It was the buckling of metal, creaking snaps and groans that finally snapped through his fog haze, faint after images of being jolted awake, flashes of other faces and panicked slurring voices and the distant rumbling explosions rolling still in his head, an aching headache and blurry vision and the tumbling swirl as gravity pulled and twisted and the seat he had fumbled with, strapping himself in, started to collapse under the pressure.
The terror of waking upon a flaming, bursting apart spacecraft, guided to an escape pod and then shoved in as the whole world imploded in the space silence engulfing it all, was still muffled under the wraps of the cryosleep's aftereffects.
He's never gone under those things very well, even for short year trips. Medical bays have seen him more often than not, and to be told it was caused by his advancing age, both biological and cryoslept, had not been reassuring knowledge.
Charlie worried herself, even if she was younger she's slept under for centuries as well, going from one place to the next with him, and as the metal shook and an uncomfortable heat started to build, pained pressure aching in his head as he squinted his eyes closed and hoped to whatever was out there that the trajectory didn't rip him to shreds from the planets atmosphere, the faintest bit of the fog draped down even more so, covering the twinged panic.
He hadn't seen Charlie before strapping in. By whatever gods out there, he hoped she got out fine.
He's been through a crash before, when he had been much younger in both age accounts. Charlie had as well, crashed landed safely, and the planet was inhabited and ensuring security and rescue had been quick, fast, and not as bad as it could have been. With this fog effect on him, gritting his jaw as he braced himself, feeling the claustrophobic pod start to shudder in foreboding waves, his memory was spotty at best, and only to get worse.
Hopefully he'd get to a proper place soon after; cryo sickness was just terrible to deal with without assistance, and he knew this from experience.
The pod shuddered, the metal squealed, every breath hot and stuffy, the beeping of alarms and buzzed static, alerts, and when it finally met impact the force snapped at him enough to blackout for a moment or two, numbed and lightheaded.
And then there was the second shudder, decompression, and the straps and metal unhinged and he collapsed, gasping as his vision returned and gravity sorted itself out, the blast as the door ejected itself, as cool air flooded in, pale light and the low sound of wind through trees. He took a moment, breathing shudders as his body shook, the sickness swirling in his system, improperly managed, and then he rolled slowly to his side, carefully got to his knees, reached to the hanging metal and cracked buzzing monitors, stripped and ragged from the forces of the crash, and finally stood, pulled, almost fell out of the pod itself.
The planets atmosphere was clean, almost too clean, flooded his lungs and squinted his eyes, blinking in the bright sunlight, the silence of a world just broken by an accidental invasion, void of bird song or animal shuffles, only the wind and trees. He could see clouds, way up there, and as he slowly tugged one foot out of the blasted remains of his escape pod, into green grass and dark earth, hanging onto the frame for dear life, still taking great shuddery gasps and feeling his very bones shiver and shake, Maxwell raised his gaze upwards, far upwards, and watched as the smoking remains of the space shuttle burst itself into disintegrating fragments, falling metal chunks to burn to little more than rubble in the atmosphere, a great machine decimated far up in the reaches of space.
Well, shit. That didn't look like a little machine failure, not from here, and the fog that made his joints weak and chest aching creeped in with a whole other hint of panic. A glance around gave another hint, grimacing as he fought his body's tendency to lose its grip and collapse in weakness.
Trees, great pines, white birch, a forest crisscrossed with boulders, and not a sign of civilization on the horizon. It seemed that, perhaps, he was out of luck.
Smoke rose to the sky from his crash landing, buzzing sparks behind him, but the silence did not hold. Scuffing, panting and the heaved grunts of physical effort, and he turned his head to watch as another pod wobbled from side to side, already crashed, more than just him actually. Three altogether, though the one moving had its door ajar, hanging with red hot warped metal, and then there was a muffled heave and he flinched against the metal frame keeping him up as the melded door was forcefully thrown aside, clanging into the dirt and grass as someone wobbled, made a weak victory cry, and then stumbled, almost collapsed right out of the pod itself.
Maxwell watched as the man breathed deep, having fallen to his knees and bent to dig his hands into the soil, gasping, and he averted his eyes after a moment, own breathing calming down. Just a bit wheezed, and his pod rocked as he finally got his other foot free from the sparking insides of the metal cage, his movements enough to get the other survivors attention.
