01 Feb Achilles IV
Attention: This is the crew log of Ensign Colby Jordan, role designated as Systems Technician. Current assignment is to Cargo Acquisition Vessel Achilles IV, which is undergoing post-flight processing and containment procedures in Docking Port Two at Station Alpha Centauri. Information contained in this file has not yet been verified or vetted. Level One analysis of file indicates eleven security breaches committed in the creation of this file. Please set your system security at Epsilon while accessing this data. Remember, your safety and the company’s safety are one and the same.
Log #1 – August 14, 2074:
I really have no idea how to begin this, since I don’t normally bother with doing logs in the first place. Always felt like a pointless exercise, since the ship A.I. keeps track of everything and the Jericho Company execs don’t give a shit what we think as long as it doesn’t impact our jobs. I had to fight dirty with the Achilles A.I. just to get access to the logging program. So… I’ll just be blunt.
They’re dead. Everyone else is dead, and the ship doesn’t believe it.
Impossible, right? Didn’t the bigwigs back on Earth create a perfect system, one that can’t go wrong? We’re so trusting of our machine captains that the corporate newsletters are always spouting off about the ninety-two percent mission success rate. Jericho A.I. has a thousand eyes and ears, can take control of any ship system, and uses cold and practical logic to get the job done. Why even send humans on missions any more?
Except us system technicians know the bitter truth. The company can’t afford to fashion every ship in the fleet with a true A.I. So they slapped together a bunch of cognitive programs into one fancy package designed to mimic a true artificial intelligence. It does fine with handling ship functions, but it’s not an intellect that can think and adapt. That’s why cargo ships are sent out with a crew of six humans, and why the captain isn’t mechanical but flesh and blood. It’s also why we have implants in our chest that transmit our bio-readings to the ship, because that’s the only way the system knows we’re alive.
That little fact is rather important, because Jericho trusts its state-of-the-art tech far more than it trusts its employees. Our rank affects which ship systems we can access without authorization from a higher rank. The Captain has full authorization, as one might expect, but only if the computer allows it. And little ol’ me, an ensign, is at the bottom of the rung. I can’t even make a log entry without Captain Westinghouse’s approval. But if the Captain is rendered dead or incapacitated, the next highest-ranking crewmember gets control. We don’t make that determination, though. The computer does, because even though the system can’t determine if we’re alive or dead without help, it decides how to dole out control. Basically, we have a chain of command dictated by our implants.
I should have control. I don’t. Westinghouse and the others are dead. Their implants aren’t. The Expansion got them, but the computer still thinks they’re alive. As a result, I’m locked out of most ship systems because I need Captain authentication to do anything.
But us techs are tricky bastards. I managed to put together a diagnostic program that forces the ship computer to go into maintenance mode for twenty-one minutes and three seconds every twenty-four hours. In that time, while the computer is distracted, I have the ability to enter the system and whittle away at the security firewalls and encryptions. It’s been fifty-seven hours since the crew died, and this log is my first success. I have to cut it short because I’m almost out of time.
I’m going for the communication system next. I’ll transmit a distress call and this log and hope someone intercepts it in time. Because this ship is on its way to Alpha Centauri Station, and it cannot be allowed to dock.
Repeat: do not allow this ship to dock under any circumstances.
Log #2 – August 18th, 2074:
Three days attempting to send out a signal. Three days wasted. The Expansion ate the Comm Array.
I’m a tad demoralized right now, so I’m going to waste today’s access time with another log entry. Even if I can’t transmit any data off-ship, I can at least keep a record of what happened here, in case the ship survives but I don’t. Though, honestly, it’ll be better if the ship doesn’t survive either. I’m not ready to go that direction yet. We have two months before Achilles IV arrives at the station. I have time.
I suppose I should talk about the others. Floren, Mads, Kindy, Lars, and Westinghouse – none of them deserved what happened. They were all good workers, committed to the unofficial company slogan – The Cargo Comes First. I won’t say we were great friends, since I spent more time with the computer than talking to them about their home lives or significant others, but I’d sip a libation pack with any one of them.
None of them were incompetent, either. They didn’t die because one of them got greedy or high and did something stupid. I know Jericho will try to spin events so they don’t have to pay through the nose to reimburse their families, but they deserve all the credits they can get. They had no idea what they were walking into. None of us did.
