D. Paul Angel
The red Eye, surrounded by darkness, stared into Simmons'; boring fear into his being. He could feel a score of hands pressing him against the smooth side of the asteroid, his body stiff against the cold, solid rock. Chains pulled his limbs together as the asteroid started tumbling through space with his body bound. He screamed the air from his lungs, hearing only the slightest of whispers from what little air filled his mouth before leeching into the void...
"Lt Simmons?" A soft woman's voice called across the void, "You are waking from Cryo. Nothing you are seeing or feeling right now is real. Please try to breathe normally as we continue to wake you."
Some hours later, the memories of his wake terror finally recycled back into his subconscious' keep of nightmares, Lt. Simmons walked up to the Hyacinth's Bridge.
"Hello Lt. Simmons. Are you feeling better?" The same voice that pierced the veil of his dream asked.
"Yes Nina, I'm fine. How's things?" Simmons asked even as he noted that Nina's, "eye," was red instead of the usual green or occasion yellow.
"I'm sorry Lieutenant, but it is a problem that requires human intervention."
"Of course Nina. Proceed." He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples while floating just before her panel.
"There was a micrometeorite hit three watches ago."
"What?" Simmons snapping his eyes open, suddenly alert, "What happened to the watches?"
"They did not follow protocol."
Simmons reined in his anger at the preceding Watches. Each 36 hour watch came at the end of 99 days of Cryo Sleep, and the Cryo-Terrors that came with waking. Although an easy enough assignment on paper, it was a far more demanding reality.
"OK fine. Forget the watches for now. What's the status?"
"The micrometeorite damage has been repaired to the fullest extent possible. However, there is an 8.734% deficiency in Oxygen that we will not be able to replace."
"Our current compliment is three in excess of our current resources."
Simmons did the rough math in his head, "Don't you mean six?"
"No Lt. Simmons. Each of the last three watches removed themselves through the airlock rather than follow protocol."
"Protocol!" he snorted, "Taking the six most recent sleepers and dumping them into space where they'll die without waking."
"Correct. I could not convince them of the time constraints, nor how the change on watch schedule would need to be adjusted."
"Watch schedule? Godammit Nina you know the main reason for the watches is that Cryo-Terror causes madness if you sleep much longer than 100, 120 days! That's the only reason we wake up! Hell it's why you wake us up alone! So we don't have to look each other in the eye!"
"And yet, Lt. Simmons," Nina continued without inflection, making it worse, "You are now required, on your watch, to take action to save sixty of your colleagues."
"By killing three more of them. Right. So how much time do I have before I have to add a fourth to Protocol?"
"Seven hours at the most."
"And to be safe?"
"No more than three hours."
Simmons gut clenched. He wanted to throw up, to runaway, to throw himself out of the airlock like his predecessors; but none of that would help. Because of how debilitating the Cryo-Terrors were, the sleep pattern could not just be changed. Regardless of how quickly he left the airlock, the next watch, Ruiz, couldn't stand any sooner. He hit the metal table in front of him hard enough to leave slight dent. The pain in his hand focused his frustrations back to reality. He'd have to kill two of his colleagues. He already knew he'd be the third.
"OK Nina, who drew the short straws?"
"Conner, Jeremiah; Smith, KarenAnn; and Madrigal, Eduardo."
"Jesus," Simmons said aloud to himself, "why couldn't it be an asshole like Jenkins or Hoover?"
"I cannot tell you that, Lt. Simmons. Protocol dictates you remove the three most recent sleeps," Nina replied, taking his question literally. After a few seconds of thought he muted her and got to work.
With Jenkin's body now resting awkwardly next to Hoover's in the airlock, his grisly work was nearly complete. After writing a letter to Ruiz, she was good people and deserved at least that, he returned to the airlock and un-muted Nina.
"Lt. Simmons, you are in breach of Protocol," she said instantly, "You have removed the wrong crew-members. The waking sequence..."
"Will be fine Nina," he finished for her, "Otherwise you would have told me so. Instead, you just referenced Protocol. Sorry, but I know you can't lie."
After what would have been regarded as stony silence in a human, she continued, "I will have to report you to command upon re-establishment of 2-way communication."
"Please do. But since I'm about to die and leave my body floating through space for all eternity, I can't really say as that I care."
"Your sacrifice will also be noted."
"Thank you Nina," Simmons said before entering the airlock himself. As its heavy door shut her reply was lost to its steel silence. He then stepped over Hoover and Jenkin's torpid bodies to the Emergency Vent lever. Closing his eyes and trying not to whimper he pulled the lever, blasting himself and their bodies into the dark vacuum of space. The rush out the hatch knocked the air out of his lungs. As he gasped for air he watched the Hyacinth slowly recede.
He was shocked to see Jenkins' watching him from the porthole by the airlock. As his inertia turned him away from the ship he saw five other bodies floating with him. He died just as he realized what happened.
"Mr. Jenkins," Nina said, "I told you that Lt. Simmons was too close to waking to be chosen. There is an 87.42% probability that he was conscious."
"Maybe he was," Jenkins gruffly answered before turning, "But that arrogant bastard would've done the same to me in a heartbeat."