"You, ha, you alright?"
The man's voice was not familiar, and neither was his face, taking a big breath and sitting up, carefully pushing up into a stand, running a hand through his hair and adjusting his rugged, slightly singed vest, still looking out of breath and sweaty, and Maxwell turned himself about, careful to keep using the pod as balance but making the attempt to hide the fact, and he looked down upon the shorter man with a schooled expression.
"As alright as one could be in this situation."
The other man nodded, swiped his wild hair from his face as he glanced around, and then seemed to spot the wreckage above them.
Maxwell couldn't see his expression, as another burst of flames mushroomed out from the metal corpse, blips of disintegrating metal chunks, but the man's voice somehow turned flat.
"...Looks like we got the long end of the stick then, huh?"
Maxwell curled his lip, wheezed in between his teeth, jaw grit tight, and there was a pain in his chest and cushioned about his ribs, swirling nausea in his belly, but the inclusion of "we" pricked at his nerves enough for the snide to bite in his voice.
"Only for a few hours, I'd expect, and then we'll get picked up and offered compensation." He sniffed, found his next breath a bit harsher, and leaned a bit against the pod, feeling weakness from the trauma creep in. "I'd say short end, pal; the, ha, the lucky bastards up there got it done quick."
His free hand first went to his throat, just a sweeping check, and then to press against his chest, wincing at the spark of sharp pain, traveling in a sick swirling hammer to his gut. The familiarity of the pains seemed to just make it all the more unbearable.
The next wave made his knees weak, tremors starting up, and he pressed his head against the cooling metal as balance for a moment, closing his eyes as he forced himself to balance out. It would be so much easier if he had some medical professionals around and all their drugs; knock him out like a light, and when he woke up later all was right with the world.
For a little while longer, at least. Charlie helped, she tried at least, but not much has ever been permanent enough. Days fell flat, and his body deteriorated, and cryosleep made matters worse.
Nothing to be done, nothing to be done, and the show must go on. He kept his eyes closed, took shallow breaths, and wondered if he was lucky enough for a chunk of that ship to fall right down here, squash him flat into a bloody red paste.
"You sure you're alright?" The other man seemed to have concern in that voice of his, a bleeding heart maybe, drawing closer and hovering a moment. "You really don't look so good-"
"I'm fine, just peachy." Maxwell wheezed, wincing at the twist of pain in his gut and turned away, free hand waving the man back. "Might want to stand back, pal."
He vaguely heard the cusp of confusion from the fellow before his insides gave up the fight and Maxwell found himself vomiting into the grass and dirt, one hand holding him into an almost full lean against the smoking pod, stomach curdling and rejecting itself as the sickness hit him full force.
Months, or perhaps years, it all depended on where they were going with cryosleep, enough time that he's not eaten solid food for a good while, liquids to sustain a body under sleep, and all that came up was stinging bile, acid burn in his throat and that horrid embarrassment of throwing up in front of a stranger.
There was hesitance in the air, shuddering as he took deep breaths and tried not to taste the leftover fluid in his mouth, spitting it up and fighting the instinctive gag it caused, but after a moment there was faint pressure and a hand on his back, carefully rubbing circles in what was probably supposed to be helpfulness.
The contact set his teeth on edge, shivering and feeling goosebumps rise on his skin, but he couldn't shrug the man away at the moment and instead had to suffer the consequences.
Eventually the hacking subsided, heaving and avoiding looking at the mess he had made, and when he finally made the motion to move, stand up straight and get himself back into order, the other man backed off.
A polite cough in the hand, eyes looking away, and Maxwell adjusted his suit collar, cleared his throat and squinted his eyes at the burning raw of his insides, hands shaking as he slipped a handkerchief from one of his pockets and wiped carefully at his mouth, but at least now it did not feel as if his body was rocking on the edge.
Expelling the faint traces of illness almost helped alleviate the stress; it would come back, ten times worse if he did not get the right medications, but for now it did not lap at the banks of his already bruised nerves.
