I fly towards a face, at incredible speeds, the fabric of space vibrating around me. Its vast maw opens –
– metal tubes bend over, crushing dead bark into my arms and hands –
– flames rush up to meet me, ready to swallow me whole –
– dark flips into light as the framework that I‘ve become tangled in is torn from its roots, like the trees that tumble around me –
– the pressure of a wound in space dragging me towards it. An array of endless spiny teeth unfold from nowhere, all around me, ready to close –
– an awful tearing sound, as the roof of the dome peels open, ready to dump its contents onto the rising ground and battered domes below –
– an eye blinks and I’m speared by its eyelashes which burn like acid –
– I realise that I’m blacking out, and wonder if it’s all the knocks and blows to the head I’ve taken, or if my systems, worn thin are finally giving up –
– a concentrated stream of images pummels my eyes, sprays of blood, an endless parade of dead open mouths that want to snap shut and hide me away forever, a knife spinning in the middle of a room, its tip ever pointed at me –
– I do at least see the barest moment before impact as the garden dome fully flips, hurling me and the savaged garden framework out into open space…
Waking is ever the worst part of the day. This time I woke without being alerted by my pod, and no crazed cover lifted away to reveal my familiar home. Instead I found myself face down in a deep furrow of grey dust and surprisingly sharp tiny pebbles. Everything hurt. I was curled up, with my hands protecting my head, which was a surprisingly smart move, considering the speed at which I had been tossed of the ruined dome. I tried to unroll myself from my crouch, which was a fascinating experiment in agony. Then I attempted just turning over. I was able to twist my body so I lay on my back, but couldn’t move my left leg at all, leaving my right awkwardly bent over it. If I breathed I was sure this would be the time for a deep sigh. System checks first. The impact had shredded my lovely gloves – gauntlets I’d taken from an old spacesuit. In ripping the fabric my fall had taken three fingers off my left hand and bent backwards my right thumb and forefinger. At least the missing ones didn’t hurt. I gingerly inspected my head with my remaining fingers, wincing as the result of a hard impact on my elbows and shoulders made themselves known – I appeared to have full articulation at least – as expected, the old cracks to my head seemed to have popped open again and my fingertips came away sticky. Well, as I said – that was hardly surprising. Similarly, the patch over my stomach had torn away and I’d dragged a thick mess of bloody dust with it as I turned over. Being able to sigh would, I felt, be an enormous relief about now. I was pretty sure there was something very wrong with my left leg and wasn’t very keen to see how bad it was, but there was only so much longer I could put it off. In the thin atmosphere my internal fluids were quickly evaporating, and I needed to put a stop to that before my innards steamed away before my eyes.
With yet more complaining I raised myself on my elbows. My leg wasn’t what arrested my attention. I had been thrown out far beyond the cliff and I could see the utter ruin that the fall had made of our home. When the garden had tipped over it had sheared the top off the sideways dome and then smashed end on onto Charlie’s science dome. Not content with annihilating three quarters of our painstakingly repaired home, it had fallen forwards, its newly jagged top slicing through my dome before coming to rest upside down on top of it. Perfect. An avalanche of rock had accompanied it, burying and crushing anything fragile we had left outside, like the stubs of corridors and the field of rectangular units we had cut away or ignored. Fuck.
At the top of the cliff I half expected to see the spindly giant figure from Julia’s painting, staring down at its handiwork. There was nothing up there, no gloating form, just the gleaming white pressure door that had joined the garden to the rest of the installation. It looked like Charlotte and Charlie had sealed it so tightly that the dome had just sheared off around it. That was fairly promising – if the garden had dragged the rest of the base with it there was no chance I’d have survived the wreckage that would have cascaded over me. I couldn’t see anything of Charlotte and Chelsea, but I couldn’t do anything about that, not while I was still unable to move. Ah, now I could see what was wrong with my left leg: the framework that had snarled me up as we fell over the cliff had twisted and torn as gravity ripped it free from its anchors. The savagely sharp remains had stabbed me straight through the thigh, but I appeared to have been tossed forward into this furrow by the impact, and the thin girders had not, and my leg had been torn open down to the knee. Trailing away from me was the spangled wreckage of that framework, a chain of bent metal and ragged plants leading all the way back to the garden dome, pancaked upside down. A faint shower of dust and pebbles continued to rain on the shattered domes.
