The room was bright again when I was next aware. It was hard to say if I had slept, or simply closed my eyes, or entered some kind of meditative exhaustion trance. Either way, one moment it was dark and my body was shutting down, the next it was bright and I was blinking myself back to awareness.
Cap was scuttling about the room faster than I had ever seen him move. First he was at Sys’s side, administering some test or medicine or something, then he was at Mearr’s bedside, examining her or the baby. It was hard to tell from my sitting position in a corner of the room. After that, he hustled over to one of his instrument tables, then over to a computer console, then another, then back to the instrument tables, and then once more to Sys and Mearr’s sides. It was a continual flurry of activity. It was difficult for me to believe that one man — er, creature, thing, whatever — was responsible for all the activity.
I rose up to try and help, but I immediately collapsed again, landing on my ass.
Cap glanced up and noticed me awake. “You’re weak, but recovering. You need sustenance.” He practically cut himself off as he turned his full attention back to Sys, then Mearr, and then scurried back to his instrument tables.
As he went, he turned around to address me again. “Hurry down to the galley and have Chief fix you a high-protein broth. You can’t handle solids or anything too complicated to break down quite yet. Tell him I also need something for Sys, Mearr, and the baby. If you’re strong enough after drinking the broth, bring it up yourself. Chief’ll need Tic-Toc’s help to prepare all the meals we’ll need.”
I opened my mouth to protest that there was no way I’d be able to make it down all the way to the galley, but Cap silenced me fast enough.
“Hurry. They need your help right now.”
That was enough to motivate me, sure enough. Though how Cap knew that, or why it even was, I couldn’t figure out. Maybe I was still a bit groggy.
Hoisting myself up off the ground, I steadied myself against the wall and stumbled toward the corridor. I made steady but slow progress through the ship. There were only a couple times I thought I was going to collapse and fall unconscious again. But as I grew closer and closer to the galley, I realized that Cap was right. I was hungry. I needed some kind of food more than I needed more sleep.
When I reached the dining booths, I tried to call out for Tic-Toc, but my voice was even more hoarse than it was when I had been dehydrated. No, maybe not horse, maybe it was simply a weakness of hunger. I mumbled the words as I tried to say them and I could barely get my voice above a low murmur.
All the same, the ever-attentive Tic-Toc noticed me stumbling into a booth and scurried over to get my order.
“Hatchling,” he said. “The glorious master of-”
“Protein broth,” I said, as loud and clear as I could to cut him off in the middle of his honorifics for Chief. “Please.”
“Of course,” said Tic-Toc. Nothing ever seemed to offend that bot.
Moments later, I slouched over a bowl of broth, slurping it up with a wide-mouthed spoon, and feeling better with each drop. Soon enough, I could feel my muscles trembling again — a vast improvement over the dead weight they’d felt like on the way down — and my stomach began to properly growl, demanding something solid to fill the empty space within.
I realized how far gone I’d actually been, and how much further I still had to go before reaching one-hundred percent again.
Once I was finished, I thought maybe I’d try delivering the broth to Cap, Sys, and Mearr — and the baby, I realized later; it was difficult for me to remember her while she didn’t have a name.
It only took a few minutes for Chief to fix up the soups and package them in something that could be carried through the corridors without spilling. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized how heavy soup could be in bulk, and my body was only just beginning to feel solid enough to move reliably again. In the end, I decided to carry them one at a time. It would take longer, sure, but there was a higher chance of actually getting the job done this way.
When I arrived at Cap’s clinic, he hurried to take the soup away from me. He was disappointed that it had taken so long, and that I had only brought one bowl, but I think he understood how weak I still was. He was just frustrated with the amount of sick people on his ship.
I hurried back down to the galley, picked up the next bowl, and rushed it up to the clinic as I had before. Faster this time, of course. My body was beginning to respond to the stimuli of exertion and seemed to be recovering some of its old strength as I begged it to keep going.
When I delivered the third package, I hung around, hoping to get a glimpse of what was wrong and see how the girls were doing. I leaned against the wall, nearly exhausted from my task, but now that my blood was pumping and my adrenaline rushing, there was no way I would fall back asleep again.
I was also hungry, I realized. Too hungry to put up with broth. I wondered if Maybe I could manage some solids.
Seeing as Cap was busy with Sys and Mearr, too busy to really pay me any attention at least, I decided to return to the galley. It had been a long time, it seemed, since I had seen anyone else of the crew — or anywhere else on the ship — so while I was still a bit strong, I could spend some time down in the galley. Maybe Chief and Tic-Toc could make me some kind of protein mush instead of that broth. Anything to fill the hole in my gut.
When I arrived in the galley, I could tell something was different. There were no sounds coming from the kitchen except for running water. While running water wasn’t strange, usually there were sounds of movement — Chief fetching this from the cupboard or that from the cooler or cutting up vegetables or pounding out meat. At the very least, I should have heard the whir of Tic-Toc’s engines.
But there was nothing. Nothing but the steady stream of running water.
I realize now that I must have been too numb from exhaustion to truly be unnerved by this fact. Instead, I was left with curiosity. Otherwise, I might have turned back and gone up to the medical bay.
Instead, though, I walked casually past the dining booths and around the corner into the galley. Where I found, behind the counter, the eviscerated body of Chief lying in a pool of blood.