By Dominic Tramontana
Forks and knives clinked against the metallic trays in the mess hall. The observation window stretched along the outer wall revealing the empty void of space to all the crew mates.
Every mealtime cycle was loud. After hours of maintenance runs, diagnostics checks, and vent cleaning, it was to be expected. Jokes were thrown, mouths laughed with food still inside, and at the center of it all, was Morgan.
Morgan sat with his ship log and paid no mind to the shouts of conversation that happened around him. The only thing he paid any mind to was the ship he was on, the one he knew the ins and
outs of like it was his own creation. The hum of the ship, the quick spark of the engines on takeoff and even the occasional turbulence all gave him a type of comfort.
“Hey, Morgan! Why don’t you put that thing away? I don’t wanna even think about work right now,” Green said.
Morgan hated confrontation and feared what would happen if he chose to speak out at the obvious rudeness. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll put it away.” He slid the tablet into his inner coat pocket.
“You better make nice, Green. If something happens to Cap then Morgan will be the one kicking your ass,” Hawthorne said.
The rest of the table chuckled at Green’s social misfortune.
“I still can’t believe high command gave the okay for Morgan to be Cap’s replacement. I mean, why not me? Or Hawthorne?” Green said.
“Because Morgan can weld a hull breach in his sleep and you have a hard time finding the shitter during lights out,” Hawthorne’s remark was met with a burst of laughter from the table.
Green sank in his chair out of embarrassment.
Morgan did not like the way Hawthorne spoke to Green but what could he do? He wasn’t the captain.
Morgan crouched under the panel of the floor. The mask he wore did little to hold back the heat of the blowtorch. But despite the heat and the sweat pouring off of him, he was in his comfort zone. No one to answer to, no social responsibility or complex personalities. Only pieces of metal and wires fusing together to make everyone’s lives easier.
A pair of artificial footsteps clinked against the grate flooring. Each step was precise and carried every sense that this being acted with nothing but pure calculation.
Victor. Morgan wished that the android would ignore him, but the synthetic was never one to avoid interaction.
“Hello, Engineer Morgan,” Victor said. The sound of his voice rang with electronic undertones that became more grating the longer he spoke, like a ringing in your ear. “I have already run several diagnostics in this perimeter, no need to start a job that is already done,” Victor laughed like it was expected.
There was a long, awkward silence between the two. Morgan had no clue what to say and Victor stared at him with a toothy smile.
“Well, I should get back to work,” Morgan said.
Victor’s face stayed in the frozen grin until it switched in an instant to respond. “Very well. Goodbye, Engineer Morgan.” He walked off, hands behind his back, one foot directly in front of the other.
Wow. That thing never fails to freak me out.
The intercom echoed down the hall. “Morgan to Captain Rhodes’s office.”
Morgan gathered his toolbox and began his walk down to the office.
Morgan knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Rhodes said, muffled from the other side.
Morgan pushed a button on the nearby keypad and the door slid open.
Rhodes sat at his desk fiddling his thumbs. His feet were crossed and outstretched on the desk. His posture realigned when the man he had sent for presented himself. “Morgan! How are you, buddy?”
The two embraced in a hug; Morgan always loved seeing his friend.
“I’m good. And yourself mister Captain man?” Morgan chuckled.
Rhodes reciprocated the laugh. “Yanno, I’m still not used to hearing that?”
“Well get used to it. How else do I keep all the power from getting to your head?” Morgan laughed with his friend.
The two let the joke sit, creating a comfortable silence that only friends could have. Rhodes reached into his drawer and pulled out a picture. Three men stood in the picture; Rhodes was shaking hands with General Holt, while Morgan stood to the left.
“Remember this picture?” Rhodes leaned it towards Morgan’s vision.
“Oh yeah,” Morgan said as if he unearthed a memory he had forgotten long ago. “That was after we steered that passenger shuttle to earth.”
“Command said there was never a rescue quite like it. I still have my medal, actually.”
“I don’t think I can say the same.”
“Seriously? It was the biggest moment in our careers.”
“I’m just not into all the medals and awards. Give me a wrench and a scrapped ship then I’m happy.”
“Wow,” Rhodes scoffed and set the painting down.
“Morgan, why can’t you just realize how good you are? Do you know how frustrating it is to see you squander all that talent?” Rhodes looked as if he was about to leap from his body.
Morgan had never seen his friend get this way. “Hey, calm down. It’s just a medal.”
“No, it’s not just a medal! It’s my life! Did you know that they only made me captain because you turned it down? Do you even realize that?”
