a while. Not long enough for nature to reclaim it, but enough for rust lines to fall down the sides. He doubted it could fly.
Sykkuno dismounts his bike last, a weapon strapped to his back that he doesn’t reach for. Jeremy, Rachel, an engineer named Leslie, all flank his sides as they approach the front. Ludwig chimes into their ear through the comms that there’s no signals coming from the ship.
They don’t need to get to the entrance before there’s sound coming from the cargo bay, footsteps against metal. It sounds human. That doesn’t make him feel any better yet. Leslie raises her weapon and holds.
“Wait,” he breathes, frozen in place. The footsteps continue. From the darkness inside of the ship, a figure approaches, dressed in a black suit that looks too familiar to his own. Leslie lowers her weapon in shock. The figure’s helmet is cracked all up the left side, splitting and branching out over where Sykkuno assumes his eye to be if he were human. He can’t see through the tint at the face behind it.
Sykkuno doesn’t breathe. The black stranger raise their free hand up slowly in a wave, and speaks.
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.”
The lushness of the planet still shocks him, even after a week of exploring. It’s hard to get used to the sight of completely natural biospheres flourishing, the chlorophyll in the leaves so shockingly green he would have dismissed the colour as unnatural if he had seen it in his own projects back home.
He doesn’t really miss it yet. He misses the routine, the familiarity of his work, waking up and knowing to expect the dry heat of the desert on his back, the rumble of terraforming equipment permanently resonating in his ears. He doesn’t miss it as ‘home’ yet, though. He's doing similar work here, and the private rooms in the dropship were big enough for what he needed.
Sykkuno kneels down, tapping at the comms recorder on the side of his helmet to make sure that it was working.
“Section C, location E25 on the grid map. Samples test as reading acidic, as expected. Species is visually truncated, though it cannot be compared to any existing records. Field testing confirms a lack of polymeric sugars, however what replaces this is unclear” he records, holding the test section up to the sun and appreciating the subtle shift in colours.
His comms clicks to life in his ear, a quiet laugh.
“Everyone copy that? Sykkuno has discovered leaves again, for the ninth day in a row,” Lily teases, and with a gasp he realises that he hadn’t been recording information to himself but broadcasting it to every member of the team.
“Sorry, sorry everyone!” he exclaims, hand going straight to his mouth. He sets the sample back to the ground and looks to the control panel on his wrist to adjust the settings properly. He can feel the tips of his ears burning with embarrassment.
“All the holes in the ground near the dropship wouldn’t possibly be from you taking dirt samples, would it Sykkuno?” a second voice chimes in, and he can hear the grin in Rachel’s voice.
“I need to- need to compare the particle size at different depths, and analyse the chemical-” he replies, knowing that he’s probably being teased still, but gives him the honest answer anyways.
“Mh, I love it when you talk dirty to me,” Ludwig’s comms clicks over the top of him.
Sykkuno chokes, laughter crackling through as several people all spoke at once, Lily telling Ludwig off for making rude jokes, Rachel egging him on.
“Sorry guys,” he apologises again, clicking himself over to mute so that he doesn’t accidentally disturb them again while they’re all working. There’s some brief chatter before the line goes silent, and he’s left alone again.
Getting back up to his feet, he can see Leslie the next section over, the white of the pop-up shade tent reflecting the light of the sun. The drop ship isn’t visible, but the stretch of the mountain they had parked at the base of stretches far up into the sky. The tip is dusted white, and Sykkuno is itching to go up there and see if it’s snow.
In the twelve days since they had landed on the planet, it hadn’t rained once. That didn’t exactly count as a drought, he knew, but he had expected at least a light shower in the evening, considering how overgrown and lush everything was. Lily had been the one to point it out to him first, the way that the ground was covered in dew when they would wake up in the mornings.
From what he could tell, the sun didn’t move more than fifteen degrees in the sky each day. There was no moon circling the planet, giving it night. Instead, the sky would slowly be covered in clouds as the day went on, until the sun was completely obstructed and it was dark. Roughly eight hours would pass, and the clouds would dissipate, revealing a new day.
It was an interesting system, one that left dew on the ground every single morning, giving water to all the life without needing to wait for rain. A system that didn't carve out rivers with the erosion of water running down from the mountains. He didn’t quite understand yet how it could work so rhythmically, but he figured he had only been there for less than two weeks, and he should focus on getting the basics sorted first. That included studying dirt and leaves.
Studying was the wrong word for it. Babysitting was probably a more accurate way to describe his role. After the blood test had come back positively, absolutely, 100% human after double, triple checking to be sure, there had been the debate of what to do with him now.
Corpse was vague about the details of why he was there when he asked, blaming it on memory loss after being here by himself for so long before cleverly changing the subject around on him. The others didn’t buy it. Sykkuno wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, solitude wasn’t healthy for anyone. There was a reason confinement was used as punishment in prisons.
The information he had been able to get out of him seemed to be plausible, at best. There was no record of his flight path because he wasn’t supposed to be this far off from his intended course, an engine failure waking him up mid-hibernation. Nothing in the government's database for the dates he provided because it had been a privately funded mission. Essentially, nothing that could be traced back and fact checked.
Despite it, Sykkuno had been the one to first suggest he join their crew.
“He’s one of us, and he’s been alone this whole time. We can’t just...send him back to his ship and pretend like he’s not around,” he said, twisting the mug of coffee between his hands.
“I don’t know about calling him one of us yet, but he’s right. It would be cruel to abandon him now that we know he’s human,” Rachel nodded her head.
“He hasn’t said anything about his other crewmates. People don’t just disappear, and people don’t just forget about it either. For all we know, he’s got bodies stuffed in the vents of that old ship,” Leslie added.
Jeremy didn’t say anything, tapping his finger against the rim of his own mug, that look on his face again that made Sykkuno think that he wasn’t listening to what they had to say and lost in his own thoughts. Was it even worth trying to convince him either way?
“I don’t trust any part of that story he’s told us. Private mission? You think at least one of us would remember seeing a story about that on the news. Especially back in 2024, are you kidding me?” Ludwig shook his head, his expression torn.
“It would be easier to trust him if he would take off his helmet and show us his face,” Tina muttered down into her coffee, getting a quiet hum of agreement from Rachel.
“What are our options, though? Do we really have to choose between sending him away, or letting him join us?” Lily worried her bottom lip between her teeth.
Sykkuno refilled his mug with extra coffee, swirling it around in the cup and wishing he had some sugar cubes to drop inside it. The artificial stuff just didn’t taste the same, leaving a cloying taste at the back of his throat.
“You're forgetting the third option where he kills us all,” Poki exhaled, sinking her face down into her hands. Everyone at the table went quiet, silent apart from the sound of people taking a sip of their drink.
Nobody else seemed to be saying anything, and Sykkuno took the break as his chance to get a word in. “He’s valuable. He’s been on this planet for years, and survived it as well. He knows what the cycles are like, what the plant life is like, whether there are any fauna. I think,” Sykkuno swallowed, hyperaware that everyone at the table was now looking and listening to what he had to say, and he lost his nerve. “I think,-” he started again.
“I think what Sykkuno’s trying to say is that it’s worth the risk. If he’s a murderous psychopath, he already knows where we are, and there’s little that would stop him from coming back if we kicked him back to his own ship. Better to have another person on our side,” Jeremy decided, leaning back against his chair, swinging it a little from side to side.
Sykkuno nodded his head, glad to have been backed up by the captain. He still felt like he needed to prove himself to them, that he was more than just dead weight and a guy that could read the chemical analysis charts. Oh, and give them a shaky stitch job.
Being the first one to openly support having him on the team, Sykkuno was given the responsibility of watching him through the day. Jeremy promises him that if he was crazy and he did kill him out in the field, they'd get the warning that his vitals had disconnected and they'd know that Corpse was dangerous before he'd get back to base. It wasn't as reassuring as the other must have intended it to be.
Having him around wasn’t so bad, once he got over the stage fright of feeling like someone was watching him over his shoulder while he worked. For the most part, Corpse just seemed happy to have the company, even if Sykkuno wasn’t the most talkative or interesting companion.
Looking up from his testing site, he could see the other standing near the bikes, arms crossed over his chest and helmet dipped down like he was resting. Nearly two weeks, and he still had never seen him with it off. They all had their own private rooms to sleep in, surely he wouldn’t be wearing it to bed too, right? The others had made comments about it, especially the first few nights back at the dropship as they ate tinned beans and mashed potato, but it felt like it was a sore point with the other and Sykkuno didn't want to pressure him into talking about it if he wasn't ready. Even if he was curious.
He packs up the field testing equipment, clicking the cargo box shut with all his samples from that day safely stored inside. Eight different clippings of vegetation and six more that were in various stages of decomposition. Carrying it over to the bikes, Corpse reached out his hand and took the box from Sykkuno, strapping it to the back of the bike for him.
“Good leaves?” he commented.
Sukunno laughs at himself, pressing his lips together. “You heard it too, then."
He wonders if Corpse is smiling behind his helmet or if he was just imagining it in his tone of voice. He's surprisingly friendly for a guy who had been on his own for years. Sykkuno thinks he would have gone crazy if it had been him.
“Mhm. Didn’t ever think there was so much to learn about leaves before,” he replied, winching the strap on the back of the bike tight, giving the cargo box a little wiggle to make sure it doesn’t move around too much.
“I’ve never had so many different kinds to study out in the field before. It’s not the same as reading about it,” he defends himself. The only part of Corpse that he's ever seen out of his suit is his hands, and half on one arm. He remembers his skin being so shockingly fair it was practically translucent, and Sykkuno wonders where he kept the suit on even during all those years he spent on the planet completely alone, with no one to hide from.
“What, not enough leaves on Earth to satisfy you?” he says, seemingly completely unaware of Sykkuno's staring as he works the winch. He can definitely hear the smile in his voice now.
“Not enough that I didn’t terraform myself. That’s not the same as the real thing, either. You can get all the cells right, all the details, virtually impossible to tell apart from the real deal under a microscope, and it still… It doesn't give off that same smell when the rain falls. They turn yellow but it's methodical, mathematical, so perfectly random that it becomes predictable. Humans are so hardwired to see a pattern in anything, the moment something is truly random, it feels wrong. Ah, I'm rambling, sorry, you probably didn't want to get a lecture," Sykkuno ducks his head down.
Corpse goes quiet for a moment, his helmet tipping to the left as he studies Sykkuno. The scientist shifts in place, looking down at the bike like it was the most interesting thing in front of him.
"I don't mind. Sounds like the place really went to shit since I left," he says after a beat. Sykkuno shrugs his shoulders, glad to not linger on his rant about leaves.
"Bad enough to send us out here looking for a fresh start, I guess. I didn't mind it, you get used to the dust after a while," he said.
Corpse hums, and Sykkuno can swear he feels it in his chest.
"Someone like you has got to have someone waiting back home, or are you going to bring them here once it's deemed sustainable?" He asks.
"Some- someone like me? What is that supposed to mean?" He echoes back, shaking his head quickly. He pats down the side of his suit, a new nervous habit he could add to the long list. He knows what it's supposed to mean, and he knows that Corpse is only saying it to get a reaction. People like him don't have someone waiting for them to return.
His comms beeps back to life at the perfect time, and Sykkuno switches it off mute.
“Field team here,” he says.
“Hey guys, you all gonna have a sleepover out there tonight or are you coming back in to base?” Lily chirps.
“Packing it up now, we’ll be back in the hour,” he promises, looking up towards the sky. The cloud cover was coming in thicker now, able to look at the sun through the veil without squinting his eyes.
“Wind’s picking up, there’s a storm cell about 50 out from where you are, moving at 12 degrees. You don’t wanna be late, it's dessert night tonight. We’ve got tinned peaches and if you’re too slow getting back Ludwig’s gonna eat it all,” she warned.
“On our way, make sure you hide some for us,” he replies, looking over to where Leslie was crouched over a shrub and waved his arms to get her attention.
“I’ll hide two tins for you both,” Lily assured him.
Sykkuno glances over his shoulder at Corpse behind him, wondering if he was included in the call. “Three tins,” he corrects. If he is, he isn’t showing it.
“Oh. Yeah, three. That’s wha...t-t-to sssss…” Lily’s voice skips like a scratched CD, a hiss of static overriding her words.
“Lily? Lily? Our connection isn't any good. Can you hear me? Lily?” Sykkuno waves to Leslie again who lifts her head and gives him a thumbs up, sorting out her own station and packing it down. The comms line was completely silent, and looking at his wrist computer didn’t give him any answer as to why they’d dropped out, unhelpfully blinking back at him that he didn't have any signal.
Great. Okay, this was fine. They weren’t too far out, less than an hour's ride out from the dropship. They still had plenty of time left in the day before it was covered in darkness. The night was darker than anything back home, no moon or stars to illuminate the landscape. He didn’t want to be stuck out here, blinded and relying on their navigation.
Sykkuno looked to his wrist again, bringing up his navigation panel. Where there should have been a traced path from the dropship to their current location was just...nothing. Whatever had cut the call with Lily short had messed up his entire connection to the network.
"Did your connection drop out too?" She asks as Leslie catches up to them, sample case tucked underneath her arm.
“Yeah. It’s fine, we just have to head in the direction of that mountain and we’ll run into the ship,” he says, Wind picks up around them, sounding like a waterfall as it rushes through the trees.
“We’re gonna lose light before we finish packing up the tent and locking down the gear on the bikes, you’ll be steering us blind,” Corpse points out. Sykkuno looks at Leslie who looks guilty as she shrugs her shoulders back at him.
“I hate to admit it, but he’s got a point. We can’t see anything down here once the sun gets blocked,” she says, and he hates that he knows they’re both right.
“I’ll drive in front. I know the area, I’ve gone back and forth out this way a hundred times by now,” Corpse says and Sykkuno bites down on the inside of his cheek. He’s under strict instruction to not let Corpse even hold onto the keys for the bikes while they’re out in the field together. There’s a chance they could get back to the ship and park the bikes without getting spotted, but if Jeremy ever asked him if he broke the rules, he wouldn’t be able to lie. Sykkuno is the one meant to drive, he’s the team leader, and he hates to have to break a rule.
“There’s enough light to follow the mountain and get back to the ship without using the navigation. Corpse and I will stay back and finish packing up here, you go ahead of us Leslie,” he decides.
She looks between the two of them, protesting that they should all stay together, to which Sykkuno just shakes his head. “It’s okay,” he reassures. “Corpse will lead me back, it’s safer than losing you in the dark behind us.”
Leslie holds her breath before exhaling and nodding her head. She knows the rules just as well as Sykkuno does, even if she is a little more comfortable with bending them when the situation needs it. He didn’t think they were desperate enough for that yet.
Corpse takes Leslie’s sample case to tie onto the back of their own bike on top of Sykkuno’s and she dons her helmet.
“Don’t wait around too long,” she says, swinging her leg over the side of her bike and taking off on her own. Sykkuno watches for just a moment as dirt kicks up in the air, leaving a trail behind her as she heads towards the mountain. The scenery around them starts to desaturate as the cloud cover gets thicker, and a timer starts to tick in the back of Sykkuno’s mind.
He gets to work taking down the field tent, and Corpse reaches over the top of him, pulling the canvas down without having to reach up on his tiptoes, and rolls the thick material up between his hands. Sykkuno kneels down behind the bike, pulling the straps holding their test equipment through the winch until he can’t pull anymore.
“Sykkuno,” Corpse spoke up behind him, getting his attention. He points over the top of his head, up towards the sky on the horizon. Sykkuno’s gaze followed out to where he had pointed, and he could see the way the sky darkened on the horizon, a hazy grey-green that just made him even more anxious to get back.
“How long have we got before it hits us?” he asked.
“Considering how fast it’s coming over, I’d say I wouldn’t wanna be still standing here in the next eight minutes,” he replied. Sykkuno nodded sharply. Okay. So, he just had to get all their equipment packed up in the next eight minutes, and ride back in low visibility, with no navigation to help them. Great, fine, perfect, he could totally do that, with nobody getting hurt, and getting them back to the drop ship in time and-
“Alright. Okay,” he says, nodding his head once and getting out of the way as Corpse packs the tent into the satchel on the side of the bike. He hesitates, wasting a second of time that he doesn’t have, before tying it down. It feels wrong, he shouldn’t be doing this even if he was in a rush, he should be following the safety guidelines so that they aren’t unbalanced on the bike. Corpse doesn’t give him a chance to second guess himself anymore, climbing on and starting the motor up.
Sykkuno pulls his helmet on and climbs onto the back of the bike with Corpse in front who flicks a switch and turns the headlights on.
“Hold on,” he can feel Corpse speaking more than hear him, the tenor of his voice moving straight into Sykkuno’s chest as he nods his head and he wraps his arms around his middle. They take off with a jolt, and he pulls his arms in tighter.
Lifting his head up, he can watch as the sun fades from orange, to red, to a hazy purple, and then it’s gone. Normally the sight was rather beautiful, but now it only twists at the dread gripping his stomach. There’s no moon to reflect light back onto the planet, enveloping them in a darkness so complete that Sykkuno can’t tell when his eyes are open or shut. He doesn’t know how Corpse can see anything, and maybe it was the right idea to let him drive them back. The bike steers around the terrain comfortably, taking wide turns around rocks, slowly speeding up as they get out from under the cover of the trees and out onto the flat plain.
The storm’s chasing at their heels now, leaves and debris flying through, carried by the wind that pushes against the side of the bike. They should slow down, take the ride with more caution, but Sykkuno doesn’t want to stay out here in the storm any longer than Corpse seems to. He hasn’t seen anything like this on the planet yet, but the urgency he can feel coming off the other tells him everything he needs to know.
