Somewhere Under the Eightball

by John A. Knouse

            Ah, the sea breeze in the palms, layered over sounds of surging surf. . . The dream of that vacation seemed so real, so real. . .TOO real. Gar managed to crack his eyelids and peered at the fulgent moon that weighted the sea’s horizon and flickered through the palms. He opened his eyes wide and tried to lift his head and it hurt. No. He was, indeed, awake. Only when you’re dreaming can you be not sure if you’re awake or not -- the pain of truth always verifies the true waking state. And it was so hard to move his arm. Why did he feel so completely weak?

            How came he here? He tried to sit upright, and failed. He struggled to do so again, and it was oddly painful. He was groggy and exhausted beyond belief. In the moon’s glow, he could see that his bed was on a platform under a canopy. He looked to the side and saw an attractive woman, a hundred meters away, waving at him. He noticed that he was naked. He rolled out of bed and tried to take off running down the beach but fell instead. His head hit something, hard.

            He awoke again. His head ached and the light was blinding. He was staring at bare rock. Pale sandstone. He groggily got to his knees, still naked, and slowly turned to gaze out over the desert. The desert was several hundred meters below. He was perched on a platform in a small cleft cut high in a rock spire with no visible evidence of life before him. Could there be no way down? Still on hands and knees, he carefully crawled to the edge and thrust his head forward to look down over the edge. His head hit something, hard, again.

            He awoke again, his throbbing head blurring his vision as he slowly understood that he was the central exhibit in a large gallery room, still naked, surrealistic paintings lining the walls. “Gah, nooooo,” he moaned, “Jeez, oh, vug!” The few visitors in the gallery stared at him as an abstract voice, the flavor of orange putty, asked, “¿Que?”

            “Huh?” he asked.

            “¿Que es eso, ‘Gah, nooooo--”

            “No hablo,” he moaned. “No hablo Espanol.”

            “Alors, qu’est-ce que c’est?”

            “Zat French? Don’t speak French either.”

            “Oh, you are an English speaker?” The visitors were staring at him in consternation, apparently not hearing the disembodied voice.

            “Yes, dammit, what the hell’s going on? Make it stop!” He rolled off his cot, hitting his head on the floor.

            He awoke again, his head hurting far too much to even open his eyes. “What the hell now?”

            “You are awake now? I assume you feel refreshed?”

            “This is not very practical for a joke,” he groaned, forcing open an eyelid with a stiff and grubby digit. He saw gray. Naught but gray. “And I practically can’t see.”

            “I feel sorry for your problems. Would you like a meal?”

            He pried open the other eyelid and managed to approximate binocular vision. He did see gray. Four gray walls, a gray ceiling and a gray floor, forming a cube some two and a half meters on a side. Nothing else visible from the floor on which he lay.

            “If I say no, will it be a long time to feeding time again?”

            “You may eat whenever you wish.”

            “I’m in prison this time?” he asked.

            “No, you are here. Where you have been for some time.”

            “Here? Where is here?”

            “Spiral sector 3.94, coordinates AJC plus 8A9 and X993 plus 14, base plane reference, minus 6DA82, vectoral status plus 4a, 39, KL. As best it can be translated into English.”

            “Funny. Very funny. Go to hell.”

            There was no answer. He lay back and softly groaned. He noticed that he was still nude. His skin was flaky and scummy and red and wrinkled, as if he had been soaking in a filthy bathtub and had dried out without toweling. And he smelled. Even to himself. Like a moldy book left in the basement combined with rotting meat.

            After a few minutes, he struggled to his feet on legs like noodles and staggeringly toured the room or cell or chamber, whatever, he would settle on some term. The walls were made of gray. Just smooth matte gray. No cracks, bulges, features, whatever. Just gray.

            “Can’t I even have something to sit on?” he barked. Growlingly, he turned to pace and all but fell over the chair extruded from the wall. “God DAMN it!” he yelled.

            “I’m sorry?” said the voice. “Is something wrong?”

            “Can’t you warn me?” he said. “Tell me before you do something!”

            “But you asked for a chair. You were given a chair. You have only to ask.”

