Her Name Is Jo
By J. W. Allen
Ship’s log: Day 34
Vanya Ogana, Tech 3rd Class, recording.
The alien is such an asshole. It woke me early today. A constant banging around the brig from five decks below. Deck plates and consoles vibrating with each shriek. Trying to frighten us into letting it go. Thirty-one days since it killed everyone, except Jo and I. Thirty-one days since we managed to trap the damned thing, and it still won’t shut up.
I went about my new duties, heading down to engineering to purge the fuel manifolds of debris, then readjusting our course. Jo reported a two percent drop in speed during night watch. I confirmed this with the ship’s main computer. I’m jealous of Jo. She manages to do all the calculations in her head, but she’s just another third-class tech like me.
Ship’s Log: Day 36
How did the alien even manage to board the ship? The question keeps rattling about my brain along with my headache. Both Jo and I have checked and re-checked the hull plating and airlocks. We couldn’t find any sign of a breach or fracture. I don’t believe in coincidence, but if I had a suspicious mind, I would say the alien must have been aboard when we left. Unless our shipyard was completely overrun by the assholes (which it wasn’t), either this one managed to smuggle itself over, or it had help. The thought of a potential traitor back at the shipyard is frightening and hard to believe. My headache hasn’t gone away, but Jo says it’s probably just stress.
Ship’s Log: Day 39
Jo reported that the ship’s systems are operating at seventy-five percent efficiency. Once again, the computer calmly confirmed her analysis. I swear they’re both trying to make me look stupid. If computers could smile, they would look the way Jo does when she’s beaten me in a race down to engineering…again. My mom always said I should exercise more. Anyway, we’re monitoring the ship’s systems closely, and the computer is set to notify us immediately of any further power drops.
The alien asshole has been quiet today. I would kill it if I had the stomach. Jo thinks we should just blow it out of an airlock and be done. Pushing a button might be easier than pulling a trigger, but it just doesn’t feel right. Fortunately, we have to check on the children sleeping in the cargo bay, so that decision can wait for another day.
Ship’s Log: Day 42
The alien got out last night. Jo and I woke to alarms and red lights flashing at us from every panel across the bridge. We both panicked and quickly checked the cargo bay. The children were fine, but the alien wasn’t there. Devious asshole had managed to break into engineering and stall the ship. It’s sealed itself inside, and we’ve been drifting on inertia for nearly six hours. The probability of a star’s gravity pulling us off course increases exponentially the longer we coast. This is according to Jo (and verified by the ship’s computer). If we still had a captain and crew, engineering would have been stormed and the alien neutralized on the spot.
The alien is cunning, but we have to try and keep the ship on course and complete the mission. Everyone back home is counting on us, even if they don’t know it. Jo and the computer are calculating scenarios of how we can regain control of engineering and subdue the alien.
Ship’s Log: Day 43
Jo’s hurt. Following our plan to infiltrate engineering through a service crawl way, I accidentally tripped a proximity alarm. The alien reacted as all assholes do, with violence. Consoles were smashed and dents appeared in the walls around engineering. The asshole didn’t see us but it did rupture a coolant valve directly above one of Jo’s legs. The burn was severe and with no ship’s doctor, I had to play nursemaid. Jo keeps saying it wasn’t my fault. I agree. Damned computer should have warned us about any proximity alarms.
The ship continues to slow, and I have no idea how to stop it.
Ship’s Log: Day 45
The alien is taunting us almost constantly. The asshole managed to hack into the communications system and a never-ending stream of noise has broadcast throughout the ship for the past eight hours. Whilst I’d love to blame the computer for being shittier than I already think it is, I’m not surprised it can’t translate. Military scientists back home have been trying to decipher the alien’s language (if it is language) for years with no success. And yet…you know I could’ve sworn I understood a few words within the noise. Just, when I try to recall what they were, my head starts throbbing again. Part of me wishes the captain were still alive. She might have been a cold-hearted posh bitch, but at least it would be her having to deal with this mess instead of me.
Jo continues to rest in sickbay, though her injured leg has gone a sickly kind of green. The ship’s computer informs me that she needs warmth and sustenance to maintain her strength…that, and a steady supply of medicines that are no longer aboard. Thanks to the alien’s initial assault, sickbay—along with many other areas—was raided. Most of our medical supplies were destroyed.