Sykkuno sees the branch fly through the air towards half a second before Corpse does, the bike swerving hard to the right a second before impact. One moment he’s holding onto Corpse’s waist, the next, he’s gone. There’s a sharp crunch as the branch hits him, and whether it's the sound of the wood splintering or his bones, he has no idea before he’s thrown from the bike. There’s a moment of lucidity, of consciousness as he falls through the air, knowing that he’s falling too far, that he’s going to land hard, and then-
The sound of the wind howling by is like a blanket of white noise, softening the transition from unconsciousness as he stirs awake. He doesn’t think he’s ever been one for ASMR, but there is something undeniably comforting in letting the noise wrap around his head, cancelling out everything else. It takes several moments before he realises that he’s only hearing the sound of the storm, not feeling the whip of the wind against his face.
Blinking his eyes open, Sykkuno looks upwards at a ceiling of rock. His body aches, that bone-deep throb from laying in one position for hours and not moving. Fingers curl inwards, testing the movement before even trying to sort through all the signals his brain was sending him all at once. Bringing his hands up to his face, he digs the heels of his palms into his eyes and rubs until spots of white dance across his vision. He realises that he's not wearing his helmet anymore.
“Easy,” a voice that doesn’t belong to him speaks up from his left side, and Sykkuno rolls his head over in the direction of it. Corpse sits with his legs crossed, facing him. The bike rests up against a rocky wall, half of its underside missing and laid out in pieces in front of him. He’s still got his helmet on, though the top half of his suit is removed. A plain white shirt scoops at his neck, sleeves pushed up around his elbows.
Sykkuno breathes and closes his eyes again, happy to follow his order as a wash of dizziness takes him by surprise. The spinning behind his eyes is just as bad as when he’d woken up on the Skeld after hibernation, though this time he is lucky to not have bright lights shining back into his face. His head still throbs nonetheless.
Corpse lets him lay there, the sound of metal being tinkered with the only thing that cuts through the wind howling outside. Sykkuno swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. Opening his eyes again, he slowly takes stock of the situation.
His head hurts, but it's just a headache. One of his shoulders aches, and the back of his throat is dry from breathing in cold air for who knows how long. It's light outside, enough for him to see in front of him at least, everything washed with that same tint of muted blue-green that he had seen just before the storm hit. From the sound of the wind, the storm is still raging on outside. Outside- the thought prompts him to push himself up and get a better look at where exactly they were. His hands plant against cool stone, and if he stretches up above his head, his fingertips might be able to reach the ceiling. Corpse stops whatever he was working on and shuffles closer.
"Mornin' princess," he says, and puts a water bottle in his hands. Sykkuno gives him a grateful nod, bringing the flask up to his lips and tipping his head back. It helps.
"Thank you. How long?" He asks, passing the water bottle back over. Corpse shrugs his shoulders.
"Half a day, maybe."
Right. No wonder he feels so sore. The beds back at base weren't exactly luxury style comfortable, but they were more comfortable than sleeping on a rock for twelve hours. Sykkuno rolls his shoulders back, testing his range of movement. Achey, for sure, but not injured.
"Are you okay?" He asks, and Corpse just stares for a beat before laughing at him.
"You're the one with a concussion, worry about yourself for fucks sake."
"I feel fine," he insists, rubbing the back of his head. It doesn't ache from sleep as badly as the rest of his body, and looking down he sees two sets of gloves, folded together where his head had been resting, creating a makeshift pillow. Now that he was looking down, he can also see the black top half of Corpse’s suit pooled around his waist.
“You should be wearing this, it’s cold,” he says. It's too much for him to accept it now that he's awake.
“It’s really not," Corpse still has that chuckle in his voice, like he isn't taking him seriously.
Sykkuno insists, “If it’s not cold, then why’d you give it to me?”
“Because it’s the nice thing to do, is that so difficult to understand?”
He bites the inside of his cheek. “You didn’t have to,” he insists.
“Then I did it because I wanted to. You’re always rubbing your hands together like you’re cold, figured you’d appreciate it.” There’s no venom in his voice, no real anger or frustration, he knows it, but Sykkuno still feels his stomach twist. He's not sure when Corpse would have noticed him warming his hands up, it's not like he ever paid him attention before.
“I do appreciate it. Thank you,” he replies quickly, before he can sound even more rude by arguing back and forth over something as stupid and inconsequential as borrowing a jacket. “I just don’t want you to be cold, for my sake.”
Corpse’s helmet gives a little shake, a small upwards tilt that looks as close to eyes rolling as he can get. “Which one of us spent the last three years in a desert, and which one’s had longer than that to get used to this place?” There’s a pause, and the other softens, his shoulders dropping. “I don’t mind, I promise.”
Sykkuno exhales, hates himself for making a deal out of it when he should have just kept quiet and accepted the jacket. It meant nothing to the other, and now he was just embarrassing himself by showing that it meant a great deal to him. Nobody just did nice things for him without wanting something back, and he wondered what Corpse’s actual motive had to be. Perhaps it was to keep him from getting sick, (he wondered briefly whether it was even possible to get a cold here, with different, unfamiliar bacteria, before realising he was drifting off on a tangent) and if he got sick, the blame would go to Corpse. Not that it was his fault for the storm, or the accident.
"Sorry. Thank you," he gives in. He's right about him being cold anyway, and Sykkuno pulls it up over his hands, clasping his fingers together. "Thanks for, for everything, actually. Getting us through that storm, carrying me in here. I don't know how you did it in the dark."
Corpse relaxes as the subject shifts, his head turning to look out towards the entrance of the cave. "If we were any further out, we probably wouldn't have made it. Anything about an hour's ride out from my ship, I know pretty well. It was just luck that we were so close when you went out. I don't mind taking all the credit though."
"Take the credit, it'll get you in the good books for the rest of the crew," Sykkuno gives him a weak laugh, trying to lighten the mood up a little after he'd been the one to bring it down. It works, Corpse turns back towards him with a quiet chuckle.
"Good point, I need all the help I can get. I feel like some of them are just waiting for an excuse to fucking jump me." He leans back with his hands planted on the ground behind him, and the pose makes his shoulders stand out underneath that white shirt.
"That's not true. They're good people, they'll warm up to you," he says. Corpse was a confident person, and people could sense that, people liked that. They would rather spend time with a guy like him than someone who always second guessed everything he said.
"No, I'm pretty sure that captain is planning some way to get me killed quietly in the middle of the night, I feel like I'm always being watched when I'm around him. It's a weird fucking feeling, especially since, y'know, if I thought I was being watched two weeks ago I would have been scared shitless." It's hard for him sometimes to tell exactly when Corpse is being serious and when he's just being sarcastic. Surely he doesn’t think that Jeremy would try to kill him. He wouldn’t, not without any reason at least. Sykkuno can relate to that feeling of unease around him, that feeling of being silently watched and judged. He still hasn’t quite figured out where he sits with the captain, whether he even likes him or not.
"Jeremy's… He's nice. Well, I mean, as a part of the crew, he's polite to me. I owe him for getting me on this mission, and it's only because Lily knew him back on Earth that he ever agreed to it," he says, fidgeting with his hands underneath Corpse's jacket. "I haven't really earned my right to be here yet, I'm just… a friend of a friend of his."
"You're leading the field team, Sykkuno. I think he knows how good you are," Corpse sounds confused, though about what, he doesn't know.
"Yeah, I guess, but knowing someone is okay at their job, and actually liking them are two different things," he mutters quietly, unable to look over at his reflection in Corpse's helmet.
There's a pause, and Sykkuno kicks himself for even saying a thing at all. He decides to change the subject away from himself. “Did Leslie make it back before the storm hit?” he asks. It would be okay, it would be worth it if he knew that they were the only ones camping out in a cave waiting for the storm to pass.
“Comms is still down. Actually, your entire computer is lost out on the track somewhere, it got knocked off when you fell,” Corpse replies, and Sykkuno instantly feels sick, hand going to his mouth.
“What...I don’t understand,” he breathes. “You haven’t heard from any of them yet?”
Corpse shakes his head no. “Nothing. And without your computer, I can’t even send an emergency signal out to let them know we’re okay. I would have driven the bike with you on my back if I could, but that tree really fucked up it’s camshaft…” Corpse continues, talking about the bike engine and whatever had happened to it, but Sykkuno doesn’t hear a word.
“I," he starts, mouth dry, "I shouldn’t have told her to go on her own. She was right, we should have stayed together, oh, Jesus, what if she didn’t make it back? She wouldn’t know where to go, the storm, she could have been hit, she could be hurt out there, alone-”
Two hands go to his shoulders, holding his body firm even as his mind still races. The wind of the storm brought visibility down to nearly nothing, so even if she wasn’t hurt and just lost, she could still be going in the completely wrong direction. If she was hurt, she could still be out there, in the open, being battered by wind and leaves and trees, unable to call for help, stuck out on her own, all because he told her to go, he made her go, he should have listened to her, made them stay together-
“Sykkuno,” Corpse’s voice breaks through, and he looks up at his own reflection in the helmet. “Breathe. Listen. She had a good twenty minute head start in front of us while the sun was still out. She didn’t have anything on the back of her bike weighing her down, and the front of the storm only just got us as we cleared the trees."
Sykkuno shakes his head, unconvinced. "She was going just by sight, what if she couldn't see the mountain anymore, she wouldn't know which direction to ride it, it could have got dark before she got back."
"Stop. Listen to me, I know you're smart Sykkuno, you can do the math. I'm not going to bullshit you either, I wouldn't lie to you if I thought she was in danger," Corpse's hands on his shoulders give him a small squeeze. "There's no way it would have got too dark to see before she got back to base, you made the right decision to send her back in front."
Sykkuno breathes, slowly nodding his head as Corpse talks. It’s so easy to get distracted just by the sound of him speaking, it felt soothing in the way that pulling a heavy blanket up over his head in the middle of winter felt. He wouldn’t mind having Corpse as the weight on top of him, talking in his ear, smothering his mind and his body at the same time.
And oh god, where had that come from? One moment he was spiralling down into a guilt-ridden panic over the thought of his friend being hurt or in danger because of a bad decision he’d made, and the next he was letting himself get carried away with fantasies just because he had someone close, holding him, caring about him.
God, he was so pathetic.
The first person here to give him attention and he goes ahead and starts wanting more. He can't remember the last time he'd talked so much with any person about something other than work. It didn’t matter, it didn’t mean the same to the other because the only reason Corpse even spoke to him was because he was the one assigned to keep watch of him during the day. If anyone else had been the first to speak up about letting him stay, they'd be assigned to stay by his side. Corpse and himself probably wouldn't say more than a few words to each other in passing, and that was it.
This arrangement, of going out in the field together, testing samples together, eating together, wasn’t because they were friends, or because Corpse actually liked his company. He was forced to be here, metaphorically chained by the wrist to him. Actually, now that he thought about it, he probably resented Sykkuno for that, viewed him as his Keeper, his babysitter. He had been free to do whatever he wanted, go around the entire planet with nobody to stop him, and now he wasn't allowed to even go to the bathroom without someone waiting outside. And here he was, making a fool of himself by getting attached. He wished he had hit his head a little harder and stayed asleep for longer.
“...-ou okay? You’ve gone really pale. Fuck, have some more water,” Corpse’s voice drifts back to him, the water bottle being pushed back into his hands. Sykkuno blinks, realising he’s been caught in the middle of a crisis. The water is a good excuse to delay having to say anything, and his throat had gone dry anyway. Corpse’s hands aren’t on his shoulders anymore, but he still sits close by, concerned. Without his physical touch, it's easier to think about other things.
"Sykkuno, I promise you. She would have made it back with time to spare. You know what a fucking nightmare she is driving that bike, she probably made it back before we even finished packing up the tent. You made the right choice, we would have lost her in the dark if she'd been riding behind us, or worse with all the debris in the storm. We got lucky," he says.
Sykkuno takes a breath, slower, and nods in reply. He doesn't trust his voice right now to not come out as shaky and weak. It seems enough to satisfy Corpse, or maybe it's just that he's breathing normally again that works for him. Still, he stays close by for a little while longer, and Sykkuno looks out to the front of the cave, watching the wind bend the trees.
He likes Corpse. As a crewmate, of course. Nothing else. He can’t let it be anything else. Corpse is nice to him, despite the situation they had forced him in just because he wasn't trusted by the entire team yet. Sykkuno couldn't let his wires get crossed in his head, translating common decency into attraction. The moment that Corpse had his freedom, they would stop spending so much time together, and he couldn't let himself feel disappointed about the inevitable. People didn't like him, didn't want him as a friend. He was useful as a team mate, as someone who could help make this planet liveable, that's all. He had to keep reminding himself that so he wouldn't get attached and embarrass the both of them.
“You okay?” Corpse asks after the silence starts to feel heavy. Sykkuno nods his head, closing his eyes. He’s glad that he doesn’t have to see the expression on his face, his imagination provides him enough with the look of disappointment he knows is on there.
There’s another long pause, like Corpse is waiting for something, before he gives up. Backing away, he gives Sykkuno space to himself, going back to fiddling with the parts of the bike he has pulled apart. His head is pounding again, pressure building against his frontal lobe. The sound of the wind outside is enough to lull him into a half sleep, shuffling back to lean his back up against the opposite wall of the cave, taking Corpse’s jacket with him. He pulls the jacket up around his head, pressing his nose into the collar, and lets himself steal the small luxury while it lasts.
Sykkuno thinks that if he had known how hot it would be in the Daintree, he wouldn’t have come.
It’s a lie, of course it’s a lie, he’s eternally grateful to be given the chance to work here, and he knows that there are a lot of people relying on him, trusting him to help. Still, he has to admit to himself that there are days that he wishes for a winter that actually had snow. Maybe next year he would take a break and go home to see his family again. It’d been two years since he’d seen them last, in person. He misses his dog.
Shielding his eyes, he looks up and out at the next section of the once-rainforest that they’re beginning to work on this week. The size of the place is deceiving, looking smaller as the horizon is obscured by the dust and sand. It’s only an hour past sunrise, and he’s already got sweat beading up above his brow.
“The machinists are going to think you don’t like them, if you keep glaring at them like that,” Lily appears at his side with a smile.
“What? No, it was just the sun, I didn’t even see that they were out there already,” he says, twisting his hands together. Lily just laughs.
“You’re going to be grey before you’re thirty, you know that right?” she says, pulling down her dust mask and letting it hang down around her neck.
“My father hasn’t gone grey yet.”
“Your father is the most easy going man I have ever met.”
“I can be easy going too. I am, so chill. It’s a new day, I’m completely relaxed, nothing’s gonna go wrong,” he says, and Lily somehow manages to level him with a look, despite barely standing higher than his shoulders. He continues on, “and- and if anything does go wrong, which it won’t, but if it does, I’m going to handle it with such chillness-”
He can’t keep his face straight any longer, covering up his mouth with his hand as he laughs at his own ridiculousness. Lily laughs too, and for a moment, he can let himself believe it.
“Well, I’m glad you’re so confident today, because I’m freaking out,” Lily admits after a moment, still smiling as she bites down on her lip.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she corrects him quickly, before sighing. “It’s just, every time we start a new section I get a little bit nervous. Up until now, everything has just been plans on paper, hypotheticals, running test models over and over to see if it’ll work. It’s different, seeing your work getting applied in real life.”
Sykkuno knows exactly what Lily means, turning to look out on the vast sea of sand laid out before them. “It’s humbling,” he murmurs with a nod.
Lily sighs again, but it lacks the weight from early after getting her fears off her chest. “I just want to get it right. Do this place justice,” she says. He hums in agreement.
The two of them seem to run on the same wavelength most of the time, he figures that’s why they work so well together. Sykkuno understands how Lily feels, he woke up with that same rock in the pit of his stomach that morning. Hearing her put her own worries aside makes him feel a bit better about his own.
“I heard you’ve got an interview for tv this week,” she says.
Sykkuno groans a little and covers his face with both hands. “Lily. Are you trying to make me nervous today? Do you want me to be grey? Is that your plan, Lily?”
“Stop it, Sy! I’m excited for you,” she insists, poking him in the side with her elbow.
“So you’re a sadist then.”
Lily huffs. “I hope you still remember me when you’re famous. Make sure you mention me at least once okay, about how your brilliant science technician worked tirelessly for you day and night, in the heat of the desert, following you all the way out here…”
“I should start making a list of everyone I need to thank,” Sykkuno mutters to himself seriously, earning himself another elbow to the ribs. “Ow. What was that one for?” he complains. Lily crosses her arms over her chest.
“Take some credit for yourself for once, Sy. None of us would be working out here if it wasn’t for you. You’ve worked hard for this.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he replies, and he can hear it in his own voice that he’s unconvincing. There’s a shout from their left, one of the terraforming trucks looks stuck as it struggles to climb out from the dried up river bed. One of the mechanics run over to help.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do once this project is over,” he sighs, pushing his hair back off his forehead.
Lily frowns. “What do you mean? There’s not exactly any shortage of places that need this sort of rehabilitation. You’re going to have people fighting over you to work in their country,” she says.
He shakes his head, glancing to the side to make sure nobody was hanging around close enough to hear their conversation, leaning in a little closer to Lily. “Once this project is finished, once I know that everything actually works, I’m making all the research public domain,” he admits.
‘You’re what? ” Lily screeches in shock, eyes going wide, and Sykkuno quickly shushes her. He doesn’t want to bring attention to themselves right now. Lily shakes her head in disbelief, smacking his hands. “Sykkuno! Are you crazy? Why would you do that?”
“Look, I’ve thought about it a lot,” he starts.
“You’re giving your life’s work away!”
“If I do this work on my own, project by project, it’s going to take decades before I even make a difference, Lil… If I make it public, more people will be able to help,” he explains quietly.
