Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The third moon of Charius has an erratic orbit. The survey vessel noted that fact, but evaluated the deviation to be within acceptable margins. Nobody bothered to investigate any further because, by then, the planet was desolate: ruined by a catastrophe during automated terraforming.
Thirty years ago I got a merit badge for my school project. I made a family tree going all the way to Earth, back to Laurent of Guienne, a knight. I started it because I’d always been fascinated with the ancestor I was named after: Antoine Guerin. 942 years ago, he captained the Éternelle, the second cold-sleep colony ship. It was followed by eight more. Each set off in a different direction.
The inhabitants of Zufluchtsort are descended from third ship colonists. Those from the seventh settled on Kaladden and Nathfend. We’ve found five ships drifting, everybody dead, with sorrowful records of starvation and disease. The radioactive remains from a drive malfunction on the ninth are known navigational hazards in the Landulaz system, and a fifteen-kilometre-wide crater on New Hope is embedded with fragments of the fourth.
We’ve mapped everywhere the cold-sleep ships could have reached. Until yesterday, a rogue wormhole was thought to have claimed the Éternelle, one of the first casualties of the rare hazard we still barely understand.
Yesterday I swung the pinnace from the Hilary, our expeditionary ship, round to the dark side of the third moon. In the beams of the searchlights, I saw wreckage. We confirmed it from samples soon after, then we found a collapsed shelter. Inside were two bodies: Navigation Officer Lilian Glazer and Ruth Guerin, daughter of Antoine and Lilian.
They’d left their story etched into fragments of ship panelling.
Twenty years out, meteor strikes damaged the cold sleep banks on the port side. We started rotating people through five-year sleep/wake cycles. Eighteen years after that, a mutiny occurred. They killed my father over crazy rumours about a plot to kill half the colonists and get back on schedule!
Flight Officer Gary Thomas took over, a compromise candidate agreed by the various factions. Lilian recommended Charius. We voted, then sent terraforming units ahead. As we approached, the ‘Eternal Journey’ faction sabotaged our drives. They were determined to keep us in space. Ned Gillen, their leader, was overzealous: he crippled our manoeuvring thrusters as well.
Unable to change course, we were going to hit the third moon. Ned and his faction fought their way onto the bridge, refusing to believe he’d doomed us all. When confronted, they blamed the crew for ‘suicidally denying’ their wishes.
Gary ordered everyone to abandon ship, then led the attack against Ned’s faction. Mum and I tried to make it to a lifepod, but the stampede and running battles were too much. In the end, we suited up, set the timer on a stasis locker near the rear of the ship, and shut ourselves in it. Twenty hours later, we had to fight our way out of the badly deformed locker.
We’ve been using this shelter for a week. We’ve found no survivors. The moonquakes are easing, but some still throw rocks and wreckage about.
Tomorrow we’re going looking for communications equipment.
Looks like something crushed the shelter that night. Ruth and her mother lay side by side. The fragment with the sentence starting ‘Tomorrow’ was lying next to the hobbyists drill she’d been using as a pen.
I cried while I built a cairn over them, then returned to the Hilary.
I open a file I’ve maintained for thirty years. Time to put Lilian and Ruth back into my family.