July 29th 2022
Morris used to dare the crew to press the yellow button.
“The yellow button!” he would tell them. “Press it if you dare!”
He was a man beyond his age. Twenty-seven with gray hair and features caved with deep wrinkles. He spent most of his time on the ship in corners, where the shadows were at their darkest, chewing down every inch of his nails until he bled.
The crew often talked about him. The topic came quite naturally as a group of them hunched over radars, their morale low as the pulsating circle came up empty again and again; they hadn’t found a trace of life on any planets since they first boarded the ship many years ago.
Those who didn’t occupy the radars talked of him as they lay in their bunks, looking out a universe that is forever dark. Morris didn’t sleep with the rest of the crew. The ship’s captain and commander, Cook, had isolated him because Morris hardly slept. Morris spent most nights crying.
But the crew liked Morris. They felt he had been treated harshly by the captain, a man who threw around commands with iron in his tone and loved the heavy silence that fell at his presence.
One day Morris was also forbidden to eat with the crew. That afternoon Cook sat in the dining hall, his long nose pointing toward the large windows and the sea of stars that lay beyond. The hall was loud with post-meal chatter, as it always was when bellies were full.
“Captain,” Eddie said, standing up. Eddie was a mechanic. A low-ranked one, at that. The crew looked in his direction, their faces still frozen in conversation as silence stilled the dining hall.
Cook’s deep sigh echoed in the large chamber.
Eddie went on. “I want to know why we haven’t come across a single civilization yet. We’ve been on this ship for years, dammit! Years!”
Someone dropped their spoon. A few of the crewmembers jumped at the sound. Then Morris started laughing. His wild laughter pierced the air and the crew, who at this point were used to the vast silence of space, felt their skin turn cold at the high-pitched sound. The laughter even drained out the captain’s thundering roar, ordering Morris to leave the hall at once and never return.
This did not sit well the crew. “How could the captain do this?” they whispered among themselves. “Morris is one of us!”
Robert, an especially furious boy who had grown sick of the ship’s gray interior and missed the blue sky, approached Morris after the incident. “Morris,” Robert said. “Where is the yellow button?”
Morris told him. And he dared the boy to press it.
Robert hurried through the long hall. He managed to sneak past the captain’s chamber, where the captain lay snoring. He did as Morris had told him—he crawled across the floor of the cockpit to avoid the blazing eyes of guarding drones and ushered himself through a small entry in the wall. He traced the neon dial pad with a trembling finger and punched in the code.
A door opened behind him. There was no light in the square room; he had to sweep at the shadows with his dominant hand to find the yellow button. It didn’t take long for him to find it—the room was small. Once he had his palm pressed against flat surface of the button, Robert took a long, shaky breath to calm his heart. The hum of the ship’s engine was distinct in the room. It rattled the metal in the walls, drilled into his skull.
“Press it,” he heard Morris say in his mind. “Press it if you dare.” Robert clenched his teeth and dug down with his palm. And as the red glow of the monitor illuminated the room, the reason for its size became obvious—this room only had one purpose.
He looked at the large numbers on the screen. Never had he seen numbers of this magnitude. Christ, they went up to the trillions!
Piled on top of the numbers was a single, flashing word.
My God, Robert thought. So they weren’t alone after all. They were surrounded by an astonishing amount of lives! Robert examined the numbers again in his new state of awe. He couldn’t believe it. He just couldn’t believe—
He fell backwards in surprise and screamed as his hands touched the cold metal floor. The numbers didn’t total the amount of lives the ship had spotted. They totaled the amount of lives it had destroyed.
Author Bio: Daniel Lidman is an English graduate from the University of Gothenburg who currently works as a copywriter. He writes beneath the dark, freezing sky of Sweden. When he’s not writing, he’s usually in a bookstore, dusting off ancient literature.
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