"Everything will go exactly as planned."
Those haunting words kept circling lazily through Lieutenant Commander Thomas Bartlett's mind as he frantically pounded on the keyboard, trying to find a loophole, a way out, an answer.
The screen at which he was looking at was anything but impressive, the opposite of which seemed to be the main trait aboard the Magnificence III. It generated a weak light, as it was being powered by the double back-up generator, lighting the lieutenant commander's drawn facial features in a sickly way.
“Come on Maggie, pull through,” he whispered to himself.
Bartlett worked feverishly, trying out all the logarithms, codes , and commands he knew, but nothing was working. Everything was not going as planned.
The Magnificence III was the greatest achievement of the century. A combination of technological genius and natural phenomena. Finally, the world had produced something so perfectly in sync with both the mechanical world of man, and the wildly beautiful nature of Earth. It was it's own ecosystem, coexisting within itself, with no repercussions on the climate, oceans, land, air, nothing.
And it had been created by man.
Thomas remembered the day the Magnificence III had begun it's voyage. It had been a day of celebrations so vast that they had been captured by the satellites in orbit of the Earth. News networks from all around the world jostled with each other for good camera angles at the bottom of a large stand where a singular podium stood, it's front emblazoned with the emblem of the Magnificence III: a glinting silver wrench crossed with an olive branch.
The captain of the ship-Bartlett's captain, stood proudly at the podium, a real-life representation of a polished explorer, straight out of the movies. Except unlike the movie stars with which he shared an appearance, the captain was a wealth of experience and wisdom when it came to interstellar exploration and commandeering ships of all kinds.
Please welcome, Captain Jonathan Greenway!
Applause erupted from the seemingly infinite audience and ricocheted with thundering intensity off the skyscrapers surrounding the ginormous plaza. The sheer power of it blew Bartlett away as he gazed out into the sea of people from his seat on the stand, directly to the right of his senior officer, Commander Kim Ji-hoon, who was second only to the captain himself.
Smiling rakishly, his face projected onto a behemoth screen behind him, Captain Greenway waited a solid four minutes before it was quiet enough for him to speak.
"I'd like to thank you all for coming out here today to witness the history that is about to unfold." Another round of deafening applause ensued, causing him to pause for a few minutes yet again. Bartlett couldn't help but grin at the enthusiasm of the citizens. It was infectious. Even though he had gone through all the same rigorous training as the rest of the commanding officers, he felt unworthy to be a part of such a crew of giants.
The next 24 hours after that were a blur. Thousands of pictures, hundreds of interviews, all with the same questions and one answer:
"Everything will go exactly as planned."
There was always something following that statement, whether it was, "Our scientists have spent years perfecting the formula," or "we've tried and tested every piece of equipment countless times," it always began the same.
Bartlett had to admire Captain Greenway’s endless amount of energy. No matter how many questions, photographs, autographs he had to go through, he did it with a smile and a chuckle, always looking the person in the eyes. The young lieutenant commander was sure that his thoughts were an echo of everyone else’s who had met the charming captain: he was the perfect man for the job.
There was no one else in the world that could be the captain of the Magnificence III, anyone else would have broken by now, been discouraged by the endless amounts of criticism that came at the beginning of the project, anyone would have been crushed by the innumerable hours spent at the lab, testing zone, and many other places that had all been small gears in this enormous operation.
The take-off itself was almost anti-climactic, if it hadn’t been for the streamers and fireworks going off worldwide to send the Magnificence III off. The ship rose slowly up into the stratosphere, emitting almost no noise. Both biological and mechanical parts of the ship working seamlessly together, the way it had been dreamed of for as long as anyone in this age could remember.
Bartlett watched the ground fall away from the ship in the primary hull, which was located at the very top of the ship.
A large, warm hand clapped him on the shoulder from behind.
“How you holdin’ up son?” a deep voice with a southern lilt echoed through the chamber.
“I’m alright Captain,” Bartlett didn’t even have to look to know who it was. Partly because of how well known the captain was, and that Bartlett had spent many training simulations and exercises in the company of Jonathan Greenway. He, Kim Ji-hoon, the other Lieutenant Commander, Jada Kimathi, and the captain were a tight-knit group, having gone through everything the expert trainers could make up and hurl at them. But no matter how close they were, Bartlett could never get over his awe for the captain, and was still slightly intimidated by him.
The young lieutenant commander even thought of him as somewhat of a father-figure, though he would never admit it.
The captain, sensing the doubts Thomas had buried deep within himself reassured him,
“Don’t worry Bartlett, we’ll be perfectly fine. We are prepared for anything, you just need to trust the ship.”
Thomas forced a smile, directing it towards the confident captain. He knew that he was more of the anxious sort, and worried about the littlest things sometimes, and the captain knew that too.
