The Voyage Chapter 6

The process of picking new crew members from the passenger manifest was a difficult and painful one. Every person you looked at, you would compare to the respective member they were replacing. It felt wrong, sick, like you were betraying a friend in picking someone to replace them. Alas discomfort aside, it was a task that had to be completed. There was something else that bugged me about the process. Something about the photos of each passenger, that I could not put my finger on. I couldn’t quite place what it was, but something about the photos made me uneasy. I was even able to get Doc Harris to agree at one point that there was something peculiar about the phots. Peculiar or not the remaining four crew members spent long hours in the Operations room, and in the galley discussing, debating, and comparing the available options. In the end, we decided to wake up 6 passengers to serve as replacement crew. We would wake up two to serve as a pilot, and co-pilot, two engineers, and, considering Alyona’s failing health, we decided to take two medical personnel. The decisions had been made, we just needed to get into the section that housed the passengers, locate, and initiate the wakeup procedures for each.
Doc Harris, Hoffmann, and myself stood in front of the hatchway to the passenger section of the ship. Alyona’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and she is resting in her quarters. “Computer, open hatchway Bravo two three one” I instruct the computer. Since this section is technically supposed to remain sealed, there are no manual controls to open the door. “I am sorry, but I am unable to open hatch Bravo two three one.” The computer responds in a soft polite manner. “What the hell?” Hoffmann says. “Computer, command override, Alpha one one two. Open hatch Bravo two three one! Now!” I repeat my order figuring I had to include my command override code. “I’m sorry, but Hatch Bravo two three one cannot be opened without priority level three access” the computer repeats in its same polite tone. “This isn’t good” Doc Harris says, looking at me. Priority level three access, means that someone with Terra Corp HQ top level access is required, to open this hatch. “Computer, I am acting ship’s captain, and I am ordering you to open this hatch!” I practically yell at the computer. “I understand your position on the crew, but without Priority level three access, I cannot open the hatch for you” The computer responds again in the same tone. “Look, computer, under section three heading two, of the contract, I am authorized to replace crew members from the passenger manifest. Now open this hatch right now!” I order again. There is a temporary pause before the computer responds “Section three, heading two of the contract has been nullified for this transport. I will not be able to open the hatch without Priority level three access” the computer responds. “Look, computer, your primary function is to preserve the life entities aboard this ship, right?” I ask angrily, and without waiting for a response “If I were to gather a seismic charge from the terraforming storage bay, I could seriously injure myself, or someone else, when I detonate it opening this hatch…” I briefly pause for a moment. “So, under your primary directive to preserve life, you must open this hatch…” I say. “I am sorry, but without priority level three access, I cannot comply.” The computer responds politely. “What the hell is on the other side of that door?” Hoffmann asks not taking his eyes off the hatchway. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out…” I promise him.
After many hours of work, I write a bypass program that should work. My earlier bluff of blowing up the doorway was entirely too dangerous considering the size of the charge that would be necessary to remove that hatch. The passenger section of the ship is entirely self-contained. It provides its own atmosphere, power, and even a rudimentary propulsion system. Returning to the section, this time wearing our E.E.S.’s Harris, Hoffmann, and I are prepared for just about anything we could find on the other side of the hatch. I have even issued side arms from the ships small arms storage to my crew members. “Computer, execute runtime one, two, three, and open hatch Bravo two three one.” I order again. “Executing runtime one, two, three.” The computer responds, Hoffmann gives me a look “One, two, three?” he asks mockingly. “What…” I laugh in response. There is a loud click and the hatch depresses slightly. “Well, that’s better than nothing” I say while placing a crowbar into the opening on the hatch. “How the hell did you do that?” Harris asks me. “Don’t ask questions you don’t really want answers too” I say while forcing the hatch open with the crowbar. It takes a bit of work, but I finally open the hatch wide enough for us to get through. As