Chapter 1 - Where are the Stars?

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- April 2048 -

"Are you awake, Commander Lewis?" asked a disembodied female voice.

The commander was surrounded by brightness. She could not see anything except overpowering white light. The smooth voice repeated its question and she attempted to answer but no sound came out of her painfully dry throat.

"There is a rehydration tube to your right, Commander," said the voice that she now recognised as the ship's master computer.

Her arm muscles resisted and ached fiercely, but she managed to lift her right arm and grope about in the painful brightness until she located the thin rubber tube that protruded from the right side of the cryonic capsule. Several long sips later the salty-tasting fluid began to work its magic and quickly eased the dryness in her throat.

"Your medical results are highly promising, Commander. How do you feel?"

Commander Lewis, strained to cough a couple of times, then croaked, "Megan! I keep telling you to call me Megan."

"That confirms that you are conscious, Commander."

"Are we at our destination, Foxy?"

"Sorry, Commander. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it was necessary to wake you twenty-two months early."

The phrase 'unforeseen circumstances' fired a dose of adrenaline into Commander Megan Lewis' bloodstream. Ignoring her stiff, aching muscles, she fought to sit up and lift herself out of the close-fitting padding in the capsule. It soon became apparent that she was not going to be able to climb out that easily and was forced to pause in a sitting position until she had recovered more of her strength. Her vision was beginning to return and the light was not quite so painful anymore.

"Twenty-two months?" she groaned. "So, where are we?"

"We were part way through the penultimate deceleration stage, Commander, but then the engines shut down and all navigational markers were lost."

"Lost?" Megan croaked.

"I cannot detect them," replied the computer matter-of-factly.

"Have the optical sensors failed?"

"No, Commander. I have run detailed diagnostics and no faults can be found."

"What about the Astronomy Module? Have you tried using that to locate any of the markers?"

"Yes, Commander. It was unable to locate any stars at all."

"What? None!"

"That is why I woke you, Commander."

"You said the engines shut down?"

"Yes, Commander. Diagnostics show no faults in the engines or their control systems. However, I am unable to re-initiate them."

"So, we're flying blind and unable to slow down?" asked Megan, renewing her efforts to climb out of the cryonic capsule. After much straining, she was successful in planting her bare feet on the cold metal mesh that formed the floor.

"That is the current situation, Commander."

"I need to get to the Command Section," she announced, squinting extra hard in the hope that her eyes would recover faster.

"Be careful, Commander. Cryonic sleep will have left your muscles in a severely weakened state. It may take several hours to return to any kind of normality."

"I think I've already noticed that, Foxy."

Foxy, official name Automatic Flight Operations Control System (A.F.O.C.S), was the computer responsible for managing and navigating colonisation vessel Arcadian during her thirteen-year voyage to Proxima Centauri. If everything went to plan, Foxy could handle the ship from leaving Earth all the way to achieving a stable orbit around the sixth planet in the Proxima system.

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