The HMS Beagle, a short story by J. L. Wells at

The HMS Beagle

The HMS Beagle

written by: J. L. Wells


“Warning. Warning. Cryopod malfunction. Crypopod malfunction. Wake up sequence initiated.”

She heard the alarm blaring, the red light blinking as it invaded her closed eyelids. Semi-awake, not quite conscious, gasping for air until the oxygen fully streamed in.

“Functions at eighty percent. Function-function-function-dysfunction-dysfunction.”

She couldn’t move, no matter how hard she tried. Not even a toe.

Her eyes could open enough though to see the motivational poster with the cartoon Charles Darwin across the hall, bathed in the intermittent red light. Below it, the shelf holding the model galleon of the HMS Beagle, the vessel for which this spaceship was named for.

“Scanning. Scanning. Paralysis detected. Recalibrating. Recalibrating,” the cryopod noted.

Fingers crept across the glass above her, tapping long fingernails as it made its journey before a face came into view. It took a moment for the light to show their features but when it did, she would’ve made an audible gasp if she could.

“Someone’s awake,” Chax peered down, moulding himself to the pod.

He looked strange, a shadow of his former self. A darkness lay in his eyes, a twitching madness to his smile. The clean cut scientist was clean cut no longer.

“Oh,” Chax looked at the medical display to the side of her. “You can’t move, can you? Poor little Qarinah. You can hear me though, can’t you? I can see your eyes reacting to me. Well, I am sorry about all the mess, all the commotion. I was trying to wake someone up, you see but…it’s all gone rather wrong.”

He started giggling before it tapered off and he fully climbed on top of the pod, moving his head this way and that as he studied her stricken face.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m up,” Chax continued. “We’re obviously not at our destination yet. There is no Straio-346 visible out of the port windows. I’d say perhaps nine tenths of the journey is done. Blink if you understand that.”

Qarinah blinked once, still confused and afraid.

“The AI woke me up early, a glitch, bad coding. At first, I just accepted my fate. I’d die an old man on this ship whilst you all slept on, young and beautiful, perfectly preserved. I tried to be noble, I really did. After months of talking to nothing but the walls, I couldn’t do it anymore. I can’t do it anymore. I need someone to talk to but…oops, I guess?”

He banged on the glass, sound swallowed by the robotic voice still chanting the words ‘recalibrating.’ Qarinah’s heart skipped a beat and began pounding even harder as Chax half sobbed and half laughed.

“I’m an evolutionary scientist. I don’t know what I’m doing with all this tech. I’ll fix it. I will. I can’t break it that badly, surely.”

“Recalibration complete. Sleep sequence initiated. Commencing in one minute,” the cryopod chirped.

“See! It mends itself. You go back to dreamless dreams, Qarinah. I’ll try again with someone else. Maybe this will be the last time we see each other. Good luck.”

He placed a kiss on the glass before the vapour started gushing in, filling her nose with chemicals that lulled her eyes to close. The last thing she saw was Chax’s smiling face and his long nailed hand waving her back into deep sleep.


“Warning. Warning. Cryopod malfunction. Crypopod malfunction. Wake up sequence initiated.”

Again she came to to the sensation of drowning in nothing, thin air not quite filling her lungs. Her fingers moved this time, scrabbling at the cushioned lining she was on until the jets spewed oxygen towards her desperate mouth.

The poster of Darwin in her eyeline had been slashed, ripped, stabbed. Holes were torn in where the eyes should be and scrawled words of panic escaped over the confines of the paper to trace onto the surrounding wall.

Alone. Alone. Help me. Talk to me. Please. Alone.

How long had she been asleep? Was Chax still alive?

“Functions at eighty-three percent. Function-function-function-dysfunction-dysfunction,” the cryopod glitched again.

Three more percent was probably why she could move her fingers, her toes but she still couldn’t get the signal to her limbs to do anything and her mouth still couldn’t form words to call out. Only nervous breaths escaped from her lips that made any kind of sound.

A crash from her right had her straining to look out of the side of her vision, still not able to turn her head as whimpers made it through the comms unit on the cryopod. Then Lohn, the captain of the ship, came into view, scrambling backwards on the floor and leaving a trail of blood as he did so.

