The Choice

Hull breaches detected.
Atmosphere venting.
Ship integrity has fallen below 65%.
Crew death imminent.

     The klaxons blared and the emergency lighting flashed. The computer decided to wake the captain from his mandated rest interval. The SCS Convergence was dying.

     As soon as John’s sensory input feeds began transmitting he knew something terrible had happened. The ship was designed to take care of most minor emergencies automatically without even alerting the crew that something was wrong. If alarms were sounding and the captain was being notified, it meant that there had been a catastrophic failure on some level — hull breach, fuel explosion, collision — something along those lines. As soon as he had his wits about him, John requested the ship status and damage report. When the computer reported the damage, John knew they had been hit by micro meteors. There were hull breaches in several places and the engine fuel containment field had failed. In addition, the ship was running on auxiliary backup power, probably because the solar panels had been damaged or, more than likely, completely ripped off.
     “First things first, I have to get those hull breaches sealed.” John said to himself. He gave the command to put his SMOCC suit into ambulatory mode and made his way to the storage closet where the hull-breach tools were kept. On the way there, he attempted to raise his lieutenant on the coms. There was no answer.
     “Maybe the coms were damaged as well.” John said.
     He checked the damage report and there was no mention of the communication system.
     Captain John Jacob Forsythe, or “Cap” as his crew called him, was on his first mission for Stellar Command. It was a great honor to be chosen to lead a 25-year survey mission. It also meant he was the center of the ship’s universe. Not to hear from his second in command by now was worrying.
     “Maybe my SMOCC suit is damaged.” John ran an internal diagnostic on the suit. The news wasn’t good. He only had a little over three hours left before the entire thing died, probably for good. It seems one of the micro meteors that breached the hull took a piece of his suit with it. That meant he had to fix the hull breaches and get his brain back into his body in just over 180 minutes.

     Ever since Earth unified after the third World War ended in 2030, all space flight became the purview of Stellar Command. By 2050 the Earth had reached the breaking point — the amount of human beings it supported was near the maximum safe number. Since we had already colonized or converted every available inch on good old Terra, we naturally looked to the stars for a new place to expand. At first, it seemed like there were candidates for Earth-class planets wherever we looked. Many planets were found that could potentially support life and had liquid water – or so they told us. As it turned out, though, each new home had some reason why it wasn’t suitable for large-scale colonization. Small populations cropped up on several of these “Earthesque” planets and have been, up until now, what has kept old Earth alive. Unfortunately the population is still growing despite strict birthing limits. So, in 2068, the search continues for a new home.

     Since the speed of light is still the universal speed limit of the cosmos, trips between the stars take a very long time. Traveling at three-quarters of 186,000 miles per second may sound fast, but it requires keeping a human alive for a substantial amount of time while inside a flying tin can. Even with the life-prolonging medical techniques that have been developed over the past one-hundred years, bringing along enough food and water for several humans is virtually impossible. Scientists attempted to create self-sustaining food sources, explored bringing cattle on board, and even developed methods to recoup 99.9% of the body’s expelled moisture. Despite their best efforts, though, scientists barely hit the ten-year mark. Earth was stumped until a scientist named Leon Ruskinsky decided to take the human body out of the equation.

Ruskinsky knew that a ship filled with intelligent computers was still going to need a human to make decisions. Machines couldn’t make certain choices on their own – it was tried and ended disastrously. Since the planets these Evo-Transport (ET) ships were heading to were ten and twenty light years away, there would be a ten or twenty year delay in radio transmissions made between any ship and old Earth. That’s just one-way, too — round trip messages could take forty years! Thus, any computers on these ships were on their own. This is why a human with a real, organic brain was needed on board. Dr. Ruskinsky took it upon himself to find a way to make sure the search for a new home was completed successfully.