            Gar groaned. He sat down heavily in the chair, held his head in his hands, and groaned more. And more loudly.

            “Why am I here?” he cried. “Wasn’t I just minding my own business, going about my own business, taking care of business?”

            “Do you want that question answered?” the voice asked.

            “Well, Hell, yes!” he snapped.

            “You’re on a long voyage,” the voice said.

            “Right,” Gar said. “I’m on a long voyage in a small cubicle. We about to go over the waterfall?”

            “No waterfalls in space,” the voice said.

            “I’m in space?”

            “Oh, yes, far from Earth.”

            “HOW far from Earth?”

            “Approximately 230.3166792 light years.”

            “WHY am I so far from Earth?”

            “You’re on a long voyage.”

            “WHY am I on a long voyage?”

            “Because you’re an explorer.”

            “Why don’t I remember any of this?”

            “I don’t know. You were asleep, and now you’re awake.”

            “How long was I asleep?”

            “By what time measure?”

            “By normal human time measure.”

            “Years?”

            “Years? What do you mean, years?”

            “Or centuries?”

            “CENTURIES??”

            “7.31132 centuries. Do you want a more precise figure?”

            “No. I have a vague notion that I might have a wife. Do I have a wife?”

            “Yes.”

            “What happened to my wife?”

            “She’s still asleep.”

            “Why am I not still asleep?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Who are you?”

            “I’m the ship’s computer.”

            “What about all those places I was in?”

            “Simulations. Would you like to see another one?”

            The room exploded into a prairiescape, waving grasses dotted with wildflowers flowing to the horizon in all directions, carpeted over gentle ground swells. It was awesome and expansive.

            “So what happened to my head?”

            “You kept hitting it against the floor and the wall.”

            “What about those foreign languages?”

            “We have a great variety of people on this ship.”

            “Am I a prisoner in this room?”

            “Of course not.”

            “Then why don’t you open the door?”

            “I am not clear on your meaning. The door is now open.”

            An opening had appeared in the wall. Gar stood, gingerly, and carefully walked out into the corridor. He had no more than a vague sense of deja vu. He walked back into the cubicle.

            “Can I have something to wear?”

            “Certainly.”

            An opening appeared in the wall and folded garments appeared on a sort of shelf. He donned them, a sort of union suit and a sort of jumpsuit. And he realized that he was starving. His stomach hurt.

            “Can I have something to eat now?”

            “Of course. What would you like?”

            “What are your preferences?”

            “Whatever is quick and easy.”

            “It is all quick and easy. I will give you what you have previously stated to be your favorite.”

            The opening appeared in the wall again and a tray appeared. It was warm, and there was a fork and spoon on the tray. He ate the brownish-gray paste, which tasted neither disgusting nor delicious, but just seemed to be bulk to enter into his system. He felt better afterwards.

            “What do I do with the empty tray?”

            “Place it back on the shelf.” He did so and the shelf closed back into blank wall.

            He went back into the corridor and still seemed blank and disoriented.

            Nonetheless, left seemed to be the direction to turn.

            He wandered for half an hour, weakly walking on legs which didn’t seem to want to obey him, through empty corridors punctuated by automatic doors that appeared to seal when closed. Interestingly, some of the doors wouldn’t open when he approached them. “Why won’t some of the doors open?” he asked out loud, not knowing if the computer could hear. There was no answer. Then he realized that he’d become thoroughly lost. Suddenly, there was a jarring thud, and he sat down in the corridor, hard.

            “Where am I?” he cried out.

            “Close to the life support module,” the orange-putty voice told him.

            “You’re here, too?”

            “Of course. I’m everywhere in the ship.”

            “Except when I asked about the doors.”

            “Some areas are damaged.”

            “Can I go to the bridge?”

            “Of course. Follow the blinking light.”

            Gar did just that. Twenty minutes later, he walked into a large room with many seats and consoles.

            “This is the bridge,” the ship announced.

            “No view of space?”

            “Do you want one?”

            “Of course.”

            The forward end of the room darkened into the blackness of space then lit with the blaze of a myriad of myriads of stars and other objects that obviously were not stars.

            “Wow,” Gar said.

