The Edge of Chaos

“And I’m telling you, my clock is wrong.” Greer grunted as he edged his crumpled nose down towards Terry.

“Well….I..I mean… it’s just not possible.” Terry stuttered staring at the flickering red lights of the obscenely oversized digital clock that hung in our dining quarters. “I mean not…not unless it’s stopped, perhaps. But the clocks here can’t be at different times from each other. They’re all programmed to display the same time as each other, if one developed a fault it would simply shut down so as not to display a different time from the others. The time is fed on a data loop continuously through sensors to all of our equipment, it is imperative that even if the time we see isn’t technically aligned with Greenwich Mean Time back on earth each of the inhabitants of the station see the same numbers displayed. As a sort of mooring by which to conduct our daily activities. It’s so we don’t get time disorientated out here.” Terry gushed. “I designed the system myself.”

Alexi and I had been sitting at the enjoying a quiet game of chess when we were joined by Terry at exactly 09:00:00 who asserted that having finished his morning assessment of the data would be taking his breakfast. Having designed the clocks on the station Terry was scarily punctual, and fanatical about the rules- he always informed me, as his senior officer, before taking his lunch or leave of a post or even a bathroom break. Moments later Greer had burst in complaining “Why the damn hell hadn’t anyone woken him up”. For Greer, unlike Terry, punctuality was of no object so we were surprised to see him perturbed by not being awoken at 9am when he frequently didn’t surface til after 10. It was at this point Greer started raving that the clock in his room read 17:48:09.

“I’m telling you my clock’s not broke. It was still counting down those goddamn annoying seconds and I couldn’t hear that goddamn rattle the air filter makes when it goes on at 9.” Greer hissed at Terry, as if the whole situation were somehow his fault. “Look my external comms were switched on too. You’re not supposed to be able to open an off-base channel until after we get our update signals at 12.”

Growing weary at Greer’s persistence interrupting our game Alexi rose and smiled simply; “Look let’s all just go take a look at this clock together.”

I don’t know why the mission required the four of us but upon entering Greer’s room we found that his clock read 09:08:26 and his external comm box was indeed locked as it should have been. I saw something then in the ferocious and unwavering Greer that I had not seen before amidst his gormless look of awe I thought I saw a glimmer of fear behind his eyes.

“See,” Terry beamed. “It’s all fine.”

Greer shot him a look of contempt. “No,” he muttered to himself, “It was later. My comms…. It was like… like something was wrong, like I was trying to call out.”

“A dream,” smiled Alexi placing a firm hand on Greer’s shoulder. “Come Ruth, let us finish our game.”

*******

Greer had gone down to the boiler rooms to fiddle with the heavy, greasy bits of piping as he often did when he was in a mood. I think tossing about the lumps of dirty metal made him feel manly and for us they were a welcome alternative to him punching someone in the face. Yes Greer was an asshole and a moron in every sense of the word but he was an incredible engineer. I think Greer must have been the kind off boy whose family life had cultivated him to be the school bully and his desire to escape that life had lent him to nurture his quiet intelligence. When I first met Greer I asked him if there was anyone he would miss back home and he merely replied “No amount of light years is far enough from my fucking dad.” We never spoke on the subject again. Following Greer’s little spat Alexi and I had resumed our game where I had promptly had my ass handed to me, as usual. Alexi was a handsome man, he carried that aura of calm that those who are transcendently intellectual often do. He had often asked me if I wanted to make love, some nights more desperately than others. Naturally I refused; my whole reason for taking a post on a space station 1089 days flight time from earth was so I’d never have to feel like cold thrust of a man again. Although when I discovered that I would be the sole woman on a station with three other men, I accepted that this would be an issue. In their defence, Greer or Terry had never approached me. Terry was a mathematical genius, a former child prodigy now nearing his thirties, but he was shy and fumbling, I strongly suspected he was still a virgin. Greer was too animalistic, I would take gentle persuading and he wanted something to fuck. Our dorms were adjacent and I could often hear him masturbating loudly. All of a sudden a loud beeping started up in dining quarters.

“Ah our update signals,” Alexi smiled moving to the console in the centre of the room.

“What…? I….” I mumbled.

“Everything ok?” Alexi asked.

We had only played one game of chess, surely it couldn’t be 12 o’clock already. Had I really zoned out daydreaming for so long, watching Alexi’s slender fingers as he replaced the chess pieces. I rubbed my arm instinctively only to find I was wrapped in a cardigan that I was sure I hadn’t brought down to breakfast.

“My cardigan…”

“You went to get it after our second game of chess, you said you felt cold,” Alexi raised one quizzical eyebrow at me. “Are you sure you are ok?”

“I’m just….I have a headache,” I retorted furtively “I think I’ll go lie down for a while.”

“Ok. I’ll head up to the bridge and get these signals logged… and then I’ll come check on you.” He said, a little too expectantly for my liking.

“Don’t.” I snapped, exiting swiftly. If the doors on this damn station weren’t automatic I would have slammed it behind me.

*******

I lay on my bed, my head feeling perfectly fine but full of a thousand screeching thoughts. I was sure I was missing a few hours from my memory of this morning. We’d received some brief training on what to do if we experienced time disorientation; the outcome of each scenario was bleak. The best we could really hope for was that they would send a shuttle to retrieve anyone severely afflicted but that would take years. I could hear the words of Greer’s own failsafe echo in my head “If any of yous go nuts, I’ll kill you. If I go nuts, I’ll kill myself.”

“No you won’t,” I’d jostled him “If you go nuts you’ll just kill us anyways.

