Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Blake hated interviews. He was never any good at them. Most of the time his nerves got the better of him and he would stutter his answers showing a lack of confidence. Employers wanted confidence. He always felt he would be confident on the job, but it was the one to one confrontation that threw him. He was hoping this time would prove more fruitful.
He was sat in a small square room with uncomfortable plastic chairs along one side. The white walls and tiled flooring felt clean and sterile. Blake felt that made sense for the type of work that went on in this place. It was after all a laboratory of sorts and would no doubt need to be germ-free.
He clutched a cup of water in his hand. The nice lady who brought him into this room was kind enough to offer him one. At first he declined, worried it would trigger his bladder into action. The last thing he needed was to be in the middle of an interview and need to use the toilet. The lady was very insistent however and so he gave in. After all, his mouth was so incredibly dry it needed some lubrication. He sipped at the water liberally while he stared at his reflection in the large mirror opposite him that covered the entire wall.
A single door opened and a man of similar build to Blake entered the room with an air of confidence. He sat down a few chairs along and looked over at him smiling.
‘Morning,’ the man said. ‘I’m Kaleb.’
Blake didn’t like this interaction. He needed to stay within his head, control his thoughts. He was rehearsing potential answers for the interview and now this man was distracting him. Unfortunately Blake wasn’t a rude person and felt inclined to be polite.
‘Morning,’ Blake replied reluctantly. ‘I’m Blake.’
‘Are you here for the caretaker job?’ Kaleb asked.
Blake gave a quick nod hoping the conversation would stop there.
‘Good luck,’ Kaleb said reaching out a hand to shake.
Blake hesitated, but eventually took the man’s hand and shook it.
‘Thank you. You too,’ he replied.
As the two men greeted each other they were being secretly watched from behind the large mirror by two figures hidden in darkness. One of the figures turned to the other and gave a subtle nod of agreement.
The beeping was incessant. It was a sound Blake had become so used to in the last two months it took his mind a while to register its whining sound in his ear. He reached out from under the duvet and pushed a small red button on the side of a watch that sat on the bedside unit. The awful sound stopped. The watch had been assigned to him by the Company with strict instructions to follow when it beeped. Blake sat up in bed and collected a small pot labelled “Supplements” next to the watch. He popped out a small red pill and swallowed it down with a swig of water. The Company had been very clear about the effects of space on the body and everything he would need was included in the tiny tablet.
Blake climbed out of the bed and stretched. He walked across the small room. Bunkbeds lined the walls with a small table and chairs beneath a large window looking out into the vast nothingness of space. He stared out into the void and caught sight of a nebula. He excitedly picked up a polaroid camera from the table and snapped a photo. The ejected slide gave a clear picture of the intergalactic wonder. Blake pinned it up on the nearby wall where other photos had been collected. Each one depicting a glorious image that would amaze the most cynical of persons.
Research station, Celestial 4 was currently in Jupiter’s orbit during its three month downtime. While the scientists were taking a much deserved vacation the Company needed caretakers to monitor the station and keep it in peak condition until the next research party arrived. Blake had applied for the job because he was desperate for work and was willing to take on any challenge even if it did mean several months cut off from the world. It was a menial job, mostly checking gauges and system levels, but with the money earned it could keep him comfortable for a long time to come. Unfortunately the repetitive days were beginning to take their toll.
Blake pulled on a set of blue overalls with a name badge sewn in on the left breast. He zipped it up and stepped through the sliding door into the main corridor of the station that ran around the central living hub. The space station felt cold and sterile. Bright white walls like a hospital ward concealing the many pipes and cables beneath keeping them alive. Protruding from the outside of the main corridor were individual compartments, such as a laboratory, sleeping quarters, communications, storage and control room. The engine room hung down from the central living quarters, ready to be jettisoned in an emergency. If a fire occurred, that would no doubt be its origin.
As Blake entered the living quarters he was welcomed by an upbeat whistling. He found his co-worker Kaleb in the kitchenette standing by the microwave waiting for it to finish cooking. Kaleb heard the approaching footsteps, but didn’t bother to glance around as he spoke, after all he knew it could only be Blake behind him.
‘Morning. Sleep well?’ Kaleb asked.
Blake took a coffee pot by Kaleb and poured himself a steaming cup of joe. He took a large swig to wash away the morning breath.
‘As well as I ever do,’ he replied. ‘How long have we been here now?’
