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To Catch A Falling Star

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The Iris Case Files, Report One: Thomas Sanders.

Transmission one, begin.

 

The alarms blare around Virgil as he tries to steady his breathing. His hands shake. Calm down, Virgil, panicking will just make things fall apart faster! He mentally chides himself, frustrated that his response to disaster is to freeze. He inhales slowly, feeling the seconds tick by.

As he comes back to reality, he takes in the ship again as though it’s his first time seeing it. The Iris is all polished metal and smooth edges, and right now, flashing red lights. Right. The alarms, which are going off because the jump-ship exploded with everyone else in it and the main ship was damaged. Virgil has no idea how he’s going to make it out of this. Or even if he is.

“No!” He tells himself aloud. “No. You have to make it out. Whatever just happened, it was a horrific accident, but you have to finish the mission. You have to make it, and you have to make sure the data and the samples make it, too. Now get your ass to the control room and figure something out!

By the time he gets to the ship’s center, the blaring alarm is just background noise. He finds the comms center, hoping against hope that the network that ships use for communication is still working. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the damage wasn’t as bad as it seemed? He forces himself to focus, keying in his comms code and fixing the settings so it’s a distress call.

“This is Virgil-- I mean, shit, that’s my middle name, that’s not what it is in the system. This is Thomas Sanders of the Iris, ID 22-Delta-70-Bravo-01, priority 7, under the command of Captain Emma Winters, requesting immediate aid. The jump-ship suffered a catastrophic failure while the rest of the crew was collecting samples on Planet 5925, and the ship has sustained severe damage. I am-- I’m the only survivor.” He pauses, trying not to let the cold reality of those words seep into his mind. He has other things to focus on. “If anybody can hear me, I’m requesting immediate aid.”

He exhales, sitting back. “And now we wait,” he murmurs aloud to himself. Seconds tick by, feeling like hours, and then--

“Hello.”

Virgil sits bolt upright, hardly daring to hope. His heart speeds up. “Hello? This is Thomas Sanders of the--”

“If you can hear this message, something has gone wrong with your network connectivity. Please reboot your system and try again.”

And just as fast as that glimmer of hope had come, it’s gone. Virgil slumps in defeat, more dejected than he was before. The automated message plays again, and again, and he clenches his fists, not sure whether to yell or to cry.

“Hey, young Virgil,” he mutters angrily at himself, trying to get the computer to work. “I see that you’re a freshman in college, d’you wanna maybe spend half a second learning about computers, so you don’t die on a broken spaceship?”

He shifts his voice a little. “Oh, hey older Virgil! You know, I thought about taking that Computer Science elective, but Pre-Crisis Music History sounded way more fun, plus there was a really cute guy in the class, so you know how it is.”

“Yeah, A-plus choice there, young me,” he snaps. “And now I’m literally talking to myself. That can’t be a good thing.” Virgil sighs.

He gives the computer one last try, but it’s resistant to his efforts. The automated message plays again.

“This is it,” he mumbles. “This is how I die, isn’t it? I’m not making it out of this one.”

The automated message plays again. Virgil groans. “Oh my god, shut up! I know the network is damaged or whatever, it’s not like I can do anything about it!”

Through the terrifying combination of panic, anger, and defeat, Virgil tries to think. Is there any way at all that he has a chance of making it out? If the ship has enough fuel, and he’s careful, he might be able to make it to a station or another ship.

He stands up and crosses the command center to the pilot’s area, turning on the screens. He reads the display for fuel levels, and-- “Three percent.”

He laughs bitterly. The automated message plays again.

Virgil slumps into the chair. He dimly registers that there are tears rolling down his cheeks. He doesn’t care. The fuel levels are the final nail in the coffin-- there’s no way he survives this. It’s not even enough to keep the ship liveable. So he gives in to the despair.

The automated message plays again.

“Hello?”

“Shut up, computer, can’t you see that I’m having a breakdown here?” Virgil mutters sarcastically.