we make our way into the passenger section, we are alarmed to see the stasis pods are of some bizarre fashion none of us had ever seen before. Each pod seemed to have a computer terminal connected to it, along with extra components we couldn’t identify. The storage lockers for the biological materials looked familiar enough. These were large cabinets that stored tens of thousands of human embryos which had been fertilized. Once the terraforming was complete, they would be grown to establish a population for the colony. Walking over to the first stasis pod I look inside, the occupant is a middle-aged male, I recognize him from the passenger manifest, he’s the custodian for the passengers, the person that chartered and purchased this flight. We are supposed to wake him up along with anyone else we awaken for crew replacement. “Doc!” I call the bewildered doctor over to where I am at. “Can we even wake these people up?” I ask him, suddenly afraid that we won’t be able to replace the missing crew members. “Yeah, I was looking at the computer terminal on another pod, it’s strange, but I should be able to get them up” he responds looking over the controls for the stasis pod. “Go find the rest of the members for wakeup, and I’ll be right there” he says as he begins the wake-up procedure on the custodian’s pod. As I walk around the rows and rows of pods, I happen to look in one random pod, the occupant takes me by surprise, it’s a boy, no more than 14 or 15 years old. I find it odd to see such a young member of a terraforming crew, but decide it must be someone’s child. After some looking I finally locate the first pod to be awoken. As I look in the pod, I can feel my heart in my throat, and I hear Hoffmann’s voice, panic stricken in the distance “They’re all kids!”. I check, double check, and triple check that I have the right pod. The manifest claims that the occupant of this pod should be “Lester, Robert. Engineer, age 28.” But inside I see a boy no older than 15 or 16 years old. Looking again at the manifest, I see the photo looks like the child may look once he’s older. Then it dawns on me, “the photos have all been faked…” I mutter to myself, as Hoffmann comes running around the corner. “What the hell is going on!” he screams panicked. “I don’t know, but Doc Harris is waking up the man with all the answers” I say, turning to go back to the first pod we arrived at. Once there we find Doc Harris helping the middle-aged man sit up in the pod. “Doc, we’ve got a problem” Hoffmann says as the confused doctor looks up at our expressions of fear and confusion. The passenger is waking up, “You had no right entering this section” Mr. Adam Pennington scolds us from his groggy tired state. “Look, I don’t care about that, what the hell is going on here!” I demand. “You can’t wake them up!” Pennington yells, becoming more aware of what’s going on. “They’re not ready yet! You mustn’t wake them up!” he clambers to grab hold of me. As Pennington grabs my arm, he sags back into his stasis pod. “Hibernation sickness…” Doc Harris says, watching the vital stats for the passenger. “We woke him up early, so he’s going to be in and out for a while.” He says as he positions the man back into the pod. “Get him to med bay, and doc, restrain him once he’s there” I order. “I’ve got to do some digging in the computer” I say leaving the section.
The computer’s files are in a disarray, there are backups, replicas, and seemingly corrupted files everywhere. I locate some additional information for the captain about the manifest. “Special transit authorization, signed Pennington, A. Cargo, transient state hybrid crew” I look over the fragment of the message that I could recover. What does it mean? It’s been about 4 hours, and I am tired of waiting. I decide that I will get my answers one way or another. Heading back to med bay, I call the doctor, “Harris, I need you in Med Bay… We’re getting some answers from Mr. Pennington…” I let the cold tone of my voice convey the real meaning of the message. I find the doctor waiting for me outside the med bay. As I reach for the open button to enter, he stops me. “How far are you going to take this?” he asks, me in a sullen tone. “As far as I have to doc, we need answers and we don’t have time to play games here…” I say pressing the button. As the door slides open, I see Alyona is in the room already, she’s taking readings from the computers that Mr. Pennington is hooked up to. “He’s out again, he seems to have about twenty minutes or so, then passes out for a couple hours” she says as we both enter the room. “Doc, wake him up…” I say coldly. “What did I miss?” Alyona asks, somewhat startled by my tone. “A lot doc, there’s something seriously wrong going on here, and he has the answers…” I say softly, it’s time to shut out any emotion. I need answers, he has them, and if I let myself think about