It’s been 10 years since the disaster, and we’re still finding bodies.
People, trapped in their escape pods, their final moments recorded like messages in cosmic bottles, bodies perfectly preserved in the aerobic environment of their last hope. Back when it happened, everyone was still so scrambled, everything was such a mess, there were no people to spare to send out rescue missions. I don’t think anyone was even thinking about it. But now, we do. We have the luxury of being able to look back at that awful time, and hate ourselves for not doing more, even though it wasn’t possible. The pods come from hundreds of different stations, jettisoned at different times after it happened. Since most of the records were lost, there was no real way to know who left and who stayed behind in all of the places they came from. Different makes and models, different languages and controls, different receivers and beacons. A million types of tombs, drifting slowly across inhabited space.
A couple days ago, some made the news again. Not top-level stuff, that’s all reserved for the latest colonial war, or corporate rat who skimmed a little too much off some refugee fund for their employers to tolerate. People get tired of thinking about that tragedy.
It was barely a mention, but it was there. A few pods, linked together by nanofilament tethers, got tangled around an old SGMF relay out near Haultaran. When the maintenance crew went out to see what was wrong, they found 3 banged-up lifeboats from the N.R.S. Masur, a botanical station destroyed when everything went down. In the pods, they found 4 bodies: My husband, my son, my daughter, and a scientist from the station.
I think I’m supposed to feel closure.
Courtesy of the corporate communications overlords, their last moments were recorded when their implants, connected to the pods’ computers, registered that they were going to suffocate soon. It’s supposed to be a thing to help families feel better, and for the doomed to know they said what they wanted to say. But that’s the problem, right? There’s never enough time to say what you want. We never talked enough anyway. Now we never will.
The Masur was supposed to be some time apart, nothing permanent, but we needed a break from each other, and the on-station school was supposed to be great for the kids. Things had gotten kind of rocky between us in the time before he left. Petty, stupid shit, but it hurt us each nonetheless, and a short posting on a safe station away from the colony seemed like the right move. I found out how much I missed him pretty soon after he left. And it stayed that way. I stayed that way. 6 weeks apart, knowing we were probably going to be alright again when he came home, then 10 years of knowing he probably was never coming home. Now I know he didn’t, not the way he left, and it doesn’t help.
I’m not going to watch the logs. I don’t know if I can.
Confirming that it was their bodies was hard enough. Old tech, the investigators told me. Everyone and everything affected by the event after all this time could’ve been corrupted, the logs could be misidentifying them. Could I confirm this was indeed my family? I could. I couldn’t. I did. It looked like they were sleeping. There’s no bacteria in the oxygen-deprived environment of a lifeboat with no life support, but it’s not exposed to the vacuum, so everything looks just like it did the moment the last bit of oxygen was consumed.
I know the look of agony on my son’s face as he took his final, gasping breath.
I can’t watch what happened to lead up to that, the sobs and the goodbyes, and keep going. All I’ve been doing for a decade is keeping on. Surviving. But not living. I told myself over the past 10 years that I was okay, but now it’s like it just happened again, and I’m a battered engineer, alone, among thousands on an overcrowded refugee ship fleeing the chaos, not knowing what happened to the ones I love.
Now I know, and it makes everything worse.