“Uh, I’m not a computer. What’s going on? Are you alright?”

Virgil freezes. “Holy shit.”

The voice chuckles. “Uh, I saw an energy flare on the outer edge of the scanners, and I got your distress call-- are you alright?”

“I mean, not really, but the ship’s intact and I’m alive.” Virgil says. “But, uh, the jump-ship blew up. I’m the-- I’m the only survivor. And I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s any way for me to make it, but-- but the fuel is at 3% and that can’t even keep me alive for a week, much less get me anywhere.”

“Well, that’s bad,” the voice sighs. “Is there anything--”

Virgil cuts them off. “Ship name and ID. Who are you?”

There’s a brief pause. “Shit, yeah. Uh, the Hermes, ID 37-Echo-81-32-Victor, priority 3, under the command of Captain Flynn Jackson-- that’s me.”

“The Iris, ID 22-Delta-70-Bravo-01, priority 7, under the command of Captain Emma Winters. I’m Thomas Sanders, but I prefer Virgil-- that’s my middle name. I’m a scientist, I was here to help with the samples.” Virgil replies.

Flynn exhales faintly. “Right, well, Science Officer Sanders, I know this has all got to be very stressful, but if you stay on the line I can help you reboot your network connection and maybe figure out a course of action?”

“It wouldn’t matter, anyway.” Virgil says, ignoring Flynn’s protest to that. “Like I said, we don’t have enough fuel to get anywhere, or even keep life support online for longer than maybe five days.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah. It’s a big ship. Cyrus hates it, he--” hated. Past tense. Because Cyrus is dead. Virgil clears his throat, forcing away that thought. “I’m sure.”

Desperation colors Flynn’s voice as he speaks. “What are your coordinates? There’s got to be something that we can do--”

“There isn’t,” Virgil says softly. “I’ve already run the possibilities. This is it, for me.”

Flynn is silent, so Virgil continues. “At this point, any hope is false hope. I was on the outer edge of your scanners-- you wouldn’t make it. And no other ships picked up my call.” He exhales softly. “It’s okay.”

“Are you comforting me?” Flynn asks with a choked laugh.

Virgil snorts. “I mean, I’m a goner anyways. You have to live with this. Plus, you’re obviously very green-- this has got to be hard on you for your first mission.”

“Is it really that obvious?” Flynn asks, his voice part humorous and part ashamed.

“Oh, yeah. It’s kinda hard to miss.” Virgil jokes back.

They fall silent for a moment, and Virgil can feel his panic threatening to rise back up. He desperately casts about his mind for a solution. “Hey, can I ask you a favor? It’s kinda dumb, but, uh--”

“Of course. Anything.” Flynn immediately says.

“Can you stay on the line? I mean, I know you can’t stay forever, but just, as long as you can?”

“Yeah, I can do that. Do you want me to just, keep talking or something?”

Virgil nods, before realizing he can’t see him. “Yeah. Just, talk about whatever, I guess?”

“Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s talking,” Flynn laughs. “But if you really want me to just talk about anything, uh. I’ve got kind of a weird question for you. Where did you go to university?”

“Harmony College, out in the Neutral Zone. I graduated in ‘85, why?”

Flynn exhales. “So this is, like, absolutely impossible, but in ‘81, did you take Intro Bio with Professor Garcia?”

“Uh, what?” Virgil asks, bewildered.

“Virgil. You, uh, had purple hair, you were like six feet tall, and had a super cool, like, kind of Pre-Crisis punk kind of style.” Flynn continues.

Virgil laughs a bit, partly in shock. “I did have purple hair. Wow. Uh--”

“I thought it was a great color. Uh, hi. Flynn Jackson. I sat in the row behind you. Hi.” He says, a hint of embarrassment coloring his voice.

“Oh my god, wow. I, uh-- I’m sorry, I don’t really remember you, my memory isn’t that great.” Virgil says, a bit shocked. He really can’t remember ever meeting Flynn, but a lot’s happened since then, so he decides to take his word for it.