Jo keeps saying she’ll be fine, but I can’t help feeling afraid. She showed me how to monitor and care for the children in the cargo bay. She’s also shown me how to operate much of this ship. Just in case she dies. I don’t like her, but I don’t want her to die. There will be no one left to talk to except the shit computer.
Ship’s Log: Day 48
We have slowed to sixty percent of our initial speed, and the alien has stopped barking noise over the comms system. Maybe it realized we couldn’t understand anything it was saying. Or maybe it lost its voice. I still have no idea on how to take back engineering, but I have bigger problems to deal with right now. Jo fell into what the computer cheerfully labeled “a coma” at 03:34.
By the time I’d arrived in sickbay, Jo was limp on one of the bio beds. Her damaged leg stretched out and was hanging over the side at a crooked angle. Skin from the thigh down had turned a pus-looking yellow. The stench was so powerful that I had to cover my mouth with both hands.
With the aid of the computer, I managed to insert a series of tubes into Jo’s body. The computer then began pumping in a combination of stimulants and whatever brightly colored drugs we had left. I had no clue as to whether or not any of this would help. Yet, the life indicators on her bed monitor began to rise, and a series of bleeps told me that Jo was still alive. Trust the computer to spoil everything as it calmly advised of an infection spreading into Jo’s bloodstream.
“What do I do?” I asked in a panic.
“Immediate amputation is recommended,” the electronically droll voice responded.
If we ever get home, I’m going to find the programmers that designed this computer and drop a heavy object on their collective heads.
Ship’s Log: Day 49
I am beginning to understand why surgeons become addicted to drugs. When I began cutting Jo’s leg off, I had to take some myself just to keep from passing out. I felt pretty buzzed by the time Jo’s leg dropped with a squelchy thud to the floor. The computer (in an uncharacteristic display of helpfulness) had projected a hologram over where I was meant to cut. Good thing, too. Left to me, poor Jo might well be missing more than one leg.
She’s in recovery, but I don’t know if she’ll be okay. Jo’s face has never been the most expressive. Nevertheless, the computer is monitoring her life signs closely and assures me that the infection is dissipating. I am relieved. Perhaps together we can find a way to regain control of engineering and get rid of the alien asshole once and for all.
Ship’s Log: Day 51
Jo regained consciousness this morning. The computer interrupted my breakfast to deliver the good news before launching into its latest hobby: a rendition of all the nutritional benefits to food we no longer have in our supplies. I dashed to sickbay to find Jo hobbling about, groggily bumping into walls and several beds. She must have still been high on medication, because she didn’t seem to recognize me. In fact, she tried to bite me! I locked her in and came back a few hours later. Jo was in better shape and apologized profusely before immediately asking me about the status of the alien. Had it left engineering? Had it tried to talk to me? She repeated that question several times. Had the computer come up with a solution that would allow us to regain control of the engines? We both laughed when she asked that.
Ship’s Log: Day 54
We have finally come up with a way to take back engineering and neutralize the alien at the same time. Though I hate to admit it, the ship’s computer provided the final piece of the puzzle. Like us, the alien relies on a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen to survive. The computer cheerfully suggested venting the air supply out of engineering very slowly. By the time the alien realized what was happening, it would have lost consciousness, allowing us to enter, secure it in the brig, and regain control of the ship.
Jo still wanted to blow it out of an airlock; she’s pissed about her leg. I managed to calm her down, and she grudgingly admitted that we might be able to gain tactical information about the alien and its species if it wasn’t dead. There is, however, one problem the computer failed to tell us about: the environmental controls can only be accessed from engineering.
I hate computers.
Ship’s Log: Day 55
I am not a military tactician. Nor am I a commando willing to risk life and limb on some stupid operation that has no impact on people back home. I am just a maintenance technician. A glorified scrap cleaner. Someone sent along to help tidy up after the crew, wipe their backsides, and make sure the consoles are kept free of dust and dirt. I have no idea how to treat the wounded, lead an assault against a deadly enemy, or run a spaceship. Yet here I am. Day fifty-five of one of the most important missions our race has ever known, and I have been a doctor, a soldier, and a captain.
Jo says I should stop grinning, but I can’t help it. I managed to find a way to access the environmental controls when I was throwing rubbish into the vacuum chute. All I had to do was switch the identification tags between main engineering and the adjacent waste chute, and cycle the system. Instead of the chute being air-locked, engineering was cut off as the rubbish system began to cycle the oxygen out of the compartment. Both Jo and I grinned—well I grinned, Jo doesn’t really smile—when we heard the unmistakable thump of the alien hitting the deck.