RH 1129 looked like a million other planets in the Galactic Survey Database – a barren rock with lots of free minerals to exploit. All we had to do was keep the ship in orbit and sit back while the drones went down and did the work. I didn’t study the survey map myself, but Lars had been practically giddy about the place after his analysis. There was a plentiful amount of “anomalous material” littering the surface, some of it piled up in mounds as high as 300 meters. We didn’t even need to break out the mining drones to collect samples. If the material turned out to be valuable, as the spectrographic reports suggested, we’d have some serious bonuses coming our way.
It was an easy job. Too easy. The drones only took four standard days to deliver the sample payload to the Achilles IV. All the drone scans checked out – no biological contaminants, no aberrant energy readings, no explosive properties. The cargo wouldn’t have made it into the ship had it tripped any warning bells.
The cargo shuttle went into Cargo Bay Three without incident, and everybody was there to greet it. Mads and Kindy were the only ones who had to be there, since they were running the metallurgical tests, but the other three had decided to sneak a peak as well. This was a brand new substance, a finding that few ship crews ever came across. Forget our bonuses, this kind of thing could get us into the history books.
Why wasn’t I there? I was going to be, but I received an emergency message from the computer concerning the drone task force on the planet. The drones were my territory, and I confess that I get territorial about them, though I don’t label them or give them names. We go through too many of them for me to want to get attached. So I diverted to my workstation on the bridge and viewed the message, right as the cargo was getting offloaded back in Bay Three.
I admit that I was distracted from the goings-on in Bay Three at first, because the message had me at a complete loss. All five drones assigned to the surface had just… died. All energy readings and signals were zeroed out. And it had happened almost simultaneously, all of them going dark within a span of ten seconds. It didn’t make any sense. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d lost a drone, or even an entire squad, but they’d been on mapping missions miles apart from each other. Some kind of natural disaster, a massive storm or earthquake? The planet didn’t even have weather. The computer would have warned us about any incoming meteor impacts or tectonic shifts. So what got the drones?
It was this mystery that occupied my thoughts when I first heard the screams coming from Bay Three.
I… I don’t really want to dwell on what happened right now. I’m pretty low already. I’m also almost out of time for today. Let the record show that I’m no coward. I’m just lucky… if you can call my current state of affairs being lucky.
Log #3 – September 1st, 2074:
I just noticed the date. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been using my access windows to try to reprogram the system to acknowledge me as sole survivor, but the computer’s not going for it. Those damn implants. I suppose it’s a good thing that the computer has a directive constituting a regard for life so high that it won’t declare a crewmember dead unless the implant says so. The only way to kill the directive is to kill the computer, which would kill the ship, and then kill me.
I should probably answer the million-credit question you’ve been dying to ask me: how are the implants still functioning if the crew is dead? Well, by the time you’re reading this there might be an answer, but right now I have no idea. My best guess is that the Expansion took control of the implants somehow and is replicating the vital signs of my crew. The fact that it’s sophisticated enough to do that scares the crap out of me, but then I’ve been scared every minute of every day since the crew died.
Right. Time to talk about the Expansion. That’s my name for it, and it does what it says on the tin – it expands. Thanks to the computer lockout, I only have so many analysis tools at my disposal, but it appears to be composed of some kind of microscopic entity, akin to a virus or a nano-bot. Its main mass resembles Earth-based moss, only its colors change from red to blue and back at random intervals. It doesn’t move except when it’s growing, which appears to be done by breaking down other materials and assimilating it into its structure. When it grows, it grows very quickly.
In between my attempts to sway the computer to my side, I’ve been able to access security footage from the onboard surveillance system. I was able to watch the last two-and-a-half minutes of my crew’s existence before the Expansion got the cameras and the ship initiated a total lockdown around Cargo Bay Three. I’ve had over a month now to deal with what I saw. I like to think I’ve processed it and moved on, but… God, I get chills just thinking about it.
