Castaway Odyssey – Chapter 11
“Sergeant?” Xander whispered.
He saw the eyes snap open, look around, registering where the Sergeant was, the person speaking to him, the fact that everything else seemed normal, in the time it took a normal person to blink. He’s always ready for everything.
“Sorry to wake you, sir,” he said.
Campbell sat up slowly. “I figure you must have something you want to say that the others shouldn’t hear. If I agree with you, then there’s no problem. Go on, son.”
“The chances of finding a habitable planet… what are they?”
Campbell pursed his lips. “Well… understand that odds make no real difference here. But anyway… I’m pretty damn sure that’s a G-type star. I was able to do a little trigonometry from our first little jump and the way the star shifted, and that tells me the star’s distance, which ain’t far away at all, and the apparent brightness combined with distance really helps nail that down. So, that said… G-type stars in this neighborhood tend to have planets, but only one in ten’s got an Earth-type planet in the habitable zone, and of those, only one in two’s compatible with our kind of life. So… one in twenty.”
“And if this doesn’t work out… we’re dead, right?”
Campbell looked as though he wanted to argue that, then bowed his head. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it; it’s why I said we got no other options. We have to make a go of it here, because there’s nowhere else to go.”
“Then… look, the main reason we can’t go where we want to, to Orado, is that the supplies won’t hold out, right?”
“Right. Though from what Tavana said, I’m not sure I’d bet on those cobbled-together coils holding out for a ten-lightyear journey. He had to think about it making what turns out to be about a fortieth of that.”
“Still, why can’t you just put all or most of us under, like the Lieutenant? If only one of us – you – is up, or maybe not even you most of the time, we won’t need much food or water.”
The Sergeant was shaking his head even before Xander finished. “It’s a good idea, son, but I already thought of it. Fact is, I only know how to do that using military nano setups. Civilian nanos, like yours? Different setup, different protocols for operation. I don’t have authority to modify them the same way I did for Lieutenant Haley, and none of us know how to reprogram nanos for that kind of stuff. I could dump the procedure to hers easy, but yours? That’d take a nanoprogrammer with a medical bent, or a doctor with the right programming experience, like Dr. Kimei. She’d be able to do that, no problem.”
“You knew her, sir? I didn’t … interact with them much.” He remembered Dr. Kimei well – an attractive blonde woman, friendly and competent… but she usually wasn’t alone, because she tended both species on the ship.
His expression must have given him away, because the Sergeant gave a wry grin. “Not comfortable around Bemmies, eh?” Sergeant Campbell made a face. “I don’t have anything against ’em, myself, but for a colony? They’re experiments, a few generations old. Some were unstable, mentally. They say that’s all cleared up, but dammmit, you don’t want to rely on someone’s well-meaning experiment on a colony world.” He sighed. “Anyway, yeah, I know her. Or knew her, if she got killed in that mess. Nice lady, and her girl Sakura’s a born pilot.”
Xander felt a tiny grin on his face. “I heard Tav mention Sakura a couple of times. Think he likes her.”
“Lot to like about the girl. Little late for that now; if she’s still alive, she and her family are on Orado by now, maybe getting on another colony ship for Tantalus.”
Xander looked out the port as the pitch-black of the Trapdoor space transitioned to the star-scattered darkness of normal space, the mysterious star now blazing brilliantly directly before them. “One chance in twenty. Sergeant… what do we do if …?”
“Honestly, son… I don’t want to think about that much. But … I’ll want to do what I can to make the end easy. We’ll live as long as we can, though. Always a chance someone will find you, no matter how slim. And then, well…” He shrugged. “You understand?”
The thought of having to ‘make the end easy’ made Xander shudder inside. But at the same time, he knew the Sergeant was right. Death by slow starvation or suffocation was something he wanted to spare Maddox, Tavana, and Francisco. “Yes, sir.”
“But let’s keep our fingers crossed. I’ve beaten worse odds more’n once in my life, Xander. Hell, I think we beat odds at least that bad surviving that disaster; that field instability could’ve just cut straight through LS-88. We’re still alive, we’ve fixed all the problems we ran into, and we’re moving. Don’t think I’d have given odds on us doing that well if someone asked me before the fact.”
Xander thought about it. What would have happened if Sergeant Campbell hadn’t happened to be on board? What if Lieutenant Haley hadn’t been caught in the boarding tunnel and able to release the remains of the tunnel? What if they hadn’t had enough food on board, or no heavy equipment with the right kind of wiring? “You’re right, Sergeant. We’ve been beating odds all along.”
“Damn straight we have. I’m betting we’re gonna beat them once more.”
“So will I, Sergeant,” he said. “After all, it’s the only bet left worth taking.”
“Good man. Now,” the Sergeant said, letting the straps pull him gently back into his chair, “let me get some more shuteye.”
Xander grinned, and nodded. His mind more at ease than it had been before, he found it wasn’t long before sleep came for him.