It was evening. There was no day and night cycle in space but we kept our sleep schedules intact as best we could. We had finished dinner and were playing cards in the community room. To be honest, I was looking forward to going back to Earth, go to my favorite italian or get that new console that was released a few months ago.
Getting to a space station was an elaborate process, so they don’t shoot you up there just for a weekend. Gotta make it count. It’s a mission only few people ever get to take but even with space travel the novelty wears off after a while. Even being in an environment completely unlivable for all but a fraction of a percent of all known living creatures, one that comes with the alien sensation of zero gravity, eventually becomes dull everyday life in a cramped space with the same eleven people.
Of course we were all friends but there was a difference between having friends and being among people. It’s hard to ever shake the feeling of knowing there was no one out there. These eleven people were all you had. That’s not something you get on Earth. You never had this level of difficulty just running into other people there.
I was unsure if it’s because if something were to happen here, you couldn’t call for help, at least none that would arrive in a reasonable time, or if it was just a facet of loneliness.
“You wanna play, Mahi?” Kim must’ve noticed me staring forlorn onto the increasing pile of cards, though I’ve stopped actually seeing them long ago.
“Huh? No, I’m just watching.”
It was Kim’s idea to play cards by pinning them down with a magnet. She was one of the people who had been up here before.
Being aware of my surroundings again, I looked around. Aster was reading a book on the couch, under a blanket. The guy had actually put stones in it, thinking it’d weigh it down. His first time up here too. NASA was rather relaxed with the stuff we bring up here nowadays. Chris’ dart board was the only thing they raised a fuss about but allowed it in the end. In 2021 someone smuggled something onto the station that led to some important discovery so now they greenlight all sort of crap in hopes of replicating that. Of course I used that to bring mostly sentimental items. I really feared I’d start feeling like shit up here. There’d be no easy way to back out once I’m here, so I wanted to maximize the chances to pull me through. Safe to say, no groundbreaking discoveries yet. Just some experiments. Mostly, we were just up here so someone could keep maintenance on the station. For any serious research, they’d send up some more experienced people.
“Have you seen Amy?” Henry asked me.
I was too spaced out to notice where she went.
“Went to sleep!” Kim answered for me.
“Back on Earth she never slept before midnight.” he grumbled before floating off. I didn’t realize they had been friends back on Earth. They didn’t seem to have much in common. Well, they ended up in the same workplace, I reminded myself.
The communication system beeped and crackled. “Hey, I’m done out here, someone open the airlock.”
I looked at Chris, who was the guy usually handling the airlock. He got kind of anxious when other people fiddled with the technology without his surveillance. It’s something we had to humor. He just stood there though. I wondered what the problem was. He then floated over to the comm device and asked: “Who’s out there?”
“It’s me, Henry. Remember, you told me to fix the wiring out here because the connection got a bit faulty?”
Chris looked at Henry, whose eyes alternated between him and the device.
“Dude?” the electronic voice said.
“The connection was fine.”
We all knew if there was a problem out there, Chris would’ve fixed it himself. We all just stood paralyzed where we were. I noticed Henry gesturing to me, Chris too, then I gathered I should check who was out there. I didn’t really get it yet. I just reasoned it was someone else of the team out there. Why they claimed to be Henry I didn’t question.
The control center was close to the recreational room everyone but Amy was in. I opened the program connected to the camera system. It claimed connectivity issues on each one.
I started to feel something sinister was going on. The fact I couldn’t run in zero gravity started to upset me. I returned to the rec room and just shook my head. I was too anxious to communicate audibly.
“Hey, can you stop fucking around and let me in?”
“Are you sure you fixed the wiring? It’s not working yet.”
“You just said it was fine!”
“Yeah, sorry, we just double-checked.”
“The wiring’s perfect, maybe the problem is elsewhere. Inside?”
I could see Chris struggle to stall any longer. I didn’t know what we were even stalling for. Finally, Henry pushed him aside.
“Hey, Henry here, could you stop messing with us?”
