Silent Night

Date: 2024-06-20

Chief Engineer Lauren woke with a start, sweat heavy on her brow and grease in her hair. Her body was stiff, matching the rigid, metal surface she had been sleeping on. Her arm hurt and on careful inspection she found it dimpled by the crisscrossing metal grids that made up the tube’s floor.

She grumbled as she uncurled herself; testing that each appendage was there and working. Lauren imagined she could see the blood slowly warming as she woke: the biological machine begrudgingly starting despite weeks—months—-of overwork just to keep up with the hectic workloa. She felt old—she imagined like someone in her thirties would feel—not realizing that the damage she inflicted on herself in this decade would likely revisit her three-fold in the next.

It didn’t bother her. It didn’t occur to her to ask if this was what she or her body wanted. At least until the Kit. Her encounter with the race of fox-like aliens started well enough. She had befriended one of them: a scientist named Parsa K’mnzi. And, while she liked it while it lasted, the attack on the Captain and Horace—

“Shut up shut up shut up!” she cried, striking her head with the flat of her palms to regain some semblance of control. “Thinking about him won’t help, I just have to work.” So that’s what she did.

Before she became the Chief Engineer, it was easy to slip into the background. No one noticed she was gone for days or weeks as her old boss dragged her all over the ship. Lauren thought it would be different when she was promoted, but it seemed everyone was just as ready to forget she existed, at least until something broke.

It was the old way. But she didn’t complain. How could she? She was promoted at least three ranks at once, given huge quarters, and placed over older officers. How could she complain to anyone without sounding ungrateful?

Voyrays might understand, but the last time she spoke with them, all they wanted to do was solve the problem—like any engineer would—and never asked: “what do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Lauren said to herself. “I don’t even know why I’m doing this job. I don’t need it to live or eat or whatever.”

But she kept working anyways. Worked even though she didn’t need to. Worked because that’s what her body was used to doing. It moved mechanically, like the machines it maintained, only sparing the minimal amount of attention necessary to ask about her life: it was too much to deal with.

Parsa was a problem: Lauren liked working with her. She felt like a teacher: none of that baggage with the other officers or crew. Parsa hung on every word, took notes, and remembered what she was taught. Lauren would give anything for an entire staff of Parsas.

There was more, though. Parsa was rebellious—knew when things were wrong inside and how to root them out. Lauren didn’t know how to do that on her own. As the Kit needed Lauren to teach her about warp cores, Lauren needed Parsa to keep stirring the part of her that said: “is this what you want? What you deserve?”

But when Horace was nearly killed by Kit xenophobes a few months ago, Lauren couldn’t bare to see Parsa. Oh, she knew her friend had nothing to do with the attack. But when she saw her, all those feelings of rage and helplessness came flooding back.

And the feelings, well, they weren’t going away.

“You keep dodging the truth, Lauren,” a familiar voice said.

“Go away, I’m working,” Lauren replied sleepily.

“You call that work?” the voice sneered. “I could do it with my eyes closed.”

“Go away.”

“Maybe you should go back to sleep. Better the relay blow than you detonate half the deck,” the voice chided. “Maybe if you paid attention instead of pining over—“

Lauren spun and screamed, “I SAID LEAVE ME ALONE!” she shrieked, her voice echoed as it bounced down the tube, growing fainter as it died.

The chief was alone. Truly alone in the still, steady, and silent night. The only sound was her steamy breathing; the air cold against her soaked clothes and metal surfaces, her face dimly lit by her equipment. Without a word, she finished her task, gathered her tools, and crawled about two meters before collapsing back into sleep.