‘Two months, thirteen hours and twenty minutes,’ Kaleb said after a brief moment of thought.
‘Less than a month to go,’ Blake exhaled with relief.
‘Eager to get back?’
Kaleb considered it and then shook his head.
‘You’re not getting bored of this? The same routine every day? The constant monotony of tasks?’ Blake asked in disbelief.
‘That’s the job. Monitor this place until the next expedition. Nothing more, nothing less. I quite like it. It’s simple.’
‘I guess I was just hoping for a little more excitement. Maybe some variety.’
‘It’s a damn site better than my last job.’
‘Unemployment,’ Kaleb replied with a smirk.
‘Fair point,’ Blake nodded.
‘Come on. A good breakfast will cheer you up.’
The microwave beeped loudly to inform it had finished heating the poor excuse for food. Kaleb removed two covered trays from the box and carried them over to the dining table. Blake took a seat and pulled away the foil cover to reveal a plain dull grey porridge-like substance. He let out a sigh before picking up a spoon and forcing the gruel into his mouth. Kaleb on the other hand was eating with relish.
‘Mmm, delicious,’ he remarked.
After breakfast the two men began their regular checks around the station. They started the routine in the engine room assessing the various dials and gauges. The flashing lights of nearby computer servers and a low humming in the background made Blake feel uneasy. He was sure the machinery would one day overpower itself and explode.
He held a tablet in one hand and marked down each display under the date’s heading. Compared to the many previous days, not much had changed.
‘Everything looks normal this side. How about yours?’ Blake called out.
Kaleb appeared from behind a rack of servers, a tablet clutched in his hand.
‘All good here,’ he said as he made notes.
‘What a surprise!’ Blake exclaimed sarcastically.
With their work done for the day the two men settled down for another game of table tennis. The one activity that hadn’t got boring for Blake, mainly because he’d been dominating the scoreboard and Kaleb was yet to beat him. A rapid rally was building between them, each hitting the ball with such ferocity you would think it was the grand final of a tournament. Neither looked as though they were going to make a mistake and they could potentially be there all night. Out of nowhere though Kaleb misjudged his swing and the ball flew past hitting the wall behind him. He tossed his paddle onto the table with frustration as Blake raised his arms in victory.
‘Yes! He does it again,’ Blake gloated.
He made his way over to a nearby white board on the wall. Both their names were written at the top with a tally beneath. Sixty lines were marked beneath Blake’s name, none beneath Kaleb’s. Blake added another to his ever growing record.
‘It’s now sixty-one to nothing,’ Blake mocked.
‘I’m going to beat you one day,’ Kaleb assured himself.
‘I don’t think so. I’m aiming to finish the trip undefeated.’
Blake couldn’t enjoy his glory for long however. It was interrupted by a deafening alarm. Red lights flashed around the room. Both men looked at each other in confusion.
‘What’s going on?’ Kaleb asked, hoping Blake would know.
Blake didn’t reply. Instead he rushed to the control room to find out. Kaleb wasn’t far behind.
They entered the small room where a computer monitor sat in the middle. On the screen a message was flashing in red text glowing the room around it. It read “COLLISION IMMINENT”.
‘Oh shit,’ was all Blake could muster.
He sat down in front of the monitor and typed away at the keyboard with fast fingers. He brought up a scanner on the screen showing their location in the centre and several large dots closing in toward them from the top of the display.
‘What are those things?’ Kaleb asked nervously.
‘Asteroids, I think. And they’re heading straight for us.’
‘Can we avoid them?’
‘We can avoid the larger pieces, but we don’t know how much debris will follow. We could still suffer minor damages,’ Blake replied slightly unsure of himself.
‘It’s hard to say.’
Blake got his fingers working the keyboard again. A message flashed up on screen, “STATION REPOSITIONING”
They felt the vibrations of the structure as it shifted through space. They watched the scanner as the approaching dots looked as though they would miss the station completely. They waited with bated breath and were relieved to witness the asteroids pass by without issue. Kaleb patted Blake on the shoulder and grinned.
‘I think you did it,’ he said with relief.
He had spoken too soon however as crashing sounds outside the station echoed around the room and they felt a minor jolting. They glanced at each other with concern before the station was heavily hit causing it to tilt. Blake and Kaleb were thrown across the room and knocked unconscious.
