Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. In my dreams though, I can hear the screams of the Extras as they are rocketed out of the birthing room and sent hurtling back towards Earth. As their blood-crusted faces scrunch up, their tiny fists raise in anger, shaking with disbelief that there is no mother to hold onto, no warm breast to suckle from. They have a journey of just under a quarter of a million miles until they make contact with the surface of the Abondoned Planet. I wake up before I can see the smoke clear from their collision, wondering like the rest of us what becomes of them.
This morning I force my eyes open right after the explosion in the dream, not wanting to strain my eyes any further, not wanting to keep looking for something I know I won't be able to see. I never see what becomes of them, no matter how hard I fight to stay in sleep, ignoring the robotic alarm sound and the bright overhead lights that come on automatically at 8:00am. I have this dream every night, but the faces of the Extras are always new, always changing. My brain doesn't want me to forget how many we've sent out, how many we've condemed under a guise of necessity.
I finally forget the little Extra boy's face as the cold shower water hits my face. My two-minute timer starts as soon as I turn the water on, so there is no time to wait for it to warm up. I don't think anyone besides the First Helm has seen hot water showers in several hundred years. My shower over, I pull on my blue jumpsuit, my favorite between the two color choices we have. The green one is a hand-me-down from my sister Ora, who graduated to orange and red clothes last year when she finished her schooling. She has exceptional sweating capabilities, and the green jumpsuit holds tightly onto the stains and the smells of her body's 'special' gift.
It is 8:10am, and I am ready to leave my bunkroom for the day. I make sure to make the cot and prep my nighttime clothes on top of it so I can slip back into bed as soon as possible after my 12-hour shift. Satisfied my hair is properly captured inside my hat, I step into the common room, which is already filled with other people and children in their green and blue jumpsuits. Marta is here, and she brings me a cup of 'coffee' - what we call the brown water made from a mix of dried mushrooms. None of us has ever had a cup of real coffee - only the First Helm is allowed delicacies such as that.
I throw the first cup down the gullet and go back for a second, also grabbing two of my preferred flavor of the nutrition bars. Like in everything else on the ship, we have two choices - sweet or savory - I like the sweet. One in my mouth and one in my pocket, Marta and I link arms as we walk silently down the hallway towards the workroom. The mornings are my favorite - noone is allowed to talk in the common rooms before 8:30, it is only once we cross the threshold of the door to the workroom that we are able to converse. We stroll towards the screen that spits out our job for the day each morning.
"Which ward are you on today?" she asks nervously.
"Six and Seventh Helms....yet again" I read out loud, and a pit forms in my stomach.
"I'm sorry," she says, a few tears welling in her eyes. I see that Marta was fortunate to get the ward for the Fourth and Fifth Helms, keeping her streak going. Since her father had been brought up to the Fourth Helm, she'd ceased being my partner in the lowest of the wards.
I try to smile back at her, "It's ok, I've done it before, and I'll do it again. I've accepted it by now." I shrug and look away, peering up to keep the tears from welling in my eyes. This would be my eighth month straight working in the lower birthing ward. As far as I could find, the most anyone had ever served there in one stretch had been six months. And now here I was, eight months of blood on my hands. But of course someone in my family blood line would be punished like this. My great grandfather's indescretions had doomed us all to hard labor, to the lowest of jobs that were available to work on the ship.
I take my time walking to the ward, thinking about my grandfather as I go. What an insufferable man, making trouble, causing an uprising, throwing off the balance of the ship and its inhabitants into chaos for months. More than 40 years had passed since the mutiny. With my parents dead, that leaft only myself and my brother to punish, but as a man he was given other opportunities. I was always destined to spend my working years in the Birthing Helm, and the only job I was worthy of was disposal of the Extras.
Our ship holds 500,037 people. The capacity of the ship, what it was built for, was 500,000. Even just 37 extra people puts incredible strain on our processes, resrouces, and lack of space. It was only 50 years ago that the First Helm decided there would be a thinning of the lower helms to keep the rest of us safe, well nourished, and keep resources available and plentiful. The thinning would not be from members already on the ship, established in the community. The thinning would come from the youngest members of the ship, the most helpless, the least able to work - the newborn babies. My grandfather had one son already born and one on the way when the rules were changed. They had assumed it would take some time for the orders to go into effect, that their second son would be allowed to live on the ship just as all the other babies had to that point.
He was wrong. The orders went into effect immidiately, and the First Helm began sending the babies - deemed the Extras - only children born to the lowest helms, the Sixth and Seventh, back to Earth. With no contact, no knowledge if life was still even possible on Earth, they sent those innocent babies to their deaths. The lineages of the upper Helms were deemed more pure, better bloodlines to carry on, so those in the lower helms were forced to watch their newborn babies ripped from their arms, put into a shuttle and blasted into space. When his second son was deemed an Extra, my Grandfather roused the lower helms, creating an uprising and mutiny that had never been seen in the 1,000 years onboard the ship.
The First Helm was swift in their punishment. Almost all mutineers were 'blacked out' - launched into space with no protection. Death was unfortuantley not immediate this way. There are two agonizing minutes as your blood boils, your eyes pop out of your head, and your skin freezes before you die. My grandfaterh and grandmother were both blacked out, but my father was allowed to live - he was still a two-year old baby after all, but once he reached working age, he was sent to the same place I am now spending all of my days - the lowest birthing ward, where all the Extras are born, and shipped out.
I learned the craft of preparing the Extras from him. The few good memories I have with my father are standing over a tiny face and hands, swaddled and crying out for comfort. We do what little we can do for the poor souls that find their way into this room. Not all babies born here are deemed Extras - some families trade an older member of their family for a space for the baby. Elders will voluntarily get blacked out so that their grandchildren may take their spots. Many are not so fortunate. Most of the Lower Ward babies find their way to us, now to me. I am the last face they see before they are forced out of this safe haven. The last light they see before eternal blackness. A small part of me hopes that they do make it to Earth, and they are greeted there by a new kind of human, who cares for them and raises them to be Earthlings. But I know as well as anyone, Earth is a death sentence, there are no warm arms waiting for the Extras besides the warm arms of Death herself.