In 2270, Earth is completely depleted and no one lives there anymore. Those that have money move to Rhea; but most of the population lives in orbit in space stations. Dr. Laura Portmann decides to work in the cargo ship Kassandra in an eight year travel to Station 42 that is in orbit of RH278 to raise money to meet her sister Arianne in Rhea. They keep in touch with each other, but their messages take three years to reach the other. Laura joins Captain Pierre Lacroix and his crew composed by the First Officer Anna Lindbergh; Communication Officer Miyuki Yoshida and Igor Prokoff and Claudio Vespucci. The Sky Marshall Samuel Decker joins the team since the terrorist group Luddites, led by Klaus Bruckner, is bombing the stations. Lacroix organizes shifts of eight and half months for each crew-member while the others rest in cryogenic sleep. Three years and eight months later, Laura finds that there is apparently a stowaway in the cargo compartments and Decker and Lacroix are awakened to investigate the incident with her; however, Lacroix has an accident and dies and the crew is woken up. Further, she finds that Arianne's transmission to her took only twenty minutes. What might be the secret of the cargo transported by Kassandra and where the spaceship is going?
- Year 2267. The ecosystem of Earth has been destroyed and mankind is forced to live in orbit. The story of CARGO takes place on the derelict spaceship KASSANDRA on its 8 year journey to a remote freight-station in deep space. The young and inexperienced medical officer LAURA PORTMANN (Anna Katharina Schwabroh) is the only person awake on board. The rest of the crew lies frozen in cryosleep. During her daily patrols, through the eerily empty ship, she begins to get the feeling that she may not be alone on board. She wakes up part of the crew. A dangerous reconnaissance mission into the vast and ice-cold cargo hold ends in a catastrophe, where the captain of the ship dies. The remainder of the crew is awakened. During a second discovery mission into the cargo hold, the crew finds out that the ship carries something completely different than officially declared. Laura uncovers a large-scale conspiracy, where the government is withholding groundbreaking information about the current state of evolution back home on Earth. After a dramatic showdown, Laura is able to shut down the source of misinformation and bring back proof to uncover the conspiracy. However, this inconvenient truth may start a revolution.
(LONG SYNOPSIS ***SPOILERS***)
Beautiful images of endless wheat fields and bright blue skies. A tall and good looking woman dressed in white gently touches the ears of the wheat. Suddenly, a superimposed text destroys the dreamlike imagery: "Come to RHEA". The entire image becomes distorted, and literally drifts away: the images were a commercial for the planet RHEA on a free-floating TV billboard in space.
Behind the billboard, a derelict, uninhabitable planet Earth appears, several giant space stations rotating in its orbit. The sun rises on the horizon. Superimpose: Year 2267.
A dyzzing flight into one of the space-stations. Everything rotates. We finally land in a departure gate, where the young medic LAURA PORTMANN (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) is waiting for her flight to leave. She has decided to work as medical officer on a cargoship named KASSANDRA. The Kassandra will spend 8 years in deep space transporting building materials to a remote space-station. Most of the time, Laura will be in cryosleep. Although she doesn't like this assignment, she knows that it will give her enough money to pay for her long awaited journey to the planet RHEA. There, she will finally be able to meet her beloved sister ARIANE PORTMANN (Maria Boettner) again. RHEA is the new Earth: Intact nature, back to the roots, but only the rich can afford to live there. Most of the people live cramped in the space-station orbiting Earth.
Laura's flight is called. She sends a last videomessage to her sister Ariane before leaving: Just 8 more years, and then she'll have the money to come to her.
Laura enters the Kassandra. The ship looks old, derelict and spooky. The crew consists of the captain, PIERRE LACROIX (Pierre Semmler), the first officer ANNA LINDBERGH (Regula Grauwiller), the security agent SAMUEL DECKER (Martin Rapold), the technician MIYUKI YOSHIDA (Yangzom Brauen) and the two flight engineers CLAUDIO VESPUCCI (Michael Finger) and IGOR PROKOFF (Claude Oliver Rudolph).
Decker shows the crew an informational video about the "Luddites". The Luddites are terrorists who fight against and destroy technology. They already attacked several space stations in the past and have now threatened to sabotage cargo flights as well. The crew is asked to report any suspicious incidents immediately to Decker.
Shortly after takeoff, the crew enters the cryosleep tanks. Only Lacroix stays awake and takes over the first wake shift. His shift will last for six months. After that, shifts will rotate. Only one person will be awake at one time.
4 years later. The KASSANDRA is on its way into deep space. Its destination: The remote space-station "42", a freight distribution station. The only passenger awake on board is Laura. The rest of the crew: frozen in cryosleep. Laura makes a note in her diary: Another four months until her wakeshift will finally be over.
Laura patrols the ship and tediously fills out the report forms. From time to time she sends videomessages to her sister Ariane. Because the messages take several months to arrive, the replies from her sister are outdated and from last year. No communication really takes place.
During her repeated inspection tours, she more and more suspects that someone else, or something else is on board. She knows that this kind of paranoia may emerge during long wakeshifts. So she considers everything she sees and hears a result of her being alone for such a long time. Until one day, she hears such a loud and disturbing bang from the cargobay, that she suddenly realizes: This can't be an illusion!
