[Read Chapter 1]
The vehicle jerked a little. It had been in cruise for almost 300 years now. It was a moment that later everyone would remember where they were. A thruster pushed back. The small push had been enough to begin turning the vehicle around towards Earth.
301 waited for something momentous to happen. All he felt was the small jerk. When he looked out all he noticed were different stars than what he would usually see from here.
287 and 300 were playing a game of chess when it happened. The jerk. It was a sensation no one on the ship had ever experienced. All those part of the launch had already died. Their diaries and logs made interesting reading but was boring because they had never experienced any of things described in the writing themselves. 287 and 300 had signed up to be part of the Navigation Team precisely because they would not have any work and would get to play chess together.
The Navigation Team was responsible for taking the spacecraft to safety as the Earth was about to implode. It once had thirteen members. It was slowly whittled down to two as the need was felt to have more people in the Maintenance Team. The two just checked in once a week to ensure that the ship stayed on the plotted path and would key in the path for the next week. Ideally, there would be no jerk. This was out of the ordinary. They left the game in progress and rushed to the Navigation Room. No one had access to the Navigation Room other than the Captain. The Captain?
287 and 3oo reached the Navigation Room to find the Captain at the Console.
“What’s wrong, Captain?”, 287 asked.
“Nothing,” replied 301, “I changed course towards Earth. Moved the ship starboard to turn around.”
It took 287 and 300 a while to even grasp what 301 had explained to them. 291, the head of the Maintenance Team walked in as 301 was explaining what he had just done to the Navigation Team.
291 was in the Maintenance Console looking at all the Preventive Maintenance Log for last week and pulling up members of his crew who had not done their jobs. Her crew thought 291 was needlessly fussing over things. Even if the work got delayed a week, it would make no difference in the long run. All the ship did was cruise ahead on the small push given at the point they had departed from Earth. The jerk changed all that. They came to attention. But they all stopped speaking when 291 got up, brushed them aside and ran up to the Navigation Room.
As the years passed, the glamour of being a Captain had passed. Once a fiercely sought after post, the glamour had passed once people realized that all the decisions were being taken by the Head of Maintenance and only related to getting to do work related to Preventive Maintenance. It was the reason why she had led 301 beat her in the vote for Captaincy.
She had known 301 since he was young. She looked at him. He was 1.76 m tall. He weighed in at about 79 kg. He had a beard that needed some looking after. He had long jet black hair that he combed in that style which made his face seemed a bit squarish. He had a moustache. He walked with a limp on his left foot. While young, he had some revolutionary ideas about where they should go and how they should live. He had started working in the Navigation Team but the boredom of the work probably had made him shut up and conformist. He pleased everyone. He did all sorts of work. The only bit of ambition she saw in him was when he stood for Captaincy. She stood against him not to win but to make sure he knew he was not an unchallenged force.
291 faced him. She was angry.
“301, we are not ready for a turn around.”
“I am sure the Maintenance Team will work all shifts this week to ensure we are.” 301 said.
She looked at him. He stared back. A stand-off? 287 and 300 stood blankly.
“287, what’s our course for next week?”
Neither had an answer.
“We are enroute to Earth. After the turn, you will probably have another 300 years to reach Earth. So, after this small event, we will be back to business as usual.”
No one knew what to say. There was silence for a minute or so, when another jerk told them that the thrusters had fired again to begin to stop the turn starboard. The ship was still executing it’s turn.