Changed

Day One

"Where's Sarah?"

"Sick?"

"She didn't call in."

"Late?"

"Not like her."

"Yeah… give it five minutes and I'll call her."

Louis left and John waited. The minutes passed quickly and he called Sarah's gauntlet. She didn't answer. He called her room, she didn't answer. Privacy wasn't one of the things John held sacred and he brought up the security camera in Sarah's room. The lights were off, he couldn't make out a thing.

He sighed as he turned on the intercom.

"Attention crew. Attention crew. Sec. Officer Sarah Ryan, please report to your station. Security Officer. Sarah Ryan. Please report to your station."

Louis came back over.

"She didn't answer?"

"No."

"You checked her room?"

"Light's off."

"She never oversleeps."

"There's a first time for everything. Let's go check on her."

"We can't leave, what if there's an emergency?" It was a joke and they both laughed. Nothing ever happened on the ship.

The two officers took the elevator into the apartments. Louis knew the way.

They arrived at her door and rang the bell. Louis thought he heard a man's voice, and pulled John back.

"You hear that?" he whispered. "She's got a guy over."

"I didn't hear anything," said John. He stepped back to her door, but Louis grabbed him again.

"I heard a man's voice. Let's just go. Mark her sick manually."

John shrugged. He didn't care. Sarah was Louis's friend, not his. The two men went back to the security office.

By the end of the shift, Sarah had not responded to any of Louis's messages. Louis was more reluctant than John, but he pulled up the cam in Sarah's room. The lights were still off, but he saw something glowing brightly in the corner of the room. He stared hard at the screen trying to make it out, but he suddenly caught a glimpse of movement quickly passing in front of the dim light, moving toward the door to the hall. It didn't seem like the natural stride of an adult and when he went home he had trouble sleeping after he remembered the door had not being opened.

Day Two

When Louis walked in to the office, John was at his large desk at the front, looking mildly irritated. Sarah wasn't there.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Nothing happened. She's not here. I'm going to go check on her now."

"I'll come too."

John shook his head. "No, stay here. I know nothing ever happens but there's still reports to get done. Get started on her missed work. I'm going myself."

John left and Louis sat down at his own desk. He checked Sarah's room. The lights were still off, and there was still that glowing something in the corner, but nothing else. Had she left in the middle of the night?

Half an hour later, John rang the bell at Sarah's apartment. There was no answer. He knocked, there was no answer.

"Sarah," he called. "Sarah, are you okay in there?"

"Okay," John said to himself, flipping the electronic key off his belt. "Sarah, I'm coming in!"

He waved the key on the side of her door and it slid open.

"Christ!" John fell back in surprise. Sarah had been kneeling right there at the door.

"Sarah? Sarah, what's the matter with you?" he asked her.

Sarah didn't respond. She just stared up at him, still kneeling in the darkness. John could hardly make out her form against it. There was a dim light glowing in the room behind her.

"Come on out of there, okay?" John reached out a hand to her. She didn't react, but something was stopping John from reaching out any further to touch her. He suddenly felt very nervous and he glanced to his left and his right. There was no-one else in the hallway. Someone might have been closer but his mind went to Louis. He called him on his gauntlet as he stood against the wall facing Sarah and the doorway.

"Louis?"

"What's going on?" answered Louis.

"Louis, get over here please. Something's wrong with her."

"What is it? Is she hurt?"

"I don't think so. Louis, just get over here."

The wait was agonizing. John continued trying to talk to her, but Sarah said nothing. Sometimes she grimaced or shook her head, but she never spoke a word. He felt utterly alone and after 10 minutes of this, John called Louis back and kept him on the call until he arrived.

"Is she okay?" Louis jogged over to them.

Sarah glanced at Louis, made an awful face, and suddenly fell backwards into the room. She began shivering.

Louis rushed inside and knelt down beside her, cushioning her head off the floor. John flipped the lights on.

"I thought you said she wasn't hurt! Look at her!"

John looked at Sarah and saw something he hadn't earlier. Her arms and legs were covered in scratch marks, many still bleeding. At her side a pocket knife lied open, but it was clean. Louis didn't notice as John picked it up.

"Sarah, what happened to you?" Louis asked.

She looked away from him and looked up at John. And John saw nothing in her eyes at all.