For a moment the words almost didn't even come out, caught in his throat as he sucked in a breath of the too clean air, but the faint vestiges of Charlie's reminders, fog sweeping away memory in great clouds but letting the whispers sneak through just as easily, and Maxwell cleared his throat a second time and averted his eyes as he spoke.
"Thank you." His voice was rough, almost whispered sore, but the other man waved his hand and looked just as awkward, just as nervous perhaps, a light laugh edging on stress.
"No problem, cryo sickness gets to us all." The fellow laughed it off, but quieted as Maxwell did not join him, fading into an awkward silence.
Maxwell frowned at the man, watched as he shuffled, and wondered why he couldn't have had Charlie by his side instead. Her pod must have ended up elsewhere, the explosions were skewering the trajectory paths, and he heaved a breath at the thought.
He'd not entertain the possibility that she hadn't even reached the escape pods, or had not awoken. He'd not let his mind dwell, and forcefully shoved those thoughts to the side.
She was fine. She had to be fine.
For his sake, by whatever gods sakes out there, at the very least. Please.
"Uh, I'm Wilson, by the way." The man held his hand out, Maxwell raising a brow at the aged greeting, when was the last time he's shaken someone's hand in goodwill, but the other man offered a lopsided, weak smile, looking at him with a steady gaze. "Wilson P. Higgsbury, scientist. I was passenger 1920."
Maxwell eyed him, found no familiarity in name or number, but his knowledge in the ways of cryosleep was enough. Another long term experienced passenger then. At least he wasn't with a first timer.
"Maxwell Carter, actor. Passenger 1906, unfortunately." He reached out and shook the man's hand, a firm grip, a bit rough, and he idly noted the mechanical addons a moment before parting contact. The engineering of additional or even upgraded parts was not forgien to him, but he hadn't been the one to go under the knife. Charlie had her left hand and arm changed ages ago, a spark of inspiration as she called it, but this Wilson fellow had almost delicate looking claws, shiny metal fingers with almost too much detail to the naked eye. Useful or just luxury, it did not matter to Maxwell; such additions always did feel as if they were for younger people than himself. "I was with a woman named Charlie, another 1906. Any chance that you perhaps saw her or-?"
The man was already shaking his head, looking apologetic.
"Sorry, but I didn't see much of anyone all too clearly. Too many explosions and all, you know?"
Maxwell nodded with a sigh, rubbing his eyes for a moment, blurry vision going even more so for a brief moment.
"Yes, I...I know."
That dreadful silence crept up again, and he internally cursed himself. His voice had wobbled a moment, a slip of his own mind over the tight hold he was attempting, and ignoring what was possibly reality had become second nature to him at this point but this was a bit harder to juggle.
He'd not let himself dwell on the thought. Charlie was fine.
There was a sudden sound, large, metal against metal, and it thankfully broke up the awkward air as they both turned their heads towards the last, rather silent, escape pod.
Burned blackened, metal melted into a disfigured mess, and Maxwell almost took a step back as it rattled, shook in vigorous motions, and Wilson had already gotten himself moving, jogging over and rapping his knuckles against what used to be the door, searching for the seams in metal that had molded like black shiny clay into one hideous blob.
The faint string, what if, curled sudden and fast and rose in his throat and Maxwell found himself stumbling over, wrapping his arms around his chest and hunching slightly as the movements aggravated the hint of stabilizing he had achieved. He really shouldn't be moving, not after all that, really he should sit, relax, until help arrived and the forces that took care of these things started to try and dissuade him from suing, but the fact of the matter was-
That could be Charlie in there, and he'd not risk it. The pod, so beat up as it looked, and he had little idea on if life support systems were online. Whoever was in there could be suffocating for all he knew, and it sent a horrid twisting sick feeling to knot in his chest when the faint fog image of Charlie rose fitfully in his mind.
He stumbled close as the other man finally seemed to find a point to work on, metal clawed fingers digging into the dip of the melted black metal, the slag of its eventful landing scoured in twists and folds, shiny swirly clouds in the metals surface, and Maxwell found himself standing there at a loss. Wilson clambered up the contraption, faster than Maxwell had really expected of him, grabbing a hold and tugging on what had to be the remains of the door, jaw grit and teeth bared as his face grew focused.
"Don't worry, alright, we'll get you out of there! Just hold on a sec!"