“Huh? What do you mean? I’m right here, quit the bullshit already, I’m starting to freak out here!”
Kim came into the room, carrying Amy. All eleven people were present inside the community room.
Henry pushed Chris. “You aren’t pulling a goof on us here, right? You know how panic’s can get out of hand right?”
“Do I look twelve, how the fuck would I do this anyway?”
“Are you saying there’s a ghost at the door?” Henry retorted.
“M-maybe.” Kim started. “Maybe the comm is malfunctioning and playing old messages?”
“It doesn’t record anything we say into it and even if, I’d hardly be able to have a conversation with it. I swear, this is why I’m not letting you near technology.”
The comm device started to crackle louder. “Guys, I swear I’ll strangle you all, be grateful if NASA will keep employing you as janitors after this shit, are you kidding me?”
“Well, either you cut the shit or we’re just gonna ignore you. What are you gonna do?”
“You childish piece of shit!”
Chris went to get a snack from the minibar. “Alright, if anyone of you is waiting for me to become impressed by this, I’m not gonna be.” he said between bites. I could tell his ease was played. But he was right. There was no reason for us to open the airlock, everyone was here.
“Can we please all stay here?” Kim asked. “I’d like to be able to see everyone.”
I think we all would rather remain among the biggest crowd we could manage.
The fake Henry kept yelling for about half an hour. The distortion got so bad it was completely incomprehensible. Then he stopped but no one owned up to the joke yet.
“So, what was wrong with the cameras?” Chris finally asked.
“This isn’t a prank, is it?” Kim said.
“Whoever’s doing it just figured out it’s gonna get him fired now and hopes it’ll resolve itself.” Chris reasoned. He didn’t buy it himself.
“Do we have windows from where you can see the airlock?” Aster asked.
“No, no one walks off!” Kim yelled loud enough to wake Amy.
“Huh, what? Why am I here?” she asked.
No one knew how to explain the situation.
“Hey, remember the wiring?” the comm crackled back to life. “How about now?”
No one answered.
“Nothing yet? What about now?”
The lights flickered and Kim shrieked, digging her face into Amy’s chest.
“What the hell? Was that Henry’s voice?” Amy asked avoidant faces.
Then the lights went out completely. We huddled tighter together so we could feel the others. Someone started crying. I couldn’t tell who.
“Did that fix it?” the voice taunted. “Let me in, I swear to Christ! I don’t care if they fire me for this, I’m not working with you chucklefucks again anyway!”
The small green light of the comm device stuck out in the dark.
“Stop! Okay, we’ll let you in!” Chris approached the device.
“Could you turn the lights back on though?”
“Get a flashlight. Do it yourself tomorrow.”
I saw Chris’ face illuminated by the tiny light, looking back at us.
“You see, the thing is, Henry is already here, so could you explain that?”
“I… what? You didn’t just play some old audio?”
“Henry, come here, say something.”
Henry joined Chris.
“Hello, Henry here.”
“I mean, that soundbite isn’t too tough to get...”
“What’s the name of my wife?”
The device was silent. Everyone knew that the phrase ‘my wife’ was rarely uttered by Henry.
“I don’t have a wife!”
“What about the ring on your right hand?”
“That’s from my husband.”
“When did you marry?”
“We didn’t yet!”
“We didn’t want to rush it and take our time once I’m back.”
“All of that is correct.” Amy confirmed.
“Done with your trivia quiz?”
“Could you move to a window?”
“I swear to- People, did you all lose your goddamn minds?”
“We need to know who you are!”
“Hey, I know I flipped out, but just let me in and let’s discuss this. I’m not going to kill you, you know me.”
“Just do it!” Chris demanded.
“Okay, okay.” The other Henry sounded like he was about to cry.
Chris and Henry moved to a window. It was harder to see them. Just their heads obscuring the occasional star. I felt someone tug my arm. I didn’t pay attention who was to my left when the lights went out.
“Don’t panic but that isn’t me.” Chris whispered to me.
