“You need to help us understand what happened.”

The man looked at him, beseeching. Markum—that was his name. Or so he’d said. Hunched over, his elbows braced on the metal table bolted to the floor between them. His hands were upturned, grasping in quiet appeal. Suspicion pressed heavy on his shoulders.

His partner stared across the table with marbled eyes. Heterochromia. It had been popular for a time. Not so long ago, he would have said before today, but time could be funny that way. Hadn’t even given his name.

"Mister Harris?"

Crewman Harris held the other man’s gaze and shifted as if to somehow alleviate his discomfort. That they hadn’t believed him was no surprise. He’d known they wouldn’t for weeks. Weeks he’d spent rifling through the details, hoping to finally fit them into some configuration that sounded half-way convincing. He’d practiced their recounting in the pod’s small mirror, spotted with age and neglect, schooling his expression into the purest distillation of earnest sincerity it could shape, and still he’d known they wouldn’t believe him. At a certain point he’d resigned to that.

The second man cleared his throat, and for an instant the shadow of a line bisected his brow, and then it was gone. They could wait a little longer.

If Harris listened carefully he could hear the thrum permeating the station. Steady and muted, barely a murmur really. It was disquieting. Unnatural—no creaks, no gentle groans as the superstructure flexed under sudden changes in force vectors. He pressed his knee hard against the table. A faint vibration was transferred through the deck, amplified by the table's leg. It was a comforting feeling, more familiar than the still of the station.

“She was an old ship. A Methuselah class. Two, maybe three centuries. Ain't many of those left these days.”

Markum checked the papers spread out before him. The other man nodded.

“It must have been reliable, to have been out there so long.”

“Aye. But things went wrong from time to time. It’s the way of things.” Harris paused. "Something went wrong.” And again. “It’s gone now.”


“Lit up like a coronal ejection. Spewing flame and gas, writhing and looping to the measure of some strange maths. Currents and eddies in the magnetic fields, I’d imagine. Never seen nothin’ like it. Then it all broke apart.”

It was Markum’s turn to nod. The other man’s eyes had widened, almost imperceptibly. Had Harris not been watching them, he wouldn’t have seen it.

“But you survived...”

“I could hear their screams. Transmitter must have shorted. Not for long—a second or two, maybe, then it cut off. The absence was worse. Spent weeks hearing their cries in negative.”

“Poetic. But how did you survive?”

“Richards flagged an anomaly in the power system. Didn’t say what—least not to me. Traced it back to the escape pod, or so I understood. Sent me down to run some light diagnostics.”

The second man frowned and shook his head. “Those systems are isolated.”

Crewman Harris’s shoulders slumped. “Can only tell you what I know. Something in the diagnostic must have triggered it. Before I knew, we was hurtling away from the ship, the escape pod and me along with it. I looked back for a moment or two, just long enough for a yawning terror to awaken, and then it was gone. After was a different kind of fear. More crushing.”

“It must have been terrible.”


“Surely you must have a theory or two.”

“I’ve an inkling, sure, as to what transpired, but nothing I can prove. She's gone now... The ship, I mean."

Markum gestured for him to continue.

He needed to get out of this room.

"Ships got failsafes. Redundancies. Things like that. Mighty bad thing if a ship don't get you where you're going, or at the very least to some halfway friendly spot along the way. Somewhere you can hire out for repairs. Ships're built to patch up in-flight, at least enough to limp along 'til you get to safe harbour.

"Thing is, like I said, she was an old boat. A good old tub, to be sure, but she'd put in her time and made more'n her share of crossings. Mechanical debt, they used to call it."

The other man grimaced. That was good. Harris clamped down on his expression, careful to let not so much as a stray twitch sneak by. He needed to get out of here. Sign onto the first ship that would take him, and get off this station. For that, he needed the rubes questioning him to believe his story.

"Sometimes, on an old ship like the Goldberg was, things break down and it’s okay. It’s a machine. There are fallbacks, redundancies to be relied upon. But sometimes they might get to be depended on a bit more’n they should. For more than was originally intended. Afore long what was temporary fixes become permanent ones. Eventually none remember it wasn’t always the way it is now.

“From fallback to fallback it can go, ship gets old enough. Eventually there ain’t nothing left between you and the cold but a thin sheet a metal and a cobbled together mishmash of systems weren’t ever intended to interact. Ship's a house a cards at that point, ain't need much more'n a small breeze to send it all tumbling down.”

Harris paused for a moment, but the two men remained silent.

“What I think happened? Given this a lot of thought, I have. More’n I’d like, that’s for certain.” Harris shook his head. “Suspect at some point the ship’s power system got tied into the escape pod’s control unit. Couldn't tell you why.

"Diagnostic starts flickering systems on and off to gauge the result, which didn’t do the ship no good. Something somewhere overloaded, then—I had to guess—the cage binding the engine’s fires sputtered out. Pod had just enough mind to detect the fault, and launched itself with all due haste, me still aboard.”

Harris looked down at the table. He'd gone over it so many times in the pod, and it was plausible enough. Downright believable even.