So that was all quite bad. I lay back for a moment, gazing into the maroon sky and its distant points of light. I felt lost. Even when we had first woken up things were better than this – we were in a slowly leaking dome full of junk, but we had scraps of power, and each other. Now I had no idea if the other two had even survived the impact – I feared not since I had already been incredibly lucky in being flung forward, and I had immediately lost sight of Charlotte and Chelsea when the dome heaved over the cliff. I didn’t want to die out there. Actual death hadn’t been a concrete concern before. While we had feared the idea of deactivation at the hands of survivors, or running out of power, or even being crushed by those strange stone talons, I had never thought that I might truly die, alone in the dust. But with my blood ablating away, trapped by a strangle of metal spikes I thought for the first time what it might really mean for all of me to just go away. It wouldn’t be like sleep, where despite the nightmares I knew that I was still there, it was still me to whom those images were being presented, still me who was scared. But if I just ran down here, or bled out I would fade away into something else… nothing?
A puff of dust by my face, sprinkling me with yet more deathly grey. But as the dust settled I was greeted by the incongruous grinning face of a yellow anthropomorphic sponge. I looked up. Standing over me, head tilted at a ghastly angle was the child I’d named Julia. One arm dangled at the end of a shredded clump of fibres at her shoulder, and she had even less hair than I’d seen before. Over her other arm was my tool bag, which, with an economical shrug, she dropped into the dust by my side. I nodded in acknowledgment. What else could I do – the exchange was conducted in the silence that the outside demanded – I mouthed “thank you Julia”. Without a further gesture she folded to the ground; what I’d thought a collapse arranged her into a cross legged seat a few feet away from me.
The first thing I checked in my bag was Charlie. He had a few more dents than before, had flattened one side of his face and swollen the other, but he looked no worse than before – he was still detached from his body of course. The bag had everything in it – an excellent piece of luggage – even its zips had held tight, though crusted with dust. Why Julia had thought to bring it to me I didn’t know, but I felt only gratitude. With so many injuries it was difficult to know where to begin, but I had the manual to help me out. It had taken quite a beating, half the pages were torn from its ring-bound spine, but it was mostly in the right order.
Time to prioritise: first, power. I smeared away the viscous scum my internal fluids had formed with the dust and saw the glowing green lights underneath: still pretty much fully refreshed, though I didn’t feel it. This certainly wasn’t the time to think about all of our pods, hopelessly crushed under rock. There wasn’t much I could do about my missing fingers, unless I happened across them later, but I could certainly straighten the fingers on my right hand. I braced them against the ground and considered my options. I only had a thumb and ring finger on the left, but I just needed to use my palm as a hammer… My thumb and forefinger cracked back into place, more or less. A little nauseating wiggling put them back in their knuckle sockets properly. Second priority: dexterity – achieved. I used one of the rags from my bag to wipe as much of the black gunk off my head as possible and then liberally smeared the back of my head with epoxy and squeezed with my hands over my ears. After a moment I let go and experimentally rotated my head. It felt… well, it didn’t feel like it was leaking, so that was good. Then I patched up my stomach, gluing a fresh plastic sheet over the hole. So far so good.
I didn’t think there was any way I could pull my leg off the spike. I couldn’t move it below the knee, but that might just be because the spike was pressed hard against the tendons. The manual had some horrible suggestions for me. I couldn’t see any way to avoid them, so I dug in. I cut away the trouser leg, leaving my right leg still clothed. Then I stabbed a screwdriver into the join between my hip and the top of my leg. By working it back and forth I found, with a thick internal click that almost made me black out again, the bone socket. I wedged it open, and with my ruined left hand shoved a thin spanner as far in as I could. A sucking clunk rang through my hips and my left leg popped free. The disengagement procedure had worked. I pulled myself into a crouch on my right knee and twisted my disembodied leg, working it free of the metal spike. It didn’t look good. The spike had done considerable damage, tearing both tendons in the thigh and cracking the knee joint itself. I sat with my leg in my arms, thinking about how weird it felt. From my bag I plucked the longest spanners I’d found, a coil of wire and a reel of that endlessly useful duct tape. I splinted the leg, wrapped it liberally with the wire and tape to hold it together and reattached it, with much sickening internal scraping.
I could stand, unsteadily, but I was up. I had been very focused on my repairs and hadn’t noticed that Julia was no longer alone. Fanned around her were half a dozen of the other battered waifs, sitting as best they could in the grey dust. It was much the same colour as their skin and hair. I picked up the Spongebob pencil case and put it back in my tool bag. The light was quite even; we were out in whatever passed for day in this place, which was good because I didn’t know what I was going to do when the shadows started to creep in. But first, I needed to find my friends.