I felt the handle of a knife in my hand. “Can you do this?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. All I knew was that we only had disposable plastic knives. Not one like this. But maybe someone brought one? No, i’d have heard, like the dart board. I wasn’t confident enough to make the call.
“A-are you sure we should attack it?” I tried to play along.
“Who are you whispering to, Mahi?” Kim asked.
I knew she would flip if I said Chris. What else could I say?
The lights came back on. I found no one to my right. My hands were empty.
“Hey, did this fix the lights?” the comm asked.
No one answered for a while.
“Hey, did my evil twin kill you all?”
“Uh, no, sorry, the lights work, thanks.”
“Well, I’m close to the community room, hang on.”
Not long after, Henry floated into view outside. He really was an exact copy of the Henry inside, down to the clothes. He put his hand on the window and I could see the ring on his finger.
“Will you let me in now?”
Chris silently shook his head.
The being outside took a moment to process, then his face contorted in rage.
“Fuck you! I hate you! Are you just gonna let me die out here? Open the door or I swear to Christ, I’ll smash a window!”
“Can we leave?” Amy asked, staring that the man floating barefoot in space. “Can we drive this fucking thing? I want to leave.”
“Hey, Henry.” Chris talked to the comm. “Did you forget your space suit?”
“I didn’t plan to be out here long, shithead. It’s freezing out here, okay?”
Did this thing think we only put on the suits because its cold?
The fake Henry didn’t realize its mistake. “Hey, so, you know that these are lethal temperatures to human beings out here, right?”
Chris and Henry sat back down with the group, while the fake began yelling obscenities again, slowly drifting out of view.
After an hour or so, his yelling grew fainter until it stopped completely. Kim stood up to check the windows. She could see the fake floating off into the distance.
“It gave up.”
“Okay. What the fuck was that? Please tell me we have some kind of footage of that.” Henry said loudly.
“According to Mahi, all the cameras are busted.” Chris said, keeping an eye on the shrinking figure.
After another hour of unease, we finally went to bed thinking it was over. Only when I laid in bed and the light was out, did I remember the thing that imitated Chris. But I was unsure what to do. So I remained frozen in bed with eyes open. Another hour into the night I saw something come into the room, walking on the floor, despite there being no gravity. It stopped.
“Are you awake, Mahi?” Amy’s voice asked.
“Yes.” I answered. No point in lying.
“That’s unfortunate. Could you try not to be?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Amy stood in silence.
“Will you kill us?”
“Would you mind getting out of bed?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not if you want to live.”
I undid the blanket holding me in place. Amy caught me, to keep me from floating away.
From this close, I could see Amy smile. “Heh, you really are stupid.”
Amy tore the skin off my shoulder. I pushed myself away from her. I saw the piece of my skin in her hand, big enough to cover a basketball. My back hit the bed behind me and I expected searing pain on my flayed back. None came.
“Don’t worry, I killed it.” Amy said.
“They can change shape. It attached itself to you. They can do so without you feeling a thing. But they’re so stupid. You saw the one in space. So dumb.”
“I’ll have some explaining to do tomorrow. Sorry, but I’ll have to wait for a call from my higher-ups on how to handle this situation. Someone fucked up big time by letting these two… what would a human call these? Shmebulons into your solar system. I promise, we’re nice aliens though.”
“So you aren’t Amy?”
“No, I’ve always been Amy. I just hid the fact I’m not fully human. Okay, that’s enough info from me. Try and have some sleep, Mahi.”
I could see in her eyes that she was speaking the truth.
“Will you be okay?” I asked.
“They aren’t gonna terminate me. We are nice aliens. But I’m afraid they might station me somewhere else. So far, I haven’t had my mission interfere with my personal life… You all genuinely are my friends.” she smiled still, but was trembling.
“Would they do that?”
“No… You should go sleep Mahi, really…”
I decided to finally be honest to her too. I pulled her closer and kissed her. I felt her tears on my face. She was no longer shaking when I let go.
“Sweet dreams... I have a phone call to make…”
Her tears remained floating in the room.