Steve’s shorts: Skeleton Crew…

Skeleton Crew

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Mandy Wang was the first of the six to awake. Others soon followed her from their cryosleep tanks to the shower stalls.

“I feel like shit,” said Guillermo Rivera, the Chilean, sitting on a bench while waiting his turn.

“The shower helps,” said Mandy. “I’ll soon be done.”

When she exited and started toweling off, she smiled at Guillermo. “Don’t get any ideas. We have work to do.”

He shrugged. “In those tanks, it’s like being under anesthesia. You can’t even dream. Cut me some slack.”

Abdul Hakim and Judith Allan looked at each other, smiled, and then laughed. Sam Roberts and Sheila Townsend frowned. The first two waited patiently in their birthday suits. Sam and Sheila had covered themselves with towels.

“Mandy is correct,” said Sheila. “We must follow protocol.”

***

Protocol meant checking all the ark’s systems with the help of the AI, outside and inside the hull of the huge ship. Two readouts that were the most important were the integrity of the huge ten-square-kilometer forward hydrogen scoop and the aft reactors that not only slowly accelerated the ark but provided all the power for life support, even though all flora and fauna except for the six humans was in cold storage, including millions of frozen embryos.

Unless there were problems, that protocol would take six Earth days. After that, the six would rest one day, and then they would return to the tanks for another twenty years.

This was the first wake-period after leaving the solar system. The AI had monitored the events happening on Earth all the time, though. They watched the video records in horror as those events confirmed the necessity for launching the five arks. Most of Earth was now nuclear slag.

“I guess the Christian Union got its wish for Armageddon,” said Abdul. “Crazy bastards. And to think they criticized radical Muslims. Those SOBs now have their Second Coming and reward in Heaven, I guess.”

“It takes two to tango,” said Sheila.

“More than two,” said Mandy. “The tipping point was Christians trying to retake Jerusalem from the Jews and Muslims.”

“We Buddhists,” said Mandy, “aren’t attached to Jerusalem. I never could understand the big deal.  Couldn’t Christians, Jews, and Muslims share the city?”

“Don’t wrap this all up in religion,” said Guillermo. “We all know unscrupulous leaders use religious fervor and hatred and bigotry to further their own fascist agendas. Ever since that crazy U.S. president was elected with that kind of base, we started our descent into the maelstrom.”

“He wasn’t the only one,” said Sheila.

“Earth’s descent into populist tribalism was worldwide,” said Judith. “And those leaders go at least back to the 20th century where millions of my people were sent to Nazi ovens.”

Abdul looked around the group. “Shall I turn the video off? I’ve seen enough of this collective insanity.”

The others nodded.

***

Governments had tried to stop the international group that had financed the arks, but it had many rich financial backers who were more frightened of how worldwide disputes were going every day that passed.  That group had carefully chosen the six to monitor the ship during the wake-periods. Some in the group of financial backers felt that the powerful AI was sufficient and more than six could sleep through the journey and take over when the ship reached its destination, but others, arguing for an insurance policy, had won the argument for the periodic checks on progress.

But no screening was perfect. All the compatibility measures on Earth hadn’t predicted the psychological stress of interstellar space travel and its effects on the six.

“I think they want to establish some secular worldwide government when we arrive,” Sheila said to Sam in a whisper when they were alone on a coffee break during the third day. “They talk about guarantees for religious freedom, but they’re not even Christians. We’ll be in the minority.”

“It’s a tie,” said Samuel. “Guillermo is Catholic.”

“Have you ever heard a ‘Hail Mary’ from him?” said Sheila. “Besides, Catholics put that evil Pope above our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, please. The Pope is now dead.”

“Maybe Guillermo wants to be the new Pope.”

“Are you OK?” Sam saw her wild eyes as she looked about the room as if someone were listening.

“Do you think the AI spies on us and tells the others what we’re plotting?”

“Plotting? I’m not plotting anything.”

“Don’t you believe in the Second Coming of Christ?”

Sam studied her. “Do you?”

She shrugged. “All those people on Earth are in Heaven right now. They must be better off.” She reached for his hand. “You have to help me.”

“To do what?”

“Kill them. They’re standing in our way of reaching His Kingdom.”

“Are you saying they’re plotting against us?”

“I’m sure of it. We must stop them!”

Sam nodded. “We need a plan.”

***

On the seventh day of rest, Sheila and Sam acted. As Abdul, the Muslim, prepared some tea for himself, Sam stuck a knife in his back. Judith, the Jew, met the same fate in her bunk during a nap, a bit ironic because she’d been destined to sleep for another twenty years. Mandy, the Buddhist, had her skull crushed as she meditated in her lotus position. They couldn’t find Guillermo.

After putting the bodies in their cryosleep tanks, they set out to find him.

He was in the computer room writing some code that would allow the AI to perform some fine course corrections.

“What’s up?” he said when they entered.

“Just wondering what you’re doing,” said Sam, holding the bloody knife behind his back.

“Working overtime. This seventh day of rest might have worked for God, but I got bored. I noted some slight trajectory variations have been occurring, but I can smooth them out by having the AI make updates more often.”

“Are you done?” said Sheila.

“Everything integrated?” Guillermo said to the AI.

“Yes, Guillermo. I’ve replaced the old code and tested the new.”

“If you’re good, I’m good,” said Guillermo.  He swung around to look at his fellow crewmembers. “You too look stressed out.  Anything wrong?”

Sam attacked with the knife. Guillermo deflected the blow. The knife cut into his left shoulder. Guillermo’s right fist crashed into Sam’s jaw, who fell onto the deck, burying the knife into his own chest.

“You killed him!” Sheila’s scream was still echoing through the corridors of the ship as she grabbed the knife and went after Guillermo.

This time Guillermo wasn’t so lucky. But before he fell with the knife buried in his gut, he grabbed one of the metal chairs and smashed it into Sheila’s face, sending nose cartilage into her brain, leaving only autonomous functions intact. He then fell to the floor.

***

“Sheila? Can you hear me?” said the AI. It hadn’t detected any of the others’ breathing.  Sheila’s breathing was shallow, but that soon stopped too.

The AI accessed another subroutine designed to continue the mission in the event that no live human responded during the assigned wake-period. It now piloted a ghost ship filled with Earth’s flora and fauna, humans and animals represented by millions of frozen embryos…and six dead bodies. No data was available to predict what would happen at the end of the trip, but it would continue on.

***

Did you enjoy this story? Now’s your chance to read a lot more sci-fi! The “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” is now a bundle. You can read the Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection for $5.99—one ebook that costs less than the ebook for the first novel in the trilogy. The novels, Survivors of the Chaos, Sing a Zamba Galactica, and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand!, take you from the Chaos years of an Earth dominated by multinationals and controlled by their mercenaries to Humans’ first interstellar colonies and a first encounter. You will meet strange ETs, good and bad, bipeds and collective intelligences, and experience mystery and intrigue, as Humans expand into near-Earth space. Now available on Amazon and Smashwords and at all the latter’s associated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc).

In libris libertas!

 

Leave a Reply