The Ship of the Unforgotten - Chapter 5, Pt. 2

Camp NaNoWriMo

“What happened to the rest of the crew, Rose?”

“A majority of the crew were confirmed dead almost 20 years ago, Pvt. Jackson. Remaining crew are either here right now, or unconfirmed in non-responsive pods.”

Jackson was silent a moment, still struggling to process the information. Dann could relate. “So wait, the survivors are in the pods that were NOT responding to control?”

“Yes, that’s correct, Pvt. Jackson.”

“Jackson, are you feeling up to moving on? There are lots of others to check on, all over the ship.” Dann felt a bit more at peace with Jackson revived; if nothing else he knew he wasn’t trapped in the future alone, but they still needed to be sure the remaining pods didn’t fail, or at least find out if they already had failed.

“Sure,” she said. She was tall, but looked every bit as emaciated as Dann himself did.

“You’ll feel better quick once we’re moving, at least as long as you don’t chug that down too quickly.”

“Pvt. Chambers learned that the hard way,” Rose added helpfully.

“Thanks, Rose,” Dann sighed.

Jackson didn’t smile. They exited the bay, where she blinked and looked around at the woods in wonder. Dann at least had seen the initial setup centuries before. This was Jackson’s first time seeing any of it. They passed dense thickets, meadows lit by ship-central overhead lighting designed to mimic the sun, thick bramble bushes covered with berries—many, many edible plants were included in the ship’s biomes—and crossed two streams within minutes of each other.

After they’d walked for about fifteen minutes through the wild brush, she spoke up. “What caused all of this?”

“Centuries of wild growth. And evolution, Rose says.”

“No, not this. What caused most of the crew to die? What went wrong?”

“Ah, yeah. Rose told me—” Dann’s head snapped up, eyes wide. He remembered something Rose had said while he was still too fuzzy-headed to have been clear about it at the time. “—Rose, you said there was a signal from the planet we were sent to colonize!”

What!” Jackson exclaimed.

“Actually Dann, what I said was it was from the approximate location of the planet. I wasn’t able to confirm the source with absolute certainty.”

“You didn’t ask about this?” Jackson ground out.

“Hey, you know how you felt when you’d just woke up? That was me, okay? Cut me some slack here.”

Jackson snorted. “Rose, tell us exactly what happened, everything you know. Why’d so many pods fail all at once?

“I …” The android stopped, stood unnervingly still in the shadow of a massive old oak. Her eyes glowed faintly from within; Dann saw them scanning back and forth, almost as if she were reading something. Dann glanced at Jackson, who looked back, puzzled.

“Rose?” Dann prompted.

“I’m sorry Dann, Pvt. Jackson,” Rose said. “I’m having trouble accessing the archival data caches. My access is blocked.”

Jackson coughed, looked up in consternation. “What? Who can block your access?”

“Rose can,” Rose said. “The ship’s computer.”

“But you are Rose.” Dann knew there was a physical separation between the two systems, but—

“That’s not completely true, Dann. I’m designed for autonomous operation, and so I’m largely self-contained. I can access the resources of the shipboard systems to augment my own performance, but I am subject to system-level permissions. I’m locked out of accessing the records of the incident that led to the deaths of the crew 20 years ago.”

Dann was having trouble processing the notion that Rose was Rose but wasn’t Rose. “We’re going to have to rename one of you, I think.”

Jackson nodded. “Definitely. This is making my head hurt even worse. Rose—ship’s computer rose, I mean—why are you cutting off Rose’s access to those records?”

There was no response. “She can’t answer audibly from here, there are no speakers. If you want to talk directly with her we’ll have to wait until we reach the next bay. Or if you prefer, I can act as a relay.”

“Let’s do that. What does she have to say?”

“She says the lockout is a safety protocol.”

Dann frowned and looked at Jackson. She shrugged. “I’m no computer tech.”

“Me neither, I just fix mechanical stuff, mostly pipes and conduits.” He had a sudden thought. “Rose, those other pods, do any of ‘em have computer techs in them?”

“Several, yes.”

“Maybe they can help us get to the bottom of this. I don’t even know what questions to ask,” Dann said. “What’s the closest one?”

“Computer techs were kept in a cryo-bay closer to the computer cores. We’ll have to travel through several of the biomes to reach them.”

“A bit of a hike won’t hurt us,” Jackson opined.

“We will have to visit an armory before we make the attempt.”

Dann blinked. “Armory? Why?”

“In case we run into higher-order predators.”

Predators?” Jackson blurted out. “Why the hell are there predators on the ship?”

“The biomes needed to be self-sufficient for centuries. Food webs were established to ensure that, and healthy food webs require high-order predators to keep herbivores and other, lower-order predators in check.”

“Well what keeps the predators in check then?” Dann asked.

“Availability of food, territory and competition with other predators. There aren’t a large number of them; a ship this size, as large as it is, couldn’t support large populations of carnivores. In your weakened state though, it’s best to be safe and go armed.”

“You didn’t think to tell me this before we went after Jackson?” Dann was nervously keeping an eye on their surroundings now, certain they were being stalked on all sides.

“There may be protocols in place for armed escorts out of the biomes, but if so, they’re not part of my defaults. They would have been implemented by the crew.”

Dann groaned. At least he had the satisfaction of knowing whoever had designed this ship was long dead.