The place had been trashed.
Panels were torn from the walls, exposing bundles of tangled wires, and some of the ship’s guts had been ripped out. Cables hung from the openings and snaked across the floor. The few scattered pieces of equipment I could see looked dented and damaged. Even the bulkheads appeared crooked, their edges no longer perfectly joined in the corners.
Then I saw the bed on the floor.
A chill crawled across my shoulders and down my back. It looked like a nest between an outer wall and a control console. There were blankets and a few other random items, like a flashlight and a pile of empty food ration packages. It smelled like a bed, even from across the room. Not terrible, just the familiar, musty odor of sheets that needed to be changed. But that only made it creepier, because it meant that someone had been living in there with me while I was being printed.
That wasn’t how destination ships were supposed to run. This was not how a destination ship was supposed to look. I wondered if there had been a mistake, and they’d sent me to the wrong place, some abandoned or derelict ship, possibly light-years from where I was supposed to be. That could explain the awareness spreading through every newly printed cell of my body that something was off, physically. Something I couldn’t quite identify.
I looked for anything close by that I could use to cover myself, and right next to the body printer, on a narrow table that pulled down from a bulkhead, I saw underwear, a tank top, and a jumpsuit. Someone had folded them neatly and left them there. For me. A pair of utility boots waited in the shadow of the pull-down table, along with a pair of compression socks.
I slid down from the body printer to the floor, where I felt and heard the gritty scrape of sand beneath my bare feet. There wasn’t supposed to be dirt on a spaceship, either. But I hurried, shivering, to pull on the underwear and tank top, then snatched up the jumpsuit and unfolded it with a shake. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but it was durable because, like all things brought into space, it was meant to be used for a very long time. After I’d put it on, I tugged on the itchy socks and the boots and looked down at myself, toward the floor, and I froze.
The gravity felt wrong. There was too much of it. That was what I had been sensing. It wasn’t until I was standing that I was able to identify the slight but persistent pressure on my feet, the pull on my spine. Stronger gravity could only mean one thing, and I scrambled to the nearest porthole in a panic to look outside.
Copyright © 2023 by Matthew J. Kirby. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.