“Stay away!” Lohn was hysterical, grabbing for the model galleon on the shelf and throwing it hard in the direction he’d just come from. “Stay away from me!”

Qarinah wanted to shout, to yell, to just move already but the cryopod was in the recalibration phase again.

“You promised you’d keep me company,” came Chax’s voice from the shadows. “You’re the captain, you’re supposed to look after us.”

When he slithered into the light, she saw just how much his appearance had degraded from the last time. The beard was long, wiry and wild. The hair was matted and unkempt, raked with grey. The nails were even sharper, dirtier.

He’d aged significantly, somewhere in his fifties now rather than his mid-twenties youthfulness when the mission had first begun.

“Y-y-you stabbed me!” Lohn had backed himself into a corner.

“You tried to put yourself back into cryosleep,” Chax wagged a finger. “You. Promised. How am I meant to follow a captain who doesn’t keep his word? I’ve been awake for so many years and you won’t even give me the courtesy of dying out here with me. You’re meant to go down with your crew, no man abandoned. You weren’t being fair.”

“And this is fair?! Condemning another person to sit in hell beside you?! You’re selfish and you’re deranged, Dr Voey. Stay away, I swear!”

Why wasn’t Lohn trying to run? Anyone could see Chax couldn’t be reasoned with. He’d lost his sanity and Qarinah knew what was coming before it happened.

The specialist screwdriver for the pods was buried in Lohn before he even got a chance to move. There was a moment where his eyes met hers, the realisation flitting across his expression that she was awake and then the pleading gaze to help before they were frozen forever in a glassy stare.

“You’re up again, aren’t you Qarinah?” Chax stood up, not even fazed by what he’d just done. “I really am sorry you had to see that. He wouldn’t behave. Very unbecoming of a decorated captain.”

When he leant over her cryopod, he used the bloody screwdriver to trace a pattern of flowers on the glass. For a while he didn’t look at her, perhaps too ashamed to.

“I really tried,” his tone was emotionless. “You know how hard I tried. I didn’t wake anyone else up after you for years but the stuffed Galapagos tortoise in the crew quarters just doesn’t have the conversational skills I want it to.”

Qarinah felt herself trying to move back against the cushion, even though she couldn’t. She wanted to get away from this man as much as she physically could.

“Next time will be better,” Chax talked more to himself than anything. “Next time I’ll get it right. I’ll go with Prilly. She and I always had good rapport.”

“Recalibration complete. Sleep sequence initiated. Commencing in one minute,” the cryopod interrupted.

“I guess I did more damage to your pod than I thought,” he mused. “But at least you’re going back to the dreamless void. I suppose I’d better clear things up before I wake Prilly. I can’t imagine she’d be calm seeing all of this mess. Off you go, Qarinah.”

The last thing she saw before the rush of chemical fog was Chax dragging Lohn’s body out of the room and whistling cheerily.


“Warning. Warning. Cryopod malfunction. Crypopod malfunction. Wake up sequence initiated.”

Her arms, this time she could move her arms. Her lower half still felt numb and heavy but it was something at least.

The flower pattern was still there, no longer red but crusted brown and a new message in fresh blood: I didn’t mean to.

At first Qarinah was confused but when she managed to turn her head she made her first audible sound since she started the mission. A scream.

A perfectly preserved mummified body was sitting in a chair by the porthole, as if it were staring out into space. If it weren’t for the faded bubblegum pink hair, she would never have recognized it as Prilly, the botanist.

“Didn’t you get my message?” Chax was on the other side of the pod, watching Qarinah’s reactions. “It was an accident. Nice to hear you can speak at last though.”

“Functions at ninety-one percent. Function-function-function-dysfunction-dysfunction,” the cryopod helpfully supplied.

“What did you do?!” Qarinah tried to push the hatch open but she was still weak.

“She didn’t like being woken up early. She had a lot of questions about Lohn too,” Chax sighed, scooting his stool until she could see him better.

Was he about sixty now? The scowl lines were set deep, the crow’s feet harsh grooves around his eyes.

“What did you do, Chax?!” She tried again, pushing the glass harder.

“I did nothing. She did that to herself. She did the same as Lohn, tried to get back in the pod I mean, but it was irreparably damaged. It did that to her instead.”

