Symbiosis

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Chapter 3 - Determination

I have to think that I’m alive for a greater purpose. It would be too cruel for it to all be an accident. Those are the thoughts that swirl around my head as I look down at the dead man’s disturbingly peaceful face. I would’ve mistaken him for sleeping, if not for the gruesome discoloration of his skin.

While I’m vacantly staring at the cause of my current misery, I rather belatedly realize that I recognize this man. I knew the faces of everyone aboard, all the crew did. However, I knew the dead man in front of me better than most. I look up at the nameplate on his cryo pod, it reads Robert Wright.

I think back to the encounters we had before we all went into stasis. He was just a damn kid, no older than my son would have been had I made it back on time. He was so excited to be a part of the mission, despite the unfortunate circumstance of its inception. He had an innocent charm that made everyone aboard like him. Everyone that was part of the crew was impressive in their own way. We were all the finest human specimens that humanity had to offer, mentally and physically. But even among us, Robert was special. Not because he could perform the most complex mental calculations, or cope with the highest g-forces. But because unlike the other arrogant pricks aboard who were used to being the smartest one in the room, myself included, he was respectful and intelligent and kind and I killed him because I was too much of a coward to die alone. When I look at his face, I see my son, as he might have looked on that day I was supposed to have returned. I cry for a long time, hunched over his corpse in a dim, titanium corridor. My new reality is finally sinking in. I am truly alone.

It took a while, I admit, but eventually I got my shit together enough to realize that I had a decision to make. I could either do what my conscious was telling me and bash my own head in with the wrench lying next to me, or, I could try and go home. Being the only one left alive on the ship, I figure I could start making executive decisions like that.

The mission’s latest allowable completion date was around two centuries ago, so even if I had a crew to complete it, it would be pointless to do so. That being the case, the only other thing I can think to do is turn the ship around and fly it back home. I have no idea what I would find if I made it there. Would humanity have placed all their hopes on us? If so, then I would arrive to find nothing but an apocalyptic hellscape. Did the Hegemony have contingency plans? Maybe I would return to find the Earth relatively unaffected. I have no idea, nor do I care. What I do know is that I don’t like the idea of dying out here without putting up a fight. So that’s it, my choice is made, I would try to get home to Earth.

With my future course of action now decided, there was another, bigger issue to address. What the hell had gone so wrong that things ended up like this? I start running through the possibilities as I limp my way back to the CIC.

Plopping myself down into the captain’s chair, I pull up the star map and confirm the ship’s position. We’re definitely where we’re supposed to be, in a stable orbit around Margo. The only thing in the entire solar system that isn’t exactly where it’s supposed to be is the system’s innermost planet. According to the projected solar model, the planet’s location is all wrong. I’m not sure what could’ve perturbed a planetary orbit, but it could’ve been a lot of things given how much time there was for some astronomical event to affect it. I file the information in the back of my mind and move on.

Next, I check the ship’s maneuver logs. Sure enough, the last time the engines were fired was for a retrograde burn to settle us into our planetary orbit three hundred years ago. So, we arrived at our destination intact and on time, but for some reason the system never woke the crew, except me. That thought reminds me of something I saw when I first stumbled into the CIC.

I pull up the list of emergency alerts that all vie for my attention. I focus on the power routing failures and pull up more detailed information for each. The first one to catch my attention is an alert that the kinetic barrier is offline. That would explain how so many small pieces of debris managed to get so close to the ship. Further down the list, I see that the ship’s propulsion is offline as well. Crew life support, the kinetic barrier and the engines were all among the few ship systems that were never meant to be taken offline.

With growing concern, I run a diagnostic tool for the main reactor. The application reports back that there is no physical damage to the reactor itself, but that reactor output is only 15% of what it should be. Unfortunately, the software can tell me nothing about how an undamaged reactor can only be operating at 15% output. I only have one more play to make.

I check the logs that track reactor output over time. Starting from the earliest records, everything was normal and within expected values, up until the ship entered the star system. Around the time the ship was approaching the system’s star to perform a gravity assist, the reactor’s output began steadily decreasing over the course of a few months until it settled at its current value.

If only the ships A.I. wasn’t one of the non-essential functions that was shut down for the flight, I could just ask it to find out what the problem is and report back. But since that’s not in the cards, it’s looking like the only option I have is to go down into the reactor chamber in person and have a look around.

I limp my way back to the same storage room I had been in when I had tried to… help Robert. I have to pass his body again on my way there. I try not to look, and fail. I nearly trip over my broken foot as I attempt to keep him out of my peripheral view. I’m going to have to deal with his body eventually. I was also going to have to do something about my foot. I wouldn’t be able to use the ship’s medical fabricators to make a bone tissue injection until the reactor issue was dealt with. For now, I was just going to have to be more careful.

Once in the storage facility, I begin methodically looking through the labeled containers until I have everything I might need. I sloppily dump it all into a tool case I found and start walking back out.

Before I make it to the exit, my eye catches on a weapons locker. For a humanitarian mission like ours, we were sent off with an awful lot of weapons and military vehicles. No one aboard was expecting we would ever use them; they were just an insurance policy in the highly unlikely event that we arrived at what was to be our new home to find it occupied. It’s probably just paranoia on my part, but I decide it can’t hurt to be prepared. I grab a plasma pistol and a few charge packs from the locker and toss them into my tool case. I know I’m not going to need them, but why take any risks, right?

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