Ten-to-one, not even the ship’s engineer could have thought of tricking the environmental systems like that. Though I swear the computer is trying to claim some credit; its voice has taken on something of a superior swagger.
Ship’s Log: Day 56
The alien’s appearance surprised me. It is shorter than I recall, and it seems to look a bit like us. Two legs, two arms, and a head mounted atop a heavily muscled torso. Its face has a calm, almost peaceful expression on it. Hard to believe this is the same asshole who stowed aboard the ship before slaughtering our crew four days into the mission. Laid out on the floor of the brig, it doesn’t look like it could hurt anything, let alone chop its way through over thirty-eight highly trained personnel. Jo says she heard rumors about the aliens being able to emit some kind of chemical to make their prey believe they weren’t a threat, so we’d better be careful. It does smell quite bad though. Almost the same way I smell after I’ve gone a few days without showering.
There were a few moments where I thought Jo might kill it, but she helped me drag the thing into the brig before going straight back down to engineering. She tells me she should be able to get the engines back up and running within the hour…if I can help.
Ship’s Log: Day 58
The ship is back on course and close to ninety-five percent of our original speed. Jo thinks we can still reach our destination in time as long as we don’t encounter any further obstacles. I smiled when she informed me, but I admit there was little feeling behind my smile. Jo is trying to pretend everything is fine, but she must be worried. If the children wake before we reach our destination, there isn’t enough food aboard to keep them alive. I’m trying not to think about it.
Instead, I’ve been watching the asshole on my monitor. It woke up about an hour after we’d locked it in the brig. I thought it would rampage and try to tear the place apart like it did in engineering. Instead, it just stood there, blinking slowly, looking around its cell before sitting quietly on the bunk. After awhile, it put its head in its hands, covered its face, and began rocking gently back and forth on the edge of the bed. If I didn’t know better, I would have said it was crying.
Jo says it’s all a ploy designed to make me empathize with it.
“Empathy is the greatest human weakness,” she said.
I know she is right, but I still feel a little flutter in my stomach every time I look at the weeping alien.
Ship’s Log: Day 61
We are less than ten days from reaching our destination. The children are still asleep in the cargo bay and Jo thinks there is a seventy-eight percent chance we can keep them dormant just long enough.
I keep staring at the alien on the monitor. It’s stopped crying and has barely moved since it woke up two days ago. If it wasn’t for the fact I could see its eyes blink, it might as well have been a statue. All the fight seems to have gone out of it, and I’m wondering if the oxygen deprivation it suffered has affected it more than we thought. Jo has ignored it completely, though I have noticed the way she slows briefly whenever she hobbles past the brig. Last night, I watched her from around the corner, and for a moment, I thought she was smiling. Probably my imagination. Jo doesn’t smile.
I’ve been sitting on the bridge mostly, watching the stars drift by through the view ports. All except one. There is now a bright spot of light visible directly ahead of our ship. The whole reason we’re out here. That star is our destination, and in a few days, this should all be over and we can go home. The ship’s engines are at ninety-eight percent of maximum speed; a testament to my…well, mostly Jo’s engineering skill. I’m trying to imagine the planet we’re headed to. What does it look like? In my mind, I see acres of forest and plants, oceans and animals. A new home for the children in the cargo bay, and maybe a new start for our race. However, when I look at the lone alien unarmed and alone in our brig staring out hopelessly into nothing, I get a small ache behind my temples. Something at the back of my mind has started to scratch away, a feeling like there’s something in the corner of my eye just out of sight. Every time I try to look, the feeling or memory darts away and my headache comes back.
Jo says we need to run final checks on the cargo bay. I suppose it would be embarrassing if we reached our destination and had accidentally killed the next generation.
Ship’s Log: Day 62
I had a nightmare. The ship had reached its destination, but the children had all perished. Our cargo bay filled with forever-sleeping bodies. I was slumped crying over several of them, pleading for them to wake up, knowing that they wouldn’t. Jo stood behind me, rubbing my shoulder with her amputated leg, before encircling me with her body, trying to comfort me.
“We’ve failed,” she said.
Her arms and remaining leg began digging into me as I cried, Jo’s body drawing me closer and closer until I could barely breathe. I was dying. I didn’t want to die. I tried to push back against Jo’s body, but my hands disappeared beneath spiky, hairy skin.
