The weeks after Chairman Arthur Solomon's debriefing didn't go easy on Lucas—nor anyone else at the Science and Research Division. Only but a fragment of the personnel remained on regular duty while the others plodded through endless hours of training, exhumating that forgotten science their ancestors called "terraforming." The starships had the resources to shape a fitting candidate into a new Earth, but it was up to the men and women of the Research to put them to good use. As their all-leader had decreed, they would live by one purpose: to prepare for baking that strange and probably hostile planet into their promised land. They wouldn't rest; they wouldn't stop. Then, when Lucas couldn't recall his last decent night of sleep anymore, the end of the calendar arrived and the New Year's Eve Celebration was due. Hundreds of jumpsuits padded every street in Goliath, vivid banners and decorations of all sorts dressing the otherwise grayscaled buildings. Sadness and grief didn't have a place on that day on which everyone was equal regardless of rank or social status. There was nothing wrong with that, except that the merry scene made Lucas want to hole up in his apartment and wait it out. All those smiling faces, cheering and laughing; he knew something they didn't. He would cross sights with another green from time to time, their grieving eyes speaking loud of the secret shoved deep into their soul pleading for escape.

As for Lucas's girlfriend, Tatiana, she celebrated with every drop of energy and excitement in her body. She strode through Section A careful not to miss a single attraction. "Come on, babe, don't stay behind," she called Lucas from a shooting booth nearby, carrying something under her arm. She presented Lucas with a giant plush bear as he approached. "I totally beat the crap outta that game and got you this. What you think? Pretty amazing, isn't it?" she boasted with a high brow and a smile. Behind her, the owner hung his head low in defeat.

"Um, yeah. It is," was all that Lucas's absent mind yielded.

Tatiana gave him a slight frown. "What is it, babe? Don't you like it?"

"Oh. No, it's... it's not that." Lucas reached far into his brain for an answer, but he trailed off. He didn't have the energy to conceal his troubles, but he still tried his best not to spoil her day.

Like if he didn't know better.

Tatiana leaned forwards at him, scratching her chin. Her deep black eyes penetrated into his soul, scavenging even his darkest secrets. "Hmm... I see what's going on," she spoke like a physician examining an x-ray scan. "It's that briefing, huh?"

"Yeah, it's just that..."

"It's just that they don't know."

They both kept silent as people passed them by, kids walking by the hand of their parents, enjoying themselves, jumping around and cherishing.

"I can't stop feeling all this is my fault. We should've left that thing where we found it," Lucas said.

"It's not like you had an option," Tatiana replied.

"I was the one who intercepted the distress signal. Maybe I could've..." Lucas trailed off, recollecting. "I don't know."

"Go off duty and keep it from your bosses?" Tatiana shrugged.

As usual, Tatiana was right. Lucas recounted everything that had happened in the past month—from the moment the signal popped in his radar to when Chairman Solomon confessed their findings to the others. He couldn't think how things could've played differently. He was on dish duty when the signal reached the starships and reporting it was his obligation. The information would've reached the higher-ups anyway courtesy of the walls full of servers logging every single movement happening on the network.

"All these people..." Tatiana's attention strayed in the crowd. "After all these years, we're heading somewhere. If they knew what you and Viktor and the others did, you'd be their hero."

"Hero." Lucas scoffed. "I wouldn't mind switching places with someone else, to be honest. It just doesn't—"

"It doesn't feel right—I know." Tatiana turned and gave him a lopsided smile. "Geez, you are the live image of your mother, Lucas Sundberg."

A chuckle escaped Lucas as his facial muscles soothed. "She better not find out you said that."

"She always said our thing 'didn't feel right,' didn't she? And here we are after six years. I mean, living with you has been a pain in the butt, but still."

Lucas smiled, his worries washing away. "Yeah, you have a point, I guess."

"You guess?" Tatiana threw him the plush bear. "Cheer up now. These might be our last days together. I'm sure Solomon won't let me see you until you nerds figure out how to grow beets on alien soil."

"All right, everyone, for our next song, we'd like all couples on the dance floor," a woman announced from a nearby stage, around which a crowd formed. Meanwhile, the rest of the band members prepared, testing sound and tuning their instruments.

