Chapter 1: The accident
Cara Miller stared out of her lifepod window into the vastness of space. For all she knew, she was the sole survivor of the ill-fated Astral Light, a rescue ship that ultimately would need its own rescue. It was all supposed to be routine. The Astral Light had been called out to assist a mining freighter which had suffered a major collision with a dislodged piece of asteroid. Systems were failing and the freighter sent out a general distress beacon.
When the freighter came into sight, Cara could hardly believe anyone was still alive. The ship was a mangled mess, with pieces of the hull splayed out in all directions. Clouds of gas, probably oxygen and fuel, were billowing out of the ship. It would be a miracle if anyone had survived. Still, they had to make sure, so the Astral Light glided up alongside and attempted to hook to the docking port.
Sometimes bad luck is all a question of timing, she thought. The first boarding crew had barely crossed the docking arm when a stray asteroid fragment crashed into the beleagured ship. This evidently was the final nail in the coffin. What little air remained in the ship was enough for a massive explosion. Tethered, the Astral Light took heavy damages. The evacuation siren went off and Cara raced to an escape pod. The last thing she remembered after diving into a pod was a violent explosion. She awoke some time later, drifting in space.
The lifepod had preprogrammed behavior depending on the circumstance. If near a planet it would attempt a landing, if in deep space it would power down nonessential systems, minimize life support, and wait for a pickup. The standard lifepod was designed to support life for up to one week. Cara peered at the controls, a small battery of indicator lights and the thruster controls. The pod was in pickup mode. So no one was near. Originally the lifepods contained enough sensors, advanced communications, and propulsion to make them into their own little spacecraft.
However, people had a tendency to panic after a catastrophic event. They tended to make irrational decisions, and would constantly be turning on the sensors to see if anyone was coming, draining power from the life support system. They would broadcast message after message, pleading to be rescued, only to use up their oxygen faster. And sometimes they would point their lifepod in a direction they believed to be home and shoot off to some unknown place, making them very hard to find. Eventually the people in charge of such things decided it was better to give them virtually no options– a couple of maneuvering thrusts to keep them from crashing into something and an indicator if a ship responded to the distress beacon. This dramatically increased recovery rates of lifepods and their passengers, but for some made the experience more stressful.
There were lots of stories floating around about people’s experiences in lifepods. People told them like ghost stories. Being trapped for days in the tight space meant the likelihood of cabin fever or a nervous breakdown was high. To combat this some crewmen would stash a little nap sack in a lifepod, usually the one closest to their station or to their bunk. They’d toss in a few odds and ends, books, tablets, games, whatever they thought would help them get through a bad situation.
Cara had never bothered to do this, but as she looked around the pod she noticed someone else had. She reached down and pulled up an old cloth sack and pulled out the contents. A very old tablet computer, a few protein bars, and a yo-yo. Cara examined the tablet. Not surprisingly the battery was dead, no charge cable, and even if it was there, it wouldn’t be wise to use the lifepod’s power anyways. Next she examined the protein bars, the date on them was several years old. I guess this little sack has been here for awhile, she thought. Longer than she had served on the Astral Light. And finally, the yo-yo. Cara stared at the yo-yo. The lifepod was little more than a reclined chair in a cylinder, there was essentially no open space. She couldn’t even see her feet without a great amount of effort. She wondered at the rational of a crewmate who would place a completely useless toy in a cramped lifepod. Stupid yo-yo.
Frustrated, Cara powered up the thruster. She wouldn’t use too much power, just enough to turn the ship so that she could see the wreckage from the explosion. But no matter how the pod turned, all she saw was empty of space set to a background of stars. Strange. She wouldn’t have expected the lifepod to take her very far, but she saw neither the debris from the ruined ships nor the asteroid belt. Where am I?