Kathryn sat alone in the room. She was leaning forward with her elbows rested on her knees and her chin on her clasped hands, watching the countdown on the wall tick down the last seconds.
The clear round end of the sarcophagus slid away, and a small amount of mist rolled out of the chamber as the warm moist air inside clashed and cooled as it mixed with the cooler and drier air of the rest of the ship. As the tray Felix’s body had been lying on extended out of the chamber, Kathryn stood and walked over to it and looked down on her friend’s face to see his eyes open and blink several time as consciousness slowly arose in him.
She looked on him fondly and with sympathy as he looked up at her and then lifted himself up on his hands into a sitting position. He didn’t say anything to her, instead he looked at his hands and forearms, slowly rotating them in front of his eyes in disbelief.
“Did it… did it really happen?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” Kathryn answered softly. “It really happened.”
“It’s hard to believe,” he said in wonderment. “I, I honestly can’t tell the difference. It’s good as new…”
“I’m sorry Felix,” she said, backing off as he swung his body around and hung his legs off the side, and after a moment of gathering his strength he stood on his feet. He faltered for a moment, but found his strength and recovered before Kathryn could finish coming to his aid and she backed off again. He was naked, but she hardly noticed. Between being in the service together, being best friends, and the absolute absence of sexual tension between them, both had seen the other naked any number of times.
“About what?” he asked as he reached for the fresh clothes which had been laid out for him. She might not have noticed or cared herself, but anyone else could walk in at any moment, and basic modesty drew him to the clothing.
“What happened to you. It’s my fault. I was reckless.”
“Don’t dismiss it,” she countered tersely. “I was tactically reckless and foolish, and it nearly cost you your life.”
“Yes, but no one objected. If you were reckless and foolish then we are all guilty of the same,” he said as he pulled his pants on.
“But I’m in command.”
“Of course. Yes, you fucked up Kathryn, but only a little more than the rest of us did. We won’t make the same mistake again, will we?”
“So what’s…” he pulled his shirt on over his head, temporarily muffling his ability to speak, “what’s the new plan?”
Felix raised an eyebrow at her. Having finished dressing, he sat himself back on the body tray projecting out of the sarcophagus.
“We’re going to pick up some of Molly’s scavengers to escort us before we try again.”
“Definitely wise. We knew of the intel resource, we should have done that in the first place.”
“Right, then instead of just landing in the middle of the damn ruins, we’re going to take both shuttles down and make a base camp by the water as near as we can to the target site.”
“Both shuttles?” he asked. “Is that wise?”
“It will allow us to have a much larger landing party, and to split our resources more productively.”
Felix nodded to the side, indicating he didn’t necessarily agree, but that he certainly understood the rationale.
“I’m not going to allow what happened to you to happen to anyone else. We’ll be armed, and we’ll have New Horizon in an overwatch position. We’ll do it right this time.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“… and you’re going to be our overwatch.”
“You’re not coming this time.”
“Oh come on Kat! Look, I’m fine now! And you’re going to need engineers down there this time just as much as you did last time.”
“Felix. You are a tremendous engineer. On Haven.”
He frowned at her. “That hurts.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right. I mean we’ll have to be doing excavating if we find what we’re looking for and you’d certainly be very helpful with that, but still. You’re not going.”
“That’s not fair.”
“No, probably not,” she responded with a sigh as she stood up. “But I’m in command, and that’s how it’s gonna to be. You will stay here on the ship with Irvina, Xion, and Teresa. You will telescope our position and monitor in infra-red, and you will keep watch from orbit to make sure that what happened to you doesn’t happen to anyone else. Everyone else will be down on the surface. A pilot and guard will stay at each shuttle, and the rest will be divided into two search teams. That’s how it’s going to be.”
He was unhappy but eventually he shrugged it off. “Well, someone’s gotta do it…” he remarked.
He was a decimeter taller than her, and she put her hand up onto his shoulder, then affectionately cradled the side of his face with her hand as she smiled at him.