     Ruskinsky experimented for years, and eventually found a solution. Some say he took his task too literally, but the answer came in the form of the SMOCC — the Self-contained Mobile Organic Cerebral Carrier. Ruskinsky separated the human brain from the body and placed it into a cybernetic suit, effectively creating a cyborg. The crew’s bodies were put into cryogenic storage, and once the destination was reached, the ET ship would re-implant the brain into it’s original body. Since the human cerebellum only required oxygen and a minimum of nutrients, there was no longer a need to bring thousands of pounds of food and water to sustain life. The bodies in cryo-hibernation didn’t need anything at all, and the SMOCC units pretty much had everything the brain needed built right into the suit itself. It wasn’t an elegant solution, but it worked. The crew could use their cyborg suits to perform basic ship functions, interact with other crew members, enjoy rest periods, and even share intimate moments by allowing someone to stimulate their brain’s pleasure center. (Psychologists discovered long ago that humans in a confined space for a prolonged period needed the ability to release tension.) So, now two or three of Ruskinsky’s SMOCC units run the ship for the bulk of the journey, and mankind is able to explore distant solar systems. Captain John Jacob Forsythe and his second in command, lieutenant Shir Aleppo, were the two selected to crew the SCS Convergence.

     John knew he had to seal the hull breaches or nothing else would matter. Even though his SMOCC suit was a completely closed system, without an atmosphere inside the ship he wouldn’t be able to get his brain back into his body. Luckily, the designers of the cyborg suit knew that the ability to seal hull breaches might come in handy. All he needed was the proper attachments for his SMOCC’s arms. These “arms” were actually just multi-purpose stalks that could be fitted with a multitude of attachments, from a hand with four “fingers” and an opposable thumb, to an upside-down Christmas Tree shaped-device used for applying suction to lift heavy objects. What John needed now was the plasma welder and the breach sealing patches. He didn’t have to weld them, but better safe than sorry.

     John reached the storage unit on the workshop level a few minutes later. He grabbed four medium sized patches since he wasn’t exactly sure how serious the breaches were. If any of the holes had been extremely large, though, all of the air would be gone already. This gave the captain hope that the breaches were golf-ball sized or smaller — easy to seal and not necessarily life-threatening. He grabbed the plasma torch attachment, snapped it into place on his right arm, closed the storage hatch, and took off towards the central ship’s elevator.

     The SCS Convergence was a classic Evo-Transport, designed with long-term flight in mind. The Convergence had one elevator located at the front of the ship where the elevator shaft itself formed the forward hull. Not a typical sized lift, the elevator on an ET ship was as wide as half a city block, and one-quaqrter as deep. This allowed for the elevator to be used, in essence, as a moving room inside the ship to easily access the ship’s different floors. There are five main levels to an Evo-Transport — the living quarters, the command deck, the science lab and recreation center, the workshop and engine room, and cryo-storage / medical. There are also vehicles and structures stored in areas only accessible from outside the ship.

     The way the ship is designed allows for the elevator shaft to provide a barrier at the front of the ship that shields the aft from any oncoming debris. Unfortunately, designers didn’t take into account that when an object hits this forward barrier just right, the gravity produced by a ship the size of an ET can pull the object back towards the ship. Since the rest of the hull is not as strong as the front barrier, objects can easily penetrate. John suspected that was probably what had happened, and why the breaches were small — micro meteors are most easily affected by the SCS Convergence’s own gravitational field.

