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A Warm Place

by Chase Di Ilulio

           As the POD hatch opens, a thin sheet of ice slides off and shatters on the floor of the docking bay. A man in a space suit climbs out and quietly steps onto the cold steel surface. The room is seemingly empty with ventilation fans and a slight constant hum being the only sound to be heard. In the center of the room, an aged letter lays on the floor addressed to Dr. Andrei Winters. The man sheds his space suit like a snake gaining new skin. He picks up the letter and reads it; he takes a long breath. He then walks down a long dimly lit corridor to the control room of the space station. “Ah yes, hello there my dear friend Andrei! I’ve been patiently awaiting your arrival,”  a strong voice calls out from behind him.

           He turns around and smiles, happy to see a familiar face. “Doctor Lawrence, I’m glad to see you are safe. I was sent here to check in on you, your reports say that you are the only person left operating on this desolate station, and everyone has been logged as deceased. Surely the reports are wrong because here you are alive, where is everyone else?”  

           Dr. Lawrence looks at him with a pale and blank face, “Andrei, try not to get lost my dear friend,” Lawrence turns down a corridor and leaves.
 
          In the control room, he tries to contact mission control to report his arrival but is unable to reach them. He sighs and decides he will try again after inspecting the rest of the station. Down a long dark corridor, a quick turn to the left, and straight on, the cafeteria.  At a table sits Dr. Lawrence, drinking a glass of raw egg and eating fresh grilled salmon. Winters, fatigued, sits down across from him.

           “You were always smarter than me Lawrence, that’s why you got assigned to lead this magnificent station. I envy you. We’ve known each other since we were children, yet you were always one step ahead of me. How?”

           Dr. Lawrence briefly looks at Winters, “Andrei, you need to let go of the past. Go get some rest, you’ve traveled long to be here.”  Winters leaves the cafeteria in irritation, feeling as though his aspirations had been invalidated, and continues down the corridor. He reaches a lab room, filled with star charts, graphs, and piles of papers. Sifting through the papers he learns the station was tasked with exploring a planet that is comparable to earth in a neighboring solar system, but the station was thrown off track by a massive gust of solar wind. The station now sits in orbit of a distant moon, out of fuel and unable to move. 
          Winters picks up a journal labeled “FINAL REPORT” the last page of which reads: 
“SOL 1,465, it’s been two weeks since I terminated the last survivor, Doctor Dale Lawrence. I had to and I feel awful, I executed him with my dagger while he slept. Painless. Can’t say the same for the others but understand, they all had to go; I couldn’t watch them suffer anymore. There’s no hope for us, we were never going back home anyway. It’s all my fault, I should have done something to save them, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t, don’t you understand? Please. Please don’t blame me, I don’t think I can handle it. I’m losing it. I’m spiraling downwards. I see people. I see the people I killed; I hear their voices while I sleep. Tell my wife I love her; I’ll be home soon.  -   A.W.”
          Winters leaves the journal on the desk and hastily exits the room. Still searching for the rest of the crew he continues on, there was only one more room on the ship he had not inspected. He arrives at the storage room and opens the door, hoping to find an answer. The floor and parts of the walls were coated with a dried crimson substance. Upon the floor lays a lifeless corpse with a heavy metal box buried in a pile of purple dried mush where the head used to be. Winters examines the remains, holding back his stomach. As he looks away from the corpse, his eyes meet the gaze of another crew member sitting against the wall. A shiny silver cafeteria tray rests firmly in his in his jugular. To Winters, it is now more than clear what has happened to the crew. He decides to find a room where he can safely rest and process what he has discovered before confronting Lawrence about the killings and alerting mission control.
          He walks with firmness down to the living quarters and arrives at a door that looks familiar to him. He hesitantly opens the door and walks in. In the room is a bed, a nightstand, and a closet. The bed is haphazardly made as if someone tried to make it in a rush before leaving. On the nightstand sits a broken picture frame bearing a photo of a man and his wife. Winters picks up the photo and doesn’t seem to realize the man in the photo is him. He feels a sense of comfort and goes to sleep in the bed with the photo in his hands.
          “Andrei wake up… Andrei wake up… ANDREI WAKE UP!” Winters gasps awake to find Doctor Lawrence standing at the foot of his bed. “Andrei, I know what you did. You can’t hide from it. Stop trying to pretend you didn’t do this to us!” Winters, extremely bleary, falls unconscious. He awakens again to the room exactly as he left it. Weary and confused, he gets out of bed, finds a piece of paper, writes a letter and puts it into an envelope. He looks down at himself to find his clothes to be covered in blood and dried pieces of human brain. He rushes to the closet in hopes of finding fresh clothes and opens it; the body of Doctor Lawrence falls onto the floor. A ceremonial dagger is pierced through back of Doctor Lawrence; on the dagger is engraved Captain Andrei Winters. Horrified, he stuffs Lawrence back into the closet and sprints as fast as he can back to the escape POD he arrived in. 
          As he is putting his space suit back on, the letter he wrote slips out of his pocket and falls to the floor. Eagerly he climbs into the POD and closes the door. In a feat of anxiety, Winters passes out before he’s able to launch the POD.  He awakens hours later and can only remember one thought: Inspect the ship. As the POD hatch opens, a thin sheet of ice shatters on the floor of the docking bay. He quietly steps onto the cold steel surface. The room is empty with ventilation fans and a slight hum being the only sound to be heard. There, he finds an aged letter addressed to Andrei Winters. He takes off his space suit and reads the letter, he takes a long breath. He then walks down a long dimly lit corridor to the control room of the space station.
 
          “Ah yes, hello there my dear friend Andrei! I’ve been patiently awaiting your arrival.”

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