The Last Moments of Captain Karl Janek: Prometheus
Karl Janek’s first thought as he watches the obscenity lift off in front of him is simple;
I knew it.
This job had been squirrely from the get go. Janek had considered himself a man of faith, you didn’t pilot long haul ships without it, but he viewed his faith the way he viewed his bolt gun. Just because it was always there didn’t mean he liked having to reach for it, because, chances are, if he was reaching it, he was in trouble. So he kept his faith with him but not of him, separate.
His faith had been sorely tested before they even set off; Weyland had dangled entirely too much money in front of him, Chance and Ravel for them to be given any kind of freedom on this job and Janek had told his boys as such when he took them out for a lobster dinner, on Weyland’s dime. This, if they accepted, was going to be a clusterfuck of the very worst kind and their top objective would remain the same as it ever was; bring the boat home, make sure they were on it.
It got worse.
It was always going to.
Some of the crew Weyland picked were known to him, men and women who’d been out past the red line with him before, or with friends of his. They would hold their posts, or not, but the scientists, the wide-eyed, deer in headlights scientists were a disaster waiting to happen. So incredibly excited by something that could kill them, they forgot it could kill them. Only Shaw seemed together. She was small, burly, utterly calm. The eye of the hurricane and the only person who’d bothered to introduce herself to Janek, to thank him for the trip, to ask questions. She was old fashioned, polite. He liked that.
They slept, because that’s what you did. Janek dreamed of accordions and France and old rock music, because that’s what he did.
Shaw, panicking, on the radio. Janek is already moving, already plotting courses and vectors to go and pick up the tattered remnants of his people and get them off this pimple of a world. Talking to Shaw with one half of his brain, the other navigating. It takes him a few seconds to put together what she’s saying.
Stop the ship.
A single heartbeat, his eyes closed. Back in Paris.
Eyes open and talking again, plotting a different vector. His mind filled with images of a pot, filled to the brim, bubbling and steaming and preparing to tip over.
Janek loved his work because he loved seeing new places and this world was about as new as it was ever going to get. Holloway had spotted the structures and Janek had felt it then, the same animalistic shiver that the rest of the crew had; Shaw and Holloway were right, humanity wasn’t alone.
Later, when it started to go wrong, Janek coped by remembering what exactly they were dealing with. This was proof of alien life that had been aware of humanity for the whole of recorded history, that had been up to the elbows in his DNA for longer than the DNA had BEEN his. This was equivalent to meeting God, or at the very least finding his doorstep and a BACK IN TEN MINUTES SIGN.
In his kinder moments, he liked to think that was why so many mistakes had been made; Fyfield losing sight of his maps, Milburn playing with a creature that didn’t just kill him, but mutilated him in doing so, Holloway’s drunken despair because finding God wasn’t good enough. Even Vickers, and he’d had some fun with Vickers and her with him, so completely closed off to the experience that she was willing to kill to preserve the good of the ship, and of course, herself. Janek knew exactly which part of the ship particularly concerned her; her lifeboat, her little slice of corporate Earth, two and a half years from home. He’d seen it, it was nice.
His quarters were nicer.
Then there was Shaw, and Weyland, and the growing realization of the war being waged on his ship without his knowledge. That didn’t make him angry, you learnt to work around the bad pseudo-Shakespearean bullshit of corporate jobs, step over the bodies when needed, or you didn’t fly long haul. What it did do though, was professionally offend him. Janek, Chance and Ravel were good enough to be cleared for this run but not good enough to be told the old man himself was in the hold? That Shaw was going to be operated on? That there were men with guns pointing the wrong way on his boat? No, that shit did not fly and Janek was going to have severe words with people when he got back.
Lifting into the clear, deadly air, the Juggernaut in front of them and pulling away. The alien ship bigger, faster. Janek likes that; he likes being the smallest dog in the fight. Chance calling out distance to one side of him, Ravel calling out airspeed and bearing to the other. His boys, flying together, one last time.
Janek found himself spending more and more time on the bridge, as he always did on prospecting jobs. He’d never been prospecting for knowledge before and he found that not only did he not like it, but that being at one remove from the action, for the most part, at least gave him some distance. He could see what none of the others could, the thing that would kill them all far more directly than any incomprehensible alien entity; everyone was in charge. As far as Chance and Ravel were concerned, he was in charge. As far as Vickers was concerned, she was in charge. And so was Shaw. And Holloway. And David, and of course, Weyland. Too many cooks, too many agendas, none of them talking. You didn’t communicate this far out, you got dead and you got dead quickly. Janek was mildly impressed as many of them had made it as far as they had, even after they’d had to all but incinerate whatever Fyfield had become to kill it. For a while, he let himself believe the situation might even be survivable.
Thirty seconds out, the Juggernaut filling the windows, Karl Janek’s second thought is his father’s last words;
‘Die in the saddle.’
Twenty seconds out, he thinks of polite, studious Shaw and the fact her faith had killed them all. She’ll have it tougher than everyone else, being left behind, and left behind with Vickers at that. He chuckles.
Ten seconds out, he thinks of the fact he led the first crew to confirm intelligent alien life.
Five seconds. ‘HANDS UP!’ Karl Janek opens his eyes and watches the end hurtle towards him.
Two seconds out he realizes it was never about bringing the boat home, the boat IS home.
One second. He smiles, spreads his arms and realizes he’s dying a happy man. The Juggernaut fills his screen, fills his vision, ends his life and his last thought is a simple one;
Who else on this miserable rock can claim that?