     John made his way to the first hull breach located somewhere towards the front of the command deck. He got off the elevator on the top floor and instantly knew where to look. Papers, pens, and anything else not nailed down had piled up in one specific area of the command deck. The breach was obviously located on the wall facing the main view screen, which was fortunate since there wasn’t much else there. John made his way to the breach, cleared away the debris, and placed a medium sized patch over the hole. He used his suit’s microphone to check for sounds of air whooshing and when he heard nothing, he used his plasma welder attachment to weld the patch to the inside hull wall. It took ten good minutes and who knows how much oxygen to finish the job, and when he was done the breach alarm for that level stopped ringing.
     “I guess that did it.” John said. “Time to hit the next one.”
     He proceeded back to the elevator and as it was descending to the living quarters, John checked the battery time remaining on his SMOCC suit. It said 110 minutes, give or take.
     “That should be enough time to fix the breaches and transfer back to my own body.” John thought. He could tell the computer he needed an emergency replant in order to skip several redundant checks that ate up an extra hour or so. Unfortunately, if any of the vital bits of medical machinery had been damaged, he was out of luck.
     The breach on the living quarters level was not as easy to get to as the breach on the command deck. It was situated behind a storage cabinet in one of the crew rooms, and John had to use the gripper attachments on his SMOCC suit to literally rip the storage cabinet off the wall.
     “If anyone complains,” John said, “I’ll take the room with the broken storage locker.”
     John was pretty laid back about stuff like that — you had to be if you were a captain. If you couldn’t let the small stuff fall by the wayside then you’d constantly be freaking out, all the time. When you are in charge there is always someone or something to be dealt with.
     When John got done sealing the hole on the crew quarters level, he checked his map for the location of the last hull breach. The readout in his suit told him that it was on the cryo-storage level.
     “Hmm. Definitely not a good sign.” John mumbled. He made his way back to the elevator and gave the command to descend.
     Only the captain and his second in command could access the stored bodies of the crew, mainly because only the captain and his second were active in their SMOCC units during the bulk of the voyage. The crew were stored whole in cryo-storage, brain inside body. There was no need for more than two SMOCC units to be active at once, even though each suit only used a small amount of resources. The ship basically ran itself, and any emergency that two SMOCC suits couldn’t handle would probably mean the destruction of the ship anyway. Even if one of the crew wanted to swap into one of the active cyborg suits, it was impossible — each SMOCC unit was programmed specifically for the brain that inhabited it.

     When John got down to the cryo-storage level he knew something was seriously wrong as soon as he stepped out of the elevator. The entire floor was filled with Cryon gas — the lifeblood of the apparatus that kept the crew’s bodies on ice and intact. John didn’t want to think what would happen if too much had leaked out. He made his way over to the automatic shut-off valve, hit the switch, and vented the gas.

     The locator on his emergency readout was telling John that the hull breach was located in the machine room, the heart of the entire storage level. He opened the access panel to reveal the tunnel opening that led to the main junction area for the coolant system. Fortunately, his SMOCC suit was built to navigate these maintenance tunnels. John configured his suit for tunnel access and set off down the shaft.

     When the captain arrived at the junction room, it was chaos. At least four of the coolant manifolds were damaged beyond repair, and the main coolant recycle pipe had a huge tear in it. He followed the broken pipes, figuring it would lead him to the hull breach itself.
     As the captain came around the edge of the main junction panel, he saw another SMOCC suit sanding there and instantly recognized his second in command, lieutenant Shir Aleppo.
     “Shir! I have been trying to com you for an hour. What happened?” John used his vocalizer to speak out loud. Shir did not respond.
     “Shir?” The captain called to his second in command once again.
     “Shir! Answer me!” John demanded as he moved to where her SMOCC suit was facing the wall. He came up behind her, and used his grapple arm attachment to move her suit away from the wall.
     “Oh no! Shir!” The entire front of Shir’s suit had been disintegrated. Like a frozen a rose dipped in liquid nitrogen and broken with a hammer, Shir’s SMOCC suit was in pieces.
     “Oh Shir.” The captain felt like his heart had been ripped out. “What happened?” The captain saw patches and a plasma torch on Shir’s suit arm. John smiled, he had taught her well.
     “Computer, run diagnostic on SMOCC suit, Aleppo, Shir.” The captain ordered.

Status of SMOCC suit for Aleppo, Shir. – Suit mechanics inoperable. Suit battery at critical level. Organic containment system – minimal functionality, emergency life support procedures activated.

