Author: Bill Cox

I wake up drowning, fluid choking my lungs. I sit up and vomit, every part of my body heaving, liquid gushing from my mouth onto the floor. I gradually become aware, with each convulsion, of a voice, speaking softly, soothingly, the same words on a loop.

“Please don’t be alarmed. You are awakening from suspended animation. Any difficulties you are experiencing will soon pass.”

Finally, after what seems an eternity, I’ve expelled most of the suspension fluid from my body. Across from me, I hear Simon still heaving.

Despite just awakening from suspension, I feel sharp and alert, the effects of the stimulants administered by my pod. This is just as well, as we’ll only have been wakened if combat is imminent.

“Report!” I manage to croak. My throat feels scraped raw.

“Unknown vessel approaching, unrecognised type, presumed hostile,” the computer replies.

We move to our duty stations. Simon, as weapons specialist, gets the anti-matter cannons charged up and prepares a targeting package. Meanwhile, I review my readouts. The approaching vessel doesn’t conform to any known type, which is unusual. Surprisingly, it’s heading straight toward us. I check that we’re still in stealth mode. We are, so should look like a random icy body, like all the others that make up the Oort Cloud. Not one that’s been hollowed out and made into a sentry post.

Yet still the ship approaches.

“Cannons all set, targeting confirmed,” says Simon, “Just give the order.”

I should tell Simon to fire, but there’s something niggling at the back of my mind. It’s something to do with the unidentified ship. The Trappists have a hive mind and don’t usually vary their ship design. A question pops into my head and I ask it.

“Computer, how long were we in suspension this time?”

“Three hundred and seven years,” is the reply.

Simon and I exchange a shocked look. The normal period between contacts is measured in months. We’ve been asleep for over three centuries.

“Incoming message, friendly codes confirmed,” the computer intones, breaking us out of our stupor.

“Sentry Post 976309A, this is United Earth vessel ‘Augustus’. I understand that you have instructions to engage vessels of the Trappist-3 species. Please be advised that this conflict ended many years ago.”

I look at Simon, seeing my shock mirrored on his face.

“Unfortunately, due to a bureaucratic error, sentry post operatives weren’t advised of the cessation of hostilities. We’ve now been sent out to correct this error.”

Simon and I sit there in stunned silence. We’ve been out here, on the edge of the solar system, standing guard for a threat that ended centuries ago.

“We’ll land and pick you up. I know this will seem disconcerting for you, but be assured you will have a place in our new society. Indeed, the good news is that, after several centuries of peace, we’ve just started a new war with another alien species. So we’ll get you sentry operatives trained up and soon it will seem just like old times for you.”

I look at Simon and he looks at me. Something unspoken passes between us and I doubt I can untangle it all. Knowing that everyone we knew is now long dead is in there, along with the fact that the world we sacrificed so much for simply forgot about us, until they realised that they needed men like us again.

What do we owe to such a world?

I give Simon a questioning look. He nods in reply. I give the command.