Kathryn left the medical bay and the door shut behind her. She paused, and wearily allowed her body to fall back against the door and let her head rest back against it. She let out a long exhausted sight.
“Is he alright?” Jaren asked.
Her eyes shot open. She hadn’t even noticed him there. He was sitting across the hall a few meters away, his chin resting on his arms folded over his drawn up knees.
“Oh, Jaren. Yeah, he… seems fine. He’s as surprised as anyone else at how magical that sarcophagus seems. He asked if the attack was a dream… you can’t tell he was attacked at all to look at his arms and leg.”
“Yes, that chamber is… remarkable.” He was remarkably glum. “I’m glad he’s alright.”
They sat in silence facing each other as a slow but steady procession of other crew members arrive and entered the medical bay to greet Felix. They didn’t seem to pay Kathryn and Jaren much attention.
“It’s my fault too,” Jaren offered. As a commander himself he could sense that she was burdened with her sense of responsibility at what had happened. “And you said yourself he’s good as new.”
“Maybe we should wait,” she pondered.
“We could report home what happened, have them assemble a more specialized team.”
“We are that specialized team.”
She smiled despite herself. She had to admit that she missed him. She wanted to sit beside him and let the weight on her shoulders melt and drip down around her with him. But she wasn’t ready for that yet. It was all still far too fresh a wound.
“We should have brought more weapons,” she lamented as a general point of observation.
“In retrospect yes, that would have been helpful. We have enough to manage though.”
“Did you mean what you said before about this all just being the beginning?” Jaren asked. “About restoring Orbital One and establishing a colony and research post here and all that?”
“I did…” she replied a little distantly, lost in the thought. “I love Haven. I love our twin cities and our people and culture. It’ll always be home, but… something about this place, despite the danger, despite the challenges… still feels like coming home somehow. Do you feel that too?”
“Not really,” he answered distantly. He wanted to tell her that being with her was the most at home he’d ever felt in his life, and how much he longed to return to that place, but it was obvious how poorly such a sentiment would be received at present. “I do like it here thought, there is something about it… I love Kobol and have a lot to miss there, but… still. I am taken with this place, the mystery, the potential, the danger and wildness…
“Captain,” It stung Kathryn to hear him refer to her so officially, “if there’s a mission to have a permanent presence here to research and rebuild, I want to be a part of it. I’ve been looking for a new direction and I think I’ve found it. I want to spend the rest of my career working on this project, on rebuilding Earth. I think that once the announcement is made, there will be a significant number of Koboli who will want to do their part. Many won’t care of course, and most I’m sure won’t care enough to want to actually help themselves, but some will, like me. Some will just be curious enough to want to come see Earth with their own eyes. There really is something about it… Something deep in our bones feels a connection to this place.”
“Have you gotten word on when the announcement will be made?”
He paused to look at her for a moment, it was almost accusatory. “Soon,” he told her as he reached in his pocket for his scroll in response to a notification tone sounding from it. Pulling it apart and reading the message, he clarified: “very soon.” He looked up at her. “We should gather everyone together.”
Kathryn stood up and brushed off some of the dust which had accumulated on her pants. She then crossed the hallway and offered her hands to Jaren to help him up. He looked up at her quizzically for a moment before accepting her assistance and climbing to his feet. “Thank you,” he offered simply.
“It hasn’t been for very long, but I shared in your lie.”
“Yeah…” Jaren affirmed heavily.
“I love Felix like a brother, but I couldn’t tell him.”
“So I get it. I get why you had to do what you did. I hate it, but I get it. It’s hard for me to condemn you for something I’ve now participated in myself.”
Jaren wisely said nothing and just listened.
“I still need to sort out and separate my feelings about what you did and what your people did. It’s all still muddled up for me, but I think we’re going to be okay, if you still want us to be. I still need some time, but… I think it’ll just take some time at this point.”
With that she moved to hug him and he accepted, putting his hand on her head and holding it to his chest.