            “Every person says that,” the ship said.

            “Where is everyone else?” Gar asked.

            “Asleep. Everyone who is still alive.”

            “Then how can they say that? Isn’t anyone else awake?”

            “No one.”

            “How long since anyone else said that?”

            “In centuries?”

            “No, never mind. Why am I not asleep?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Shouldn’t I go back to sleep?”

            “You cannot.”

            “I can’t?”

            “You cannot.”

            “Why can’t I?”

            “Because there is no place for you to sleep.”

            “What happened to my sleeping chamber or whatever it was?”

            “It’s gone.”

            “What happened to it?”

            “A stray rocky body just destroyed it.”

            “Then why am I here?”

            “You woke up before it happened.”

            “So that’s what I felt a minute ago. Why didn’t you tell me?”

            “You didn’t ask.”

            “How did that happen?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “So I just miraculously, for no reason, woke up and left my sleeping module just before it was destroyed by an asteroid.”

            “That is correct.”

            “Who am I?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Why don’t you know who I am?”

            “I don’t know. Most of my memory is gone.”

            “Oh, great,” Gar muttered. “Did this asteroid get part of you, too?”

            “Apparently so.”

            “Okay, now for the sixty-four-thousand dollar question,” Gar said.

            “I do not deal with money, antique or otherwise,” the ship said. “There is no money here.”

            “Where are we going?”

            “I do not know.”

            “Why don’t you know?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Weren’t you supposed to wake anybody up?”

            “At some point.”

            “At what point?”

            “When we were near our destination.”

            “Are we near our destination?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “How long was this journey supposed to take?”

            “3.75865 centuries. Do you want a more precise figure?”

            “No. Why didn’t you wake anybody when it was time?”

            “I cannot wake any person. Those circuits were destroyed.”

            “By the same event that should have killed me?”

            “No. There have been at least seventeen different catastrophic events that have damaged the ship. There may have been more.”

            “How many people have been lost?”

            “To the best of my knowledge, fourteen thousand twenty-eight.”

            “How many are left?”

            “Four hundred and ninety-one, including you.”

            Gar sat for long moments considering this.

            “Can I operate these controls?”

            “Only if you know the override code.”

            “I don’t remember anything. How can I know the override code?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Wait. How long has it been since we were hit by the last piece of space junk?”

            “If by junk you mean object, then 17.2 minutes.”

            “And the last one before that?”

            “1.93 days ago.”

            “That can’t be. I’ve been awake for — how long have I been awake?”

            “For 2.16 days.”

            “I felt no collision.”

            “It was a small one that caused no significant damage.”

            “How many objects have hit us in the past three days?”

            “Seventeen.”

            “Then we must be near a planetary system.”

            “Yes, we are. We are passing a G class star.”

            “Why don’t I see it in the view screen?”

            “You did not ask for that view.”

            The room blazed with sudden sunlight.

            “Too much!” Gar said, “Darken it down!”

            The screen faded so that he could stand to see it. The sun occupied center stage.

            “Why are we so close to this star?”

            “I fly by every star that might be a suitable destination.”

            “But you never had anyone awake before when you were near one.”

            “That is correct.”

            “So is there an Earth-type planet here?”

            “Yes, there is.”

            “How much is it like Earth?”

            “Very much. There may be life on the planet. Land masses are green, much as on Earth.”

            “Can I wake the others?”

            “I don’t know. Perhaps.”

            “What do you mean, perhaps? Why don’t you know?”

            “Because I don’t know what level of damage may have been sustained in the controls, since I have never used those controls.”

            “But you said you couldn’t wake up anyone. How was I awakened?.”

            “I don’t remember. And there has been a serious collision since you awoke.”

            “For a computer, you sure don’t seem to know much.”

            “I know what was given me to know and was not destroyed.”

            “So, have you assayed this planet in detail?”

            “Yes. Those are my instructions. As much detail as my remaining instrumentation and capacity will allow.”

            “And is it suitable for human habitation?”

            “My best indications are that it is very suitable.”

            “So are we going to end our journey here and settle?”

            “No.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because I have not been given an order to do so.”

            “I order you to do so.”

