Part 1

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Day 740 11:47 Hours


Sam Sterling stared through the clear plastic barrier at her prisoner, who stood prone and silent. Opening his file on her tablet, she addressed him with a patient smile. 

"How are you today, Dave?" As usual, her prisoner gave no response, but Sam pressed on. "Do you mind if I call you that? We've spent so much time together I feel we're on a first name basis, you and I. Perhaps it's time we finally had a talk."

Again, no response. Sam sipped her mid-morning tea and gazed out the window. She drank this bitter tea not because she liked it, but so her body would recognize the time as "mid-morning." Here, there was no day or night-no way to mark the passage of time. In space, there were only two ways to trick the mind to ignore the void and mark the day. Meals, and the sounding of the alarm at twelve and twenty-four hours.

The first BEEP sounded at 11:50. Ten-minute warning. Almost time.

Sam stood and paced the prisoner observation deck. The deck had four metal walls, one porthole-sized window, and no furniture except for a small desk and chair bolted in the center of the sterile room. Sam spent several hours a day in here, and the isolation had taken its toll-on both jailer and captive.

She took another sip of tea and tried again. This time, she got personal.

"This isn't easy for me, Dave. I'm lonely; I'll admit it. So, if we could just... talk, like people, I know we could sort things out."

No luck. Dave was not going to give her any information today. And so, like every other day, Sam's patience evaporated and turned into resentment.   

"This would be so much easier if I knew who you really were, Dave, if that is your real name." She brandished his file in front of him. "Because you know what it says here? 'Life Sentence.' So, if you want to live, you should probably start talking to the one person who can help you."

BEEP. Five-minute warning. That meant it was time for-

"Commander Sterling? Your presence is requested at Control," said a robotic, male voice. Sam ignored it and walked closer to her captive, until the three-inch plastic barrier was the only thing that separated her from him. From Dave.

She stared at his face, searching, desperate. Nothing.

"Fine... die for all I care."

Another BEEP sounded. Four minutes.

"Commander Sterling?" the voice repeated. Sam jerked herself back to reality.

"I know, Vox, I'm on my way."

Sam swiped Dave's file from her tablet and swallowed the rest of her tea. She then approached a panel on the opposite wall. Staring at Dave one last time, she shook her head at her own insanity. Dave would never answer her questions. He couldn't. He stood prone and silent because he was in a stasis container-frozen and asleep for the duration of their journey. An unconscious captive, just like the five others standing next to him on the other side of the transparent quarantine barrier. Six captives in total: three men, three women.

Dave was the only one Sam talked to. Early in their voyage, a leak in his oxygen regulator had forced Sam to separate his life support from the prisoners' system, and patch it into her own. Now, after hundreds of days in space, checking and re-checking his vitals, looking at his blank, calm face in stasis container six, he just began to feel... familiar.

But he was anything but familiar.

If his file was to be believed, he and his companions were so dangerous they could not be allowed on the planet. That's where Sam came in. She was to fly them to the farthest known asteroid and leave them behind for a "lifetime quarantine" sentence. The distance combined with the cargo made it the most dangerous mission in the history of spaceflight.

So Sam had to keep it together. Just for a few weeks longer...

BEEP. Three-minute warning.

Sam shut off the lights to stasis container six. Dave's peaceful face went dark. She walked past his companions one by one, checking their vitals and shutting off their lights, before leaving the prisoner observation deck behind.

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