While Lucas's mind had found peace, his girlfriend wouldn't allow his body the same courtesy. She shot a stare of excitement at him as if eyeing her prey and grabbed his hand tight.

"Oh, no way." Lucas waved her off.

"Oh, yeah, boy, tighten up your laces. You're dancing tonight!" And as the band warmed up with a ballad, Tatiana hauled her boyfriend through the cheering crowd.

Dance lessons had been number one on their to-do list for years, but Lucas was skillful at evading. Today, he regretted that from the bottom of his heart. There were six other couples, but the crowd didn't seem too interested in them. Instead, all eyes were on Lucas as his girlfriend briefed him; the thick layer of anxiety forming around his body blocked everything she said. "Wait. I can't, you know I suck at this," he squealed.

"Don't worry about it. It's okay. Just follow my lead—it's easy," Tatiana said to him like everybody who can dance always do to those who don't. "Here." She placed his hand on her hip, pulled him closer, and slowly guided his feet with hers. "Move with me. One..." Left. "Two..." Right and then back again. "One."

At least Lucas hadn't stepped on her feet yet; that was tremendous progress from the last time they tried.

"See? You're getting it. Loosen your waist."

"Hey, Luke! way to go, man," a familiar face, Aaron, yelled from the crowd.

So much for the performance of Lucas's life; it was as if his inopportune friend had pinched his concentration with a needle and made it pop. Tatiana's instructions clogged for a moment during his panic, and now they were coming all at once, making him stumble and stomp her feet hard.

Tatiana grunted. "Watch out!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't—," Lucas said.

"It's okay. It's okay. Focus on the sequence," Tatiana cut him off, putting herself back in a second.

"All right." Lucas peeked at his moving feet.

"No, don't look at your feet."

As the song reached its climax, the crowd clapped to the beat; Aaron was the one doing it the hardest and loudest, although not enough to throw Lucas off again. It was then when a scream slit through the cheering, warm atmosphere, killing the music. Waves of coldness traversed Lucas's entire body up to down as adrenaline overflowed his system, his dazed attention unsure where to focus.

"What was that?" Tatiana squeezed his hand.

All eyes shifted between each other in the crowd, scanning for the origin of the scream. Their attention veered at a few people dashing down West Street in panic. Then more followed, like a startled herd.

"Hey, what's going on?" somebody asked the rushing lot.

A woman stopped. "Some nutjob attacked an S.O. She snatched his gun and is threatening to blow her brains out. It's not safe over there!"

"Where?" Tatiana said.

"West Observation Deck."

Tatiana remained thoughtful for a few seconds. "Shit. Not this again."

"Not again, what?" When Lucas asked, it was too late; his girlfriend was already on a full sprint up West Street. He rushed after her. "Wait, where are you going? It's dangerous!"

She didn't listen.

"Shit," Lucas said to himself and paced up to a run.

West Street sloped for a good three hundred feet, and Lucas once again regretted his scant physical fitness as he chased after his runaway girlfriend. She didn't stop once, dodging incoming people with far more skill than him. "Wait!" Lucas begged her while his lungs did for air.

At the end of the road, the Observation Deck's semi-dome swelled from the west wall of Goliath's habitat thirty meters high. Some people hang around instead of running away, and they barricaded the entrance.

"Out of the way," Tatiana demanded, pushing them away.

As she cut through, the wall of people retracted back, forcing Lucas to squeeze through. He caught up with her inside the deck, at the center of the commotion. The scene before his eyes threw him back a few steps, his heart sinking into his stomach. Before the massive transparent wall safeguarding the dome and its visitors from the menacing void of space, several security guards yelled at a frenzied Captain Annie Wallin holding a gun against her temple. She resembled an escaped animal growling at its captors, threatening to take her back.

"Come on, girl, lower the gun. You don't want to do this," one guard said to her.

"No. This is the only way," Annie yelled back, her bloodshot eyes darting erratically between the guards. "They... they won't stop talking. I need them to stop."

