Suggested Audio Candy ♫
 AFX “Inthesky”
 S’Express “Coma II”
 Kenny Larkin “Integration”
After six months of floating in deep space without a solitary soul for company, it seems inevitable that it will start fucking with your head. Actually, I’m not altogether sure how long I’ve been out here in the ocean of emptiness as I lost track some time ago but, whatever length of time that may be, it’s too long in my book. However, the one thing in no short supply is reflection time and I’ve kind of grown accustomed to being alone with my thoughts by now. Sometimes, I cast my mind back to childhood and, in particular, the first time I was asked what I wished to be when I grew up. Without a moment’s pause, astronaut was my enthusiastic response, and the seed had been planted way before this question was posed. You see, the idea of exploring the outer reaches of our solar system was fascinating to me, and I had no intention of setting my sights on simply walking on the moon either. Why stop at one small step when I could go where no man had gone before? My aspirations may have seemed pie in the sky to my peers at the time but, twenty-two years later, I believe the last laugh is in my jurisdiction. That said, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
It wasn’t meant to be a solo expedition and, when commercial spacecraft Detronimus set off on its flight path, I was one of a seven-strong crew of similarly wide-eyed associates, all looking to realize their childhood dream. The ship’s captain Truman Garrand was ran a tight ship and possessed the kind of leadership qualities we needed to remain focused on the task at hand. His communications officer Dimitri Alkaev was a man of few words and barely a handful of them ever headed my way. Our navigator Marcus Swann was a former child genius with just as little in the way of social skills thanks to a particularly regimented upbringing. Physicist Cassie Van Winkle was far more agreeable and the closest I had to a true friend. Indeed, we whiled away many hours elaborating on our passion for space travel and there was more than a hint of potential romance in the air, albeit never quite followed up on. Engineer Dougie McNab never much liked me and I suspect that he had a thing for Cassie too which made me little more than an irritant. Meanwhile, the vessel’s pilot William “Wings” Mulroney was everyone’s buddy and God knows you need a joker in the pack when cooped up on a long-haul mission such as ours.
That just leaves me, Raymond Bell, the ship’s doctor and psychological officer or resident quack as the others commonly referred to me. While my ultimate goal had never once altered, I did find another subject to excel in growing up and, after earning myself an honors degree in psychology, I found a way of applying that to make my lifelong dream a reality. As you can imagine, Dougie wasn’t particularly enthused about my cross-examination techniques, but weekly evaluation was compulsory so he had no choice but to tow the line. It had to be three months into our expedition when everything changed and suddenly seven become just the one without any prior heads up. Nerves were already starting to fray before we lost communications with ground control and our usually unflappable captain was the first to begin showing signs of what is colloquially known as Space Madness. Of course, this sent ripples of unease through the entire crew and, when he fell into a deep coma which he never awakened from, it all started going off.
Panic started to spread through the ranks and split loyalties soon followed as our new first in command Dimitri’s lack of leadership skills evidently weren’t to everyone’s liking. Worse still, within three days, two more of our number had fallen ill and, while I’m ordinarily fairly hot on prognosis, nothing seemed to make a blind bit of sense. With Marcus and William also out of commission, it all started to grow ugly in no time and Dougie became borderline insufferable. Now, I’m not the kind of guy to wish ill on another but, when this unspecified strain of dementia pitched its tent in his cerebellum, I was more than happy to administer the sedative. Eventually, only myself and Cassie remained, and you’d think now would be the time to take our friendship to the next level right? Alas, as much as I attempted to ignore her fast-developing symptoms, I knew only too well that it was a matter of time and at 2.00am on April 17, 2054, she too fell by the wayside. It’s about then that I started losing track of the days.
The thing about comas is that, sooner or later, there’s a decent chance that the subject will come to. I hung onto that for a while and managed to keep my spirits up by playing chess with our on-board computer Medina. Needless to say, I came off a poor second every time and she had an uncanny knack of placing me in checkmate in the bare minimum moves. To be honest, I grew rather fond of her soothing voice, and found myself daydreaming of what she would look like if I could put a face to the voice. When Medina unexpectedly returned to factory settings, I was devastated. Funny really, six comatose humans on-board and I end up crying myself to sleep over a compromised motherboard. I think it has something to do with the fact that all hope now seemed extinguished. Meanwhile, my despondency was also laced with pent-up rage as it seemed unfair that I was somehow immune to whatever had wiped out my associates. Praying for death is not something I would ever have entertained previously and, the notion of taking my own life, utterly unthinkable. However, I’d be lying if I said that self-termination didn’t cross my mind on numerous occasions as I just felt so hard done-by.
That was some time ago now and I’ve grown rather accustomed to my own company during the interim. For all I know, I’m destined to float in space for the rest of time, although supplies are already starting to dwindle so release will find its way in due course. For the record, the whole coma thing turned out pretty conclusive, as all six of the afflicted are no longer occupying that middle ground. Bizarrely, their vital signs diminished in unison, and I said a few words for each of them before switching off the medical bay lights for the final time. Even Dougie got a mention as, he may have been cantankerous, but he deserved the same privilege as everyone else. And that’s pretty much us up to date I think; nothing much else of great interest to report since. This will be my final log as I have precious little else to say, if I’m honest. It’s astonishing what a prolonged dearth of social interaction will do to your desire to communicate. What’s the point anyways? I mean, chances are, nobody will ever hear this and, even if they do, I’ll be long gone by that point. Rescue missions aren’t exactly commonplace when you’re stranded somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn with no means of relaying your coordinates.
