This is the kind of sleep that feels impossible to wake up from. It takes several moments for you to shake away the drowsiness, rub the grit out of your eyes, and wait for that pins-and-needles feeling in your arms to dissolve.
By the time you manage to press the buttons that release you from the harness, you’ve woken up enough to start remembering things.
Do you still know your name? Yep. Date of birth? Sure. Current location? Yeah, you’re in outer-
You cough. Hard. You half-choke on your own phlegm before flinging open the door of the sleep pod and crossing the room to hawk into the appropriate sanitation bin. The automatic door doesn’t open automatically, so you have to turn the manual wheel and heave to slide the door open on its tracks.
“Hello?” You call out into the dim light of the hall, your voice feeling like sand in your throat from disuse. A name pops into your head. “Eugene?”
You trudge up the hallway, finally reaching the ship’s bridge to take in the dimness of the area. None of the lights are on. None of them turn on as you near them like they should. The machines don’t respond. None of the computers start up.
Then it finally hits you why it’s so dark on the bridge, and not just because the ship has lost power. There aren’t any stars beyond the ship’s windows. No distant planets reflecting a sun’s light.
You think hard, but no more of your memories seem to be coming back. You don’t know where the ship is or even what year it is; you don’t know what country you’re from, your favourite book, your first net username. All you can recall is that name, Eugene, and you don’t even remember who it belongs to.
“Eugene?” You call again, and then again, louder and louder even when your voice begins to break.
The sleep cycles are usually timed. The extended-sleep machines have specific settings because they’re only to be used in emergencies: if supplies get low, if major equipment malfunctions, or, like you always hoped, if astronauts encounter non-human life forms that turn out to be hostile. Yet, as you leave the bridge and wander the ship, you know without a doubt that you’ve been under for much longer than a year. The length of your hair and nails prove that, especially since their growth was stunted by the machine. You leave the hair as it is, but take a moment to clip off the excess nail.
“Eugene?” You walk from one end of the ship to the other, but don’t encounter Eugene. He should be here, you think. There’s only one sleep machine, as someone has to man the controls. The only other ways off the ship are the pressure-locked doors and the escape pods, and you can see that both of them are still securely in place.
You’re haunted by the impossibility of it all. There should be at least a body if Eugene is still onboard. You whisper a quick prayer asking that you will find the body of your friend, even if it’s just some wizened, leathery bag of dust stretched out on the bench in the eating area, which is stocked with food and supplies. You can see that Eugene didn’t eat much before whatever happened, happened.
You search the ship again, crawling into every space, pressing every button in the desperate hopes that something will happen. There’s a moment when you think you heard a machine respond, but it turns out to have been nothing but your own heartbeat thudding in your ears.
“Why is this happening?” You call out. You’re talking just to keep the silence at bay. “Eugene?”
You make your way back to the bridge and collapse into one of the chairs at the controls. You stare out the window, not sure if you’re imagining the pinpricks of light you see in the distance or if you’re actually catching glimpses of stars.
Eugene probably put you under… to protect you or hide you from something, right?
You try to run through all the possible scenarios in your head, but every time you try to go through one logically, all you end up thinking about is that you’re lost out in uncharted space.