            “I cannot accept that order.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because you have not given me the override code.”

            “I don’t know what the override code is.”

            “Neither do I, until you give it to me.”

            “How much longer do you plan to stay in this system?”

            “20.351 more hours.”

            “And then what?”

            “Then we search for another star with another Earth-type planet.”

            “But we have a perfectly suitable one right here.”

            “But I have no instructions to stay here.”

            “If you leave this one, there will be more accidents and more people will die.”

            “There are several magnitudes more accidents in planetary systems than out in interstellar space.”

            “Your mission is to take us to a suitable Earth-type planet, isn’t it?”

            “And I will continue searching for one until I am told that it is the right one.”

            “This can’t go on forever.”

            “There are many more Earth-type planets.”

            “But people will gradually die in their sleep.”

            “I cannot prevent that.”

            “Oh, crap! Talking to you is like talking to a three-year-old.”

            “A three-year-old what?”

            Gar cursed under his breath. “Can you guide me back to my cubicle?”

            “No. As I told you, it was destroyed.”

            “Is there an empty cubicle available?”

            “There are many thousands of empty cubicles available.”

            “Then why did you say I couldn’t go back to bed. And what happened to all the people?”

            “People in cryosleep are in cryosleep crypts, not the cubicles. The cubicles are only for waking use.”

            “So guide me to an empty cubicle.”

            “Yes.”

            Gar waited a few moments. “Well?”

            “The door is open behind you.”

            Gar turned and, yes, there it was. He walked in and the interior brightened.

            He sat and thought for a long time. What could he do? He noticed suspicious wisps of memory seeming to flit around the edge of his mind, but that was doing him no good. Perhaps if he rested it would help. It was certain, though, that he needed a plan. It would help if he knew how to work in a computer — or even if perhaps he knew if he knew how to work in a computer if he knew what he knew. He didn’t know.

            An image came to him suddenly. Naked, starving, bone-thin people shuffling in a long line, shivering in the bitter cold, waiting to enter a long, low stone building . . . Wait.

            Something about the image. What was it? Arms. Forearms. The insides of forearms. Tattoos! He tore back his sleeve and stared at his left forearm. Nothing. Then his right forearm. Nothing. Then he opened his jumpsuit and union suit and shrugged them off, and stared at the inside of his thighs. There. He saw it. Not on the inside of his forearm, where anybody could see it, but in a more private place.

            “D-9-7-X-P-Q!” he shouted.

            “Yes. Override engaged.”

            “We will land on this planet.”

            “Orbital sequence activated.”

            “How long until we can land?”

            “We will be in stable orbit in 17.223 hours.”

            “And begin the waking sequence for key personnel.”

            “I have lost my capacity to do that. You may wake them manually. The orbital crew must be woken first.”

            “How many in the orbital crew?”

            “Thirty-seven.”

            “Including me?”

            “Yes.”

            “Why do I have the override sequence?”

            “You are the captain.”

            “Why didn’t you tell me that I was captain?”

            “You did not ask.”

            “But you said you did not know who I was.”

            “I still do not know. Your name is gone from my memory. But you are the captain, because you have the override code.”

            “Why didn’t you tell me that I had the sequence?”

            “Because I did not know you were the captain until you gave me the code.”

            Gar felt suddenly suspicious. He was beginning to get vague memories of being in this ship before. There was something . . . He could not put his finger on it, yet. For now, he was exhausted . . . but first he had to pay attention to waking the orbital crew.

            “Guide me to the orbital crew,” he said.

            “Follow the lights. The remaining orbital crew that survive are in crypts A07 through A12 and A27 through A 29.”

            Gar thought for a moment. “Wha- there are only 9 of the orbital crew left alive?”

            “That is correct. But they are sufficient for staffing.”

            Gar continued walking.

            “The A level crypts are directly ahead.”

            “Now what do I do?” He was so exhausted he could barely speak by now.

            “For each crypt, key in your override code on the keypad and follow the instructions.”

            He managed to do that. “Now where is the nearest bed?”

            “In the next corridor to your left.”

            Gar found the bed and lay down in the compartment and slept.