everything that has transpired over the last several days, I am liable to lose my composure and start beating the man. “two cc’s adrenaline” Doc Harris says walking to a storage cabinet. The look on Alyona’s face is one of shock, and concern. “That’s a lot” she says in protest. “We need a lot of answers” I respond walking to the side of the bed. As Doc Harris pushes the dose of adrenaline into the man’s IV, I consider just how far will I be willing to go? Recovering from early wake up can be difficult, and to pump the person full of drugs could complicate the process, or even kill the patient. Then I think about all of the stasis pods, and the child occupants. “What’s going on” the groggy and tired Pennington asks as he stirs awake from the powerful drug. “I am captain of this ship, and I need answers, now…” I say calmly and firmly. Mr. Pennington looks around the room, shocked to see he’s not in the stasis bay, and looks to me “You’re not the captain” he says and closes his eyes again. “Look! I don’t have time or the patience to deal with this!” I yell at him lifting his shoulders out of the bed by his stasis suit. “What happened” he manages to ask, still groggy. “Why are there kids in all those pods!” I demand. “Where’s captain Shepherd?” Pennington responds. “Dead! Now give me answers!” I yell, trying to keep some form of composure. “Special crew… That’s all you need to know” Pennington says as he’s starting to fall asleep again. “Like hell!” I yell, “Doc, more drugs!” I order. Doctor Harris looks concerned, and draws a second syringe of adrenaline. “Look this is about all I can give him, it’s already a dangerous dose…” he says as he administers the medication. Alyona has a stern disapproving look on her face. “Look, if you don’t want to see this, leave the room” I say coldly. We have been through hell literally, and I am going to get my answers from this man. “Who are those kids!” I demand shaking the man awake. “Hybrids, they are still developing, if you wake them up now, they will die…” Pennington seems to be only half aware of his surroundings. “What do you mean hybrids? Clones!?” I demand. “Not clones, well, not entirely clones, they are a hybridized human, they will be fully grown when we arrive at SNP-1523” he murmurs almost to himself. “Hybridized with what!” I continue to shake the man to wake him up. “experimental, serum two, three…” Pennington falls asleep again. Doc Harris shakes his head, “That’s all I dare give him, as it is he could still die from that dose”. “Alyona, do you have any idea what the hell he’s talking about?” I ask. Looking over at the surgeon, I can see that she’s pale, but not in her normal, person that is dying pale. She looks truly horrified, and sick. “Net puti!” she hisses at the man in the bed. Doc Harris and I look at each other, then the surgeon. “Alyona, what is going on?” I ask after a moment. Looking up at both of us with tears in her eyes… “Horrible, terrible, things…” she whispers, she starts to say something more, but before she can form the words, her eyes roll back into her head, and she faints. Rushing to catch the woman before she falls to the floor, Doctor Harris and I look at each other, then the dying Russian surgeon, then the man in the bed, and finally back at one another. “I think we have a serious problem here…” the doctor says.
Alyona slowly regains consciousness while laying in one of the beds in the medical bay. “It can’t be true…” she manages in her weakened state. “What’s going on?” I ask softly, looking over her. “It was experiment, many years ago. I was consulting doctor called in to review complications” Her accent was thicker than I had ever heard it. “There was problem, protein chains unstable, genetic mutations, developing late in life cycle.” She shook her head like she was trying to shake off a bad dream. “Mutations were progressive, deformities like never seen.” She was crying. “Just little babies… All dead within two years” the vital statistics monitors began to sound alarms. “All were lost, or destroyed. But rumor, Pendergrass, Dr. Pendergrass rumored to escape with serum…” she cried out. “perhaps not rumors anymore…” she finally says lapsing back into unconsciousness. Both Doc Harris and I spend a long time watching the dying surgeon, unsure what to think of what she said. “Daniel, how long can we go without a crew?” Harris finally asks. “Not to destination… I’ll tell you doc… I think we are completely screwed…” I manage to say. “We need to talk… I’ve been keeping some of what I found over on the Pioneer to myself… I think it’s time to share what I heard over there…” I say softly. “Hoffmann, I need you to meet us in Operations…” I call over the coms set. “You know doc, I think we may already be dead…” I say turning to leave the room. “Would make sense, we’re definitely already in hell” the doctor calls to me as I leave the room.
