The suit was heavy – smelled clinical. It made him feel unwell. But, of course, it was supposed to protect him from sickness. Regarding the blurred inside of the helmet, visible on the edges of the visor, in the corners of his vision, he was not so sure.
She was a little less uneasy, and tiptoed forward through the corridor in the bulky suit, sweat pouring down her face, but more due to discomfort than fear, she felt. Her hair was shorter than his, and did not irritate her even in the confines of the helmet.
They plodded, eventually. The corridors, once so familiar, seemed alien. In every sense. It was no time for chatter, but they both felt the need to make small talk, meaningless, of course, through their communications links.
‘Do you like opera?’
‘I guess. I never really listened to it. Or saw it.’
‘It’s a shame. I think you’d like it.’
They plodded along, more steady now, the thick suits impervious to the cold.
‘What do you reckon…?’ – an uncertain muttering as they reached a crossroads.
‘Oh, on. Straight on. Always.’
They continued on, the handful of emergency lights guiding them along the corridors – very long. Very straight.
‘I miss home.’
‘I miss doughnuts’
‘They were good.’
They know each other. These two. Seven months of living as part of the same unit, force, endeavour, community. They fucked once. But doesn’t everyone? Everyone had fucked.
‘Do you remember whe-‘
A sudden halt. A light at the end of the corridor. Moving, clearly. No idea as to what was behind it, but it was moving in a very human way.
Maybe they had been seen.
‘Shit. Shit! I thought everyone else was dead?!’
‘So did I!’
They duck – it’s now. Present tense, very sudden. Here. That’s how it happens, present tense. You rarely see it coming.
Neither of them knowing what to do, where to go, she takes the lead.
‘Let’s head back to the crossing.’
As she, agonisingly, edges back on her haunches, he spits out,
‘No! No, no, no! We can’t go back there. We can’t break the pattern!’
‘You and your pattern!’
‘Yeah…’ he mutters, sadder now.
‘Now is not the time. Who knows who that is? We have to get out of sight, at least until we can identify.’
‘I’m sick of this fucking suit’. But, of course, silent assent. They both edge backwards.
It seems a lifetime – the suits are awful, and they hobble back at the same speed, or so it seems. The light moves, impassive, towards them.
No words. Just back, underused thigh muscles shaking, sweat running down both of their faces, now.
‘What do you reckon?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I reckon this is it. We’re either saved, or we’re toast.’
‘Very astute. I don’t think they’re delivering milk.’
‘Oh. Get you.’
Small talk, again. Even in the face of death. Thighs, legs, backs on fire with the awkward, unnatural, encumbered movement.
And that light.
That big, cold light.
After they had mentally died and been resurrected a couple of times, they reached the crossroads, and each ducked off to their respective side. They looked at each other now, across that void, and knew that they were going to die.
She smiled at him, trying to convey comfort.
He was lost in his own thoughts. He didn’t see her smiling.