Kiren flipped up the cover on the switch that would engage the Crossing Drive and spoke into her mic.
"Command, Genesis Crossing. All systems go for drive initiation."
The voice from the ground center came back a second later, "Genesis Crossing, all systems go confirmed. Countdown commencing. Good luck and Godspeed. Genesis Base will see you on the other side."
"Command, Genesis Crossing. Countdown commencing confirmed. Awaiting orders for initiation," Kiren said back and glanced at her co-pilot.
Echo wore an anticipatory grin that mirrored her own as the ground command's countdown began. This was it, the moment they'd trained for. On the other side of this journey lay the colony of Genesis Base, a fresh start for humankind in the wake of The Disaster. That colony had taken nearly a century to reach and another half-century to put into operation. Now, it awaited the hope of humankind, which Genesis Crossing held in its storage bays, in the form of embryos for repopulation.
The Crossing Drive would make that century-long journey in a matter of seconds. That is if it worked. Kiren and Echo had put the drive through dozens of test runs, but never something of this scale, this distance. There just wasn't time. Conditions on Earth had begun to deteriorate so rapidly over the last decade, that it was now or never. Kiren held her finger poised over the switch and listened to the countdown.
Echo looked down at that poised finger, saw it shaking, and briefly took her hand.
"You're it, Kiren," he said. "You're everyone's hope."
He released her hand.
"Thanks. No pressure," she said. Then, to the ship's AI, she added, "Cross, you ready for this?"
"I am always ready," the smooth voice came back.
Kiren swallowed a nervous lump in her throat. She hadn't been the first choice for this. Too young, they'd said. Inexperienced. Brash. She'd proven them wrong, but it had taken a steel will and more hard work than anything else in her life. Now, the fate of a species relied on her pushing a button. The countdown reached zero.
"Command, Genesis Crossing. Initiating Crossing Drive."
Kiren pushed the button. Each time she pressed the thing, she expected some sort of sensation, like being catapulted through space. It never came. The only thing she ever felt was a slight vibration in every atom of her body as the space around the ship collapsed, folded in on itself, and then everything just ceased to be. Less than a second later, reality returned.
That reality was one filled with blaring alarms and flashing lights as Genesis Crossing spiraled across empty space in a precarious spin. Echo exclaimed and tapped at his console. Boosters slowed their spin and brought the ship right as the warning lights flashed. Kiren attended to those, her eyes flicking hastily over readouts, assessing the damage, trying to figure out what had happened.
"Fuck me," she cursed.
Echo was still busy on the console. The ship's spin had stopped, but there was a leak in one of the aft sections. In the storage bays. She unbelted and snatched Echo's helmet from nearby, stuck it on his head, and secured it. Then, she donned her own and moved as quickly as she could toward the rear of the craft. At least they still had gravity. She reached the bulkhead door and it slid open, closed behind her, and sealed. The next slid apart and she stepped through.
"A micro leak in the storage bay," Cross's voice came through her earpiece. "Repair drones are sealing it now. I advise you to give them a moment before proceeding."
Kiren waited and asked, "What kind of damage? What about the embryos?"
There was a pause of perhaps a second and then Cross said, "I'm afraid that the embryos are lost."
"Lost? What do you mean lost?" Kiren asked, fighting her panic.
"The ship passed through an anomaly during the crossing," Cross said. "There was a––"
"Cross?" Kiren prompted. The AI had never paused.
"An unidentifiable incident," Cross suddenly continued. "I have not been able to complete the analysis as yet."
The sirens suddenly cut off and the warning lights changed from horrifying red to cautious yellow.
"The leak has been repaired, Commander. It is safe to proceed."
Kiren opened the aft door, her heart hammering as she passed her quarters, then the rec room, the kitchen, the gym, and finally passed through to the rear storage bay. What she found nearly made her weep. The hope of an entire race was gone. The precious containers that had held the crop of humanity's future lay shattered and broken against the far wall of the bay. Thousands of potential lives, all of them gone.
The door of the bay shut behind her and she heard it seal shut.
"Cross? Why did the bay just seal?" Kiren asked, her anguish turning to apprehension.
"The mission is in peril, Commander. I must fulfill the mission," Cross said in its smooth, genderless voice.
"Cross, we can't complete the mission. We need to go back and relay the problem to Command. Open the door."
"Communications are currently impossible. I must fulfill the mission."
All around her, Kiren watched as the repair drones began to gather debris from around the room. Others opened panels in the walls and pulled out lengths of cable.
"Cross, what are you doing? I'm ordering you to stand down and open the door."
"I'm sorry, Commander," the AI said. "Missi… the mission… peril… orders… cannot comply with… fulfill the mission."