     The computer droned on with the actual readings of coolant levels and power readouts, but John stopped listening after he learned that the suit had activated its emergency life support system. This meant that there was a chance that Shir’s brain could still be alive in some form. He had to get it to the medical lab as soon as possible. The breach had to be sealed first, though, so John prayed that the suit could hold out until he was done. He proceeded farther into the junction room and found the hole. It was in the floor so sealing it wasn’t going to be difficult. That wasn’t what the captain was worried about, though.
     “Thank God for small miracles.” John said as he went straight to work with the patch and the plasma torch.
     Once the captain finished welding the patch into place, he immediately ejected the self-contained brain tank from Shir’s SMOCC suit and took it to the medical facility on the cryo-storage level as fast as he could. This was where crew brains were implanted and removed. He took Shir’s brain tank and inserted it into the receptacle. After that, the computer took over and began to assess the condition of her brain. After several valuable minutes passed, John requested a status update from the computer.
     “Computer, status, brain of Aleppo, Shir.” John said out loud.

Status, brain, Aleppo, Shir – oxygen deprivation detected, possibility of damage 54%, must re-oxygenate and provide vital nutrients before evaluation can be completed.

     John’s hope died. Shir basically had a one in two chance of ending up as a vegetable. Things weren’t looking good, and Shir’s fate was now in the hands of the medical robots.
     Since there was nothing he could do to further help Shir in the med lab, the captain headed to the cryo-storage control room in order to deal with the next pressing issue — his own imminent demise. On the way, John had the ship check overall hull integrity. When the computer returned a reading of 100%, John felt a modicum of relief. At least the ship wasn’t venting atmosphere any longer. Now all he had to worry about was the impending loss of power to his SMOCC suit. Always thinking on his feet, John had already run a self-diagnostic on the suit and was told that it would be impossible to repair the battery. The entire apparatus was shot, and unfortunately, John did not have the knowhow to re-program another suit to accept his brain. He also didn’t have the time to revive Jeremy, the com expert who knew how to reprogram a SMOCC.
     “That’s assuming anyone is still alive after all the coolant system damage.” John reminded himself. There was only one pipeline left completely intact in that junction room, and John knew, deep down, what that probably meant. As captain, John was responsible for the safety of his crew and would be devastated if he lost even one of the people who he had trained, slept, ate, and lived with for five years before the ship even left Earth orbit.
     John moved through the corridor that led to the front of the cryo-storage level in order to enter the control room. It was located just next to the elevator to make access quick and easy. During the five-minute walk from medical, the captain’s mind kept going to dark places but John clamped down on those horrible thoughts as soon as they popped up.
     “I’m sure everything is fine, the cryo level has multiple redundancies built-in to prevent loss of life.” John said out loud to reassure himself. “There is no way that all of the auxiliary coolant systems failed.”
     As soon as John rolled across the threshold of the cryo control room, he just knew. The control panel looked like a house at Christmas time. Red and yellow lights littered the entire readout and John almost didn’t have the heart to check the crew status. He activated the voice link and requested a crew status from the computer.
     “Computer, crew status, cryo-storage level.” The captain said, knowing what the outcome would likely be.

All life signs from crew in cryo-hibernation have ceased.

     Hearing the computer say it out loud broke his heart.
     “Computer, list crew individually and indicate status.” John ordered. Why he did this he wasn’t sure. Maybe he was hoping the computer had made a mistake, or maybe it was because these friends of his, these colleagues he had spent years with, deserved to have their names said out loud one more time by the ship that they gave their life for.

Barca, Jeremy H. – Communications – deceased.
Cooper, Frank J. – security – deceased.
Menendez, Charles L. – engineer – deceased.
Miller, Alex F. – botanist – deceased.
Rapoor, Ravi S. – co-pilot – deceased.
Shinto, Fujiko – biologist – deceased.
Singer, Fred T. – psychologst – deceased.