Up until 15:32 hours, the video depicts pretty standard docking procedures: the cargo shuttle comes in and latches to the floor. It takes seven minutes for decontamination and threat scans to do their business, so nothing visible is going on at all. At 15:39 hours, the system gives the okay, the bay pressurizes, and the crew enter the zero-gravity zone, using mag boots to stick to the “floor” of the room. While this is going on, an automatic servo-crane is removing the sample canister and locking it down. Mads goes over to it, Kindy is right behind him, and the others are hanging back. Everybody seemed real eager to uncork this vintage wine we’ve found, but they were all following established procedure. If I could pin a negative on them, it was with Mads and Kindy who were definitely in a rush to study this new substance.
At 15:42 hours, Mads opens the secured access point to the cargo canister in order to get a micro-sample for study, which is less than a millimeter in diameter and has a number of filters on it to help control substance spread. That was enough room to allow the stuff to breach containment. It comes out like tooth gel bursting from a tube that got squeezed too hard.
Mads had his face right up to the access point when it happened. Obviously, Mads was the first to get “broken down.” His face disappeared into the substance, followed by his head, then neck, and then the rest of him. His arms and legs flailed helplessly around like snakes on hot coals, and I suspected he was already quite dead at that point. Kindy’s noble instincts got the better of him and he grabbed one of Mads’s arms and tried to pull him free. All he accomplished was to become the second victim as the stuff worked its way onto Kindy, the poor guy screaming as it took his hands and then took the rest of him.
Westinghouse and the others backed off and ran for the airlock, but the computer was already one step ahead of them, as was the Expansion. It was spreading out all over the cargo bay, a living carpet of hungry alien cells latching onto and absorbing everything edible – other cargo containers, equipment for our shuttles and drones, lubricant for our machinery, and even the cargo shuttle itself. The computer couldn’t allow a thing like that to get any further into the ship, so it trapped the Captain and the others in there. I could hear Westinghouse screaming at the computer to let them out, even used his command override to try to get the door open. I think he forgot about company policy involving mission priorities. We know the tales about how entire crews have been lost on these missions but the ships fly back just fine. It’s simple math, right? If you lose the ship, you lose the crew. If you lose the crew, you might save the ship. A ship-eating organism is too much of a threat to risk getting loose, and even a captain’s authority can’t change that.
It ate the contents of the cargo bay as easily as it took in Mads and Kindy. In some places it would bunch up and send strands of itself into other parts of the room, using zero-gravity to get about quicker. In short order, the room resembled a thick spider web in there, strands of red and blue covering all the walls and flooring, with bits of clothing and other material hanging off it in places. For dessert, it took out all four cameras, ending the available footage at 15:44 hours.
I never did see what happened with the others. They had fled to a corner of the room not covered by an operational camera. I think they were still screaming when the last camera fell. They may have still been alive. Considering that their implants still claim they are alive, I doubt there will ever be a clear answer to their times of death.
Since then, my ability to monitor the Expansion is very limited. Surface scans can’t determine if it’s organic or artificial. Hell, surface scans are just about useless; it gives me either false readings or no readings. It explains why we got the all-clear to take it onboard. At least the Expansion can’t absorb everything, or this ship would have been consumed within hours. It has an appetite for all sorts of materials, but it apparently doesn’t like duracrete, the synthetic material composing the walls of the bay and the sample container it was in. It also can’t stomach unnatural materials like polyester.
The computer has locked down all three doors into the bay, all ventilation shafts and other openings shut off with duracrete shutters. The ship could eject the Cargo Bay into space, but not with five crewmembers showing life signs inside, and not without Captain authorization. So, yeah, not an option for me.
Yet despite the lockdown, it got to the Comm Array. I don’t think it targeted it deliberately. The ship lost one of our backup power nodes at the same time. I’ve had some time to study the damage report and my guess is that the Expansion found a power cable not adequately covered by the containment shudders. It followed the cable all the way to the power node, and before new shudders could be implemented it got to the Comm Array.
This stuff is on the outside of the ship, and there are a number of ship components it could feed on out there, but it’s not spreading. External cameras show the external bits are dormant, maybe even dead. I think it has a problem with complete vacuum. That might be why it acted inert on RH 1129. The planet had no atmosphere.
It hasn’t spread further on the ship since eating the Comm Array. With any luck, it won’t get any further. But it won’t do me any good unless I can gain control of the ship. Speaking of which, I better get back to it, or else all these logs will be for nothing.