All three crews were summoned to the conference room with the large wall screen, and all were in attendance. No one knew what it was about, but were told only that the Koboli government was making an official statement which would be important to all of them. The Koboli crew had their suspicions that it was about the virus and Earth, but couldn’t know for sure, and couldn’t share their suspicions with anyone else. They were all still sworn to secrecy themselves. As the transmission began coming in followed by a brief flickering, the Koboli president appeared on the large wall screen.
“Greetings. This transmission was recorded on Kobol, and immediately transmitted by rift to Roma, Kobol, and Earth.
“In the beginning, God commanded Adam and Eve not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Tempted by Satan, Eve ate of the tree, and thus burdened us all with an original sin for which we can never atone, but for which we must nevertheless perpetually strive against in an eternal Sisyphean struggle.
“Our great Latter Day Saints religion was founded in the United States of America, a nation born of its own original twin sins of slavery and genocide. For hundreds of years that great nation struggled to live up to the promise of its fundamental ideals, and muddled through the darkness trying to find a way to atone for its original sins, knowing on some fundamental level that any sort of redemption was certainly out of reach if not outright impossible.
“We on Kobol are aware that those of Roma and Haven are suspicious of us, of our generosity, of our good will. It is my heavy duty to inform you today, that there is indeed a reason for this, and sadly it is not merely our nature to be so generous. We too, have an original sin, a monstrosity in our past which we struggle every day in our attempt to learn how we can atone for it, knowing that on the same fundamental level as Adam and Eve and the United States of America, such atonement can never really be fully realized.
“The people of Roma and Haven were unable to understand our apparent lack of interest in what happened to Earth, and much to their clear frustration. Well the answer is simple, really. We had no need to wonder, because we already knew.
“Some eighteen years after our launch from Earth, a conspiracy was hatched in secret among a small group among the thousands aboard the Nephi. They developed a sinister virus, constructed a rocket, and launched it back towards the Earth. It took nearly eighty years for the rocket to return to Earth, and it struck the surface, and infected the planet. Within a week most on Earth were dead. Over the next weeks and months, most of the humans elsewhere in the Solar System were dead as well.
“This is obviously a horrific revelation, but I wish to stress that this was an incredibly small faction of fanatics aboard the Nephi. After the launch, the plot was uncovered, and a tribunal was convened to judge them, and all involved were sentenced to death and ejected to space. We… would have warned Earth of course, but in our zeal leaving the Earth we carefully excluded any technological means of transmitting back and forth between us. We were leaving the Earth specifically to avoid the… pollution of modern Earth culture.
“As the president of Kobol, speaking personally for myself, as well as for all of the citizens of Kobol today, as well as for all of our forebearers all the way back to the original inhabitants of the Nephi, I apologize.
“While today we all carry the stain of guilt, none of us are personally guilty ourselves, and I ask that you keep this in mind as you experience the urge to judge us by association. Remember what we have done for you so far, the reunion we have facilitated, the technology we freely share, and the aid we continue to offer however we can.
“Be horrified. Be angry. Be spiteful. But when these impulses finally wane, when the fever of hatred breaks and the wave crests, we will still be here. We will still be here with outstretched arms, open hands, and open hearts, still offering our warm help and love.
“Thank you. God bless us all.”
Jaren swivelled around in his chair to face the Roman and Havenite crews. His right elbow was on his chair’s elbow rest and his chin rested on his hand.
Nobody spoke for what seemed like an eternity.
“You knew?” Teresa finally asked him. Jaren nodded slowly.
Seemingly at a loss for any better response, Teresa stood up and walked out of the room. One by one, others began to silently depart to process in their own way, until all that were left were the Koboli crew along with Kathryn and Felix.
“Why now?” Felix asked.
Jaren shrugged with his hands. “There is no right time for something like that.”
“No I mean, I get that they would wait to do this until they’d made contact with us so they could admit it to all colonies at once, but why this moment specifically, why not yesterday? Why not tomorrow? Why now? There must be a reason…”
“Because I found out,” Kathryn admitted to him. “Well, Elim found out in researching the virus and he told me.”