Lily opens her mouth to argue further, the words catching in her throat as she goes quiet. He can see it ticking over in her mind, going through the five stages of grief before she settles. She knows that he's right, and that it's such a Sykkuno thing to do.
"You've already made your mind up," she says, huffing and pulling up the dust mask over her nose and mouth as she looks out over the desert. "Well. At least I've got a couple years notice to look for a new job."
"Thanks for trusting in me. I'll make sure to mention your name in the interview," he says, and that earns him a grin and a pleased sound from Lily.
"Of course I trust you, Sy."
Corpse mutters to himself while he works. It's too quiet to pick out what exact words he was saying, just a quiet undercurrent rumbling from his side of the cave with the occasional swear word standing out against the rest. It's endearing. His head is bent down over the pieces of the bike that he has pulled apart, working on them with a small set of tools he must have had stashed away in one of the pockets of his suit. Sykkuno has no clue what he's fixing, or whether the bikes going to be able to run again, or what even went wrong with it in the first place, so he's not any help to the other right now.
His nap had been short lived, and he woke up feeling even worse than earlier. All his joints ached from sitting in one place for so long, stretching his arms out above his head with a groan, and he feels his shoulder pop satisfyingly.
He doesn't want to interrupt Corpse's work, sitting quietly and just watching instead. His eyes follow his hands, watching as his fingers hold onto the tools, the way his wrist turns, the black smudges on his palms.
"Liking what you see?"
Sykkuno's heart stops, pauses, before coming back to beat in double time against his chest. Oh, god, he really couldn't have at least tried to be subtle, could he?
"What? I was- I was admiring your work. I don't know anything about mechanics," he quickly tries to excuse himself and hopes it sounds more convincing because technically it wasn't a lie.
"Admiring, yeah," Corpse echoes, sounding worryingly pleased with himself over Sykkuno's word choice. "So you do like what you're seeing." His words lift at the end, turning the statement very loosely into a question, like he's testing him. Or teasing him. Probably teasing him.
"I like that you know how to fix the bike."
"Mh, yeah," he hums. "I had a lot of time to practice. Got good with my hands."
The words catch at the top of his throat, and the tips of Sykkuno's ears burn. He can't look over at him anymore. He's sure he's talking about working other things with his hands, or maybe that's just where his mind has travelled. Either way, he has no idea how to respond properly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he mutters into the collar of Corpse's suit, looking down stubbornly at a piece of rock on the floor. Corpse just laughs in reply.
"Ah, give me a break. Being the only guy around in an entire galaxy gets kinda lonely after a while. I've got needs," he chuckles, and Sykkuno is glad to have his jacket wrapped around him, covering him up. He doesn't need to think about Corpse's needs , or what it looked like fulfilling his needs, it would be like satisfying those needs with him- God, he's a goner.
"...How long is the storm going to last?" he asks when he's sure his voice is steady again, changing the subject. If Corpse looks disappointed it's all just in his head.
"Not sure, the longest it's ever lasted before is a couple days. Once I get the bike back together we'll leave," he says, going back to working on putting the pieces of the engine back together.
"Is it really safe to drive out there?"
"It's going to take us twice as long to get back, we'll be crawling against the wind, but it's possible. Better than staying in here, I'd kill for some cereal. I know you said no sugar in space, but I swear that stuff is sweet," he says. Sykkuno looks out to the front of the cave, to the wind that whips past, and doubts him.
"Don't let Jeremy hear you say that, he already thinks you might be a cereal killer," he replies. What he doesn't expect is for Corpse to laugh.
"Was that a joke?"
Sykkuno hesitates. "I don't know, was it funny?"
Corpse just laughs again, quiet, shaking his head. "Yeah. It was a shit joke, though. Fuck," he can't stop himself from laughing, shoulders shaking even when he isn't making any sound.
Sykkuno looks down and smiles behind his hand. He wants to make Corpse laugh more, wants to hear that sound more. Pushing himself off the side wall of the cave, he shuffles himself closer to the other, looking at what he was doing with the bike. Corpse lets him stay, getting back to work again after he interrupted him.
It's a nice kind of silence, the kind that he didn't feel pressured to try and fill with conversation to make things less awkward. Occasionally Corpse speaks up, getting Sykkuno to pass him something, or to hold onto a part as he pieces it all back together. Some of the metal looks bent out of shape, some pieces definitely moved around from their original spot, but he figures that the other just knows what he's doing since he never hesitates. That kind of confidence is addictive to watch.
Together, they lift the bike back up so it’s sitting on it’s wheels, and Sykkuno takes a step back as Corpse straddles the seat. The moment of truth - he starts the machine up. It stalls, motor catching once, twice, before it turns over and sits comfortably in neutral. He breathes in relief.
“Thank fuck. You think they saved any of those peaches for us?” Corpse asks, and Sykkuno ducks his head as he laughs quietly.
“I doubt it. Ludwig’s had an obsession with fruit ever since he woke up from hibernation,” he replies. He passes over the top of Corpse’s suit back over to him, definitely not watching out of the corner of his eye as he rolls his shoulders back and zips it up.
“Mh, you might still have a can waiting for you back there, the guy’s got a soft spot for you,” he replies, wriggling his fingers into his gloves just as Sykkuno does the same.
“What? No. He’s just friendly with everyone, I’m not anything special,” he denies. He walks up to the front of the cave, arms folded over his chest as he peers outside. The sound of the wind seems to have died down just a little bit, or maybe he was just getting used to it. Corpse walks the bike up beside him, handing Sykkuno his helmet. He thanks him quietly, putting it on over his head.
“You’re sure you’re going to be able to ride through this?” he checks again.
“I pinky promise I won’t let that pretty head of yours get knocked around again,” Corpse replies, and motions him with a tilt of his head to climb on the back. “I almost got through it in the dark, this will be easy,” he adds, he must have seen the unconvinced look on Sykkuno’s face.
“Don’t worry about me, just keep the samples safe on the back,” he mutters as he leans forward against Corpse’s back, holding his arms around his waist. The other makes a frustrated sound, his helmet shaking back and forth before the bike roars to life, and they take off.
He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said that they’d be crawling against the wind, and it feels like if they go any slower the bike will unbalance and topple over to the side. Sykkuno tries to trust in the other and just holds on, distracting himself from worrying a knot into his stomach by thinking about things other than their death. It helps to lean his head forwards and rest the top of his helmet against Corpse’s back, closing his eyes so he doesn’t have to watch the ground passing by underneath them.
He thinks about what Corpse did back on Earth, before he’d found himself stranded out here on his own. He’s embarrassed to think that he hasn’t actually asked him much about his personal life at all, but whenever he has, the conversation always seemed to die off quickly after. He realises that there’s so much that he doesn’t know about him, whether he has family back home, what his real name was, what his face looks like. And yet, he still would trust him with his life right now.
Sykkuno wants to know, though. It’s selfish to want, he knows that, but he still wants all the same. He wants to know where he studied, what kind of friends he had, what his crew were like. If he misses any of them. He wants to know what he did all these years alone apart from just surviving, waiting for his days to run out. He wants to know what colour his hair is, what colour his eyes are. What kind of face matches that voice.
Peeking his eyes open and glancing over the top of his shoulder, he can see the mountain appear through the haze of the storm, and he lets himself relax. They’ve practically made it back by now. He plans on asking about Leslie first, make sure that she’s okay, before apologising. If she got hurt, he will take responsibility. If not, he still has to apologise for making everyone worry about him.
He rests his head back between Corpse’s shoulder blades, obscured from view from the front behind his frame. They’d made it. He thinks about the long, hot shower he’s going to have once he’s back, stripping himself out his suit. If there aren't any peaches left saved for him, he doesn’t really mind, though his stomach does growl in complaint at the thought of food. A day and a half without eating anything left him feeling hollow in the middle, craving something substantial. For the first time he thinks he’ll actually appreciate the mashed potatoes.
The mountain gets closer to view as they approach the drop ship, and Corpse must be able to see someone waiting for them out the front. He lets go of the handlebars to raise one arm up in a wave. The bike slows down, just plugging it’s way along now for the last hundred metres up to the ship.
There’s a crack, a sharp sound that echoes off the rock of the mountain, and Sykkuno thinks it’s lightning that’s cracked down near them, lifting his head up to look, before Corpse’s arm drops back down to his side. Sykkuno can hear shouting coming from the drop ship, yelling commands at them, hearing Stop and Don’t Move and Down. The bike wobbles, unsteady. They both lurch forwards as the bike slams to a stop. He hears a pained sound, a string of curse words, and his gaze follows the line of Corpse’s attention just as another shot rings over the top of their heads.
Corpse’s suit is punctured, blood spilling out, shiny and slick down his arm.
He’s been shot.
There isn't time to move, let alone think, before they're swarmed. He hears Corpse breathe out something too quiet to hear over the chaos, like it still hasn't quite registered what had happened to him, like he couldn't quite feel the pain yet. Everyone is shouting over the top of each other, all trying to speak over the sound of the storm and get control of the situation.
“Corpse, where-” Sykkuno starts.
“I’m fine, I can stand. Not gonna die-” Corpse says, hissing through his teeth as he moves his shoulder by accident, blood dripping through his fingers where he’s holding onto the wound.
“Get on the ground. Get on the ground now, motherfu- ”
The bike falls to the side as Corpse lets someone grab him by the arm and pull him down onto the ground. Sykkuno stumbles off backwards before the bike can fall over onto him.
Ludwig is standing above Corpse, pulling his arms behind his back. He shouts in pain, and Sykkuno feels himself go light-headed, the fact finally becoming very real that oh no oh god he'd been shot and he's in pain and there's blood oh god oh shit. Corpse tries to pull his injured arm away from Ludwig's grip before the muzzle of a gun is pressed to the back of his head, at the base of where his helmet meets his neck.
It all happens too fast. Rachel is the first to notice that he’s there at all, her face blanching as she sees Sykkuno. Her weapon drops from where she had been holding it steady, arms braced, before they go numb and hang by her sides. “You’re-” she starts “You’re alive…” she says, more to herself than Sykkuno. He’s barely paying attention anyway, more desperate in getting everyone away from Corpse.
Panic rises like bile at the back of his tongue, and it takes all his strength to swallow it down. Focus focus fo cus focus focus focus!
Rachel cups her hand over her mouth.
Corpse isn’t fighting it anymore, the front of his helmet pressed in against the ground. Sykkuno can hear him breathing heavily through the pain, and his training tries to kick in. He’ll be going into shock soon. Depending on where he’s been hit, he’s going to be losing a lot of blood. They’ve already wasted so much time.
He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand. Corpse mutters something like, “Please,” and it’s the closest to begging he’d ever do.
He lurches forward, he needs to be close to him. Tina stops him, (when did she get here?), standing in front of him just as his legs go weak.
“Sy, no. Stay back,” she says as gently as she can over all the commotion. She puts her hand on his shoulder, sliding up against his side to keep him steady. He hasn’t had anything to eat in nearly two full days, hasn’t had anything to drink for one.
Jeremy crosses in front of them, standing between him and Corpse, says something to Ludwig, points back at Sykkuno.
Ludwig lowers his gun, the expression on his face mirroring Rachel’s.
“Oh fuck! Fuck. Sykku- fuck, ” Ludwig looks like he’s seen a ghost, genuine panic rising in his voice as he realises what’s happened, fear showing in his face at the same time as understanding. Sykkuno envies him for that.
Rachel seemed to have swallowed down her shock, pushing it to the side to deal with the more urgent matter at hand. She is at Corpse’s side now, moving with purpose, kneeling down and easing Corpse over onto his back. There’s blood smeared on the ground where he had been pushed down.
Sykkuno blinks and Corpse is being lifted up to his feet by Jeremy and Ludwig. His feet are moving too but how much of that is due to Tina guiding him forwards, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. Panic isn't helping him, he's been useless for the last sixty seconds, and he can't let himself think about the consequences of that wasted time right now.
“I need, I need to help him,” he croaks.
“We’ll take care of it, Sy,” Tina replies. They fall back further behind the others, and it’s like he’s moving in a dream, his feet dragging as if he’s walking through honey. Sykkuno shakes his head.
“I’m medical, I have to.” God, why did they decide to give him that responsibility? He’s useless under pressure, practically incompetent, unable to seperate himself from his emotions to get a job done. He’s sure that even Poki, an engineer, would do a better job than he could. But he can’t just make someone else do the job for him just because he doesn’t want to do it, he can’t give someone else that kind of pressure.
He takes a breath, trying again to steady himself. It’s almost funny, in a manic kind of way. Just minutes ago he had been thinking about what he was going to eat now that they were back at base. Thinking about having a hot shower. Thinking about how nice it felt to lean against Corpse’s back as they rode through the storm. He was such an idiot.
“...-will be able to stitch him up, you need to sit down. I can’t believe you’re actually alive, we all- we all thought you were dead, Sy,” Tina says. Sykkuno doesn’t understand why they would think that. They had only been gone for maybe a day and a half. Jeremy, Rachel, Ludwig, everyone, they were all reasonable people, it’s not like them to jump to the worst possible outcome so quickly, he thought.
Tina sets him down in a chair, putting her flask in his hands. People forcing him to drink water seemed to be a common occurrence the past few days. He appreciates it nonetheless, his throat dry as he swallows.
Inside it’s quiet, leaving nothing but his own thoughts to pound in his head. Sykkuno exhales, body deflating in on itself, and he tries to not feel like he failed, somehow.
He snaps awake, eyes opening and looking up at the ceiling.
Sykkuno had no idea how much time had passed, except that it was dark now, no sound coming from outside his room. Everyone else would be in their own rooms, sleeping through the night.
He sat up in his bed, his blanket dropping down and pooling at his waist. There's something in the back of his mind, making him uneasy, like he had woken up in the middle of a bad dream, but now he couldn't remember a thing to do with what it was about. Probably for the best.
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he slouched forwards as he exhaled. His shoulders still ached from laying on the rock floor of the cave for so long, though it wasn't really bad enough to complain about. It would go away on its own in a few days. It didn't exactly compare to the pain Corpse would be in.
The ship groans as the wind from the storm outside pushes against it, and Sykkuno misses having a window in his bedroom. He wants to look outside, see if there was any hint of the storm starting to ease off, and get a sense of what time it was. His wrist computer is still lost, out near the testing site, setting off an emergency beacon every few minutes until it died or got destroyed. He hoped that it could be repaired, that it doesn't cause too much trouble with the engineers. He had already caused so much trouble for everyone the past two days that he would need to make up for.
Tugging a fresh shirt over his head as he left his bedroom, he glanced around to see if anyone was still awake and hanging around. For some reason he felt like he was doing something wrong, like he was breaking the rules by being out of bed in the middle of the night. Surely nobody would tell him off for being up. Still, he didn't want to get caught as he padded softly through the halls, crossing over to the other side of the ship.
He hasn't seen the medbay before without all of its bright white lights flooding out of the room and into the hallway. It feels different, like he's walking up to the door in a different, alternate dimension. It's hard to see inside through the glass in the door, the only light in the room coming from the vitals machine placed next to a bed, highlighting the silhouetted form of someone sleeping.
Sykkuno hesitates by the door. He wants to go in, wants to check that Corpse is going to be okay, that they did a good job at fixing his wound, that there wouldn't be any infection, that it's going to heal safely, a hundred million selfish reasons to wake him up.
The sound of footsteps coming from the hall he'd just come from snaps him out of his internal conflict, looking back at the darkness behind him. Jeremy looks just as surprised to see Sykkuno awake as he is to see him. Feeling like a kid being caught up too late, he looks away and gives his captain a small wave.
"You should be resting," he says, and Sykkuno gives him a small shrug in response. Rubbing at his eyes, Jeremy doesn't look like he has the will to argue further than that about it.
Turning back towards the medical bay door, Sykkuno bites the inside of his cheek. "...I should be helping," he says.
"He's going to be okay. The auto pod did the work in making sure nothing was too damaged internally before Lily did the stitches."
"He lost so much blood…"
"He got lucky. The shot missed the artery in his arm by millimetres." Jeremy paused, closing his eyes and turning, his back facing the medical bay doors, his head towards Sykkuno. His expression looked pained. "About that. I'm-"
"It's okay," Sykkuno interrupted him. He forced a small smile on his face, wanting to reassure his captain. "I understand why. I'm not upset with anyone." It wasn't a lie either, it wasn't anyone's fault that the comms had gone down and he couldn't be contacted. When his wrist computer had been knocked off, it wouldn't have been able to read his heart rate anymore, sending back the emergency signal to base. He hadn't even thought twice about it, or about letting Corpse drive them back in front. It was his own fault for only thinking about himself, and not what everyone else would have been going through, thinking he was dead for the past day.
Jeremy didn't look satisfied with his response. His face seemed to have aged, or maybe it was just the way the shadows cast across his face. They're both silent for a few moments, Jeremy looking tired and Sykkuno fidgeting with his fingers.
"You said that Lily sutured the wound?" Sykkuno asked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound so...dubious, I just-" he presses his lips together, searching for the right word. "I didn't think that she would want to."
"Lily trusts you. She just...hesitated to trust your judgement on him," Jeremy admitted.
Sykkuno feels a pang in his chest, and he physically shrinks in on himself. He knows why Lily would doubt him, he knows that he hasn't been the best judge of character in the past, and that she had seen the aftermath of that on Earth. He wants to believe in the good in people, trusting too easily, giving them the benefit of the doubt when they accidentally hurt him because of course it would be an accident, nobody is actually cruel deep down and would want to hurt someone else, right? He had been such a naive idiot.
Was he really making the same mistake here, again? Was he really putting his faith into this stranger, someone he knew practically nothing about?
"He's a good person," he says definitively, looking over at Jeremy. "He wouldn't harm anyone here."