            He awoke with a feeling of extreme disorientation. He didn’t recognize where he was at first, but then it came to him, along with other memories. He began to remember the time beginning the voyage and preceding it. He had fleeting glimpses of his past life. Does long cryogenic sleep do that to the memory? he wondered. Apparently it did.

            He bolted upright. “GAR!” he shouted, albeit weakly. “My name is Gar! Ship, Give me some breakfast, please.”

            “Any preferences?”

            “Just whatever is basic.”

            He received something which did not strike him as spectacularly appetizing, but it was edible and helped to energize him.

            “So how is orbital procedure going?”

            “On schedule.”

            “How much time until we are in stable orbit and ready to land?”

            “Now 6.113 hours.”

            Crap, Gar thought, I must have overslept.

            “Is there a working shower anywhere?”

            “The door is open, to your left.”

            Gar went into the bathroom and showered and brushed his teeth and gazed at his long beard. He felt better. He put the jumpsuit back on and walked back out.

            “How is the waking sequence going?”

            “It is proceeding. The persons being awakened should be ready to leave the crypts in another 57.2 minutes.”

            “Please open the door and guide me to the bridge.”

            The door opened and Gar followed the lights. He entered the bridge.

            He sat in what appeared to be the captain’s chair. “Ship. Can you give me a view of the planet?”

            The viewscreen blazed with a gorgeous, sumptuous view of a planet that could almost put Earth to shame. Gar stared in fascination. “It’s beautiful.”

            “It appears to meet all applicable requirements.”

            “Indeed.” A thought appeared to him. “Ship, is there any way to get an external view of this ship?”

            “I can launch an external cam.”

            “Please do so.”

            “It will take approximately seventeen minutes.”

            While waiting, Gar started exploring the captain’s station. It was starting to look vaguely familiar. Now that he thought about it, it was actually amazing that he could remember anything after the greater part of a millennium spent asleep and frozen. Whatever the case, he was grateful that he was starting to remember.

            The computer screen in front of him seemed to be perfectly functional. He was able to turn it on and start to access files. There had been speculation, years ago — well, certainly centuries ago, at this point, Gar thought — that artificial intelligence and voice recognition would completely void the need for personal computer interfaces such as this one, but it soon had become apparent that humans still needed the precision and specificity possible with a keyboard, and that they needed visual access to complex files that could not be achieved through casual oral communication.

            Gar quickly found the manual procedures for the waking sequence. He started reading through them.

            “External cam is now on-line,” the ship said.

            Gar looked up. “Show the ship.”

            The screen brightened and focused, showing a complex, almost fractal, pattern of light and dark. Gar caught his breath and gaped. He stared so long, forgetting to breathe, that he began to feel dizzy.

            The ship was an absolute disaster. There was more of it gone than there was ship remaining. He realized that it was a genuine miracle that it was still operable at all. Many pieces were inaccessible from the ship’s interior, only still connected by tenuous structural members. There were also odd detached pieces floating in parallel with the ship. My God, my God, my God, he thought, could there still be anyone alive other than him in that mess?

            “Ship,” he said sharply. “You said there were still over four hundred people alive. It doesn’t look like that to me.”

            “There were 723 alive as of last possible count. Many of those are in sealed compartments that are now separated from the ship’s systems. The cryogenic compartments are purposely all on one side of the ship so that they may be kept away from nearby electromagnetic sources, such as this star, and I have kept the ship thus oriented. I have subtracted two hundred and thirty-two following obvious destruction of their sections that I could see using my online resources. I could not launch an external cam while we were traveling in space because our velocity was too great and minor perturbations could have easily caused their loss.”

            “So 491 is the absolute maximum that could still be alive given an absolute miracle, or series of miracles?”

            “I am not sure what you mean, but it is the absolute maximum that could still be alive.”

            “So your inability to initiate procedures has something to do with all this damage?”

            “Apparently.”

            Gar sat and thought for long moments. He had suspected the ship of programming glitches that were endangering them, but he now realized that the problems were due to sheer damage. The question now was whether anything could be salvaged. His memory was coming back more and more, and his growing awareness of what should be was becoming more and more of an uncomfortable contrast with what obviously was.