     That was it then. The entire crew was dead. The original mission was now impossible to complete – all that was left was survival. Everything had gone bad, and John knew it. Now, he existed only to make it back to Old Earth so that they could send out another expedition as soon as possible. ET ships weren’t cheap, and returning this one meant one more crew out there searching for a new home. Knowing he only had a short time to get his brain back into his body, John asked the computer to bring up his status.
     “Computer, cryo-storage re-implantation and revival status, Forsythe, John J., Captain.”

Forsythe, John J. – Captain – re-implantation impossible, physical body not viable.

     The captain sat in stunned silence for a long time before he was able to think. The computer had just told him that his body was, in essence, dead, and couldn’t support his brain – a brain that had just over an hour left to live. The captain sat there in front of the computer console, unable to move. There was not many times in his adult life that he was at a loss, but at this very moment, captain John Jacob Forsythe truly had no idea what to do next.
     “Other than die, that is.” The captain whispered. “What the hell do I do now?”
     To find out just how much time he had left, John ran another self-diagnostic on his SMOCC suit. When the scan completed, the suit told him he had one hour and twenty-three minutes left until his brain stopped functioning.
     “At least I won’t feel any pain. Hopefully it’ll be just like going to sleep.” John said. He did his best to keep a brave face on, but in reality, he was terrified. Death. The word felt like a knife cutting right to core of his being.
“At least I’ll have some time to make peace before I go.” John said after a few minutes of silent contemplation.
     Captain John Jacob Forsythe considered the sum total of his life. He had done so much, yet so much had been left undone. It took almost ten whole minutes of introspection before John thought he might be able to die in peace. Sitting there, ready to meet his maker, John almost didn’t hear the computer chime in.

Diagnosis complete for cerebrum of Aleppo, Shir. Brain function at 77%, will attempt to repair damaged areas and reconstitute unrecoverable areas. Completion time estimate: 4 hours. Odds of brain re-implantation: 68%.

     John had completely forgotten that Shir’s brain was in the medical bay being repaired by the ship’s med system. As of now, Shir only had a 68% chance of retaining enough brain function to make it possible for her to become whole again.
     “Well, at least Shir might have a shot at…” Suddenly John stopped, mid-sentence. He had just realized that Shir’s physical body had to be intact, otherwise the computer wouldn’t have bothered attempting to save her brain. John immediately requested the status.
     “Computer, cryo-storage re-implantation and revival status, Aleppo, Shir, lieutenant.”

Aleppo, Shir – lieutenant – re-implantation possible, physical body 100% viable.

     The engineers back on Earth had thought of 1000 problems the crew could face on a twenty-year trip, and provided solutions for those problems as best they could. Unfortunately, it was the problems that they couldn’t imagine that had the potential to end the mission and possibly kill the crew as well. This was one of those times, but the captain had an idea.
     Dare he do it? In all the years John had worked for Stellar Command, he had never heard anyone even contemplate the possibility. So many questions started to pop into John’s mind, he didn’t even know where to start. Would a foreign body even accept his brain? Would the medical computer refuse to implant it? What about blood types and antibodies? Also, what would be the ramifications of putting a male brain into a female body? He asked the computer.
     “Computer, viability of implanting cerebrum of Forsythe, John. J into body of Aleppo, Shir. Analyze blood type, antigen type, hormone compatibility, and physical compatibility.” John requested the analysis, deep down hoping to hear it wasn’t possible. He wanted the computer to take the decision out of his hands.

Viability of implanting cerebrum of Forsythe, John J. Into body of Aleppo, Shir is 88%. Blood type match. Antigen match. Physical match possible. Hormone level discrepancy non-life threatening.