"Well, he's definitely a better person than I would be, in his position," Jeremy replies, giving Sykkuno a hint of a smile. He reaches out to pat him on the shoulder. "When he's back on his feet, we'll suit him up in one of ours."
Sykkuno blinks at him dumbly. "You mean-"
"He'll join our crew. He's overdue for a new helmet, anyway," he confirmed, grinning at him now. Jeremy squeezed Sykkuno's shoulder, following his gaze inside the medical bay before back to him. "You mind keeping watch on his vitals for a while, seeing you're up? We've been keeping an eye on him, making sure his oxygen's staying good. Rachel just swapped out with me, but I'm starving."
Sykkuno just nods his head yes, still reeling from the announcement. Jeremy gives him a nod, then gives him space, walking back down the corridor.
The door slides open in front of Sykkuno quietly, the hiss of sterilising air hitting at him from all sides as he enters into the room. There are small signs of the chaos from earlier, beds pushed out of the way, a pair of boots still sitting by the side of the auto pod. A monitor displays his vitals, reading out his heart rate with a rhythmic beep. Sykkuno can read what dosage of pain medication he's been given, see the antibiotics the computer assigned for him, the size of the sutures they'd been told to use. It was almost funny, how much he wasn't needed in the end. He didn't mind, it was for the best really, since he hadn't been in any condition to do the work himself.
His eyes slowly start to adjust to the dark, the glow from the monitor casting blue light against Corpse as he slept. It wasn't enough to see any details, whether he looked peaceful or in pain, just enough that Sykkuno didn't run into the edge of the bed as he stood by it.
Just enough to see that he didn't have his helmet on.
Oh. Oh . Again, he felt like he had been caught doing the wrong thing, turning his head away to the side quickly. He shouldn't look, shouldn't even let himself be tempted, even as the curiosity clawed at him from the inside out. He didn't have permission, Corpse wouldn't want him looking, shit . His heart pounded against his chest, thrumming in triple time. If he had been the one being monitored by the computer, he would have set off some alarms by now.
Pulling over a chair, Sykkuno sat down on the side of the bed, keeping his eyes respectfully away from his face so that he wouldn't even be tempted to make out the shape in the dim light. He looked at his hands instead, reaching out and ghosting over the one closest to him.
" I'm sorry ," he breathed, barely audible. " This isn't fair for you, I'm- ..." He paused, shaking his head as he stared down at his hand.
"You must have been so happy to see us… to finally have people around you again. It had to have been so scary, seeing us land, watching us come to you...and then this...we treat you like this. We didn't trust you, and we didn't want you, and we hurt you...god. I'm s- I'm so sorry."
Sykkuno sniffs, and slowly lowers his head down until he's resting his forehead down against the side of the bed. The cotton sheets wick away the moisture on his cheeks as the tears silently roll down. He could keep himself together in front of Jeremy but now that they were alone together, the entire weight of everything that had happened sank his heart.
"Please don't be upset with them when you wake up. It's terrible and awful and I'm sorry but please, don't be mad at them. If I had just… sent you with Leslie instead, you would have got back safe." Sykkuno rubs his nose against his sleeve, closing his eyes. "No. I should have told them first that you shouldn't stay with me. If you had been assigned to stay with Rachel, or Ludwig, or Tina, anyone else but me, they...they would have all trusted you sooner. This wouldn't have happened to you, if it wasn't for me."
"When you wake up...please…" He stopped, covering his mouth with his hand, forcing the sob to stay in his throat. His shoulders shook with silent tears, the bed jostling slightly.
God. Jeremy's words had been perfect. They might trust Sykkuno to be on their side, but they didn't trust his judgement. He's made too many mistakes before. God, he wants to be right this time, about Corpse. Just someone who isn't going to let him down.
He takes a shaky breath. "When you wake up. Please don't hate me," he breathes.
The sound of the vitals machine beeps louder in his head, wrapping his arms around his middle as he lets himself weep. Saying how he felt out loud simultaneously made it all very real and also gave him a chance to let go. It would be easier now, in the morning, to go to work without him trailing behind. It would be easier. It would be easier.
He was going to be a part of the crew now. He didn't need to be shackled to Sykkuno's side anymore. He had freedom to go wherever he wanted again, to spend time working with the others. Sykkuno was happy for him, honestly. Jeremy's kindness had been unexpected, and it's not like he's selfish enough to say anything out loud to him about preferring things this way. Did it mean he was a bad person, if he wanted to keep Corpse by his side?
He felt a twitch, Corpse's fingers brushing against the top of his head, and Sykkuno quickly looked up.
He says his name so softly it breaks his heart.
His voice is different without the helmet. Still familiar, still tenor, but clearer. There's nothing in between them to muffle his words, and yet he's never sounded gentler.
"I'm sorry, did I wake you?" Sykkuno whispers, wiping his cheeks. He knows that Corpse can't see how his eyes are rimmed red in the dark, but he hides the evidence anyway. The other hums, and he can hear the sound of his head shaking back and forth against the pillow.
"Maybe. I'm glad you're here."
"The others have been taking care of you, I've only just woken up," he admits.
Corpse makes a sound in his chest, sounding on the edge of sleep. The painkillers would be making him woozy. Sykkuno keeps his head stubbornly focused on his hands.
"You were in my dream," he murmurs. "That we met when we were teenagers." He chuckles.
Sykkuno smiles sadly. "You wouldn't have liked me as a teenager," he says.
"You wouldn't have liked me either. It was a nice dream though."
Sykkuno doesn't ask for more details. It feels too much like cheating, to indulge himself in this moment, when Corpse would never have said any of it if he wasn't on drugs.
"...Sy?" His voice calls out to him again after several minutes of silence, and Sykkuno gives into the quickest glance over at him.
"It's okay... You can look."
"...I can't see you," he whispers, but lifts his head anyway. He can see the light catching on the tip of his nose, the contrast in colour of his dark hair against the stark white pillowcase. It's a little bit longer than he'd expected. Apart from that, he can't even tell which direction he's looking at, whether his eyes are looking at Sykkuno.
Corpse nudges their hands together, seeking him out in the dark. Taking his hand, he lifts it up, and rests in against his own cheek. Sykkuno sucks in a breath through his teeth as his fingers ghost over smooth skin. Corpse guides him, holding over the top of his hand as he moves it down his cheek to the side of his jaw. There's the faint trace of stubble, and he can feel his jaw move as Corpse swallows. Sykkuno's heart is beating so fast he fears that it's going to come out his throat.
Corpse doesn't stop, bringing him over his chin, before he reaches the other side of his face. It's different, though what's changed is hard to place. Finishing in the hollow of his cheekbone, Corpse lets go and let's Sykkuno explore for himself. He brushes over his skin, slowly, feeling the slightest trace of ridges high up on his cheek under his fingertips.
The pad of his thumb sweeps to the corner of his eye, and he can feel his eyelashes as they close.
"Why are you letting me do this?" Sykkuno breathes. He doesn't want to stop, running his fingers over his temple and into the hair starting there. It's soft.
There's no response from the other, and in the silence he can hear his steady breathing, slowly in and out. Sykkuno gently strokes over his cheek, realising that the other has fallen back to sleep.
He doesn't stop, slowly laying his head back down against him on the bed and closing his own eyes, staying with him til morning.
i just wanted to say a thank you to all the lovely comments from you guys, it really warms my cold lil heart and i appreciate every kind word so so much. if u have any feedback or con-crit pls let me know!!
i hope you all have a good day/night:))
The aftermath of the storm gave them all plenty to do in the days after, keeping him busy, both physically and mentally. It kept him from worrying too much about Corpse while he stayed back and rested. As soon as the wind had stopped the world felt eerily, unnaturally quiet after getting used to having the constant noise howling outside. Maybe it was also the lack of birdsong, or crickets chirping, that he just expected to hear that never came, making it all the more unusual.
A visual inspection of all their equipment was first on the list, everyone suiting up as soon as it was safe to go back outside. The dropship wasn’t exactly large by any measure, and spending a day inside it, with no time to be alone apart from when he was in his own room, got claustrophobic quickly.
Outside, one of the temporary habitation tents had some of the canvas torn, hanging down against the ground as if it was exhausted from being thrown about in the wind for days. Ludwig helped pull the damaged piece down, careful not to tear it any further, so it could get repaired. Sykkuno knelt down on the ground to fold it up as neatly as he could, setting it down on the ground beside the tent.
Comms are back online, finally, and Sykkuno never thought he would be relieved to hear the small click in his ear as it’s unmuted.
"Goo-d morning crew, and welcome to another beautiful day here in the Delta5 MX-21 system. We've got clear skies this morning with low winds, and pleasant temperature for a good day spent outdoors. Later in the evening we expect to see some scattered showers moving over the western side. Some fog is forecast for the rest of the week, so enjoy the sunshine while it lasts," Jeremy rattles off in a typical weather presenter voice.
"You sound exactly like a news presenter, that's impress- I'm impressed," Sykkuno replies.
"You don't need to say that just because he's the captain, Sykkuno," Leslie says.
"No, compliment me more," Jeremy insists, his voice overlapping with Sykkuno's who replies, "It's the truth, I really think-"
"If you encourage him, he's just going to keep doing bad bits like this," Ludwig adds. Everyone's talking over the top of each other, just a little bit.
"I liked it."
"You just made all that shit up," Rachel accused.
"Isn't that what all weather reporters do?" Jeremy says, and Sykkuno can hear the way he would be raising his hands in a shrug.
He laughs, pushing himself back up to his feet and lets them go back and forth with each other. Whether it was a bad joke or not, it's got everyone talking and feeling more lively than they had a few moments ago. Sykkuno's mind drifts to Corpse, and he wonders if he's silently listening in, or if he's still sleeping.
Eventually they get back on track with their tasks for the day, and Jeremy checks in with them a bit more seriously. “Hab-A’s looking battered, the wind managed to move it about six millimeters, but it’s still standing. How’s B looking?"
Ludwig answers for them, giving the side of the tent a shake. “Doesn’t look like any of the batons got bent, it's not as pretty as it was a couple days ago though. The roof piece got torn, I think a branch flying past got caught on it. A patch repair should be enough to fix it.”
"Alright, get that done then I want you to go out and find Sykkuno’s old comms. I’m tired of seeing that emergency beacon notification,” he says and clicks out.
“Yeah, same. Why’d you have to set that off, Sy?” Ludwig says.
“What? I didn’t, it’s automa-”
Ludwig throws the patch repair kit at him, the soft pack hitting him in the forehead. “I’m joking man, come on, you’re gonna make me feel bad,” he replies, shaking his head a little.
“Sorry,” he says, holding the repair pack in his hands. He sets it down on the ground beside the torn canvas, picking through the pieces.
“It’s like kicking a puppy,” Ludwig comments, kneeling down beside one of the tent supports that had lifted during the storm and pushing it deeper into the ground.
Sykkuno doesn’t really know how he’s supposed to answer that, everything he can think of either proving Ludwig’s point or just making himself look stupid in case he was joking. He takes the safe option and just shrugs his shoulders, “I just don’t want to be a bother for anyone.”
Ludwig frowns. “Who’s told you that you’re a bother here?” he asks.
“Oh, no, nobody has said it, everyone’s been super nice to me,” he quickly corrects.
“Then what makes you think that?” Ludwig doesn’t let it go. It makes Sykkuno pause, looking down at the patch of fabric he had in his hands.
“Um. You know… everyone else here already knew each other before the mission, you’re all already friends. I’m just like a recommendation from Lily. I haven’t really done anything worthwhile for anyone here yet,” he explains.
“You’re a part of the smallest manned mission put together by the government and you think that you’re just here because you’re Lily’s friend?” Ludwig sounds disbelieving, pushing another tent support back into the ground. “Sy, you’re like...famous. There’s lectures in universities about the DT-2023 project, why the fuck do you think you don’t deserve to be here?”
“Rebuilding some cells isn’t the same as studying a new planet,” he mumbles.
“‘Rebuilding some cells’- like that isn’t something amazing,” Ludwig echoes him, obviously frustrated but he doesn’t raise his voice.
“Anyone could have done it. I was just first.”
“And that, my friend, is poetry,” he says and just shakes his head in disappointment, turning his back towards Sykkuno as he drives in the last of the tent supports. He’s glad for the moment of silence, pressing down against the patch adhesive and activating it with the heat from his hands.
Ludwig circles back to him, packing up the kit for him as he shakes the canvas back out. Holding onto the opposite side, he gives it a shake before nodding his head in approval. “Alright, lift- three two one-,” he says, and they toss it back up over the top of the tent. It takes some moving around and adjusting, before they can seal it all back up safely.
Checking his wrist computer, Ludwig finds the coordinates for the emergency beacon still sending out it’s signal. It’s about a mile away from where they are now, and Sykkuno agrees to follow behind Ludwig on his own bike.
“I don’t think anyone feels safe with me riding piggyback with them just yet,” he tries to make a joke, getting an aborted laugh from Ludwig.
“Jesus Christ, Sykkuno,” he says.
“Sorry, I probably shouldn’t joke about that,” he says, hiding his mouth behind his hand.
“No, just, well-” Ludwig tips his head to the side, talking through a private communication line as they start up their bikes and start driving. “You’re the only one who’s allowed to make that joke, I guess. I haven’t really...apologised to him yet about that.”
“It was a mistake,” he tries to give him an excuse.
“No, it wasn’t,” Ludwig refuses to take the easy out. He can hear him sigh through the comms. “Thinking back on it now, I know how stupid it was of me to shoot first, ask questions later. I just let myself get caught up in the thinking that something really bad had happened to you…” his voice drifts off, contemplative, before sighing again. “Giving the guy a new suit and letting him join the team doesn’t really feel like it’s enough, you know?”
Sykkuno hums, thinking. He didn't know that it had been Ludwig to pull the trigger, and he wonders if Corpse knows either. “To be honest, I have no idea what he thinks about it. I just want everyone to get along.”
“Mh...Can I ask you something, just between us?” he says unexpectedly.
That question alone is enough to make him a little nervous, but he nods his head anyway, “Um, sure.”
“Why do you trust him so much?”
Sykkuno bites down on the inside of his cheek. He knows Ludwig is being genuine right now. “I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, even if he is lying…”
“Don't take my question the wrong way, I mean, I totally agree with you, and I think we should have been more welcoming from the beginning. I'm just asking because I'm more surprised that out of everyone here to bond with a stranger, that it's you."
Sykkuno choked at the word bond. "We don't- we don't know each other that well."
"You've spent a lot of time together. I thought you'd be more wary of him, since you're kinda distant with the rest of us."
"I don't mean to be distant, I'd like to-"
"I know, I know, it's okay," Ludwig interrupts him before he can apologise. "Just, why him?"
Sykkuno is glad he's riding behind Ludwig, that he doesn't see his face as he pauses. He's not sure how to answer the question honestly himself. "I don't think I could call what I have with Corpse a 'bond', we are just friends, and barely even that, really. I mean, I like him, of course I do, he was nice to me, interested in what I was doing in the field even though it's just boring dirt samples most of the time, and he didn't seem to mind being stuck at my side for the first two weeks, but that was just because he was being polite and because he had to be nice or everyone else wouldn't have had him, and if someone else had spoken up about having him on the team before I did, he would have spent that time with them and not me so I don't think there's anything special about me, I guess I just don't want him to be...alone."
He's dizzy after speaking everything in one long run on sentence, and he's grateful that Ludwig doesn't straight up laugh at him for rambling. He doesn't say much of anything, actually, muttering a quiet, 'huh,' that Sykkuno can barely hear over the sound of the bikes. The ride the rest of the way in silence and Sykkuno feels embarrassed for saying so much, for being so obvious. Nobody who was 'just friends' would stumble over such an easy question, right?
"The signal's coming from around here," Ludwig says, slowing his bike down to a gradual halt. Sykkuno copies, looking around them. He doesn't recognise where they are, and he couldn't tell him where he'd been knocked off the bike during the storm either. The only thing they had to go on where Ludwig's coordinates he had on his computer, giving them a rough area to comb through. They start to sweep through in opposite directions, pulling up branches and debris as they pick through. Sykkuno spots something glinting off the sun, but when he reaches it, it's just a piece of scrap that had been battered about in the fall. He shows Ludwig, who starts looking around that area with him for the rest of the actual computer.
"You know, Sykkuno, I think you're a nice guy. You say you don't know any of us very well, but I'd like to be friends," Ludwig says to him simply, eyes watching the ground, pushing a rock out of the way.
"Oh, I- I think you're really nice too, Ludwig," he stammers, unsure where the kind sentiment suddenly came from. "I'd like to be friends with you too." It feels kind of silly, saying it like that and he laughs at himself, embarrassed. He feels like a little kid making his first friend at school. He can hear Ludwig huff a small laugh as well, probably feeling the same way. The silence between them is comfortable now until Ludwig finally spots the wrist computer.
"There she is! Finally, yes, I've got your owner right here, you can stop crying, we found you," he coos to it like it's a lost pet. It's battered and scratched up, but the screen thankfully hasn't cracked, and Ludwig can switch off the emergency beacon before handing it back to Sykkuno. He thanks him, brushing off some of the dirt that's caked around the screen. It'll need a proper clean when they get back to base.
Back on the bikes, the ride back is quiet, leaving Sykkuno to his own thoughts. He feels calmer on the inside than he had all morning, and he wonders if Corpse is awake yet.
Speak of the devil, and he doth appear; his comms clicks in his ear just as he can see the top of the dropship coming into view.
"Hey, Sy?" Corpse's voice thrums deeper than the engine of the bike. He sounds tired, but present, none of the sleepy slur he had the night before from the pain medication.
"Oh, hey Corpse! I was just thinking about you," he replies, maybe a bit too eager. "Uh, thinking if you were awake, I mean."
