Slower than light was no good. An expedition had to go to another star and return while the administration that launched it was still in office. Preferably right before elections. Space had to be removed, folded, persuaded to GTFO of the way. Many people worked on it.
Then research announced a breakthrough, a drive that would could insure a landslide election victory and coincidentally cut down travel ties to the stars from centuries to weeks. Several ships were lost testing the Drive. That was bad enough. But then the Artemis returned. Some people thought that might be even worse.
The Luna was in range to make an intercept. We hung on for dear life as she shed velocity dumping it on Sol, Mars and Vesta, as her radiators glowed red under field drive. Her tactical rocket engines shed the last few kilometers per second of velocity difference and we came to rest a kilometer off. Normally the field drive would bring us even closer together but that was out if we had no idea what her drives would do.
Artemis didn't answer hails. Her interior lights were on and flickered. A search and rescue was ordered. Search and rescue team would consist of Tornado and me. I was a wormhole victim already and had skipped the last few centuries. therefore I was unlikely to recognize ordinary drive machinery, let alone the miracle machine they had plugged in over there. Moreover, like I said I had transited a wormhole already, just like Artemis. I might have some quality that would prove useful.
Tornado was a badass. Need I say more? Any hypothetical aliens over there had better be prepared to communicate in a polite fashion or T-man would hand them a first contact they'd never forget.
We'd rappelled (winched? pulley'd?) across the grapple cable and found the lowest deck open to space. The entire lowest deck was an airlock. A sturdy metal door and an airtight hatch leading upward. We entered, floated to the deck and closed the hatch after fiddling about with the seals and making sure they wouldn't quit on us. The outer hatch had opened after all.
Nobody stopped us.
We pressurized the deck and opened the inner hatch. The gauges read 1/2 atmosphere, same as our suits and the airlock back on the Luna we'd run/float/climb to in a pinch. The hatch opened and we climbed the ladder, leaving our suits on and sealed.
I spent a bad moment or too wondering could there be things here that made wearing a space suit irrelevant? I got over my daydream quick. This was where the gravity field of the ship was generated. The deck we'd walked a minute before was now the overhead here as gravity reversed. My stomach did a small flip flop.
"Gravity is going ... about a half meter squared. Not too bad. No crew yet. But ... this deck is often left unscrewed in flight. It messes with your inner ear after a while."
So we climbed to the next deck: Power. No one there either. Or on the next deck, Machine Shop and Airlocks. Empty
That was what I told myself. They were empty. I had no idea what Tornado told himself.
The next deck was crew quarters and tornado allowed me a slap on the shoulder s and small smile. As we emerged his smile faded fast. The deck squished under our boots. The lights were on emergency mode: red lit. Tornado slipped a little in the uncertain footing. Then I got to the light switch and snapped on the normal lights.
It looked like ...
roadmaps? Each spread around a large red concentration or city.
Plastered on the deck and some walls but ...
the outline was of a person.
Blood vessels. We were walking on people's circulatory systems, the ones on the deck anyway. I froze and regarded the human wall decoration closest to me, embedded in the wall. Then its eyes opened.
Tornado was shaking me, roughly. You can't slap a person wearing a helmet and visor. Not well. He said softly but sternly, "Mr. Spooner ... Tyson. You just climbed a kilometer of cable with me in open space. I know you're not a coward or weak. We got eight more decks to check on. You gotta get yourself together. I can't drag you around."
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Let it loose slowly. It caught in my throat several times. I opened my eyes and said, "Ye-e-e-ah. If anyone made it back, we can't leave them here."
Tornado nodded. "Right. But these poor bastards ... didn't make it."
I shook my head, also not very well because of the helmet. I was watching those eyes. We couldn't even end their suffering with a bullet. Where was their brain?
"No,worse than that," I said. "They made it halfway."
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