Features | Written by Kate Fathers 22/04/2021

AFTER PARTY [Part 3 of 4]

“Sorry!” Jin says as a curly-haired woman stomps away. A second later, a janitor rushes past him and he hunches protectively over his coffee. The security office is on Section Five, the top level of the space station, but the only working coffee machine is two floors below. Not that Jin minds; all of the security cameras went dark two hours into last night’s shift, and he’s been buried in wires and instruction manuals ever since. He only got them back online twenty minutes ago, and he now has an entire night of recorded footage to review.

The security office is a cold cavern tucked at the end of a hall, outfitted with a bare-bones break table and two narrow windows that cut into bright, black space. One wall is covered in monitors, and Jin delicately settles in front of them and pulls up yesterday at five PM. The day is wrapping up: scientists are half-heartedly staring at their computers, and engineers are frantically double-checking the station’s gravity and environmental controls. Medics are finishing physicals, and filling out forms, and patching up electrical burns. In the recreation room, a table cloth is diligently hidden under platters of hors d’oeuvres and an ice sculpture in the shape of the Federation president’s head.

Jin could leave this for the day shift, but he feels guilty enough. The cameras winked out while he was in the middle of his replicated meatloaf, and he left them that way for a whole half hour. When he first signed on, he naively thought that being in space station security would be like it was on Star Trek, but instead of a phaser and a red uniform, all he has is a black jumpsuit and a boss who keeps sticking him with the graveyard gig. His performance anxiety has long since gone the way of the VCR.

The monitors empty into the recreation room, and Jin speeds through the sight of himself making small talk and searching for a place to put his empty soda cup. He hides it behind a display of mini Federation flags and leaves, the vacancy filled by medics still in their scrubs and newbies who forgot to take off their lanyards. That curly-haired woman is there, checking her watch every thirty seconds, and Asha from the janitorial staff is drinking something tall and yellow. One of the TV screens goes dark and is swarmed by a group of janitors, and a man with purple hair nearly bowls over the DJ as he rushes out of room. The bar is re-stocked. The tables are cleared.

Then, a man is hurled from off-screen and into the snack table. A handful of scientists and engineers cluster around it, helping the man up and staring down at the mess. They scratch their chins. They mumble. Then, they sweep it all up in the table cloth and carry it out of frame.

“What the hell?” Jin croaks.

He checks the other cameras; a white mass wriggles across a screen in the bottom row, disappearing into a corner before squeezing itself into the screen beside it, and then vanishing into an elevator. His eyes flick from camera to camera, row to row, before he finally catches the table cloth being shoved out into Section Zero: storage, and engineering, and the airlocks. He watches as it’s dragged down the hall. Then, it’s gone.

Draining his cold coffee, Jin hears the gears in his chair rattle like a wind chime, and realises that he’s jogging one of his legs. His first instinct is to keep going, to leave the detective work for someone else, but for the first time in months, he’s curious. The withered part of his brain that used to care about his job trembles back to life, and his every muscle vibrates. His brain whirrs, electrified.

Jin’s comm. unit rings, but he ignores it, pausing the footage and making for the elevators. He slams his thumb against the button for Section Zero and taps his fingers anxiously against his thighs as he feels himself move down. He’s going to do this; he might have bungled last night, but he’s going to fix it.

The doors open on Section One.

“What?” he says, closing the doors and trying again. The elevator jerks. The doors open: Section One.

Huffing, he tries again, holding the button down for a slow count of three—Section One. He tries thirty seconds, then a minute, pressing the button so hard his nail turns white. He rides up to Section Two, quickly dancing in and out of the elevator like the change in weight will make a difference, but the result is the same: Section One. He tries from Section Three and Section Four. He rides all the way back up to Section Five and stomps into the hall, pacing and waiting until he’s sure he’ll call up one of the other three elevators. He does; it takes him to Section One.

Why?” he wails.

He wants to cry or kick something, panic and frustration competing for space in this throat until all that comes out is a strangled laugh. This can’t be how it ends. Section Zero is right there, just below him. He wonders if they have the tools to pull apart the floor.

Then, the elevator gets called up to Section Four, and that man with the purple hair steps in.

“Oh, sorry,” he says distractedly, rubbing his eyes. He pulls a small comm. unit halfway out of his pocket and checks it. “Which floor?”

Jin gasps hysterically. “Section Zero.”

The man hits two buttons and tucks the comm. unit away. “Did you have fun last night?”

“I left early.”

He sighs. “Figures.”

He exits on Section Three, and Jin’s stomach flips as the elevator tugs him downwards. He stares at the screen above the doors, daring it to display the right floor.

The doors open. It’s Section One.

“What is going on?” he snaps.

“Where are you going?” a janitor asks, pushing his way into the elevator with an armful of pillows.

“Section Zero,” Jin says.

“Didn’t you get the comm.? Engineering is doing maintenance; Section Zero is off limits for the next hour.”

The doors close.

“I quit,” Jin says.