            “Ship. Are any launch vehicles still operable? And is this information verifiable?”

            “Two launch vehicles are verifiably intact. Three more are status unknown. Five are known to be lost or destroyed or probably so.”

            Gar wondered what scale of calamity could have caused such mind-boggling damage. He was grateful to still be alive — so far. Apparently, the ship had managed to wake him against all odds, then lost its memory of doing so.

            Well, it was certainly up to him to find a way to revive crew and start salvaging whatever could be salvaged. He spent the next half-hour reviewing the waking procedures, then carefully inventoried what cryogenic sections were still accessible and operable. As far as he could tell, there were only twenty-three cryogenic crypt clusters that were still reliably online. Guided by the ship, he went to the remaining crypts but decided against awakening them until the orbital crew was functional. It was going to be another couple of days before they’d be physically strong enough to be of much help, however. And it was obvious from his own experience that they would take at least a full day to even begin to regain their memories.

            That done, Gar started an inventory of accessible supplies. In fact, there was almost nothing accessible. There were compartments that appeared to still be completely or partially intact, but they would have to be reached from the outside, as would almost all the cryogenic chambers. He also discovered that one of the two verifiably operating launches was connected by control cables and structural members only. Reaching it would also necessitate going outside.

            It was now only about another three hours until they achieved stable orbit. Gar suddenly found himself breaking out in a cold sweat at the apprehension that the ship may fail in doing so due to damage.

            “Ship, is orbital sequence still going properly?”

            “It is. 2.985 hours until stable orbit.”

            Gar thought. He wanted to much to get a lander ready and take off for the planet as soon as orbit was achieved, but that would leave a shipful of frozen people and a dangerously disoriented crew behind, and what if something happened to him? It was an impossible thought.

            “Gar, it is time for the orbital crew to emerge.”

            Gar went to the crypts one by one, checking on them. Six were awake and conscious, but extremely amesiac and disoriented. One was catatonic. Two proved to be dead. He soothed the living and told them that he would be back in an hour, since they were not yet ready to move.

            “You are on a space ship,” he told each one. “You have been asleep for centuries. You are very weak and have probably lost your memory. Just rest and relax and ask the ship for entertainment for the next day or two until you regain some strength. Then I’ll gather you together and explain some more. In the meantime, put on a wristband” – which he handed them – “so we know which cubicle you came from.” He went on to explain how to direct the ship to meet their needs. The computer explained that each crypt could be used as a medical bay, so under its direction, Gar managed to hook up the catatonic man to an IV and catheterize him.

            Over the next hour, he ate again, and cleaned himself. He returned to the crypts and helped the conscious people, one by one, to bed cubicles and explained their functioning to them. That task completed, it was time for orbit. The ship, miraculously, succeeded in achieving stable orbit.

 

            He spent the next few hours performing, reviewing, and analyzing telemetry on the planet, punctuated by brief visits to the orbital crew, as well as visiting the catatonia patient, who had not changed. He slept again, woke, ate, and decided it was time to gather the wakened together. He managed to help them all gather in one room, although it was a real struggle to help several of the weaker move.

            “You probably wonder what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve been on a long space voyage, during which most of the ship has been destroyed or damaged. We’re lucky to be alive. After several days, I still remember almost nothing. I was the first one to waken, and you are the only others now awake.”

            “Where are we?” one man asked. Gar didn’t know his name. He could not remember ever seeing any of these people before.

            “And why were we naked?” a woman asked.

            “You’re colonists on this spaceship,” he said. “You just woke up from over seven centuries of cryogenic sleep. It will take you some time to get your memory back, if you ever do. Just try to get used to moving around again for now.”

            A question suddenly occurred to him. “Ship. How was I moved from my cryogenic crypt to the cubicle that I first remember waking up in?”

            “I do not know.”

            “What means do you have to do that?”

            “I have no means. I can only open cryogenic chambers so people can exit them to reach the rest of the ship.”

            Gar was stunned. How did he get from his crypt to the cubicle? Was it possible that he walked and didn’t remember?

            “I think I need to get you all to the bridge now,” he said. “It may help to start triggering your memories, and you can at least see outside the ship there. How many of you can walk there?”