The incessant beeping from his watch woke him from his slumber. Blake found himself lying on the floor, his cheek pressed up against the cold surface. His eyes darted around the room analysing the clutter that surrounded him. Blake sat up and placed a hand to his throbbing head. He felt a small gash across his forehead dripping blood down his face.
Pulling himself to his feet he looked around for Kaleb, but couldn’t see him anywhere. He switched off the beeping watch.
Blake searched the entire station for Kaleb calling out his name hoping to hear a reply. He tried the living quarters, the sleeping quarters, the engine room, nothing. As he sat on the sofa applying a gauze pad to his cut he started to wonder if this was some kind of sick joke Kaleb was playing. He was known to play the odd prank and he’d just been given the opportunity to perform his magnum opus.
‘Kaleb, if this is a joke, it’s not funny. Come out now,’ Blake shouted. He waited, but there was no sign of his colleague.
Blake needed to know the extent of any damage to the station and if any repairs were required. He sat down in front of the monitor in the control room and typed away at the keyboard. An alert flashed on screen, “EMERGENCY SIGNAL DAMAGED”. That was not good. Most communication was relayed via satellites to Earth taking several days, but they had a more powerful antenna that could send a simple ping direct to the Company. However, this was strictly for emergency use only due to the amount of energy it used. Now an emergency had occurred and Blake had no direct contact. He needed to let the Company know the situation and the disappearance of Kaleb so started a recording of himself.
‘This is a distress call from Celestial 4,’ he began. ‘We have encountered a collision with asteroid debris and suffered damage to some of our systems including our emergency signal, hence why I’m sending this message via satellite relay. You must send help immediately. Most issues I can possibly fix, but the station will need a complete assessment both internal and external. Also, Kaleb is missing. I don’t know how, but he’s nowhere to be found. I can’t understand what has happened to him. Please, send help as soon as you receive this.’
Blake sent the message and hoped someone would see it quickly, the Company was known to be casual about its replies.
The following hours Blake got to work repairing most of the issues he could. Repairing burnt out circuit boards, rewiring systems and rebooting software. Luckily the station was built using state-of-the-art impenetrable material so there were no breaches to the hull and no reduction of oxygen. Blake was relieved to discover nothing was life-threatening, but there was still the disappearance of Kaleb. Why did he leave? How could he leave? He pondered these questions as he sat at the dining table eating. He stared at the unappetising grey food running through every possibility, but there weren’t many and all of them had more questions that needed answering before committing to an explanation.
The next couple of days Blake had to fight the loneliness. He’d heard stories of people losing their minds alone in space, that was one of the reasons two men had been assigned to the caretaker position instead of one. Much like lighthouses on Earth it was more the company you needed than anything else. He attempted to play table tennis by himself by pushing the table up against the wall, but it wasn’t the same. He needed a challenge, a reason to try. Doing his regular checks became even more mundane as well, but at least all systems were operating.
He spent a lot of time by the window in the sleeping quarters staring out into the vast blackness wondering if Kaleb was out there somewhere. If he was, would he be coming back? It was at this moment he caught sight of a supernova in the distance. He picked up the polaroid camera and added another photo to his collection on the wall. It was a relief to have something to do, even if it was only for two minutes.
Cooking dinner, eating dinner, system checks, table tennis, on a never-ending loop were bad enough, but Kaleb at least helped keep it interesting. Blake tried solitaire using a pack of cards he found, something different to excite his mind, but it wasn’t enough. The cards ended up on the floor within seconds. It was getting to him. He needed to talk to someone. He decided to send another message back to the Company. Maybe to just feel like he was talking to someone would help his state of mind.
Blake sat before the monitor, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His eyes were dark and tired, his face drooping with depression. He spoke quietly and slowly.
‘It’s been fourteen days since Kaleb went missing. I’m so alone out here. I can’t stand it much longer. I need help. Why haven’t you replied? Please, contact me.’
He sent the video hoping it would spark a speedy reply. He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t heard back from anyone yet. It never takes this long. Something must have happened, maybe the first message didn’t arrive. The second would surely make it and they would be in touch within the next few days. Hope was all he had left at this point.
However it was too late, the space dementia had taken hold. He was sat on the bed staring into the distance, his eyes glazed over. He muttered to himself random nonsense, his sentences a string of combined words with no meaning or reason. He was sure he could literally feel his mind deteriorating inside his head. The pressure built up and he needed to let it out through an explosion of anger.