Log #4 – September 15th, 2074:
It got to Cargo Bay Two. It got to the food.
My fault for getting so stupidly complacent. Can’t blame the computer or the company for this one. The Expansion had been so quiet that I thought it had gone into a type of stasis, like what it did back on RH 1129. It had eaten everything it could, right? Well, yesterday it pulled a fast one by suddenly breaching Cargo Bay Two, where we kept the lion’s share of the food stock. I had moved some of it into the ship culinary section for my own convenience, so it wasn’t a total loss. I still have a month’s worth of food at normal consumption. I can probably ration it to last until I reach Station Alpha Centauri in six weeks.
But that’s only Problem Number Two. Number One is that it got past containment again, and that is a bit more serious. Thanks to my constant hacking, I managed to gain access to structural scan records. It turns out that that duracrete isn’t impervious to the Expansion; it just slows down the absorption rate to a crawl. There was a weak section between Bay Three and Bay Two. It also means that the other parts of the cargo bay could go at any time. And you know, it would be nice if I could talk to this misbegotten-son-of-a-trash-compactor about it and create a new containment line in the adjacent sections to Cargo Bay Three, but I can’t. Still locked out. So I just have to stay out of the vulnerable sections and trust in the computer safeguards.
It’s all just a stopgap measure. My best calculation is that the Expansion will infest the entire ship within five weeks. It’ll hit key systems like propulsion, the anti-matter power plant, and life support before then.
Starving to death is the least of my concerns.
Alert: Station Authority has issued a cautionary advisement. An accident has occurred in Docking Port Two. Please avoid use of Docking Port Two until further notice. Remember, your safety and the company’s safety are one and the same.
Log #5 – September 16th, 2074
Who comes up with all this bullshit? Which company executive decided that all us human employees were too stupid to be trusted with our own ships? You know, all us dummies with advanced degrees and years of space travel under our belts. But I guess they know better. They know us learned folk are just rife with dysfunction. Can’t possibly give us control; that’d be too much.
A functional mind, whether living or mechanical, would look at this situation and say, “Hmm, we appear to have a biohazard contaminating our ship. Maybe we should stop the ship and purge it. Let’s set off the distress beacon, or retool a probe to go ahead of us and broadcast for help. Let’s do anything besides dumbly flying back to our home base with a microorganism that eats practically everything.”
But I get it now. Functional minds aren’t company policy. They want obedient minds. They want the ship and their cargo back. The Cargo Comes First – company motto and all that. Why else would you have your ship computer automatically head back to base despite knowing it has a biohazard onboard? That’s why we’re flying back, you know. It’s what they call a non-responsive command protocol. If the designated captain is deemed alive-and-alert by his or her implant, then a captain who refuses to give orders is considered compromised, with the rest of the crew likely in the same boat. In the case of a compromised commander, the ship automatically returns home unless his status changes. It’s considered an anti-piracy tactic, making the assumption that a compromised captain is either being coerced by pirates or is aiming to become one.
I know, I know. This is all unproductive ranting. If this gets read, it’ll be by some accountant trying to tabulate the costs, or a manager trying to figure out how to spin this in the media. They’re all about company policy. This entry is just a distraction, because I’m about to try something dangerous. If it works, it should buy me more time, hopefully enough to get me back to controlled space. If it doesn’t, this will be my last entry, and I don’t want to end my record without a last word or two.
And one more thing – in case I hadn’t spelled it out clearly enough, I’m pretty convinced the Jericho leadership is made up of nothing but amoral bastards. But I’m sure we all knew that already.
System Report: data breach on September 18th, 2074 has caused file corruption. Hard drive damage located, unable to enact repairs. The next log entry, designated Entry #6 and created on September 17th, 2074 has been classified as 96% irretrievable. Continuing to next entry.
Log #7 – October 2nd, 2074:
I did it. I managed to pull off a minor miracle.
Let’s start with the fact that I knew the ship wouldn’t make it back to controlled space if I kept letting the computer call the shots. And I admit that my deep hack stunt didn’t help matters. The vacuum break I created two weeks ago caused a lot of damage to ship systems, though thankfully nothing vital. But the vacuum break is holding. The Expansion has infested the entire twelve-percent of the ship it had access to, but it can’t get any further, not with the cold vacuum of space blocking it.