“So, you’re telling me, that this recording, that’s been sitting around for eight million years, called out our ship specifically?” Hoffmann is holding onto his head, elbows on the table “The Horizon, this ship” he repeats. “Yeah, it makes no sense, but they mention the Horizon specifically” I respond. “And they said that we never made it to our destination?” Harris continues the thought. “Yes, now it seems like we know one more piece of why we won’t make it there” I finish. “So, we must decide, do we try to make it all the way there?” I look to Harris, “Do we just try to make it to the nearest class M planet?” I look to Hoffmann, “or do we just try to make it back to Earth?” I finish softly. “We could try any one of those, and fail” Harris adds. “Yes, but we have to do something.” I reply. “If, we were to go find a class M planet like you suggest, we could make it, and still appear to have disappeared as the video says” Hoffmann states, while looking at the charts of local systems on the table. “True, but we also have to realize that our chances are practically nonexistent in any case. If what Pennington says, if that’s really his name” I scoff “is true, then we have close to six years before we will have any help or assistance from the passengers in making a planet suitable for habitation” I sit back in my chair and reflect on our options. “We could drop the passenger module on a class M, then turn back and head for Earth” I postulate “But the message infers that we never made it back to Earth, so that’s a consideration” I finish my thought. “What if we are taking the message out of context?” Hoffmann counters. “I don’t follow” I say to the navigator. “Well, temporal mechanics says that there are infinite possibilities, and that this could be one of those possibilities.” He says referring to one of the many theories on temporal mechanics. “Yes, but then there are also the theories that say once a path has been considered, or stated it becomes self-fulfilling” I counter, “Look, we could debate the various theories and aspects of temporal science until those pods are ready to hatch” I say becoming frustrated “We need to choose a course of action now” I finish. “Doc, start scans of this system, see if any of these planets will meet criteria for our terraformers. I would rather sit in orbit for several years, than to waste my time trying to fly somewhere and die along the way…” I say getting up from my chair. “Hoffmann, check the local systems, see if there are any probable matches for habitable planets.” I order. “I’m going to go check in on our guest” I say leaving the room. “What do you think our chances are doc?” Hoffmann asks the doctor as they prepare to go to their tasks. “No matter what, they are not good…” he responds. “There’s another possibility that Daniel failed to mention” Harris says as they are leaving the room. “I think he knows it, but wanted to spare us the possibility.” Harris speaks just above a whisper. “Human hybridization was outlawed, all the research was banned, and made illegal. So, what if we don’t make it because we know too much, and we are stopped from going home?” he says departing to the bridge to perform his scans of the local system. “Thanks doc… That helps settle my nerves just beautifully…” Hoffmann says heading to the stellar cartography room.
“Mr. Pennington, or perhaps I should say Mr. Pendergrass?” I say to the man laying in the med bay. “I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about” the man replies trying to sit up. “Hybridization was banned… Your science experiment was deemed unstable, and inhumane” I reply staring at the man. “Science marches to the beat of its own drum good sir” the man replies. “What was the plan? Grow a batch of terraformers and settle a planet with your freaks?” I ask. “People” he corrects me, “and yes. Is that so hard to believe?”. “From what I hear, Pendergrass, your ‘people’ won’t live long enough to make the planet habitable.” I say coldly. “Well, that’s my problem to deal with, isn’t it?” Pendergrass responds. “How did you correct the unstable protein chains?” I hear a Russian voice ask from the back of the room. “You know Alyona, you’re the one that came up with the idea…” Pendergrass responds lazily. “You bastard, that would only prolong their lives… it did nothing for the mutations and deformations…” Alyona walks over to the bed. “Yes, but it would allow them to live a full life cycle, estimated to 150 years old.” Pendergrass smiles, “and we owe it all to you, my dear…” he finishes settling back. It’s at that point something dawns on me. “How many people know you are doing this Pendergrass?” I ask, horrified at the pieces of the puzzle that were falling into place. “My research assistants back on Earth knew, but that was about it” he says dismissively. “Barnes…” I whisper, “How do you know that name…” Pendergrass looks up at me suspiciously. “Angela, Barnes. She’s my associate back on Earth…” he replies coolly, “But there’s no way you could know that.” Pendergrass peers at me, trying to read what it is I know. “What is project Pioneer?” I ask quietly. “Pioneer? That’s a ship design, but it won’t even begin construction for another 20 or 30 years” Pendergrass says his gaze piercing and critical now. Alyona and I look at each other, we just figured out why the Pioneer was looking for the Horizon specifically.
