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Postby Jakkar » Sun Sep 16, 2012 5:53 pm

Two human males sit on trolleys in the sickbay of the Kestrel design cruiser Seething Rage. The Seething Rage is occupied by anything but, today... More a sense of numbed shell-shock, with a hint of giggling whimsy typical of mild-to-moderate oxygen deprivation in the long term.

We're not in the mood to move, or indeed to do very much at all but sit and stare and think.

There were four of us, until relatively recently. Time hasn't had much meaning for a while though. Without air, when every breath you can take that doesn't burn your lungs is a luxury you didn't expect and do not anticipate tasting again, the passage of time becomes more of a series of isolated moments. Infinite Now followed by infinite Now, aware only of the burn intensifying in the throat and the increased awareness of the shape and volume of the lungs as a three dimensional form inside you, something you can never ordinarily sense. The deep ache.

Of course, I can't speculate on what that poor green bastard used to breathe with. Presumably lungs. Something like lungs. He must have had them - else he wouldn't have looked so frantic on the monitors as he tried to reassemble the shredded remains of the primary O2 processor, with his bare hands... but as quietly as he volunteered to join us during a Fed evacuation, he faded away. A ripple of green energy fluttering up into the ventilation ducts, endlessly cycling dead air - and now our old friend with it. If I were to breathe, I suppose I'd be breathing him, now.

There were three humans, though, among the four crew-members aboard. Three, of four, before the Mantis ruined the air processor. I'm repeating myself, aren't I? I think it's shock. Do you think it's shock? I've never been in shock before.

The third is still in the corridor outside O2 processing. We'll deal with him later. Maybe. Pretty sure he's dead. Living people usually have less holes in them. I mean, we all have a certain number, but those don't look like they're in the right place. And there's all that blood. Besides, there wasn't any air out there for a long time.

There is now. Air. I think. I can't see it so I don't know but the monitors say so. Air. I don't know. Maybe.

I think we'll stay in here for a bit longer. In medical.

We were the first responders, you see. When the pirates came aboard. The scanners registered two boarders - the fuckers teleported directly into O2 processing from the enemy vessel off Starboard. The alarms sounded but we already knew - as we neared the blast doors we could hear the chittering sounds of Mantis, buzzed on destruction, and the metallic shriek and clatter of components being torn apart by those long, serrated chitin blades. Fucking insects.

Of course, in the cramped processing station we were face-to-mandible with the bastards before we could get a shot off. Hand to hand with a pair of micro-gone-macro nightmares. What do you think happened? We were ripped to shreds - we barely made it out alive, crawled and staggered our way to sickbay carried only by the promise of life courtesy of the surgical suite, and collapsed onto the autogurneys, haemhorraging messily all over the pristine white plasteel floor.

The others ran for the O2, abandoning their stations - we had no autopilot but the enemy guns were being held at bay by level two shields and we felt we had more important, more primal threats to worry about - and I don't even mean the boarders, I just mean the air. Personally I don't know if the bitter metal taste was in the air, or was the blood from my lungs surging up my throat each time I coughed.

I don't remember much. I don't want to. I felt the judder run through the bulkhead at my back as the enemy vessel imploded in on itself under the barrage of laser bursts our ship was spewing on automatic - I'd programmed it to hit the gunnery deck and not stop firing until we could see out the other side of the enemy ship, just before I ran for the O2. I know that feeling, the pulse of an engine coming apart at full power in the void, the energy released washing across the hull and sending a single vibration through every wall and floor - the feeling of a ship silently crunching in the emptiness outside. I managed to turn my head to the monitors in time to see the Mantis finally collapse in a tangle of hard green limbs across one-another and the corpse of our comrade. I reached out to a remote terminal, keyed myself in with one bloody hand and closed the airlock to the engine-room. I'm not entirely sure why, given that there was no Oxy left in that half of the ship - that was the first thing we did - tried to suffocate them - but Mantis don't breathe like we do. Take longer to die. Not much longer, really.

The lack of oxy didn't stop our naive alien ally from sprinting straight in there, of course. I guess he had the right idea, with limited information - he merely overestimated his ability to hold his breath while reassembling heavy machinery.