So I tried a different tactic with the computer – I pulled a Captain Kirk, as us techs like to call it. I used some hard logic on the system, managed to convince it that the life signs coming from Cargo Bay Three couldn’t be human life signs any longer because A) they’d been exposed to hard vacuum for fifteen days and B) had not moved out of the bay for weeks. Even a system as unfathomably stubborn as a cargo ship computer could figure that one out. So I’m the designated captain now. That’s my minor miracle.
Unfortunately, my options are limited. I can’t jettison the Expansion now; it’s infected too much of the ship structure. The Expansion also took down the ship’s probe launcher and all the probes with it, so I can’t rig up a probe to transmit a distress call. Still, at least now I have access to navigation and propulsion, and I can use the more powerful ship scanners on the Expansion, since the drone scans were unreliable. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about stupid hacking windows anymore. I can do these logs any time I want. So if you don’t mind, I’ve got some new toys to play with. Hopefully I’ll have a plan of action the next time I sit down to record another one of these apocalyptic diaries, and it’ll be nothing but good news from here on out.
Station Alert: All transit to Zone Section Three has now been prohibited. We are experiencing a significant power fluctuation in that region and the issue is being addressed. All non-essential personnel still in Zone Section Three should remain at their current location until further notice. Remember, your safety and the company’s safety are one and the same.
Log #8- October 4th, 2074:
Not good news. Not at all.
My mom was one of those kinds of people who never saw a doctor. She put her faith in herbal remedies and clean living and positive thinking, and she stuck to her beliefs even when she started getting pains in her chest and her breathing was growing shallower. I used to think it was a sign of insanity, but more and more I think it was actually a sign of fear. She was afraid of reality intruding into her happiness, that having someone show a picture of her chest with a tumor growing in her lungs would forever spoil the magic in her life, replacing it with cold dread and the omnipresence of mortality. She died in ignorance of what killed her, a blessing the rest of the family didn’t get when the coroner told us about her cancer.
Right now, I envy her ignorance. I’ve seen the cancer that is killing this ship, and I fear it’s a fatal prognosis.
This stuff isn’t what I would call smart, not human-smart, but it has a few brain cells somewhere in that mess of mycoid cells. Yes, mycoid, as in fungus. I have no idea how to define it better than that. I’m no xeno-biologist, or even a regular biologist. It might be related to a mushroom, but it’s a smart mushroom. I did a full thermal scan of the infected areas, since this stuff gives off a lot of heat as it grows, and the scan showed that it’s tunneling through the floor, the ceiling, and even the outer hull. It’s avoiding vacuum by going inside the struts and plating, digging right up the middle. Most of the supports have a thickness of five centimeters, which doesn’t offer much wiggle room. But this stuff is carving out tunnels only one centimeter thick. It’s slow going, but if slow going works for tortoises, it’ll work for this stuff too.
The computer projects the closest Expansion mass will bypass my vacuum break in nine days, most likely emerging in the engine room. I can depressurize the engine room, but I’ll never be able to repressurize it or else the Expansion would immediately infest it and take out the engines. Worse, even if it can’t get the engines, the stuff will just shrug its metaphorical shoulders and tunnel to the next section.
I can see where this is going. The Expansion will keep coming, and the only way I can slow it down is to keep depressurizing more and more of the ship. Eventually I’ll be stuck on the bridge, sleeping on the floor, surrounded by trash and my own waste, waiting for the Expansion to reach me in my last sanctuary.
I am the captain of a sinking ship. What an honor for me.
The rescue pod remains an option, but every space mariner knows the odds of a successful rescue outside of controlled space is next to nil. I can control the navigation system now, so I can divert our course if I wish. I suppose I could park the ship next to a quasar so I could have a spectacular lightshow to watch before the ship disintegrates, but I’m not going down with this ship. You hear me, you miserable corporate excrement? I’m not dying for you or the company. I’m riding this ship of the damned until I find a good place to get off. I’ll send it straight into Alpha Centauri itself and melt this ship into slag if it means destroying the Expansion. But I’m living through this. So says I, the captain of the Achilles IV, and so it shall be done.