I scraped my hair back in to a taut ponytail and stared fixatedly at the ceiling. I could hear the faint sound of footsteps along the corridor. I swiftly pulled myself up to sit my back against the wall and groped my knees under my chin. I gazed at the vacant threshold. I’d stupidly left my door open and if Alexi thought this was some kind of invitation… I balled my fists. I was in no mood for an argument. The steps got closer and the unmistakable flicker of Alexi’s silhouette passed my doorway. He did not stop, merely looked over his shoulder with a smile as he passed. There was something in that smile that made my stomach turn but the look was too fleeting, I couldn’t measure what I thought I’d saw. A few more haunting footsteps echoed and then silence.

I waited, breathing deeply in the quiet emptiness of my room. I had spooked myself. Alexi  may be an eerily seductive man but he was rational and driven by his research. All that I thought was merely in my mind. I shook my head, preparing to rise and put all my foolishness and irrationality to rest. Granted the strange personal message I had received a few days before had been playing on my mind. I couldn’t fathom why he would contact me at all; especially since I had crossed the galaxy itself to avoid him. Yes, I was sure that these thoughts were nothing more than the culmination of a lack of a few good nights’ sleep.  Just then I heard the echo of footsteps descend the corridor once more. It was Alexi. Walking the hall in the same manner, following the same direction that he had before. My toes gnarled as I was met with the same devilish smirk and then once more he was gone. My breath quickened and I pulled the band around my hair tighter. I resolved to slam my door and bolt myself in my room. I would contact Terry on my comms make up some bullshit about needing to discuss today’s data, tell him I felt ill, I don’t know, anything so that I wasn’t left alone with Alexi lurking outside my bedroom. But before I could leap to my feet I heard the footsteps once more. Alexi emerged, descending the hallway, the same terrifying grimace meet my eyes and I felt my entire body lurch. I hesitated only til I could hear the footsteps no more and shot from my room back to the sanctity of the dining quarters in the hopes that our only communal area would be occupied. My own steps taunted me like mimes as I weaved through the halls. But when I reached dining area I halted abruptly pinning myself against the wall. Through the door I spied Terry, a book in one hand, sitting in Greer’s lap. Greer ruffled his fingers delicately through Terry’s hair.

“Alexi’s on the bridge and Ruth’s asleep.” Greer whispered, stroking Terry’s cheek.

“I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” Terry replied looking puzzled. Greer only responded with a smirk. “No I’m serious,” said Terry “I feel like this exact moment has happened before. Like I’ve read the exact pages of this book, like I’ve felt this exact way.”

“Déjà vu.” Greer smiled, taking the book from his hands and laying it on the table. Terry caught him in a kiss and they fell from the chair into each other’s arms.

I could not interrupt now. I ran back to my room, dizzy with the image of the brutish Greer from this morning who had seemingly threatened Terry. All part of their little charade I supposed. I should have known, how many times had I heard them. I was alone in the vastness of space with three total strangers. I didn’t know these men at all. I’d been a fool to think I was safe with these people, I had no idea who they really were, what they were capable of…

As I reached my room I tripped over the threshold spilling on to the floor. A few panicked breaths and I rolled on to my back my legs spread supporting myself. I blinked in a flash of white. When I opened my eyes I let out an unearthly scream. My trousers had been rolled to my knees and there was blood pouring from me. Alexi kneeled above me gripping my wrists, he was shouting in my face. His shirt at his abdomen was daubed with blood. I felt a sharp pain pulsing from between my legs. I thrashed my arms against him, screaming with ever increasing hysteria, praying that this wasn’t happening. I closed my eyes hard, another painful flash of light and when I looked again all was calm. I was alone, my trousers buttoned, no blood, lying flat on my back in my room. No, no, but I had felt it. It was real. How had he done it. I must have been drugged. The pain was real. I swear I still felt it. No, that monster. I could feel the dull throbbing from within me. My fingers wildly scraped around the floor and I pulled myself unsteadily to my feet. That burning sensation was their clawing at my insides, mocking me, telling me he had possessed my body.

“NO!” I screeched “NO!” I yanked my desk draw open, I could feel the burning spreading like a cancer, and like a cancer I had to cut it out. I clutched my pen knife. With trembling hands I unbuttoned my trousers and rolled them to my knees. I ordered myself in to a squatting position but realising I’d likely be unable to stand throughout I lay myself upon my back. Spreading my legs and with one ragged breath I thrust the cold blade within myself. Hot tears pierced my eyes as the pain welled within me but I remained resolute I clawed the blade around myself determined to carve every trace of Alexi out. A figure rounded the corner. The shadow of Alexi fell over me like the hooded figure of death.

“Ruth!” He knelt towards me and in my panic I dropped my blade. I slapped a firm hand upon him attempting to push him back but I only succeeded in leaving a bloodied hand print on the bottom of his shirt. He retrieved the blade, throwing it from my reach and grasped both my wrists.

“HELP!” He bellowed, his face only inches from mine. “TERRY! GREER! HELP!”

My whole body convulsed, I was screeching so loud my own ears were ringing. I writhed my hands against the force of Alexi but he held me fast. It wasn’t long before Terry and Greer appeared in my doorway. My arms started to shake of their own accord now but I could only manage to hold them limply. I was vaguely aware of the most intimate part of myself bloodied and exposed to these strangers but all I could do was groan helplessly. My skin was going cold.

“Terry get the first aid kit, get…get something to stop the blood,” Alexi gushed, still holding my wrists. “Greer open up a comms. Call off-base. Call earth. Just get help goddammit!”

My neck began to feel loose and my head lolled from side to side. It tipped backward. I felt so light-headed. I giggled slightly. From this angle I could see the inverted image of my clock. It was 17:48:09.

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