I woke up screaming just before Jo absorbed me completely. I was still on the bridge, and the ship’s chronometer told me it was 16:06 hours. The star ahead is getting brighter, and I think I can spot the planet. Only seven days left.
Ship’s Log: Day 65
I was just getting out of bed when the alarms went off, red lights and klaxons accompanying me all the way down to the brig as I ran in my dressing gown. The brig was empty. The control panel was a charred mess and traces of acrid-smelling smoke were floating about the cell. I sprinted down to engineering. Jo had been spending a lot of time there, and it was the only place the alien would have gone. When I entered, the engine room was cloaked in shadows. A commando would’ve charged in without a second thought. They wouldn’t have hovered near the doors, jigging from one foot to the other, looking like they needed to pee.
The only light I could see came from the main drive located at the rear of the huge room. The core pulsed orange and white rhythmically, sending huge waves of energy into the thrusters that propelled the ship ever forward. I had forgotten how loud it was down here as every deck plate vibrated beneath my feet. My eyes scanned left and right, trying to pick out the alien or Jo. Taking a deep breath, I tried to reassure myself. Logically, it was unlikely the asshole would be able to harm Jo. There were no more weapons, and even with a missing leg, Jo was faster, stronger, and more agile. Then again, the alien had managed to cut a swathe through our entire crew before we managed to subdue it.
I stepped forward, feeling the doors slide shut behind with a heavy thud. I expected the alien to jump out, but it was only when I drew nearer to the core that I saw the body lying half-crumpled on the left-hand side. Her arms and other leg had been badly burned. I tried not to wrinkle my nose at the smell. Jo looked up at me from her one remaining eye, and I felt tears blister my vision as she tried to reach out, her arm flailing.
She knew she was dying. This time, there was nothing I could do to save her. She knew it before I did, I think, though I did try to staunch the blood trickling steadily out of a deep gash on the side of her body.
“…Children…” Jo managed choke out the words, her voice reedy and fading. “…It couldn’t stop the ship…I locked our course…fused drive controls so it couldn’t…it got angry…”
A mix of green-and-red gunk spewed out of her mouth as she desperately tried to speak.
“…Cargo bay,” she managed to stutter as she read my look.
Jo held my gaze a moment longer before her eye glazed over and her leg fell back.
I am alone.
Ship’s Log Day 65—Supplemental
An officer is trained to be calm and cool under pressure. An officer is given a clear objective and they know exactly what to do. A captain issues an order, and the crew obeys like a well-oiled machine. I’m just a maintenance grunt. A cleaner.
A young woman from a poor family who only got assigned to this mission by pure chance. My name just happened to be on the shift rotation. I wish I had a better plan other than charge down to the cargo bay and attempt to kill the alien. But there is no other choice. The asshole murdered my crew and now it’s killed the only friend and colleague I had left. If this is my last log entry, I want the record to show that Jo died a hero trying to save our race from extinction. I will do my best to make sure this ship reaches its destination, and the children have a chance to survive, even if I have to kill to do it.
Ship’s Log: Day 68
I am alive.
We are one day away from our destination and hopefully salvation. I have been too exhausted and troubled to record a log the past two days. I am still trying to come to terms with what happened, and a part of me wonders if I ever will forget the look on the alien’s face when I did what had to be done. The important thing to know is that the children are safe and ready to be sent down to the surface when we arrive.
After Jo died, I wanted to collapse. I had no plan, no backup, and no real chance against the alien if it came down to a fight. But as I crouched beside Jo, watching the last of her life bleed away across the deck plates, it was like all my senses became super heightened. This cold reason began pulsing through my head much like the rhythm of our engine core.
The first thing I did was look around for a weapon. All the guns had been destroyed during the alien’s initial assault, but that didn’t mean I would go in empty-handed. Jo had provided one last gift before she died. An engineer’s toolbox lay open a few feet from her body. I picked out several lethal-looking screwdrivers and a heavy wrench that I could use to bash the asshole’s skull in, if need be. Tooled-up and terrified, I headed to the cargo bay.
The large, heavy doors were already open, the heat of the room escaping out into the corridor. I raised my wrench and entered. The children were still dormant, sleeping peacefully amongst the thin, sweaty mist that filled the bay. I wiped beads off my forehead, trying to pick out any movement, trying to be ready should the alien surprise me. In the end, it was me who surprised the alien.
