Jack dropped down to the galley, yawning and droopy-eyed. The rescued pilot was sitting at the table, and next to him sat Daff with a protective arm on his shoulder, whispering words of consolation in his ear.
“It’s going to be OK Hal. You have new life now, you can start all over again. You still have the rest of your life ahead of you ... everything will look better when you see Greenshoot. I mean P36. Oh ... this is Jack, our pilot.”
Hal stood to attention, fresh faced and alert. The healthy glow of his skin made everyone else on the ship look pallid and drawn in comparison.
“Lieutenant Hal Moby, sir, at your service. May I say sir, how profoundly grateful I am for the efforts you and your crew made to effect my rescue.”
“Welcome to the Beluga, Hal. My name’s Jack Buffalo. The war’s over now and this is a civilian ship, so just call me Jack.”
Jack came over to shake Hal’s hand and took a close look him, curious at the rude health of someone in suspension for so long. He was a good-looking young man, his eyes unusually wide to his temples, deep set and blue, almost level with Jack’s as they faced each other.
Jack said reassuringly, “we’re on our way to P36, they have decent facilities there, you’ll be going home.”
“Daff said the colony was doing well, they got through the war, they rebuilt, and their medical technology, well apparently it’s even more advanced than earth’s now”, Hal said hopefully.
“The colony on P36 is doing just fine, but I think you should take a look at something, come over here with me.”
Jack led Hal into his cabin, which was more spacious than the others on the Beluga, and featured a large screen set into the wall opposite the bed. He folded down a table below the screen which had a keyboard inset, and retrieved a computer file as Hugo, Daff and Irwin crowded in.
|Peak Population||1,460,000 in year 2345|
“Subspecies ? But what is this ? Who are they ? They can’t be our people.”
Hal looked expectantly at the others in the cabin but they were silent. Jack brought another file up on the screen, this one an array of small square headshots, typical P36 specimens, male and female, young and old. There was a clear resemblance to Hal.
Daff sighed and came over to Hal, looking at him balefully.
“A lot of genetic engineering has been done since you … while you were in suspension. It’s just terminology. But we all need to know our subspecies. A bit like a blood type.”
“Yeah … I see”, Hal said.
Daff continued solemnly. “But it’s more far-reaching than just blood type. The drugs you take depend on your subspecies.”
“They’re all dead now”, Hal said. “They must have attacked the colony too.”
It was as if the reality of 75 lost years had only just caught up with him. Hal shook his head, pushed past the others and stormed out. The fittings trembled as he slammed the door to Hugo’s cabin, and there came through the thin plastic wall a cry of distress and anguish. Daff immediately broke into tears and rushed back to her cabin.
“Hugo, take over in the cockpit, please”, Jack said.
Irwin looked accusingly at Jack and quietly closed the cabin door. He pointed to the small table by the porthole, and the two men sat down alone, with the ship now silent but for an occasional muffled whimper from Hal. To Jack’s surprise, Irwin smiled at him, but it was a knowing, crafty smile and left Jack wondering if some really serious trouble was now brewing.
“Let me put before you a few facts about our situation”, Irwin said. “First, no passenger ship traveling from Earth to Greenshoot ever deviated so far from its route as to end up in uncharted space. Second, no-one has ever emerged from more than fifty years of cryogenic stasis and survived without life support. And third, I was informed, before we started this journey, and from a very senior SSS officer, that a separatist organization is working to disrupt our mission and has an agent placed close to us.”
“Are you saying that he’s …“
Jack started to argue, but Irwin continued implacably.
“Now, I will not put forward to you a hypothesis to explain these events, but I will report them to the SSS on our arrival. And they, I can assure you, will be very interested indeed. The more mishaps we have here, the harder it will get for you to defend yourself against a charge of subversion. If I were you, Jack, I would keep that in mind from now on.”
Jack leant over the table a pointed an oversized finger at Irwin.
“Now just hang on a minute, Canterbury. You don‘t know shit about spaceflight and you are out of line making these assertions. First, this is not a passenger ship. When did any passenger ship make it to P36 in twenty days ? At this speed the deviation will be an order of magnitude greater. Second, that capsule was no standard issue, that was a type that we don’t use any more, so your figures, and I don’t know where you got them from anyway, well they don’t apply here. And thirdly, the damned SSS has a file on everyone and that subversive could just as well be some intern in a short skirt who serves your coffee. How the hell would separatists blow up a starship and plant it out here for us to run into anyways ? What kind of a fucking hypothesis is that ?”
Before Jack finished Irwin was heading for the door, but the threat to bring in the SSS had raised Jack’s blood pressure, and he took a running kick at the table leg which broke off and cart- wheeled slowly around the cabin. He headed up to the command deck to vent some frustration on Hugo.
“We’ve got a conspiracy theory going around the ship now, Hugo. Irwin reckons that our detour to pick up Hal is part of a separatist plot.”
Hugo, seated in the cockpit, abruptly spun round in his chair, looking shocked and apparently lost for words.
“Do you know anything about Irwin, what kind of background does he have ?
“I spent a couple of weeks with Irwin’s team, and a few of the younger guys I was friendly with filled me in. Of course Irwin is at the centre of things there. You should be careful with him, Jack. He can be really nasty sometimes. A diplomatic cable was leaked and turned up on the news, he and some SSS guy interviewed everyone in the office. It was horrible. A few days later one of team, Mirabel, left suddenly and no-one could contact her. We didn’t ask Irwin about it in case we were sucked in as well.”
“Well you won’t get to the bottom of that mystery if you’re afraid to ask questions. Why don’t you ask him now, he can’t go anywhere. We could have something on him, something he wouldn‘t want to be made public. Or it could be that this Mirabel just quit and left town. I can judge when a man‘s hiding something, Hugo, even a crafty old son-of-a-bitch like Irwin. Just one look in those shifty little eyes of his, and I‘ll know.”
“Well these mind-reading skills you have could be useful on Greenshoot”, Hugo said, “they have us at a big disadvantage, if they really are telepathic.”
“Get friendly with them, and ask them what Irwin did with Mirabel”.
Jack was starting to relax again and chuckled to himself, leaning back in a chair in the minilab and linking his hands behind his head.
“Hey Jack, what do you make of Daff and Hal, is she making a play for him or what ?”, Hugo said breaking off into a giggle.
“Why don’t you ask her what she thinks of Hal ? You’ll come to learn, Hugo, that it’s better to get straight to the point and say what you think, people will respect you for that, and you won’t waste your time speculating.”
“Jack, that is a simplistic view of human nature. Everybody hides their feelings and intentions, in fact everyone lies. Truth is revealed in body language. So what does body language tell you about Daff ?”
“That she’s a real nice young lady ?”, Jack suggested.
Hugo reflected on this and turned back to the console. The countdown had started and there was the prospect, within the hour, if the navigation was reliable, that they might be in the Greenshoot star system. Jack retired to his cabin for quick nap, sensing that he would need all his energy to fend off Irwin and to keep the others out of trouble.