Day Three

"There's no psychiatrists on board. There shouldn't have to be. No-one joins without passing evaluations."

"So why did she do that to herself?"

"Did she?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I know I heard a voice in her room that day."

"Don't give me that, Louis. Her own blood was under her own fingers."

"So answer your own question. Why'd she do it to herself? Why was she sitting in a dark room for an entire day?"

John sighed and sipped his coffee. "Louis, what do you want from me? She's not speaking. Once she's out of the hospital, they'll put her to sleep for the rest of the trip."

"Then we have to get the answers ourselves."

"Louis, I know nothing ever happens, but we've still got work to do. If we don't turn our weekly reports in, the Captain will ice us right alongside her."

"I'll do the reports myself."

"Oh you will?"

"Go back to her room, and try to find something. Please."

John said he'd think about it, but insisted they got back to work in the meantime. He had a curious personality, and really wanted to know what had happened, even if he didn't especially care about her. He had already decided to investigate before even saying he'd think about it. But something about the situation made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He couldn't forget the image of Sarah kneeling there before him, concealed in the darkness. He couldn't forget her wide, black eyes staring up at him.

A few hours later, John left for Sarah's apartment while Louis continued working.

John stood in front of the door for a moment, remembering the previous day. In his pants pocket was the knife Sarah had been holding behind her back as she knelt before him in the dark room. John unlocked the door, and thankfully the lights were still on.

Everything seemed normal enough, except for the laptop at Sarah's desk. It was on, and must have been the glow in the darkness that John had seen in the darkness the previous day.

After failing three login attempts, a call came through on John's gauntlet.

"Another breach of privacy, John?" asked Vi.

Vi was the head of the ship's cybersecurity and the only one who had access to everyone's computers. She cared about privacy even less than John and was only teasing him. He replied to her.

"Vi I'm ordering you to give me her network history."

"Yessir! One moment..." Vi didn't mind being ordered around. She enjoyed being given things to do when there was normally so very little work for her.

Before John could say "take your time," he had received the report on his gauntlet.

"I'll never understand how you work so quickly," he muttered as he pulled up the report. "What's this? A support forum for anxiety and depression?"

"Looks like it," said Vi.

John looked through her post history. It was all very recent. The earliest post was just a week ago.

"It doesn't make sense. She was never prone to depression, they wouldn't have let her onboard if she was. What changed?"

"You're asking me?" said Vi.

"No," said John. "I don't know… are you reading this? This is dark shit…"

"I see it John… Maybe Louis will know something."

"Louis? I don't think so. They're just friends."

"He's her brother-in-law!" Vi said.

"What? Why didn't I know that."

"Probably because she didn't take the family's name."

"He never told me though."

"Well I'm telling you now. Sarah is married to Louis's brother Peter."

"Okay Vi, thanks. I'll talk to him tomorrow. In the meantime, look at her last post on that site."

"I already did."

"Who's this person she's exchanging contact information with? 'shmedai?'"

"What am I, a psychic?"

"No, but they might be. Look at their profile."

"Created the same day Sarah created hers," Vi noted.

"No comments to anyone else in any other thread," John added.

"Account was registered with "Prevaricator70@unbound.egd". I can't find that email linked with any other websites."

"Guy must enjoy his privacy. Can you open up Sarah's email?"

"We're not pushing it now?"

"Correspondence through a Company email address? Not private property."

But Vi had already been looking through it. "Well, you won't like this."

"What is it?"

"The only messages between them is shmedai asking for her private email address and her giving it to him. That's it."

"Fantastic. We can't find out what they were saying then."

Vi started. "Well…"

"No, Vi. If we're found out, it'll be both our necks. We'll… think of something else. I'll talk to you later."

"Bye John."

John looked down at his feet and saw traces of dried blood pepper in the carpet.

"I've got to get out of here already," he muttered to himself. He hardly been there fifteen minutes, but it felt like hours and hours. Reading Sarah's strange, despairing words—it exhausted him.

John closed the laptop and left the apartment. He stopped at the cafeteria on his way back, but he still had half his shift left by the time he'd eaten. But he didn't return to the office. He sent a message to Louis, telling him what they'd found, and went home. Louis replied minutes later, but he was too tired to read it. It was too early to be tired, but he collapsed into his bed and slept through the night.