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Precious Cargo

by Jamie Kleinkauf Schmidt © 2004

Captain Kelly McGee shuddered as the thrusters hit reverse. Had they reached the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy already? Or did something require her attention? Kelly banged on the pod. It was cold and wet in here and she couldn't see.

If they were at the first of the galaxies, it was 100 years later. She was over 134 years old. Her mind recoiled from that thought and began to spin wildly. Was her cargo all right? Was Earth even still there? They had blasted off during a deadly count down to war. It could have all gone nuclear while she was sleeping. Or had cooler heads prevailed?

She counted 600 breaths before the pod opened. Kelly sprang from it, banging her shin on the control panel. The ship's floor was frigid on her feet. She could see vague forms, but for the most part was still blind.

"Report," she snapped.


"Damn it." Her voice should have activated the computer.

Kelly moved out of the cryochamber, hand over hand, touching each of the nineteen pods. As Captain, she would have been woken first. But if they had truly reached their destination, her officers should also be starting the defrosting process. And what of her cargo? Were they still safely dreaming below decks? Dreaming of impossible theories and remembering their lives?

The door whished open as she approached it and Kelly staggered into the corridor and pressed against the wall. At least there was still power. She palmed her way to the elevator, which also opened at her approach.

"Bridge," Kelly said and held on as they ascended rapidly enough to make her ears pop. The doors opened up to a room filled with chattering computers and pulsing lights. She missed the first step and fell down hard. She groped her way towards the navigator console. From there she could do pretty much anything she wanted. Kelly's fingers found the keyboard and she typed in the commands to activate the computers. But they were already online and being blocked by an outside force.

"Battle stations," she said and winced as a klaxon alarm drilled an ice pick through her earlobe. Even though she was the only one awake, the command automatically primed the weapons and raised the shields. She toggled on the view port just as the communication beacon started to beep. Kelly gaped at the front view screen. She blinked a few times. Even with her cloudy vision, she recognized the Earth. Her heart clenched and her lips spasmed with emotion. It was still there. She let out a shaky sigh. Then why were they here? The communication panel beeped again and she realized Earth was hailing her.

"This is Captain McGee of the transport ship Horizon."

"I see you're out of uniform, Captain."

Kelly scowled and adjusted the signal so she was only shown from the neck up. "We only dress for dinner . . . Mike." The first face she saw would be that insufferable prick from the academy. From the looks of him, he hadn't aged well. But she supposed he earned his gray hair and ragged looks gnawing his way up NASA command. There was something wrong with the picture and Kelly rubbed her eyes. Her vision would clear momentarily.

"Welcome back and it's President Lawrence now."

"Why have we been brought back?"

"Your mission has been aborted. We no longer need you to colonize a new world for us. It has been thirty years since you left. Shortly thereafter, we were contacted by an alien life. A much superior race than our own. With their technology, Earth was able to find common ground and the world war that had been imminent was forgotten."

Two hollow pongs made the ship shudder and Kelly felt the pull of a tractor beam. She initiated the self-destruct count down on the ship.

The weasely smile slid off Mike's face. "What the hell do you think you are doing?"

"I can land my own ship. You have twenty seconds to release me and give me back my computer or you lose the cargo."

"To hell with your cargo," he sneered. "I need your ship."

"Fifteen seconds," Kelly said as she saw the red numbers scroll down. Her vision was fine. The Earth was tilted from its axis and not spinning normally.

"Damn it."

Her computers whirred back on and the ship stopped moving forward.

"Stand down," Kelly told the ship and typed in the override codes.

"You're not supposed to be able to activate the self destruct on your own." Mike glared at her. "That's against regulations."

Kelly gave him a tight smile. "Computer what year is it?"


Ten years after they launched.

"Land the ship and I can explain." Mike said.

"Computer, scan the planet in front of me for radiation levels."

"The planet is uninhabitable."



Kelly locked the sensors on where Mike was broadcasting. They were deep underground.

"Kelly, we're the last humans left. The last Americans. We won the war. Dump your cargo and pick us up and we can start over. That is a direct order from your President."

Kelly thought about it. She could jettison the scientists, the educators, the artists and the historians. All of whom were the top of their field, from all of the nations of Earth. It would be easy to land without contamination and pick up the fifty-three bureaucrats who hid in a bunker while the rest of the world died.

"What are you waiting for, Captain?"

Flicking the view screen over the dead planet's horizon, Kelly took pictures of the nuclear winter and the scorched sky. You must remember history in order to avoid repeating it. She took detailed readings of the planet surface. The oceans had frozen over once the planet stopped its usual revolution around the sun.

"I'm getting the proper coordinates."

"Hurry it up. We've new worlds to conquer."

Kelly smiled as she triggered the ion cannon that annihilated Mike's broadcasting satellite.

x x x

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