( Read part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE )

Emily looked behind her into the living room. Koneko and Peter were discussing something in hushed voices, and Peter was looking into the control cabin. “Remind me, Varzhov, what was our cargo?”

The display was changed to the logs again, and a few holo-pages were turned. “Mechanical components, as well as some supplies. 2 oxygen containers, under 20 litres combined capacity.”

She looked out the window as she talked, keeping her voice low. “So not an addition of 10%, even if they had been completely emptied.”

Varzhov crossed him arms over his chest. “Exactly. Something is wrong, but I cannot imagine what.”

“Stay at your console, Varzhov. I will check the cargo and see if that offers any clues. At any rate, those oxygen containers are all we have to go on.”

He flipped the display back to the instruments. “Shall I contact Mars and Central, see if they have any ideas?”

Emily looked down at the communications-unit. There were no current links. “Not just yet. Do check the connection, make sure we can contact them quickly if we need to.”

Varzhov nodded and went to work. Emily went into the living room again, while Peter and Koneko stopped their little talk. The japanese pilot spoke first. “What is the problem, Captain?”

Before answering, Emily grabbed her cup of lukewarm coffee off the table. “We’ve got some conflicting messages from the instruments,” Both of them immediately looked worried, “Nothing dangerous, we should arrive at Mars at the scheduled date but we still want to know if they are instrumental errors or what’s going on.”

Peter tried to look past her into the control cabin. “So what ARE the problems, Emily?”

Normally he referred to her by rank when on the job. “We have more weight on than we should, which has led to the tanks having a little less fuel than they should at this stage. We can refuel at Mars and offload the extra, but when we launched we had no such extra weight. Logs confirm as much.”

Koneko gave her a scrutinizing gaze. “Seemed to me you two talked about something more besides weight issues.”

“We did. The most perplexing is that we have more oxygen than we should, by a fair margin, and nothing on board should be capable of adding that much oxygen to our tanks post-launch.”

Koneko poured the last remains of the coffee into her cup. “So what do we do?”

Emily finished her coffee. “I want you to join Varzhov at the controls. If the situation somehow worsens, we need to be ready to act quickly. We’re closest to Mars, so getting there is our emergency solution,” Koneko nodded, finishing her coffee, “And you, Peter, we’re checking the cargo hold. I want to check on those cargo containers, see if we can find anything useful.”

Koneko went to the control cabin and Peter finished his breakfast. There were still open and unopened packets of food scattered about the table, but that would have to be cleaned later.

The door to the cargo hold was normally sealed after the pre-launch checks to avoid tampering, but all of the crew had permission to open the hold if they needed. Emily entered the security phrase, unsealing the door. It hissed open, releasing a gust of foul-smelling air that she felt she had noticed earlier. A smell of burnt meat and charcoal. Peter hit the light switch, illuminating the containers stacked and secured neatly.

“Peter, check the far end, I’ll check the oxygen containers.”

Peter was trying to brush away the foul air wafting out from the sealed room. “And what are we looking for?”

Emily realised she had been forgetful. “Anything out of place, broken or badly sealed. And I just realised I forgot the check the ID for the oxygen. Go on, I will be right back.” Despite his slightly unusual behaviour since they had left cryo, she knew she could trust Peter with the cargo. She strode” through the adjoining rooms between cargo and control, tapping Varzhov on the shoulder. There had been no change in noticeable change in oxygen or fuel since they had spotted the issue. The ID for the oxygen container was easy to obtain. As Emily returned to the cargo hold, Peter was silent. He must still be looking. It only took her a few minutes to verify that the oxygen containers were completely sealed and full. Still no word from Peter. “If you haven’t found anything by now, Peter, there probably isn’t anything to see.” She made to walk to the far end of the hold, but noticed Peter was simply standing in the aisle between containers, staring intently at the gap between 2 crates. His face looked like he had seen a ghost. “What is it?” A few quick steps brought her next to him, allowing to her peer into the gloom. The LEDs above did not quite illuminate the space, but it provided enough light to identify the body within. The body of Peter, unquestionably dead.


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