"Mh, about an hour ago. I feel like fucking shit," he sighs. "I actually needed to ask you for a favour."
A favour? "Sure, anything, what do you need?" Sykkuno agrees immediately.
"There's some stuff in my old ship I needed… I'd go myself but, y'know. My crew shot me and I'm stuck in a bed."
Sykkuno winces, and bites back an apology. "You want me to go to your ship?" He echoes back to him.
Corpse makes a noise of agreement. "Yeah, I'll explain it better when you're there," he says, and Sykkuno nods his head. He switches from the private line over to Ludwig, letting him know.
"You want me to come with you?" Ludwig checks.
"No, no, it's okay, I'll just be a second, I promise. I'll come back and finish the clean-up soon," he promises and Ludwig agrees as Sykkuno pulls his bike away, splitting off and heading in the direction of Corpse's ship.
The black metal looks like volcanic rock from a distance, reflecting back the sun in the shinier parts that haven't been dulled by rust lines. There's a faint outline of a logo or insignia that would have been a dark purple years ago but is now barely legible. Sykkuno doesn't recognise it, though he remembers Corpse telling him it had been a privately funded mission.
The bottom cargo drop has been left open, looking exactly the same as when they had arrived there on the first day. Sykkuno parks the bike close by, peering inside the dark cargo bay.
There's no reason to be nervous, he's not nervous, not at all.
How Corpse managed to survive the crash, he doesn't know.
Maybe that's why he'd chosen his name, he did make a comment about it when they'd first spoken to each other. That first day that they'd landed, Sykkuno hadn't hung around to get a good look at the ship, and they hadn't been back since Corpse came back with them. Now he can actually see the damage to the hull of the ship, the metal almost completely torn off at the front. It makes him nervous to step inside, like the entire thing might cave in on top of him if he steps in the wrong place. If the last storm had done any damage to it, he can't tell it apart from where it's already been weathered.
The light from outside doesn't travel far inside, and Sykkuno turns on a torch that sits attached to his shoulder. There's no logical reason for him to feel nervous right now, it's not like there's anyone inside, waiting to jump out and scare him. Still, a small part of him wishes he had asked Ludwig to come with him, at least for the moral support.
His footsteps echo as he gets to the back of the cargo hold, finding a deactivated airlock door that opens up to the rest of the ship. It takes both hands to pull it open, and Sykkuno glances around him before taking out his flask from a pocket and wedging it into the doorframe, keeping it from closing all the way over and accidentally locking himself in.
Inside the ship, the corridor feels familiar as he slowly walks through it. The place isn't too dissimilar from their own ship. His torch illuminates a red line painted on the wall, and following it down the corridor he sees directions and arrows pointing towards different rooms. Helpful.
He feels his heart drop straight down into his stomach and he nearly falls down with it. Sykkuno puts his hands on his knees, catching his breath.
"Scared me," he exhales, and he hears a guilty laugh from Corpse.
"Sorry. Are you inside already?"
Sykkuno nods his head, even though the man on the other end of the line can't see him. "Yeah, yeah, I'm in. Is there any way for me to turn the lights on?" He asks.
"The backup generator died a couple months ago, there's a torch in my room though."
Right, okay, no lights. That's fine, he doesn't mind the dark. "Okay, you're going to have to tell me where to go. What am I looking for?" He asks.
"Just a couple things until I can go back there myself. If you follow that first hall around, it's the first room after you turn a left corner."
"Left corner, right," Sykkuno confirms. It feels better to be talking to him, even if he is still walking through the ship on his own. "Nothing's going to jump out at me, right?"
Corpse laughs, then audibly winces in pain. "No more jumpscares, I promise. Sorry I didn't tidy the place, I wasn't expecting visitors."
"It's not so bad," he lies, giving his torch a shake, wishing that it was brighter.
"Mhm. You sound cute when you’re scared.”
“That’s, um,” he stumbles over what to say, because what is he meant to say back to that? It’s not like he can pass on the same compliment back to Corpse right now. The silence is worse, and he forces a laugh to fill it. "I'm not scared. The ship's not really that different to our own, it's just, kinda dark. You never set up any buildings outside?" He asks because he can't overthink when he's too busy talking.
"I did, once or twice. Things eventually got damaged, so it was just easier to sleep in the ship."
"I guess there was plenty of room in here just for you," he replies. He doesn't want to ask anything about his old crew that might upset him, but the curiosity burns inside of him anyway.
"I prefer being closer to you over here."
"You're lucky that the med bay isn't right next to the bunks. I've been told I'm annoying to sleep next to, I think I talk in my sleep a lot."
"Who told you that? An ex?"
God, he should have kept his mouth shut. "Ah, yeah. They'd be the one to know though, right?"
"They should have appreciated your sleep talking, I bet it was cute as fuck," Corpse is vehement. Sykkuno laughs at himself, he can't help it, it just feels so silly to think that it was cute. Having someone beside you talking nonsense would definitely have been annoying if you were trying to sleep, he didn't blame his ex for pointing it out one time.
"That's twice now that you've said I'm cute, Corpse," he hums. Filling the silence makes the walk through the dark ship not as nerve-wracking.
"Want me to say it three times? You're cute."
"Stop, stop, before someone walks past the med bay and hears you," he laughs again, shaking his head. "That would be awkward to explain."
"I don't care if they hear me. I'd have to say a lot worse before it got awkward."
"They're going to think you're flirting with me," he says, rolling his eyes.
"Does them knowing bother you?" Corpse asks, and he sounds confusingly genuine. Sykkuno blinks, pausing mid-step.
It's not fair, it's not fair to be teased like this. Does he know, somehow, did he figure it out? He should have known that he was terrible at hiding things, that Corpse would have noticed his stupid little crush. God, he should think that he was lucky, that he was just getting teased about it instead of making Corpse feel awkward around him. His face feels like it was on fire. "I don't want them to get the wrong idea about us," he says after just missing half a beat. He's saved from the conversation by finally rounding a corner. "First room on the left?"
"...Yeah, that's the one." If Corpse sounds disappointed, it's all in his head.
The room has its door shut, and it takes both of his arms to slide it open manually. Sykkuno catches his breath, and shines the torch around the room. Pushed up against a wall is a single bed, several pillows in a heap around the head of the bed. A pile of spiral bound notebooks sit on the floor in a stack, an empty space next to the clutter big enough for someone to sit on the floor and write.
Sykkuno kneels down, light shining on the book still opened up on the floor. The words don’t fill the entire page, breaking off into repeating sets of lines...poetry? He wouldn’t have guessed Corpse to be the type to write poetry. Looking closer, he mistakes the writing on the page to be a different language at first, practically illegible.
"You've gone quiet. Should I be nervous?" Corpse's voice through the comms is almost like his conscience talking to him. Sykkuno straightens up, embarrassed like he’s been caught going through his personal belongings like that.
“I don’t know, is there anything you don’t want me to find in here?” he asks.
“Yeah, I keep my hentai under the mattress.”
“Hen- what? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, but looks over at the bed anyway. "You haven't made your bed," he comments, and that earns him a small laugh.
"What's the point of making my bed if I'm the only one around?"
“I don’t know, mindfulness? I always feel better if I have my space tidy,” he replies.
“Okay, I get it, you’re judging me and my isolation room.” Corpse’s voice is light.
“I mean, it’s not like you didn’t have any time to do it,” he teases him back.
“Sure, but whenever I started to think too much about what was worth doing, I’d decide that the answer was nothing, and then I wouldn’t be making my bed for weeks because I wasn’t even leaving it. It’s a slippery slope.”
“Ah,” Sykkuno breathes, and goes quiet for a moment. He’d tried putting himself in Corpse’s place before, imagining what he would have done if their situations were reversed. Being completely alone for the rest of his life, without even a shred of hope of ever being found again, with no purpose anymore telling him what to do next. He wonders, at that point, if he would have given up.
“So, next to the bed, there should be some boxes stacked up together,” Corpse starts to describe, and Sykkuno quickly remembers the reason why he’s even here in the first place. He shines his torch around the room, looking for the boxes that he was talking about and making a sound of confirmation. “Sitting on top there should be, like… it probably doesn’t look like anything, but there’s a mask.”
"A mask?" He echoes. There's a small set of tools sitting on top of the box, half of the pieces out of the kit. Next to them is a project that looks vaguely mask shaped. Sykkuno picks it up, turning it over carefully in his hands. The front is solid, like some sort of one-way visor material, surrounded by a tough fabric that feels stiff in his hands, more so than what their tents are made out of. One side is higher than the other, though whether that's a stylistic choice or because it's incomplete, he's not sure.
“Yeah, it’s a, it’s something I was working on when my helmet got damaged," Corpse says and he sounds...nervous?
Sykkuno hesitates. “Is there something in the atmosphere that you’re not telling me that I should be worried about?” he asks, half joking.
“No, it’s not about the air. I’d tell you if something wasn’t safe, Sykkuno. I don’t want you getting hurt,” Corpse replies, and Sykkuno can hear him holding his breath, debating whether or not to explain further.
"You don't need to hide from us. You're a part of the crew now," Sykkuno prompts.
“ I just...feel like I can be more myself, wearing it.”
Sykkuno can hear the beep of his vital monitor in the background of the call, and in the pause he can count the sound of his heart rate.
“What happened? I mean...something must have happened, right?”
“Like a traumatic experience, you mean? Like some big, bad evil did this to me and made me scared to show my face? I’m not vain, I’m not scared of what you’ll think of me when you see what I look like, if that's what you're thinking.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
“I’m not angry with you,” he replies quickly, softly. There’s a tremor to his voice, strained, like he’s holding his jaw too tight. “...Nothing happened. My head just works better when I'm hiding my face." He exhales, biting off a sound of pain as he shifts in his bed.
There's silence between them again, and Sykkuno cradles the mask carefully in his hands. He feels guilty for being pushy, positive that Corpse was annoyed at him now, even if he wasn't saying so.
“I don’t mind bringing the mask back for you. It'll be easier for you than wearing a helmet all of the time," he says, and there's a pause on the other end of the line. He misses how easy the conversation felt just a few minutes ago. It would only be worse if Corpse thinks that he's upset too, so he plays it off lightly, changing the subject.
"There's a lot of notebooks in here. Did you want me to bring any of them back for you?" He asks.
"...Yeah. Yeah, actually. I'll go mad with boredom in here with nothing to do, and I can't be on call with you all day."
"I don't mind, I like talking to you," he replies, maybe a little too quickly. "Which book did you want?"
Corpse does his best to describe the cover for him, guessing at where he had left it last. Sykkuno carefully picks through the stack, straightening up the piles as he goes.
"Are they research journals?" He asks, finally finding the right one and turning it over in his hands.
"No, sorry. I'm not a researcher, I'm not a super scientist like you."
"I'm not-" Sykkuno starts, but Corpse just continues, ignoring him.
"They're song books. Shit I wrote. Kept me sane on the harder days."
"Oh, lyrics?" Sykkuno smiles, thinking it's sweet.
"Yeah. I'll sing one for you when you get back."
The drop site becomes a centre of activity again after the damage from the storm has been cleaned up and everyone gets settled back into their work. The two tent sites finish being set up, and Sykkuno gets the smaller of the two, HAB-B, essentially all to himself. Going back and forth from the storage bay to the HAB, he gets to set up desks with all his equipment right where he wanted it. Boxes and boxes of unused slides, petri dishes, test tubes, flasks, and beakers, all get stacked and organised, enough to last him through hundreds of different tests.
Lily pokes her head in every now and again to see how he’s doing, to remind him to get up and do a lap around the site every now and again so he doesn’t get back problems from sitting hunched over a desk for hours on end. He never actually notices when Rachel passes through, but there will always be a mug of coffee left on the desk whenever she does. Leslie sits with him sometimes, preparing slides, cleaning off sample boxes, labelling things. He tells her she doesn’t have to worry about doing little jobs like that for him, she’s more valuable than just a lab assistant, to which she just shrugs her shoulders and complains about having cramped muscles. He doesn’t complain, it’s nice to have the company.
He barely notices the time passing by at all, so engrossed in his work. Everything he sees is new, everything he tests is something he’s never tested before, chemical analysis never returns results that he can predict yet, and he doesn’t think he’s actually enjoyed his work so much in years.
Being so busy with work and realising exactly how much he has ahead of him keeps his mind occupied. It’s still not enough to keep his mind from wandering as he pushes another slide under the microscope, and he thinks about Corpse. He thinks about the mask he had brought back for him, he thinks about his hands as he had passed it over, fingers brushing against his own. Maybe it was the wrong thing, to have brought it back for him. Not because he couldn’t trust him when he couldn’t see his face, he was long past that point now, but because maybe he shouldn’t be enabling his anxiety. Maybe he should have encouraged him to keep the helmet off, to get used to being seen by people again. Should he push him one way or the other, or should he just leave the matter entirely? He exhales, taking out the slide and switching to the next one. Maybe, maybe, maybe. He had no idea what was the right thing to do.
“Bad sample batch?” Rachel’s voice surprises him from behind, and he pulls back away from the microscope to see her just as she sets down a fresh mug of coffee on the desk beside him. Sykkuno rubs at his eyes with the heel of his palms, readjusting to seeing the world again on the regular scale.
“Oh, no. No, everything’s fine with these. Why? Did something happen?” he asks.
Rachel gives him a small smile, sitting down on a free chair. “You just did a huge sigh,” she replies.
Sykkuno bites the inside of his cheek, clasping his hands together in his lap. “I’m fine, it’s nothing,” he replies, "Thank you for bringing this, you didn't have to come out here so late," he says as he brings it up to his lips.
She just hums back, very obviously unconvinced. “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t be feeding you caffeine in the middle of the night, but we didn’t bring any decaf."
"It's fine, it doesn't keep me up anyway."
"God, I'm so sorry for you," she smirks. "Isn't Leslie usually the one hanging around in here reminding you to go to bed?"
Sykkuno shakes his head, "She said she wasn't feeling well. Something about thinking that it's the lights that's been giving her a headache."
"She seemed fine at dinner. She ate so fast I thought about giving her the rest of my plate too before she started chewing on her fork."
"Oh," Sykkuno twisted the mug around in his hands, "I'm glad she's feeling better, then."
Rachel hums sympathetically before scooting her chair forwards, peering over at his desk. "So, finding anything interesting?” she asks, and Sykkuno shrugs his shoulders.
“Well, for an alien planet, everything’s strangely normal. The cell structure of the samples we gathered before the storm is really similar to what I studied on Earth, which I guess really isn't normal at all. I mean, it's not like it's exactly the same, but it doesn't feel, I don't know, alien enough?" He laughs quietly at himself.
“Damn. I was kinda hoping for like, a Day of the Triffids sort of situation,” Rachel smiles into the curve of her own mug.
“You know, the book? Alien plants that want to kill people?”
Sykkuno scoffs, one hand leaving the mug to cover his mouth. “You were hoping for that?”
“Not literally! Well, maybe. I don’t know! It would be interesting at least, wouldn’t it?” she says with a growing grin that shows off sharp teeth.
“Um, yeah. Maybe from like, a distance. Not actually living on the planet with psycho killer plants. Should I be worried about you?”
“I’ll protect you from the plants, don’t worry Sy. We’re on the same side here.”
“Thank you,” he says, and Rachel gives him a look that makes him think that maybe he said that a little bit too genuinely.
“Anyway. Sentient plants aren’t really at the top of my ‘potentially dangerous’ list here,” she continues after a beat, and Sykkuno guesses what she’s hinting at.
“You mean Corpse.”
Rachel doesn’t say anything to that. She tilts her back back, looking up to the top of the tent above them. “He was up there. I’m not really worried about him anymore though.” There’s a moment of silence before she says, “You got him that mask from the ship.”
Sykkuno nods. “He asked me to.”
“Mh. You’re his favourite.”
“Fav- I don’t know what you mean. That's not true,” Sykkuno shakes his head, looking down at the mug held in his hands.
“I mean, he wouldn’t have asked any of us to do that for him. It’s not a bad thing, you know. It’s cute.”
“It’s anxiety. Or a phobia. Or both, probably,” he replies. “I don’t know about cute.”
“It’s cute that he’s become so attached to you so quickly. If he wants to wear a mask, he can wear a mask, it doesn't bother me," she says and shrugs her shoulders. "Did you get to see, though? When you gave it to him?” Rachel motions at her face.
Sykkuno shakes his head. “He had the helmet back on when I went in there to give it to him. I got the feeling he didn’t want me to hang around and watch.”
“You didn’t even try?” she asks and Sykkuno shakes his head again in reply. “You’re not even curious?”
“Maybe. A little bit,” he admits. Maybe a lot, he thinks. “I don’t want to push him about it though. I think that if he wants to show me, he will do it when he's ready.”
Rachel smiles at him, nodding her head slowly as if there’s a second, secret conversation happening between the lines, except he doesn’t know anything about what that could be. “I think it’s nice that he’s attached to you. Maybe he’s a little quick about it, but that's probably a side-effect of being out here by himself for so long. It's good, though! I think it's good, for the both of you.”
"He's a nice person. I'm glad that we could be friends," Sykkuno says, and his mug is distressingly empty, giving him nothing left to sip and stall from. "I don't think he's attr- attached to me though."
Rachel sighs at him, shaking her head as her smile lingers. “I’m taking Tina out with me to set up some weather nodes in the morning tomorrow, try and see if we can sort something out to give us a warning next time one of those storms happens. Did you want to come with us?”
“Ah, yeah,” he says, standing up from his chair to cross over to one of the stacks of storage boxes piled up on one wall. “I’ve actually, I wanted to go back out to where I last got this batch of samples from before the storm, you know it’s been really weird, some- Oh.”
