*Warning: Do not read if you haven’t read Sagitta (unless you like spoilers)
Stone knew they were dead from the Sagitta’s silence. “No power, no air,” she muttered. Shivering, she drew her arms around herself. The glow of the emergency lights cast the bridge in crimson pallor.
“Captain?” said Lawson.
Stone had forgotten he was there. He’d been motionless just like the bodies scattered about the bridge, most still strapped into their stations. Summoning her reserves, she propped herself up in her chair and looked at her helmsman. Lawson had swiveled around to face her. He pulled the thin mylar sheet tighter around himself.
“It’s nothing,” she said.
From behind her came a soft whimper. Ensign Carver was crying in her sleep. The cries were muffled due to Decker’s emergency air breathing mask strapped to the lieutenant’s face. Getting that mask on Carver had been her tactical officer’s last act. Decker had succumbed hours ago. Ensign Carver’s own injuries appeared no less severe—blunt force trauma from the Sagitta’s emergency maneuvers. Without medical attention, Carver would not survive the day. Not that it matters.
Stone coughed. It was getting hard to breath. Scowling, she picked up her EAB mask, pressed it to her face, and—opening the valve—took one deep breath of pure oxygen. She held it in her lungs, then slowly exhaled. The piercing throbbing in her head subsided to a dull ache. She considered the mask for a moment, then reluctantly shut the valve and set the mask down on the powerless console.
Save for the faintest hissing of air escaping the bridge and Carver’s whimpers, there was no sound at all. There hadn’t been for hours. No chirping of comm panels, no tapping of controls, no throb of engines or hum of power of any kind.
The ISF Sagitta was dead in space.
Stone recalled how the alien ships had shredded the Sagitta’s hull, and the subsequent penetration by the breaching craft. Hideous creatures had slaughtered her crew. Isolated by emergency bulkheads, Stone and her staff had watched the monitors as the aliens desecrated the bodies of the humans they killed. They’d also ripped into the ship’s tactical computer node, disabling the self-destruct sequence that Stone had ordered.
Stone could only hope that the evacuation had been successful. The sensors had gone down moments after the first lifeboats had been launched, but optical scopes had confirmed that at least a half dozen escape pods had departed. They made it, she told herself. And so did we.
Gritting her teeth, she unclipped her harness and pushed away from her chair, floating forward towards the helm and the panoramic windows of the Sagitta’s bridge tower. Lawson watched her wordlessly as she glided past him, until she caught a handhold on the hull next to the port-forward quarter of the bridge. She pressed her face against the cold glass and took in the galaxy.
Her breath caught in her throat. Thousands of stars burned, each a bright white point standing in defiance of the silent black. It was a familiar sight, but one she rarely took the time to appreciate. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d just looked out a window and admired the universe.
Somewhere out there was Earth’s sun. Which one, she hadn’t the slightest idea. As a little girl, she would stare up at the heavens at night, perched on the roof with her mother’s telescope, and dream of what might lie beyond. Now, she knew! Humanity was not alone.
She was startled out of her reverie by Lawson’s hacking cough. She turned to him as he pulled his EAB mask out of the compartment in the helm console and took a breath. His eyes widened, and he shook his head. He tugged at the transparent tubing linking the mask to the ship’s air bank and frowned. “Reserve’s run out,” he gasped. “We’ve got an hour, maybe two.”
“Understood,” said Stone. Her headache was getting worse again. How easy it would be to just close her eyes…
“I wonder how close we got,” said Lawson. His voice was almost a whisper, and it took Stone a moment to register what he’d said.
“You mean, to Earth?”
“Yeah.” Lawson patted the dark helm controls. “Roland gave me everything we had.”
Stone nodded, remembering. Roland’s engineers had orchestrated one last miracle. They’d disabled the safety protocols on the damaged reactor and somehow achieved criticality. The charge into the warp capacitors had been unregulated, but it had been enough to establish the warp field. Then, the core had overloaded. The partial jettison of the reactor vessel had resulted in the decimation of one-third of the ship. The rest had slipped back into the warp bubble. But where had they ended up?
“We flew for what, twenty minutes before the field collapsed?” Lawson shrugged. “Relativistic velocity was off the chart. Maybe we got close.”
“Impossible to say,” said Stone. “The field was unmodulated.”
“Yeah,” said Lawson. He sighed.
“There was no chance,” said Stone. “You did everything you could. We all did.”
Lawson nodded. “You think anyone below decks is still alive?”
Stone shrugged. “Don’t know. Probably not. We’d have heard them banging on something by now.”
Stone’s jaw had begun quivering. So cold. She took one last look out the window, then pushed off towards the casualty equipment locker. She was halfway there when Lawson cried out. “Captain!”
Stone bumped into the bulkhead next to the locker. She grabbed the webbing and jerked herself against the hull, then turned. Lawson was looking at her with a pained expression.
“What is it?” she said.
He pointed at the aft of the bridge. Stone turned and realized that one of the last sounds had stopped. Adrienne Carver was no longer whimpering. Stone’s eyes played across her navigator’s body. The telltales of the bio monitor that was strapped to Carver’s chest were all red. Her eyes were still closed, and they would never open again.
“Better off,” said Lawson.
Stone winced. “Agreed.” She noted the small cross that had been embroidered on Carver’s collar. When not functioning as the navigator, Adrienne had played the part of ship’s chaplain.
“Captain,” said Lawson slowly. “Do you think God’s really out there somewhere?”
Stone’s eyes flicked across the bridge, to all the lifeless, weightless bodies. She opened the locker and pulled out a blanket. As she fumbled at the Velcro straps that bound the pouch together, she shook her head. “I don’t know.” She forced a smile. “It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. You know what though?”
“Yesterday, we thought we were alone in the universe. That’s one great mystery solved. You and I, we’re about to solve another one.” She wrapped the blanket around herself. “It won’t be long now, Lieutenant.”
As Stone was turning away from the stowage locker, something caught her eye. Wedged between the ration packs and first-aid kit was a small data pad and a piece of paper. She pulled both out. It was strange to hold physical paper in her hand. She turned the paper over. Something fluttered in her chest as she recognized Adrienne Carver’s flowing handwriting.
“Captain, what is that?” wheezed Lawson.
“A note from Carver. It was with a pad.”
They both glanced at the Ensign’s body.
Lawson’s voice was faint. “What’s it say?”
Stone read the message. “To any that finds this, here are the basic instructions before leaving Earth. It is all you really need to know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Lawson.
“I don’t know,” said Stone. She powered on the pad and found that it contained an audio recording. She pressed play. Adrienne Carver’s voice filled the bridge, sounding hollow and disembodied due to the pad’s tiny speaker.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
Stone clicked off the pad. “Leave it to Carver to get in one more sermon,” she said.
Lawson was silent. Stone looked over at him and saw that his eyes had pooled with tears. “Captain,” he said. “Can you let it play?” Stone nodded. “Yes, Lieutenant, I most certainly can.”