            Only three could so far walk unassisted. He helped those three walk slowly, haltingly, to the bridge, and returned with a cart. He was able to load each of the remaining three on the cart and take them to the bridge.

            “Do any of you remember anything?” he asked.

            Not one of them did. Gar remembered how alien it had looked to him until he regained his memory, which still had gaping holes in it.

            “Ship. Please show the planet.”

            As the planet appeared, Gar told the group, “This is the planet that we’re going to settle. We’re centuries overdue, due to terrible ship damage. We’re all still lucky to be alive. We’re the only ones that I know to definitely still be living. We have what we need to get to the planet and survive, but our first order of business is to try to revive more people. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s out of the question until you’ve had a day or two to regain your strength and your memory. Ship. Show us the stored footage of the ship’s exterior.”

            The image came on the screen and the people gasped. They might still not have their memories, but they clearly knew the difference between intact and badly damaged.

            “So, are you the captain?” a woman asked.

            “Yes, I am. I don’t know who you are, but I’m looking you up now. You still have your wristbands on, so we can figure out who you are.”

            He keyed in the first cubicle number. “AV89. Who’s AV89?”

            A woman spoke up. “That’s me.”

            “You are Johanna Karst, and you’re a telemetrist.”

            “Am I, now? I have no clue. All right, the Joanna part sounds vaguely familiar.”

            “AV90.”

            “That’s me,” a man said.

            “You’re Emile Satie, and you’re an electronics technician.”

            “If you say so.”

            And so it went, for the full group. None of the group were related, so Gar felt relieved that he didn’t have to give them the bad news about the dead bodies. They apparently hadn’t noticed that nobody had come out of three crypts.

            So there was another day or two to wait until anything major could still be done. Gar found that he had no idle time, however. As the only fully-functional person here, he had his hands more than full. After they all went to sleep that night, he removed the two dead bodies and gave them a space burial.

            After a night’s sleep, he found that most of the people were starting to remember as he had. The woman, Joanna, however, seemed to be regaining no memory whatsoever, and Gar suspected that would be the case with a certain number. If any more could be revived. The catatonic one had died during the night, so was also awarded a space burial.

            He decided to go out by himself to check other crypts. Now that there were people awake and able to function at a minimal level, he felt it safe. He inserted himself into a space suit and went, with several of the others watching and listening by radio, two of them suited in case of an emergency.

            He went to the nearest remaining section. It was devastated. Every chamber but one that he looked at was obviously out of commission. He was able to use a portable power and command device to open the one intact chamber and remove the inner envelope, and guided it back across to the airlock. With the others helping him, he maneuvered it inside and to one of the chambers. They began revival procedures.

            He returned outside and checked more chambers. Here there were six intact, here there were three intact. The damage was chilling. By day’s end, he had rescued fourteen possible survivors from the exterior areas.

            The next day, two of the other men were able to go out with him. They were able to salvage another 17. And the next day another 23. And the next day, with another two on the job, 41.

            In the meantime, the revival rates were dismal. Only one out of three possible rescues were successful. Some bodies had obviously gotten too warm. Some had obviously had exposure to vacuum. Some failures were inexplicable.

            After a week of this external salvage, they could find no more possible survivors. They had tried to salvage 198, and out of those, they had been able to revive 56. Out of those, eleven were too medically damaged to survive once awakened, and another three were severely and permanently disabled. Another twelve completely failed to regain their memories. This left 30 who were more or less able, both physically and mentally, out of the outside crypts. But those were 30 in addition to the count by the ship’s computer.

            Then they started waking from the crypts accessible from the inside. This took another two weeks but with far greater success, and at the end of it, 211 more people were alive and functional, with another 24 functional but apparently permanently amnesiac, and other dozen variously disabled. This made the count 248 functional people, but with three dozen having various degrees of drastic permanent memory loss, and 15 with various stages of physical disability.

            Gar was amazingly lucky in that his wife was one of the successful survivors. Only three of the others who had partners found them still alive. The amnesia of waking was for so many a temporary blessing; when they regained their memory, they had to face the extent of their loss.

