Jacob stepped into the Captain’s scarcely lit chambers; a room more cave-like than any starship bridge Jacob had stood on before. No lights shone in the room save for the scattering of green, yellow, and red indicators on various consoles around the room. The air was thick with dust and the smell of decay, like an old barn in the heat of midsummer.
As Jacob stepped further into the room, a single light turned on in the center of the chamber. At the edge of this light was the base of a tall, almost throne-like elevated chair, draped in a tangled mass of cords, pipes, cables, and tubes. Seated in the center of this jungle of wiring was something that, a few decades ago, would have been called a man.
The stark shadows of the room veiled much of his form, though they hid little from Jacob’s enhanced vision. The man had once been as hearty as Jacob; a cybernetically enhanced soldier with a mind and body built and rebuilt to put him beyond the outer limits of human potential. But the soldier’s strength had faded away most of a century ago, along with most of the man. What remained was a withered, cadaverous creature, human only in the broadest of terms.
The Captain’s frail, bony back was curled in an ancient stoop, his bald head hanging forward as if too heavy to lift. The entire body would have been slouched even farther if it wasn’t hanging marionette-like from the mass of cords, cables, and tubes dangling from the ceiling and the wall behind him, connecting to ports on his tortured spine and skull. It was hard to tell where the Captain began and the ship ended. One of the two had rooted into the other, and it wasn’t obvious which had done what, or which depended more on the other to function.
The Captain showed no acknowledgement of Jacob’s entry into his chamber. He mumbled continuously under his breath, running equations and reading status reports of various ship functions while staring blankly at the floor in front of him.
Jacob watched the man in silence for a few moments, looking for a hint of the person he’d known all those decades ago before The Somnambule’s departure, and finding none. The Captain was less man than equipment, now.
Jacob knocked on the bulkhead with his cybernetic arm, and the tinny sound echoed in the small, dark chamber. “Lucas,” he called.
The Captain halted his rambling. “That voice…why do I hear that voice?”
“It’s me. Jacob. I’ve been awoken.”
“Jacob?” The Captain craned his withered neck to set his milky eyes on Jacob, the cords attached to his neck and skull clanking together with the movement. A pair of cameras mounted in the corners of the room followed the movement of his head, and Jacob imagined the Captain saw more through them than he did his own eyes. “Awoken? I never authorized that. I never would.”
Jacob stepped further into the chamber, offering a better look to the cameras. “You didn’t authorize it, Lucas. It wasn’t an intentional revival. My pod was sabotaged. Your medical team was forced to revive me or lose me.”
“Sabotaged pod…” the Captain’s blank gaze shifted back to the floor. “Damage reports: K Deck…stasis block A1…cold stasis pod 00006 offline: electrical failure. Yes…Jacob Sicarius…”
“I understand there’s been a lot of this kind of thing going on lately, Lucas. First thing I hear when I wake up is that half your crew committed mutiny years ago, and you still haven’t dealt with them.”
The Captain’s vestigial eyes narrowed. “They are being dealt with.”
“Are they?” Jacob walked to the base of the Captain’s chair, staring him in the face. “From what I’ve been told, you’re at a stalemate. They have the lower decks, and you can’t touch them. They control half your ship.”
“I control this ship!” The Captain snapped. There it is, Jacob thought. There’s still some forcefulness in there after all. “I can override their access to any critical system. “
“Why have you allowed them to continue this insurrection for so long, Lucas? Send security in and clean them out. They’re a threat to the mission, and if they’re sabotaging pods, they’re a threat to the colonists themselves.”
“They have not touched the pods before…that is new…” a note of sadness entered his voice. “They do occupy several stasis blocks…Jacob, I have tried.”
“These rebels are third and fourth-generation crewmen, aren’t they? They’ve no combat experience, no skill. You served with me on Samrat and Buyan. These mutineers should be no match for you.”
A rasping wheeze of a laugh forced itself out of the old man’s throat. “You may not have noticed, but my fighting days have been over for quite a while now.”
Jacob’s face remained grim. “When a man’s days as a soldier end, that’s when his days as a tactician begin. You may not be able to fight, but you should be taking this threat seriously. Organize your crew. Arm them, train them, push the enemy back. Eliminate the threat.”
“You don’t understand. They are unlike anything you or I ever faced in the past.” Lucas’s expression glazed over again, his quivering mouth silently moving as he read some string of data the ship had fed his brain. A dormant monitor on the wall near Jacob clicked on, a flickering pane of light in the dark room. On the screen was a woman: almost as old as the Captain, with a set of cybernetic implants adorning her head and covering her eyes. “Marion Krieg. Do you remember that name?”
