Captain Howard Fredrick stood next to Sam’s bed, trying hard not to look at the rest of his body, but just keeping his eyes on his face. No one had told Sam exactly how bad it was, but he seemed to know.
Sarah was standing back away from the bed, afraid to look at the mangled body of Sam. She was holding back her tears. Sam kept his eyes on her but spoke carefully to Howard.
‘Fredrick... Be careful... the ship... is in danger...’
‘Is it our special guest?’
‘I don’t know... for certain... the accident was... well timed.’ He said with difficulty.
Howard looked over the body of his friend, lying on the medical bed, and felt a chill wash over him. If this was Exo’s doing, no one was safe anymore. But what could they do? They had one more jump to make before they were in the new system, and they had lost half their fuel supplies in the explosion that ripped through the engines. They couldn’t turn back even if they wanted to.
Things were not going according to plan.
‘It was indeed. Don’t worry Sam. The ship is still in good hands. I’ll take care of it, and Ayla will help me.’
‘Alya... is hurt to... I don’t know... how...’
At the moment Ira Geer re-entered the medical bay, holding Ayla’s hand. She walked to the bed. Howard looked at Ayla and then back to Sam. Sam had turned his head to look, and his eye’s betrayed a strong sense of surprise. His lips were open in a unasked question.
Ira stepped closer, Howard moved aside, ‘Thank you, Sam. She’s okay. She did hurt herself, but she’s not seriously injured.’
Howard looked back at Ayla, her face didn’t show any obvious emotion. Something in his heart made him take notice of that.
Sam motioned Ayla over with great effort. Ayla walked to his bedside and looked at him.
‘How?’ Sam managed to ask.
‘I cut my link with Exo when your pain came flooding over the uplink. Exo helped me to cut it.’
Sam’s face twisted in confusion, then grimaced in pain.
Doctor Singh ran to the displays for the motoring equipment, ‘His life support is failing. The damage must have been worse than we thought!’ He started shouting orders to the other medical personnel in the room.
Howard was about to step away to give them room when he stopped at the feeling of Sam gripping his wrist like a vice. Sam pulled Howard in close.
‘It’s all... gone... wrong... save... Ayla...’
‘I’ll protect her Sam, don’t worry.’
‘No... Not protect... Save... Not... protect...’ Sam’s body shuddered in pain. Howard felt his grip weaken. Sam’s head rolled back from Howard and looked unfocused at the roof.
‘Save her... Howard...’
Then his body went still. A solid tone from the display denoted a lack of any vital signs. Howard took Sam’s limp hand in his own and lifted it up. He patted the hand with his other free hand, while gripping it with his other, and felt his eye’s burning with sadness.
‘I’ll do my best Sam...’
He took Sam’s limp hand and laid it out next to the body of his friend. Ira was crying softly, from behind him, and Ayla was looking at her feet.
Howard closed his eyes and stepped away, as a chilling wail escaped from Sarah. She rushed to his side and stood stunned for a long moment. Howard, moving carefully, put steadying hands on her shoulders as he felt his own tears burning paths down his cheek.
Sarah, still looking at Sam, just cried all the harder.
Analysing; Human grief patterns.
Subject; Human mourning process,
Filter; Child to adolescent.
Compiling behavioural program.
Applying to Ayla Avatar.
Behind him, Howard heard Ayla start to cry too. His heart burned.
Solar Array Storage Bay
Howard stood in the cargo bay. James stood next to him with his arm in a sling. They hadn’t touched the wreckage of the disassembled solar array since the accident yesterday. Techs were going over every inch with various pieces of equipment.
Howard’s eye’s looked raw, but had a determination to them. James looked haunted, and every now and again glanced at the stains on the floor left from the day before.
‘What I’m saying, is that according to Exo, and as near as I can tell he’s right, the erratic thrust generated by the malfunctioning engine created enough force to break the restraints I had in place. I designed them to withstand predictable and gradual thrust, not the sudden jarring movements we had yesterday.’
‘So there’s no sign of tampering from anywhere?’
‘Not that I can see. Exo has no records of anyone not on my crew entering this bay in the last week, and I examined the restraints myself at least once a week.’
‘How thorough are your examinations?’
‘I am thorough. There was nothing wrong with the restraints.’
‘Okay, then what about the call that brought Sam here in the first place?’
‘Well I know I didn’t place it, and Sam was sure it was my voice, but Exo has no records of any other calls.’
‘James. I take no pleasure in saying this, but until the investigation is complete, you must be treated as a suspect in the death of Samuel Jennings.’
James looked away from the stains on the floor of the bay and directly at the captain, his face was a picture of disbelief.
‘What? Sam was a friend! I would never have hurt him.’
Howard looked at him calmly, ‘You will be treated fairly, James. You will be given the full protection of the law. But you are the last one who saw him alive, and a call was made that Sam recognised as your voice.’
‘But Exo has no records of anything coming from here, and I don’t know how to erase records from Exo. As far as I know, only an Advocate could.’
‘Yet then the question is, why would Sam erase the evidence of his own murder?’
James ran his good hand through his hair. He looked like the news was sinking in. ‘I guess since I know I didn’t do it, I’ve got nothing to fear. Just promise me this Captain, make sure you’re thorough.’
‘I fully intend to be.’
Howard gave a small nod to James then turned to leave the bay.