There’s a click, a low hum, and all the lights shut down at once. The monitors around the room go down at the same time, leaving the two of them in complete darkness. The red LED of the backup power fades in, washing over the entire lab with faint light, giving them just enough to not run into each other. Sykkuno can hear Rachel’s feet slide across the floor as she takes a step closer to him.
“Are you kidding me?” she breathes, running into the desk chair and sending it rolling forwards until it hits his knees. "Shit, sorry."
“It’s alright, it usually all comes back on in a few minutes,” Sykkuno promises. He can feel the incredulity on her face as she whips around to face him.
“This has happened before?” she hisses under her breath.
Sykkuno laughs quietly, not worried at all. “You don’t have to whisper just because it’s dark,” he replies. “It happens sometimes, yeah.”
“Why doesn’t back up fix it straight away?”
“I don’t know. I asked Jeremy last night and he said this doesn’t show up in any of the error logs at all since the computers go completely offline. I was worried the first time that I'd lose all the work I'd done, but everything's always backed up when it starts again," he tries to reassure her.
Rachel doesn’t look like she’s even listening to him anymore, looking down at her own wrist and fiddling with the computer there. “Come on,” she mutters. Her manner shifts, and she doesn’t seem to be scared of the lights suddenly going out anymore. "Alright. Comms is down too now."
“Oh. That hasn’t happened before.”
Rachel steps in closer, and Sykkuno instinctively leans back, his hands holding onto the edge of his desk as she leans in. “I’ve got about sixty seconds before everything's back up and running, so listen,” she whispers. “Are you still working with GreenTech?”
Sykkuno blinks, pulling his head back. “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. The lights should be back on in a few minutes, at most,” he replies, confused.
Rachel pushes in closer, “They’re coming back on in exactly forty-nine seconds, so tell me. I know you were working with them back on Earth.”
“Uh, they funded my research years ago, when, when the DT project was just beginning. Their grant money kept the project going for years, up until it was completed and I published everything.”
“Did you piss them off?”
"Are you still working with them? With-” she cuts herself off before she can say a name, shaking her head at herself quickly. Their time’s running out and Sykkuno can feel it in the way she grabs his hands with her own, pleading with him.
“Listen. I don’t know why the fuck Jeremy decided to bring you here, but he’s always got a reason. I just haven’t figured it out yet. We’re supposed to be here to what, study plants? Then what the hell am I doing here? Then why are only three people in the entire crew botanists, or biologists, or whatever? How the fuck did we land within sight of an apparently unknown, privately-funded ship?”
Sykkuno shakes his head, unable to give her any answers to her questions. “Why are you asking me? I thought you were close with Jeremy.”
“Because you’re the only one who I believe isn’t in on whatever is going on here. This whole thing about whether or not we should trust Corpse is just a distraction, to try and stop us asking if we should trust each other.” She looks down, checks her wrist computer, and swears under her breath. “If you do find something strange, I want you to tell me about it before you give Jeremy a report, got it?”
Sykkuno doesn’t respond fast enough for her, and she squeezes both of his hands, desperate. “Promise me that I can trust you,” she begs.
He swallows the lump in his throat, mind reeling, and the red of the LED fades. The overhead lights flicker themselves back on. Rachel lets go of his hands, stepping back.
“Please don’t tell anyone that I got scared of the dark, god, Lud would tease me forever if he found out,” she laughs, switching straight back as if their conversation had never happened at all. He tries to echo her laugh, but it doesn’t come off as natural.
“Ah, yeah,” he replies, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. Rachel’s eyes shine, and she blinks quickly, turning her face away from him.
“Thanks,” she breathes. Sykkuno wants to ask more, wants to know what GreenTech had to do with anything, what made her doubt the rest of the crew, why she was scared of someone overhearing their conversation. Surely they’re not being monitored. He opens his mouth to say something, to ask if she’s alright as she takes a breath, but she cuts him off before he has a chance.
“You should come in before it gets too late. It’s not like the leaves have legs, they’ll all be here in the morning,” she says. Heading to the door, she holds it half open as she waits for Sykkuno to join her.
He ducks his head in a quick nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I promised Corpse I’d see him before I went to bed. I'll be in soon, don't wait up."
Rachel lingers around by the door, before nodding her head and leaving Sykkuno alone in the HAB. He stares at the space she had just occupied before dropping back down into his chair, catching his reeling mind in both of his hands as he leant forwards. Staring blankly, he watches as the computer monitor starts itself back up, the loading ring spinning around and around and around. Rachel was right about some things, but what it all meant together? He had no idea, and why he couldn’t trust them because of it.
In the corner of his eye, he can see an incoming call flashing up on his wrist from Corpse before it disappears again. Sykkuno suddenly feels exhausted, and he’d love to go back to his own bed and question every single interaction he’d ever had with every single one of the crew to look for things he might have missed in conversations, in jokes, in work. The guilt of ignoring his call gets him back up his feet and opening a new line back to him. There’s a small wait, and his chest tightens as he thinks that Corpse isn’t going to answer him.
He reaches the door out of the HAB.
There’s a click, and a voice. “Hey. Still up?”
Sykkuno bites down on his tongue, hard, before putting a smile on his face that hopefully sends through into his voice as he replies, “Yeah, I’m on my way. I didn’t forget you.”
There’s a quiet chuckle from the other end. “It’s been so long, Sy. I’m starting to forget your face. You have to come remind me, quick.”
It was easy to push everything to the back of his mind when Corpse was teasing him, and Sykkuno sealed away his worries to unpack later in private. He watched his feet as he walked up to the dropship, the smile on his face slowly turning into something more genuine.
happy new year:)
The days didn’t feel the same anymore.
Before, Sykkuno had felt like he had just started getting familiar with everyone, getting comfortable with Ludwig throwing his arm around his shoulders in the morning as he hunched forwards over his coffee, understanding Jeremy’s sense of humour when he’s trying to work, listening to Tina complain about the lack of diverse food when they were on dinner duty together. Even Poki the engineer had insisted that he call her by her nickname instead of her actual name when she’d tried fixing his lights issue in the HAB.
Sykkuno didn’t know how the others didn’t see the change in him. How they didn’t question the slightly longer pause in his words whenever he’d reply. How they didn’t mention the fact that his face looked tight when he smiled back at them. How they didn’t see that he was pulling away. Maybe they did, maybe it was so obvious that it was just embarrassing for them to point it out to him. Maybe they were testing him, waiting for him to figure out what he wanted to do next. Or maybe they really couldn’t tell the change at all, maybe he was the only one throwing himself into his work in an effort to exhaust himself, to wear out his mind so he didn’t have any energy to think left by the time he fell into bed.
He hadn’t spoken to Rachel again since the night the lights had gone out in the HAB. He’d avoided her completely the day after, sitting down in his desk chair and going through his computer, looking for evidence that any of his files and reports and hypotheses had been tampered with. Nothing looked out of place. Rachel had gone back to her regular routine as if nothing had happened. She was a better liar than he was, she didn’t have any problems getting along with the others.
Sykkuno just felt heavy. As he rode further and further out each day to study more of the planet, it felt like he was being followed by a shadow, larger and darker and colder than his own. It lassoed to his ankles, making his feet drag across the ground, crawling up the length of his spine. He would feel it’s presence behind him, looming over his head, and some days it felt so tangible he’d have to quickly turn around and check over his shoulder to make sure nobody was actually there, dragging him down.
Today it was just Corpse, following behind him on his own bike, raising his hand up in a small wave when he noticed that Sykkuno was looking his way. It got easier to ignore the shadow when he looked at him. Even though Jeremy had made him an honorary member of their crew, Sykuno still viewed him as separate in a way. In a good way. Deciding what to say around him wasn’t as difficult. He didn’t have to worry about what Corpse was hiding from him, he didn’t have to try and analyse every word he said to find his ulterior motive, he didn’t have to second guess every kind thing he did for him.
The other seemed to be happier now that he was back out and doing things. The scar from the gunshot wound was still bright red and healing, but there wasn’t any sign of infection which was lucky. Sykkuno had noticed that it bothered him sometimes, when he tried lifting things, or pulling his bike too quick in one direction, but he never complained out loud.
Sykkuno had sat on the edge of his bed the night before, his legs crossed over at the ankles, carefully pulling apart each suture that ran from just underneath his collarbone out towards his armpit. Corpse hadn’t flinched the entire time, making pleasant conversation as if it wasn’t happening at all.
“You really are well enough now to come out of here and have dinner with the rest of us, you know,” Sykkuno had said, pulling the black thread through and out of his skin.
“Old habits die hard. I don’t mind eating in here,” Corpse replied easily, and Sykkuno noticed that he has to physically hold himself back from shrugging. Another one of those old habits, Sykkuno figured with a sympathetic smile.
“It’s just going to get harder to join in the longer you put it off.” He wants to say that he’d like him there, as a buffer, as a secondary opinion, but it feels selfish to use him like that.
“Am I being scolded right now? Are you scolding me, Sykkuno?” he can hear the smile in his voice behind his mask.
He decided straight away that he likes the mask better than the helmet. The shape of it sits snug against his face, still all black, still hiding everything behind it. His hair is out now, though. A small detail, perhaps, but it makes him feel just that bit more tangible, gives him more material to imagine him later when he’s alone. It falls over his forehead, curling at the ends as it rests against the nape of his neck. The ends are choppy, layers falling in odd places, and he wondered how Corpse had cut it himself.
He realises Corpse had caught him staring and he ducks his head, going back to removing the next stitch.
“I remember, back home, I used to eat the same breakfast every day for years. It was this cereal with way too much sugar in it. Once I had to start training for spaceflight I wasn’t supposed to eat it anymore, I had to eat healthy shit every day instead. God, I’d kill to have that again,” Corpse sighed.
Sykkuno smiled, “I remember when I was a kid, my mother used to give me these little… red coloured sweets. I don’t know how to even describe it anymore, they weren’t super sugar-y, kind of that salty sweet taste, I don’t know. For some reason, I thought she handmade them for me, and I was devastated when I found out she bought them from a market,” he shook his head at his own foolishness.
“I remember the first week I’d moved out on my own, nobody was there to stop me from eating fifteen Hershey bars, and I was sick all night. I couldn’t ever eat them again after that.”
“You can’t get those anymore, the company stopped making them about three years ago,” Sykkuno flippantly broke the news to him.
Corpse’s head snapped to the side so fast he thought that his mask would fall off his head. “You’re fucking with me.”
“I’m- no,” Sykkuno chuckled, “I’m serious, I promise.”
“Shit. I don’t know why I care so much, I couldn't stomach the taste of them since. Guess that sort of thing just feels so bizarre to me now. Fuck, what else went bust?”
"Hm, physical DVDs stopped being manufactured, Burger King had to close down…”
They continued together like that, quietly going back and forth with each other as Sykkuno carefully removed the sutures. He forgot sometimes, just how much Corpse had missed out here, even if it had only been a handful of years. Progression continued anyway, whether you were there for it or not.
Now they rode out together, Sykkuno in the lead, checking the coordinates on his computer briefly. He hadn’t gone out this far yet, slowly getting the confidence to travel out further and further away from the drop ship each day he explored. Having Corpse along with him made him feel better about it, having his experience on the planet feeling like a security blanket.
Luckily for them, they hadn’t run into any terrain that the bikes couldn’t cross yet. For the most part, the land was flat and easy for the three-wheeler to make good time with. At worst they had run into some rocky patches that slowed them down and used up extra charge from the batteries, nothing that would make getting back a hassle though. Sykkuno made sure of that before they left together, double and triple checking all their equipment. Even if they probably weren’t going to get shot at again if they didn’t make it back, he didn’t want to take the chance of worrying the others.
The sun bore down directly overhead, making that oppressive shadow of his disappear. Sykkuno pulled his bike off course and towards a grove he could see to his left, Corpse following behind, head turning as he looked around. Pulling the bike to a slow stop, he wheeled it forwards underneath the cover of the trees where it would be cooler to take a break.
“Peanut butter or honey?” He asked as Corpse tugged his helmet off with a breath of relief, shaking his hair out.
“Or what, honey?” he replied.
“What-” Sykkuno started, frowning as Corpse just laughed and took the sandwich. He felt like he missed the joke but he didn’t want to have to ask what it was and look stupid so he just laughed quietly to himself and held onto his own sandwich, walking out to the next tree and sitting down with his back to the trunk.
Corpse did the same, checking the ground beneath him before he lowered and sat with his legs crossed. “Do you have the coordinates for here on your computer?” he asked before he started eating.
Sykkuno nodded his head, looking down to double check that he did. Who knows when their state of the art equipment would decide to fail on them.
Corpse leant forwards closer to him, his hair falling down over his forehead as he looked at the small screen on his arm. Sykkuno held onto his breath. There was a pause, before he muttered a quiet, “Huh,” and sat back.
“Do you think it’s wrong?” Sykkuno asked when he could think of something other than his internal monologue of ohgodohwowhe’sreallyclose.
The man shook his head. “No, it just… I just didn’t recognise this area, didn’t think there was any cover until we got out a bit further.”
Tipping his head back to look up at the tree and it’s trunk growing up above them, Sykkuno hummed. “Could be a fast growing species,” he guessed. They didn’t seem to match the same look as the rest of the trees nearer to the dropsite, taller, white speckles circling around the trunk, and practically no undergrowth beneath them. The wind from the storm seems to have bent them, leaning over in the same direction. Maybe they could stay here and take some samples instead of travelling further out for today.
Corpse seemed to lose interest, pushing his mask up onto his forehead to take a contemplative bite of his sandwich. Sykkuno stared, eyes following the red mark on his chin from where the mask had dug into him every day he wore it. There was a hint of another mark going down from his cheek to his jaw, but the mask was still on, covering him up from Sykkuno’s gaze analysing him further.
“You think they’re really going to start sending people up here to live?” Corpse wondered out loud, looking out in the opposite direction.
Sykkuno shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, maybe in another ten or fifteen years. This mission is just a safeguard, there’s still Plan A to E before everyone starts moving over.”
Corpse snorted, “It’ll be the rich assholes that get to jump ship first, right? The ones who fucked Earth get first pick at a brand new planet for them. Fucked up, isn’t it?”
“I guess, when you put it like that. It doesn’t really seem fair,” he said. “I’d rather stay home, even if it’s not as nice. I guess I’m just used to it. I’ll miss this though,” he says and takes a deep breath of crisp air.
Sykkuno takes the last bite of his sandwich, wrapping up the left-over crusts into the sealed bag they’d brought the food over in and stashing it back away in his pack. Standing up to stretch out his legs, he checked the battery that was left in both of their bikes. It would be a long and boring walk back to the ship if they ran out.
Corpse seemed to have the same idea, taking a long drink from his flask before pulling his mask back down and into its regular position. Sykkuno missed being able to see his mouth and jaw already. “We’re heading off again?” he asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, I just wanted to take a sample from here too, since we’ve already stopped. Did you see the moss growing up the trunk? I think it’s moss.”
“I wasn’t really looking at the trees,” he replies, leaning up against the bike.
Sykkuno gives him a tight smile, “I’ll be quick, I promise.” Corpse assures him that he doesn’t mind waiting. Not wanting to keep him waiting anyway, Sykkuno goes back to the spot they’d just sat and eaten, finding that winding, white moss that wrapped up the trunk of the tree. Further into the grove the growth only became more abundant, and Sykkuno followed it in until he found a tree almost entirely overtaken, sunlight only just filtering in through the canopy above his head.
His field kit only contained a handlens but it was enough to magnify in and see the spore capsules nestled into the supporting stalk. Gently, he worked a scraper in and up against the bark of the tree. Wriggling the tool back and forth, he gently lifted off a section of the moss without disturbing it too much and sealed it up in a sample container.
It wasn’t until he had the container in his hand and was about to turn around and head back to Corpse that he noticed the spot where he had scraped from the tree, and that the bare patch where a trunk should have been was something black. Frowning, Sykkuno squatted down and made the patch bigger with his hands, pushing the growing moss out of the way. It revealed more of that same black, semi-matte and completely smooth, almost a perfect sphere.
His hand brushed over an irregularity, a change in texture, revealing tinted polycarbonate. A visor attached to a black helmet.
With a cut off cry, he fell backwards, seeing for the first time the entire shape. His stomach rolled, wanting to cover his mouth with his hands but he didn't want to put his gloves near his face. The moss grew over everything, blending it in with the shape of the trunk, disguising it until Sykkuno knew what he was looking for. Looking at.
A body, slumped forwards with it’s back against the tree.
It was a body.
A human body.
A human body, buried underneath overgrown moss from head to toe.
Sykkuno thought he might be sick.
While the shock still made him bold, before panic could settle into his chest properly, fuelled purely by adrenaline and a need to know , he reached forwards towards it again, brushing off more of the moss from it’s - no, from their , chest.
“Oh, Jesus,” Sykkuno breathed, swallowing down the thought of being sick. The suit was in good condition, considering the length of time it would have had to be out, exposed to the elements. His hand trembled over where he had cleared off the moss, exposing the insignia on the left hand side of their chest.
Dark purple. A penrose triangle. Clearer than anything he had seen on Corpse’s ship, but it was unmistakable. It was the same design. He recognised it for the first time, a private company just like he’d said. He remembers it briefly, seeing it in the news, papers mourning a lost expedition, a wealthy family taking the blame for the failure. He can’t remember any of their names, not something he ever thought would be important to him years later, on another planet, crouched down next to a dead body.
It was easier to detach himself from that reality when he couldn’t see any part of them, that he couldn’t see their face, what their expression had been like when they’d died. Why were they out here, by themselves? Why were they resting up against a tree, as if they had stopped to take a rest and never got back up again? Why hadn’t Corpse said anything when he chose this place to stop, or when he had wandered into the grove of trees on his own to collect samples?