When she checks the lower decks, she finds scratches on the cargo hatch and hears more of the loud banging. In panic she wakes up the captain Lacroix and the security agent Decker. They decide to have a closer look and check out the cargo area. But the reconnaissance mission into the dark and icy cargobay becomes a fiasco: Lacroix is killed in a strange incident, while Laura and Decker are almost trapped inside the cargo hold.
The two survivors wake the rest of the crew. Laura is convinced that something dangerous is on board. But the first officer Lindbergh, who is now in command, is sure that Lacroix's death was nothing more but an accident. Lindbergh suggests that Laura suffers from isolation paranoia and should get some rest. Decker remains silent.
As responsible medical officer on board, Laura performs an autopsy on the dead captain. In his skull, she surprisingly finds an artificial eye, which contains a video recording. When she plays it back, she sees containers in the cargobay that are marked with a "Danger - Biohazard!" sign.
Laura and Decker undertake a second expedition into the cargo hold. They open one of the contaiers. Inside, they discover that they are full of coffin like cooling tanks. And in each tank lies a body. They open more containers. All of them contain the tanks!
With the help of the two flight engineers Vespucci and Prokoff, Laura and Decker try to bring one of the tanks on board of the main ship. But without any warning, the containers in the cargo area suddenly start to shift. Laura gets almost squeezed and thrown into the deadly abyss. With her last strength, she manages to hold on to one of the containers. Until Decker comes to her rescue.
Back on the main ship, they meet a very angry Lindbergh: It's officially strictly forbidden to enter the cargo area. Although Laura suspects an assasination attempt, Lindbergh is sure it was just an automatic shifting of the containers. She still suggests that Laura must rest and recover from her isolation paranoia. But this time, Decker is on her side. He demands an investigation.
So against Lindbergh's will, Laura and Decker bring the recovered tank to the infirmary, where they manage to open it. Inside, they find a GIRL (Noa Strupler). The girl lies is in a deep coma. Weirdly, her brain is perfoliated with artificial neural tissue, which has grown in from outside of the skull. Laura has never seen such a phenomenon before. She doesn't dare to wake the girl from the coma, as long as she hasn't found out more about the neural tissue. She starts to research. She finally finds a medication that will make the artificial nerve tissue in the brain of the girl regress.
In the meantime, Lindbergh and her assistant Yoshida discover that Decker must have secretly left his cryosleep tank several times during the wake shifts of the other crewmembers. Lindbergh confronts Decker with her findings. She blames him to be responsable for Lacroix's death and also for the assasination attempt on Laura. Decker doesn't have enough good arguments to disprove these accusations. Vespucci and Prokoff arrest him. Laura is extremely disappointed. Now she has lost her only ally. When they prepare Decker for his cryosleep, he tells Laura secretly that the Kassandra is not flying to Station 42. He believes that the ship is flying to RHEA! Laura doesn't believe him. She thinks it may be a last attempt to change her mind about him. Decker is put into cryosleep.
While she is giving the girl the medication to make the artificial tissue in the brain go back, she receives a videomessage from her sister Ariane. The message is a direct answer to her last question. Which is strange, because usually, these messages take several months to go back and forth.
Laura gets suspicious. She asks the technician Yoshida to secretly examine the target coordinates of the Kassandra. And indeed, Yoshida finds out that they had been manipulated: Their effective target is RHEA!
Yoshida tries to find out, who has maniuplated the coordinates. But shortly before she uncovers the results, Laura finds her brutally murdered in the lower decks. And more bad news: Decker has left his cryotank! Someone must have set him free! But who is this "someone"?
The crew starts to search the ship. Under a ventillation shaft Laura finds a secret storage room, filled with artifacts of the Luddites: Bombs, weapons, military equimpent, leftovers of food - and a touchpanel, where a videomessage is just being edited. The videomessage shows images from Earth: plants of all kinds are growing - it's all green and alive! The head-terrorist of the Luddites, GEORG BRUCKNER (Gilles Tschudi) appears on screen. He talks about the big governmental lie: Earth would be habitable again. In fact, since a long time! But with the expensive flights to Rhea, everybody makes so much money, that these facts are kept secret from the public. Then, just before the videomessage ends, Decker appears on screen, next to Bruckner. He is wearing the uniform of the Luddites! He produly holds a big "Luddites Unite!" banner into the camera!
This is when Laura is suddenly attacked from behind - by Bruckner himself! He wants to kill her. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a shot rings, and Bruckner is killed in front of Laura's eyes. She looks around - but there is no one to be seen.
Back on the main decks. Decker has been captured by Prokoff and Vespucci. They torture him to get information about the Luddites. Decker tells them that the planet Rhea doesn't exist. That it's only a simulation. That the artificial neural tissue in the girl's head is proof of his theory. All these people in their coffins in the cargo bay will be connected to a simulator once they arrive on RHEA. Laura at first cannot believe what she hears: How can she still get videomessages from her sister? But when she finally realizes that Decker must be right, it's already too late: She stares into a huge gun, which is pointed at her forehead - by Lindbergh.
