Today we continue our space adventure via my short story, Truth in Space. If you’re just joining, please feel free to catch up on the adventure:
Parts 6 and 7
Laos’ surface unsatisfactory. Continuing deeper into sector as planned.
Map sector as you go.
October 18, 3021
Well, things may have changed a bit since I sent that warpagram. I sent it after launching off the surface of Laos. Now we’ve been in flight for five hours, and, if my plan works, we won’t be heading deeper into Zako Sector. For about an hour after takeoff, I just rested. Well, as much as I rest these days. Then my brain started going. I’m actually supposed to visit a star next. Not to land, of course, but to run an energy assessment. Then I’m to land on the nearby mega-planet Jasper 9. I intend to do neither.
At the moment, Fergus is covered in grease and wiring residue, his sleeves shoved above his elbows and his hands fiddling with a mess of wires, gears, and lasers. My hands are covered in singe marks from the two hours I spent in there. The only reason I’m writing instead of helping is because Fergus told me to go lie down. I tried, but sleep wouldn’t come. What in the heavens am I doing? Somehow I’ve let my mindset change in the last week. Before I landed on Vortega, I was determined to grit my way through this mission for my family’s sake. When a powerful entity threatens death to your parents, you quickly become inclined to do whatever they want. And I kind of wanted to hang on to my own life, too. So do I no longer care about my parents?
Of course I care! Our relationship hasn’t been the best in the last eight years, ever since the move. But that doesn’t mean I want them to die, especially if I’m the cause of it. That’s what makes this so hard. I don’t want them to die. Yet my going off-course may result, probably will result, in their deaths. I’m an emotional wreck right now. For most of this trip, I’ve tried to push my conscience aside. I’ve tried to ignore the ramifications of my actions. I told myself that if I didn’t do this someone else would, and all I would have accomplished would be endangering my family. So I focused on them and suffered from an ache in my heart that only grew stronger with time. On days I thought I would explode, I wrote everything in here. Then I burned it until each and every rebellious, dangerous word was a meaningless filament of ash, released into the endless reaches of space.
And now I have nine days’ worth of journal entries in my palm, sizzling with what the NCSP would consider treason. I can still burn them. But that’s ridiculous. I’ve made my decision. This is the debate I waged with myself and with Fergus for an hour and a half. And, clearly, the arguments are still spinning in my brain. See, about an hour out of Laos, something snapped inside me. I was studying the flight orders pertaining to Jasper 9 and the star Arcadian. Mission leaders are hoping to power the sector base by harnessing Arcadian’s energy. They’re also hoping to use it for weapons. Reading that, I smashed my fist into the dash, cracking the reader’s screen. That got Fergus’ attention, and, when he asked, I laid it all out there. What did he do? He listened, nodded, and asked one question: “What path will you choose?” We went over every aspect – my parents, Fergus’ life, my own survival, the impending destruction of millions of people – and it came down to that one question. What would I choose?
When I was six or seven, my dad used to take me outside and point out constellations. He’d say, “See, there’s a mighty lion,” or “there’s the crown of a beautiful queen.” He’d tell me about people who travelled among the stars and say that they got to fly inside God’s glow-in-the-dark painting. Space travel was simple to me back then. It wasn’t another field for war; it was beautiful. When I was a little older, he told me something else as we gazed up at the heavens. He said that people made history among the stars, that our whole age was shaped by the decisions they made. Then he turned me to face him and said, “Just as much history was made by people too scared to make the right decision.” Whatever decision I make will have painful consequences, but I know deep down what the right decision is. Not the selfish one, unfortunately.
Once I told Fergus that I was aborting the mission, we discussed the best way to do that. I considered disappearing into space for a while, but I’d only have supplies for eight or nine months, probably fewer with Fergus on board. So I’d only be delaying the end result. Besides, I’m pretty sure there’s a tracking device somewhere on the ship. And we have a wild card that could change everything: this journal. So, we decided to head for Earth. We’ve hit a snag, though. The navigation system on the ship is much more strictly regulated than the one on the Wanderer, Fergus’ ship. I have enough freedom to avoid unexpected obstacles, but the ship largely flies itself via the computer hidden behind that mess we’ve been digging in. It’s a very delicate, complicated system that we’re trying not to ruin. The computer is key, of course, but the wires and gears are also important. I’m pretty sure I made exactly no progress earlier. Hopefully Fergus is having more success.
I went down and assisted Fergus for a while, but when an hour passed and he was still scratching his head, we decided to take a break. Fergus is sleeping and I’m, well, writing. And worrying. I’m not surprised that I had trouble with the nav system, but Fergus is a navigator. That’s what he studied to be. And he’s as lost as I am. I checked the dash when we came up just to make sure we hadn’t knocked something out accidentally. We had some minor shiftings while we worked, but nothing seemed out of place. We’re still hugging our designated course, racing toward Arcadian. What if we can’t reset the nav system? Do we just continue on as if it never happened? I don’t think I have the mental or emotional strength to do that. I’m afraid I would just break, shatter even. There must be something we’re missing. In order to reach the computer, we have to disable the lasers. But the lasers hold certain elements steady, so their function has to be duplicated. Or neutralized…
I am sweaty and covered in grease. I have a nasty singe mark along my forearm. I am exhausted. But I am headed home. We did it! I remembered earlier that the ship has different modes. One of those is Protective Mode, to be used in case of a close solar flare or some kind of space storm. When engaged, that mode retracts all parts that extend from the hull. Including those controlled by the lasers. With Protective Mode enabled, all but one of the lasers shut off. When we broke through the flight controller two hours later, a tremendous shudder went through the ship. I raced up to check the steering just in time to keep us from colliding with a meteor. The narrow escape took my breath away, and then I realized how much navigational control I had. We did it. Fergus finished up in the nav console, and then I turned us around. We’re going to visit Veritas on our way, maybe give Fergus some kind of closure. If he needs it. Maybe I’m the one who needs the reminder, not him. A reminder of why his friends died and why I’m going back. The journey will take us about four months, but we’re headed for Earth. The question is what awaits us when we arrive.