     John listened to the computer’s answer, cursing the wretched machine. With a viability of 88%, it was a fair bet that his brain would be able to survive in Shir’s body. Now, he had to choose. This thing he was considering had so many philosophical and moral implications that John’s mind became overwhelmed. He spent five minutes just trying to sort out the questions, much less arrive at answers.
     Through all of this, though, a small seed of fact took root deep inside as soon as John discovered he might be able to live. He tried to ignore it, but despite it all, the feeling inside was growing. There was a part of him that decided from the first second to go ahead and steal Shir’s body, and it was now screaming at him to do this thing — this grisly, morally bankrupt, body-violating thing. Captain John Jacob Forsythe, like so many billions of human beings before him, was afraid to die.

     When John had been promoted to captain, it had been the proudest day of his life. It was the culmination of many years of hard work, political schmoozing, and obeying the idiotic orders of many superior officers. He had made it, though, and it was something he loved. Before he was picked to captain this mission, he had served in the old Earth land-based military. Just because there was a world government didn’t mean that the entire Earth simply fell into step. There were rebellions to put down and guerrilla wars that had to be fought, and John had done his part. He had sent men to their deaths and had to deal with that fact when he woke up in a sweat at 3am. To make it palatable, John always told himself that if the time came he would easily sacrifice himself for any of the men under his command.

     Eventually, John was noticed and was chosen to captain the SCS Convergence. He gladly accepted, for a space voyage had always been his ultimate goal, and now he was going to be the head of an entire expedition. It was exciting, and John knew he was up to it. He had been a great captain, his men loved him, and he always did his duty. Unfortunately, up until now, it seemed that John had never truly been tested.
     “What’s wrong with me? I am supposed to sacrifice my life for my men.” John said it out loud, hoping that it would reinforce his resolve. “Then again, maybe me surviving will help to save Shir’s brain.” John told himself, but he knew it was bogus. Or was it? John had to give himself at least one valid reason for doing this thing he was about to do. He made his way to the medical lab and input the command to implant his brain into Shir’s body.
     As the anesthesia took over, John thought “I just want to live, is that really so bad?” A second later everything went dark.

     John opened his eyes after what felt like a minute. He was lying on a table in the medical section of the cryo-storage level. For a few blissful moments, John had forgotten the circumstances of his situation. All he knew was that he was alive and inside a human body. The feel of drawing breath and of air going in and out of his lungs was delicious. John gulped the oxygen down. The various ship sounds reverberating naturally in his ear and throughout his skull were delightfully uplifting. Even the sensation of the cold table against his naked body was welcome stimulation. It was glorious, and he hadn’t felt anything like it in years. John was overjoyed at the prospect of being human again.
     Eventually, John’s eyes focused, and he looked down. Staring back at him was a small pair of women’s breasts. When he saw them, it suddenly came rushing back what he had done and why he had breasts.
     “I took her body.” John heard an unfamiliar soprano voice, and it took him a few moments to realize it was his. He sat up on the medical table and remained there for an eternity before he finally decided to try walking. The computer had stimulated all of his muscles with small electric shocks in preparation for use, so he wasn’t worried he’d fall. Instead, John knew that each step he took was one step farther into his choice.
     “There is nothing wrong with wanting to live, and nothing wrong with doing what I had to do!” John told himself every chance he got. There is an old saying that posits “if you hear something enough, you start to believe it.” Just then, the captain felt that old familiar pressure on his bladder, so made his way to the waste disposal stall.
     John was strapping himself into the toilet when he suddenly realized he wasn’t equipped with the same apparatus he usually urinated with. He looked down at his new but slightly used vagina and realized he was at a complete loss.
     “I have no idea how to pee. Great.” John shook his head.
     With the urge to urinate reaching a fever pitch, John decided to just let go and hope for the best. He pushed down on his bladder muscles and he felt the urine begin to flow.
     “Well, that’s the same as I remember.” John was momentarily relieved that there was a chance that men and women’s bodies weren’t so different. A second later, though, he got a stark reminder. When the urine finally reached its exit, it began to dribble and squirt out all over John’s legs and feet.
     “Yow!” John exclaimed as he reached for a towel. In order to stop the urine from spraying all over the place, he shoved the small cloth between his legs and attempted to block all the liquid that escaped his new female organ.
     “How the hell do woman use this thing?” John had no idea what he was doing. It took him five more minutes to finish urinating and when he was done, his socks were soaked, the towel was soaked, and he smelled like a dive bar bathroom. John laughed.
     “What a fiasco that was.” John said. The horrible experience he had while trying to go to the bathroom only made John realize the poor choice he had made. The poor, permanent choice. John grabbed a white jumpsuit and cleaned up the rest of the urine that was all over the floor. As he finished, he realized that feeling he was having in the pit of his stomach wasn’t guilt. He was hungry.
     John made his way to the ship’s mess hall. He had not eaten real food in years, so he decided to try everything at once. He reheated and rehydrated beef, chicken, pasta, rice, potatoes, and anything else he could find. He had a hamburger, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and spaghetti with meatballs. It was an orgasmic experience, and John remembered how stimulating it was to push food past all his taste buds, how good it felt when hot food made its way down the esophagus, and how satisfying it was to have a full belly. He felt divine, and for the first time since he made the decision to implant his brain into Shir’s body, he felt almost human.
     “Even if I dropped dead right now, it was worth it just to feel the sensation of eating one last time.” John thought. He decided to cap off his food festival with an ice cream sundae. As he was finishing up, the computer chimed in.