His throat tightened. Was he waiting by the bikes, waiting for him to sound the alarm? Waiting to see whether he found the body or not? Did he know that this person, this person who had been a part of his crew, was out here? Not even given a burial, left for the planet to slowly take over their body and cover it up with a blanket of its own undergrowth.
Stop, stop. He couldn’t just start accusing Corpse of things without any evidence. He had to give him the benefit of the doubt, he had so far, hadn’t he?
Sykkuno couldn’t tell how they had died, not without getting closer and touching them again, something he wasn’t particularly keen on doing right now. He clenched his hands into tight fists at his sides to try and still them from shaking, but it didn’t work. His mind was still racing with too many questions, too many possibilities, and nobody ever telling him the truth.
Nobody ever just told him the truth.
Corpse was meant to be the exception to that. Sure, he wasn’t an idiot, he knew that he wasn’t telling him everything, barely telling him anything personal at all in fact, but at least when he asked a question, he felt like he got an honest answer in return. Felt like he wasn’t playing mind games with him, that he didn’t have his real intention hidden under ten different layers. Was he really that honest, and decent, and good, or was he just better than the others at getting Sykkuno to trust him?
Was he really that stupid, that naive, to be fooled again? To not learn his lesson from the first time? He should know better by now. He'd tried to keep a professional distance from everyone in the crew, but he couldn’t help but sit down to eat at night and listen in on everyone talking and joking and having fun, and wanting to have that too. He wanted that easy, carefree, friendliness, even something just to get along with the group. He thought for a little while that he did manage to get it, that he had started to fit in with the rest.
Sykkuno hit the ground beside him in frustration, tipping his head back to look upwards at the canopy of thick trees above him and taking a breath. He could feel himself spiralling, circling downwards into the mire of his own insecurities. His chest swelled as he took a breath, and another, and another, until he dragged himself back to the present. Worrying over whether people liked him wasn't important right now.
He still had a body in front of him that he needed to deal with.
There was a very large part of him that didn’t want to inspect it any further, but he knew that if he wanted the truth, he would have to. It’s not like he had never seen a dead body before, he just had to pretend he was back doing medical training.
Biting down on his cheek, Sykkuno edged himself closer to it, taking another steadying breath as he decided where to start. Okay. Their shoulders couldn’t be any broader than his own, perhaps a little bit smaller. Probably a female. There was no name stitched into the front, but he could see the stripes stitched onto their sleeve. Not the captain, but they had been someone important. Executive officer, maybe. He couldn’t see any damage to the front of their suit, no burnt and frayed material from a gunshot, no tears from a knife. No discolouration from blood seeping out from the inside. The helmet was nearly in perfect condition, save for a scrape along the left hand side.
Maybe they’d hit their head in the crash. Got disoriented, and stumbled out here before dying? Sure. Yeah. That was a possibility. One that didn’t negatively implicate Corpse. Reaching up, he took hold of the helmet and moved their head as gently as he could to the side. His stomach flipped as he heard the softest crunch as it fell forwards, the chin of the helmet resting against their chest.
He could clearly see the damage now.
The entire back of the helmet was gone. Destroyed. If the pieces were still around nearby, they would be buried about underneath a layer of dirt and moss. The back of their skull had practically fused together with the tree to the point where he wasn’t sure exactly where their body ended and the tree began. The moss that covered the entire area had found its way inside the suit, feeding and thriving off the decomposed body.
Sykkuno had seen enough. Pushing himself up off the ground, he heard the sound of Corpse’s voice calling out to him from the bikes. He didn’t answer, couldn’t find the strength in his voice to shout. His hands were still shaking, but he could ignore it, letting that be his outlet of all the nerves in his body, keeping his legs strong as he walked back out of the cover of the trees.
His face must have betrayed some of what was going on in his head in the way that Corpse’s arms dropped down to his sides the moment that he saw him approach.
“Sy, are you al-”
He shakes his head. He needs to speak, needs to say something instead of just standing here, shaking from the ground up, feeling like he’s about to explode, feeling like his head is being crushed under the pressure, feeling like he can’t even take a breath without slipping and losing everything, like his throat feels so tight it’s starting to constrict around him, his chest giving him away as he breathes faster and faster, trying to keep up with his heart as it races, trying to make sense of the desperation building inside of his chest and not being able to come up with a single damn word to make sense of any of it!
“...-ou’re looking really pale, what happened? You’re scaring me,” Corpse said, his arms going out to touch him, reaching for his shoulders.
Sykkuno took a step backwards. He needed the space. Corpse dropped his arms down, pulling back himself in shock and hurt. Sykkuno’s head pounded, overwhelmed with everything he wanted to say and at the same time, absolutely terrified. He could hear his pulse pounding in his ears.
“Take it off,” he breathed, barely audible, facing his hands as they twisted together in front of him.
Corpse was silent for a long second, before laughing breathlessly, unsure. “Wh-what?”
“Take. It. Off.”
He didn’t laugh again. “What are you talking about?”
Sykkuno's jaw ached, clenching it tight. “Your mask."
"I'm not-" Corpse starts with a hollow laugh of disbelief, like he thinks that this is just a weird prank Sykkuno is playing on him. Sykkuno doesn't say anything, just stared and sucks in breath after breath through his teeth. "I- no. I'm not taking it off, Sy."
"I need to see. Whatever you’re hiding, I need to know. I need to know what you’re keeping from me, what you know, what happened, I need to know, before it happens again or I find out you’re lying to me or you’re not who you say you are, if you if you killed all those people, I need-” His voice continued until he ran out of breath, dropping his head down as he tried steadying himself again.
“What happened, Sy- I’m worried about you.”
“I didn’t kill anyone, what the fuck is going on? You need to sit down, you look really pale.”
Sykkuno shook his head, but that only made the ground spin beneath his feet worse than it already was. He could see himself, standing there with his hands on his knees, nearly retching with how much he was struggling to breathe. “I can’t keep more secrets. I can’t tell anyone. I can’t,” he exhaled to himself. Lifting his head, he looked over at Corpse. “Where is your crew?”
Corpse shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Sykkuno screwed his eyes shut. “Where are they?” he repeated, refusing to believe him. Everyone lied to him, all the time. Everyone told him what he wanted to hear. Everyone worked for their best interests, what would help them, never caring about other people.
“I don’t fucking know! I don’t understand what’s going on, what happened?”
Sykkuno just raised his arm, pointing back behind him. “I found one. In there, by the tree. Oh, Jesus…” he shuddered. With a frantic movement he ripped off his gloves so he could toss them to the ground. His palms were sweating but he didn’t care, scrubbing them over his face and pressing so hard against his mouth he could feel his teeth cutting into his skin.
“I…” Corpse started, swaying back on his heels. His shock was convincing, at least, and god, Sykkuno wanted to believe him.
“Why wouldn’t you tell me anything?” he asked, but it sounded more like defeat.
“Nobody would believe me.”
“I can’t defend you if I don’t know what’s going on with you! I can’t explain this to the others without it looking like...something really bad.” Sykkuno felt the panic start to become blanketed by the weight of numbness, washing over him like a wave. He knew the process well enough, knew that it worked like tides until he could get himself out of it. It wasn’t clarity, but at least he could breathe.
Corse was swearing underneath his breath, before he stepped closer to him again and took hold of both his shoulders. Sykkuno didn’t care to pull away this time. He didn’t even realise tears had started running down his cheeks until gentle fingers brushed them away.
“Sit down. Come on, before you fall. That’s it,” Corpse slowly lowered him down until he was sitting on the ground. He stays for a moment, making sure he’s steady. “I’m going to go have a look. I’ll- I’ll be right back, I promise.”
Shaking his head, Sykkuno grips onto Corpse’s arm. “Tell me about the crash.”
Corpse exhales, looking down at him. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking, if he’s upset or angry or uncaring. All he has to figure it out is his hands, resting just above his knee. “Not now, Sy,” he murmurs.
He’s getting nothing from him. Sykkuno just nods and lets him do whatever he wants. Pulling his legs up to his chest, he bows his head down until he can press his forehead into his knees. It’s grounding. The sound of Corpse’s footsteps track away from him, back in the way that he’d come from as he goes in search of the body to see it for himself.
He didn’t need Corpse to confirm what he saw. He knew that it had been one of his crew mates, he had seen the suit, he had seen their hair, strands of it hanging down at the back of their head through the growth. The image of it was burned to the back of his eyelids, visible every time he closed his eyes.
Corpse isn’t gone for long, maybe he didn’t need to look hard at it, or maybe he was worried about Sykkuno taking his bike and riding back to the dropship. Corpse drops down onto the ground at his side with a heavy sigh, shoulders hanging forwards.
“Who were they?” Sykkuno asks.
“Our second in command. Fuck,” Corpse bites it out, knotting his fingers together in the hair at the back of his head.
“Why are they out here, Corpse?” he breathes, staring ahead at the bike in front of him, fingers tugging at a loose strap on his suit to keep them occupied.
Corpse just shakes his head back at him.
“You have to know something.”
“I don’t have any satisfying answers that will explain all this shit to you.”
“I need something, Corpse. Anything.”
“I don’t know why they walked all the way out here. I don’t know why they did any of it. We weren’t meant to be here.”
Sykkuno paused. Looked at Corpse.
“Tell me how you crashed.”
if anyone here understands computers pls i know this is probably horribly inaccurate but lets just say its future alt universe computers and this is how they work now, ok? i hope u can enjoy regardless lol
God, he fucking hates the hibernation pods.
He pushes himself up onto his elbows, bringing a hand to scrub the sleep crusted in the corners of his eyes. His tongue felt disgusting in his mouth, like he hasn't brushed his teeth in years. Well. That wasn’t exactly too far off from the truth. His body demands him for water, forcing him to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the pod. Turning vertical, he feels warmth running down his face from his nose, and the back of his hand comes back red after he tries wiping it away.
“Fuck me,” he cursed, holding his arm out away from his body to keep him from accidentally smudging any blood on the sheets. He could feel it at the top of his lip, threatening to spill over if he moved about too quickly. Not a problem, he had no intention of moving fast, not when he could have mistaken himself for being on a cruise ship in the middle of a storm, and not on a smooth journey through space. Still, he had to clean himself up.
Dragging his feet across the ground, he got to the door and punched his code in with his clean hand. He had to give it to the engineers, they’d made a smart choice to put the bathrooms right next to the pod room. Or was that the designers that got the credit? Whatever. He was just trying to distract himself from the rolling in his stomach as he got himself inside, punching in another code to be let into the stall. The screen flashed green, before a timer appeared, counting him down from four minutes. Four minutes to wash off months of grime, loosen the knots in his shoulders, clean up all the fucking blood.
As the water started to run above his head, he leaned forwards and just let his nose drip. At least it wasn’t getting in his mouth anymore. A shiver ran down the back of his neck as he felt the clot start to slip and detach as he inhaled steam, sliding down out of his nose and dropping to the shower floor as his feet. Gross. The fleshy mass had all the blood washed off it with the water raining down on it, leaving behind a white coagulum. His face twisted with disgust, pushing it with his foot to get it down the drain.
The timer buzzed at him to get his ass moving and stop just staring at his feet. Scrubbing his hands through his scalp, the pressure eased the sleep-sickness just enough to keep him from swallowing down vomit. He could have trained all he liked before leaving Earth, the simulations still didn’t get close to how unpleasant it was.
Re-dressed, and feeling about 30 percent more alive than he had four minutes ago, he wandered out into the hallway. All the other pods had been empty, he must have been the last to wake up. He had no idea how much longer he had slept in, giving him no clues about which direction to head in to find the others. His stomach is what ends up deciding for him, and the mess is on the way to the cockpit anyways so it’s not exactly a detour to find some vacuum sealed biscuits.
The ship rocked underneath his feet as it hit a patch of turbulence, the lights inside dimming momentarily as main power went to correcting the engines, before coming back on at half strength. That’s not right. He shoved the rest of the biscuit in his mouth and moved his ass faster to get to the cockpit. The door slid open with a hiss of air, and inside he saw the back of someone’s head sitting at the navigation station. She didn’t turn around as she heard him come inside, hunched forwards over her screen, her blonde hair still wet as it dripped down onto the collar of her shirt.
“Shit. Did we hit a storm or something?” he asked.
“No, we’re just slowing down,” she replied with a short shake of her head. He couldn’t blame her for not sounding the most energetic if she was feeling just half as shit as he was right now. It looked like she had got up in a rush, wearing a plain shirt underneath an unbuttoned uniform jacket.
“Slowing down?” he echoed, confused.
She clicked her tongue, and he remembered that she hated having to repeat herself. “The engines are struggling with something, I haven’t got the code to access it. Have you seen anyone else?” she asked, hitting keys hard.
“You’re the first.”
The ship hit turbulence again, and he quickly grabbed onto the back of a nearby chair to keep himself steady. The lights dimmed, the cockpit illuminated only by the monitors set up at each station. He could see her screen easily now, peering over her shoulder to watch. He didn’t know much more than the basics of navigation, but he could still recognise co-ordinates as they flashed in the corner of her screen.
“Where the fuck are we?”
“About 1.8 billion miles off course. We’ve been going in the wrong direction for nearly a full week. Shit!” She slammed her fists down against the desk, hanging her head down. He noticed her hands were shaking. “I can’t change anything, just see what’s been set. What have you got clearance for?”
“I’m just in engineering, I can’t get into the navigation controls,” he answered honestly. “I can get into the drive, though.”
The lights still hadn’t come back on, and he didn’t wait to be told to get to work figuring out what the fuck was going on. Getting himself over to a monitor, he entered in his passcode to get access into the ships drive. There was a momentary pause before lines of text stacked on top of each other flashed onto the screen.
Someone had shut down the entire system, and rebooted it again, and done a shit job of it too. Something had gone wrong, auxiliary power had come on instead of mains, and that’s what he guessed had woken everyone up from hibernation. Navigation was still completely down, and he figured that’s what was stopping her from correcting their flight path. Opening up the command centre, he started typing.
The computer responded immediately, flashing him back a message.
Fuck. Okay. He tried it again, getting the same error message.
“Something’s fucking up the aux power from getting to the navigation system,” he said.
“Can’t you just restart the whole thing up again? Turn it off and on again,” she replied.
He shook his head, “And risk nothing starting up? We’re lucky we didn’t hit anything while the shields were down,” he said, pushing back away from the monitor. “I’m going to have to start it up again manually, see if I can kick the system back onto main power.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
He chuckled, rubbing his knuckles over his forehead where his headache was pounding. If that didn’t work, then they were fucked, and he would have to take the responsibility of that. He knew that, she knew that. “Can you see where it’s taking us?” he asked.
“We’re headed straight for an unclassified planet.”
“How far off are we?”
“With navigation down, I’m running offline with whatever info we had before it dropped. I could guess.”
The ship rocked again, and his shoulder crashed into a wall as he stumbled sideways. “Forget it, you just stay here, I’ll get down to the mainframe. Try getting through to the captain on comms,” he said, and she just nodded back at him, looking pale.
Getting through the ship wouldn't be so much of a pain in the ass if the lights weren't struggling to stay on for more than a few seconds at a time. At least the walkways were illuminated in the same way an airplane cabin would be, stopping him from running headfirst into a wall. The turbulence alone was doing a good enough job of that for him, catching him off-guard every time and making him stumble forwards and sideways. He just needed to get to the engine room, get into the ship's mainframe. Fuck, all this time they'd been running on auxiliary power, draining fuel, who knew if they even had enough left in the tank to correct their course and still make it to their destination? Surely. Surely. He wasn't going to let himself start thinking of the worst possible outcomes, wasn't going to let himself worry about something that might not even happen. It was just a computer error. They'd fix it. There wasn’t any second option.
Every single door was locked, having to punch in his keycard numbers to get through each divider, slowing him down. The doors started to open to the vehicle bay, getting halfway before they stopped with a sigh of air. With a grunt, he squeezed in through sideways. They were losing power, the ship was prioritising what needed to work right now to keep them moving, and opening doors was not one of them.
Crossing the vehicle bay in the dark by memory, the light from the door’s keypad glowed across the room for him like a lighthouse beacon. Finally, the last damn door he needed to get through before he could reach the mainframe. And he still hadn't seen another person after crossing the entire ship. The uneasiness in his stomach was starting to feel like it was from more than just the turbulence rocking the ship from side to side, he knew something was wrong. Inside, he connected his mobile computer to the ship, bringing up a small display of the mainframe. From there he could manually get into the auxiliary power supply and restart it.
“Hey, Boss?” he spoke out loud, flicking open his communication line. There was pause, a crackle, before a response.
“...told you not to call me that.”
“Yeah yeah. You still in the control room?”
There was a sniff, a deep breath. “Yeah. Still here. Did you find anyone on your way through?” she asked, hopeful.
He shook his head. “Nobody. I’m going to restart the power, but I need you to get onto the terminal I was using and make sure the mains comes back online.”
“You’re going to have to tell me what to do.”
“I know, baby, that’s why I called you.”
“Don’t call me baby.”
He chose to ignore that, squatting down to pry open a panel. “You at the computer?”
“Yeah, looking at it now.”
“Alright, search for mains command, no spaces. Should come up with a new screen. Uh,” he closed his eyes, picturing the screen in his mind. “Top right-”
“That’s it. I’m going to reset it down here, count to ten before you hit start up.”
He heard coughing, muffled, like she had her hand over her mouth. “Got it.”
Using the light from his mobile computer, he looked at the two buttons on the panel, one yellow, one red. He pressed down on both at the same time, waiting until he heard the entire ship groan as it powered down. There was a shudder, a shake, before everything went silent. He counted under his breath. One. Two. Three…
The door to the vehicle bay pushed open.
He froze, peering through the darkness to see who had come through. He could hear the slide of feet dragging across the floor, moving closer towards him.
He lifted up his computer, shining the weak light in their direction.