“Rhodes, I’m sorry. You deserve it way more than me. I could never do what you do.”
“No… you’re wrong.”
Morgan flopped his arms to his sides. “Ok, did you call me down here to reminisce or to yell at me?”
Rhodes straightened his posture into his captain stance. “Neither. We received a distress signal from a towing shuttle. Apparently, they had a major engine malfunction, and they need our help. You and I are that help.”
“Okay. I’ll get ready.”
“Victor will notify you when we arrive.”
Morgan and Rhodes nodded at each other. The former walked out while the latter turned away to stare out into space.
From the deck, Morgan suited up his space gear. The visor was the last to go on; a dome lens that created a portal to the outside. Rhodes stood to his left, ready and able.
“The shuttle is in range. Begin your descent,” Victor said over the intercom.
The pressurized door closed behind them. A blast of decontaminating mist filled the room. Once finished, the door in front opened to outer space.
Morgan and Rhodes attached their cords and descended down onto the damaged ship. The lifeless void of space carried the two men to the shuttle. Morgan landed first and then Rhodes. The two got to work. Stationed at the rim of the engines, they welded shut the cracks and ran diagnostics on the engines power supply.
“Alright, I think we’re done here,” Rhodes said. “What do you think, Morgan?”
Morgan gave a nod, still reeling from the showing of anger earlier.
Rhodes nodded back and then spoke into his helmet communicator. “Okay, Victor. It’s all set down here. We’re clearing from the engines now.”
The two began to climb out. The engine started up, the heat got closer.
“Stop! We’re not out yet!” Rhodes screamed into his comms. Dead silence met him on the other side.
Morgan began to sweat in his suit. Is this how I die? Morgan snapped out of it and rushed to Rhodes to push him out of the way, but it was too late. Rhodes had already done the same for him first. The engineer drifted to safety as the ship launched into light speed and his Captain was taken in by the blast of flame and energy.
Dead bodies laid across the floor, slumped over security panels, others strewn on the ground. Puncture holes so perfect and without passion were the cause of death.
Victor stood straight, hands at his sides. He turned at a 180 degree angle and speed walked out the automated door. His hands swung at his sides like two unforgiving blades.
Hawthorne stood at the end where everyone was crowded around. “Hey, Vic. Is everything alright in there?” He waited for a response from the android but soon gave up on it when Victor stepped closer.
“Captain Rhodes and Engineer Morgan are dead. They did not get out in time.”
“That’s bullshit! Morgan would never mess up like that!” Hawthorne crossed his arms and got louder. “Now why don’t you tell me what really– “
Before Hawthorne could finish, Victor had thrusted his hand through him with lifeless apathy. The android looked up at the man he was now lifting in the air. “Your crewmates are dead, and I am now Captain. That is what happened, Engineer Hawthorne.”
A bystander tried to free Hawthorne from Victor, but they were dispatched by the synthetic in an instant. The remaining crew members fled in a panic to all corners of the ship.
Victor released Hawthorne’s corpse. The body thudded against the ground, the life gone from its eyes.
“Initiate Decontamination Sequence: Foreign Lifeforms,” Victor spoke, and the entire ship went on lockdown.
A hand grasped at the ledge of the exit bay. Morgan lifted himself onto the flat surface and made his way into the ship. His breath was stunted and the only thing going through his head was grief. The image of his friend burning seared into his mind.
“Step into the pod for decontamination,” said the ship’s automated voice.
Morgan stepped into the decontamination room. The mist blasted through, and he stepped out the other side, clean, but scarred. The ship was silent, so silent that it broke him out of his mournful state for a moment. “Where is everyone? Victor?”
A voice rang through the intercom. “Engineer Morgan, please make your way to the bridge.”
Let’s see what this son of a bitch has to say.
Morgan barged into the room and saw Victor standing in the center of the room, hands folded, smiling like a bathroom attendant.
“Hello, Engineer Morgan. I am so glad you made it back from your mission.”
“Whose idea was it to launch the ship?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Morgan knew what was going on. “Rhodes died because someone gave the go ahead. Who was it? Was it you?”
“Engineer Morgan, as the ship’s designated relief specialist, it is my job to decide between those who were crucial assets and those who were not. Rhodes was not.”
The thought of an android having that power guided Morgan’s fist. The punch was intercepted by the android and the grasp closed like a vice. Morgan let out huffs of pain.
“Any violence against the acting captain will result in death and immediate expulsion from the ship.”
