The hallmark of his career changed when his lead engineer called him.
|Date: December 12th, 1972|
Speaker: Captain Kurack
—Begin Captain’s Log—
I am the captain of Earth, Robert Kurack, a hybrid from Europa. The Diet, Congress, and Planetary Church chose me to lead the mission of transporting the last pure human DNA of Phillip Simon to Planet Gaia. Once delivered to Gaia, Project Longevity is to begin. With my crew of thousands, we embarked on the most important year-long journey in hybrid history. Bless be the Gods on Triton and Io. Captain Kurack.
—End Captain’s Log—
“My fellow hybrids: time for celebration is neigh. Earth has entered its last stretch of the one-year voyage. Landfall is to take place after three Earth Days.” I speak to an audience of dozens, while hundreds who couldn’t make it listen on the intercom.
“As you all should know, at approximately 0500 Federal Time, the engines of this great ship will automatically set into descent mode once the systems recognize the planet’s atmosphere. I stress this for an important reason, everyone is on high alert, and Medical Sector and Security Staff are vigilant. I have full faith in the engines and my staff. We cannot let our guard down during these precious hours.”
I make sure to gesture to Roy Tubbs, George Pierce, David Douglass, and Clark Mull; all of them sit behind me. These fine hybrids are second-in-command when I’m unavailable, a rarity, I may boast.
“That said, I want to congratulate every Hybrid on Earth. We embarked on a mission far away from friends and family. Many doubted this Holy Mission, even I did. We proved the doubters wrong. We proved to have the tenacity to accomplish grand Human achievements!”
In the old movies, crowds would often applaud thunderously, but this was slow and methodical, a growing fire. The heat grows hotter until the fire is a blazing inferno, consuming each hybrid in its path. Everyone in this, no, on this ship, cheers without abandon. They're clapping impassioned; their rancorous applause drowns out the illimitable silence of space. Three hundred and sixty-five Earth days: it will become since the launch of this grand vessel into the stars. I wonder who they cheer for? Cry for? Surely not just this mission. I hear them congratulating themselves behind me, and Douglass expresses some emotions. With all the emotions on display, I wonder when did it happen? The familiar feeling of sadness blankets me. I take the chance to slip away.
In the quietness of Earth’s Halls: I miss my wife and child. It’s been one year since waking up alone in a twin-size bed became the norm for me. Not kissing Hera good morning, watching my daughter eat breakfast while enjoying whatever is on the radio. It has been more painful than I ever imagined. My family was where my doubts lay. Could I separate from the two hybrids cherished above my own life; for the possibility of my daughter living a life longer than her parents? For her, I’d wrestle a devil. Walking these halls, Dinah, my daughter, the reaction often plays in my mind, and how her face would light up staring at the grand design. A lot of painstaking detail went into carving the old myths into metal from Io. I’d have to endure all her questions about each story. Such as the story of 9/11 and the Brave Firefighters who slay the beast. Or the Supreme God of the United States, POTUS, and his wife, FLOTUS, who reincarnates every four years, sometimes eight years. Her favorite incarnation is Jimmy Carter, though I am akin to the grandfatherly Ronald Reagan. Hera... Dinah...
It’s unbecoming of a captain to be slumped into his chair; personnel could walk in at any moment. What would they think to find their captain displaying meekness? That the thought of his family snuffed out his high spirits? They’d think so on this ship. It’s an unspoken rule, but alone we yearn for—A private call from the Engines, it’s Roy. Only I and my staff can privcom. I sit up.
“Roy, you workhorse. I thought you’d be celebrating—”
“Damage to the engines, Kurack.”
It was all he said before communication went silent. Gods of Titan and Io, he must be telling a horrible joke. There is no way these engines can fail. Not when I am close to returning to them. Tapping the phone button on my keyboard, I private call Roy. Several beeps ping for thirty seconds. No answer. Damage to the engines, Kurack haunts me. I slump back into my chair, wishing I was elsewhere. There is a ping. All I hear is the clatter of keyboards on the other end. If only I wasn’t a seasoned captain, I’d slam my fist on the desk. I need to wait. Another ping. Roy’s voice comes through the other end.
“Heavy damage to the engine, captain! Maybe a day’s worth of fuel left. I can’t tell yet. The code has reverted to low-level machine code.”
He told me through the private intercom or privcom, before an abrupt ping ended the call. Tubb’s a hybrid from Zeus who lived on Europa most of his life; it often shows through his work ethics. He’s a damn good mechanic. Probably the best Europa has ever seen. The moment I saw him directing the lead developer, directing someone on maintaining air levels aboard the ship while he worked on repairing it, I knew why the Federals chose him for the holy mission. It’s Roy; he can fix this.
“Roy, can you give me details of what happened? When can I expect a report?” Heavy damage. Those words stayed heavy on me; they dug deep into my soul and mind. Earth taking heavy damage is impossible. They designed the ship with damage-prevention algorithms that could survive an explosion on the scale of Jupiter. What could damage this ship? I needn’t brood over dark thoughts; knowing Roy, he’s already on the problem and two steps to fixing it. Yet, the silence, waiting for a response—it bothers me. It was the silence of dreaded, that creeping feeling that someone has a knife to your back, at any moment, they can end your life. I should privcom Clark Mull. No, that’s no good. What if someone overhears Mull talking to Douglass or Pierce? I need to trust Roy. He can fix any problem aboard Earth—the knife danced on my back—I’ll privcom Roy. Once more.
