Author : Andrew Bale

It’s the worst watch in the ship. Kitchen, reactor, sanitary – anything is better than staring out this damn window. It’s so bad you have to pass a psych check before they let you do it, and everyone keeps trying to fail. This job is worse than being crazy. Damn right it is.

It was a bright idea, launching a colony fleet instead of a colony ship. One ship is all or nothing – one big failure and everyone dies, no place for survivors to go. Five ships give us redundancy, a much better chance for at least one to reach landfall, and since each one is only loaded to 80% we could lose a ship potentially without losing a man. Five ships ballistic on the same vector, gently orbiting around a common axis, checking on each other, waiting for that time to fire the jets and make a new home.

But then we lost a ship.

There was no warning, no distress calls. One day Isis missed its comms check, and when someone looked out a port, the whole ship was dark. The remaining ships conferenced, no one could make contact with it. Gaia reported that Isis had a large impact of some type in one habitat module, but the hull appeared to have sealed around it. No one knew where it had come from, a rock that size should have shown up on radar, and no one could figure out how a hit in that location could have killed the entire ship.

Two days later, Isis launched a shuttle. No lights in the cabin, no communications, just a tin can floating from Isis to Shakti. Shakti observed protocols, met the shuttle under arms and with containment. They said it was empty, and everyone figured the launch must have been a quirk, the result of some random signals in the dying computers.

But then Shakti went dark, while we watched. Power went down, primary, secondary, emergency, all at once. For a day or two there were occasional flashes of light from inside, most of it seemingly random, although at least one person lived long enough to flash SOS, probably the only Morse they knew. And then nothing.

Two days after that, Shakti launched two shuttles. One at Gaia, the other at us, at Mary. Dark, both of them. They weren’t allowed to dock, so they just floated there outside the bays. A couple days later, ours turned back, but Gaia’s is still there – some bright nervous guy improvised a missile, destroyed its engines, so the cursed thing still floats alongside, occasionally banging off the hull.

Okay, so maybe THAT’S the worst watch.

But ever since then every ship has mounted a dark watch, a pair of eyes from each living ship on each dead one and on each other, every minute of every day. We watch, hoping to find a clue to what happened, or to what will happen. We used to be afraid of more shuttles, but only for a little while. Because then we realized the real thing to fear.

One year, six months, eighteen days until planetfall. When we drop our landers, will they drop theirs? We cannot stay in these ships forever, but there will be no stalemate on the ground. If they land, what will we choose?

One year, six months, eighteen days. That is exactly how long we have to wait. That is when we find out if we get to live. Until then, we watch, and we worry, and we pray.

Mother Mary, watch over us.


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