When I stumbled onto the bridge, my heart was racing, but not because I was scared. I had to pry open the doors to get there, as they had apparently malfunctioned, and this effort was great in comparison to my quick sprint to the command center. The doors might have been trying to spare me the horror of that day, the stark reality of which was all too plain as I entered.
My crewmates lay dead, their blood almost luminescent in the bluish glow of the well-lit bridge. The compact space left no room for imagination, though there was no doubt as to the manner of their demise. Holland stood at the helm station, his back turned toward me, and his right hand grasping a bloody bayonet. The weapon was mine, obviously stolen from my quarters at some point in the recent past. My four friends must not have suspected any ill intent from Holland. And though I was surprised as they must have been, I was at least fortunate enough to see it coming.
Holland barely turned his head to acknowledge my presence, though I had made a tremendous racket opening the jammed doors. In that moment, he hadn’t yet threatened me directly. I didn’t feel particularly threatened, since I responded to the vague warning issued by the ship’s computer with a weapon of my own. My fingers twitched around the retention strap of the holster, my forearms burning from the recent exertion. Even still, I knew there was no way Holland could turn around and cross that distance before I could clear leather. If I somehow missed, the frangible rounds would disintegrate long before they penetrated the hull. But the entire bridge was less distance than the easiest shot at the academy pistol range.
It may have been the presence of my pistol, or my ease of its use, that made Holland decide to talk to me instead of eviscerate me with my own blade. He turned slowly, seeming completely at ease.
“Dun Ringill will not have us after all,” he said casually.
My genetically-enhanced brain struggled to understand the reference, though the well-spent government funds to make it that way soon paid for the answer. Skye, the planet we were orbiting, was the legendary location of Fort Dun Ringill, both named from Scottish history back home. Though the original settlers were free to name the planet whatever they wished, Dun Ringill didn’t have a companion location there. If found, it was rumored to be the gateway to the world of the dead, or a path for their ghosts to wander ours. For Holland to bring it up now would have been baffling, if I’d had the time to ponder it. As science officer, myth and legends were not his ken, and he never mentioned even a passing interest in them. He did, however, study the mission briefings some weeks prior to now, so he wasn’t exactly revealing privileged information.
“So you’ve lost your head, is that it?” I asked, after an attempt to say something far more clever.
“I won’t submit myself to interrogation,” he said, almost whispering. “Not that it would work, anyway.”
“Fine,” I said, and blew half of Holland’s torso onto the helm.
“Blarg,” he said, or something of equal onomatopoeia, and died.
These frangible rounds were no joke. I’d never shot anyone aboard a spacecraft before, so it was the first time I’d seen the results of that ammo type on a human. That thought crossing my mind would have been odd, if not for my conditioning. I was trained to be calm and analytical in combat. While I felt sadness for the deaths of my friends, and anger at not knowing why Holland had killed them, I couldn’t help but look over the scene with a colder eye. My thoughts were as much on the mission as the scene that had just played out.
I could still (theoretically) accomplish the mission, as long as the ship didn’t have any serious mechanical problems between now and home. Operating a ship this size with one person was possible, if not ideal. I would have to rely heavily on the autopilot to get me to and from the surface of the planet, as my own piloting skills were for a much smaller craft. Once I determined what happened to the colonies on Skye, I could return to Earth, albeit with far less information than preferred. Without my scientist and anthropologist, I couldn’t really compile much of a report. All I had to go on so far was that there were no artificial satellites in orbit, which was not a good sign, or detectible transmissions from the surface, which was a very bad sign.
I considered these things while at the same time wondering how I was going to dispose of the remains of my crew. All but Holland would have to be given some kind of respectful send-off. I had decided I should go get some coveralls, because I hadn’t yet gotten any blood on myself, when I noticed an indicator light blinking on the propulsion console. It looked important. I tried to avoid stepping in anything as I made my way over to it, but that proved impossible. I also slipped and fell onto the helm, grabbing onto the top half of Holland in a futile attempt to keep from hitting the deck. Despite my typically reserved attitude, that frustrated me a little.
The indicator light was telling me that Holland had purged the radionuclide reaction initiators from the engine. That frustrated me a little, too. A few more seconds of smudging up the console also revealed that he had locked the flight controls. Our orbit was decaying. I stood there, up to my ankles in ichor, and methodically attempted to fix the flight system. I had already given up on getting back to Earth, at least on this ship, but I wasn’t looking forward to an uncontrolled descent through Skye’s atmosphere.
I looked at what was left of Holland, now lying face-down on the deck. I still had no idea why he wanted us all dead. I was supposed to be in charge of security for this mission, and I had missed any indication that Holland was unstable, or a traitor, or just a jerk. Of course, there had to be some kind of indication; I couldn’t believe that me, of all people, missed it. One thing they taught us at the academy was that nobody can keep secrets forever, and after five weeks of sharing space with Holland, I would have known. I should have known. This was my fault, as much as it was my bayonet that he stole to kill them.
None of that mattered any more. There was no point in magnifying one professional failure with another, especially since the next step in the progression was to die horribly. I forced myself to take deep breaths, and considered the problem. I might be able to free up some of the control surfaces if I bled off some of the hydraulic pressure. If I was lucky, the system would go into diagnostic mode, and I could work them manually. So, I wiped my bloody hands on my pants, and went to the engine room to grab an axe.