Just a Guy in Space
“How are you feeling? Are you okay? Is the suit too bulky? How are you breathing? How do you find life on the ship? Did you eat yet? Have you tried the shnolok stew? It’s really good. You should try the Dinpth dishes, they’re really good too. Wait, can you even eat a dintph dish? How do you eat? Can you e-“
“Hold up, hold up! I can only answer so fast. Jeez, Sil, I know you’re excited about this but try to pace yourself.”
Lieutenant Sil Nubo chuckled awkwardly and leaned back into her chair. She was staring intently at Gus, trying to catch every single detail of his facial expressions and gestures.
“Can you set up that field you used the other time? I think it would be much easier to communicate without the suit interfering.”
“Sure, give me a minute.” She tapped a few commands on the console and the familiar pink field sprang up around the bed he was sitting on. It slowly turned transparent and he proceeded to strip off the bulky suit.
“Whew, that’s better.” He leaned back against the bed, crossing his arms. “Now about your questions… The suit is bulky but there’s not much I can do about it. I have spare containers of breathable atmosphere for breathing while in the suit. I’ve eaten, but only simple earth dishes. I have to do some more experimenting with the dispensers. As for your kind of food, I still don’t know if I can eat it. Happy?”
Sil was furiously slamming her fingers on the console panel, probably recording his every words.
He frowned. “Are you writing this down? Shouldn’t AI automatically record this and transcribe it into a written report?”
“Yes, AI is currently doing that. This is for my personal journal.”
“Oh? What’s the difference? You can access these records easily, can’t you?”
Sil’s tail lashed left and right in quick succession as she blushed. “Well, I’m recording things that might not make it into the official report.”
“Things like, oh I don’t know, mating rituals?” he asked with a smirk. Sil blushed a deeper red but didn’t answer. “So let’s get the official version over with then. What do you want to know?”
“First off, tell me about movement in the vacsuit provided. Did you feel there was a risk for your tanks or the suit itself to leak? How did you cope with the suit? Did it bother you when eating? Do you have any ideas for improvements?”
“Let’s see… I didn’t feel there was a huge risk for the suit to start venting atmosphere but then again, it hasn’t been placed in a stressful environment. Walking around is a bit awkward and in the long run the suit feels heavy enough that I get tired, but that happens after the three hour mark. Eating wasn’t a problem, I ate this liquidised sludge of proteins, carbs and healthy fats through a straw when I first got to the commons. Well, technically, the second time I went to the commons. As for improvements, I couldn’t say. I’d have to see the specs for the suit and have more experience with it. So far, all I’ve got is make a suit that actually fits my frame.”
“Good, good. Very good indeed. What did you mean by the second time you went to the commons? Did you not eat the first time?”
“I met someone and, ah, got distracted. Then I went to sleep and headed back to the commons. I couldn’t be arsed experimenting with the dispensers, so I just got that sludge I mentioned.”
“Yes, the basic nutrient packs. A popular choice during wartime. What does ‘can’t be arsed’ mean?”
“Sorry, human expression. It means I couldn’t bring myself to expend the energy to do that. This can be due to fatigue or just plain laziness.”
Sil nodded absent-mindedly as she type some more on the console. After a while, she lifted her head and resumed the questioning. She asked about how he was adapting to life on the ship. Is the lower gravity affecting him? How are you dealing with excreting? Do you excrete? Are your accommodations adequate? How often do you have to eat? Have you tried xenos food yet? Would you be willing to test several dishes from other cultures in a controlled environment? How will your immune system react? Is it possible to replicate your immune system? How do you deal with the multiple microorganisms you host in and on your body? What samples can we safely take from your body? Will that damage you? Will those samples be contagious?
Endless questions that reminded him of his professor’s ten year old niece were fired at him non-stop. Midway through AI revealed that a scan had revealed no change in his physiology after interacting with Art’ah. Sil cutely tilted her head sideways but ignored the AI’s interjection. When they finally finished up, his stomach growled loudly and Sil sharply looked up from her console.
“That’s my stomach growling. It’s a sign that I have to eat.”
She nodded. “Scans show that your stomach acids have increased in concentration and your glucose markers are on the low side. All this indicates hunger in humans?”
“Yes, but it’s not just that. We feel an emptiness in our stomach as well as these hunger pangs. Our stomachs growl due to the movement of air in our bowels which is in turn due to peristalsis. If this state continues, we feel irritable, light-headed. We can experience headaches and nausea and a lack of concentgration. We can’t handle more than about twenty days without food. That differs with people though and it also depends on how much water we have available.”
“Twenty days? That’s absurd. No species can survive that long unless they have evolved certain features specifically to combat that.”
