Captain Ariella Claymore floated in the center of the cargo bay as Chief Bill Roberts manipulated the tractor beams to guide the lifeless spacecraft through the bay doors. “She’s an antique,” the captain’s voice crackled over the intercom. “There’s an American flag on the port nacelle. It’s got 54 stars. That puts her in the twenty third century. What’s a 500 year old ship doing way out here?”
The chief smiled at the needless complexity of the old design. “She must be an early experimental model. It definitely pre-dates the modern warp configuration. I guess it got out here using some form of hyper-light drive, but couldn’t get home. Was she manned?”
The captain maneuvered herself to look into the cockpit. “Yes. A crew of two. They’re not in too bad of shape, considering they’ve been dead for five centuries. I’m going in.”
“What we going to do with them, captain? Bring them back to Earth for burial?”
The captain passed through the ship’s escape hatch carrying a small case. “Can’t, Chief. Protocol is very specific. If a ship and her crew have been adrift for more than 100 years, it’s considered a reliquary. You know, like a shrine. We are permitted to download the logs for the historians, and to take tissue samples for the Med-Techs incase they carry antibodies we might find useful. Other than that, we are required to set them adrift again. Land is too valuable nowadays. Besides, they’ve been dead for 15 generations. Nobody on Earth knows these people.”
Clearly dissatisfied with that option, the chief said. “So their sacrifice was for nothing. They deserve to have their ashes dispersed on Earth. So their molecules can be used by other life. It’s like immortality. It’s my desire to die during a fiery reentry accident.”
As Captain Claymore exited the old ship she made a mental note to not use the same Earth-bound shuttlecraft as the Chief on her next visit to the homeworld. She shut the hatch and rested her hand on the hull for a few moments and said a silent prayer. “It’s not up for debate, Chief. I got what we need. Set her adrift.”
The captain moved toward the bulkhead and waited for the chief to nudge the old ship out the bay doors. The ship didn’t move. It was taking too long. Just when she was about to question the chief, she noticed the star field rotating through the open bay doors. Seconds after the stars stopped moving, the old ship was thrust out of the cargo bay at a velocity that captain Claymore thought was impossible. “Chief, what just happened?”
“Sorry, Captain. I guess I just accidentally launched the ancient ship toward a large red dwarf. It will collide with it in about 2,000 years. In about a million years, the star will go super nova. Their atoms will be spread throughout this quadrant. In a few billion years, some of them may be incorporated into alien life. I know it’s what I would have wanted if it were me that died on that craft.”
Ariella contemplated going after the ship, but decided to let it go. Maybe he was right. “Chief, you are the only engineer that I know who has a soul of a poet.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it to yourself, Captain. I have a reputation to maintain.”
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