Jacob studied the woman’s weathered face and nodded. “I think I met her. She was part of the first generation. Science crew, robotics and quantum tech. She was quite young then…is she still living?
“She is. She proved herself quite the visionary. She made advancements in integrating quantum computing with human cybernetic interfaces that have put us decades ahead of all projected progress in that field. I use her advancements to interface with the ship, in fact. She did so much for the good of the mission…”
The Captain trailed off, mouth moving silently as he lost himself for a moment, either within his own mind or within his connection to the ship. “About a decade ago, she claimed to have achieved a sensational breakthrough. She’d developed a new cortical implant so advanced it could allow its host to see past the curvature of timespace.”
Jacob snorted. “That’s nonsense. I don’t care how good she is with quantum computers; that’s fanciful.”
“I agree. But whether her claims are true or not, her new implants gave her and her followers unnatural abilities. She gave herself the most advanced of her implants. She made the bold claim that she could see as far into the future as our arrival at Bella Rosa. She…claimed further that, in her projection of the future, some catastrophic fate awaits The Somnambule. She raved that the mission could not go on. That we must turn the ship around and return to Earth.”
Jacob clenched his fists, feeling the metal of his robotic fingers grinding against each other like gnashing teeth. “Her only purpose – the only purpose of the ship’s entire crew – is to get to Bella Rosa. Krieg signed her life away to this mission, and the lives of all her descendents. We’re halfway there, and she wants us to turn back?”
“She claims if we don’t, every life on this ship is doomed to some vague but deadly fate.”
Jacob began to pace, wringing his hands in agitation. “So Krieg committed mutiny. She’s trying to take over the ship and turn it around by force?”
The Captain nodded grimly. “She’s not merely a scientist, she’s proven to be quite a leader as well. The implants she’s devised make her claims compelling. Those who have them do possess an unnerving talent for predicting events. She’s managed to amass a sizeable following. They believe her to be a true prophet, and they take her word as absolute truth.”
“So not just a rebellion, a rebellion of fanatics. That is dangerous…”
“Her acolytes have proven almost impossible to kill. We mobilize security forces to their location, they’re gone when they get there. One of our men has a clean shot at one of theirs, he still misses. I told you, these rebels are unlike anything we’ve faced before. Pirates on Samrat…Hedge troops on Buyan…they may have been tough, but at least you could count on them being in the same place when the bullet landed as they were when you pulled the trigger. We can’t kill them. The best we’ve been able to do is contain them in the lower decks.”
“That isn’t enough. They’re a threat to the colonists and the crew. They’re draining our resources and sabotaging our ship. They need to be eradicated.” Jacob stroked his chin in thought. “Put me in charge of a security team. I’ll lead an offensive into the lower decks. I should be a match for them.”
The Captain furrowed his wrinkled brow. “Absolutely not. You are a critical mission asset. We must find you a new pod and return you to cold stasis at once. We can’t risk putting you in the field.”
Jacob felt a sharp pang in his heart as he remembered what the medics had told him earlier…the future he’d been denied. “I’m afraid I no longer am a critical asset. I’ve…been told that my implants were damaged when my pod malfunctioned. It turns out…I can’t return to stasis at all. It would kill me.”
“Oh…” The Captain bit his quivering lip as he looked down at Jacob. The ancient man’s face filled with pity, which only served to amplify Jacob’s pain. There was a moment of silence, as the reality of Jacob’s situation set in. “In that case…yes…we will find a place for you in the crew. You are right, you may be just what we need to turn the tide of this conflict. Report to Lieutenant Salvador in security. I will let him know you’re coming. He will make good use of you.”
Jacob felt a taint of resentment creep into his heart, but quickly shook it off. A general taking orders from a captain to report to a lieutenant…this will take some getting used to. Jacob knew that, though he may not like it, the Captain was at the top of the chain of command on The Somnambule no matter what. The only place Jacob’s own rank would have had any value would have been on a planet he’d now never see.
Jacob stood at attention. “I will go there at once. Thank you, Captain.”
The Captain nodded, a weak smile forming on his age-creased lips. “For what it’s worth, you’re the only man I’d want on my side in this conflict anyway. The rebels have no idea what you can do.”
Jacob gave a slight nod and turned to leave, debating as he walked whether he should give voice to the conflicting emotions he’d suppressed since first laying eyes on the Captain. Finally, as the door to the chamber opened, he turned back over his shoulder.
“It was good to see you again, little brother.”
The ancient man’s jaw quivered as he attempted repeatedly to reply, finally producing a strained whisper. “I thought of you often, these past decades. I…I am glad…I got to see your face once more.”
The two men stared at each other in silence, from across the room and time itself. Finally Jacob turned back to the door without another word, and left his brother to the shadows once more.