“It’s ok, I probably wouldn’t remember me, either. But it’s kind of incredible that things lined up this way. I mean, I finally got to talk to the cute guy from Intro Bio! Just. A few years too late.” Flynn says, regretful.

“Yeah,” Virgil sighs. He lays down on the floor of the Iris. “I was just thinking about a class I took there-- Pre-Crisis Music History. What are the chances, huh?” “Maybe... it’s not chance.” Flynn remarks quietly.

Virgil groans. “Oh. Fate. Yeah, I’ll pass on that.”

“Do you not believe there’s at least a little bit of sense to the chaos of the universe?”

“Yeah, it’s called science, and logic,” Virgil says. “Fate doesn’t follow those rules. It’s just people being desperate for a semblance of hope and control to their lives. When life gets too heavy, people invent fairytales to comfort them.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong about the fairytales, but that’s not what fate is. It’s just-- the odds of this kind of thing, for example. Things like this happen all the time, and the odds are so incredibly low, how else do you explain it?” Flynn asks.

“Sometimes the math works out. People look at coincidences and call it fate. They’re just desperate for a happy ending.” Virgil snaps.

“And you’re not there yet?” Flynn shoots back. There’s an awkward pause. “Sorry, I just--”

“No, it’s okay,” Virgil laughs bitterly. “I’m just not that type of person.”

“Yeah, I get that. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. But, um, could you send word back to my family?” Virgil asks.

“Of course,” Flynn assures him. “What do you want to say?”

Another bitter laugh escapes him. “All the usual things, I guess. That I’m not afraid--” I am, “that it doesn’t hurt--” it does, “that I love them.” I didn’t. There’s silence for a moment, and he clears his throat. “And pass on to Command that we got all but two of the samples, they’ll be safe in cryo until the ship makes landing somewhere.”

“Wait,” Flynn interjects, confused. “How do you have the power to keep a cryo chamber running but not keep the ship liveable?”

“It’s brand new, runs off of background battery. Super energy-efficient.”

“How big is the chamber?” There’s a hint of I’m brewing a crazy plan in Flynn’s voice. Virgil wants to ignore it, but--

“What? Why?” Virgil asks, confused.

“Could a person fit inside? If they were, say, about six feet tall?”

“I’m only five ten, okay-- oh. Oh.” The pieces of Flynn’s plan suddenly click into place.

When Flynn speaks, there’s still that crazy-plan undertone in his voice, but there’s something else too-- hope. “You need an escape pod? I say, we make one. You can put the ship on autopilot to our coordinates and cut everything else. There’ll be enough residual oxygen to get you to the chamber. Then my ship picks you up and you can turn in those samples yourself.”

“If you can walk me through how to literally reprogram the ship, that could work,” Virgil says, doubtful.

“So I maybe had a bit of a rebellious phase-- but, uh, yeah, I’m pretty good with computers. I can tell you how to get me remote access and I can do the rest.”

“Oh my god,” Virgil breathes. “Captain, I could kiss you right now.” He pauses, and then realizes what he said, his face heating up. “Shit, I mean-- like, oh, I could kiss you! Cause you’re literally saving my life, and-- okay. I’m just gonna. Shut up now.” Virgil forcefully cuts himself off before he can make things any more awkward. Ugh. If there was anything he liked about not being terribly close to anyone on the ship, it was the fact that he didn’t say embarrassing stuff as often. But of course, as soon as he talks to anyone else, he screws it up again.

Virgil exhales. “What do I do?”

“Head to the engine room. Let’s save your life first.” Flynn says. A pause, and then, “Maybe talk over this kissing business later? Over the closest thing to wine that hydroponics has?” There’s a hint of a flirty tone in his voice, and Virgil’s face rapidly heats up again.

“Tell you what, Captain,” he says, managing to keep his voice steady, “You pull this off, and drinks are on me.”

