Until the Morning
"Admiral, our sensors have picked up a distress beacon. Coordinates 3027600, 4100."
"Life-pod, Type 300 class. Two life forms aboard, no vital signs."
"Pull it into Cargo Bay 3"
"I want you in charge of investigating the pod. Take two assistants with you."
The life pod had been landed and the cargo bay resealed by the time Lt. Concord and Ensigns Boreal and Vektor stepped through its entry lock. The dark metal of the pod gleamed dully in contrast to the cargo bay's white plasteel walls, and Concord stepped over to it quickly.
It was standard Earth-make, and the entry panel on the posterior end lifted smoothly in response to the generic key-code. There was a rush of air in to the vacuum inside, and Concord lifted an eyebrow. There had been some oxygen inside, but very little, odd for a life-preserving vessel. He peered into the dimly lit interior, then touched the switch near the hatch to raise the lighting enough to make out the pod's contents..
There was a cryo-pod against one wall of the small space, its lid firmly closed. Leaning against the side of it, as though merely resting for a moment, sat the body of a young man, barely out of his teens. A faint beeping was being emitted from the control panel on the other side of the life-pod, and Vektor walked over to it quickly, turning it off.
"It indicates that life support systems for this pod have failed, Lieutenant." He reported.
Condor glanced down at the boy's body sadly. He wondered what the young man must have been thinking as he drew his last breath out of the thinning air, knowing that Death was close.
The girl peered out of the pod's porthole anxiously, watching the last of the survival pods shoot away from the collapsing ship.
"I wonder how long it will take to be rescued" she murmured against the glass, her breath fogging up the view of the last muffled explosion from the destroyed space vessel.
"Two months." The boy replied from where he stood, flipping through the menus displayed on the control panel's monitor. "Two months until the pod reaches the nearest settled sector. Moon Colony."
The girl looked around the small pod worriedly. It was a tiny place to spend such a long time. And on top of that…
"How long does it say the life-support will last?" She asked, running her hand over the cold metal of the bulwarks. The boy was silent for a long moment, hitting buttons quickly, numbers flashing across the screen almost to fast to be read, and she said his name softly, walking behind him and running her hand down the side of his neck, hugging him from behind.
The boy turned to look at her slowly, hitting the monitor switch off and smiling as the computer screens went on standby, conserving energy.
"We have enough air and rations to last until we reach the Moon." His low voice replied. The girl smiled, relieved, and kissed him gently.
"Well, that's just fine. I don't have any problems with spending two months in your arms, waiting to be rescued." She joked, but the boy shook his head.
"There is enough air for one of us to last two months. The other will have to go into the cryo-pod to save air." He said distractedly, gesturing vaguely at the machine on one side of the pod that was capable of putting a human body into temporary stasis for long periods of time.
The girl looked at the pod with apprehension. It seemed such an uninviting machine.
"Well, we could sleep in shifts. I don't like the idea of lying there frozen for two months. So cold." She shivered. "Perhaps we could go in every 24 hours?" The boy nodded, and she continued, "But will I get to see you more than the few minutes while I get out and you get in?"
Her eyes were wistful and the boy let out a low laugh.
"There is not very much surplus air, but maybe a few hours before you will have to go in."
"Oh, so I am going first?" The girl raised an eyebrow and her companion laughed, taking off his jacket and laying it on the floor, adding one of the emergency blankets to create a make-shift bed.
"Six hours by my calculations. That's how much time we have together." He leaned against the wall, and held out his arms for the girl to crawl into. They sat there for a while silently in the tiny space between the cryo-pod and the instrument panels.
"Do you remember when we first met?" The girl smiled against his chest.
"Mmhmm…" he nodded, his thoughts bringing to mind their first kiss, and the tiny ceremony back on Earth when they had been bonded to one another with only a few family and friends nearby. These were some of his fondest memories, and their recollections together brought a feeling of warmth into the dark, cold space.
He stared down into the girl's eyes, where she lay tucked against his chest staring up at him.
"I always loved your eyes." He said quietly, "I could get lost in your eyes forever."
The girl laughed. "You always say that… what's so special about my eyes?"
"And the way you laugh… I love the way you laugh. I love to see you smile." He continued, wrapping his arms around her tightly and closing his eyes. The girl smiled up at him adoringly, then inclined her neck to kiss him lovingly before snuggling into his arms. Light slumber soon claimed her and the boy sat, watching his love sleeping against his chest. He stroked her hair, her warm breath drifting across his skin.
The chime on his watch signaled that it was time to ready the cryo-pod and he woke the girl gently. She clung to him sleepily, blinking in the dim light.
"It is time for you to get in."
"I don't want to leave you. I don't ever want to leave you." She murmured, child-like, and he hesitated, toying with the idea of letting her stay, but the air would run out. It was not possible.
Carefully, he laid her in the pod. She blinked up at him. To her sleep-blurred eyes it seemed for a second as though he was crying, but she blinked again and he was smiling at her.
"Goodnight, my love. Sleep well." He said, as he had said to her every night for the last three years. He leaned down and kissed her deeply and his cheeks felt damp against her skin.
