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A Long Way Home Chp 4

Chapter 4

Siris couldn’t really see inside the lockers very well, the weak light from Cato’s hibernation pod being his only source, so he began pulling objects out and piling them on the floor where he could peruse more efficiently. Cato seemed curious and began sniffing the area around Siris, but he never left the immediate vicinity. Perhaps the dog craved companionship as much as Siris did.

Most of the stuff on the floor was useless, or too old. Almost everything on the Samsara was built with longevity in mind, being as it would have to survive a thousand year journey across the stars, but he didn’t think the engineers and scientists in charge of the equipment had two-thousand years in mind. A hard plastic I.D. card crumbled in his hand when he lifted it up to the blue light to read the name.

Luckily the uniforms and coveralls they’d been assigned had come through the millenia intact. They had been woven from synthetic fibers that withstood the test of time well, but had been designed with no particular interest in the wearer’s comfort. Siris pulled on the neck zipper to allow himself more room to breathe. Crouched over like this, the jumpsuit pulled at the throat and felt like a noose around his neck.

He piled the nine remaining bags of water over to one side and then picked up a similar packet that said it had a protein rich nutrition supplement within. He cringed. With advertising like that it must taste horrible, but then again, his stomach didn’t seem to care.

He pulled the packet open and smelled inside. There was no discernible scent to the contents. If it had gone bad a thousand years ago, then whatever bacteria that caused it would have died off already, he reasoned. He held it up to his mouth and gently shook a clump of powder into it.

He coughed as he accidentally inhaled some and Cato jumped at the sudden noise. The dog came over, curious about what he’d found to eat.

There was no flavor except…old, which was a blessing. He had been prepared for it to be so much worse. He wondered if any of the nutrients were still in it, or if he was essentially just eating dust. He didn’t really care.

He pulled one of the water bags over and opened it, then poured a measure into the food packet and swirled it around. He propped the remaining water against the pile of debris on the floor and used his free finger to stir the mixture. He soon had a sludge that was easier to consume, but even less appetizing than the powder had been.

After the third swallow or so, he thought that he might be able to discern some kind of artificial flavor in there somewhere. Maybe strawberry, though that was a very generous description of what he was tasting.

Cato whined and then chuffed, he was clearly hungry and thought that Siris was being exceptionally rude. Siris smiled and set the bag down next to him then took out his multi tool and used the scissors to cut down the empty water bag from earlier to form a kind of crude bowl for the dog. He then poured some of the sludge into it and set it over in front of Cato who stuck his nose in and soon had the bowl licked clean. Siris smiled again and finished his own and then let Cato lick his as well.

Siris scratched the dog’s head and then stood, feeling better already. He went to the opposite side of the pile and began pulling equipment out and examining it. The Lieutenant in charge of Engineering had the most stuff that was useful to Siris and he filled a backpack made from the same material as their coveralls with the water and food and what few tools she had had in her locker. The engineer had a flashlight as well, but the fuel cell was long dead. He put it in the pack anyway. Toward the bottom of the pile he found a bundle of plastic sticks.

Siris had to hold them up to the light before he recognized what they were. Glow sticks. He cracked one, breaking the inner hard plastic that separated two chemicals. As the chemicals mixed, a reaction created a phosphorescent glow that lit up the alcove.

He was starting to feel a little better about his situation. It was still hopeless, but at least he had a direction. Siris sat down in the corner, feeling overcome with sudden exhaustion. His body was throwing up its figurative hands. It had done too much in its short wakeful state.

Cato seemed to share his thoughts and came to sit next to him. Siris piled the old uniforms from the floor into a makeshift pillow and laid down on them. Cato, again, followed his lead but used his own paws to rest his head on, face pointed toward the alcove’s opening. The dog’s presence was a real comfort, and Siris soon drifted off to a shallow sleep, but a low growl woke him.

Cato was standing next to him, his impressive muscles rippled as he tensed. His gaze was pointed away toward the corridor, and it was so attentive that he didn’t even flinch when Siris spoke.

“What is it, boy?” Siris searched the darkness but was unable to see anything. His skin prickled with the same feeling he’d had as he’d walked the corridor earlier. The feeling that something was watching him permeated his soul. He was tempted to crack another glow stick and throw it into the darkness, but the things were precious to him and he couldn’t go wasting them.