“I’m just nervous is all. I can’t help it Captain.” he told him even though Bartlett was sure the captain had guessed as much. It just felt good to say it.
“Everything will go exactly as planned, Lieutenant Commander. ” With that, Captain Jon Greenway saluted and marched out of the hull, climbing down the stairs to do the dozen things he had put off while taking a few moments to speak with Bartlett.
Although the Lieutenant Commander had been into outer space many times, it’s vastness overwhelmed him every time. He felt how insignificant he was compared to the millions of planets and stars all spread out, lightyears away. On top of that, he could feel the life pulsating through the ship, where veins and wires were interchangeable along the passages of the Magnificence III. How scientists could create something that could still thrive on the nothingness of space was beyond him.
From what he understood, which wasn’t much compared to Jada, who fascinated by the inner workings of the ship and never hesitated to impart her knowledge upon Thomas, the ship was a special type of organism that grew so rapidly in the Earth environment, the scientists had to work almost 24 hours to install the mechanical parts into the organism ship to keep up with the organism.
The calculations had to be so exact, all the way down to the minute, for if the ship stayed on the Earth for too long, it would grow too much for it to operate properly. But out in space, the growth slowed to almost a standstill. It was ingenious. Even if a piece of equipment broke or malfunctioned, the ship was still alive, and therefore, everyone in the ship was still alive, and could be kept alive until the equipment was repaired or replaced.
His thoughts were interrupted by a voice crackling to life in his ear.
“Bartlett, come in Bartlett.”
“Go for Bartlett.” he replied, indicating that he had heard.
“Please report to the control deck at 1305.”
Bartlett checked his watch: 1300. He had five minutes, which was plenty of time.
“Copy that.” he said, already heading towards the hull’s exit.
Already, the Magnificence III was miles away from Earth. Once it had left the atmosphere, it had stopped growing, and the mechanical pieces could fully activate, and combined with the power from the organism, the ship sped away from Earth with a vast amount of speed. Almost 67,000 miles per hour. It wasn’t as fast as the modern rocket ships could go, but this ship did not need to go as fast because it was entirely self-sufficient, fueled by the organism's waste.
The control deck was always bustling with people, all in their own world, completing tasks assigned, and going about their business, but all together, they made a giant team, they were often referred to as the “organism within an organism.” Chief Jenn Taylor strode up to Bartlett, pausing to unleash a string of orders to each person she passed. Thomas swore that the woman was part machine, and if he hadn’t been there at her examination for the job and seen her profile, he would’ve thought she had at least some circuitry hidden in the folds of her brain.
“Lieutenant Commander Bartlett, Maggie has detected a possible threat within her, and has concluded you are the best person to check it out. I’m sending the coordinates to you now.” Without a good-bye, Chief Taylor purposefully walked away, calling out commands without pause.
As Bartlett pulled the coordinates up on his hologram projected from his wrist, he had to smile. Calling the Magnificence III “Maggie” was the most human thing he had heard out of Taylor. Getting orders directly from the ship was not uncommon, considering it was an analyzing machine combined with an organism, it gave it almost cyborg-like qualities.
The young lieutenant commander wondered what the potential threat could be as he followed the coordinates deeper and deeper into the ship.
Why would Maggie choose me? He asked himself with uncertainty, running his fingers along the soft, skin-like walls, as if he could feel the answers through his fingers.
Potential threat? What could possibly be threatening to the ship? Taylor had seemed calm and collected when she mentioned it, so it might possibly be a minor problem, but she was always calm and collected.
Perhaps I should call for back-up, a team or something, or Jada. She always knows what to do. But he pushed the thought away. If he had needed back-up, Maggie would have included it in the order to Taylor.
You are a trained lieutenant commander, third in command of the whole ship, well, fourth in command if you count Maggie. Either way, you can handle this without help. Steeling himself for whatever the potential threat might be, Bartlett neared the coordinates, but they seemed to be… moving.
Was the threat one of the animals onboard? No, Bartlett was too far away from that sector of the ship. An intrusive insect that stowed away on the ship last second? Possibly, but Maggie should be able to protect herself from such a minor threat.
Cautiously, Bartlett entered the low-lighted sub-engine sector, hiding behind the large pipes crisscrossing the room. Peering around the pipe he was concealed behind, Bartlett saw nothing at first, but then he caught a glimpse of a figure. He exhaled a sigh of relief and stepped out from behind the pipe.
“Captain, I am sure glad to see you. Were you also called here about the potential threat?”
Greenway flinched and whirled to face Bartlett. Thomas found this strange. The captain was never surprised.
“Of course, Thomas.” he smiled warmly, “Let’s see what we can do about it.”