The man clawed his hands, and even from here Maxwell could hear the ticking click of gears and grinds, realization dawning that it couldn't just be the fingers, or perhaps with the indents he could see in the forearms, perhaps wires acting as nerve endings racing up and down the man's arms, to his shoulders, and it was practically astounding to watch as the shearing of metal, squealing protests as the pod started to come undone.
Almost in half, tearing like a disfigured mouth, and Maxwell has seen what Charlie could do with that powered arm of hers, enough to lift a full grown person at times even, but this seemed like something else, especially with the delicate make and look of those metal claws. Perhaps they had been especially made then, a direct owner, from workbench to paying flesh, but either way Maxwell watched the man pull the melted escape pod near in half and free the survivor inside.
For just the briefest of moments Maxwell had hope.
But then a thin, tall shaking figure toppled out into the grass, Wilson dropping from the force of his efforts and almost knocking the air out of himself, scrambling up quick as he rushed to check over the third of their company. Maxwell wobbled on his own weak feet, knees shaking and the vibrations of his nerves almost painful, squinting his eyes a moment as he forced himself to hold strict.
The new fellow was taller than him, looking pale and sweaty, dark hair plastered to his face and thin chest rising shallowly, mouth gaping like a fish but not quite getting the air needed, and Maxwell found himself giving an involuntary frown as their eyes met, black to blue.
He knew the man, and it was no one's fault but it left a lump in his throat that this pod did not, in fact, have Charlie curled up safe in it. The distress was creeping in now, the fog only doing so much, his own aches and pains only doing so much, and it was with great difficulty that he swallowed down the fear and rage and nauseous gut swirling horror that was threatening him.
Charlie was fine. He just had to keep telling himself that.
Carefully he wobbled over as Wilson practically dragged the other man to lean against a nearby boulder, unmarred by the crashed pods, swinging one arm around his shoulder and neck and carefully laying the man down. The new fellow was still gasping, breathing hard, and his hands went to flutter at his throat a moment before instead turning to inspect his chest, ribs, looking wide eyed and yet searching for what was causing him discomfort.
Wilson was the one to find it, what was probably reassuring words out of his mouth as he lifted the mans red sweater and eased his hands about the ring of bruises blossoming all about the man's skin. By the looks of it, Maxwell glancing over to the mangled heap of the pod itself, insides just as blackened and ripped apart as the outside shell, the fellow had a very rough landing in comparison. Being banged up in a crashing pod was more likely to break bones than just cause bruising, but it seemed more like the air had been knocked out of him and he was a bit more sensitive, but not much else.
"You're really lucky." Wilson seemed to be quite focused, checking over the man as if he was a doctor of sorts, as if he knew the medicinal procedures needed. "A hard knock to the head or at the wrong spot on the neck and you could've come out of this paralyzed!"
For all Maxwell knew, he did.
The other man slowly nodded his head, seemed to be getting his breath back, and after a moment he raised his head up to Maxwell, crooking a brow and giving him a wide, searching look. He moved slow, careful, wrists limp and hands not as quick as usual, but he moved them nonetheless, facial expressions mapping in much the same way.
Wilson seemed a bit taken aback a moment, leaning back from his checking up to look back and forth between them, but before the words could leave his lips Maxwell spoke up, voice more of a growl now as his annoyance and disappointment bled through.
"Wes, theater technician, 1800s or some such other number. Not who I was hoping to see."
He raised his head, fought the aching pains and flare up of aftereffects, bile rising once more in his throat, and this was not Charlie, this was not her. The third escape pod was not hers.
There had to be more. More than three had to have survived, right?
He caught sight of Wilson's face, curling in a confused scowl, disappointed perhaps at his tone, but the man was a stranger and Maxwell did not care. Charlie had not been the one in the third escape pod.
He turned on his heel, fought the rising swirled illness as it rose fitfully, reacted to the hysteria building in his chest, where was Charlie, and found himself staring up at the wreckage in the sky as it slowly fell, drifting almost grandly in the whole scheme of things, started its own descent.