His eyes passed back and forth across the opening. He had been told once that the rods were responsible for seeing in the dark and that that meant you had to look off-center of whatever you thought might be there. He had no idea where he should look, so he moved his head from side to side very slowly.

All of a sudden a part of the shadow moved.

At the sight of the sudden change in the shape of the darkness, Cato launched forward while Siris’ instinct was the opposite. Siris fell backward, grappling with his pack, trying to find a weapon of some kind. He grabbed something heavy, a wrench and yanked it from his pack.

When he looked back up to where the dog had been there was no sign of him. Barking, growling, scrabbling feet echoed from the dark corridor. Under the noise, was a hissing that somehow seemed louder and far more intimidating than Cato’s warcry. Siris was worried about the dog. Moments ago he had been thinking about how much better his prospects seemed with the companionship of the Cane Corso, but now, he worried the dog was going to get himself killed fighting some unknown shadow.

“Cato.” Siris tried to yell, but his voice caught and it came out more of a cough than a name. He tried again. “Cato!”

The dog’s barking cut off. Siris held up the glow stick and squinted into the dark. He heard scratching claws on the metal grate that grew steadily louder. Holding up his wrench, he felt wholly unprepared for any threat and he prayed that he didn’t have to use it.

Cato’s glistening black coat stepped into the light. Siris let out a pent-up breath and lowered his weapon. Cato sat in front of him, looking altogether pleased with himself. When he’d caught his breath, Siris patted the dog's head.

“Good, boy.”

Siris didn’t know what the thing was, but he didn’t care to find out. Hanging out in the corridors was no longer the best of options so, despite his fatigue, he grabbed his pack and quickly went through the rest of the gear on the floor. At the bottom of the pile there was a small shiny object. He picked it up and examined it. It looked like a little ornament of some kind. It was silver, about three inches long, and had a little ring around an otherwise cylindrical tube. He held it up and realized it was hollow, then it hit him.

He’d seen these on television and movies and had always been suspicious of their efficacy. It was a dog whistle, or at least it appeared to be. He felt a rough spot on the side and rubbed at it. The metal was a little corroded there where letters had been engraved.

“CATO”

He was in a rush and slid it into a pocket before snapping his fingers at the dog and patting his thigh. He didn’t know exactly where he’d seen the motion, or why he did it, it just felt right. Maybe some instinctual code written on man’s genome. Some bit of DNA that hinted at a past where the symbiotic relationship between man and K-9 was key to survival. Or maybe he was just too tired and scared to speak.

Whatever the cause, Cato reacted, instantly understanding Siris’ intent to leave and for the dog to follow. Not only follow. Cato ranged ahead, and then behind. Each time, he sniffed the walls, the air, the floor. Cato was a Godsend.

Siris went in the opposite direction the thing had fled in, back toward the helm, and when they reached the gap in the double doors, he went in. While the computer was still up, Siris had to get what information he could out of the thing.

“Offline” Seemed to be the diagnosis for what ailed the Samsara, but the underlying reason was power. Or rather, the lack of power. He navigated to the hibernation pods status report, hoping to find any other active units, but the list was completely red, with the exception of his and Cato’s, which were yellow and fading fast. He supposed that that was why they had finally woken them up.

The eminent power failure among the units had evidently tripped the failsafe, but he still didn’t know why the other countless scenarios hadn’t triggered similar failsafes before now. He was about to back out of the pod status report when he spotted a sublist, titled “G-39 units”.

He pressed it, and a new list populated the screen. This list was mostly red as well, but sporadic yellow registries flashed, indicating living occupants.

Siris’ breath caught.

He clicked on one of the units: “G-39-246Y”

A picture of a boy of about ten flashed up on the screen with a brief bio. A shareholder’s kid…and as he thought about it, he thought he recognized the boy from the Samsara’s prelaunch training.

He went back and clicked on the next yellow… A girl this time. Twelve.

The next was another girl… The girl with the accent who had tried to make him feel bad for not leading with the fact that he was just a low-born Yakka when he’d met her younger brother.

All kids.

Not a single adult was still alive.



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