Leaving the med bay in a rush, we head towards the bridge. “Could this serum act like a cure for a biological weapon?” I ask her as we hurry down the hallway. “Yes, the serum creates a protean chain of proteins in the host” she says out of breath from the brisk pace. “It’s what causes the mutations and instabilities, but it could work to stop a pathogen from taking hold of a host’s system.” Pieces of the puzzle are making some sort of an image, I just cannot tell what yet. All I can tell, is that we are the center piece of the puzzle. Arriving at the bridge we find Harris scanning the local system for a suitable planet. “Hey, I think we may have found our first break!” he says happily. “It looks like the third planet in this system is capable of supporting life!” his excitement fading as he sees the looks on our faces. “Hoffmann, get back up here. We found a planet!” I yell into my coms set rushing to the pilot’s seat to maneuver the ship. As I come around the corner and see the seat my heart jumps through my throat. While we had cleaned most of the blood from the seat, we still have not been able to clean it all out of it, nor have we replaced the seat yet. I hoist myself up and jump over the pilot’s seat opting instead to sit in the co-pilots station for this maneuver. “Doc, I need an intercept baring asap!” I say switching controls over to my station. “Good you found a planet, the next system to have even possibly a habitable planet wasn’t for about another year’s flight from here” Hoffmann says arriving on the bridge. “No time, for details right now, but things are getting weirder” I say still setting the ship up for manual flight. “Oh good, because life was too fricking normal around here” Hoffmann says sitting at the navigation station. “I have that baring for you Daniel” Harris calls out, “Right doc, send it, AGS going offline” I say shutting off the artificial gravity, then grabbing a tablet that begins to float by my side. “Baring two one three zero, mark one seven three six” the doctor recites the intercept path for the Horizon to establish an orbit around the second planet of the system. “Roger, I make that two one three zero, mark one seven three six” I repeat while entering the data into my flight computer. “Check, and confirm” Hoffman verifies the course. “Okay course set, I will roll inflight” I say letting the crew know that I will roll the ship while turning to orient us level with the planet as we come about. “Reactor, and D.A.C.?” I ask Harris, who is sitting in the commander’s station for the maneuver. “Check and set” he responds. “C.E.S. is good, and E.S.I. complete. I continue, firing in three, two, one.” I depress the engine startup command, and the ship shudders to life once again. There is a series of hoops displayed on the forward monitor, making a tunnel of a sort, to make sure that we wind up on the path and course we need, I must navigate the ship through them by hand. Pulling back on the throttle the hoops begin flying towards the ship. The course we are flying is not an easy, one, but far from the hardest I have ever had to negotiate. Within 5 minutes we are on the new course and the hoops are making a straight line off into the distance. “Setting ten percent burn, E.C.O is in fifteen minutes” I let everyone know that the ship will continue to accelerate for the next fifteen minutes before the engine cut out engages. “We need to discuss what we do next” Hoffmann says quietly. “I know… I just don’t know that it will matter” I respond staring that the screen before me. We will reach the planet in 2 days. Once we are there, we will have a couple of options available to us. We could jettison the passenger section of the ship, it would either establish its own orbit, or it would attempt a landing on its own; we could then turn back to Earth and try to make it home. We could wait in orbit for the 6 years for the hybrid humans to be ready and then send the section down to the planet’s surface. We could even try to land the Horizon it’s self on the surface of the planet, it’s habitable now, no need for terraforming. Make this our new home, decide what to do with the hybrids over time. So many options, and so many implications, it seems an impossible scenario, even more so in all that we know will come to pass.
I decided to take some time to talk our situation over with the computer. “Computer, extrapolate potential explanations from given data.” I instruct the computer to use AI to come up with most likely scenarios. “Your own analysis was quite complete, but failed to consider the following explanations.” The computer says after a few moments. “One, that the Pioneer was actually a TCSC ship from the present.” I stare at the computer for a moment “But how do you account for the advanced technology?” I ask. “The technology was a fallacy, the large size of the ship was designed so that you would only have seen the fake mockup, and never the real systems.” The computer makes a good point about the size of the ship. “But why?” I ask, this train of thought intriguing me. “If Dr. Pendergrass’s work was continuing, the TCSC would have been interested in hiding his efforts.” The computer continues. “If he were to establish a colony of these hybrids, the news would eventually make its way back to Earth. TCSC would be shown to be duplicitous in illegal research.” This train of thought from the computer is sounding frighteningly accurate. “Rather than apprehend, or attack the doctors work on Earth, where courts and legal battles could ensue, they discover his plans, then launch the Pioneer to intercept us on the way to SNP-1523. The ship could have override command authority from TCSC HQ, and reprogram Sheila to malfunction” The computers explanation was chilling. “Then simply, if we decided to agree to the ships recording, and board the Pioneer, it could self-destruct, and if not, the reprogramming of Sheila could have led to containment failure on our own core, or a number of other ways to eliminate us.” The computers assessment is frightening, it also meant that if were to try to make it back to Earth, we would certainly be eliminated long before we could reach the core systems. “Assessment, what would be the likelihood of the various scenarios?” I ask knowing the answer already. “All scenarios carry an equal chance of being accurate.” The computer responds innocently. “Recommendations for procedure forward?” I ask in almost a whisper. “Insufficient data to recommend course of action” the computer replies. “Daniel, you need to come to the med bay…” I can hear Harris’s voice, that solemn tone again. “On my way” I respond leaving the computer room. “Computer, I want all sensor, and monitor data encoded to a communications pod. Once complete, fire the pod back towards the core systems.” I instruct the computer to seal our fates, or alert humanity that time travel is possible. If the Pioneer is truly from the future, this pod will have never made it back to the core system. Or if it had, it was intercepted and the data erased. Either way, I must try to let someone know what is happening.