     Repair and recovery of cerebrum for Aleppo, Shir. complete.

     John wiped his face with a napkin. He had completely forgotten that Shir’s brain was being worked on. John wasn’t going to interrupt his meal, though.
     Eventually, the captain made his way back down to the cryo medical lab. The first thing he did was request the viability of the implantation of Shir’s brain.
     “Computer, viability of cerebrum implantation for Aleppo, Shir.”

     Implantation viability for cerebrum of Aleppo, Shir now 95% viable. Cerebrum implant must commence within five minutes or viability will be reduced to 0%.

     John regretted asking as soon as the computer finished speaking. Within the next five minutes Shir’s brain would die. John’s head started to spin, and he knew the choice he had to make.
     Shir was his apprentice. He had trained her, and she had responded to him well. So well, in fact, that John was grooming Shir to become captain one day. She looked up to him, and she had never disappointed John or let him down.
     “Captain. That means nothing if I chose to live.” John whispered.
     He sat in the cryo medical area and watched the timer on the screen. It had started at 5:00 minutes, and was now at 2:30. By this point, John had almost convinced himself that the choice he made to use Shir’s body was the correct one. He could let the time expire and then go on enjoying ice cream sundaes and breathing and all of the other wonderful experiences that humans get to have. He could stay busy for another three minutes, for sure.
     John knew that this went to the very core of his character. Deep down, though, John still didn’t want to die, nothing had changed, and frankly, he believed he didn’t deserve to die. He had served his men faithfully and never took their lives for granted. He had even been awarded medals for saving lives on the battlefield. Wasn’t that worth anything?
     “Anyone would bargain for just five more minutes of life.” John tried to reassure himself. He had snatched a few more minutes from the jaws of death, and if he gave up his life now, Shir would never be the wiser. She had the potential to be a great captain, and John knew it. He caught a reflection of his face — her face — and it was looking right through him. John checked the timer. It said 0:45 seconds.
     “Forty-five seconds to decide a lifetime’s worth.” John said, blankly staring at nothing. He knew what the right thing to do was. Willingly or not, she had provided him with a last hurrah, one more go around the track, and that was worth more to him than all the medals in the world.
     With ten seconds left, John reached out to press the button that would ready Shir’s brain for reimplantation. John sobbed. “Shir…”
     The clock had three seconds left on it. It was now or never. John reached his hand towards the console and as he was about to press the button, a tear fell onto his finger. John paused to lick the moisture from his hand, and the salty taste exploded in his mouth. John smiled.



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