By Simon Haynes
"We are there?" Anton
sat up slowly, bracing himself against the side of the pod
with hairy, muscular arms.
"Not quite." Erin
averted her eyes as she handed him a towel.
dried his upper body then stood up, swaying, and wrapped the
towel around his waist. "What..." He coughed. "What
is the emergency?"
stared at him. "You know where you are?"
woke me to ask me this? We are aboard the Glory, outbound from
Erin strode to a commset and called the flight deck.
was Roth's voice.
"Greg, Anton's OK. No problems with his memory at all." The
speaker was silent. "Greg?"
does that mean for us? For the colonists?"
Erin heard Anton's bare feet on the metal deck. She turned
round as the Frenchman put a hand on her shoulder.
is the matter, Erin? What is this memory loss?"
thirty years into the trip. My pod had a failure, and the computer
revived me. When I came out, I was like a newborn.
I could speak, but I had no memory."
stared at her, concern in his eyes. "That is bad."
computer gave me a batch of stimulants, and gradually everything
came back. The trouble is, we don't know what the effects
will be over a longer period."
it is best if you wake every thirty years?"
and what about the colonists? This ship wasn't designed as a
hotel. Can you imagine how long it will take to wake each
one and test them?"
you need only do it once. The ones who show no effects, they
can stay in their beds until arrival. The rest can be woken at
if the effects take longer? What if your mind goes after fifty
years instead of thirty? What if the colonists refuse to go back
into sleep? They could stage a riot, smash the flight deck up,
Anton was silent.
decided to turn back," said Erin quietly.
"Ah, non!" cried Anton. "That
is not the deal! Never will I return to that overcrowded waste
dump. Me, I prefer to die in
Erin pressed her lips together.
this memory problem, it is a worry. We will discuss the alternatives.
But to run back with the tails between our legs? That, never!"
are four of us, Anton. We'll revive Winters, then we can decide."
gentlemen. It looks like I have the casting vote." Erin
sat back in her seat, felt the sweat on her forehead as she pushed
a loose strand of hair away. They"d been talking for hours,
going over the problem again and again without reaching any sort
Sandon Winters had emerged from his cryopod showing no ill-effects.
He and Anton were all for waking the colonists, dividing them into
two groups and continuing with the journey. Roth and Erin, on the
other hand, were ready to turn back.
"There is one thing you haven't considered," said Roth,
his face drawn. "They were going to send a colony ship every
decade, doubling the rate once the manufacturing was automated.
How many thousands do you think might die if we don't go back
and warn them?"
stared at him. "If we turn now, already they will have
sent a dozen ships when we get back."
"He's right," said Winters. "We're
too late to save any of them."
looked at him in distaste. "Not for the dozens scheduled
to leave after we get back."
shook his head. "By now they'll have refined
the process, improved the ships beyond recognition. They'll
still have a maximum top speed, because of the ablative effect
on the matter shields." He frowned. "If they"ve
cracked atomic-level manufacturing, they may even have perfected
a better one."
nodded. "We return and they put us in a sideshow, yes?
Look at primitive man, living in primitive ship. Not a way to
Winters glanced at Erin, a calculating look in his eyes.
stared back. "What?"
are others who have a say in this. We must ask the colonists."
all of them?"
will revive a cross-section. A random sample. They can provide
us with a vote."
shook her head. "It won't work. They won't
want to decide for the majority."
"We can explain the situation, tell them there isn't enough
energy or spare fluid to revive more. I say we wake ten colonists." Winters
leant forward. "You have to agree, it's the democratic
thing to do."
Anton nodded slowly in agreement.
shook her head. "This isn't a democracy, Winters.
I'm in charge. I've got the deciding vote, and we're
jumped up, his face working. "You can't do this!
I refuse to let you screw up the rest of my life!"
leant forward. "Yet you want to screw mine up, by forcing
me back into the cryo pod." She turned to face the console
and addressed the computer. "I want you to calculate a course
which will take us back to Earth."
afraid that is not possible," said the computer.