“Her condition is worsening.” The doctor says looking up as I enter the med bay. I can see Alyona laying on one of the beds again, her life signs on the monitors barely registering. “What can we do?” I ask the doctor as I approach. “Nothing really… She’s going into shock, several organs are failing, and we simply don’t have the facilities to correct this kind of damage.” The doctor replies sullenly. “What about putting her back into cryo stasis?” I offer the only solution I could think of. “No good, at best we would just be postponing the inevitable, at worst she would die going through the procedure to put her under.” The doctor sits down defeated. I can see the lines of pain in his face, so much death, so many friends lost. “Do what you can doc, make her comfortable…” I say trying to suppress my own pain. “Look at you two…” we look to the sound of Alyona’s soft cracking voice. “Worried, about little old me…” she forces a grin looking up at us. “Don’t worry yourself, about little old Alyona, I’m just going to get some rest… I’ll be back on my feet tomorrow…” she says, voice trailing off at the end. As if on cue, the life readings begin to waver, then flatline. No longer able to suppress my tears, I look damningly at the monitors. “And then there were three” the doctor says sighing deeply.
The all too familiar scene repeated it’s self once again in the EVA Bay. This time it was Doctor Harris inside the airlock, and once again I found myself having to elegize a friend and comrade taken from us too soon. Dr. Pendergrass was present for the burial. His demeanor not as sullen as ours but still he had lost a colleague he had worked with. Once we had completed our ceremony, and Harris was back in the ship we turned our attention to our, not so welcome guest aboard the Horizon. “You have some explaining to do” I glare at the besieged Dr. Pendergrass.
The spacious Operations room, was designed to comfortably seat up to 30 people, the remaining 3 crew somehow made the room too small for the four occupants that now sat in there. “What exactly are they?” Hoffmann asks staring at the readouts coming from the passenger bay. “They’re human, like you and me” Pendergrass spits back. “Bullshit” Harris fires back at him. “I’ve seen humans inside and out, these are not human.” He continues “Humans age at a constant rate, they go into metabolic stasis when in a cryo sleep chamber.” He waves his hand at the screen monitoring one of the occupants in the passenger bay. “These, are still growing, and at different rates. Their metabolic functions are speeding up, and slowing down, they look human, but no human can do the things they are doing” he says planting both hands on the table across from the scientist. “And they are changing… Becoming something different…” he finishes. “If you were to analyze their DNA, you would find- “, Dr. Pendergrass starts to defend his creations. “I have!” Doc Harris screams at him, “Humans, have 23 chromosomes… These things have 26!” The doctor cries out at the scientist. “You had no right to perform such a test!” Pendergrass stand up yelling at the doctor. “Sit down!” I yell at Pendergrass, while Hoffmann grabs his shoulder and forces him back down into the chair. “Those people have their rights too!” Pendergrass scolds as he is forced into his chair. “People?” the doctor scoffs. “What happens if we wake them up early?” I ask in the calmest tone I can manage. “They are not developed, they are still learning from the computers. Not only would they be under developed physically, they would not have the education they require” Pendergrass says gruffly, “Besides, they have the experiences and knowledge that they are their end age, the fact that they are not the right age would cause serious emotional impacts against them” he finishes. “I can’t believe I’m considering this, but I think we should jettison the section into the star” Hoffmann says. “I’m not far behind you on that” I reply. The look of terror and horror on Pendergrass’s face spurs an unexpected reaction from the doctor. “Forget it, while I agree they are not human, they are still part human, and they are alive, we aren’t executing them, even if it is the only humane thing to do” Doc Harris takes a seat at the table. “Their DNA, and physiology is changing, rapidly, I think that the dear Mr. Pendergrass here, may have killed them all, already” he pulls up a readout on one of the screens. “You can see here, there are already multiple mutations, and cancers developing in several of them” he points to some readouts that perhaps only he and Dr. Pendergrass could understand. “I expect that they will survive most of these however, because their morphology is changing at the same time.” Doc Harris switches to a different display. “Here we see one, where their pancreas has completely failed, and is being reabsorbed by their body, their body is still, functioning like it’s there.” He looks perplexed at the screen “This person should be dead, but their blood sugar, and chemistry is normal… or