I found it on the far side of the bay, next to the room’s isolated environmental controls. It was fiddling with dials and buttons, and I could see the temperature indicator beginning to fall. I crept up as slowly as I could, praying that the noise of the steam and mist would mask my approach. And then I brought my wrench down as hard as I could towards the back of the alien’s head. If it hadn’t moved, I would have killed it on the first attempt.
The wrench slammed against the asshole’s left arm, breaking it at the elbow. The alien screamed and fell away to the floor, eyes and mouth screwed up in agony. I didn’t have time to finish it off. The temperature dial was still falling. If the bay dropped below twenty degrees, I knew the children would die. I adjusted the controls quickly and breathed a sigh of relief as the gauge stabilized before slowly starting to climb.
“Why are you doing this?”
There have been many things about this mission that have frightened me, but none so much as hearing the alien speak our language for the first time. I turned away from the controls to face it as it whimpered and shook on the floor.
“Why are you trying to kill us?”
“You attacked us,” I responded. “We’re just trying to find a new home for our children to live on, before you kill them, too.”
The alien laughed then, and if I didn’t know better, I would have said it had lost whatever reason it had left.
“A new home?” it repeated, voice sounding almost female (I had always wondered if the aliens had different genders, like us). “You don’t understand. My God, you really don’t understand.”
It was shaking its head now, looking around the cargo bay, eyes wide with fear. No doubt realizing that its mission had failed, and we would survive.
“Do you remember who I am?” the alien said next, fixing me with blue eyes. “Do you remember the captain?”
A familiar pain began scratching away behind my temples again, and I tried to shake my head as the alien pulled itself up.
“You attacked us,” I said, raising my wrench. “You murdered my crew. You killed my friend. You killed Jo!”
“No,” the alien said, holding its broken arm with the other hand. “They attacked us as we left the shipyard, its…people. The fleet managed to destroy most of their ships, but a mother must have gotten aboard before we began the journey home.”
“Shut up!” I screamed, the scratching behind my temples getting worse. “You’ll say anything, do anything! Murderer!”
The alien took a shaky step toward me.
“Please,” it said. “I’m not your enemy. The alien that got aboard must have done something to you. Secreted some kind of hallucinogenic…forced you to work with it and help it run the ship. Hunt the crew down…hunt me down.”
She looked up and around at all the children hanging from their organic pods in the cargo bay.
“Definitely an egg-layer,” she whispered.
The pain in my head began to thump as the alien reached out with its good hand and touched me on the arm.
“My name is Jo. Jo Huntingdon, captain of this ship, and I order you to help me regain control of this vessel before it reaches Earth. Before these…things hatch.”
The disgust on her face as she looked at the children. That was her mistake. Trying to pretend her name was Jo, smiling in what she imagined was a supportive way. The pain behind my temples reached a crescendo as I recalled the crushed and battered body of the real Jo, lying dead back in engineering. My friend.
The alien didn’t even see the swing coming and fell to the ground soundlessly as my wrench connected with the side of its head. I looked down at the body, surrounded by the sleeping children in the cargo bay.
Not bad for a cleaner, I thought.
Ship’s Log: Day 69
I can see the planet ahead.
A blue-green orb flecked with bits of cloud over land and sea. Easy to see why it was chosen as a new home. I wish Jo could have seen this. I wish my family could see this. The ship’s computer has told me that we will enter orbit in under ten minutes. It seems to have lost some of the cheer from its voice, relaying the message as if delivering an elegy at a funeral. The captain’s chair fits me quite well, and I wonder if I’ll get a medal for bravery or something when our people hear about what Jo and I achieved.
Of course, they might not hear about us for awhile. I snorted, thinking about the alien trying to convince me we were headed back to Earth. Earth! We’re light-years from Earth, and a message will take time to get back. What will people say when they hear how a glorified cleaner saved the human race from extinction? Guess I’ll have to wait a bit for my medal.
I find myself smiling as I finger the cargo bay controls on the arm of the captain’s chair. In just a few moments, all the children sleeping below deck will be released into the atmosphere. The planet does look like Earth: large continents, lots of water; that’s why it was chosen, the real Jo had said. The children will drift down, and by the time they land, will wake up on a new world. A world with enough food for them to live on. According to the ship’s scans, there are plenty of animals to eat down there.
The ship announces we are in orbit, and I flick the cargo bay door controls. A few minutes pass. I watch the sleeping children float towards the surface, but all I can think about is Jo. She should have been alive to see this.
© 2020, J. W. Allen