“Well, the thing is after a while, the human body starts to cannibalise itself. At first we use up glycogen. Then fats. As we proceed, the body uses fatty acids and ketone bodies. Non-essential proteins start to be broken down. The essential proteins. That basically means that our muscles get broken down. Eventually we die.”
Sil looked as shocked as in their first meeting. “That’s… Your own body does that to you? How can it even do that? Does it not have fail-safes to prevent just that kind of process?”
Gus awkwardly chuckled. “The human body’s capacity for survival is unmatched. We can do things even we ourselves do not think we can do. It all depends on how far you’re willing to go.”
“Deathworlder…” Sil whispered in an almost reverent voice.
Her stare was starting to make him nervous and he got up and put the suit back on. The field flickered out with a faint shimmer as his suit clicked close. The familiar rush of breathable atmosphere echoed strangely within the suit. “Hey Sil, how close to human breathable atmosphere is your homeworld’s?”
Her cute triangular cat ears perked up as she busied herself at her console. “Why are you asking?”
“Well, I figured I could go grab something to eat back in my cabin with you and we could talk some more. If we can breathe the same atmosphere it would make things much easier. Are you still on duty?”
“I am still on duty but it’s not like I have to be in the lab to monitor and question you. My shift actually ends in thirty minutes.” She paused as her console beeped. “Yes, I believe I’ve found a match for an atmosphere we can both breathe. How do humans respond to large concentrations of hydrogen?”
“That would kill us actually. We’re basically fine if we breathe in enough oxygen and some sort of noble gas. Do you understand the concept of noble gases? Humans classify them as gases that do not normally react with their surroundings.”
Sil typed a few more seconds, waited for an additional beep then nodded. “Can you get back in the field so I can test this combination?”
Ten minutes and one successful atmosphere later they were headed towards his cabin. They passed by several curious xenoi and even more disgruntled Agaraxians but Sil kept up a steady stream of questions punctuated with frequent bouts of typing on her datapad. Gus was happy to entertain her. Her exuberance was a welcomed change to the polite stoicism that most of the crew treated him to.
Once inside, he threw the suit off in its usual corner and realised he was drenched with sweat. Sil was staring at him quite strangely. “Are you alright?”
She blinked, coming out of her trance. “Uh, yes, yes. It’s just… Your body odour is strangely… It’s… I don’t know…” Her eyes were starting to roam across his body.
Gus slowly stretched, making sure the thin exofilm innerwear he was wearing properly hugged the meagre muscles he had. Sil didn’t seem to notice much to his dismay but he could see her nostrils suddenly flare. Is it my smell? The muscles aren’t doing much it seems. Hmm… Pheromones in the sweat? I’ll have to investigate. Gus quickly gave upon the idea of a quick sonic shower as he turned on a million watt smile towards Sil.
“Do you want to eat as well? It would be a shame if I were the only one to fill my stomach.”
“Uh… yes… I don’t mind…”
He turned to the dispenser and ordered a medium rare beef steak with pepper sauce and a side of crisp french fries cooked in duck oil. What he got was a lump of uneven brownish meat drowning in a dark sauce and soggy yellow rectangles. He sighed. I really need to work on this dispenser. I can’t keep eating mush or nutrient sludges. Sil absent-mindedly told AI her order and within minutes they were seated at a table that popped out of the floor. Two of those wide bluish balls also popped out. Sil sat on one with practiced ease and sighed as the ball seemed to flow up and around her, instantly adapting to her form and providing a suitable seat. He sat too and felt the ball (it was really more like a gel) glide around him as it changed into a chair-like fixture. It was really comfortable too. Probably the perks of diplomatic room.
They ate in relative silence, him because he was trying to gobble the brown mush and Sil because she would keep staring at him mid-sentence. He started having fun with it. He would raise his arms such that they would release sweatgas clouds or play with his exofilm, lifting it off his body much like a flirting woman. Sil would invariably stop speaking whenever he did that and stare at his hands or armpits like a lion eyeing prey.
They somehow finished eating when Sil’s datapad chimed. She blinked and looked at it. “My shift has ended it seems.”
“Good! Then with this, the proper, stiff, scientific report is done. You can ask me any questions for your personal journal if you want. You can even ask more about those human mating rituals you’re so interested in,” Gus asked as he leered at her.
Sil blushed a deep crimson before taking a deep breath and looking at him with shining eyes. “That would be lovely. Are there any questions you wouldn’t feel comfortable answering?” she asked, leaning forward, hands tightly clutching her datapad.
Gus grinned. “Of course there are but for you my dear, I’d be willing to answer anything.”