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#2 Destination Unknown
You’re alive,” a voice said.
A hand shook Jobs’ shoulder, but gently, knowing the pain he was in. Slowly he revived. He saw a half-ruined face. A pretty girl, Asian, with half her face melted like wax.
“You probably don’t remember me,” she said. “I’m 2Face. We met back on Earth. Do you remember Earth? Do you remember what happened?”
He nodded dully. He looked, helpless to stop himself, at the filthy decay of his father’s berth.
“A lot are like that,” 2Face said. “I don’t think very many of us are still alive. On my way up here I saw a few who looked alive. Sleeping, still. And there are some that . . . Some, I don’t know.”
Jobs searched her face. She looked as if she had been crying. But maybe that was because of the drooping eye on her burned side.
“Do you think you can walk?” 2Face asked.
“I don’t know,” Jobs said.
“I think maybe we should get out of here,” 2Face said.
Jobs shook his head. “We have to help these . . .”
“We’re too weak. I keep falling asleep. I just heard you, so I climbed up here. But we have to get out. Outside. This place is . . . There are dead people everywhere.” Her voice that had been so calm was edging toward hysteria. “There’s just things, people, stuff you don’t, I mean, I was climbing up here because I heard you moving and I passed by . . . And my mom . . . It’s just . . . And they don’t even smell, you know, not like dead people, like nothing, or like, like yeast, like bread . . .”
“Take it easy, take it easy, don’t think about it,” Jobs said.
“Don’t think about it?!” 2Face screamed. “Don’t think about it?!”
Jobs grabbed her face in his hands. The melted flesh felt strange. She stared at him, wild.
“We start screaming we’re never going to stop,” Jobs said. “My brain is ready to explode, my mom and dad and everything. But we have to think. We have to think.”
She nodded vigorously, searching his eyes as if looking for reflections of her own panic. “Okay, we stick together, okay?”
“Yeah,” Jobs agreed readily. “We stick together. Help each other. Neither one of us thinks too much, okay? We just try and figure out . . .” He couldn’t imagine what he had to figure out. The images of his parents, the fear that his little brother might awaken and see them for himself, all of it was too much, like he was trying to take a drink from a fire hose, too much data, too much horror.
2Face said, “Okay, come on, we stick together.” Her calm had returned, almost as if it was her turn to be rational while he fought the torrent of fear and grief. “Okay, we need to find out what happened. Are we . . . I mean, where are we, the ship I mean? Did we land somewhere? Are we still in space?”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Jobs nodded, anxious to come to grips with simple problems. “Yeah. We’re not weightless. Okay. We’re not weightless. So we can’t be in space. Unless we’re accelerating. Then we’d have weight.”
“That’s good, think about that,” 2Face said.
“Let’s go up. To the bridge. We can see where we are.”
“To the bridge. Maybe the captain is up there, he can tell us, if he made it I mean.”
“He didn’t,” Jobs said, remembering a dull thump, the sound of a gun being fired. The sound of a man’s choice not to live on when his wife and children and home and very species were gone. “Long story. There were some problems. Come on. Let’s go to the bridge.”
Each step up the ladder was painful. But each step was less painful than the step before.
They climbed past the place where D-Caf and his brother, Mark Melman had stowed away. Where Mark had shot the Marine sergeant. What was her name? Jobs couldn’t remember. Had she survived? How could she, she’d been shot, badly wounded when they bundled her into a hibernation berth. His own perfectly healthy parents had not survived, how could a wounded woman?
And Mo’Steel. What about Mo? He should check on Mo.
No. No more hideous plexiglass coffins. He didn’t want to see any more horrors.
They reached the crawlway that connected the cargo area to the flight deck. The hatch was open. Jobs went in first.
He had to climb up. The tunnel was meant to be used either in a weightless environment or crawled through when the shuttle was at rest horizontally.
The tunnel opened onto a space below the flight deck. It was mostly crammed with lockers. What they contained he didn’t know, but water would have been his first choice. He was desperately thirsty.
There was a ladder which in this position was more an impediment than a help. He crawled onto the flight deck. It was designed for horizontal flight, with the seats set in such a way that during the landing phase, the pilots would be positioned like the pilots of any commercial jet. So when Jobs entered the flight deck the seats were above him, over his back.
He stood up and stretched.
Looking straight up Jobs could see a sliver of light through the small cockpit windshield. Like looking up through a skylight. Strange. The sky was blue, and for a moment he felt a leap of irrational hope. They were home! On Earth. All of it a dream.
But the blue of the sky was not the depthless, indeterminate blue of Earth’s sky. The sky seemed to be made up of blue scales. Dabs of blue and dabs of violet. Even streaks of green. And the cloud he saw was no cloud that had ever floated through earth’s sky. It was white in parts, but also brown, with streaks of brown dragged across the white.
The whole mass of the sky moved, vibrated. As if the wind blew, but blew nowhere in particular, just reshuffled the scales and smears of color.
“What is it?” 2Face asked. She was staring up past him.
“I don’t know.”
He helped her to her feet. They stood on what would normally be a vertical bulkhead.
The shuttle had landed. Somewhere. Gravity was downward, which meant that, impossible as it clearly was, it had landed nose up. It had landed in take-off position. Utterly impossible.
The shuttle had no way to achieve this. The thought had been that the ship’s computers would, on sensing the right circumstances, trim the solar sails to achieve deceleration and enter orbit around some theoretical, hoped for, prayed for planet.
After that, the thinking was that any orbit would inevitably deteriorate, and the shuttle would then be able to land in its normal configuration under the guidance of a revived pilot.
Of course, the shuttle landed on a smooth, paved runway. Not on prairie. Not on water. Not on mountainsides. Not in craters.
Jobs knew, (just as everyone aboard knew) what a mishmash of faint hopes and ludicrous delusions this mission represented. There never had been anything more than a disappearingly small chance of success.
Fly through space toward no particular goal, have the solar sails work both to accelerate and decelerate and then have the absurd good luck to land on a planet with reasonable gravity and a very convenient landing strip positioned wherever they happened to touch down?
But to do all that and somehow end up vertical?
“Maybe we’re still asleep,” Jobs muttered.
“I don’t think so, Duck. I don’t have dreams like this.”
The voice was instantly familiar.
Mo’Steel leaned out into view overhead. He was perched in the captain’s seat. He was smiling, but nothing like his usual Labrador retriever grin.
“I’m alive,” Mo’Steel reported. “If this is a dream, it’s the mother, father, sister and brother of weird. We got all of weird’s cousins in on this. Come on up. You gotta see this. You have got to see this.”