According to Lindbergh, this was all necessary to avoid a revolution. The first colonization mission on Rhea many years ago was a complete failure. Rhea was not habitable at all. But instead of returning to Earth and telling the truth, the colonizing corporation started to build a giant simulator in Rhea's orbit: Station 42. Everyone who travels to "Rhea" never leaves the cryosleep coffin. Instead, he is directly plugged into the simulator once he arrives on Station 42. There, he "lives" a virtual life attached to the simulator. To avoid suspicion, the people inside the simulation can receive and send message from and to Earth. But they can never leave Rhea again.
Lindbergh explains that the secret about "Rhea" is crucial to maintain the peace back home in the extremely cramped spacestations. She asks Laura to understand her point. However, Laura doesn't concede with Lindbergh, even when Lindbergh finally threatens to kill her. Her finger already on the trigger, she is unexpectedly overwhelmed and arrested by Prokoff and Vespucci. They put her in cryosleep and release Decker.
Laura and Decker start to build a plan to rescue Laura's sister Ariane from the simulation. But Vespucci and Prokoff have a secret plan of their own: they want to enter the simulation and stay there. They hate their life on the cargoships so much that being inside of a simulation still seems like the better alternative. Their secret plan is to throw two people out of their coffins, and step into the tanks themselves. However, to open the cargo hold, they need Lindbergh's access badge. Vespucci rips the badge off from the cryogenised Lindbergh. He inadvertently contaminates her cryoliquid, which triggers a timer for her wake-up.
In the meantime, Laura and Decker have finished their plan: They will secretly leave the ship, once the Kassandra has arrived on Station 42. Decker will hack into the simulation, and send a message from inside of the simulation back home to the people on Earth. This will prove that RHEA doesn't exist. Once the message is sent, he will destroy the antenna system - his message will be the last message ever sent from "RHEA". Laura shall find the tank of her sister, and bring it back to the Kassandra.
The ship arrives at the fully robotized Station 42. Laura and Decker are ready to leave the ship in spacesuits. But at this moment, the little girl from the open tank appears in the manhatch - barely naked! The drugs that Laura gave her did obviously work. Although only little time remains before the KASSANDRA will discharge automatically again, Laura chooses to bring the girl in her bunk and wrap her into her some clothes.
Meanwhile, Decker exits into space, and attaches the explosives to the antenna system of Station 42. He then tries to locate Ariane's tank. When he finally finds it, he discovers that her body is already decomposing - she is beyond saving.
Back on the Kassandra. Vespucci and Prokoff are in the cargo hold. They enter one of the containers. Their plan seems to work so far.
In the cryochamber of the main ship, Lindbergh is about to wake up from cryosleep.
Laura has hastily wrapped the girl into some warm clothes. She leaves the Kassandra in her spacesuit and tries to navigate towards the main hardware module of the Station 42. But during her flight, she realizes that her jetpack doesn't work properly. The propulsion systems are dead. Without any possibility to steer, she floats through the gigantic station towards the open space. In the last moment she is rescued by Decker, who then brings her safely to the hardware module.
At the module, Decker tells her that Ariane is beyond saving. The only thing he can offer is to let her into the simulation, so she can meet her sister for one last time. Although very sad about all this, Laura agrees to the new plan.
Decker attaches a neurowave generator to Lauras helmet. He then connects it with the simulator. Laura starts to halucinate immediately - and suddenly she finds herself in the simulation. She is amazed by the beauty of it. It's completely "real". It's perfect! But she has to move on and find her sister.
She arrives at a countryhouse. There she meets Ariane. After a long hug, she tries to tell her sister the truth about everything. But when she sees the idyllic world, she isn't able to destroy her beloved sister's illusion. In tears, she runs away. Then, she sends the final message.
While Laura is in the simulation, Decker exchanges her fueltank with the one from his own jetpack.
When Laura awakes from the simulation, the ship is already about to start. The engines are firing. Huge shockwaves emerge from the ship and travel towards Laura and Decker. The shockwaves push them away from the module. They tumble, and float towards open space. To her own surprise, Laura is able to start and steer her jetpack again. But Decker remains back in space without fuel, which will mean his certain death. He has sacrificed himself for Laura and for the little girl.
In tears, Laura reaches the departing Kassandra in the last second. Immediately after she enters the manhatch, the explosives detonate and rip all the antennas of Station 42 to pieces. Laura's message to Earth will be the last one ever sent from RHEA.
Laura wants to find the little girl. But she isn't in her room anymore! While Laura is running frantically through the corridors of the ship to find the girl, she is suddenly attacked by Lindbergh. After a fierce battle, Laura wins, and Lindbergh is suffocated in the man hatch and subsequentially sucked out into space.
Scared about the whereabouts of the girl Laura aimlessly roams through the now completely empty ship. Finally, she finds the girl safe and sound in the crew cabin. Together with the rescued girl she is now on her way back home to Earth.
The last scene shows how Lauras message arrives on all the screens of the space stations orbiting Earth. People get up and listen to the message attentively. Lauras last sentence: "We will now destroy the antennas."
Cut to black and credits.