2018-06-16 15:00 fiction science-fiction elixir Benjamin Brood

Those Of Us Who Remain

There were more than sixty of us in the ship when it launched. We were told exactly how long the trip would take. Fourteen months. Why couldn't we all be put to sleep, I wondered. I asked this, why couldn't we be put to sleep. They said it was a much more valuable experience if we were awake and together for the fourteen months. I think they just didn't know how, they would never admit this, that they never knew how to do it.

We started playing Airlock only a couple months into the trip. The game was simple. At the beginning of the day-cycle, the Airlock override code was changed by the computer to a two letter designation. Then the computer picked someone to go into the Airlock. The ejection countdown would begin — the person had five minutes to enter the override code and stop themselves from being sucked into space.

There were 650 permutations.

There was about enough time to enter them all if you were good with the keypad, and if you were methodical about the sequence. If you weren't, if you skipped a combination that might have been the override code, well, that's what made the game fun. Fairly soon we grew a little bored of this — of having the computer choose who went into the Airlock. There were certain individuals who were annoying, or who regularly forgot or disobeyed The Rules Of The Ship — so we put them into Airlock. Honestly, I have to admit around that time, let's say that we added a lot of Rules as we saw fit. It became impossible to know all the Rules really. But then this too grew tiresome when there were fewer of us. After all, those of us that remained had become very, very good at entering the combinations into the keypad.

One day a couple of us, OK, maybe it was only me, yes, I think it was only me, changed the override code to three places. That's 15,600 permutations. There's no way to enter them all in the time given, and even if you could, you'd probably fuck some of it up, meaning there's still a chance you'd go WHOOOSH right out into space. Sometimes people would get lucky. A lot of times they didn't though. The game was more fun this way, we agreed, much more fun. Who would win? Who would be the last one? It consumed us.

The few of us who were left drew up an ordered list, and one by one we went in and bit by bit the list dwindled. Until yesterday there were two of us left. And I saw the panic on his face, my fellow traveler, as he hammered away at the keypad, sweating and grimacing as the countdown continued unabated, closer and closer to the end — then WHOOOSH. And that was it, I was the winner, I was the last.

Now I find it less satisfying than I'd imagined. The long journey ahead, I know how boring it will be. I've decided to keep playing. Really winning, I mean winning BIG, is making it the whole way. This morning I changed the override code to four places — 358,800 permutations. As I stand in front of the Airlock I'm cracking my knuckles and stretching. I will remain.