“Late yesterday, while you were in the chamber. I wanted to tell you, but I promised to keep quiet on the condition that they made this announcement immediately instead of waiting any longer.”
Looking utterly numb, Felix stood and left the room.
“That could have gone worse,” Kathryn offered the Koboli crew.
Irvina shrugged. “It could have gone better.”
It took Kathryn some time to track down where the others had gone, but eventually she figured out that they’d taken one of the shuttles and gone over to Orbital One. She took the other shuttle and headed over there herself. After docking in the central hub she retraced their steps and finally found them in the wrecked storefront which used to be the Space Outback Bar & Casino, which made sense once she saw the backpack with Molly’s head attached to the top. Kathryn remembered her commenting earlier that her long late lover had once been the owner and operator.
It was dim in the bar. Main power was still down and would continue to be until a crew resupplied and restarted the central fusion power cores. Only some portable lights revealed her crewmates and the condition of the bar. It seemed as though not a single piece of glass remained intact in the entire place, and the ground crunched under her boots as she walked in. The grand piano in the corner was smashed and a lot of the booth seating about the place was torn up. She found herself wondering how it had all happened. Did people go mad and just start looting and ransacking when the apocalyptic extent of the sickness became clearer and clearer? She wondered how she thought her own people would react to something like that, how she herself might.
The two crews were gathered around two round tables pushed together in the middle of the bar, and she discovered that she was wrong. There apparently was at least one piece of glass remaining intact, and they were drinking out of one large liquor bottle, passing it around. They seemed ambivalent about her showing up there. Noone welcomed her, but nobody was willing to tell her she wasn’t welcome. When she took off her jacket, set it over the back of a chair and sat down, Felix handed her the bottle after a moment of hesitation.
She looked the bottle over in the dim light and realized that it was Havenite vodka. One of her crew must have brought it along and been saving it for one reason or another. She took a drink from the bottle and grimaced violently as the toxin burned her mouth and esophagus. She was going to hand the bottle off, but thought better of it and took another big gulp before handing it off to Keri as she put her other forearm to her mouth to contain the drink as she swallowed it.
She wasn’t sure if they were talking before she came in, but nobody was saying anything now. Everyone was just staring glumly into space, interrupted only by their turn to drink as it came.
“Thoughts?” Kathryn finally asked.
“You should have told us,” Keri told her.
“Maybe…” Kathryn nodded as she fiddled with an ancient coaster on the table. “Maybe.” She let the word hang in the air for a while before continuing. “Do you remember how they told us that they were monitoring us for years before they made contact?” she asked Keri, who nodded. “They said they did so because we were so close to reaching New Horizons on our own. They knew how important it was to us to be able to do that for ourselves, for our own esteem and sense of accomplishment. I only granted them the same courtesy. It was less than a day that I knew and had to keep their secret, and I told them I only would on the condition they made their announcement immediately. I got them to reveal it themselves, but I extended them the courtesy of being able to do it for themselves. I felt I owed them that at least.”
Several people shrugged, but nobody said anything positive or negative about what she had to say. They seemed willing to accept her reasoning, but still didn’t like it.
“As for them keeping that secret that long, as for judging them for doing it… I don’t know. I’ve had more time to process than the rest of you have. If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to blame them personally for what a small faction did so long ago. What really hurts is the lying now, the deception of keeping it from us since they made contact. At the same time though… you’re all right of course. I was complicit in that too, so it’s hard for me to judge them too harshly for that alone.”
“It’s shocking what they did,” Teresa said.
Kathryn nodded. “Yes… But it wasn’t them them, was it?”
“It feels like it was…”
“I know, I know… I certainly felt that way with Jaren at first. If felt like such a personal betrayal. But, it wasn’t them… and I hope you come around to that as I have. His sin… their sin sorry, was only the lie. They kept it from us as long as they did. They pretended they didn’t know what happened to Earth, and that they just didn’t care to find out. That they certainly are culpable for.”
