Container 7 [end].
I was in the Null Zone, way off course, and the sun had disappeared. With no power source, I’d have to rely on the auxiliary system. This would give me five days, at best.
How careless I’d been. No one in his right mind would have ventured near this sector. This graveyard of dead planets, hidden from the sun by the irrefutable laws of mathematics. My chances of survival were next to zero.
I paged through the nav-screen, and weighed up my options. Even the shortest course out would take a week or more. The faster I tried to push the ship, the shorter the duration of the auxiliary power. The slower I went, the longer its duration.
What a choice.
Hare or tortoise, I’d still crap out in the Null Zone, and eventually freeze to death.
I pictured myself then as some ancient explorer, trapped on the frozen wastes of Earth. My expedition failed, my breath coming out in plumes of steam.
Would I pass on nobly? With a letter to my loved ones, in a faltering hand?
Then I thought about the creature.
Would it perish too? Did it rely on warmth for its survival?
Then it hit me. The creature probably did need warmth. In its natural habitat, inside its host, it lived at body temperature.
But now it was on the outside? It would still require a heat source, no?
I thought of all the hot spots onboard, and the answer was practically instant.
The starboard propulsor unit. The constant breach alarm. That first day when I thought I saw something.
I hadn’t been imagining it after all [which gave me little comfort].
The creature needed warmth. When it wasn’t harassing me, it was obviously holed up next to the propulsor jets. To trap it in there was an attractive prospect, but I had to discount it. If it knew it’d been rumbled, who knew what it might resort to. The plant in there was delicate, and it wouldn’t take much to render it useless.
No. I’d have to let it roam the ship as normal. Let it come to me if it wished.
Oh, to destroy it. To escape this sun-starved exile.
But how could I defeat the creature and escape the Null Zone?
I thought it over, and with a sudden pang of excitement, lit a cigarette. Perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone.
Having plotted the coordinates for the shortest course out, I stowed the solar sails. I diverted all unnecessary power, and the ship clunked into blackness. Then I cranked up the jets as far as they would go.
We surged forward, picking up momentum, pushing closer, ever closer, to our maximum velocity. The ship was shaking badly, and I could hear the empties rattling in the rec room. I gripped the transom to prevent myself from falling, and I held tight, knuckles white, until we could go no faster.
Then I killed the power.
Does the parasite dwell in all of us?
I wouldn’t know. I’m not even convinced it is a parasite. At least, no more than our organs are parasites, for demanding our lifeblood. No more than a flower parasitizes the sun and the soil.
No. I get the feeling it’s just a natural part of us. Perhaps a tumour of sorts. As susceptible to cancer as any other group of body cells. Maybe I just had the misfortune to accrete a malignant creature.
And the absence of mind to remove it so inexpertly.
Whichever way I turn it, I’m reminded that we’re all hostage to our own biology. Our own minds. We live in constant fear of the external. Of the unknown, the supernatural, the alien. But the bulk of everything we suffer is from us, and by us. Every skeleton visited upon me here comes from man’s own closet. From that swell of humanity out there. And from my own experiment.
The plan was to coast as far as possible. To conserve energy. And it was working. The creature became more somnolent, and we made good headway. But when I came to restart, the propulsors failed. The cooling coils had frozen and ruptured.
The solar sails remain stowed now, encasing the ship as the pupa encases the butterfly. With the last of the power, I might just unfurl the mainsail again. There’ll be no sunlight to fill it, but I’d like to see its beauty one last time.
The creature is with me always now. Its strength is ebbing, and it clings to me in the blackness, like a frightened child. Which is not to say it doesn’t still have its moments. It will torment me to the end, of that I have no doubt.
But I can handle it, I think.
If my calculations are right, we’ll soon be experiencing a gravitational pull. A planet of ice, uninhabited, uninhabitable.
A place where we can rest in peace.
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