Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 32

The lights automatically switched on when Joseph entered the modest, two-room quarters that had become his home. He unbuttoned his uniform jacket and hung it up on a hanger he kept by the door, then turned and dimmed the lights, feeling the beginnings of a headache already nagging at him. It hadn’t been an especially trying day, just a full one, and he was glad to see its end. Digging his fingers into the nascent ache in his temples, he considered just turning in for bed, but a year of routine sent him to the small computer desk in the corner. Weariness seemed an inadequate excuse for abandoning discipline. He sat down, slipped the wireless microphone over his ear and activated the recording program.

“Captain’s personal log,” he began in a clear voice as he sat back in the chair. “Today, I was privileged to officiate a wedding ceremony between Dr. Don Michael Harris and Dr. Sarah Pauline Douglas. These sorts of events have become a bright spot for all of us amidst the gloom of leaving our war-torn planet behind almost a year ago, and the groom was very generous in opening up the event to public attendance.”

Joseph paused as he gathered his thoughts and impressions of the day’s events, though it was more difficult due to his tiredness. “They made a lovely couple, I thought,” he reflected with a smile. “Before today, I knew Dr. Harris only by reputation, and I was a bit surprised at how young he seemed given what I’d heard of his esteemed career back on Earth. He strikes me more as an action-oriented type than a researcher, though that may just be due to his excellent physical condition, which is more than I can say for myself these last few months.” He looked down at himself with a disapproving frown. “Maybe I’ll ask him for his workout regimen,” he remarked.

The self-recrimination quickly dissipated. “We’re lucky to have men of science like him on board,” Joseph continued, mostly to himself, “adding to our data stores for when we reach our ultimate destination… which we can only hope is as life-sustaining as the researchers on Earth predicted it to be,” he added with a note of concern. He leaned back and gazed into the blankness of the ceiling. “Personally, I believe that humanity is heading toward the next great step in our development. For the last year, everyone’s been focused on what happened the day we launched, too focused on flight to give much consideration to our future. Now, a sense is growing among the passengers that we’re more than just refugees looking to survive. We are human, and our legacy isn’t what we left behind, but what we’re heading toward. A sense of meaning has begun to return to our lives after a long absence.”

Knowing he was likely to wax poetic if he let himself linger on the subject too long, Joseph straightened his posture and turned his thoughts to the more mundane aspects of the day.

“The maintenance crews are still investigating reports of unauthorized broadcasts being sent back to Earth. Security is trying to figure out how one of the passengers was able to access those channels.” Through a separate program, Joseph brought up the incident report and skimmed through it briefly. “The perpetrator, Mr. Mason, didn’t have anything in his file to suggest that he possessed the know-how to access our systems, but we’ve been playing catch-up for months trying to compile complete databases on all our passengers. We must have missed something. The results of the autopsy report suggest he died of a heart attack in his quarters, so we may never know the full truth. Luckily, there’s been no damage to Phoenix-3’s systems. Whatever Mr. Mason did, he wasn’t trying to sabotage us. Perhaps…”

Joseph drifted off and gave a small sigh. “Perhaps he was just trying to send word back home, see if there was someone left to hear him. A loved one, maybe. Someone… we left behind.”

His gaze flickered to the framed photo on the edge of his desk, the one that Colleen had sent him from her first summer abroad in Ireland. Memories of his niece’s laugh filled his mind when he thought about her. She’d been visiting her boyfriend in London when the missiles dropped…

He shook his head roughly and cleared his throat. He had plenty of personal logs already detailing his feelings on the family that hadn’t made it to Exodus. He didn’t need to take up any more valuable drive space on that.

“Um,” Joseph murmured, casting his train of thought backwards. “Oh. I’d almost forgotten. Dr. Harris approached me during the reception. He mentioned that he and his new wife wanted permission to store some critical records in the Phoenix-3’s black box. Given his GSC clearances, I told him that it shouldn’t be a problem, but when I asked about the nature of the data, he…” The captain frowned slightly, remembering the tight, almost worried look that had come over the man’s rugged expression. “He said it was knowledge needed to guard against a potential threat to mankind. He wouldn’t go into specifics when I asked. All he said was that the data was too important not to be protected. I don’t know, maybe I should’ve pressed him further, but I was reluctant to spoil the mood of the event.”

Joseph paused the recording as he considered the matter more thoroughly. “I’m going to grant his request,” he stated once he’d resumed. “I’m inclined to take a man like Dr. Harris at his word, and if anything can prevent the events of Earth from happening again, it should be safeguarded.”

Once more, his gaze was drawn to the picture. He reached over, took it and stared into Colleen’s face. That smile of hers had always been as bright and dazzling as a lit Christmas tree. Despite the curtain of nostalgia that descended over his mind, he smiled back.

“Earth is still there,” he said, “even though we’re not. I don’t know who it was the fired those missiles, but if they were standing in front of me right now, I’d ask them if the destruction and loss of life was worth it. I hope…” He caught his voice starting to raise, and he drew a deep breath, bringing the volume back down. “I hope that they’re staring at the devastation they’ve wrought right now… not for punishment, but so they might understand their error and rethink the madness that drove them to this course of action. I hope that what happened a year ago will be a wake-up call for all of us. That after what came to pass… well, I hope humanity will never again be so desperate. I still hope that even though we’ve gone, that Earth can right its course, and that one day our new world can be reunited with the one we left behind. This is Joseph McKay, captain, Phoenix-3 colony transport, signing off.”

Joseph gazed down at the photograph in his hands and wordlessly turned the recorder off. He brushed his fingers across the outline of his niece’s smiling face, then set the frame back in its place on the desk. Feeling wearier than when he first entered his quarters, he got up, dressed himself for sleep, turned the lights down completely and lay back in bed with his hands threaded behind his head as he stared up into the ceiling. The subtle, steady hum of the ship’s engines enveloped him in the dark, and gradually he slipped off to sleep, still listening to that ever-present sound.