Extract from Colonisation chapter 12. This extract is dated April 2013
Preface: Tensions aboard the prototype Martian colony ship Atlas are running high. The protagonist, Rad, has just seen his girlfriend, Kyra has been kidnapped from the fledgling Martian colony by resident Martians, all the while a competing colony ship, the Cerberus is fast approaching to eradicate the first mission in a cover-up. Also, previously, there has been some tension between Stryker, Rad and Kyra: Stryker harbours romantic feelings for Rad, and has even acted on them, and they were not reciprocated by Rad, who has pursued Kyra, breeding resentment and feelings of inadequacy in Stryker.
Nylon shuffled perceptibly next to me and I looked over.
“I’m goin’“ Stryker gruffly announced to me, and I noticed he wasn’t waiting for the rest of us. His tone was short and bad-tempered, but I’d never seen him in this dark a mood before. The door to the galley mess slid shut and in the crowd of confused and concerned colonists I didn’t make out which direction he’d headed in. I resolved that I was gonna find him.
“Excuse me a mo,” I said quietly to Janey who was still stood beside me.
“Hey, whats’ up, man?” was all he mustered before I swiftly cut him off.
“I think Stryker’s in trouble.”
“Want me to come with?” Janey asked. His concern was genuine, but I knew that whatever it was, I’d have to deal with it alone. “No,” was all I said breathlessly.
As quickly as it had filled, the galley slowly emptied, and I found myself in one of the corridors that threaded around this ship like a maze. The ship clanked and rumbled with what I presumed to be it’s kind of life; but as I proceeded deeper down this thud was replaced by a haunting, gaunt quiet. The accommodation block was deserted with no sign of my friend. The command deck, the mess hall again, everywhere I thought he’d be was punctuated by the absence of my friend Stryker.
At a junction I wondered where he could have gotten to. This lander was only so big after all. And then, as the obvious does when playing with one’s mind, it dawned on me. It’d been staring right in my face the whole time:
I found a directory in a storage cupboard nestled in one of the walls and I thumbed through it briskly. I was surprised in a way; surely all this would be done though a central computer. This old, synthpaper manual was useless and outdated, dated way before even the Atlas was being considered for it’s unceremonious ‘repurposing’. Then I remembered another obvious thing had been goading me, and had now slapped me firmly upside the head. There was a central computer after all. The ‘broom cupboard’ was my new destination.
Gasping for breath from sprinting from one end of the Atlas to the other, I took one hand on the door and wrenched it open. The monitors and server cabinets were all twinkling, the whir of coolers and processors filled the little room as it had done when I was here before, LEDs providing almost all of the light.
But it was empty. The chair the attendant, Jared, had been perched in before, was left idly in the middle of the floor space. I took a hand to it. Refreshingly, it was still warm.
“Oh, come on…” I mouthed impatiently. It was a few elongated minutes before, in this disused and empty part of the place, I heard the reverberating sound of thick soles on wavy metal floor.
Jared rounded the doorway with a plastic cup of water in hand, and he almost dropped it as his head raised to see me lurking in the shadows of the room, with a determined, but probably almost sinister look of intent scrawled across my face.
In great red proverbial pen.
“Er, Rad, hey…” Jared began, dropping a few millilitres of his drink onto the floor. He nervously placed it on his work desk and looked across.
“Gym, where is it?” I coughed.
“I dunno anyone called Jim, dunno, Rad..”
“Not Jim, you idiot,” I sighed with contempt. Didn’t have time for this. “A gym! As in exercise gym! Does this ship have one and where is it?”
Jared sat down and consulted the computer, pulling up a section of the deck plan and technical drawings. They looked crude and rushed, though no surprises there. Jared’s eyes narrowed as he peered intently on the screen. “You pick a funny time to ask about your personal fitness, Rad…” He said idly.
“Just a sec…” Jared mouthed, and then turned back. He kept one finger hovering over the screen for reference. “Yep. Physical fitness improvement centre apparently located on Deck 2,” Jared relayed, giving me detailed instructions about the passages and corridors I’d have to find my way through. If Stryker was here, he’d have had to know about this before. How he’d have gone about that was indeed curious to me.
As I expected, the door I found myself confronted with on Deck 2 was old, and hadn’t been moved or cleaned in a long time. I was certain I’d followed the instructions I’d been given to the letter.
Lights were dingy and sparse in this part of Deck 2, which was deserted; this ship had transported a couple of thousand people to set up the Moon bases, but now carried about an eighth of that to Mars, for whatever reason. The whole place was caked in sixty, maybe even seventy years worth of dust and detritus. Walking around, I found a sign on the wall opposite the door. It was grubby and most of the letters were worn away, but enough was there to point me in the right direction:
My heart raced as I felt myself getting warmer to my goal. Just a few doors down this narrow passage I found what I was really looking for. There was a small door; not a double-sliding door like most, but only a single-leafed door which actually was on some kind of a hinge. The light leaking around the bottom edge where the door didn’t meet flush with the deck was encouraging. Taking a couple of breaths, I opened the door with a snap.
