“Why did you take off your helmet?”
I woke up with a headache and two people standing over my bed looking down at me. The first was Captain Martinez, so I knew I was in trouble. The second was Dr. Robertson. She was back in her white lab coat with a pen in one hand and her clipboard in the other, jotting down a note on a pad of paper. Nobody took too long to mourn on the Hierophant, not even for family.
“I’m sorry,” I said, swiveling my legs and planting my feet on the floor. I sat on the edge of my tiny metal bed, looking up at the two officers standing in my room, figuring that I was screwed, that I was about to be sent to the brig for at least a week for insubordination.
“I didn’t ask for you to apologize,” Martinez said. “I asked why you took off your helmet.”
I thought about it. Why had I?
“The same reason I came back when you called,” I said. “I’m impressionable.”
“Don’t be a smart-ass.”
“It was an impulse,” I said. “Honest. Just a feeling for a moment that the air outside would be nice to breathe without a suit. I mean, I had already done it once before during the habitability trials.”
“You risked your life for an impulse,” Dr. Robertson said. “For a feeling?”
“I guess so.”
She sighed and wrote something down on her chart.
“Why do you think Harris took off his helmet?” Martinez asked.
“No offense implied, Captain, but why don’t you ask Harris?”
Martinez looked at Robertson. She looked back at Martinez.
“He’s not back yet,” Robertson said. “He’s still out there.”
“It’s been 48 hours. What do you mean he’s not back yet?” I asked. “He didn’t have any food with him. Even if he can breathe, he can’t survive out there. Not for long, anyway. Not by himself.”
“We ran a full inventory. A couple of kilos of high-density powdered soy have gone missing. Harris must have hidden it in his flight suit before the mission.”
“So he planned it?” I asked. “He planned to leave the whole time?”
“His psychological profile was normal before the incident,” Dr. Robertson said. “He had fully recovered from his injury in the landing.”
“What about Sophie?” I asked.
“She gave us same response you did. That it was just an impulse.”
I started to realize just how stupid of an excuse I had given for taking off my helmet. But, stupid or not, it was the truth. I hadn’t planned anything, not like Harris. Maybe I really was too impressionable – after all everything I ever did in life was something somebody else told me to do. Growing up on a starship doesn’t give much opportunity to exercise free will.
“What does Oversight say to do?” I asked.
“Oversight hasn’t been responding to any of our messages,” Martinez said. “Dennis is down in the server room trying to figure out what’s gone wrong.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Robertson said.
Fine. It was the same word Harris had used after he took off his helmet. But nothing is going fine. Nothing has gone fine since we landed.
Surprisingly, they didn’t throw me in the brig. Once they were satisfied with what I had to say about Harris, they gave me the rest of the day off.
When they left I tried to reach Oversight on my terminal, but it was just like Martinez had said: no response. No error messages, no auto-replies. Not even a timeout message. Just a blank space on the terminal.
The rest of the systems on the ship are working normally. According to the bulletin board, three other teams have gone outside to take geological surveys and the drones have finished mapping out a 100km radius around the ship. Plans are moving forward for constructing the first terrestrial buildings and planting the first seeds.
I hope Oversight comes back. We need somebody calm to help us get through this.