Log #9 – October 18th, 2074:
I couldn’t help but reread my last entry. I can’t tell if I’m getting loony or just downright scary. Considering I haven’t talked to another sentient soul in weeks, I don’t think I can be blamed for going a little nuts. The ship computer can’t hold a decent conversation, and these logs are just me talking to myself. I guess it’s true what they say about solitary confinement – it’s the best punishment out there. Though it still pales to the type of torture where you’re trapped in a prison cell with a predator that’s doing everything it can to get at you.
At least the astrophysics classes I took in training are paying off. The computer and I came up with an alternate course that should shave four days off the trip. That means I have five days before we enter controlled space. That puts me inside the range of the quantum beacons, which will pick up the low-power distress signal from the rescue pod. Yippie-ki-yay, I think I might live through this.
It’s going to be tight, though. Half the ship is already depressurized. I have an EVAC suit available to get through the vacuum, but breathing isn’t my biggest problem. The stuff is digging through the outer hull as well, and my rescue pod is right in its path. The best estimate I can come up with is that the rescue pod will be consumed right around the point I reach controlled space. I can’t get more precise than that. Whichever life form wins this race takes the whole enchilada.
Space mariners like to claim we’re part of an ancient tradition that goes back centuries, to the times of wooden ships traveling Earth’s oceans, spending months or even years away from their homeland in search of fame, fortune, or just plain survival. I’ve heard lots of tales over the years of sailors meeting all manner of disasters, from freak storms to hidden shoals to belligerent pirates. The tales that always stuck out in my mind weren’t the dramatic ones, but the stories about slow death. A ship that wandered into a becalmed zone, where the wind refused to blows for days or even weeks, the crew depleting their stores and their water, succumbing to starvation, dehydration, and in-fighting. Or they contract a nasty disease that spreads all through their ranks, the men dying to an enemy they can’t fight or flee from. What was it like to be stuck inside a deathtrap like that, praying for a strong wind, hoping for rescue, longing for a piece of dry land to escape to?
I really hate those stories now.
Log #10 – October 21st, 2074:
Twelve hours before I reach controlled space. Twelve lovely hours. I mean, what’s twelve hours more in the scheme of things? I’ve been stuck on this ship for over thirty-six hundred hours now. Twelve hours is easy-peasy.
I’m just… really bored. Also really freaked out. Is that possible, being bored and freaked at the same time? Or is my mood just taking turns going from one to the other? I can’t tell anymore.
I’ve quarantined myself to the bridge for days now, and my leisure options are limited. The company has a real problem with people using bridge hardware for entertainment purposes, and while I could hack into my own stash of videos I might very well jeopardize some key systems in the process. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading, mostly status reports and training simulations and other fun things like that. I also decided to look over the recorded orbital scans of RH 1129, not because I was looking for a clue or epiphany concerning the Expansion but because, again, I’m really bored.
You know what I found? A whole lot of mounds. The thing is, while they are literally everywhere on the surface, there is a pattern to them. The biggest mounds are clustered together, in some cases lined up symmetrically. The 3-D imaging pictures show some of these clusters going on for miles and miles, and the more I looked at them, the more they resembled the outlines of cityscapes, with the tallest ones substituting for skyscrapers and the numerous smaller mounds stepping in for apartment buildings and houses.
It got me thinking. What if those mounds used to be buildings? Maybe this isn’t a fanciful notion created by a man both on borrowed time and with too much time on his hands. I have to think that this planet wasn’t always a wasteland. It occupies a goldilocks zone and has the right planetary spin. Gravity is comparable to Earth. It just lacks an atmosphere, and that is a big problem. Then again, maybe it did have an atmosphere once. Maybe the Expansion came to RH 1129 or was created by an intelligent species that once lived there, and it did what is does well. It ate everything it could, reducing a fellow sentient species into nothing but mounds of organic refuse. Maybe it destroyed the atmosphere as well, or maybe the species destroyed the atmosphere in order to stop it from going any further.
Can’t prove any of it, but it makes for a pretty depressing tale. It’s also a good argument for why this ship needs to fly into a sun. Good thing I’ve preprogrammed the flight computer to do so once I’m off the ship. I just have to send a short-range signal from the pod and voila, the Achilles IV becomes part of the great beyond. I’d say I will be sad about it, but I kinda hate this ship now.
