Gravedigger

“Start digging graves,” Dalton told the Lacuna Populous‘ android attendant.

“Graves?”

Dalton dropped the legs of the body he was dragging onto the deck and they thudded dully one after the other. He turned his irritated gaze to the android and rubbed his dark, thick beard. “Holes. Outside. To put the bodies in. Find something to dig with and get started before we lose the light.” The uncharted moonlet would eventually be in the shadow of its parent, and both the ship and its attendant were running strictly off of direct solar power until he could get a plan together.

“Dig holes,” summarized the attendant. “Dimensions and quantity?”

The bot was capable, but only as effective as the explicit directions given to it. This was precisely the type of idiocy that led Dalton to work alone. “Three feet by seven feet, and three feet deep.” Dalton was no stranger to shallow graves. “Don’t worry about quantity, just keep going until I tell you to stop.”

The android walked off to fulfill its task. Presumably it found a makeshift shovel, and he heard it pass out of the airlock to the moonlet’s surface. Finally, he had a moment alone.

The Lacuna Populous had been a freighter, hauling supplies between colony worlds. Had been, because now it was his, and he had other plans. He’d signed on as a laborer and made enough transits to learn what he needed to know, and then he’d done the necessaries with the crew. The messiest part was over, but now he needed to bury the bodies. Call him old-fashioned. Besides, he preferred to know where all his skeletons were hiding, so to speak. When you space a body you never know where it might go wandering.

As the android did its digging, Dalton shuttled all the bodies, including both halves of the captain—dumb bastard—from where they’d fallen, through the airlock, down the loading ramp from the cargo hold, and laid them in a neat row in the regolith. He saw the android was on its fourth grave already. Dalton could fill them in, but all that dragging had left him worn out, not to mention the exertions from when they’d still been alive and fighting back. “Help me move this first body. Then go back to digging.”

The Lacuna Populous acted as a relay between the mic in his helmet and the android, and the message got through. The android obediently set down its shovel and walked to the line of bodies. Dalton decided to start with the biggest: the pilot. All of those years of sitting still had not been kind to the man. He grabbed the wrists, and the android grabbed the ankles. Together, they lumbered awkwardly to the first hole in the ground.

Just then, the hot brown gas giant slid between the moonlet and its star, and the darkness came instantly. Before he could call out a command to switch the android from solar to nuclear power, the stupid thing was already tipping forward, totally deenergized. It was 500 lbs. of dead weight, and it sent Dalton staggering backward.

He fell into the grave.

The pilot landed on top of him, and the android on top of them both. The android’s lifeless metal face crashed through Dalton’s face shield and all of his precious air fled his suit for the freedom of open space. He was trapped on his back, crushed beneath a weight he couldn’t move, and already teetering on unconsciousness. He was done.

But before he asphyxiated, he had a vision. A vision of the sunlight returning. The android, being the command-following drone that it was, would go right on digging graves one after another, waiting for Dalton to tell it to stop. Someone would land here someday, and they’d find a perfectly good ship, and dozen or so bodies in a line, two sharing a hole, and a landscape covered from one horizon to the other in neat rows of empty shallow graves.

His eyelids were heavy. His chest was tight, and he felt deeply unsettled as he watched the stars in his vision dim and wink out.

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