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Chapter One - Arc Light

Rigso stared out of the bridge’s viewing window at the darkness outside. Pinkish mist could be seen over by to the right, a photon field. Not a particularly active one, and it was well charted.

With a deep sigh, he acknowledged it was good to be back. Things had gone pear shaped for a moment with the prisoners taking over the ship, but the mutiny was quelled. It had been hard trying to plan anything as he and the captain had been guarded every moment, the prisoner objecting to them so much as speaking. It made it hard to plan a counter offensive, because the prisoner had known full well that their plan would start with them subduing him.

In the end, they’d been rescued, by other prisoners. A strange notion, but he couldn’t be anything other than grateful. To his most childish impulses, he wanted to be the one responsible for taking back the ship, but to his more mature being, he was grateful that order had been restored. Prisoners were not strategic thinkers, and their plans would have ended up with everyone on the ship getting killed.

The only way to be in a situation like this, traveling with a pathogen that was a significant threat, was to do exactly as they were asked to do. He’d kept calling it a virus, but it wasn’t. The mechanics of it, and the distinction between a virus and a pathogen was beyond him. They both had DNA, apparently, but were entirely different. The more Hylana, their most scientific person on board, tried to describe it, the more they sounded the same. Viruses were smaller. That was one fact he could hang onto. Everything else sounded like semantics.

The crew were back in their seats, but it was clear the last few days had taken a toll on them. The mutiny had upended the whole ship. His quarters were a mess, and it was a creepy feeling knowing that someone had slept in his bed, rifled through his things. It made it hard to suppress his anger. But him showing anger wasn’t what the crew needed right now. More than ever, they needed steady normalcy.

Their course was plotted and they were traveling again. The prisoners hadn’t actually managed to change course as Eustace had taken the navigation offline. The engine too in some way.

Normally he stood, but today, he felt exhausted. He’d slept, but cleaning everything in his quarters had been physically exerting. Turns out, doing nothing while being guarded was actually quite tasking.

Someone approached and by the look of it, Rigso knew it was some problem being brought to him to resolve. It was the worst thing about this crew, they didn’t have the wherewithal to make decisions for themselves, but this was a freighter crew. Most of them had little experience, and if they did, it hadn’t required much of them. Never had they had to deal with passengers, or non-scheduled events, mutinies or quarantine protocols. They had no experience dealing with anything other than a basic scheduled events.

To be entirely fair, neither had he, but he’d learned to be flexible, to solve problems.

“The bodies are ready to be processes,” Venty said, and Rigso nodded. This wasn’t something he wanted to deal with, but someone had to.

The quarantine protocol said the bodies needed to be incinerated, to the point where no biological material would remain. Hylana insisted that this was an unprecedented opportunity to research, and that they should keep at least one body for research purposes. Rigso did understand the point. It was, however, breaking protocol. But if it led to these scientists understanding how the secondarily infected, like the crew, would be safe, it would be worth breaking protocol. It would be understandable that they kept a body on ice for research purposes, provided they were upfront about it. If the authorities insisted on incineration, that could be arranged.

The problem was, there was no singular authority, as such. They were dealing with a collection of planets, and there wasn’t a coordinating authority. What one said may not stand with another. That was problematic in instances like this, but not enough that the planets in this region wanted to change things. Independence was valued.

“Keep the two guards on ice,” Rigso said. “Create an incineration chamber for the rest.” The death of the two guards had been unfortunate. They had been doing their jobs. Granted, not to the best of their abilities, but the circumstances had been way beyond than they’d signed up for. The prisoners had taken their vengeance on the men who’d guarded them, given the opportunity. It was unfair and unjust, but it had happened. Keeping them, he hoped it gave them both more purpose and decorum to their deaths. Actually, there was the original guard as well, that one who’d been murdered before the mutiny. Would it be too much to keep three bodies for scientific purposes?

Although he wasn’t sure there was any dignity in it, but he wanted the guards to be treated differently from the prisoners who’d killed them.

“How do I build a chamber?”

“I don’t know,” Rigso said, feeling his temper fray a little. “Ask Eustace.”

That had become a favorite statement. Eustace was good at solving problems. Anything technical, Eustace could eventually come up with a solution, and this seemed right down his alley.

There were now two hundred and twenty-two guests on board. A drop from around two hundred fifty. In the harshest perspective, fewer numbers made things easier on resources. And the fact that the most problematic passengers were no longer with them could be seen as a boon by the most practical.

Rigso tried not to dwell on regret. He prided himself on an ability to accept the present and work with what he had. A skill that served him every day when he wished his crew was of better calibre. But he would be a good leader if he could increase their skill and mold them into the type of crew he wanted. What point was there about lamenting on shortcomings when one was competent enough to fix those short comings? In the last few weeks, more had been expected of this crew than every before. Some were struggling with the strain. Tempers had run short, nerves frayed. Despondency over food and conditions, their interrupted operations and the lack of certain with regards to anything. Still, they had it better than their guests by a long way.

But they weren’t survivors or refugees—they were the crew unfortunate enough to be in orbit when a planetary catastrophe had happened. It would have been absolutely heartless to say no to these refugees. Sheer human compassion had made them act, but they were now dealing with the consequences. They’d had to dump their load, which meant that economically, this would devastate them.

Still, it didn’t serve to think of the losses. This was the situation they had to deal with. It remained to be seen if they could get back on their feet again. Fuel was the issue. They were burning fuel for no economic compensation. Obviously, everyone understands the humanitarian angle to this, but it would probably bankrupt them. There were some amongst their suppliers who would return a good deed, and they had to bank on that to get back on their feet.

With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and watched as Venty retreated. In moments, he hated that he couldn’t make it easier on the crew. They were all stuck in this. It was what it was, but the sooner they could offload the refugees, the faster they could get back to what they did.

There was a niggle in the back of his mind that insisted none of this would be easy. So far, nothing had been easy. This was something that had to be endured. But people were communicating with them, gathering information, providing direction and advice. They hadn’t been forgotten. Planets were responding to their plights, which was encouraging.

Even so, it was hard to get any clear direction, and that worried him. They’d been promised that more advice would be given. Their cause had to be discussed and a course of action decided on. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, and they were the beggars in this scenario.

Turning his eyes back to space, he sought the calmness he always got from staring into the vastness in front of him. Everyone needed some calmness, but there was an underlying tension with every person, and he didn’t know how to exorcise it. Physical activity always worked for him, but he was worried that if they commenced the quickball tournaments they’d play to vent steam, they’d run the risk of it turning nasty, particularly as there was so much anger directed at the remaining prisoners. Some of them in any event.

For now, they had to deal with the bodies. Protocol stated the captain should hold the funerals, but the cap wasn’t good at things like that—giving speeches and soothing words. Then again, no one was grieving these guys. So should they even bother? It still felt wrong. Everyone deserved some acknowledgement of their life as the evidence that they’d been alive was about to be destroyed.

For most of the Ewinians, there would be no record that they’d lived. That population would be a footnote in history. A civilization that had fallen like depicted so many chapters in history media—forgotten by most. It was sad. Everything about this whole affair was sad. Now, however, it was time to turn their attention to what was next. A few days and it would be upon them.

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