at least as normal as one could declare under these circumstances”. Dr. Pendergrass sits back and smiles, smugly “You see, their bodies are designed to adapt, they will overcome anything that’s wrong with them” he announces with pride in his creation. “Except, their brains are still chemically and synoptically wired like ours…” Doc Harris says, looking sadly at a different graph “look at this” The doctor brings up a graph of one of the passengers. “This is an EEG of the people in those pods.” He says solemnly “They’re all in highly active beta state. Meaning they are not only awake, they are alert.” He continues to explain, “They are connected to learning machines, but they are awake like you and I” he says looking at me “They’ve been awake even since this started… Their brains are learning, and developing new synapses, but they are dying at the same time.” Harris looks at Dr. Pendergrass, “they would have died from the hormone and brain activity, but you managed to find a way to keep them alive. To force them to live in this perpetual hell of never sleeping”. “You can’t use standard medical logic with them doctor” Pendergrass leans in toward the graph “They have evolved past our understanding for simple EEG’s and basic medicine” he says looking over the graph “In the end, they adapt, and their brains are far more complex than ours.” Pendergrass says pushing the display away. “You’re right, there are several parts of their brains chemistry that cannot be identified, but I do know that their dopamine levels are nearly five times higher than thought possible for a human brain to produce” Doc Harris says softly “dopamine of course being a part of the brains response to pain…” he says sorrow in his voice. “Well, we have about thirty-two hours till we reach our orbit around the third planet” I say looking at the doctor. “You have until then to come up with recommendations for how to deal with these, passengers…” I say, “and as for you…” I glare at Dr. Pendergrass “I’m having you confined in quarters”. “You can’t do that… Now that I am awake, I have to monitor my people” Pendergrass begins to protest. “You can have minimal computer access, you can monitor your… people from your quarters…” I tell him angrily “And if we detect anything strange, or it looks like you are trying to do anything but monitor them… Let’s just say you will get to see the ship from its exterior…” I add the foreboding promise, which is technically within my authority if I believe he’s trying to overtake the ship.
I decided to try to get some sleep, even just a couple hours, but everything is getting to me. Remembering that message from the Pioneer video, watching Alyona pass away, the fire on the ship, the computer, and of course Axelson. Now even more weight has been placed on my shoulders. I can choose to destroy the passengers, drop their module into the star, or simply apply some protocol to introduce a deadly toxin to their cryo stasis chambers. Or perhaps even less humanely I could let them live. Based on the descriptions from Doc Harris, of their present state, and of Alyona’s shocking and terrible death bead retelling of what these things were. Perhaps sending them into the heart of a star would be the most humane thing to do? Never mind that from the sound of it, their blood could be the only cure possible for this pathogen the Pioneer warned us of, and here we come full circle. Giving up on sleep, I decide to get up and go to the galley. On my way there, I see Hoffmann returning from the galley to the bridge. “Hey, we’re about twenty-six hours away, you can see the planet from here…” he says as we pass. I try to think of some response, but end up just making some guttural sound. I gather some coffee and head to the bridge myself. Since sleep is useless, perhaps I can just pass the time doing something productive. I settle into the command station, and begin rummaging through the data on our passengers. Since the section has been opened, we can now monitor, and control some of the computer systems in that section. I’m about half way through my cup of coffee when I see something that takes special notice away from everything else. There is a manifest of the personnel, the biological material, and of the equipment. I’m perusing through the records and data, there’s mining equipment, terraforming gear, and building material. Also listed in the manifest is a bunch of medical equipment, which would be expected, they do have to manage any, and all medical emergencies after all. The issue seems almost mute, but there’s something else, I have no clue what half the devices are, nor what their use is. I decide to ask Harris about them when he arrives for his shift on the bridge. But that’s when something else catches my eye. The manifest lists everything within the passenger section, however something about what the doc was saying was weighing on my mind, considering how much of this trip has been expected vs. unexpected I decide to do a little math. “Computer, report, number