In the previous episode, readers voted for the Captain to try and manually release the escape pod locks on his own. He can’t sacrifice anyone but himself, even with only one good hand.
Captain Arnold had to hurry; soon they’d be overrun with infected. The power had been cut, so someone had to run outside and manually free the locks to release the escape pod into outer space. He didn’t want to risk anyone but himself. Turning to the rest of the crew he said, “If the infected get too close before I make it back, seal the door.”
Then he leapt out of the escape pod door and ran to the closest lock that held them in place. In the corner of his eye he saw many infected creeping toward him; they labored for breath in the thin air of the partially vented launch bay.
The captain reached down and tried in vain to pull up on the yellow handle of the lock. He yanked at the handle with his one good hand.
“Come on! Almost there. Pull you wimp!” the captain said to himself and he pulled hard on the handle.
The lock was free; they were one-step closer to getting the survivors to safety. He rushed to the second lock, hoping it wasn’t as hard as the first. The infected neared the front of the escape pod and were making their way toward the door that the crew had left open for him.
“Quick, man! Quick,” the captain yelled out in exasperation. He yanked and yanked at the second lock’s handle; it didn’t budge. The infected kept closing and were just a few feet away from the escape pod door.
The crew on the escape pod had no choice but to follow the captain’s previous order and close the door, sealing both the infected and the captain off from the escape pod. The captain’s escape route was now gone.
Soon they’ll come for me, the captain thought. And if I can’t get this lock free, someone else will have to risk dying too.
The captain somehow found a little more strength buried inside him. As the infected started approaching him, he continued tugging on the second lock, until finally with much relief the lock gave way and clicked open. The crew would be saved; he had accomplished his task.
As soon as the final lock was released, the escape pod started slowly sliding away, moving down the ramp that would send it into outer space and away from the infected that surrounded it.
The pod initially moved slowly, then started to pick up speed as it moved further along the guide rails. The captain watched his crew sailing away to their freedom. Soon they would be gone and some of his crew would have survived this horribly-gone-wrong planetary exploration mission. A sense of relief filled the captain, knowing that even though he wasn’t going to make it, others would.
When the escape pod had already slid about halfway down the rails, the crew inside must have realized they were no longer surrounded by the infected, and suddenly the door to the escape pod shot open.
“Quick, dive in!” Lieutenant Nelson called from the just-opened door. “Hurry!”
The captain had only the briefest window of opportunity. He quickly gauged the angle of where the escape pod door was going to be seconds from now and he raced down an intercept vector that would get him to the opening just before it slipped through the hull into space.
The captain didn’t feel his heart pounding nor the pain in his lungs as he fought for every last ounce of oxygen and energy he could find in his muscles. He ran fast. Just as the tip of the escape pod started to pass the threshold, he dove toward where the door was going to be, and by the smallest of margins, he flew into the door, narrowly clearing the opening, and rolled into the escape pod to an immediate outburst of cheers from his crew.
Lieutenant Nelson closed the door just as the ship entered the threshold. A metal blur flashed by the escape pod windows as it passed from inside the main ship through the hull and out into the blackness of star-filled space.
“We made it, we finally made it!” the captain exclaimed, rising to his feet.
“You did it, Captain!” Velasquez yelled.
Lieutenant Nelson slapped the captain on the back. “Well done, Sir!”
The doctor nodded his head in respect and gave a thumbs up.
Corporal Jackson weakly said, “Thanks (cough).”
Even Joseph had a smile on his face as he lay on the medical gurney.
Captain Arnold looked around. Through his quick decisions, he had helped save the lives of a few of his crew. He finally breathed a sigh of relief for a grueling ordeal he left behind them. They had made it out, alive.
After letting the elation of the moment wane, the captain asked, “Is the communication system up?”
The captain approached the system, “Mayday. This is Captain Arnold of the star-ship … or rather … formerly of the star-ship Copernicus. We’re in an escape pod in …”
Hours later … Captain’s personal log, date 2125.1.24:
“Our exploration mission of planet Maynar 17 became a disaster. A planetary life form we studied on board the Copernicus somehow broke its quarantine containment. An unknown infection spread like wildfire aboard the ship. Within an hour, we had lost nearly all the crew to the infection. Only six of the 315 crew members survived the outbreak.”
“We fled in an escape pod away from the doomed Copernicus, when we abandoned ship. Currently we’re orbiting the planet. Our distress call was thankfully received by a group of nomadic traders. They agreed to pick us up during their next supply run through this quadrant a week from now. With all of our crew stabilized, we can all make it to then, and are looking forward with great anticipation to our upcoming rescue.”