“Captain?” he called out. He heard coughing in response, the footsteps stopping just a few meters ahead of him. He stood back up to his full height, his back pressed up against the wall.
The power wasn’t coming back on. He couldn’t get back to the control room through his comms, he had no idea what was taking so long. Maybe he had just counted too fast. Any second now. It felt like an entire minute had passed.
“Captain?” he tried again, stepping forwards towards them.
They groaned, coughing and spitting out phlegm onto the floor. “It’s dark.”
“What’s going on? Where is everyone?” he asked. Perhaps it would have been polite to ask if he was okay first, but right now he was practically hurtling through space in a tin can, manners could take a backseat.
The captain groaned again, just as the lights flickered on. He blinked, rubbing his eyes as he had to suddenly readjust to the brightness of the lights. The captain swayed, holding onto the opposite wall for support. The turbulence subsided as the ship's shields came back online, the mainframe in front of him lighting up like a damn Christmas tree.
“Suit up,” the captain said, his jaw tight.
He blinked. “Where is everyone?”
“Strapped in.” The captain scrubbed at his eyes. “It’s dark. We need land.”
“What the fuck is going on?” he snapped.
The captain shuddered, kneading his fingers over the nape of his neck.
“...you there? Come in. Please, can you hear me?” her voice came through the comms.
He eyed the captain, taking a half a step back. “I’m here, I hear you.”
“Oh, thank god,” she exhaled, an uncharacteristic wobble to her voice. “I can’t fix it.”
There was another sniff, her voice going muffled. “I can’t change the course we’re on.”
“The fuck do you mean you can’t change it? We’re going to fucking crash land if you don’t move us,” he responded, the stress coming through into his tone. In front of him, the captain was pressing his fingers into the back of his head like he was trying to massage his skull, before he started walking forwards again, towards the back of the ship. Each step was stiff, unnatural.
“I can’t. I can’t move my hands. God, I don’t understand. I’m frozen, I- I can’t-” she cut off with more coughing.
“I’m coming. I’ll do it myself,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the captain as he left through the door and into the back cargo bay.
“It’s too late. We’re too close, we’re going to land. I’m sorry,” she managed to get out between wracking coughs.
He swallowed, his stomach turning cold. “Okay. Okay. Fuck! Fuck, okay. Are we landing or are we crashing?”
“I- we’re… we’re slowing down but it’s still going too fast, landing procedures haven’t been started up, we’ve just been aimed right for this planet. God. I think… I think the captain…”
That didn’t matter right now. “Are you still at the computer?”
“I can’t move. I can’t leave, I’m watching us get closer.”
“I need you to move.”
“I can’t! I want… I want to land. I want to land. Oh god, please help me. If you’re listening please save us,” she broke down into prayer, no longer speaking to him anymore.
He felt himself go cold again, feeling the panic rising like a bubble in his throat. She wasn’t going to be any help. Looking back to the mainframe, he plugged his computer back into it, furiously typing in commands to get him into the power controls again.
The ship went dark again, leaving him just enough light to see where he was standing as the ship groaned and rocked underneath his feet.
There was a pause, the computer looking like it had frozen for nearly a minute before it responded. All the extra power he was saving from the other systems went into powering up their shields. It wouldn’t make the landing smooth, but it might give him a chance to survive it at least.
Coughing into his elbow, he left the mainframe control room, running through the ship to get back to the front again. The hull was the strongest part, the most protected, the back end would rip itself apart before the front would be damaged. He had to push his way through the doors again to get inside, finding her slumped over the computer.
“How long do we have before impact?” he asked. There was no response. Going over to her, he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back against the chair. Her eyes were closed, tears running down her cheeks. “Hey,” he said, softer this time. “Pull yourself together. We trained for worst case scenarios. We know how to crash the right way.”
Her jaw flexed, clenched tight. “I don’t know why I can’t move. I can’t make myself… I can’t make myself want to. You feel it too, don’t you? Don’t you want to be on the ground again? I can’t stop myself wanting it. There’s something wrong with us. It’s in my head, it’s in my hands.” She broke down into fresh tears again.
He shook his head, sniffing as he felt the tickle of another nosebleed coming on. Whatever urge he had to look out the front and admire the planet as it slowly took up the entirety of their immediate vision was only out of fear. They didn’t have long left. He didn’t know where the others were, but he could only hope that the captain had been telling the truth when he said that they were strapped in. Did they mean that everyone else knew what was going on?
Alarms were all going off on every screen. This close to the planet he could see the expanse of brown, barren land. Blue of what he assumed to be water glistened, spotted with small specks of green along the edges. At least they weren’t crashing into a planet of lava. It was a small comfort.
Going to the side of the room, he pulled down two suits, zipping himself in before going over to the Navigator. “Can you put this on?” he asked. She looked at the suit in his hands, staring it down, before her hand reached out and took it. Good. At least she wasn’t entirely immobile. He still helped, pulling the zip up for her as she struggled to get her arms through the sleeves.
The helmet was heavy in his hands, locking it into place as a new set of alarms went off. A timer counted them down to impact. It was a strange feeling, knowing the exact second your death was approaching.
He strapped her in before sitting himself down. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said through the tears.
The atmosphere hit their shields, igniting the air around them. He couldn’t see the planet anymore through the fire. Closing his eyes, he tipped his head back and waited.
“...Yeah,” he breathed, numb.
The countdown hit zero. The ship hit the ground. His head hit the back of his helmet.
It’s dark by the time they finish burying the body.
Sykkuno lays the last layer of moss and leaves on top, stepping back to look at their work. It’s the best that they could do without any digging equipment with them, and it just felt wrong to leave them out in the open even after all this time. Neither of them had spoken a word in hours. He had needed the time to process everything he’d heard, and try to make some sense of it all.
Corpse stands beside the mound, head bowed as he looks down. If he’s speaking, it’s too quiet for him to hear, and he leaves to give him a final moment of peace, going back to the bikes.
Looking upwards at the night sky, he could forget that he wasn’t on Earth. The thick cover of clouds obscures any light from nearby stars from shining through, leaving just a blanket of darkness above him. The only thing missing to truly replicate the earth night sky would be the reflection of city lights against the bottom of the clouds, staining the sky with an unnatural green and orange cast.
Behind him, he hears the footsteps of Corpse as he comes out from the trees, joining him at the bikes. Sykkuno swallows.
“We need to tell the others,” he says.
Corpse stops, looks at him.
Sykkuno continues, “I’m not going to keep secrets. There’s too much division already, I’m not going to cause more of it by keeping information from them.”
“Telling them isn’t going to be doing me any favours,” he replies with a subtle shake of his head.
“Being honest will give them more reason to trust you. They’re right to be cautious when you won’t tell them anything.”
“They’ll want to see the body we just put to rest for themselves. Or even worse, they’ll go looking for the others,” he disagreed.
Sykkuno stared at him. “You don’t want to find your crew?” he replied, quietly surprised. He felt a pang of sympathy in his chest for them, abandoned.
“And risk spreading whatever was wrong with them? No.”
Sykkuno blinked. “You think it could be contagious?” he asked.
“I have no fucking idea, and I’m not risking you to find out,” he snapped back in reply, pausing for half a beat before adding, “All of you, your crew. It’s not worth it.” He sighed, rubbing at the sides of his face, slipping his fingers underneath the edge of his mask to massage at where it would be digging into his face.
“You’re thinking of the worst case scenario. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them either, but,”
Corpse sighed, interrupting him, “But,” he echoed.
Sykkuno bit down on the inside of his cheek, nodding, “But, then it’s even more important that we tell them. If there is something dangerous on this planet, they deserve to know.”
There was another heavy sigh, and he shook his head. “I can’t change your mind that it’s a bad idea?” he asked.
“We’ll explain everything to them, everything that you just told me. They’ll understand,” he insisted.
Corpse rubbed at the back of his head, looking out in the direction of the dropship. He didn’t seem convinced, hands fidgeting with the sleeve of his suit, fingers picking and searching for loose threads to tug at. Still, he nodded his head, accepting. They’d ride back and gather everyone together to talk.
The team all needed it, he thought as he climbed up onto his own bike and got it started up, waiting for Corpse to do the same before they kicked up the stand and started back in the direction they’d come. They didn’t just need to hear Corpse’s story, but it would be a good thing to get everyone together again, on the same page again.
Maybe it was just him, overthinking things, making things a bigger deal than it needed to be, but it felt like everyone was splitting off into their own little teams. Pleasant enough on the outside, but secretly distrustful of others. Maybe that was just Rachel’s words making him paranoid, maybe there wasn’t anything going on with the other’s and he was just making this all up in his head as he’d lay in bed at night and over analyze every brief moment of conversation he had with everyone.
He shook his head at himself, refocusing. It didn’t matter in the end, if he was right or wrong. Being honest with everyone was the right choice to make. The chance that it would help protect them was greater than the chance of putting them into danger like Corpse thought.
The ride back he goes over what he’s going to say in his head, scripting out the conversation, picturing everyone sitting together in the common room. He thought about what everyone would probably say, any questions they might have to throw back at them, any doubts they might have on Corpse’s story, figuring out the best responses he could. He’d worked out the introduction by the time they were pulling the bikes up outside.
Tina’s the first person he sees, waving at them from outside HAB-B. Sykkuno waves back as he gets off the bike and heads over.
“You’re back late,” she says in greeting. Ah, he hadn’t planned out his response to this yet.
“Oh, yeah. We, we got distracted,” he replies.
Tina just grins. “Oh yeah? Time flies when you’re having fun,” she replies, her eyes darting over Sykkuno’s shoulder to Corpse, who’s wheeling the bikes under cover, then back to Sykkuno.
He just nods. Nervous. Why is he nervous? “Actually, there’s something we wanted to talk to everyone about. Can I meet you in the common room in about fifteen minutes?” he asks.
The teasing smile drops from her face immediately. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s okay,” he promises. There’s no reason to make her worry early for no reason. “I’ve got to ask the others, if you see anyone on your way could you let them know?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell them,” Tina says, and Sykkuno thanks her before heading off. Corpse follows in step beside him.
“You’re really sure this is the right decision?” he checks with him again. Sykkuno nods, and after a moment, Corpse nods his head too. “Alright. May as well get it done with,” he says, and hits a button on his communicator, opening up a line to speak with the entire crew to ask them all to meet. Well, that saves him from going around and finding everyone in person.
Walking together, Sykkuno twists his hands in front of him, knotting his fingers. “Thanks, by the way,” he says.
“It’s alright, I just figured it was easier than looking around the entire site.”
“I mean, thanks for trusting me. For going along with it,” he clarifies.
“I guess telling you the whole story was the part I was the most nervous about. You accepted it, makes it easier to tell the others too,” he says, and exhales. “I will be taking it personally if anyone decides to shoot me though. You only get one free shot before I start getting pissed.”
“No one is going to shoot you!”
Corpse hummed, and Sykkuno could hear the humour behind it. Whether it was genuine or if he was just masking how nervous he was, he didn’t know. A smile still slowly creeped onto his face too, and he turned his head away from him as they walked so he wouldn’t see.
They reach the common room together first, and Corpse leans with his good shoulder against the wall. “So,” he starts, “Have you ever been shot?”
Sykkuno scoffs. “What? Of course not.”
“Wh- Why would you ask that?”
Corpse shrugs and regrets the movement immediately with a wince. “Just wondering. Team building, getting to know each other.”
“That sort of thing is usually asking what your favourite colour is, not whether you’ve been shot at,” Sykkuno hides his smile.
“I know, but I already know your favourite colour so I need to start going deeper.”
He raised his eyebrows, surprised. “I don’t think I’ve told you that,” he says.
Even if he can’t see Corpse’s grin from behind his mask, he can feel it in the cocky way he tilts his head to the side. “It’s green.”
Sykkuno’s eyes widen. “You’re just guessing.”
“It was a fucking good guess though,” he replies, sounding pretty pleased with himself for getting it right. “You’ve got a green cover on your keycard, and I’ve seen you wear green socks a couple times. You bought the cover yourself, and the socks were probably a gift, so. Green.”
His eyebrows are still raised, impressed and maybe just a little worried that he could be so easily read. “Okay, Sherlock. You guessed it just from that?” he shakes his head and Corpse chuckles quietly.
“Yeah, maybe it was a little bit of luck too,” he admits. Corpse looks at him, reaching out to wipe something off his cheek with his thumb. “You don’t look as pale as you did when we got off the bikes,” he commented.
Sykkuno could feel the ghost of his touch still on his cheek even after he had pulled his hand away, and was sure that colour was definitely rising to his face now. He was fine, maybe a little anxious, maybe a little exhausted mentally from the day, but he was fine. Across the room he sees movement, and he turns his head to see Ludwig and Rachel coming in, Poki in tow behind them. Each has varying looks of concern on their faces as their eyes meet, and Sykkuno puts on a smile to reassure them.
Really, this was a good thing. They’ll know more about Corpse, know that he isn’t a threat to anyone, and they’ll all be better prepared when doing travel further away from the drop site! Those were all good things.
Jeremy is next to come in from across the room, Lily with him. Lily looks tired, rubbing under her eye with the heel of her palm before she spots Sykkuno looking at her. Getting to his side only takes a few seconds, and she nudges his shoulder as she wriggles into the space between him and Corpse.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever,” she hums to Sykkuno. Corpse takes a side step away from them and sits down.
“We saw each other at breakfast, Lil,” he replies, and she shakes her head.
“Not the same. I know we don’t really get days off, but I swear you’ve been working way too late at night. Every night,” she says. Sykkuno smiles and ducks his head, feeling like he’s being scolded even as she loops her arm around his elbow.
“Feels like a waste to do paperwork during the day,” he mumbles an excuse and she sees right through it.
“I’ve seen you burn out before, you’re going to do the same thing again if you keep pushing yourself so hard. Your mom is going to be upset if she sees you’ve got bags under your eyes again.”
He pauses, unable to come out with an excuse to get out of that one because he knows it’s true. “They’re not that dark, are they?” he asks.
Lily scoffs a gentle laugh at him, poking him in the arm. “They are. Let me or Tina do the boring paperwork sometime. Y’know, delegate. Then I’ll lend you some of my eye cream.”
As if summoned, Tina enters into the room last, going straight over to Ludwig. Corpse pushes his chair back to stand up again, addressing the crew.
“Sorry for the short notice but thanks for coming everyone. That’s everyone, right?” Corpse says, doing a headcount around the room with his finger.
Tina’s worrying the bottom of her lip as she speaks up, “I couldn’t find Leslie,” she says. “I looked in her room and the med bay but she wasn’t there.”
“Wasn’t she writing up something in one of the HAB’s?” Jeremy asks.
“I thought she went out with Corpse and Sykkuno again,” Rachel says, looking around.
Poki shakes her head. “I only signed out two bikes today, nobody else left the dropsite but those two.”
Now everyone’s eyes are back on them again. Sykkuno feels something in his throat and coughs with his mouth closed. “She probably just didn’t hear the message over comms,” he mumbles, looking down to his wrist.
“Who was the last person to see her?” Rachel asks.
The room goes quiet. Everyone stops and thinks.
“She ate breakfast with us, didn’t she?” Ludwig offers up eventually.
There are nods and mumbles of agreement, and then silence again.
“Nobody else has seen Leslie since breakfast? No one?” Jeremy almost sounds angry. He waits for a reply and gets nothing. “Is her communicator online?”
Everyone’s head drops to their wrist as they rush to check. Surely, Sykkuno thinks, he would have noticed if one of them had gone offline. His hunch is correct, her name is still lit up in a reassuring glow of green.
Rachel is the first to make the call. “Leslie? Leslie, can you hear me?”
Sykkuno holds his breath, unconsciously leaning forwards over the table towards Rachel.
There’s not even the crackle of a response from the other end, and Rachel tries again. Jeremy looks to Ludwig and says his name to get his attention. “Can you get her location?”
Ludwig makes a face, “I can get an approximation-”
“Good enough. Do it.”
He nods his head sharply and leaves the room. Sykkuno looks around behind him for Corpse and spots him with his back against the wall, drumming his fingers against his palm. Unwinding his arm from Lily’s, he goes to his side, taking his head and stilling the frenetic movement. “Come with me. We’ll take the bikes and find her,” he says.
Corpse lifts his head and looks to him, hesitating.
Sykkuno blinks when he doesn’t move to come with him straight away, and he drops his hand. Taking a step back, he turns around to look at Jeremy. “Get Ludwig to send the location to us,” he asks, and the captain nods his head.
“I’m coming too,” Rachel says, and both Tina and Lily agree.
“Make sure to take the charged bikes, the flashlights drain the battery faster,” Poki speaks up before she leaves to help Ludwig. Sykkuno thanks her before rushing back outside to where he had just stored away the bikes for the night.
Rachel is swearing under her breath as they start the bikes up, and Sykkuno bounces his leg as he waits for Ludwig to send them through the location. When he does, he realises that he hadn’t been lying about it being approximate.
“Sorry guys, but it’s a start. I’ll work on getting it more accurate but this will get you started. It’s, uh, not close,” he says through the comms line.
Sykkuno feels sick looking at his wrist. A two square mile patch of forest, nearly an hours ride from the drop site. She must have been walking for hours… Why? Why leave? How could she have got so far out and so lost? The thick darkness of night wouldn’t make it any easier to navigate, and he just hopes that she’s stopped for the night and waiting for the sun to rise again.
“Sy?” Rachel checks, and he looks over as she pushes her bike up beside his and throws a leg over. “You sure you’re okay to come?”
Sykkuno doesn’t hesitate, nodding his head. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he promises. Rachel eyes him, before she must decide that having his help was better than nothing, and nods. They both start up the bikes, Tina and Lily pulling out in front as they drive forwards towards the thick sea of trees.