Twelve hours to go. Like I said, easy-peasy.
Log #10 – Addendum:
I… I can’t even…
I’m not in the right frame of mind to do a log, but a record has to be kept. I have to find a way to get this out, find a way to transmit this. It’s all I have left now. Others must know what happened here, others besides Jericho.
The pod is gone, and no, not because the Expansion ate it. That would be unfair, but it would make sense. Self-replicating spore-like nanostructures must do what they must. The pod is gone because I decided to send the navigation system my course correction while I was still on the bridge. I didn’t want to risk the pod’s short-range transmitter not being up for the task. I didn’t think it would matter when I did it, since the star I picked for the job, Keilo 43, was well inside controlled space and wouldn’t affect my timeline.
Good thing I thought ahead, I guess. As soon as I executed the course correction, I was immediately locked out of the navigational system. At the same time, there was a rupture at the pod bay compartment. Damage control showed a localized hull breach, limited to the rescue pod itself. Somehow, the pod’s internal power cells went into overload. That can’t happen unless the cooling system is disabled.
The pod is gone. My control of the ship is gone. Most of my captain authority is gone. In terms of access, I’m locked out of anything important.
Yes, turns out that there was another order in play. After I cried my eyes out over the loss of the pod I went back through the status logs, going back to when this whole horror show started two months ago, hoping to find out why this had happened. I found what I was looking for. One day before the Comm Array got eaten, Achilles IV received a communication from Jericho, system-eyes only. Meaning that no crewmember on board had access to it. The message wasn’t in the log, but thanks to my deep hack I could get the computer to cough it up. And I’m not ashamed to say that I cried my eyes out again after reading it.
The ship computer had transmitted the biohazard warning and what preliminary data it had on the Expansion to Jericho Headquarters, which is standard procedure in these kinds of situations. What isn’t standard is that the ship received a corporate order to maintain a course for Alpha Centauri Station. The ship could alter the course as long as it arrived at station within three months. External communications could only go through corporate channels. Any attempt to destroy the ship by the captain, like I had just done, would result in command lockout. At the same time, the ship computer would ensure the crew didn’t attempt to flee the ship, so all shuttles and pods would have mysterious problems arise if we tried to use them, such as cooling systems abruptly breaking. Wouldn’t want us warning the authorities, right?
Jericho knows what they have aboard this ship, and they want to bring it home. The cargo comes first. The crew comes last.
I have no more words for you, my corporate overlords. Words no longer do justice to what you’ve done. I can’t even bother to… I can’t even…
Log #11 – October 24th, 2074:
It’s taken me a few days to get my shit together. I can’t say that my shit is, in fact, together. I think I’m way past pulling myself into a state resembling an actual human being. But I got something. I got me a plan. It’s a bad plan. It’s a fatal plan. But that’s the only kind of plans I have left to use.
I’m dead. I already feel dead, like I’m a ghost wandering an empty ship, my corpse decomposing somewhere out of sight, or floating out in space, or just another part of that creeping mass consuming the ship. There’s two days left in my trip, but there’s no salvation at my destination. Jericho is waiting for this ship to dock, no doubt itching to study, test, and dissect the Expansion. They can probably still save me, but they won’t. I’m too much of a liability now. I have all the incriminating evidence needed to bring them up on criminal charges. They’ll either let the Expansion finish me off, or they might help my demise along by initiating an “accident.” They’ll alter or purge some records and that will be that. One more lost crew added to the memorial wall back on Earth.
They don’t know what they’re dealing with. They only have early scanning data. They’ll let this thing onto the station, and it’ll run wild. Alpha Centauri Station has over ten thousand souls aboard, and cargo ships travel from the station to Earth every day.
No matter how thoroughly Jericho screwed me over, I can’t let all those people die. I can’t risk letting the Expansion get to Earth.