Out into the oceans, perhaps, Maxwell did not know this planet in any way, shape, or form, but massive chunks of it fell away, broken metal and plumes of smoke and flame as it carried through the planet's atmosphere, the curve of the world, and the breeze around him was chill, faintly brushed against his bruised body and charred suit, wrinkled now, not at all show worthy, and only the faintest traces of smoke from the melted metal pods themselves.
They were heading to a showing, their last one for the season. Charlie wanted to visit her homeworld, see her sister, and she had convinced him to come along for a much needed vacation. He had no idea how much time had passed in their trip so far, whether a few months from port or years, but either way-
They'd not get there in time, that was for sure.
Something horrible rose fitfully in his chest, wholly different from the cryosleep sickness still cast over him, and Maxwell stared as the ruins of the massive ship dipped, fell, broke away from each other to tear into little shiny metal glass and dust, asteroid rubble, blinking his eyes a few times as the blurriness increased and his breathing went funny.
Charlie was fine. There were other escape pods that got away, that didn't hit debris and explode or crash in the wrong path, that hadn't impacted into an ocean or malfunctioned on the descent. She was fine, somewhere on this accursed planet, and the authorities will be here soon and they could both just say fuck it to a last performance and just take her vacation idea for a long, long run on real, solid ground for once. Leave off the cryosleep for a bit, even, and she was always complaining to him on that, wasn't she, of the time and space and all the distance they had to travel for a showing.
Well, when he saw her again, he'll tell her he's called it all off. Time for a bit of rest, then, like she wanted.
Like she wants, he mentally corrected himself, but even that came off weak and unsure now.
He ignored the shuffling behind him, the still talking reasurances, the faint hesitance and patience between hand sign reading as Wes was to use, and from the responses it seemed that the Wilson fellow knew how to read them well enough, and instead blinked away the moisture in his eyes and drew in deep, stuttered breaths, the fog lapping at his consciousness.
He felt ill, incredibly so now, and his head ached, but he forced his mind to repeat itself once more.
Charlie was fine. Her pod had landed safely. They'll meet up soon, and leave this planet shortly after.
She. Was. Fine.
A brief touch on his shoulder broke him out of it, jerking and then flinching back as he almost fell right over, muscles aching and legs stiff and unwieldy as they tensed, but a hand grabbed a firm hold to his arm and he was prevented the embarrassment of the fall.
Wilson started up at him, Wes leaning against him, using him as support as he kept weight off his left leg, and the tall man's eyes were round with sympathy and it was enough to almost make him bristle and hiss away the interaction, but the shorter man was already talking.
"Look, we'll find her, okay?" Wilson still had a hand on him as he wobbled, and Maxwell clenched his jaw tight, illness welling in the back of his throat, bubbling in his chest and seeping to his brain in foggy sick rolls. His legs felt weak, useless, and right now he swayed, held only by the man keeping a firm hold to him. "Charlie, right?"
"Y-yes." His voice was thick in his throat, and he felt ill, disattached, and that stupid theater tech was watching him still, except this time not on the edges of the show or backstage as he was so used to. Charlie had liked the mute fellow for some unfathomable reason, he remembered that vaguely through the fog.
"...she probably crashed somewhere else, maybe even a few miles away or something." The words made him nod, close his eyes as his balance became even more unsteady, and the rough events from the ship to now were catching up all too fast. Maxwell was sure he was usually in a med bay or at least in a set up camp hospital at this point after a crash, shouldn't there be media recordings and reporters at this point? This planet was populated, right?
A tug on his arm broke his thoughts back again, Wilson giving him what was probably a serious look, and Maxwell realized that he was almost falling to the wrong side, towards no support, and after a moment adjusted himself apathetically instead to make the other man keep him up. It didn't seem to be a difficult thing for him, holding up Wes at the same time, and his voice was firm, focused, not even a hint strained.
"We'll find her. But right now we're gonna need some shelter, get organized. Food, water, all of that."
Maxwell hesitated, took in a shallow breath before finally nodding, eyes turning downcast. It was all he could really hope for at this point, other than a quick, easy rescue, and that looked further and further from becoming reality now.
They'll find Charlie.
As Wilson started to guide the both of them to a nearby undamaged tree, more dragging Maxwell as Wes tried his best to hop forward without putting weight onto his twisted ankle, Maxwell made himself take another steady breath of air, and another, and then another.
He'll find Charlie.