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Lorelei is dead. And that's not good...
Welcome aboard the United States Orion Class Spaceship: Ascension. They are 51 years into their 100-year journey through space and they've just had what appears to be their first murder, a girl named Lorelei.
Before we go too far, note that this timeline is incredibly helpful for knowing all that has gone down before all this happened. When the body of Lorelei turns up on the ship's "beach," the ship's Executive Officer Aaron Gault begins his investigation at the request of Captain Denninger. Then we learn that the last person to see Lorelei alive was a man named Stokes, who works in the lower decks. Get used to that idea: lower deck means lower class, it' just how it goes aboard the ship.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Harris Enzmann rushes to see his agitated father, who has suffered a massive stroke. While at the hospital, Harris learns that there has been a visitor, an academic who asks about the Ascension project and seems to know too much already. Harris assures him that the program doesn't exist.
Back on the spaceship, some more of the key players are introduced. Aaron Gault's girlfriend Emily was Lorelei's sister. And it turns out that Emily's husband (yep, she has a husband and a boyfriend) is the ship's Security Officer. So, that's going to be awkward. Emily does have some big information though, and tells Gault that her sister Lorelei was dating a guy who worked on the lower decks, a handsome fellow named James Toback. Also of note here is Viondra, who is the head of the ship's stewardesses and also the Captain's wife. Viondra is a bit of a schemer.
The little girl who found Lorelei's body was Christa and right now, she's having a hard time when she wakes up from her shock-coma. Can you blame her? She's Lorelei's little sister. And she's treated by Dr. Burns, who is the ships Chief Science Officer. Also there? Nora Burns, Dr. Burns' daughter and seemingly a part time nurse. Nora sort of has the hots for James Toback too, but doesn't know that he's a suspect in Lorelei's murder yet.
Gault stops by the library to see Ophelia, the ship's librarian, who tells him that there aren't books about solving murders, but there are some great film noir movies with detectives in them. So, you know, that's kind of how the world works when the only literature you have is from before 1963 –the year the ship you live on was shot into space.
Also important: The last thing that Lorelei checked out from the library was a video card from Year 31. But she only returned the case, not the video itself. Where is it?
Oh, also important to note: Gault and Ophelia were in a massive fire that killed a lot of people in in Year 31, and they're the only survivors because they were saved by Captain Denninger. More on that later, but it's important.
Also when you live on a ship your whole life, it turns out that there's a thing that happens around puberty, where everyone goes through a crisis wherein they have to accept that they have a limited future, one that's been pre-destined by the ship itself. And Lorelei's, by the way, was especially bumpy, according to Dr. Burns.
Viondra, meanwhile, is having sex with Councilman Rose. See, she wants power, and right now her husband is Captain, so she has it, but she also knows that he could be unseated by Councilman Rose and if that happens, she wants to make sure she's in the right place at the right time. When she next sees her husband, she gives him information about Rose. Viondra, she's playing both sides of the aisle. And as head of the stewardesses, she trades in information.
As Gault searches the lower decks, he finds a book of Rilke poetry that someone has been using as a notebook to write down all the secrets to staging an insurrection on the ship. But there's no time for that now, a radiation storm is coming and everyone batons down their hatches, lies in a protective bed-place and puts on a hose to breathe through (this happens a lot on Ascension).
Meanwhile, James Toback and Nora Burns decide to go looking in the beach for clues about Lorelei, take off most of their clothes and jump into the water. They swim way down and find it, the video card that Lorelei had checked out. Then they take shelter in a rover while the radiation storm passes. In their underwear. But there's no funny business. To be clear, though, Nora would be fine with the funny business.
While the storm is happening, someone creeps around inside Dr. Burn's bedroom and steals the seahorse necklace she always wears. Dr. Burns is comatose with the mask secure on her face but Christa gets a full glimpse of the mysterious man. And when the storm is over, everyone raids Stokes' headquarters and finds the gun in a sack of grain. Stokes is taken off to Ascension jail. And Christa hands Gault an even bigger clue: a compass that Lorelei had kept from "her boyfriend."
After the funeral for Lorelei, the cell to the door that Stokes is being kept in is opened mysteriously and he escapes and goes immediately to the gun cabinet. He takes the gun out, and worse, takes Nora Burns hostage. As Gault confronts the Captain with the compass, he is shocked to learn that the Captain did have an affair with Lorelei. That's when Stokes comes in. A fight ensues, and Stokes tries to shoot Gault, but can't work the gun. Finally, Stokes is sucked out the airlock.
And then the biggest shock of all! Stokes lands on a pad and is taken away by some men. Wait, what? Yes, team, it turns out that Ascension is actually a gigantic spaceship kept in a large building. The only think they're in space. For 51 years, they've been watched over by Harris Enzmann and his father. And now that Stokes is out of the ship, there's going to be some trouble.