"What?" Erin frowned. "Access
one access granted."
change required. Destination, Earth. Calculate and activate."
course was hard-coded into my operating system before final compilation
and encryption. It cannot be altered."
stared, her face white. "Why, dammit?"
this is a one-way journey."
was a snort behind her. Erin spun round to see Winters" face
creased in a triumphant sneer. "Looks like the computer's
got the deciding vote."
held up her hand and addressed the computer. "We have
to turn around. You yourself have admitted that we can't make
the first planet."
is not correct. We can reach all the planets, stopping at the
first which offers the right mix of climate and atmosphere."
"But we'll arrive as mindless vegetables!" yelled Roth.
Erin jumped as he slammed his fist on the table. "You can't
let this happen!"
your breath," said Erin, her voice quiet. "During
priority one access I have sole control of the computer."
"You call this control?" yelled
Roth. His eyes bored into Erin's for several seconds before he
spoke to the computer. "What do you suggest?"
have sufficient resources to wake the crew and twelve colonists
at thirty-five year intervals."
"Twelve colonists," muttered Roth. "What
do we tell them? Sorry, guys, the rest of you are just so many
warm corpses? Anyway,
what happens if the first planet is a bust?"
Erin repeated his question. There was a long silence before the
computer spoke again, a silence that gave Roth his answer better
than any amount of synthesised speech.
am sorry, I cannot help you."
"Right," said Winters. He stood up. "We"d
better start waking colonists to determine which ones suffer
Erin slumped back in her seat.
"You can go back into your pod, if you like," said Winters. "You've
got about thirty years before you'll need to walk the colonists
around, help them recover from their memory loss. There's
no need to wake Anton and me, obviously."
up, you prick!" Roth jumped up and faced Winters. "Shut
up or I'll shove your teeth down your throat!"
"Don't threaten me, golden boy!" Winters stuck a finger
out, holding it two inches from the younger man's nose. "You
wouldn't want me to leave you in your tank, would you? Forget
to revive you, perhaps?"
strode across to the console and typed on the keyboard. She waited
for the information to appear on the screen. 'strange," she
said, as the screen remained blank. "Computer, open the
colonist database for me."
comply. The database is classified."
data is classified from me. Show the database on terminal four."
cannot do that. You do not have sufficient clearance."
"I don't believe it!" crowed Winters. "They've
locked you out, too! How does it feel now, little miss I'm-in-charge?"
There was a solid crack and Erin turned round just in time to see
Winters go flying backwards, one hand clutching his cheek. Roth
stood over him, his face red.
"One word," he hissed. "One more snappy remark and I'll
kill you, you weasel."
pushed his chair back. "This, it is helping yes?"
turned on him. "You want some too?"
raised his hands. "Me, I am peaceful." He watched
Winters struggle to his feet. "Monsieur Winters, perhaps
you and I should examine the colonists, yes?"
Winters glared at Roth, but kept his distance. As Anton left, he
followed without a word.
"And don't touch anything!" shouted Roth as the door closed
behind them. He glanced at Erin. "Why did you want to look
at the colonist's data?"
"I though there might be a clue. You and I suffered memory loss,
Anton and Winters didn't. Perhaps there's something in
our medical background that leaves us open to the effects of cryo-sleep.
If I can find out what it is, we"d only have to wake the colonists
that have the same quirk." She spread her hands. "It's
academic, anyway, because some bright spark decided I didn't
need to know."
a worry. I mean, there's nobody but us, now. Why would they seal
knows. It could be something simple, perhaps to keep us from
studying individual colonists. Can you imagine Anton reading
on all the women, trying to find a mate? He might even be tempted
to wake someone up."
nodded. "Not outside the bounds of possibility, I'll
grant you that. The man's got a one-track mind. I'm not
sure he's that stable, either."
any of us?"
was interrupted by a beep as the commset announced a call.
was Anton. "The colonist's - the area is sealed."
cursed. "Of course. It would be."
"Can you not open it from there?" Winters" voice
held a challenge.
addressed the computer. "Unseal the colonist's quarters."
afraid that area is off-limits until we arrive at our destination.
Interaction with colonists during the voyage is prohibited."
commset crackled. "Perhaps you should say please," said
pursed her lips. "Come back up. We'll figure something
"Actually, I want to take a look at some of the equipment. I'll
need Anton to give me a hand with unpacking."
"I want to see what condition the tractors are in, for a start.
