by Ruth Draves
What happens when the new captain has a tough decision
|The airlock door hummed to a close behind me as I entered the control module. Hansen looked up from his console and said something, but the fluid from the hibernation chamber still blocked my right ear. He smirked as I grabbed my earlobe. Something in his rueful grin told me he suffered the same side effect of the chamber.
“You've got blue goo dribbling on your tunic, Ma'am,” he said once I finished getting the fluid out of my ear.
“Yeah? Go tell NASA,” I half slurred.
“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the module,” he grinned.
I wobbled over to the chair next to Hansen and carefully sat down. My neurons were still not all firing.
“The mission update can wait until you're more awake,” Hansen offered.
I was ready to snap his head off when I remembered the mission's psychologist suggesting that I try to curb my need to “be completely self-sufficient” on this flight. The woman actually said, “There is no 'I' in 'TEAM'” when she gave her evaluation.
“I may need you to go through the details later when I'm more awake,” I said. “I got the feeling from Doc that I got woken up now for something big. What Mission Day are we on?”
Hansen glanced at his console. “MD 741,” he said. “You were not scheduled for wake up until MD 830,” he added.
“That explains the disorientation,” I said as I settled back in the chair. “I'm listening.”
Hansen pulled out a manila file folder from a recess next to his console. The low-tech paper product seemed funny in the sterile environment of the control module.
“We got new orders from Houston on MD 739,” Hansen said.
My hands shook as I held the folder. The type on the flimsy paper still swam before my eyes. My brain was not ready to process the writing.
“I'm still coming out of hibernation,” I admitted. “Just tell me what happened.”
Hansen cleared his throat and looked over his shoulder. “There's a problem,” he whispered.
“That is obvious,” I snapped. “What sort of problem?”
Hansen glanced around again. “It's Colbert,” he said. “He's gone mad.”
Robert Colbert, co-captain of our mission, the most level-headed Navy man I've ever met. He was chosen to lead the mission while we hurdled through space, while I was to take over command when we reached our target.
“Describe this madness,” I said.
“It started about MD 700,” he began. “Colbert started looking over the specs for the landing site. Again and again. He became obsessed with the plans for the habitat. Doc said that she thought Colbert had stopped sleeping. About MD 720, he started holing himself up in the shower stall with the specs, biting off anyone's heads if they came near.”
“Paranoia and delusional,” I mused. “This doesn't sound like the Colbert I know.”
“I know,” Hansen ran a hand through his buzz-cut. “On MD 735, he came out of the shower stall, pronouncing his 'New Reconfiguration' for the Hab and greenhouses.” With that, Hansen took the file folder from me, flipped through the pages, and then handed me a sheet of paper. It took me a minute to figure out what was drawn on it. I recognized the wings of the greenhouses, and the octagonal Hab.
“It's a rabbit,” I said stupidly.
“Not just any rabbit,” Hansen said. “It's Yawbert, The New Reconfiguration Bunny. The Savior of A New World.”
I know I looked at Hansen with my mouth agape for at least a full minute.
“Yawbert?” I finally asked.
“A mix of Yahweh and Colbert, we think,” he shrugged. “He jabbered on about how having this on the surface would be the 'ultimate signal' to intelligent life that we come in peace, or whatever. He wasn't making any sense, especially at the end.”
I looked at the scrawled picture again. My eyes were able to make out the words 'Yawbert' and 'The New Reconfiguration' all around the vandalized specs.
“What happened then?” I asked.
It took us two days to get him sedated and into his hibernation chamber, and NASA told us to get you up and in charge.”
“Any damage?” I asked.
Hansen shook his head. “No vital systems, and the shower needed a good cleaning. Doc got bruised a bit. Captain, Colbert tried to get out an airlock with no suit on.”
“He would have been dead in less than 10 seconds,” I murmured. “How's the crew holding up?”
“Better since you're now up.”
"What does NASA want us to do now?”
“The orders are in the folder,” Hansen stated diplomatically.
“I take you it read them,” I said.
Hansen squirmed. “I see everything,” he said. “It's the blessed curse of being on the Comm.”
“The summary then,” I ordered.
“We are to continue with the mission as originally stated,” Hansen began. “The big change is that you are fully in charge unless you become incapacitated, then it goes to your second, which you will need to choose. So, in short, you're the Captain.”
“And Colbert?” I asked.
Hansen squirmed again. “Ma'am, you're not going to like it,” he said.
“I don't like it already,” I snapped.
“We're not to wake him until we return to Earth,” he looked down at the folder.
“That's well over two thousand days,” I said. “No one's survived over 500.”
Hansen swallowed. “That's what Doc said.”
“No recall order? No navigation plan to turn back?”
Hansen looked down at the folder.
“NASA really wants me to let Colbert die in hibernation so we can complete this mission?”
“Ma'am, it's like I said before,” he looked me in the eye. “You're the Captain. It's up to you.”
Word Count: 983