of stasis bays in use.” I ask, seeing how the passengers are the only ones still in stasis, and there are 500 of them, the answer I am expecting is 499, which would account for the Dr. Pendergrass we have woken up. “There are nine hundred, ninety-two stasis bays in use.” The computer replies. I puzzle for a moment the entire section was full, while I could see the number of bays being perhaps a little over 500, it couldn’t be that many. “Wait, computer, how is the number of bays being reported?” I ask looking at the screen. “By power consumption from the passenger section core.” Now I am completely lost. “But computer, the bays, use additional computers, and subsystems, have you recalculated based on this varying energy draw?” I ask unsure what would be a better answer at this point. “Negative, adjusting figures for new values using averaged pod energy draw.” The computer replies, I give a little sigh of relief while I am waiting to hear the number I am expecting. “There are four hundred, ninety-seven pods in use.” Hoffmann has been listening to my conversation with the computer, not paying it much attention, but that catches his attention. We both look up at each other. “computer, confirm, you said there are four hundred ninety-seven pods in use?” Hoffmann asks, terror in his eyes, “Affirmative” the computer replies. “Computer, report number of life signs aboard the horizon” I ask, unable to make more than a whisper. “There are six life forms aboard the Horizon” the computer replies oblivious to the situation. There is a small arms locker on the bridge of the ship, as there is aboard every ship. Should there arise a need, it was figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep weapons accessible to the bridge crew. Situations like what? I used to wonder, often making jokes about space pirates attacking, and boarding the ship. As I opened the locker and retrieved 3 pistols I could not have been happier to have it there. “We need to get to doc” Hoffmann says checking the weapon. “Computer, lock down the bridge, only Doctor Harris, Navigator Hoffmann, or myself are to have access to any terminal, or the bridge” I say as we leave the bridge of the ship. “Affirmative” the computer replies sealing the bridge section behind. “Locate Doctor Harris” I order as we make our way to the crew’s quarters. “Doctor Harris, is in passenger section three, deck C” the computer replies. We both stop look at each other, “What the hell?” Hoffmann asks. “No clue…” I say, when something else occurs to me “Computer, location of Doctor Pendergrass?” I ask. “Doctor Pendergrass, is in passenger section 3 deck C” the computer replies. I’m feeling sick to my stomach, “Computer, location of every life sign onboard the ship?” I ask. “There are four life signs in passenger section three, deck C, and there are two life signs on Deck A section one”. “Daniel?” Hoffmann looks frozen in place, like terror is preventing him from moving. I too have that feeling about me, I remember the time when I was a child and a Tarantula crawled on to me. I was so petrified with horror I couldn’t move, I felt the same terror now. “We need to get to the doc…” I manage to get out.
As we made our way silently to the passenger section, a thousand thoughts were racing through our minds. Why would Doctor Harris take Pendergrass to the lowest level of the passenger section? And what else was down there with them? As we got closer to the section we could hear voices arguing. It sounded like Pendergrass, Harris, and one other person talking in angry tones. As we get closer we can see that there are three people talking next to a large container, while one is walking around the back of the section. “It couldn’t be helped! Everything is going to hell!” I could make out one of the voices say, it almost sounded like Harris, but I couldn’t tell. “Well, all I know is I’m glad I was able to get down here in the first place.” Another voice said, it sounded familiar as well “Once that fucking computer went haywire, I’m surprised any of us survived” the voice continued. Something was wrong, the voice was eerily familiar. I know that I had heard it before, but I couldn’t remember where. As we got even closer to the containers they were talking at, I could see Pendergrass, and Harris clearly, they seemed agitated, but were standing next to one another. I was at the point I wanted to know who the last person was, and I was ready to just come out from behind the container, weapon drawn and order all of them to surrender. That’s when the third figure walked into view. I felt dizzy, sick, and no longer in control of my life, or what was happening before my eyes. I could hear Hoffmann gasp, and I knew we had to do something, surely, they would have heard that gasp, and hear it they must had, because it was that moment that Captain Shepherd, original designated commanding officer for the TCSC ship Horizon, presumed dead, and buried in space, turned to face us.

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