Bartlett grinned, immediately comforted. He wouldn’t have to face the potential threat alone. Even though he was perfectly capable, Thomas always liked to have someone there to support him just in case.
He tapped his wrist to check the coordinates and his brow scrunched with confusion. The coordinates were moving away from him. Thomas looked up and saw the captain quickly striding away from Bartlett and his stomach dropped.
“Not now Bartlett.” he interrupted harshly, very out of character for the charismatic captain.
“Captain, wait!” but the man kept walking away from Bartlett, his shoulders hunching slightly. Despite all the confusion and hurt the lieutenant commander felt, he knew he had to do something.
“Jonathan!” Bartlett shouted, calling the captain by his first name, something unheard of from the lieutenant commander who respected the captain almost too much.
The captain froze.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“Thomas my boy, you wouldn’t understand.”
“I am the lieutenant commander of this ship. I think I would.”
The captain’s face hardened.
“Listen here Bartlett, you’ve always been good at following orders, and the captain is ordering you to report back to your former duties.”
“I received direct orders from the ship to apprehend the potential threat.” Thomas fought to keep his voice from shaking. Disobeying orders was against his very fiber, especially disobeying the captain. The harsh words from the captain cut him to his core. Greenway had always been so kind and compassionate, and endlessly patient, but here he was, a different man that Bartlett had never seen before, and it frightened him.
Greenway scoffed, and Thomas flinched.
“Taking orders from a ship? How did the world ever come to this?” he shook his head bitterly. “No one realizes what these crackpot scientists have created. The ship says I’m a threat? We are inside a living organism that would, if left unchecked, would cover the entire earth in two and a half years, and combined with machinery, it is able to produce thoughts. Are you telling me that that is not a threat?”
Bartlett was speechless. He had never heard anything remotely like this from the captain before. As he understood it, the ship and the captain held an equal amount of respect for each other’s authority. What Greenway was saying Bartlett had only heard from the radicals who were afraid of humans becoming second in the chain of command. Afraid of being taken top of the food chain.
Greenway took Barlett’s silence for contemplation, and produced an empty syringe from under his coat.
“This is what will stop this madness.” Greenway stabbed the syringe into his arm and drew out a full syringe worth of blood.
Bartlett couldn’t help himself.
“Captain, that's dangerous to take out so much blood so fast!”
“I don’t have much longer anyways.” Jonathan Greenway smiled slightly disturbingly. It was then that the lieutenant commander realized how pale and sweaty the captain looked, and why he had been hunching over as he had walked away.
“You’re dying.” he realized numbly. Thomas didn’t know how much more he could take. His mentor who he’d looked up to had now betrayed everything Bartlett had thought he stood for, and now he was going to die for some mad scheme.
“How could you do this?”
“It had to be done. Only I was strong enough to survive long enough with the enemy virus to transfer it to “Maggie.’” he said the ship’s nickname as if it were dripping with poison.
“I can’t let you.” Bartlett felt a surge of protectiveness towards the ship, as well as its inhabitants breach his numb shock. Greenway just chuckled, pulling out his gun and aiming it at Thomas. The lieutenant commander felt his hand hovering over his gun.
“You don’t have the strength Bartlett.” Thomas shriveled inside when he realized that Greenway was right. Even though this man was now the enemy, Bartlett couldn’t help remembering all of the moments they’d shared together, and how he had been so grateful to be a part of this grand mission with such a master.
Trembling, Bartlett whipped his gun out of his holster as he had been trained and expertly shot Greenway straight in the chest.
The captain stumbled back, the look of surprise so foreign on his face he looked like a different person.
“I underestimated you Bartlett,” the crazed captain gasped, falling to his knees, “But it’s too late.” He raised his hand to stab the needle into the ground. In a last desperate attempt, Bartlett dove, shoving his hand under where the needle would come down, but the needle was too long and it went straight through Thomas’s hand and into the ship.
Despair flooded through Bartlett so forcefully it blocked out the hot pain in his hand.
He had failed.
It was his job as Lieutenant Commander to protect the ship, and he failed.
“I infected the others. Ji-hoon, Jada, Taylor. But not you. I couldn’t. You were so innocent. So driven, yet so humble.” he rasped. Only then did Bartlett let the tears flow. He had never known that Greenway had thought so highly of him, and despite all that had just happened, and the immense hurt of the betrayal, it meant a lot to him.
Thomas lay there, next to the dying captain. Blankly, he ripped the syringe out of his hand. Alarms began to blare, but Bartlett couldn’t move. He was pinned by the weight of what had just happened. The greatest ship, a vessel to the unknown, Maggie, had as of now, become a modern-day Titanic. Everything had gone exactly as planned-for the captain. The thousands of people on this ship were probably going to die along with the ship and again he realized another thing.
He was now the acting captain of the ship.
A living ship that was having a power outage.