“So why is she…why is she-”

“-there? I suppose it’s only like when I was talking to the stuffed tortoise but she’s human-shaped at least. She’s a small comfort. It’s been about five years since it happened.”

“And the blood?” Qarinah pointed to the smeared message.

“Mine. All the pens ran out of ink twenty years back. I was hoping you’d wake up one more time before I died, you know. I do look forward to it.”

“Don’t you dare try Zalister’s pod next! You leave him alone!”

“I should’ve tried his first. He’s the engineer,” Chax climbed on top of the glass, face oddly squashed as he looked down at her. “Though my pod was faulty before we set off and he missed that during his checks. Not that good at his job then.”

“Please, please don’t do this,” she placed her hands upwards as he spread his palms to meet them on the other side. “This mission has to succeed. We can still make it with two people.”

“They never said this was a possibility!” Chax banged his fist down. “That I’d be stuck out here for forty-six years with no one, staring at all of you who never age!”

“It’s not fair, I know it’s not but if we can’t-”

“-you think I care about the mission any more? This is my life, Qarinah. It’s gone. It’s wasted. It’s all wasted. It’s all ruined,” his voice broke.

“Recalibration complete. Sleep sequence initiated. Commencing in one minute,” the cryopod trilled happily.

“No!” Qarinah panicked, desperately trying to get out before the gas started. “Chax! Chax, listen to me! Zalister has to live!”

“He will, as long as he doesn’t try to go back to sleep or hurt me. He’ll be perfectly safe. I only ever hurt those that I have to. I’m not a murderer.”

He felt so justified in his cause that denial was clouding his mind. He’d killed one person and driven another to a horrible accidental death. If Qarinah fell asleep now, Zalister would meet the same fate.

“Computer, shut down! SHUT DOWN!” She yelled, scrabbling at the hinge, gripped by absolute fear.

Vapour was pouring in again, dragging her into unwanted slumber. What would await her the next time? Would everyone be gone? Would she be the only one left?



“Wake up sequence initiated. Welcome back, First Mate Qarinah Tellis. Sixty-two years have passed since lift off. Estimated time until Straio-346’s orbit is fifty-seven years.”

She could already smell the decay as the pod door opened and she tumbled out onto the cold floor. The shock to her joints made her more alert as she stumbled upright, seeing Prilly still staring out of the porthole but now there was an almost fully decomposed body in a chair next to her that had Zalister’s tattoo around his ear still visible.

A table lay in between them with two cups of…something. It was completely moulded over by this point.

“Hello?!” Qarinah called, her own voice echoing back to her down empty corridors.

She searched the ship; first the crew quarters, then the brig, the storage room, the vivarium but she found no one. Where was Chax? Someone had to be alive to override the cryopod system.

She found him in the helm, lips blue and lifeless. He couldn’t have been dead more than a couple of days.

The comms link was beeping, signalling a message had been left and she shakily pressed play to see Chax’s image materialise in front of her.

“If you’re seeing this, I didn’t make it long enough to greet you again,” he was an old man, struggling to see his own reflection in the screen from the looks of it. “I dearly hope I have done, just to see your face when you realise. See, I know it was you Qarinah. Zalister told me his checks were fine, it was impossible that something could’ve gone wrong. He checked my pod and what did he find? Liquid damage.”

Qarinah felt her body freeze.

“Coffee. Someone had spilled coffee on my cryopod’s control panel but that coffee was mixed with hazelnut syrup. You’re the only one who used to drink that stuff. You caused all of this. All you had to do was say something before we took off, get someone to look at it but you just went at it with a towel and hoped for the best. You did this to me! You stole my life!”

The hologram Chax started weeping before he finally composed himself and continued.

“Well now I’m returning the favour. Zalister fixed it so you’ll wake up with roughly the same amount of life left to you before you hit the mission goal. I wonder if you’ll make it to see Straio-346, the rest of us certainly won’t. Zalister’s so distraught that he’s mixed Prilly’s poisonous plants into his tea. You’ve killed us all, Qarinah. Enjoy the silence.”

The message ended and deleted itself leaving only deafening quiet in its wake, punctuated by the constant hum of the engine. All of the media archive, music archive, literary archive wiped itself too leaving her with nothing but her own thoughts and the decaying bodies of her crew mates.

That’s all she’d have until the end of her days.

Just silence.

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