Joined: 04 Dec 2006
|Posted: Thu Mar 21, 2013 4:21 pm Post subject: Inner Darkness (a short story)
As the ship neared the end of its three year journey, it appeared dead with its lack of movement, and deathly quiet were it not for the sound of the gentle beating heart of a woman sitting in front of a computer screen causing the keys of a keyboard to go thumpity-thump. Sitting in the light of the back-lit monitor, which accentuated her nearly ghost white face, Beth Vincent was so void of movement that she barely took a breath. Her raven hair framed her face, and hugged her jaws like shiny black wings with its slightly jagged ends. The only sound she made was the occasional sigh.
Sitting next to her, eyes glued to the same screen, was her best friend Cosmo. As he looked up at the words popping up on the display, he likened it to raindrops gently disturbing the sky’s reflection in a rain puddle. Most chimps would hardly put it in such way, but Cosmo was more like an eccentric human poet than the usual specimen from his species. His thoughts often had much the same impact as a poem written in a pedigree scrawl when he articulated his hands, though his signing was clumsy and hard to read. When he was young Cosmo’s keepers quickly learned that he was a cut above the rest in his intimate dealings with words, and made a great effort to teach him sign language. By the time he was three he knew over a thousand different words; something a chimp had never accomplished before. Though a word never left his lips, his hands were free to do all the talking.
Beth, eyes slightly squinted and brow scrunched, had been working on ‘privilege negotiations’ for the crew for the last few months, so that when they arrived at the Nomad Colony they would all have the right jobs. Making sure everyone had jobs they could thrive at was vital, because ‘privileges’ were doled out, not based on the job itself, but by how well you did the job. The colony used such a system to ensure that each person would do their best at what they do, as well as set up a new form of equality. The developers of the Nomad Project were testing the ‘privilege system’ on the new Nomad Colony to see if such a social-economic structure would work. This held weight for future Earth government planning as well; if they could work out the bugs.
The rest of the Comet’s crew, forty of the International Space Academy’s brightest stars, had been in hyper-sleep practically the entire journey. Since the colony needed all the resources it could get, everyone was put in hyper-sleep to conserve supplies. Except for Beth, and Cosmo. Beth was kept awake to keep watch over everything, much like a babysitter’ as the crew jokingly termed her. The ship’s computer did a fine job at taking care of things. Beth was more of a safety net.
Cosmo was Beth’s companion, and sometimes she would tell him that he was there just for her to have somebody to love, but he knew he wasn’t just her travel buddy. He was the first chimp to go so deep into space. His mission was mostly to boost the morale of the colony. Before his departure from Earth his story was released to the public, and he became somewhat of an instant celebrity. Having PLAD, Primate Logical-Affective Disorder, the press ate it up, and soon termed the coin, ‘helping everyone reach for the stars, too.’ Nobody seemed to mention that there were already a few humans on the Nomad Colony with similar conditions, such as Logical-Affective Disorder, but that’s probably due to the media wanting the story to have more of an impact on public opinion.
Going over the in-depth reports of the crew’s profiles for the millionth time, Beth didn’t even notice Cosmo gently tugging at her arm. After a few failed attempts, he pursed his lips and made a raspberry noise that finally snapped her out of it. After blinking her eyes a few times, she slowly withdrew her hands from the keyboard. She looked at him with a pleasant smile, then waved him on, which was the gesture for ‘come to me.’
“My stomach is rumbling,” signed the chimp.
Her smile grew wider, and she inclined her head just the slightest bit, as she wondered if he had heard someone say ‘grumble’ before, and just misinterpreted it, or if he was putting it in his own unique way. Sign language was quite different than spoken language, and sometimes he would say the wildest things.
She arched her eyebrows and signed, “You want me to take you to get something to eat?”
He clapped his hands and nodded his head in a clumsy manner that Beth took to be humorously childlike at times.
“I’ll race you there!” she said aloud, and then chased after him, as he was the first one to bolt for the mess hall.
Streaking out of the dark com-room and into the well-lit corridor, he turned left heading for the stairs. When Beth reached the door she saw the chimp loping as fast as he could down the corridor. She couldn’t help but give a little bit of a giggle. She hurried to the elevator and punched a button, Cosmo never looking back. The elevators doors slid open, and standing there was Alan Sharp!
Beth took in a quick breath, and stepped back putting her hand to her chest.
Her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest. It’d been so long since she had seen another living person, that to run into one unexpected was akin to seeing a ghost. Collecting herself, her breathing slowly leveled out, as she looked him up and down. He had already changed out of his ‘sleeper’ outfit, and was sporting his black jumpsuit with white stripes running down each side, white knee and elbow pads, and a little white rectangle patch with the ‘Nomad’ insignia printed on it in black. It was the exact negative image of the suit Beth was wearing. Everybody on board had, among many others, these same two suits, and it flashed through both their minds just then that they were wearing the opposites.
Alan looked at her with his piercing blue eyes, made all the more startling by his light blond hair, because he didn’t seem to have any eyebrows to anchor them to.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Beth. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said, momentarily bringing his hand to his chest as well. “I was just on my way up here to let you know I’m awake.”
“Alan? What do you mean you’re awake?” she said. “Nobody’s supposed to be up yet! We still have three weeks before we reach Nomad.”
“I know. I checked the computer in the hyper-sleep chamber,” he said, reaching up and rubbing the back of his neck. “I looked at the log, and my waking didn’t even register. It said that I was still asleep. Strange, huh?”
Taken aback, Beth looked down for a moment, and didn’t reply immediately. Several seconds passed before Alan filled the silence.
“So, where were you off to?"
“Oh,” she said, finally letting her hand fall from her chest. “I was just on my way to the mess hall. Cosmo is probably there already." Then she let out a little laugh, “we were racing.”