STORY NUMBER: 36
PROMPT PROVIDER: @jonnywaistcoat
TITLE: Should Have Bought A Better Alarm Clock
Woken every few hundred years to mop up the strange luminescent slime that accumulated all over the ship, a by-product of hyper speed travel which still baffled scientists, the ship’s caretaker hummed to himself while he worked.
“Well it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it” he sang, tunelessly at the top of his lungs without fear of embarrassment; the rest of the crew and passengers slept in suspended animation on the decks below. Emptying the final bucket of foul-smelling ooze into the airlock, Steven Grendlflurt reflected on how fitting it was that the ancient folk song had become the official anthem of the Union of Space Janitors: he really did care a lot.
This was his fifth reanimation since the voyage began, which means it must be approaching two thousand years since the ship left the dying Earth in search of a new planet to call home. Steven was not sad for the loss of his home world: it never really held anything of value for him anyway. His fellow students at Janitorial University would ruthlessly tease him for his love of classical music, so it gave him a twinge of satisfaction to know that they were certainly all dead by now.
Getting back into his stasis pod, satisfied of a job well done, he reset the system to wake him the next time he was needed.
As the ship accelerated, so the slime accumulated faster.
Centuries crawled by.
The mysterious secretions advanced, the ship reaching speeds previously unknown to human experience.
A millennium came and went.
Twenty-thousand years later the caretaker was finally awoken from his slumber, unaware of how much time had passed but certain that something had not gone entirely to plan. As he forced the door of his pod open he found that he was up to his neck in hyper-snot. This was going to require a lot of buckets.
Half-swimming, half-wading through the gunge, Steve made his way to the main computer to check the status of the ship, quivering in disgust as he scooped away litres of the weird jelly from the equipment. “Twenty thousand years?” he whispered, hoarsely, “how?” and cursed the aging digital brain at the vessel’s heart for delaying his wake-up call. How had it failed so catastrophically? It would take months to clear up all this mess, and who knows what sort of damage it could have caused to their terraforming equipment, supplies or…”Oh lord no…”
He turned his attention to a red light blipping erratically on the console: “STASIS CHAMBER ERROR” the screen below read, “VITAL SIGNS 0% “. Panicking, he set the monitors to view the hypersleep decks below and retched at the footage it relayed: room upon room flooded with glowing gunk, each containing hundreds of corpses in bizarrely varying states of decay floating within.
There was Captain Raymond Hrugtuonar; his medals of honour almost completely disintegrated yet still pinned to the pristine uniform which surrounded his now skeletal form. Floating nearby was ship’s doctor Susan Furfrengle; he had admired her from afar as the ship set off on its mission, harbouring slim hopes that maybe they might one day…oh it was too painful to remember now.
Another camera showed dozens of dead engineers; their cadavers as identical in death as they had been during their cloned life. He saw scores of deceased nurses; entertainers; IT technicians; miners; administrators; artists; teachers; friends; strangers; fellow humans.
He couldn’t bring himself to look at the decks containing babies, infants, and children but…if only for the hope that some may have survived…he forced himself to.
He wept, uncontrollably, for hours.
He checked the ship’s fuel status: the warp drives still had plenty of fuel, so if the ship stuck to its current course it would arrive at their destination world in another 8,000 years. But what to do when he arrived? He didn’t know how to use the terraforming equipment…he could learn, perhaps, but what for; to live out the rest of his life in solitude? It would at least be a fitting tribute to the floating dead.
Another option was to turn the ship around, return towards Earth transmitting a constant distress signal in the hope that another group of colonists might pick up the message and effect a rescue. But the deceleration, about-turn, and return trip would take aeons; what state would any civilisation be in by the time he reached it?
Whichever option he chose, he would have to trust his life to the malfunctioning computer which had failed to wake him, which must have led to the stasis chambers being so overwhelmed with hyper-slime that they breached and killed their sleeping passengers. How had he survived? He could try and eke out a meagre existence on board the ship, but the rations would be pitiful and his sanity endangered from sheer boredom alone.
Steve cleaned up the ship as best he could, flushing the corpses out into space along with the untold gallons of disgusting matter, and made a decision; he would turn the vessel around, head back towards Earth, and hope that the life-support computer would hold up its end of the bargain this time and wake him regularly enough to keep the ship clean enough to function properly this time.
He adjusted the computer, climbed into the stasis pod, crossed his fingers, and slept.
PROMPT: System error kills all colonists on hypersleep ship. Lone caretaker alive millennia from any world.