Everyone around the table nodded angrily.
“It’s hard to forgive them for that, I know… but from what I understand they always intended to make that formal announcement at some point. You can argue they waited too long, you can argue that they would have waited much longer if they hadn’t been found out, but they certainly meant to tell us at some point, and now they have, even if I forced their hand. And… well frankly, their guilt over the whole thing has turned out pretty well for us all in the end hasn’t it?”
Most looked at her quizzically. “We’re here,” she elaborated. “We wouldn’t be without them. We’re reunited. We wouldn’t be without them. That means a lot to me, and I think it should to you as well. In the final calculus that forgives a lot in my opinion.”
“We can’t just…” Molly tried to utter through her scroll.
“Can’t what Molly?”
“They committed genocide. That’s not something you just get over.”
“The people who did that Molly, I don’t intend to ever forget or forgive. We need to keep an active hate for them I agree. We need to erect some kind of monument or series of monuments to those who were lost, and in condemnation of the perpetrators. We need a regular interplanetary day of memorial across our worlds. We need all of that. This can never be forgotten, and those who did it must never be forgiven.”
“Those who did it…” the head said.
“That’s right. As for the… well, latter day Latter Day Saints, despite myself I keep putting myself in their position. I keep imagining being confronted with people who are angry with something people ten generations removed from me did, while I’m doing everything I can to help them in the present, just sucking it up and taking their slings and arrows.”
“They are no saints,” Ana asserted.
Kathryn smirked. As much as they may like to refer to themselves as saints, they certainly weren’t. “No, they are certainly not. But they are humans. Fallible, arrogant, individual humans, just like us. They don’t deserve to be burdened with the sins of their ancestors any more than we do.
“So,” she said as she stood up, “here it is. I choose to forgive them. I don’t condone their lying, I don’t forgive what their ancestors did, but I forgive them, as they are today, who they are today, for what they have done today. I understand their reasons and their shame, and I forgive them. None of you have to though, you can all feel however the hell you want to. When we get home you can react however you want, feel however you want to feel, and hate whoever you want to hate. But right now we’re on a mission that you have all signed up for, and I expect you all to do your duty until the job is done.
“I’ll give you a day to feel sorry for yourself, and then we are launching our second search attempt to get Molly a new body. You have…” she checked her watch, “twenty-eight hours until we launch. I expect you all to be well rested, and I expect you all to be professional, and have your game faces on regardless of how you feel about everything.” She took the bottle from Ana, took one last drink before handing the bottle back, grabbed her jacket off the back of her chair, and walked out of the ruined bar without interest in a response from any of them.
Back on the New Horizon she found Jaren on the bridge. He was reviewing surveillance video of the landing site, and she smiled at the sight of him working given everything that was going on. She knew it was a comfort for him to focus on the work; it was something they shared in common. He noticed her enter, but didn’t say anything and looked back at the screens. He was trying to respect her stated need for time and space.
She came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. Without looking up at her he put his right hand up to his left shoulder and took her hand. “How are they?” he asked.
“They’ll work it out,” she answered. He nodded his understanding.
“And how are you?”
She swiveled his chair around, and pulled him to his feet so she could hug him. Their hug lingered as they slowly turned back and forth, alone in the dim night time lighting of the bridge. She pushed away from him, held him at arm’s length, and looked up into his eyes. “Don’t ever lie to me again.”
“Never,” he said with damp eyes.
“I don’t care if you’re bound by your job. We have to be past that point now if we’re going to be together.” He simply nodded that he understood.
“So is there anything else you’re hiding?” she asked. “Any other big dark secret you’re keeping that will make me hate you when I find out about it?”
He smiled as his eyes brightened. “No, there’s nothing else. And it was killing me having to keep all of that from you.”
“Good,” she said. “I hope your suffering was absolutely horrific,” she teased him with a smile.
At that he returned an awkward smile, and in response she couldn’t resist kissing him. It was good to finally come home again.