And The Lord Taketh Away

This time when I’m woken, it’s not by Janice, which is odd. Not at all to routine. Speaking of which…

“Engineer John Lord, begin a non-regular waking log.”

Firstly I’m confronted by a wall of sheer humanity, most of them are dressed in rags, or nothing at all.

“Lord, we apologise for disturbing your rest. Our lights grow dim and our crops are blighted. The air is not what it once was.” The one speaking for them is wearing the tattered remnants of what was once an engineering tunic, his speech is slow as if rarely performed now.

As I feel the energising solution reviving my muscles, I wonder how long it has been since I was last awake. As I step from the stasis tube, the uniformed man takes a knee and bows his head. All the others do likewise, without any prompting. So they’ve started worshipping us again? Ah, that’s not good. I remember what happened two cycles ago, so I’ll have to nip this in the bud if I can. The air feels far too hot, so he’s right about that. I wonder if that’s why they’ve woken me?

Not that they are supposed to be able to wake me, unless one of the others has shown them how.

At a guess, there’s at least a hundred of them here, just inside the stasis room. I can see the signs of habitation, scattered behind them. Shacks built from welded-together food trays. Shit, if they’ve been living in here, how many of them are alive right now?

My first guess is the ship’s systems are struggling to provide for too many people. My second guess is Doc Jay hasn’t been monitoring their reproductive rates. Or doing anything, by the shape they appear to be in. Half-starved, from the way their bones are protruding through their skin. I beckon their speaker forwards. Probably a priest, I assume, based on previous experience. “How many do you number?”

From the instant look of confusion on his face, it appears that Doc Jay isn’t the only one not doing his damn job. Miller hasn’t been running them through the education programs once every century either. Okay, fine. I’ll have to get the answer in the old fashioned way. Hopefully, it won’t spook them too much. “Janice, not including myself or the crew, how many life-signs are currently onboard?”

“Thirty-three thousand, four hundred and sixty-seven, Lord.”

Fucking hell, Doc! The ship was designed to safely home between three and four thousand people at any one time. No wonder the air feels so damn weird.

“Also, Lord. Be aware, the seals on reactor four are close to breaking down. Time to safely repair is less than three days.” Hmm, why hadn’t Janice woken me before now?

“Janice, was there a reason these folks woke me up to fix this mess, and not you?”

“Captains final orders, Lord, just before he died. Civilian population to have full discretion, except in cases of a most dire emergency. I’d have woken you up tomorrow myself anyway if they hadn’t already done so. You might want to get onto that reactor sooner than later though.”

They don’t seem to be surprised to hear Janice. At least this generation isn’t worshipping her. I think she kind of enjoyed the last time. I guess I’ll need to train enough people to replace those reactor seals. Lucky for me, there’s no shortage of warm bodies which need disposing of. I doubt this will even make a dent in their population boom though. “Thanks, Janice. Nano Solution number two, deliver to stasis room please?”

I grab the tube and start pouring it into cups. After beckoning their priest over, I give him the first one. “Drink this. I need everyone in this room to help me fix your problems. Please make sure to pass these drinks around. One cup for everyone. No exceptions.”

I use Janice to ensure they all get the upgrade. Within sixty seconds, I’ve got a room full of mostly trained engineers, they’ve got all the knowledge they need to act as a repair team. “If you can hear my voice, head to reactor four and replace the seals. Lockdown all bulkheads in the adjacent sections, no-one is permitted to leave. Go now!”

I monitor them from my station, including the bodies already inside, Janice tells me they are shutting six thousand people into that section. I check the rest of the ship. It’s no shock to find a couple of enormous population centres clustered around the empty cargo bays. Once I’ve done a headcount down there, I vent the bays into space. I close a few security doors and wrangle the rest of the people into the observation bay. Not counting the folks I just sent to their imminent radioactive death, it’s a little over a thousand people, all told.

The folks in the reactor get the seals replaced fairly quickly and begin the job of decontamination. I didn’t give them too much training, just enough to perform the repairs to a good enough stand as to last a few thousand years. They don’t need to know it’s a suicide mission. I’m glad they haven’t even questioned my order to seal themselves in.

A simple clean-up job by hand isn’t possible in this scenario. I have to trigger a phased pulse scrub, destroying any lifeforms therein. Even after their clean-up and my scrub, I still won’t be able to use those sections for at least another six thousand years or so.

At least I’ve got the population down to a manageable amount now. Speaking of which… “Janice! I want wake-ups for Doc Jay every fifty years to perform routine lifeforms checks. The command cannot be superseded.”

After I watch the last few molecules being phased out of existence, I make my way to the Observation Deck, where the remaining survivors have settled themselves. At first, none of them will speak to me. Eventually, I just lose my patience and grab one of them. “You. You’re in charge now.”

I see the immediate wave of fear behind his eyes. “But Lord, our Priest?”

I shake my head. “He’s dead. You’re head man around these parts now.” I motion around us, to the others. “Everyone you see, this is all the people left alive. Your job is to take care of them.” Frankly, they look pathetic, as if they haven’t had a good meal in several decades. The only food I can see is emergency biscuits, and those are being nibbled sparingly like they’ve no other source of sustenance. Miller is supposed to teach them how to use the ship’s systems, including the Food Processor. Well, seeing as how I’ve just loaded it with new materials, I may as well show them.

I walk over to one of the many wall-mounted Dispensers. “Place your hand here. Food comes out of there. Don’t worry, there’s enough for everyone now. There’s no need to starve yourselves again. Just be careful not to gorge right away. You’ll just make yourselves sick, otherwise. Many of your friends and family have sacrificed themselves so you might eat now.” I have to make them get up, seeing me use the dispenser sets them all to kneel in worship. If Miller did her job every other century, they might understand this is just science, and not damn magic.

“Janice. Set a wake-up for Miller, every century. Tutorial of ship’s systems and education program. Deny further stasis access until tasks are fully performed. These damn colonists shouldn’t look on us as their Gods!”

I make sure they all take Nano Solution eight, then show them the Teaching Stations. Hopefully, a bit of good old science will squeeze the religion right out of them. If not, I guess there’s always the engineer’s solution. “Janice, monitor life-form numbers. If they go five percent over safe limits then have their old or infirm either report to an airlock or a recycler. Whichever happens to be closest.”

It shouldn’t be my job to do all this shit, but I guess an engineer has to fix things, even if they aren’t exactly within my remit. I check all the ship’s systems. Everything else seems fine, now reactor four is resealed. With the population down at a sensible amount, power and air soon return to normal.

A lot of these folks don’t remember ever having good air or lights at full power. It might damage their eyes, so I’ll have to take steps to allow them to get used to it slowly. “Janice, increase ship-wide light levels by one percent every day until you reach normal operating conditions. Lord, out.”

Having fixed the immediate problems of the world, I go back to stasis to get my head down for another century or two, hopefully. I doubt if Doc Jay and Miller will be best pleased with me having them awake so often. What are the odds they defrost me when they find out who issued those particular scheduling orders? At least the ship is back within safe operating parameters again.

I didn’t want to waste all those folks, but we’ve still got another fifty thousand years of travelling left, yet. It had to be done.

With the Captain gone, I guess that leaves me in charge now? The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

And so to sleep. Sweet Dreams!

Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986.