 

Virgil makes it to the engine room with renewed energy and maybe even a little bit of hope. The door is locked with a passcode, but Cyrus never changed it from the default, so he has no trouble getting in.

“So, what now?” Virgil asks, taking in the myriad of screens and blinking lights.

Flynn hums in thought. “There should be a small box with five blinking lights and a touchscreen on the wall opposite the engine, that’s what you’re going to want.”

It takes Virgil a minute, but-- “Found it!” There’s still a layer of protective film over the screen, which he peels off. He taps the screen to turn it on.

“Hello. If you can hear this message--”

Virgil groans loudly. “You again! Please tell me there’s a way to get rid of that stupid computer message.”

“Yep, uh, there should be a clear cord from the box to the wall, unplug it and that should fix it.” Flynn instructs.

Virgil does so, and the ship is immediately quieter. He sighs in relief. “Captain Jackson, you’re my hero,” he says, only half-joking.

“My honor, Virgil,” he responds, and Virgil can hear a smirk in his voice.

“Alright, what next?” Virgil asks, eager to get on with it.

There’s a brief pause. “Do you happen to know the system password?” Flynn responds.

Virgil tries typing in the default PIN of 2180, but it doesn’t work. “Nope. And it’s not written on the back, either.”

“Great,” Flynn sighs sarcastically. “We’re going to need to do a hard reset so we can set a new password and get in. It’s, uh-- it’s gonna shut down everything that doesn’t run on reserve battery, including lights and stabilizers. It’s gonna suck.”

“Awesome,” Virgil mutters sarcastically. “So let’s get this over with. How do I do it?”

“You’ll unplug the third and fifth wires from the left. Wait for about ten seconds, then plug them back in.” He instructs, and Virgil does just that.

As soon as he does, the lights all turn off and the background hum of stabilizers fades. Virgil inhales sharply. He forces himself to breathe, counting the seconds and then plugging the wires back in.

“You okay?” Flynn asks, sympathy coloring his voice.

“Yeah,” Virgil mutters. “How long should it take for everything to come back on, after I’ve plugged the wires back in?”

“If it’s more than five minutes, then we have an issue, but it shouldn’t be that long.” Flynn assures him.

“So basically, and now we wait.” Virgil sighs.

“Yeah.” Flynn says. “Is there anything I can do to help while you wait for the lights to come back on?”

Virgil shrugs. “Maybe just… keep talking. You said earlier that you’re out here on a priority 3?”

“Yeah,” Flynn says.

“Is it like, if I told you I’d have to kill you, or…?” Virgil tries to joke.

Thankfully, Flynn goes with it. “More like if I told you, you’d die of boredom. It’s a diplomatic mission-- heavy on the talking, but not really any dramatic confrontations with space pirates or anything.”

“Wow, that sounds mind-numbingly dull.”

Flynn laughs. “Yeah, after four months of politicians, I’d love nothing more than a good old-fashioned space battle.”

Virgil nods, but something seems...off. “How is this your first mission?”

“Well, shucks,” Flynn responds, a hint of overplayed modesty in his voice.

“No, you’re pretty obviously green. It’s the math that doesn’t work out-- if you graduated in ‘85, what were you doing for six years?” Virgil asks, puzzled.

There’s a beat of silence. “Things-- came up.” Flynn says.

Realization dawns. “You fought in the war?” It makes so much sense, now that Virgil thinks about it-- Flynn’s not super great at protocol but he knows what he’s doing, and they don’t give just anyone a priority 3 mission, especially for their first mission. He must’ve volunteered.

“I--” He sighs. “I had all of these tech skills, and it was a battle of good vs evil for the whole human race and some part of me still wanted to be that heroic leader that swoops in and saves the day. Add everything up, and it wasn’t really much of a choice.”

“Well, thank you.” Virgil says quietly. “I was listening to a cast the other day, and they called the Dwarnian war the ‘most narrowly won war in human history.’”