They"ve been sitting here thirty years. It'll only take
a moment to check their status panels." The speakers went
"Abrupt kind of guy, isn't he?" muttered Roth. "Remind
me to set up in a different neighbourhood when we arrive."
frowned. "Listen, I'm getting hungry. You want something
would you like?"
hot and edible."
"You might have to settle for one or the other," said Roth. "I'll
go and see what the catering is like."
Erin folded her arms on the table and rested her head on them.
She closed her eyes and let her mind go blank.
She woke with a start as the doors slid open and Roth came in,
his face white.
"There's no food," he
"Nothing. None of the buttons work, all the storage cupboards are
empty." He threw a plastic plate on the table. "Half
a dozen of those, two dozen plastic forks and nothing to eat!"
sat up, blinking. She turned her head and addressed the computer. "Where
is the food kept?"
"Define food," said
"It's the stuff we eat," shouted Roth. "Nourishment."
such needs are met by the cryo-pods."
Erin and Roth stared at each other in shock. The commset beeped.
was Anton, his voice strained. There was a loud crash in the
What's that noise?"
is not ok. The tractor - it is a...a car wreck."
old car, in a crate. Winters, he is opening other equipment.
We have the old machines for washing, fridges. It is junk, this."
you gone mad?" demanded Roth. "What the hell are
you on about?"
heard Winters yelling over the sound of splintering wood. "You
lousy pricks!" he screamed. Loud crash. "I'll give
you colony equipment!" Breaking glass.
jumped up and ran for the door. Erin caught him up in the hallway. "I don't know what that idiot was on about," he
panted, as they ran along the fresh, blue carpet. "But it
sounds like Winters has flipped."
The equipment bay doors were open, revealing stacks of wooden crates
that reached the roof, ten meters above. Roth ran through, ducking
around a battered forklift chained to the floor, and headed for
the banging sounds that echoed around the hold.
Erin stopped to examine the shattered glass around the door's
over-ride. She heard footsteps and looked up. Anton stopped before
her, face grave.
"What's this?" she
demanded, pointing at the glass.
shook his head. "That, it is not important." He
grabbed her hand and dragged her past the forklift and between
stacks of crates. "This, this is important."
The narrow passage opened out near the rear of the hold. There
were splintered planks all over the floor, and several crates had
gaping holes. She saw Winters swinging a fire axe at the side of
a large crate, saw Roth slam into him, saw both men go down in
a rolling tangle of arms and legs.
got on top and dragged Winters' hands behind his back.
The older man lay on his side, his face crumpled. Erin felt disgust
and pity as she saw tears running freely down his cheeks.
"What the hell's going on?" she
demanded, in the sudden quiet.
gestured towards a crate. "See for yourself," he
strode to the splintered hole and looked in. She gasped as she
saw the dented, rusting vehicle inside. A hand-written label
pasted to the crate read "Tractor C".
"The rest, it is junk also," said
shivered. "What have they done to us?"
"This could explain the food," said
Roth. He stood up and offered his hand to Winters. The scientist
"What about the food?" asked
snorted. "There isn't any."
"Merde." Anton glanced at a length of splintered wood on the
floor. "We must turn the ship. Someone will die for this."
like to get my hands around his neck and..." Roth
gritted his teeth.
shook her head. "Long dead, by the time we got back.
Anyway, we can't change course."
can hack the computer."
They all stared at Winters. The scientist was sitting up, his head
in his hands.
can crack the thing. My specialty."
"Well thanks for all the help with the colonist's database..." began
Roth. Erin silenced him with a glance.
"Why didn't you say something?" she
Ten minutes later they were in the flight deck, Winters at the
keyboard and the others peering over his shoulder. The scientist's
fingers darted over the keys, calling up system reports and data
which scrolled past faster than anyone could read it.
pursed his lips. "The computer was right. They've
hard-coded the course into the operating system."
looked down at his tangled mop of black hair. "What does
means we can't alter it."
snorted. "We already knew that. I thought you could fix
shook his head. "The data could be anywhere in the
code. It's encrypted, too."