“Roy, I’ve waited long enough. Where is that analysis? Tell me about the damage our ship’s engine has taken. Do I need to come down there?”
No response. Enough waiting for Roy’s response. I need to know now.
“Computer—” The lights flickered like a child playing with the light switch. I could’ve died at that moment. The problems are piling up; no response from Roy, damage to the engine, and now light system failure. The knife dug deep into my back.
“Dammit, Roy. Respond!” Frustrated. It’s the only way to describe my situation. A captain should never get frustrated, but no one ever speaks of when you’re on the holiest mission, millions of light years beyond the safety of the Federal Colony ever embarked on. Now you’re facing unknown damage to your ship’s engine, with your lead mechanic gone silent. Gods of Io, no one or has experience prepared me for this! I want to slump back into my chair so far they won’t ever find my body. Instead, I gather myself and press down on the allcom button.
“This is your captain speaking: I want a status report on the light system failure and a status report from all units.” I refrained from asking for reports about Roy, one issue to fix at a time. I’ve already decided to handle Roy myself. If I were to announce engine failure, this would stain our mission and cause fear among ourselves; they can only lead to dire outcomes.
Thirty minutes, maybe less than twenty—I don’t know, I stop counting after ten—Clark Mull, the ship’s head doctor. David Douglass, our head of security. Earth’s foremost psychologist George Pierce. They enter my gray-walled chambers that are my quarters. Each hybrid is the best on Europa in their dedicated field. Frequently, I sought their advice. I would hope to believe we formed a deep friendship, and they would follow me to my next frontier. That’s if I’m still a captain.
I lean my back into my chair and take a moment to know what I’m about to say. I know they’ve noted my action down. For now, focus on them—because they’re going to say little, but their words are going to stab deep.
“Bless be the Gods of Titan and Io,” I said sitting up.
“Bless be the Old Gods,” they say back.
They came wearing their official Federal attire; a short-sleeved dark-blue shirt and maroon khakis. They are shoeless, reminding us of who we are—hybrids, not humans.
The decorated military hybrid who served in the Civil Wars some twenty years ago and in the final assault on Jupiter; before the planet exploded. You can spend all day listing down his accomplishments. I often wonder why he left the military for a security job aboard Earth. This man could be the Supreme Commander of the Europan Armed Forces. The blue-furred, eight feet tall David Douglass steps forward.
“Roy Tubb is the only person unaccounted for, captain.” Straight to the point, no formalities. I expect no less of a war dog like Douglass. Roy being unaccounted for has shifted Rory from cautious to serious. They teach captains Rory’s Four Levels every year in the academy. The four levels are Neutral, Cautious, Serious, Dire, and Death. We’re serious. I have no choice but to inform them about Roy’s predicament. I kept my composure over Douglass’s glare. Wordlessly, he tells me he knows I’m withholding information, that I better come forward or there will be consequences.
George Pierce spoke next.
“Promptly after the light failure, I performed a ship-wide scan prior to you giving out directives. The findings proved rather disturbing. I may add, dear Captain. I believe Douglass and Mull did too. No readings from Roy Tubb. It is rather redundant to say, but you know what this means, right?” Pierce staggers me with a left hook. I am! Damn, you both! I keep my composure, with no outbursts and no emotions taking over.
Clark Mull was the last to speak. I want to glare, just this one emotion. Alas.
“No injuries reported. Summary sent by the head androids, in a few words—”
“I needn’t hear any more. I know Roy Tubb’s absence and mental readings aren’t painting the best picture.”
Only a human can withstand the intense gaze three hybrids are giving me. Perhaps that is a testament to my years as a captain. I have the willpower of a human. If only I could smile and confuse them, that would be absolutely a victory. Childish matters aside, it is time for the truth. One I know without the advanced mental readings, androids, or technology of Earth, they are not ready for. But, they must be ready, and so must I.
“Roy Tubb privcommed me some minutes ago, there was damage to the engines. The last I heard of him was about the ship’s fuel supply.” I said it. There came a silence that refuses to be ignored, the silence that wants you to know that everything has changed henceforth. It’s invisible mockery laughing at the best the Federation offers, telling me that this is my monumental failure. It stings, no matter how many years are under my belt, failure still stings.
Anger doesn’t fit the old war dog’s face, yet his look of anger won’t leave my mind for years to come. I should’ve privcommed them, with our minds together, we could’ve planned something. I have no regrets; I remain resolute in my decision to handle it myself; they must accept it. They are captains of this ship when I cannot perform my duty. Thousands depend on them much as they depend on me. So, I’ll let them be angry for a while before I remind them I am the captain. Douglass walks out of the room; he privcom someone. Pierce also walks out shortly. I am wary of his departure. Calm, collected, and dangerous is a preeminent psychologist. Clark Mull remains in my chambers. I wait for his response.
“You have been called to the Morgue, Kurack.” He uses my name, not a title.
I know this means it’s a matter of importance. All details are withheld until I see it firsthand. Situations that call for the use of my name are rare upon Earth, most being an overlooked psych-reading and a crewman who committed suicide. It is tragic, but rare. Yes, that’s it. Death is involved.
Risings up from my chair, it dawns on me how long I’ve been sitting down, another rarity for me. I’m always walking about until lights out. As the door slides open, we’re greeted by a large crowd and their indiscernible volley of questions. A captain’s job is never done.