Hold on. What was that sound I just heard? Could’ve sworn it was coming from the medical bay. Perhaps I am losing my marbles after all. There it is again, only this time, more pronounced. I’m fairly convinced it was laughter you know. Ordinarily this would be a reassuring audio transmission but, considering I’m the only one left and have been for some time now, I’m more than little perturbed. Well I guess that, should you ever play back my final entry, then you may be in for a dash of excitement after all as I fully intend on taking you with me while I check out this bizarre anomaly. Granted, I’m still very much on my lonesome, but you’ll do as a means to an end. Believe me, after spending as long as I have without any form of mental stimulation, you take what you can get. Perhaps this is the first signs of Space Madness after all. A couple of the others complained of hearing voices when the symptoms started to intensify. For all I know, I’ve been crazy for some time already, steadily slipping into outright gaga territory with the bliss of ignorance as my constant chaperone. Yes, I may be lucid in my one-way interaction, but that doesn’t mean the hinges are still intact.
The sounds appear to have subsided momentarily but I’m not altogether digging the quietude. Have you ever heard the term deafening silence? That’s pretty much this in a nutshell. Right now, I could hear a pin drop back on earth, such is the hush that fills the airwaves. It’s stifling, like a still scream suspended in my immediate earshot and, right now, I’m really missing Medina. For all my aptitude for psychology, nothing in my repertoire is particularly beneficial right now. Typical quack, compromised head space is my specialty but, when questions are raised on my own cerebral turf, insight is far less forthcoming. I know one thing, five more minutes of this, and I may well be doubling back on my no self-termination rule. I guess that pretty much decides for me, perpetual inaction may have been a drag but this is as close to engagement as I’m every likely to get and passing that up truly would make me certifiable. What’s left to lose other than my mind? I’m reasonably certain that is going astray anyhow so the answer would have to be nothing. I just have to do this.
It has been over two minutes now since last audio and the smart money would suggest that I was simply hearing things. However, it wouldn’t explain the ever-tightening knot in my abdomen or the far less than garden-fresh odor assaulting my nostrils. It’s hard to put my finger on what the smell actually is but, should I be required to hazard a guess, then death would be right up there. The medical bay is around two minutes walk from my current position and no amount of decomposition would account for this infernal funk. I’m not too proud to admit that I’m not feeling particularly courageous at this very moment; which makes my overbearing curiosity an even more infuriating cross to bear. Should I return to my quarters, then I will be none the wiser, which is okay when you have 911 on speed dial, but not so when you’re on last man standing duties. I must press on regardless, embrace my fear, and gain myself closure. Even though that appears increasingly unlikely to end well for me.
Okay then. I’m right outside the door now and no less discouraged by the nagging feeling that I’m not going to like what I see beyond it. That godawful stench is at its peak here and no amount of self-prescribed alka seltzer could settle my stomach in its current state of disarray. The silence I mentioned a moment ago is at its most deafening right here where I stand and so far past consoling that it isn’t even funny. Indeed, once I’ve plucked up enough courage to release the lock, I’m not all that thrilled about the prospect of being let in on the joke. Laughter and the smell of decaying flesh tend not to mesh particularly well in my experience. Watched more than enough horror movies in my time to reinforce that concern. I guess the best course of action would be to build myself up, perhaps count to three, before bravely going where no man in his right mind would ever have conceived of going before. This may well be me signing off now, if anyone ever finds this, think long and hard about a back-up vocation. Becoming an astronaut meant everything to me as a child but, little did I know, that was one big life-long invitation to a fate I had not bargained for. This is Raymond Bell, potentially signing off for the final time, and I wish I had some parting words of wisdom to impart right now but my mind is coming up blank.
This is where you come into play Grueheads. You see, I’m all for interaction and have decided to try something a little unorthodox here. The ending need not yet be cut-or-dried, boundaries have no place in the ocean of emptiness and I would very much like to donate this story to any imagination that can find cause to flourish. Thus, I shall not be concluding this particular tale, at least, not yet. Should it find its closure, then wonderful, and please feel free to run with it in whichever direction pleases you. Should progression not be forthcoming, then I wouldn’t be so wasteful as to leave its thread dangling. It’s entirely up to you how this fable plays out and, should inspiration come knocking, then feel free to leave any links to your work in the comments at the foot of the page so others can explore further.
I’ve been a scribe for three years now and see so much potential for expansion here. Together we can create truly remarkable art and I feel deeply privileged to call myself a Gruehead. Moreover, those of you who take this journey alongside me, in whatever capacity that may be, provide all the motivation I need to, not simply consolidate, but accelerate. Words can paint such a pretty picture in imaginations as sweeping as ours. Allow me to throw a few suggestions in the box if I may. Fiction, poetry, art, music – it’s all fair game from hereon in. Plexus could be approaching its epitaph or just about to detach from its umbilical. Like outer space itself, boundaries just don’t come into it. My intense love and gratitude to you all for empowering me to relocate my voice and understand its purpose. Take this gift and treasure it, much as I treasure the constant endorsement that facilitated it. Until the stars align once more, I reiterate…