The back and forth played before Lucas like a movie, distant, surreal; he could only speculate what had brought someone like Captain Annie down like that. He considered her outburst at the briefing founded, but this was too much—too uncanny. That broken, unhinged woman wasn't but a shadow of the composed, fearless pilot that had saved his life back on Centauri Ab.

"We can help you, but I'll need that gun back," the guard insisted.

"Back off—back the fuck off," Annie took a few steps back, pointing the gun at the guard. "None of you can help me—none of you! We're all dead. They did this to us. They..." A tear slid down her cheek, and her voice thinned into a whisper. "They did this to us."

Lucas's sense of survival had held him back from interfering, but he needed to do something. He stepped from the crowd. "Captain?" he said to Annie, his voice mangled by fear.

His voice registered in her after a few seconds. "Lucas?" Annie aimed at him out of reflex, the gun shaking and rattling in her hand. Her sunken eyes fixed on him, pupils trembling, and her face soaked in sweat. It was as if she had seen something she shouldn't; something shocking enough to shattered her sanity.

"Step away, son," the guard commanded him.

Lucas didn't oblige. "Captain, what's going on? What's all of this?"

"You know what's going on, Lucas. You can feel it—the uneasiness. We shouldn't be here. We're not welcome."

Her words fuzzed Lucas's mind even further. He wondered if she was talking about the briefing. For him, it made little sense. What did the last bit mean? "We're not welcome? What do you mean?"

"Captain?" Tatiana stepped from the crowd showing Captain Annie empty hands. "Captain, my name is Tatiana Lindgreen. I'm a medic. We've got many cases like yours down at Medical. Please, put the gun down and come with me. I can help you."

"You two, step back," the guard pressed, "I won't tell you again."

A tense second of silence.

"You should listen to them." Annie's crazed tone drooped into a grim one as she placed the gun back on her temple, her blank stare fixed on the ground. "Go live your life while you can. I rather leave this way, I'm not strong enough for what's coming. But you... you are. You'll be just fine. I saw it."

Silence overtook the dome.

"I'm seeing my sister on her way here. Please tell her—please tell her that I'm sorry and that I love her more than anything." Captain Annie's voice broke as another tear escaped her. She looked up at Lucas, her lips trembling. "Goodbye, Doctor. Don't give up like I did. You owe our Commander that much. "

She cocked the gun.

"No, Captain, don't—" Before Lucas realized, he was running at her.

But it was too late.

Captain Annie Wallin sunk her index on the trigger. A deafening explosion slammed the air, and her brains erupted through her other temple, her lifeless body thudding on the ground like a sack of sand, half of her face gone and the gun a few feet from her hand, smoking. A crimson pool spread from her as one of her eyes twitched with the last synapses of her brain.

For a second, Lucas's brain insulated itself from reality. He was the only one there, staring at a motionless Captain Annie. He was on his knees. His girlfriend appeared to his side and pulled him away as the guards rushed to Annie and kicked the gun away.

"Babe? Babe, are you okay?" Tatiana asked him.

He wasn't; the cracked sheet of glass his psyche had become had shattered. Lucas was the only remaining survivor of the doomed crew of the Juno Mission.

"Lucas?" his girlfriend insisted.

While Tatiana continued saying things that failed to register in his numbed conscience; his attention remained locked ahead. He thought for a moment that maybe his fragmented psyche was playing games on him. Annie's eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. Nothing unusual, except that her formerly dark pupils had turned to a faint blue gleam. Lucas blinked a few times, assessing his sanity. He concluded he had gone mad. People sometimes twitched after dead, Lucas tried to keep his thoughts clinical and rational. However, whatever he was witnessing lacked any sense. A loud gasp escaped his girlfriend, and one of the security guards fell on his butt and crawled away in terror as Captain Annie slowly stood back upright as if nothing had happened. No noise came from the shocked audience as the woman totted where she stood, her vital fluids still oozing out the left side of her head.

Captain Annie stared at them, mouth cracked but silent. She seemed lost and confused—reasonable, considering half of her brain was scattered on the floor.

"M—madam?" one guard spoke to her.