I'm rambling again. So. Yes. Two of us left. In medical. Doors sealed, breathing the last dregs of oxygen, wheezing and gasping, too concentrated upon our own personal agonies to note the other's similar state. We were alive, or something like it. Far from intact, but the med systems were patching us up slow but sure. What's a few more scars, a few new fingers lacking that solar tan? But we weren't really breathing, now. Support systems were feeding oxygen directly into our bloodstream even as they strove to replace what we'd lost, then kept on pumping, cycling our entire blood supply which was by this point receiving close to zero oxygen from our bodies' desperate attempts to breath dead air. I knew the theory and simply tried to fight the instinct, to hold my lungs still, knowing the agony I'd feel if I let them spasm and force nothingness down. Something like itching inside my core quickly rose to a maddening intensity, but there was nothing to be done.

He and I stared at each other across the room as the silence settled, as we mastered our gasping, convulsing frames, each wordlessly aware of the other's wordless awareness that we were alone aboard a ship with no air and no means to produce it.

After a while, we noticed the numbness in our new fingers, our new flesh. Of a paleness, an itching. A wetness, blood leaking from half-sutured wounds. A humming sound as the medical systems ramped up their internal fans to compensate for the rising heat as they ran beyond their standard capacity, struggling to maintain a process that was never meant to be constant. We were alive, but we weren't healing. Our repairs were dying on our bodies. We were bonded with dead flesh as the medical systems struggled to multi-process too much damage while maintaining our total oxygen supply.

We were in limbo. Half dead, half alive, in an unmanned ship with no autopilot or preprogrammed destination, securely defended by an expensive shielding system and totally unable to leave the sickbay lest our ruined bodies simply fall apart. Besides which, we'd be dead of oxygen deprivation within seconds.

I reached out, eyes blurred, and wiped the blood from the remote console beside me, and examined the ship systems in full. I couldn't think of anything we could do, and I wasn't sure either of us were strong enough to even kill ourselves. How long might we float here, sustained by an ignorant machine, burning inside, rotting outside and unable to die? Is it possible to envy the dead outside the room? I may have, for a time.

Time. Time passed. That I know. How much, I don't. I woke up, at some point, after many wakings and forgotten dreams, gasping, hissing panic each time I woke to a body that would not, could not breathe, but kept trying - and my crewmate had his own terminal active, his attention focused on it, a dusty coating of dried blood, orange upon his face under the harsh flourescent lights, giving him an obscure look of a holiday-maker too long on the beach of some tour-world, some artificial terraformed paradise. How long had it been?

Stubble had become straggly beard on both our wasted faces. I think looking back I'm making light of this, but I have no idea how long we lay there, deathless, breathless and quietly terrified. Perhaps the limited oxygen supply and the unhealthy, shuddering gasps we still sometimes took were keeping us high, drugged - killing braincells but saving us from the true horror of our situation.

I digress again. He was working on something... Wordless, ceaseless, focused. I think my broken fingernails and matted hair were longer by the time he no longer tapped at that console. I never saw him sleep.

It was then that I realised I could see him clearly, unfogged by the blurriness of my eyes - and I could think - and I think I would have begun to scream if I'd not taught my lungs not to take the dead air, and had I not felt the slightest glimmer of hope. What had he done? The medical systems began to move again, and oblivion took me as fresh anaesthetics flooded my recycled bloodstream...

When I woke once more, I was whole.

We had no air but we could move. He had upgraded the systems, guiding the ships internals to upgrade the medical systems to a preprogrammed level 2, using the surplus of scrap materials and salvaged equipment we had in the hold. If only the O2 wasn't so far beyond that kind of automatic system - there was no AI, nothing to adapt to the mangled shapes in that bloody room a few doors away, the ship, I knew, could not repair itself.

We had been reassembled even as our oxygen levels were sustained. But for what?

I listened to his plan, whispered in a toneless hiss from a throat trained to obey strictly what was commanded of it, the harmonics felt strange in my blocked ears. Pressure was wrong, everything was wrong. Even the words. I don't know how long it had been since I last heard words. I didn't reply to him. I remembered how to nod. I itched so badly, and the sweat on my skin remained sticky, undried by the strange, exhausted atmosphere we occupied. We were not made to live without air. I wanted to die, but he asked me to help him to live.

