“I knew it,” Emeric said as his hand fell to his side. A twitch of his wrist, and his arm extended out towards Skyler, a sidearm in full view.
I hadn’t noticed him wearing it. I stared at it, the cold metal gun, pointing at a living person. We had all been trained on how to use the few weapons we had aboard the ship, but I never expected any of us to need any of them.
It was like time completely stopped. Without moving, I took in all of the details. Willow’s expression was one of frustration and anger. She was sitting on the edge of her pod and facing Skyler. Skyler was still in his pod. He looked at Emeric, his body tense, and his eyes half closed. He flinched, expecting retaliation, but probably not a gun to be drawn on him. Asher was standing near Willow. He stared at me, a warm glow in his eyes.
“You could have killed us all!” Emeric yelled. The veins in his neck started protruding, as well as the veins along his forehead.
My heart raced and I could hear it as a strong drum in my ears.
“I can explain,” Skyler said as he raised his hands in front of him to shield his head. “You were never in any real danger.”
“How did you do it?” Asher interjected. He emphasized the ‘you’, and I shared his confusion.
“Asher, does that really matter right now?” Emeric responded. He started to pace a few steps in each direction, but compensated his aim as he did so.
“To me it does. I want to know how and what he was trying to do. If that’s okay with you, Captain?”
Skyler slowly put his hands down. “I was trying to disable navigation so that you would have to fix it and hopefully head back to Earth or at least allow me the time to take the Raven and win this whole thing. The power systems never should have fluctuated like that.”
“How did you get into our systems though?” Asher pressed.
“I went to University for software engineering. It was fairly difficult, but any time I was alone, I worked on a script to bypass the normal login requirements, so that I could gain administrator access without a password. Once it was done, I stored it with the video files on the Raven. We were already given permissions to remote access those files, so when the file ran, it installed my script, and I was in.”
“That’s impressive, and a little scary that it was so easy.” Asher scratched his head and turned to Emeric. “Security wasn’t really a high priority. Once the ship was launched, it was thought we’d be safe thanks to how remote we were and how few people would have the ability to contact us.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over what he did,” Emeric said. The gun was still directly pointed at Skyler.
“Skyler,” Willow whispered, “I can’t believe… I thought we had an understanding.” Her brow was furrowed, but her mouth was tight. It seemed like she couldn’t choose between screaming or crying, and so all that came out was a whisper. “I mean, I know why you did it, I just can’t believe that you did it.”
Skyler shrugged. His mouth firmly closed.
I looked from Skyler to Willow and back again, waiting for one of them to speak.
Willow raised her eyebrows at Skyler, and let out a heavy breath. Her shoulders slumped as if she had just slung a heavy sack onto her back. She looked around at the rest of us. “To understand the mistake that Skyler made, you have to understand the world we left. Limited resources, a greater and greater divide between the haves and the have nots. Nearly ten billion people all competing to have a life without the indentured servitude of extreme debt.” Willow paused. “For Skyler this mission was not only the adventure of a lifetime, it was the guarantee of a lifetime of fame, glory and the money to go along with it.” Willow placed her feet on the ground, and stumbled slowly over to Skyler’s pod. “For me it was a chance to make something of my life before it was over. This mission was – at least for us – a competition. We were the first ones out of the gate, but as you guys have proven, we weren’t the only ones going to try to win.”
“How does this excuse sabotage?” Emeric said with a low and gruff tone. His arm holding the gun twitched a bit, and the movement at the tip of the barrel was very noticeable.
The gun wasn’t light, and as the minutes ticked by, I wondered how heavy it started to feel.
Emeric’s aim continued to move slowly between Skyler’s belly and his head.
Willow continued, “the manual that you found had protocols for every conceivable thing that could happen to us out here. It was really stupid, but Skyler was following it to the letter. He was making sure that his claim to the AU Prize was incontestable.”
“What about regard for human life?” Emeric spat the question at Skyler.
“He was trained his entire life to think only about victory,” Willow answered. Her tone made it clear that while she may have understood Skyler’s thinking, she did not wholly agree with it. “He was keeping his eye on the prize. He has been surviving on his competitive spirit forever. That’s what made him a world famous athlete.”
“World famous on the world you left,” I cut in, “But he’s been all but forgotten by our time.” I took a deep breath, and thought about home. “You forget that after the great wipe, the culture of the world had to be reformed, celebrity was a luxury no one had time for anymore. Killing us isn’t going to make the world remember Skyler Grey.”
Skyler’s blue eyes stared into me, and he looked so sad. “I know.” All of the bravado drained from his voice. “I’m sorry, I really am.” He glanced around the room, making eye contact with each person in turn. “I know you guys have no reason to trust me, no reason to believe me, but I truly am sorry.”
“Enough of this.” Emeric said, lowering the gun. The fire of rage seemed to burn out of him. “The way I see it, we have three options here. One, I kill you where you stand. Two, I throw you in cryo for the long ride home. Three, I accept your apology and give you one – and believe me I mean only one – more chance to prove that you can be a member of this crew.”
Skyler swallowed hard and nodded. The muscles in his jaw tightened.
“To tell you the truth,” Emeric said, returning the gun to it’s holster, “I don’t really want to kill you. It would be a mess to clean up. And don’t even get me started on the paperwork I’d have to do.”
He gave half a smile and glanced at Asher and I. Something in Emeric’s expression told me that the real reason Skyler was still alive was because of the two of us.
“I know Anaya is worried about the effects of long term cryo sleep. What about you Asher, freeze him or work with him?”
“Actually, if I may,” Skyler began quietly but as he spoke his voice grew louder and more vibrant. But when I looked into his eyes, no confidence was there. “I have a question for you before you decide my fate.”
“Did you destroy the Raven?”