Annie didn't acknowledge him, still silent. She glanced at the crowd as if she was but a puppet controlled by an unseen force. With blood dripping down the sides of her mouth, her eyes went blank, and she spoke. "Auru matem, atem pai. Atem pai ehma." Her mouth opened inhumanly to articulate some of those odd words, revealing a glow at the back of her throat. "Buam unem maat pa." A short pause and a guttural yell escaped her, turning into her human voice at the end. She then tumbled back to the floor as if somebody had disconnected her from the power source that brought her back her life. At last, the glow of her eyes died, and she didn't move anymore.

The crowd had turned into a block of ice, perplexed by whatever had happened before them.

Lucas remembered nothing else past that.


"Babe, are you in there?"

Tatiana snapped her fingers, awaking Lucas from his absentmindedness. Half an hour had passed after the surreal spectacle, and he and his girlfriend now sat on a bench just outside the service access of the West Observation Deck. The crowd had dispersed, and only security personnel remained.

"Um, yeah. I'm okay, don't worry." A whithered leave from a tree branching above them swayed down the air and landed on his lap.

A few feet down the street, an emergency vehicle stopped over the tracks, and two paramedics and a forensics officer came out. They pulled out a stretcher and headed towards the dome. "Hey, Tats," the officer greeted Tatiana as they went past.

"Amil," she replied, absent, leaning back on the bench with arms crossed.

Dozens of thoughts fought to squeeze together through the narrow doorframe of Lucas's understanding. Ever since he had returned from Centauri Ab, things made less and less sense. When he was considering bailing out from trying, one thought hit him. "Back there... you said Medical have had many cases like that, right?" he asked his girlfriend.

Tatiana looked at him, puzzled at first. "Yeah. Same as Captain Wallin—people going mad suddenly, terrified, like if they had seen something that disturbed the heck out. We admitted some of them after attacking other people."

As she spoke, the forensics officer and paramedics emerged from the dome, this time with a body bag on their stretcher.

"How many?" Lucas asked as they went past.

"Not sure. Twenty, maybe more."

"Twenty? Holy shit, that's many people. How come it's not all over the news?"

Tatiana scoffed. "You know High Command. They wouldn't go public with something like that; it would make people flip their shit—cause mass panic. We thought of a virus at first."

"A virus?" Lucas said.

"Yeah. You know, the animal kingdom is full of crazy stuff—especially this far into space." Tatiana caught a leaf midair. "Our containment protocols aren't exactly flawless. Something could get in and voila—an outbreak."

"These people..." Lucas paused. "Do they, you know... come back? Like Captain Annie?" He wondered for a second if he had dreamed what had just happened.

It seemed like she did too, given she took a moment to process. "No. I mean, I couldn't tell; none of our patients have died. They're in quarantine and permanent watch in case they harm themselves. Still, no matter what we do, cases keep coming. It's been three weeks already."

Lucas jumped out of the bench and looked down at her. "Three weeks? We came back three weeks ago, what if...?" A vibration in his pocket threw him off. He pulled out his cellphone—it was Lisa, his co-worker. "Wait, I think I should take this."

With the press of a button, Lisa came on the screen. She was in her office at Research, no other lights aside from her computer screen in the background. "Lucas, Jesus, I'm glad I could reach you. Look I... I—," Lisa said on a frenzy.

"Hey, hey, slow down. What's going on?" Lucas said.

"I need you to come to Research right now."

"Right now? Wait, why? What's happening?"

"Can't tell you over the phone—it's too risky—, but this is some serious shit." She held her phone close to her face. "Stop asking questions and hurry." And then she hanged the call.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Lucas glanced at his phone in confused silence. What was she even doing working on the eve of New Year? He didn't even know anyone was allowed on Research that day. And probably they weren't, but that's Lisa.

Lucas turned to his girlfriend still sitting on the bench, playing with her hair, staring at nothing. "Honey, I'm sorry, but that sounded serious. I better—"

"Don't worry about it. I gotta go back home and take a shower anyways. You go see what's going on and meet me later for the speech," Tatiana said.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it." Tatiana gave him a loving smile and a kiss on his cheek. "Do what you have to do. Go."

"All right, see you in a bit," Lucas said and sprung off to his workplace. It was ten forty already, but something told him that day wouldn't end soon.