The room I found myself stank of musk, and was brightly lit. My eyes struggled for a few moments to adjust to the light differential, but once they did, I found myself in an S-shaped room. Grunts and the clank of gym machinery that I remembered from the academy reverberated around the contours in the walls.
“Fifty five, fifty six, fifty seven…” came a struggled, effort-addled voice that resembled Stryker’s but had a somewhat outside influence that almost took all the humanity from it. I ventured further. “Gotta peak, yes, yes. Just gotta be on my peak… Here boy, here’s the peak… Where’s the peak? Where’s the peak?!”
There was a thud and a crash of weights, and I heard Stryker take a gasp for breath. He’d fallen from whatever construct he was pressing himself to. Running around the corner, I finally saw him astride a weightlifting frame, fighting for the tube coming from an intravenous bag suspended from a hook. He was almost completely naked, and I saw from his back that his muscles were vastly inflated. His veins pulsed and rippled through his skin, and he fell to the floor again. “Can’t lose it now! So close! Peak’s in sight! Gonna get there after all!” he growled to himself as he fumbled for the dripping end of the plastic tubing.
“Wh.. What’s goin’ on?” I said nervously. Stryker threw all his weight around and faced me. I took an involuntary step backwards.
“Never disturb a man on the cusp of greatness, you prick!” he wheezed crazily. I noticed that his face was almost purple from the blood flow. His forehead pulsated with the blood pressure. Looking down, I noticed a small, bleeding hypodermic peripheral in the top of his chest, in his left pectoral, right over his heart. He was fumbling for the end of the tube, as to reattach it.
He was pumping himself full of steroids, but I’d seen this a couple of times before. High profile cases of sportsmen and athletes driven berserk in the pursuit of a non-existent peak of physical fitness. It was almost commonplace – an addiction to a particularly potent and hallucinogenic steroid known as Sting.
“Don’t do it!” I called, and rushed over to my friend, who was by this point on all fours and reaching for the IV line. “Don’t do it, Jon!”
Stryker looked as I reached for his arm, and as I brushed it to grab the leaky end of the plastic tube, his elbow thumped me. It sent me backwards into the square metallic frame of the exercise equipment. It would be a very nasty bruise at the very least.
Before I could do anything, Stryker, whose face was like a plum, raced toward me, lowered as if to tackle me. Managing to overcome the pain in my back, I moved and he simply pinned me to the floor.
“Why’d you ruin it, Rad?! Why’d ya do that?!” he spat in my face, tossing me over on the floor and keeping me quite immobile. “Why? WHY?!”
I breathed for a second and looked into his goggled eyes. There was sweat smeared all over them. “Can’t you see what you’re doin’ to yourself? You don’t need that crap! Hell, I dunno even where you got it, but I don’t care!”
“Always been a failure by my own, Rad. Why not get where I’ve already wanted to be. Maybe then people’ll respect me,” Stryker grunted from atop me. His arm muscles were somehow tremendous and pumping with the steroid as it made his blood boil. They were starting to spasm with blood pressure and his excessive heart rate. “Maybe they’ll even love me!”
I knew I had to act now. “Shut up, you fucking idiot!” I called right into his face, and used whatever stamina and adrenalin I could muster to push my friend onto the floor and punched him square on the chops. “We do respect you, you almighty prat!”
Stryker lay on his back, winded and overreached. “And you love me?”
“You, Rad. Do you love me?”
I thought for a moment. I honestly… I didn’t wanna know. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Now shut up!”
Stryker sat up slowly, but fell back on his back again. I managed to pick myself up and looked down on him. I don’t think he could get up. He looked intensely unwell, and then our eyes connected though his darkened lense. He cried. I crouched down and helped him sit up.
“Help… Me?” he mouthed though gasps for air.
“You should’ve asked,” I smiled weakly though my physical exhaustion. There was an old canteen of water that I fetched from the side. “Have a drink, it’ll help.”
He did so. I wanted to ask him how he’d gotten this stuff, how long he’d been taking it to improve himself. I was worried he’d done damage, and it might not be recoverable. But as I began to ask, he silenced me with an embrace. I just held onto his sweaty body for a few moments. “It’s gonna be alright,” I said.
It was, and with a huff of exertion, I managed to get Stryker to his feet, and back to his room. With what was left of my own strength at this point, I flopped him on his bed for a well-needed kip. Just what I suspected he needed.