“Yeah, I know. It was.” Flynn responds.

Virgil takes a deep breath. “Is that why you’re so good at fighting losing battles?”

Flynn sounds genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”

“What are the honest odds your plan works?” Virgil asks, his mind trying to run the odds. “It hangs on so many things lining up right, it can’t be more than ten percent.”

Flynn winces. “Yeah. But, uh… more than six?”

Virgil feels a wave of panic at that, and the darkness around him starts to feel like it’s closing in. “How much longer do we have in the countdown?” He changes the subject.

“There’s still time. Why don’t you tell me a story?”

“A story?” Virgil asks. He knows Flynn’s trying to redirect him, but he’s not a good storyteller.

“Just to take your mind off of this. Or sing a song, or something-- I bet you’ve got a lovely voice.”

Virgil laughs. “Well, um, there was this really old band that I liked, back in college,” He says, trying to subtly hint that he was totally listening to contraband music. Flynn doesn’t seem like a huge stickler for rules, but he was still technically breaking the law by listening to that music. “They made one of my favorite songs. I haven’t listened to it in a while, um--” Virgil pauses, feeling the ship starting to shake. “Um, the ship’s shaking? Is that--” It lurches suddenly, and he curses. “Is that normal?”

“That’s the stabilizers. Don’t worry, I’ll fix them first thing as soon as we get the ship back online. Just try to hold onto something sturdy and stay calm.” Flynn reassures him.

Virgil grabs for the desk, and tries to steady himself. He takes a few breaths. “Okay, um, I’m not sure if I remember all the words, but--”

“When I was, a young boy, my father, took me into the city, to see a marching band.”

Virgil sings, startling a little when Flynn sings the next line with him. He smiles.

“He said son when, you grow up, will you be, the savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned.” They sing together.

“He said will you, defeat them, the demons, and all the nonbelievers, the plans that they have made; because one day, I’ll leave you, a phantom in the summer, to join the Black Parade.”

The lights come back on, bright and sudden, and Virgil trails off. He blinks away the spots in his vision, sitting up.

“You ok?” Flynn asks.

Virgil nods. “Yeah, I-- the lights came back on.”

“Oh, Perfect! Okay, so you’re gonna want to find that box that you’d unplugged to reset the system. It should say set password.”

“Yep,” Virgil says. The stabilizers are still offline, so he makes his way across the room carefully, picking it up from where it’d wound up across the room. The screen blinks at him as he types in a new password. It’s neither creative nor secure, but it doesn’t need to be.

“Alright, I assume you’re needing the new password?” Virgil asks.

Flynn makes a noise of affirmation. “Mhm, hit me with it whenever you’re ready.”

“Type in P-A-R-A-D-E,” he instructs.

“Oh my god, you’re an absolute emo nightmare.” Flynn teases, a smile in his voice. “But I’m in.”

“You say that like you weren’t singing that exact song with me not ten minutes ago,” Virgil shoots back. He fidgets nervously, knowing that now it’s all out of his hands. There’s a tiny voice nagging at the back of his mind, reminding him of everything Flynn said about Harmony College. He tries to set those thoughts to the side. “So, what now?”

“Well, stabilizers should be back--” Flynn pauses, and Virgil can tell the moment that he gets the stabilizers back online. “Now,” he says. “So really all that’s left for you to do is head to the lab. I can get the autopilot set up from here.”

Virgil nods. “Alright.” He sets off-- the lab, and the cryo chamber in it, is across the ship from the engine room. For a moment, there’s no noise but his footsteps echoing in the cold, empty ship. The very place he’s called home for over a month. The same place he thought he was going to spend his last moments, half an hour ago.

But against all odds, here he is. Surviving. Making it out of this impossible situation, somehow. Making it out of one impossibility with another. And god, what are the odds of that?

Too low. They’re too low, and Virgil knows it. He sighs aloud, before realizing his mistake.

