--- II ---
He awoke with his face in the grey, dusty, foreign surface. He didn’t open his eyes. He was squeezing them shut, cringing from the intense, dull pain that felt like a slow crushing of his skull. His breathing was faint. He slightly shifted his head, trying to get his face out of the sandy terrain and look to his left. His weakened muscles did not allow his head to traverse the entire arc. It was a consolation that now he breathed in less of the dust around his face.
He dared not try to move, at least not yet. He was hoping to regain more of his strength and consciousness.
He could taste blood in his mouth. He could feel small particles of sand in his mouth and nostrils. He thought he felt the sand all the way in his sinus cavity, though his body did not yield the burning, aggravating sensation one gets when they inhale sand, nor did his body produce enough energy for a sneeze or cough.
He didn’t consider investigating the extent to which he was injured. He didn’t even wonder where he was.
His slightly increased level of consciousness brought distant voices.
One voice was shouting. “We’re dead. Give it up. There’s no hope!”
“We’ve got to at least try. Just calm down, man,” a second voice calmly said.
“No! Hell no!” the first voice replied. The voice was interrupted by a thud of a thick glove against a face mask.
The slightly muffled, electronic sounding voices continued. “How do you suggest we go about living out here, smart guy? There’s absolutely nothing here.”
He continued to lay there; almost lifeless, allowing the voices to recede from his perception. He could smell smoke. He subconsciously avoided imagining the inevitable destruction around him. The voices soon regained his diminished attention.
“Stop. Both of you,” spoke a third, familiar female voice. “My husband is lying over there dead and all you guys can do is bicker. Stop it. Just stop it.”
He knew he wasn’t actually dead but had no way of showing them otherwise. He was lying with his face still in the dirt wondering why they thought he was dead. He began to wonder what had happened. Is it that bad?
The calm female voice broke the temporary silence. “We’ve got to try. At least try to…”
The voice was suddenly interrupted by more shouting. “Is it just me, or is there a huge heap of burning, twisted metal over there? The only reason why we are this far from what you think is salvageable is because if we got any closer, our faces would be fried! You have completely lost your mind?”
The calm voice tried to reason with the hysterical voice. “We can use our extinguishers to…” His voice trailed off. “There may be others,” the voice continued.
The female voice, usually soothing to his ears, startlingly interjected. “If you try to pull anybody out of that heaping wreck, you’ll only pull them out limb, by mangled, searing limb. They're all dead. There is nothing we can do.”
He had no physical reaction to what was said, but he wanted so badly to at least let his wife know that he was alive as she began crying. It drained a little from his soul hearing his wife giving up hope. He had never known her to take a negative stand on any situation.
The voices were silent. This made his mind wander. He began to remember.
He was on of a group of rogues that decided to leave Earth during the Eminent End of Days leading up to the Turnover. There was about sixty of them, most of which he did not know personally. They formed a fleet four ships strong; or four ships weak if one considers their severe lack of planning that was underlined by their not knowing where they were going to go. They were united only by their fierce rejection of the interstellar pact that would become known as the Turnover, and the hideous look of those obviously conniving, semi-mechanical, aliens that were present during the Preliminary Discussions.
He gathered that the ship he was on was the only one known to be downed, which led up to what he now realized was a crash landing. His thought to be dead body was almost perfectly still as the voices began again.
“We’re not that far. Maybe…” She stopped to consider her next words.
It was comforting to hear that she was now on the optimistic side of this horrible situation. He was used to her desperately seeking ways to make a seemingly impossible situation at least at least remotely possible. He sometimes didn’t have hope in her sound reasoning, and he was convinced that her words “…not that far” actually meant “an insurmountable distance”.
The shouting began again. “Forget whatever you’re thinking right now. We left years before they did. They’re probably still on their way to whatever fucked up planet is out there! They’re long gone and probably getting weird alien things done to them. I don’t want that. I’ll just lay down and die here.”
He heard scuffling.
Another voice broke in.” At least we’re dead by our own hands. Not theirs! We didn’t, and we’ll never, die by their hands. That was the point.”
His eyes were still shut, as he lay in the dust, conforming to its lifeless, settling ways. He somehow knew that the abrupt halt to the scuffling was the look of utter disgust that Emily must have displayed.
“Think about the others,” she said in an arctic-cold voice. Her words managed to stir his body, which only gave a fleeting drop of energy to his muscles. His ever so slight signs of life went unnoticed by the others. He couldn’t repeat the effort.
An agitated voice responded to his wife’s voice.
“Emily, listen to yourself. The others? What are you thinking? They’ve got do be nearing forty five years of travel, if they are still traveling. They’re with those aliens. They’re screwed. Just like us”. His emotions began to come out as he realized the gravity of the hopelessness that he kept screaming about. “At least the rest of the fleet isn’t dealing with this.”
He grew ever more comforted by the sound of his wife’s voice. He felt as it empowered his lifeless body somehow each time she spoke. It still was not enough to get him up.
She spoke again. “We can reach them. We can still communicate.”
“We can communicate with them for what? We’re not superheroes, or the protagonist of some crappy fairytale. The rest of the fleet is gone, they are the lucky ones and were not, and they have a chance and we don’t.”
“But we’re so close,” Emily responded.
“Close to fucking what? Even if we are close to anything, we can’t survive here until they come get us. We are not stranded on an island, we’re on a random rock in space. We barely have a clue what part of the solar system we’re in. With that in mind, why are you pretending like we can just send up a flare, or telephone for help? This isn’t Earth. This is the empty, cold vacuum of space.”
The words had silenced everyone. He wanted to bury is face deeper into the sand. He began to feel eerily cold. His will to live was fading. Suddenly there was a high pitched beeping sound that pierced the silence. It was coming from a communicator, but there was no sudden surge of hope judging by the voices.
“You made it where,” a voice spoke to the person contacting them. “What is your position?”
He wondered if there was any hope. He finally mustered the will power to open his eyes. He didn’t see where the voices were coming from. He looked toward his legs. He didn’t recognize them in a mass of bone, blood, and pieces of spacesuit. His will to live began to fade faster. He turned his eyes away and embraced the cold feeling of death that was crawling over him.
He hears someone confirming that they had crash landed on the moon of the planet which is the final location of humanity after the Turnover. He had no idea how this information could be confirmed, or whether the source of information was even reliable.
He gathered that the rest of the fleet was continuing on, not wanting to be close to that planet. This was expected, as there was no true bond between many members of the fleet. No one was expected to be a hero.
He did not want to die here. He knew that he would die here. Somehow he managed an attempt at what he hoped would be his last, deep breath. It was audible.
Emily, in all her hopeless hopefulness, must have heard him. He could hear the running and her shouting coming from behind him. He turned his head through the sand to look the other way, toward her.
She was only several strides away when he finally bled to death.