Carter peered past Mason. Blue light glowed from icy screens embedded in the door of every chamber. Mason stepped back into the hall, eyeing the thousands of windows, each guarding countless chambers.
“That’s a lot,” Carter whispered.
The door slid closed and Mason tore his eyes away from the windows, tapping his leg. Why did Cecilio send him to a cargo ship? He shook his hands to stop the twitching. 4.5 hours of air remained. “We need to get to the bridge.”
“The cargo’s in stasis.” Mason marched toward the upward curve of the wheel in the distance. “It’s a long-range transport, which means there’s long-range communications.” He glanced over his shoulder. The kid still stared at the door. “Come on.”
“You know, you’d think they’d leave somethin’ to jog our memory. Not leave us all jumbled.”
“They usually do,” Mason replied.
“So you missed it, didn’t you?”
Mason tightened his lips. “It won’t matter once we get to the bridge.” They’d call Cecilio, sort everything out, and resume the mission. Simple. He marched on, rolling his stiff shoulders and scanning the shadows. Why would Carter need the gun with everyone in hibernation? Why didn’t Mason, the superior officer, have one? He shook himself and continued.
Windows rose on both sides, marking where one deck ended and another began. Scaffold platforms led to the higher rooms with support beams rising every two hundred fifty meters like spokes on a wheel. Beneath each spoke, doorways opened to ladders leading to the higher decks.
Every five minutes, as if timed, Mason eyed Carter slinking in the dark. Was he avoiding a spotlight? Mason’s earpiece crackled with huffing and his own feet ached with hibernation sickness. On the seventh glance, the kid hunched, resting his hands on his knees.
Mason sighed. “We’re not here to sleep,” he called over the comms.
“I care for me; you care for you. How ‘bout that?” Carter pushed off his knees and continued.
Mason’s fingers twitched at his side, but he pivoted, and pushed on, boots silently striking the deck.
As minutes marched into an hour, a dark spot appeared where the rows of windows ended. To the left, a faint panel gleamed beneath a sheet of ice. “I found something,” Mason said.
“Well, that’s good for you, right?”
Mason melted the ice and pressed the panel. The door opened to a compartment with a rail around its circumference. A dim screen with a map of the decks glowed on the bulkhead.
Mason stepped inside and turned to face the vast passageway. It resembled the alleys between dorms at the academy, with windows reaching to the sky. A smile pulled at his lips but vanished as if behind a cloud. He gripped his hands behind his back and studied the kid creeping along, moving more like a cat than a person.
Carter nodded to the room as he approached. “What’s this supposed to be?”
Mason released his hands and scrolled through the numbered decks on the screen. “It’s a lift.” His finger drifted to Deck 19, but he pulled away, pressing Bridge instead. Crew Sector gleamed on the deck below.
“Man, I tell you my head’s all muddled still,” Carter muttered.
“You will refer to me as Commander or sir. It takes time.” The lift ascended and Mason stood at attention, clasping his hands again. Gravity vanished for a moment, but returned before the kid could ask more questions.
The door slid aside, and Carter caught his breath. A grand window curved around the bridge, opening to the abyss. A Navisphere. The kid gaped at the expanse. Beyond the glass, the stars revolved as the bridge generated gravity, and the glassy deck reflected their dance like a grim mirror.
Mason edged away, brushing his fingers along the captain’s chair. Frost dusted the…was that leather? He prodded it—real leather. No Cecilion ship offered that. He lifted his eyes and approached a long console, spanning the curved the deck. The command center. Black screens and empty chairs lined it, white frost dusting every surface, and a microphone rising at one end.
Mason slid into a chair, tapping the console. A screen sprang to life, and a keypad lit up beneath his hand. Scan Key blinked on the display. Mason rose and found a card scanner. How old was this ship? Cecilion vessels wouldn’t waste money on old tech.
Carter placed his hand on the window, his visor reflecting the stars. One star gleamed crimson. Proxima Centauri. Mason still couldn’t see Proxima B in orbit, let alone Cecilio shining in her northern hemisphere; but they were out there somewhere. “Let’s move.” Mason marched back to the lift. “We need the captain’s key.”
“What kind of ship we on?” Carter asked.
“The kind that needs gravity.”
“Man, can’t you just say you don’t know?”
“I have suspicions,” Mason entered the lift. “It’s bigger than anything I’ve seen.”
“You said it’s a long-range transport, right?”
“Doesn’t tell us enough. It’s probably from one of the other Centauri systems.” Would the other Centauri colonies waste money on old scanners? “Maybe its damaged. You an engineer?”
Carter shrugged and joined Mason. “I’m whatever I need.”
Mason eyed the Kisasi as they descended. “Whatever you need?”
Carter’s gaze dropped as well, then locked on Mason’s. “Yeah.”
Mason’s visor faded to yellow as the lift opened into a room glowing blue with egg-like chambers. “You take left, I’ll take right.” Mason pointed as he marched toward the first row of chambers. “We’ll meet back here.”
Carter meandered out of the lift. “What do you think you’re lookin’ for?”
“Well, who would have the key to the bridge?” Mason locked eyes with his partner. “The…” Mason began, drawing out the word, “captain.” He scrutinized the kid. “Is it hibernation or just you?”
“I ain’t stupid,” Carter grunted.
“Then go left.” Mason veered right and melted the ice off the first screen. “We’re running out of air.” Carter hesitated but obeyed.
Mason brushed the melted liquid off the screen before it froze again and read the display. He narrowed his eyes, reading again, and a third time. “Fifty years…”
“What’s that?” Carter asked over the comms.
“These chambers are fifty years old.” Mason melted more ice away. “It’s a Haven Ship.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means it’s from Earth.”