Blake picked up a chair and tossed it across the room. It hit one of the bunks and bounced onto the floor. He continued to throw objects around the room like a tornado.
Blake tipped over the bedside unit casting its contents across the room. He stopped exhausted trying to catch his breath. He glanced down at the floor and noticed his pot of supplements that had been hidden behind the bedside unit. He remembered he hadn’t taken one since the accident. No wonder he was feeling worse for wear. They told him “take one a day to maintain health”. He picked up the pot and hastily unscrewed the lid with shaking fingers. He popped one of the pills and let out a sigh of relief. He felt calmer, more reasonable. Whether the pill was fast acting or whether it was just the placebo effect he didn’t know, but he felt better. He studied the mess he had created and an embarrassment hung over him. He put the bedside unit back and returned its contents. He then tidied the rest of the room before sitting down on the bed. He felt tired, very tired. Maybe a good nights sleep would help. He laid down on the bed and let his eyelids shut.
Blake opened his eyes and felt refreshed. He guessed a long nights sleep was what he needed. He could hear a noise coming from the other room and bolted upright to listen. There was definitely a sound coming from the living quarters. He jumped off the bed and rushed out of the room.
He stepped into the living quarters drawn to the upbeat whistling. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Kaleb in the kitchenette standing by the microwave waiting for it to finish cooking. Kaleb looked over at him and smiled.
‘Here he is. It’s about time you got up. You can’t sleep all day,’ Kaleb said.
Blake couldn’t believe it. Was his co-worker really there? Or was this a dream? He slowly approached Kaleb, staring at him with furrowed brow. Kaleb seemed concerned.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
‘You’re really here?’ Blake said unsure.
‘Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?’
‘Where did you go?’
‘What do you mean?’ Kaleb was now frowning.
‘You disappeared. For days, you were gone. Where did you go?’
‘I didn’t go anywhere. I’ve been here the whole time.’
Blake shook his head.
Kaleb placed a hand on Blake’s shoulder to try and calm him.
‘You’ve been unconscious for a while. That collision really knocked us off our feet.’
‘It was a dream?’
‘Whatever you think happened, must have been. I haven’t gone anywhere. Where could I go?’
‘You’re right. Where could you go? Thank God for that,’ Blake said with relief. ‘Did you get help?’
‘Yeah, I used the emergency signal. They’re sending someone over as soon as.’
It felt like a weight had been lifted from Blake’s shoulders. All that fear, the insanity, the confusion. None of it was real. He was safe and Kaleb was with him.
The microwave pinged. Kaleb pulled out a covered tray and passed it to Blake.
‘Here. Eat up. It’s been a while since you’ve eaten,’ Kaleb said.
‘I am starving,’ Blake said taking the tray over to the dining table and sitting down.
He pulled back the foil cover and it was the same grey mess he’d been eating all this time, but this time it was different. He didn’t care it looked unappetising, he just wanted to appreciate everything he had. He spooned the gruel into his mouth with haste.
‘Slow down. You’ll give yourself indigestion,’ Kaleb warned him.
The shower felt good. A warm embrace to help wash away the horrors of the nightmare he’d thought was real. He stepped out of the cubicle into the main area of the sleeping quarters and dried himself with a towel.
A subtle smile formed on his face, but it didn’t last long. Something caught his eye that he wasn’t expecting to see. He moved in for a closer look and couldn’t understand how it could be. There on the wall with all the other photos was the picture he took of the supernova. He took that picture during his so-called dream. Does this mean it wasn’t a dream?
Blake slipped into the control room unnoticed sealing the door behind him. He punched in a few buttons on the keyboard and a message flashed on screen “EMERGENCY SIGNAL DAMAGED”. Kaleb claimed he’d used the emergency signal to call for help, yet he couldn’t have in its current condition. Blake was suspicious. Kaleb was lying, but why?
Kaleb sat lounging on the sofa reading a book. Blake stood in front of him staring. Kaleb peered over the top of his book to see Blake frowning.
‘Something wrong?’ he asked.
Kaleb pulled a face of ignorance and shook his head.
‘Tell me what happened. Where did you go?’ Blake demanded, snatching the book from Kaleb’s hand and tossing it across the room.
‘This again? I already told you. I didn’t go anywhere. I can’t.’
‘You’re lying. You said you contacted help via the emergency signal.’
‘I just checked. The emergency signal is damaged. Just like it was days ago.’
Kaleb stood up to look Blake in the eye.
