Short Story | ‘Ballast’ by Madeleine Farraday, Illustration by Jessica Wilson
The red flashing lights on the control panel told him that something wasn’t quite right. He had been gazing out one window, then another. Planets, galaxies and stars emerged from darkness, then disappeared. He felt like a piece of ballast in the ocean, sinking. A fish in a bowl.
Until the alarms sounded. His mission was to protect those who slept. Epsilon Eridani was still 5 light years away. He sometimes uncovered HER face, gazed jealously at her relaxed, trusting features. He had no such complacency. Androids were expendable.
“Computer, report,” he said.
“Fire in cargo bay 5,” said the mechanical voice. “Oxygen tanks in storage. Likelihood of explosion: seventy five percent.”
The android glanced at an air vent. Smoke was seeping into the flight deck.
“Emergency measures,” he said.
There was a squeal as ducts were sealed and lights dimmed.
“Jettison the east wing?” inquired the voice.
“Not yet,” he muttered.
“The fire may spread,” the voice warned him.
“I know.” He was mindful of the frozen pods. If he didn’t act quickly, their lives might be in danger.
“Fire will breach the hull in 3 minutes,” the voice intoned.
Desperate, the android realized he should deplete the oxygen. The fire would have no fuel. He hesitated for only a split second.
“Evacuate oxygen,” he ordered the computer.
He turned towards the face that he held so dear, her life entrusted in his hands, and reached out with his mind. It was the last thing he ever saw. As the flesh part of his cybernetic body shriveled from lack of air, he knew he’d made the right choice.
* * *
When first lieutenant Dana Torres awoke, the glass dome of her pod was coated with ash. Ixonian workers had to struggle with the system to safely free the crew.
Their cybernetic android had withered and expired. She looked at the half-mechanical corpse, feeling a sadness she could not place.
“It’s all here,” said the white suited technician.
He placed a tiny chip in her gloved hand.
“The ship log?” Dana looked at the little square.
* * *
Two weeks later the captain contacted her by comlink.
“Dana, your report was incomplete.”
“The chip was partially damaged by ash. But I outlined how the accident occurred.”
“Okay. But we need more than this.”
“I can’t help it. Most of the readable part was the android’s personal record. I think he was bored.”
“Androids aren’t affected by that.”
“This one apparently was.”
“What did you find?”
“Pictures of planets and stars. He liked poetry and philosophy. And…”
“Go on,” said the captain.
“He liked to dance,” Dana finally said.
Afterwards Dana went back to her quarters and flipped on the holographic projector again. The android – as he must have imagined himself to be, human from head to foot, with no mechanical parts – bowed to a lady whose face was obscured. She accepted his hand and they started to dance.
Somehow Dana wished it was her.
Illustration by: Jessica Wilson