"What about the colonist database?" asked
typed a few commands, then examined the screen closely. "Give
me half an hour. And for God's sake, stop breathing down my
pulled Roth and Anton away. "Kitchen," she said.
galley was cramped, with barely enough room to sit between table
and wall. Erin sat first, then glanced at the others. "Let's
go over this," she began.
been screwed. End of story," said Roth.
frowned at him. "If I need smart comments, I'll
ask the computer. Now sit down, shut up and listen."
flushed, then plonked himself down on the narrow bench. He moved
along so Anton could sit beside him. They leant forwards,
elbows on the table like a pair of eager students. Erin almost
laughed. "One," she said, holding up a finger. "The
people contracted to put the supplies on board figured they could
switch the stuff with junk and pocket the money."
Anton stared at her, his face pale.
"Two," Erin held up a second finger. "We
go higher up. The people running this show loaded the ship with
the colonists aboard and fired us off, knowing we'll never
be heard from anyway."
"Ahh, that is impossible," said Anton. "The
training, the colonists. It is betrayal, that!"
Corp staked their future on these ships. We know the first half
a dozen will drain them, cost them a fortune. They were open
about that. But when the construction is automated and people
are paying for their places..."
nodded. "So, they cut their costs on the first ships." Suddenly
he stared across the plastic table, face deathly white. "I
just had the most horrible thought," he said slowly.
if your second theory is correct, would they want us to arrive
at our destination?"
"Look, we get there, right? We ship all the crates down in the landers
and open them. Junk. we've got a thousand colonists in orbit,
and nowhere to put them. What if we managed to get the ship back
to Earth, turned up like an ex boyfriend at a wedding? Don't
you think they"d want to safeguard against that?"
they believe it's too far in the future to worry about."
talking about a company established two centuries ago, not an
individual," said Roth. "If this ship vanished
en-route, who would know about it?"
there are a thousand people aboard. They couldn't do it, too
many people would have to be involved and if one of them
blew the whistle, the Reid people would be burnt at the stake."
"It is true, this," said Anton. "Me,
I think the arsehole supply companies did the switch."
hidden speaker crackled, and they looked up. "Yes?" called
was a long silence before Winters' voice came over the
commset. "There's nothing I can do," he said. "Locked
up tighter than a chastity belt."
"That is not so secure," muttered
"Move over," said
Roth, pushing the Frenchman along the bench.
are you going?"
the colonists' area."
shook his head. "Not for long."
"Roth, no!" Erin's
voice was drowned by the roar of the forklift. She stepped
back, choking, as a cloud of diesel
fumes enveloped her.
The tyres skidded on the carpet before gripping and launching the
vehicle forward. There was a jarring crash as Roth drove the forks
into the red painted doors. They buckled, but held, and he jerked
the stick back and reversed for another go.
Erin, as she saw him lean forward and grip the wheel. The engine
coughed, then roared again, pushing the heavy
machine towards the door. There was a sickening crunch as the
metal forks pushed the door in, and Roth killed the engine and
As the echoes died away Erin, Anton and Winters stepped through
the buckled doorway and peered into the darkness.
"Computer, turn the lights on," demanded
Roth. There was a flicker at the far end of the chamber, and
then the tubes began
to light up, flowing towards them like an electronic wave. As
each light came on, it illuminated heavy racking stacked with
There were a dozen rows, the door being opposite the middle two.
Roth strode across to the end of the nearest rack and bent down
to peer into the cryo pod. He reached for the catches and Erin's
heart skipped a beat.
"No!" she yelled. "You
ignored her, undid the catches and hauled the lid up. "Empty," he
said. He stood up and glanced into the next tank. "Empty."
The others ran to the racks, stared through one heavy perspex lid
"All empty!" moaned
"Wait!" Erin held up her hands. "The
interviewer. He said half the colonists refused to come. We'll
have to check all
the tanks. Take three rows each."
They split up, and for ten minutes their hurried footsteps echoed
around the cavernous hold. Then they gathered near the entrance.
Roth, gesturing at the cryopods. There was a long silence as
each of the four crew members tried to come to terms
with the sudden revelation.