‘Blake, I don’t know what you’re talking about. If the emergency signal is damaged it must have happened recently, but it was fine when I used it. I think you’re still suffering from a concussion. Maybe you should lie down.’
Kaleb placed a hand on Blake’s shoulder, but he slapped it away not welcoming the comfort. Blake pulled the polaroid photograph from his pocket and pushed it into Kaleb’s chest. Kaleb took it confused.
‘What’s this?’ Kaleb asked.
‘I took that photo while you were gone. If it was a dream, how do you explain that?’
Kaleb studied the photo and shook his head.
‘As far as I’m concerned all these things look the same. Perhaps it’s an old photo and you’re just confused,’ he said before tossing the photo.
‘Tell me where you went,’ Blake said through gritted teeth.
‘I can’t tell you something that didn’t happen.’
‘You’re lying!’ Blake said, giving Kaleb a shove.
‘I’m not. You’re acting crazy.’
‘Tell me,’ he shouted with another shove.
‘Calm down,’ Kaleb said softly trying to grab hold of Blake’s arms to restrain him.
Blake pulled himself free.
‘Who are you? What’s going on?’
Kaleb raised his hands in defence and took a step back from him.
‘Blake, you’re starting to scare me.’
‘I don’t trust you anymore,’ Blake said with a finger pointed in Kaleb’s face. ‘Tell me who you are. What is this? What are you planning?’
‘I’m not planning anything. You’re losing your mind. Take a seat and relax.’
Kaleb made another attempt to reach out and comfort Blake, but now it was he who took a step back.
‘Get away from me. You’re trying to hurt me. I can’t allow you to hurt me. I must protect myself. I don’t know what you are.’
Blake rushed into the kitchenette.
‘Blake, you need to take it easy, you’re going to make yourself ill,’ Kaleb cried.
Kaleb watched as his once friend pulled a chopping knife from a drawer and rushed toward him brandishing the blade.
‘Whoa, put that down,’ Kaleb pleaded with his hands raised.
Before Kaleb had a chance to get away Blake had already plunged the knife into his stomach. His eyes opened wide in shock. He felt more pain as Blake pulled the blade back out. Kaleb clutched his stomach, blood pouring from his wound. He collapsed to the floor and let out a slow breath. Blake looked down at the body before him. An alert sound came from the control room. A reply from the Company. Blake dropped the knife and ran toward the door.
He perched himself down in front of the monitor and a message on screen confirmed his expectations. “MESSAGE RECEIVED”. Blake pressed play and a middle-aged man with thick glasses and bald head appeared on the display. It was Doctor Osman, head physician with the Company, the man who had interviewed Blake. He began speaking in a distressed tone.
‘Blake, you need to listen to me very carefully. Kaleb isn’t real. He is a figment of your imagination. The supplements you’ve been taking contain a drug that causes dissociative identity disorder. He is another personality created by your mind. The Company didn’t want to pay two men to do one man’s job, but as you know a single man in space for months is detrimental to his psychological state. Human interaction is a must, so they developed the drug to get around that problem. If Kaleb disappeared it must mean you’ve stopped taking the supplement. If that is the case, do not take anymore. It could cause a complete mental breakdown when he reappears. Help is on the way, you just need to hold on and keep your mind occupied until they arrive.’
The message froze on screen. Blake froze with it. He ran through what he’d just heard in his head. It didn’t make sense, did it? Kaleb was real. He could see he was real.
As Blake stepped back into the living quarters he found Kaleb was gone. His body no longer lay on the floor bleeding out. It was then he looked down at his hands to find them covered in blood. If Kaleb wasn’t real, where was the blood coming from?
It was coming from his own belly. He lifted his blood soaked T-shirt to reveal a knife wound oozing life. He dropped to his knees before collapsing onto his face. He knew the help would never arrive before it was too late, so he let out one final breath.
Several months later they were back in the observation room. The tall stern looking head of operations needed a new caretaker for the next three months of downtime at the Celestial 4 space station. He was stood next to Dr. Osman watching a young man sat the other side of the two way mirror sipping at a glass of water and tapping his fingers on his knee. A few seconds later it looked as though the man was talking to someone, despite there being no one else in the room with him. Dr Osman turned to the head of operations and smiled.
‘I think we have our next candidate,’ he said.
‘Just make sure we don’t have any problems like last time,’ his superior replied before exiting the room.