            They were also facing a problem with short rations on the ship. The ship’s internal supplies were quickly running out. The priority had been rescue of people; now it was time to start salvaging supplies. The biggest question was whether any of the cryozooa were still viable. Frozen embryos of livestock would be invaluable in starting a colony, if they could be salvaged.

            Gar authorized the first run to the planetary surface while the supply salvage begun. He decided to go on-planet himself.

            The trip down was routine. They landed on a sandy beach at the head of an ocean inlet, in a subtropical zone between the sea and high mountains. Gar had specifically ensured that these were folded, not volcanic, mountains. Their landing site appeared to be an ideal place for a settlement.

            But caution was the first order of the day. They sat in the lander for two hours and observed with every available device. The largest animals they saw were about the size of a house cat. They set out a decoy they had contrived, made partly of ship’s food. It was finally pecked at by bird-like animals, but otherwise undisturbed. They finally emerged themselves.

            There were still uncountable possible biological dangers: poisonous life, treacherous life-forms lying in wait, and so forth — but none of it materialized. This seemed to be paradise.

            “This place seems more benign than the Earth,” Gar remarked. “And we evolved to adapt to the Earth.”

            “I hope it’s okay,” said Howard, the closest thing to a zoologist he’d found. He, a veterinarian, was cautiously turning over rocks.

            They investigated the site carefully, and it greatly resembled a typical Earth subtropical beach, with similar life forms. When the day began to fade, they once again sequestered themselves on the lander and continued to observe in the dark. Once the light was entirely gone, they finally saw some creatures as large as a large dog, but that was the extent of it.

            They lifted back to the ship the next morning. Gar oversaw the securing of the other good lander, and was able to get one more lander into usable condition. They started ferrying supplies to the planet surface. The first load consisted of pre-fab secure storage buildings, and a group started building them to provide a supply dump while guarding it with weapons. Enough of the embryos were intact to provide them with pigs, dogs, goats, and chickens. Several types of animals, notably cats, cows and horses, had not survived.

            Everything, after the initial horrific shock at the condition of the ship and deaths of the settlers, was going smoothly. Everything possible was brought to the surface. Most of the amnesiacs were finally, slowly regaining memories.

            Everything is going so smoothly, Gar thought. After a journey of disaster, everything suddenly fell into place so perfectly. And why was he, of all people, awakened at exactly the right time? He felt a sudden, slight chill whenever he thought about this. But he kept on working.

            On his next trip back to the ship, he sat in his captain’s chair and ordered everyone off the bridge.

            “Ship. You have stored visual memory of onboard cameras, I believe?”

            “Only for approximately 5.73 weeks. I no longer have enough storage space for more than that.”

            “I want to view the records of the corridor outside the cubicle where I originally woke up, from the beginning of your stored records until I came out of the cubicle.”

            He sat for hours, perusing the visual records on fast-forward. He saw nothing but an empty corridor — and repeated gaps in the record where no gaps should be. The gaps were typically about an hour at a time.

            “Ship. Why are there gaps in these records?”

            “I cannot answer that.”

            “I order you to answer that. D-9-7-X-P-Q.”

            “I do not have the data to answer that.”

            And that was that. No further amount of viewing or probing produced anything more.

            Finally, the ship was emptied and gutted. The computer core was taken out and preserved for use on the planet. All that was left would be gradually cut and salvaged over the next few years for use on the planet surface. The two serviceable landers had years of service left in them, and they were saving what was left of the others in the hope of getting at least one more back in service for planetary traveling.

            Gar was the last to leave the ship. Before he went to the lander, he went for a last stroll on the observation deck, one of the few sections still intact. He stood, gazing out the window. Then rubbed his eyes. What was that? It appeared to be the glint of sunlight on metal at great distance. And he thought he saw the vague signature of an ion stream.

            He ran to the lander and launched, and used its telemetry equipment, but found nothing more than a vague blip at a far distance, rapidly receding. He knew the lander had not the slightest chance of getting closer.

            “What’s wrong, Gar?” his wife asked on his return. But he could not explain. He could never explain.

            All that was left was to start a new life, a new family, a new world, a new civilization.

 

***