"I love you sweetheart." The girl replied softly. She looked up into his eyes, those eyes she had seen laugh, cry, and glare, but always, always filled with love.
"I love you too, dearest." The boy whispered, pulling her close to him. "I will always be here, loving you."
"Maybe I will dream of you while I sleep." The girl smiled, "Then I can be by your side until the morning."
"Until the morning." The boy agreed. Slowly, he lowered the lid, watching her bright eyes staring up at him. He drank in the sight, those eyes he could stare into forever. Then her eyes slowly closed as the sub-zero gases swirled across the viewing portal on the inside of the cryo-pod.
He sat there for a long time, staring through the glass at the sleeping girl below. Finally he slowly moved over to the instrument panel, thumbing the monitors on and calling up the last screen he had accessed. There, in simple black and white lay the diagnostics of the life-pod.
Destination: Moon Colony (3027683, 4176)
ETA: 59:15:56 Fifty-one days/Fifteen hours/Fifty-six minutes
Life Support: Functional
Oxygen Remaining: 18:10:04 Eighteen days/Ten hours/four minutes
He stared at the numbers on the screen for a long moment, the same way he had when the girl had first asked him how long the life-support would last. He gave a mirthless laugh. There was no bitterness in his voice, or regret. Only a grim determination.
He set the controls on the cryo-pod. 59:00:00 and wrapped himself in his jacket, seating himself on the floor and leaning against the cryo-pod's cold metal siding. Absentmindedly, he peered through the frosted glass, fingers tracing the contours of the face below. Eyebrows… Cheekbones… Lips…
With his other hand, he flipped the life-pod's automatic oxygen supply to 'off'.
"Lieutenant… There is still plenty of oxygen left in the tanks." Vektor said, surprised, and Concord raised an eyebrow.
"Access the last records of commands entered into that console."
"Ensign Boreal, see if that cryo-pod is still functioning. Maybe whoever is still in there can be saved."
Vektor spoke up again, "Sir, the last entry into this computer occurred eight weeks previous to today's date. At that point, the oxygen supply was turned off."
Concord stood thoughtfully. These sorts of pods were meant for one passenger only. The oxygen tanks were not intended to hold much more than supplemental air. The majority of the time, the escapee was supposed to be in cryogenic storage, frozen until the vessel came in contact with another rescue ship.
The second assistant shook his head. "This girl is also dead, sir."
"Did the pod malfunction?"
"…no, sir. The pod still works… But the gases within have reached critical levels. Anyone breathing them in would have died within minutes"
"Is that generally possible?" Concord asked incredulously. These pods were designed to be practically infallible.
"No, sir. Someone manually set the pod's contents to poisonous levels, Lieutenant."
Boreal typed a command into the cryo-pod's control screen.
"Yesterday, sir. Shortly before the pod came within range of our sensors."
The Lieutenant pulled off his cap and crushed it in his hands. For a long time he stood and looked at the scene in the tiny chamber, measuring the numbers in his head. His mouth drew into a thin line. There was a scenario forming in the back of his mind, a sneaking suspicion of a tragedy that he did not want to believe. With a sinking heart, he walked over to the cryo-pod, gently lifting the dead boy's arm out of the way. The ring on the boy's hand clinked against the metal coldly.
Taking a deep breath, the Lieutenant rested the boy's arm at his side and peered through the hazy pane of the cryo-pod.
The girl's face was as reposed as one might think an angel's would be. Wisps of hair caressed her forehead and one, perfect, frozen tear rested on her ivory cheeks.
Waking up from her artificial slumber, she had raised the lid of her glass bed. Something felt off and she looked around in dismay for her beloved. The air was thin, the accumulated oxygen in the cryo-pod had dispersed quickly and she gasped for air and turned one of the knobs on a nearby canister fully open, letting the compressed gas hiss into the confined space so she could breathe.
The boy rested barely a foot away, strangely still and she called out his name to wake him. There was no response and with wide eyes, she gingerly touched the boy's cold skin, gasping at its iciness.
The lieutenant imagined her climbing out of the pod and frantically typing the buttons on the display screen, her movements hasty and shaking. She was there in his mind's eye… reading off the numbers, much like her companion had done while she slept peacefully. Comprehension would have come over her quickly, tears flowing down her panic-flushed cheeks.
Silently, she leaned down to kiss the cold lips that were once warm and alive against her own. A drop of water fell, marring her boy's cold cheek with the glitter of stars.
A few reconfigured settings, two tubes cut and reattached and the girl crawled back into her glass coffin, closing the lid for the last time. The gases swirled around her once more and she closed her eyes, whispering into her poison what no living ear will ever hear,
"Maybe I will dream of you while I sleep, beloved. Then I can be by your side until the morning."
Until the Morning
Three crew members stood at attention as the cargo bay doors were opened and the contents within were sucked back into the vacuum of space. It seemed only fitting not to disturb the bodies of the boy and girl they had discovered inside the pod.
Long after the doors had closed once more, Lieutenant Concord stood, staring out at the stars. They were rounding the curve of the earth and in a few moments, the rays of the sun would shoot over that far horizon in the monthly sunrise granted to those who lived on the Moon.
It was going to be a beautiful morning.