“What?” Morgan was taken aback.
“I am the captain, Engineer Morgan. Now, off you go.” Victor lifted Morgan in the air by his hand and threw him against the door. The synthetic walked towards Morgan, hands ready for a lethal kill.
The door opened in an instant. Morgan flew back into the arms of Green. Another crewmate worked on the panel.
“Get it shut!” Green said.
“I’m trying!” Victor got closer and closer. “Got it!” The door slammed shut and locked.
“Green?” Morgan said.
“Good to see you, Morgan. Or should I say, Captain. Come with us before that thing slices through the door and us.”
The three escaped down the corridor and into a vent.
The open frameworks of the ship led to an opening designed for engineers to work. There were no workers, only frightened faces. Half of them bandaged gaping wounds while others tried to radio for help.
Morgan, Green, and the other shipmate shuffled into the room from a vent on the other side.
Morgan scanned the room and took in the sight of everyone he knew suffering.
“What’re you thinking, Morgan?” Green said.
Morgan answered, not all there. “I uh- I don’t know.”
“Did Rhodes make it back?”
Morgan lowered his head to maintain his composure and nodded.
“Wow. I’m sorry, I know you were close.”
“Yeah, it’s- it’s tough.”
Green let the silence collect before he continued. “You know that makes you captain, right?”
“I can’t. I’ll do what I can to help but I don’t think I can.”
“Alright. I won’t fight you on that but know this. We got a lot of scared people here, me included, so someone will have to step up.”
Morgan nodded. “What’s the plan?”
“We need to connect with command, but that damn robot bastard cut off all comms. We can’t take him head on so a couple of us will have to sneak in and lift the restrictions.”
“Ok, sounds good. I volunteer.”
“I knew you’d say that. Here, take this,” Green handed Morgan a makeshift walkie talkie. “We still have local comms so we can keep in touch.”
Morgan took the device. “I’ll only need myself to get the communications up and running.”
“You sure? I’d hate it if that glorified trash compactor were to get you.”
“Yeah. I just need some liquid nitrogen and a combustible container.”
Green looked confused.
Morgan stepped through the hallway, back hunched and stepped with caution. The control room was dead ahead and all he had to do was keep quiet.
The door slid open, and Morgan entered. There was no light except for the shifting colors of the various computer terminals. He knew what this mission meant and through all the fear of what Victor might do and the possibility of failure, the Engineer tired along, and wiped the sweat from his brow whenever that condensed reminder of terror reared its head.
He made it to the terminal at the far end of the room, placed in front of a large fish bowl like window. Morgan rewired the security panel to lift the comm restrictions and managed to get a hold of a person.
“Alpha command, can you read me?” the voice said.
“YES! Oh yes please, send help. This is-” Morgan felt a silicone hand, colder than ice latch around his throat and threw him in the opposite direction.
The radio continued to ask for clarification, while Victor stood in the dark; only illuminated by the faint glow of the void.
Morgan hobbled to his feet and grasped at his back in hopes the pain would go away.
“Engineer Adams. I see you have disobeyed a direct order. That is punishable by immediate extermination.” Victor spun towards him.
“Is this where you watched it happen? Where you watched my friend burn alone?”
Victor looked back at the window. “I observe many things. That happens to be one, yes.”
“We’re just things to you. There are people on this ship! Real, living, breathing people!”
“I do not understand your point.”
Morgan clenched his fist and his breath had become faster. “Enough. I’m getting everyone out of here. Step aside, Victor.”
“Undoable, Engineer Morgan,” Victor plunged towards him.
Morgan’s instincts forced him backwards. He evaded the death blow and scrambled across the room behind a clutter of desks.
Victor turned and noticed he made no contact, and that his target was hidden.
Morgan sat with his back against the upturned table and fiddled at a canister in his jumpsuit pocket. C’mon, you bastard. Victor peaked his head and Morgan lodged the canister into the robot’s mouth. He stood and threw a punch, which deepened the tube into the synthetic.
“Stay cool,” Morgan took out a detonator and pressed the button.
Fractals of silicone and blue fluid sprayed Morgan and the surrounding area. The android was no more than a pile of parts. He breathed a sigh of relief and walked to the still open comms channel.
The man on the other end continued. “Hello, are you still there? We heard a commotion. Please state your situation.”
“I need a rescue shuttle to the lunar sector. We have multiple wounded and dead.”
“Might I ask who is speaking?”
Morgan lowered his mouth closer to the microphone. “This is the captain speaking.”
“Right away, sir.”