“What’s up?” Flynn asks, confused.

Virgil panics, wracking his brain for a good lie. “Uh, the cryo chamber is a lot smaller than I remember. I don’t think-- There’s no way I’ll fit in there with the samples.” His mind is screaming a million things at him, but all he can think is that Intro Bio wasn’t held in a lecture hall. Which Flynn would know, if he’d actually been there.

Virgil’s memory might be crap, but even he’d remember a cute guy in a class of twenty.

Flynn’s voice drags him out of his thoughts. “Then take the samples out,” he says, as though it’s the simplest thing in the world.

Virgil huffs in frustration. “You know I can’t do that. Think about how that looks-- the shuttle explodes, leaving one survivor, and then that person tosses out the mission. Do you have any idea what the Intergalactic Republic would--”

“You’ve got a witness!” Flynn exclaims, cutting him off. “And if you think I’m not willing to testify to defend you--”

“My crew died for these samples!” Virgil shouts, forgetting that he’s still acting. Because, regardless, it’s true. “I may not have been particularly close to them but damn it, they were people, and they deserved to live too! And there’s nothing I can do about that now, but those samples are what they died for, and I can’t just leave them to rot.” His breathing shudders, and all of a sudden he’s holding back tears.

“Your crew died in a freak accident.” Flynn says, a hint of anger breaking through his calm facade. “There’s nothing you, or anyone, could’ve done. And yes, those samples were their mission, but it’s a priority seven. It was just their job. And if they knew you had the chance to make it out, they wouldn’t want you to throw away your life for those samples.”

A beat passes. Virgil clenches his fists, trying to calm down. He knows Flynn’s right.

“Samples are replaceable. There’s only one Virgil Sanders.” Flynn says, softly.

Virgil starts back down the hall. In the opposite direction of the lab. “A sweet sentiment, but that’s not true.” He mutters.

“What?” Flynn says, confused. “Where are you going?”

Virgil ignores the second question. “There’s not. Only one Virgil Sanders. Or, uh, My name is actually Thomas Virgil Sanders. It’s a common first name, common last name. There was another one in the science track at Harmony, actually. I got his grades once. They were better than mine.” He laughs bitterly. “I’m not the best scientist out there. I’m not even the best scientist with my name.”

“Well, you’re the one I want to meet,” Flynn says, no room for argument in his voice. “And not just because you’re about to owe me a drink.” He half-jokes.

“Okay,” Virgil exhales. He’s still walking. “Y’know, Flynn, I wish I could remember you.”

“Well, now you’ll get a chance to--” He starts to say.

Virgil cuts him off. “That’s not what I meant.” He’s back in the command center now. “Computer, display autopilot coordinates.” They come up on the screen, complete with a map, and Virgil smiles a little inwardly at the fact that he was right. “Those are the wrong coordinates, unless you want to send me to the middle of nowhere.”

“Oh my gosh, you’re totally right,” Flynn says. “I’ll get that fixed, but you need to head back to the cryo chamber--”

“It was a class of twenty.” Virgil interrupted, heart pounding, but he wasn’t about to stop. “Intro Bio. It was the year after the coup, and it was supposed to be a huge lecture, but so many people pulled out after the university heads, uh, resigned, that by the second week we were in a regular classroom. It was a small class, we really got to know each other.”

“Yeah, I know, I was there.” Flynn insists, exasperated. “Look, I don’t know how long the heat and air are going to hold, you need to get back to the cryo chamber. It’s gonna get cold and hard to breathe.”

“And really, what are the odds?” He keeps going, ignoring what Flynn said. “That, out of the entire goddamn universe, I’m saved by one of twenty people who were in that class. It’s impossible.”

“Virgil, please listen.” Flynn says urgently. “The air’s getting thinner. It’s cold. You can’t concentrate. You’re a scientist, you know what oxygen starvation does to people. People do things they’ll regret when the paranoia sets in. You need to get to that chamber. Please, after everything--” he pauses. “I am so tired of people dying. Please, just get to safety.”