So, right, my fatal plan. Well, since I can’t deliberately fly this ship into a star, I’ll settle for doing it accidentally. I can do a deep hack again, only this time I’ll permanently take out the ship computer. That’ll cause the engines to shut down as an automatic safety precaution. The trick is when to do the shutdown, but I’ve figured that out as well. If I time it right, the ship will do a gravity slingshot past Centauri Four, a small gas giant, which will send me right at the star itself. Since I can’t use the ship computer to help guide me this time, I have to use my own calculations. This could go very badly. I don’t want to sling the ship into a planet if I can help it, or out into deep space where the ship might eventually be recovered. But it’s the best option from my list of fatal plans.
If I succeed, then this log dies with me, and Jericho will probably skate by without the authorities ever catching wind of the shit they were pulling. But hey, I’ll go out saving lives. Definitely worse fates than that.
One way or another, this is my last entry. I won’t waste my time thinking of famous last words, but I will say this – my crew deserved better. I deserved better. And Jericho deserves a whole hell of a lot more than what they’re going to get.
Warning: Station security raised to Level Omega. Biohazard safeguards are now in effect. Please stay at your current location. An evacuation team will arrive within two hours. Remember, your safety and the company’s safety are one and the same.
Attention: Hidden data newly discovered. Unknown log entry now available. Release of log entry appears to coincide with signal burst originating from Achilles IV. Cause of transmission unknown.
Log #12 – Date unknown:
Hi there, my corporate overlords. If you’re reading this entry, a few things will have transpired. For starters, I’m dead. I won’t know how it happened, but I’ll be dead nonetheless. I hope it was fairly painless.
Next, the ship is still in one piece. You might think that means my plan was a failure, and that would be a fair assessment of things considering what data you have available. Except that wasn’t my plan, not the real one. I did try to shut down the computer, but only so that the system would log my attempt. Ship computers have so many firewalls and redundant hard drives that it’s almost impossible to disable it through hacking. I did it so that you wouldn’t look too hard at my actual hacking effort.
What I did was rig up a new transmitter. The only one I still had available was the one still attached to the wreckage of the rescue pod. I had to use my EVAC suit to travel through a number of depressurized compartments, and it wasn’t much fun. I kept expecting the Expansion to burst out of the walls and absorb me at any time, but that didn’t happen. I rigged the pod’s transmitter to run off the ship’s power supply, as well as connect it to my personal digital device. That way, the ship computer doesn’t even know it exists.
I’ve downloaded the logs into my personal device, and I’ve hidden the device somewhere it won’t be found too quickly, but not before I set it to record my bio-readings from my implant. I added the condition that if my implant ever goes dark, the device will automatically transmit two signals. One will be to send the logs through the pod’s short-range array. It’ll only work for one good burst, but every communication array within two thousand miles of the ship will pick up the data burst.
The second signal will be to the Achilles IV itself. It will activate the program I put in the life-support system, the one that will pressurize every compartment on the ship. I’ve crunched some numbers and realized that the ship’s hull is in a very tenuous state from all the Expansion’s tunneling. Returning the air to most of the ship would be like throwing a lit match into a pool of gasoline. The Expansion will surge into all those compartments, causing hull breaches everywhere. It could even rip the ship apart.
I admit it’s a plan with a number of serious risks. What if my personal device runs out of power first or gets smashed? What if the Expansion eats me and duplicates my implant readings? What if the pod’s transmitter proves too damaged to do the job? Yeah, it’s a desperate plan, but then I am a desperate person. I realized that even if I could destroy the ship, it wouldn’t stop Jericho. The company would just send a new ship to RH 1129. I have to expose the company and expose the Expansion, and nothing gets people’s attention like a dying mariner’s last log coupled with the public destruction of a cargo vessel in range of every able sensor package.
Truth be told, the one thing I’m really afraid of is that the company’s retrieval team will bring the ship directly into one of the station’s docking ports. If the ship comes apart inside a docking port, there’ll be no way to stop it from infesting the station. But you guys wouldn’t be that arrogant, right? There are protocols for this kind of thing. I mean, unless you’re too busy trying to hide the ship to care about small matters like biohazard containment.
I suppose no matter what happens, you corporate guys are going to be real cross with me. No death benefits for my mom, no bonus for my hard work. Which I think is a real crappy thing to do to a loyal employee like me. After all, I followed the corporate mantra. I delivered to you what you wanted.
In the end, the cargo came first.