When he woke again three more days had passed.
He lay on the tiny bunk for a few minutes, coming to, collecting his thoughts. He performed the slow ritual of separating fantasy from reality, something that was becoming harder as his dreams increasingly became preferable to the real world. His dreams were varied: sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes frightening; while reality was always the same haunting repetitive nightmare. It took him some time to persuade himself what was real and what wasn’t. Then before the panic took hold he took a small dose of sedative to dampen his emotions and help close off those parts of his mind threatening to go haywire and drive him back over the edge.
Once his thoughts were under control he rolled off the bunk onto his feet and crouched down to peer out of the tiny window that had become his entire world. Even before he looked out he knew exactly what he was going to see: the filing cabinet on the left, obscuring part of his view, the digital clock on the wall, the half open door, the workbench a few metres away and Sessi lying dead on the floor.
Everything was just as he knew it would be, as it had been every time he had woken and all the other times he had looked out of the window. Only this time what he saw didn’t quite gel in his mind, it wouldn’t come together and settle down. It was as if he was seeing everything from a moving vehicle or was looking at a reconstruction of the room rather than the room itself. Everything was in the right place but at the same time everything was wrong. It was different in some way, like he was looking into a different room, somewhere exactly like the room he had been staring at for weeks but not actually the same. As one side of his mind ticked off the checklist of what he expected to see and told him everything was where it should be, the other side of his mind was screaming that something was wrong, something was different. Had the bench moved, or the filing cabinet? The open door to the corridor - had it always been at nearly 45 degrees? Hadn’t it been nearer 30?
He peered out through his tiny window, trying to work out what had changed. He considered the possible explanations and began to panic. He began to sweat and heat pricked at his forehead like someone was holding a flame near his face. It could only be a rescue party. A rescue party had been and gone while he had slept. They must have been combing the buildings looking for survivors. He had slept right through his one chance to escape.
He couldn’t bear to handle the notion so he lay back down on the tiny bunk and put himself out again.
Two days later he awoke again. He sedated himself more heavily this time and the drugs improved his mood. If there had been a rescue party then that was good news. It meant there were people out there. And if there were people outside then the air must be OK. He could leave whenever he wanted. He could go and find them. All he had to do was open the door and get out. He wasn’t trapped at all. What had he been thinking?
With a grin he jumped off the bunk and bent down to look out of the window into the laboratory. He saw the same filing cabinet on the left, the workbench in front of him and behind that the sweep of Sessi’s dark hair where she lay dead on the floor. His mind tried to see the differences he had seen before but this time everything gelled. Everything was exactly where it always had been. Nothing had changed. No one had moved anything around. He tried to remember what had been different. He’d thought the door had moved closer to 45 degrees then 30. It was actually somewhere in between. He closed his eyes, trying to recapture to the impression he’d had before. When he opened them again everything was still where it should be – the cabinet, the bench, the door, the clock, Sessi lying on the floor… Everything was where it should be but now he questioned whether he was remembering what he had seen last time or what he had always seen before that? He could no longer see any variation but last time he had seen something different and this time he saw something the same and that was a discrepancy in itself wasn’t it?
He couldn’t think straight. He left the window and sat down at the console to check the atmosphere. He couldn’t be bothered to access the system through its normal interface so he pulled up the history of his most recent commands: sedative 4.5, sedative 2.5, check internal oxygen level, food dispenser, monitor communications, check internal oxygen level, food dispenser, check internal oxygen level, check internal oxygen level, check internal oxygen level, check external atmosphere. That was what he wanted. He hit the accept button. There was a brief pause while sensors on the pod’s exterior gathered a sample of the air outside, analysed it and fed the results back through the computer to his console. The results came back even worse than before. There was no way he could step outside and there was no way any rescue party could survive in that unless they were wearing hermetically sealed suits.
There had been no rescue party.
There was just him.