Virgil exhales. “It is kind of cold,” he admits. “And-- and hard to think.”

“Yeah. You need to get to safety, now.”

“I keep thinking about Harmony.” He takes an unsteady breath. “God, everything today just goes back to Harmony College. It got so hot in the summer there.” His voice is distant, unfocused.

“Virgil, walk to the cryo chamber,” Flynn says desperately, half an order, half a plea.

“You remember? How hot it always got?” Virgil asks absently.

“Yeah, sweltering. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about it later, though.”

Virgil sighs, forcing himself to turn around and start walking back to the lab. His footsteps are slow, halting. “I hated it,” he says. “The sweating, and the humidity. Honestly, I can’t say I liked Harmony. But I can’t stop thinking about it. That god-awful 2050s architecture, the cafeteria coffee.” “You’re making me nostalgic,” Flynn says, wry sarcasm in his voice.

“But that summer heat. The way it would-- wrap around you, smothering in that way that humidity has Like a blanket. And the smell. I wouldn’t be able to place it, but I think I maybe hated it even more than the heat.” A sleepy edge creeps into his voice. “Running across the campus on the way to class, and that smell would just hit you. Remember?”

“Of course. How could I forget?” Virgil notes the answer. The way it’s not really an answer. The barely-there edge of uncertainty. So he drops the final question.

“Yeah.” All hints of that trembling tiredness are gone now. “What did it smell like?”

“Well, you know, it, uh,” Flynn fumbles for an answer.

“It’s not a hard question. Harmony campus, late summer.” He pauses. “Pretty simple question. Of course, it’s not the kind of thing you’d find in transcripts, or personnel files, or freshman year ID photos, so maybe, you don’t actually know it. Any guesses?”

Flynn inhales sharply. “Virgil, I--”

“No,” he cuts him off. “You’ve got nothing. Because you didn’t go there. You’ve been lying to me, and you’ve been lying since the moment we met. You’re not actually a captain, your name isn’t Flynn, and you sure as hell didn’t go to Harmony College.”

“I gotta hand it to you, you’re pretty sharp.” Flynn is completely different now-- not even trying to hold onto that facade. “You might think that the other Sanders guy is smarter than you, but don’t sell yourself short, now.”

“Who are you,” Virgil says flatly. Not a question, just a statement.

“Same as anyone. All the world’s a stage, and I’m just an actor.” Flynn says. Which doesn’t answer his question at all, nor does it calm his fear. “Look, I know you were faking it, but you really are going to feel the oxygen starvation soon. You need to get into that chamber-- you are actually by the chamber now, right?”

He is, but Flynn doesn’t need to know that. “Why?” Virgil demands. “Where are we going? I have no reason to believe you’ll actually help me.”

“Why is it so hard for you to believe that I think your life is worth saving?” Flynn asks. “I know you have no reason to believe me, but if I wanted you dead right now, you would be-- your entire ship is under my control.” He pauses. “I’m not asking you to trust me, you’re smarter than that. But what happened to your crew, we had nothing to do with it. And left to yourself, you would be dead in a week anyway. We’re giving you a choice.”

“To get out of here. And go where?”

“You know I can’t tell you that. But we won’t hurt you. And it’ll be better than dying, alone and cold, in the middle of space.”

Virgil laughs, a touch of hysteria in it. “And what, I’m supposed to just take it on faith?”

“You know what? No. Don’t take it on faith.” Flynn says. “Take it on curiosity.”

“You really think I’d follow you into the void of space on curiosity?” Virgil asks, baffled.