We ran, in relays, whimpering or roaring, tears streaming from our eyes as our vision blurred, stumbling and tripping as we raced through the ship, tripping over the dead, ruining ourselves but refusing the die as we felt the oxygen in our system exhausted and as we reached the point of delirium. It was easier, now, to live without air for those infinite moments of fear. Fear without panic, movement without breath. We would perform seconds of work upon the processors and hurl ourselves back into the sickbay to endure the slow repair of systems that reassembled our half-dead brains and burnt out bodies. I know I broke my face upon a bulkhead more than once, light-headed and un-coordinated and afraid. I dislocated both my shoulders on the frames of doors as I launched myself, half-dead from room to room, before our work was done.

Eventually the system was haphazardly functional. The atmosphere began to cool. I felt that. I liked that.

We're still on our gurneys. The meters read 100% on a breathable atmo.

But we're still reoxygenating ourselves using the Med systems. I still do not know how much time has passed. I don't think I imagined what I saw in the corridor between O2 and Weaponry. Our dead companion a darkened husk, his red-stained clothing crusted brown now, his eyes sunken into shadows and hollow cheeks stretched down around his sagging jaw. He looked mummified. I don't know when we're going to leave the medbay, or what we'll do when that time comes. I don't want to think anymore. I'm going to transmit this message to the last Federation outpost we passed, if it's still there. Before, I hoped the rebels wouldn't find us - now I'm not sure I want anyone to find us.

My crewmate hasn't moved for.. a long time. I don't want to look at him too hard to check why. I think he felt the same way I do about the oxygen, but we don't talk. I haven't spoken since before the Mantis boarded us.

Chiefly, though, I'm concerned more by something else.


I can't remember how to breathe.
Last edited by Jakkar on Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: Sun Sep 16, 2012 4:32 pm

Re: Breathe

Postby Jakkar » Sun Sep 16, 2012 5:59 pm


Sorry, got way carried away. Haven't written much for years, originally just wanted to share a story of how my two remaining crew members managed to survive from 6-10 hitpoints each in a ship with absolutely no oxygen after losing the processor to Mantis boarders, along with half the crew... Stuck in sickbay being sustained but not actually healing, until I realised I had just enough scrap to do something I had never done before - the only thing I *could* possibly do; upgrade the medical systems. Something I'd normally consider an unreasonable indulgence in luxury, but that now for the first time might help.

It did. The increased healing rate surpassed the damage of the zero oxygen environment, and I was able to very slowly but steadily heal both crew-members. Then I thought for a while, before experimenting with how quickly they would take damage outside the room, and eventually managed to run one guy out, start the repair, run the other out to take over while the other ran back to sickbay nearly dead, and then run number 2 back when he finished the repair, just in time for the medbay to catch him.

I'm sure there have been much more intense instances of this for players using other ship designs, in more advanced ships - but for me it was certainly the most intense and interesting experience I've had with FTL so far.

Hope any of you with the patience to read the main post enjoyed it =)

Thank you for the game, devs. Magical, horrible experiences abound...
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Re: Breathe

Postby embair » Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:40 pm

You, Sir, just made a long time forum lurker make his first post. Great writing! :D
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Re: Breathe

Postby Jakkar » Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:51 am

I'm proud - thanks for posting, embair =) I'm glad someone read it.
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Re: Breathe

Postby Moc » Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:22 am

That was amazing. Absolutely amazing.
"Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die."
-Herbert Hoover
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Re: Breathe

Postby pbnjoe » Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:09 pm

That was fantastic. I started getting an urge to gasp, sort of like the urge to hold your breath when you see someone go underwater in a movie.

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Re: Breathe

Postby Jakkar » Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:42 pm

<3 I'm glad you enjoyed, folks - thanks for commenting =)
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Re: Breathe

Postby TrashMan » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:56 am

Thou Sir, hast writing talent aplenty!
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Re: Breathe

Postby draeath » Fri Sep 21, 2012 9:36 pm

You know, even out of context, this is on par with the short stories you read in those Sci-Fi anthology magazines. I think you may have found some inspiration, no?
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Re: Breathe

Postby Jakkar » Sun Sep 23, 2012 3:28 pm

I always have inspiration, though FTL is a fine source of emergent stories - I just lack motivation, due to depression. Or vice-versa; who knows?

FTL has achieved something that impresses me, in evoking emotions strong enough to motivate me to write =)

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