Erin broke the silence. "The only reason I can see..." she
"Oh, it's so obvious," cried Winters. "The
ship's running late, the colonists are having second thoughts
company's stock is plummeting. How can they turn it around,
get the media on-side? By sending the ship as if nothing has
happened. No need to fill it with expensive equipment, of course.
the crates full of junk, seal up the ship and send it off."
frowned. "This, it does not make sense."
it does. The first three ships were loss-leaders anyway."
"Loss leader?" Anton
"When they advertise goods below cost to get people into the store," said
Roth tersely. "Go on, Winters."
Since the first ship departs without a hitch, it becomes easier
to sign up colonists for the next. People prefer to follow,
"Like lemmings," muttered
Well, as Reid Corp. aren't charging the colonists, it makes no
difference whether they go or not."
"But surely the ones that stayed back would talk?" asked Erin. "They'd
have told everyone they knew they were leaving."
but at every stage of the selection process the colonists would
have been told that others were waiting to take their place,
should they choose not
to go. Perhaps they even offered the defaulters a new life on another continent."
"But without any colonists aboard, why aim the Glory at a habitable planet?" cried
Roth. "They may just as well have pointed us at empty space!"
was a shocked silence before Winters spoke again. "Let's go
and find out," he said grimly.
"There's our course," said Winters, tapping the
flat screen with a pen. The others crowded round, staring at the
three columns of numbers. "It's programmed to take us
to the first planet."
There was a collective sigh of relief.
get too excited. There are no commands to stop us on arrival."
going to be a very brief stay."
frowned. "Perhaps the second planet?" he murmured.
shook his head. "Wrong direction. Face it: we've
been sacrificed. If Erin's pod hadn't malfunctioned we"d
have been sleeping centuries from now, with the ship falling
apart around us."
"We can turn this to our advantage," said Roth. "We're
all fit, we can use the cryo tanks overnight to feed ourselves,
we just have to find a way to reverse our course."
"How about activating the comms channels?" asked Anton. "Perhaps
to send a warning?" Winters snorted. "We're configured
for deep space. The dish is behind the ablative shield."
we raise it, tell them what's happened?"
we're light years out right now. Even if we could get the dish
up it would be years before they got the signal, and there's
no guarantee anyone would be listening."
"Do it anyway," said
dish will be destroyed."
what? We won't be needing them." A thought occurred
to her. "What about fuel?"
examined the screen, frowning as he paged through displays, one
after another, faster and faster. Finally he stopped, letting
his hands fall into his lap. "I suppose it won't come
as a huge surprise if I tell you there isn't any," he
said, his voice barely audibly above the background hum.
glanced at him. "How much did they put in?" she
checked the screen. "Enough to fire us away from Earth."
"Backstabbing, penny-pinching, money-grubbing..." Roth's
voice trailed off as Erin gripped his elbow. "What?"
the communications array up, now!"
Roth moved over to the comms panel and worked on the controls for
a moment or two. Suddenly a red light began to flash.
"Point of no return," called Roth over his shoulder. "If
I proceed, we'll destroy the dish."
shrugged and pressed the button. "Ok, what now?"
you pick up omni-directional signals?"
scan all frequencies."
Suddenly there was a burst of static from the speakers, followed
by a barely audible voice.
clearance, pad seven."
granted, Eagle Six. Have a good trip."
do, ground. Eagle Six out."
Anton and Winters gaped at the speakers, their mouths open.
"What the ..." began
"The engines were supposed to burn for the first ten years, on and
off. They must have shut down after a couple of months," said
Erin. "We only had enough fuel to get us out of the solar
system. We're barely moving."
"You mean we've been drifting for thirty years?" Winters
course was out of the orbital plane, remember? Two revolutions
of the Sun then straight up. Unless they sent another ship out
this way, who the hell would find us?"
stared down at the commset. "What shall I say?"
"Advise them to dump their Reid Corp shares," said
Page 1 2
computer salesman, forklift driver, archer — none of these
explain why Simon Haynes started writing science fiction humour
in the late nineties. Not even a couple of degrees from Curtin
University could hold him back.
in the UK and raised in the south of Spain, Simon emigrated to
Australia with his family in 1983. He's fluent in Spanish,
and laughs politely when people shout Que? in his face. A founding
member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and the winner
of an Aurealis Award in 2001, Simon lives in Western Australia,
although his mind often wanders further afield.