“Yeah. Maybe a rational person wouldn’t, but you’re a scientist.” Flynn exclaims. ”And there is no greater expression of sheer stupid human hope than studying science. We’re born, stumbling around in the dark, but science says that we can understand it. It says that there’s something here to understand, and that this blind reaching out for it is worth it. It says that what you’ve devoted your life to learning could be a dead end and it’s still worth it. You could be ignored in your own lifetime, poison yourself with radiation, be executed for your learning, and it’s still worth it. More than your safety, more than your life. Because that act of trying to understand the darkness is the best thing you could ever do.”

He pauses. “You’ve got a lot of questions right now. And you still have a choice. You could die with answers to none of them. Or, you can--”

“What, step into the goddamn unknown?” Virgil exclaims.

“And reach for a little understanding.” Flynn finishes.

Virgil sighs. “What comes next?”

There’s a hint of a challenge in Flynn’s voice when he says, “Get in the chamber and find out.”

Virgil runs a hand through his hair. He hates it, but Flynn’s right. So he keys in the code to open the cryo chamber, and pulls out the samples.

“New sequence begin,” The computer voice starts its automated spiel. “Cryogenic process begin in thirty seconds.”

“I can’t believe I actually thought you went to Harmony,” Virgil says quietly.

“Yeah, well,” Flynn sighs, “Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?”

The door hisses shut. Virgil shivers, pulling his jacket tighter around him. He’s curled up as tightly as he can in order to fit, as though he’s a child playing hide and seek.

“God,” he mutters to himself, trying not to think about, well, any of the things that just happened.

“It’s alright. I know it can’t be fun in there, but when you wake up, you won’t even remember this part.” Flynn says, trying to be comforting.

“How can you still hear me?” Virgil asks.

“Why would they bother to soundproof it?” Flynn returns his question with another.

There’s a beat of silence.

“If I won’t remember anything,” Virgil grasps at the only straw he can find, desperate to know a little more, even if only for a minute. “Can you tell me one thing that’s actually true?”

Flynn’s quiet for a moment. “I really was watching the networks. When that surge knocked you out, there were a few ships that did detect you. But none of them bothered to come help. Your government really left you to die.”

“Yeah, I know,” Virgil huffs. “As soon as you said that my life was worth more than the samples, I knew you were lying. That’s not how the IGR works.”

“Stage one beginning,” The computer says, and Virgil dimly registers it.

“I really did fight in the war,” Flynn adds.

“Which side?” Virgil asks, a hint of bitterness coloring his voice.

Flynn rolls his eyes, which Virgil can’t see, but he knows he did it. “The human side.” He pauses. “I know you probably don’t want to show weakness or whatever, but you have to fall asleep in order for stage two to begin. Don’t fight it. We literally sang Welcome to the Black Parade together, I don’t think this can make me think any less of you.”

“Hey,” Virgil protests weakly, but he laughs a little.

“What did it smell like? Harmony in the summer.” Flynn asks.

“Nothing. I was bluffing, it didn’t have a smell.”

“Clever,” Flynn begrudgingly admits.

Virgil sighs. He’s starting to fall asleep. “Why are you still here?”

“I don’t know. Wanna see you through to safety, I guess. Unless you mean existentially. I don’t really believe in fate, either.”

“Honestly, it’s--” Virgil yawns. “It’s kind of a comfort not to believe, right now.”

Flynn makes an affirming noise. “Yeah. Go to sleep, Virgil. I’ll be there on the other side of this.”

So Virgil lets his eyes shut, with the promise of answers when he wakes up again. Faintly, he hears Flynn humming Welcome to the Black Parade. The hum of the cryo chamber fades into the background, and he lets sleep take him.

 

End of transmission one of the Iris Case Files, Report One: Thomas Sanders.

We strongly believe that the first voice belongs to Thomas Virgil Sanders, Harmony College class of ‘85. The second voice remains unidentified. No student named Flynn Jackson attended Harmony College in the years specified.

This is Agent Declan, thanking you for reviewing this report. The second report is underway. For now, the Iris Case is awaiting classification. However, it is crucial that the Iris transmissions continue to be monitored and analyzed. Recommended status is priority five.

Long live the Republic.