It was three hours into my first shift when the announcement came over the radio system, the sound crackling and indistinct even throughout the ship. I paused, raising my head, but my hands stayed in the mass of wires I was connecting to the main port. Cax paused too, but he didn't move from his port. I didn't catch the first few words, but as the message ended, it was clear that something had happened. Not as much from the content-for that was indicernable, but from the excited babble in the background. I stood up, but not before carefully arranging my tools, and turned towards the hall.

"Aria?" It was Cax. I stopped, but didn't turn. Wise, I suppose, as my expression would have triggered yet another outburst. "No one said we had to report," he said, his oddly high pitched voice grating against my nerves. As I showed no signs of turning back, he continued. "And I doubt Rak'll be very happy about you deserting post." This statement was supposed to stop me in my tracks and send me scurrying back to work, but I had stopped heeding his condecending hints long ago.

I scowled, and purposefully strode away, but the bastard followed me. Annoyance filled my mind, and my resolve to ignore him weakened - how I yearned to drive my fist into his face. It would leave a nice dent, too, which was a plus. But I kept walking, curiousity about the message drowning out my other emotions. I had expected something spectacularly exciting for my first space voyage, but the dull monotony of the 463 Sirius hadn't made an exception in my case. It was duller than the City; and that was dull. I crossed the bridge, purposefully ignoring Cax's clattering footsteps behind me. Instead, I looked out the portals, the great windows, thick plexiglass which insulated us from the vastness of space. Distant nebulae and clouds of interstellar gas drifted millions of light years away, and clusters of suns glinted in the blackness, the void. They seemed so cold, just like they always did. Oh, it was beautiful, of course, but even after my first year of an assignment on a ship I could appreciate the wish of many of the crew to settle on a planet. Any planet, be it hot or cold, dangerous or dull.

My train of thoughts was interrupted as Cax caught up with me, grabbing my shoulder. I froze, staring at him, shocked. Had he just touched me? With as much force as I could, I ripped myself out of his grasp. His exclamation was drowned out as I noisily stamped up the metal stairs, the sounds echoing in my ears. Ah, finally, the main control room. There was already a crowd gathered, and Ciria, second in command, nodded at me, her face anxious.
"Glad you came, Ari. I'm afraid my message wasn't much use." I nodded, exaulting inwardly. Hah, told you so, told you so! As much as I wanted to turn around and yell it in Cax's face, I calmly walked to the panel. Half of the crew was clustered around it, and excited buzz running through them as a new image was projected onto the screen.
It was a ship.
A ship! I gasped, my eyes wide. What was another Colony ship doing out in this end of the system? And drifting... My expression of surprise turning to a frown, I bent down to look at the readings. Sure enough, it was a Colony ship. The blessing was even visible from here - the message that every ship was blessed with, to ensure it's safety. The letters were ancient, a foreign reminder of the planet our people had once left behind. I meant to ask Ciria what it translated to, but for now, my attention was captured.
"No reply." I looked at Vter, an officer. He shook his head sharply, thick locks of his jet black hair falling over his forehead. "We sent out a formal greeting," he explained, seeing my raised eyebrows. "But they haven't replied."
As Benel, the captain, walked in, a hush fell over the room. He brushed past me to stand in front of the panel, a bemused expression on his face.
"Sir," Vter began, but Benel turned and motioned for silence.
"Saturn 0032 has been spotted, drifting, a short distance from us." I studied his scarred face, his anxiety showing through his usual poker face. "No reply has been recieved. The high control panel has done a system check, through Saturn's central computer. The results..." He paused. The room was dead silent, and after a moment, he continued. "The results show that the life support system failed exactly thirteen months, three days, and 9 hours ago."
With those words, a chill settled over the chamber, dread swirling around us, filling our minds and hearts. A drifitng ship. A ghost ship. Not even the captain could continue, and for a while, we stared at the screen, the black and silver ship drifting, drifting aimlessly. Lifelessly. A crew gone, forever.
"We..." Slowly, our eyes met his, and he held our gaze for a brief moment, but it wavered as he spoke. "A party of volunteers is required to restore the ship, and pull it into tow. We will notify the City as soon as this has been completed. Anyone?"
The room was still, and I could feel the tension thick in the air. Seconds dragged by, and a few officers raised their hands, followed by the oldest crew... My hands were frozen. I wouldn't have been able to raise them, even had I wished to. My mind was stuck on what he hadn't said. Life support system, failed.
Abruptly, he nodded. The room was released, and the scraping of stools and shuffling of feet filled my ears. I looked up a moment later, and the volunteers had gone. Ciria was still standing by the door, looking grim. I looked towards Benel, but Cax stood before him. Unbelievingly, I heard him arguing.
"Sir, I have trained numerous times in simulations, and done three semesters of intensive study in this area, I belive my presence would be a valuable addition..." Benel's expression was tight with an unreadable emotion.
"Ensign, are you aware that the gravitational systems have also experienced a failure." The tone of his voice was terrible, a matter of fact tone that was oddly chilling.
"Yes, I've just said, I've trained in repairing....those...." Cax's voice broke at Benel's expression. I couldn't even meet his eyes. Something, something I couldn't grasp afflicted the Captain.
"The gravitational systems have experienced a failure. The crew sent to restore the ship is well prepared for what meets them, and what they must do."
And suddenly, I grasped what he was saying. The people, the crew members-my stomach twisted, and the floor began to slide under me. I wanted them all to stop, to go away. I couldn't deal with the truth, horrible truth...
But Cax continued. I couldn't stand him, his voice, his tone, his ignorance... My previous anger towards him was superficial, baseless save a few condecending remarks. But now, now, how could he be so thick?
"Ensign." Benel's voice cut through Cax's voice, leaving no room for argument. I hated him for saying what he said next, I hated him. He didn't have to... "The crew will cleanse the ship, and jettison the... remains." And Cax fell silent, utterly. My throat closed up, and I bit my lip, trying to drown out my thoughts with pain. I was dimly aware of Benel striding past, hard, and uncompromising, and Cax stumbling after him, fleeing the site of his ignorance.
When I dared to look up, the room was empty, save Ciria, who sat at the door, her eyes closed. Hesitantly, I found my feet, and walked unsteadily over to her. She opened her eyes, bright with tears, and smiled.
"The Saturn 0032..." Her voice was filled with a pain I couldn't fathom. "My father," she said softly, so softly I could barely hear her, "commanded that ship." I could only stare as she straightened up, her moment of grief passed, ready to put away all personal feelings for duty towards the Colony. "But such is life, Aria. Never take anything for granted... never, never, never." As she stood before me, she smiled once again, even as she wiped away the tears streaming down her cheeks, and turned, walking out the cold room, through the doorway, and she was gone.

I was alone, the room empty, barren. The screen still displayed the Saturn 0032, its lifeless hulk drifiting through a cloud of interstellar dust. My eyes wouldn't leave the words written in strange symbols on the side of the ship, the Blessing. Its meaning flooded back to me, and a bitterness stung me. Its beautiful words revebrated through my heart, and I gulped, somehow finding the courage to turn away, back to my duties. And as I walked, I repeated the Blessing...
To protect, to serve, to sacrafice, such is the way, for life, for death, forever.