“You have to let us down there, you’re killing us if you don’t.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“You’re afraid? No it is us who are afraid Colonel! You are condemning over seventy five thousand people to their deaths, can you live with that?!”
Colonel Mellor sat alone in the comms room, twenty minutes previously he had cleared everyone out of there. It was enough of an emotionally charged situation without getting his own people involved.
The Braveheart, a small dirigible designed to attach to a main arkship was approaching Venusian orbit, the craft had followed emergency procedure and decoupled from its mother ship Glory Among The Stars after it was discovered that the ship contained the destructive machines that had devastated so much of earth and the surrounding habitats, however the Braveheart too had become infected with a particularly virulent form of the self-replicating metal monsters.
The machines were on board and from what Mellor could make out from the Captain, they were eating the ship at a frightening rate, using the inorganic matter to add to their own number, at this rate there would be nothing left of the ship within just a few hours. Mellor knew that they had been lucky so far as infections were concerned but he didn’t expect that to last. His duty was to the people aboard Hope and to all the others already in-atmosphere, as painful as it was he simply couldn’t allow the Braveheart to breach the Venusian atmosphere.
If he did allow the Braveheart to enter the atmosphere, he would then have to sanction its docking with another arkship, at that point the machines would get onboard and spread through the ship in a matter of days, or perhaps less. Even if like before the machines did not thrive in the Venusian atmosphere, any infection would definitely mean the death of all the people onboard Hope.
Unless of course he allowed them to dock with other ships, which he couldn’t. Mellor caught a glimpse of himself in one of the many dull grey reflective surfaces in the Comms Room. Despite his Telomerase Regrowth Therapy the lines around his forehead seemed even deeper to him, his close cropped hair had transitioned from ruddy blonde, to grey, to near white in what seemed like a surprisingly short amount of time to him. He could see every worry, every distinct piece of despair that he had gone through in the last few years, every person that had died on his watch was etched into those lines.
Now there were seventy five thousand others ready to leave their indelibly tragic trace on his visage. Mellor set his lips into a tight thin line as he spoke into the comms system, surprising himself with the harshness of his voice, the neutrality of his tone acting like a cold steel dagger reaching across the expanse of local space to penetrate deep into the Braveheart.
“I’m sorry, I have to think of the people already here. You and I both know that if you come down here, you will infect anyone you come into contact with. You’ll have to return to Earth and try again.”
“Return to Earth! Even if we could come to a dead stop within a few seconds, which of course we can’t, and then immediately start heading back for Earth at our current speed, which of course is impossible, we still wouldn’t have time to get back before the machines killed us. They’re in the life support systems and they are using the oxygen and water up fast!”
Even over a tightwave communication channel Mellor could hear the incredulity in the captain's voice, and even guess the expression on his face.
“Listen, we’re coming down anyway, there’s nothing you can do to stop us.”
He was right of course, there was absolutely nothing Mellor could do to stop the ship entering Venus's atmosphere. In a way he was glad of that fact; could he really fire upon fellow human beings? He spoke again with a heavy heart.
“Listen Captain – what was your name again?”
“Summers, Peter Summers.”
“OK Peter, if you come down here I’ll have no choice but to order all the other ships to refuse you docking. There are almost five million people down here, we could well be the last hope for the human race. As much as it kills me to say this, I can’t let you jeopardise the future of the human race in what will almost definitely be a futile effort to save your own skins.
You are already dead I’m afraid, the best thing you can do now is to get into the pods and allow the ship to put you into a state of hypoxia, which from what you tell me about the oxygen supplies won’t be that long anyway. At least you won’t have to be conscious for it.
I’m sorry to put it so harshly, but those are your choices, die up there, or come down here to die but at the same time risk the future of our beloved species.”
Mellor wondered if he cut the link soon enough so that Captain Summers didn’t hear his voice crack, he was pretty sure it was bad form to cry while it was somebody else who was going to die. What could he do though?
Nothing he thought to himself; the only thing left to do is cry.