The crew of the 182nd Colonist Fleet was nothing to write home about.
Owing to the sheer number of safe and successful missions to the new planet, the requirements for entry were lowered a little. The first fleet shuttles required a minimum crew of 20, staffed with seasoned spacecraft technicians and veteran pilots to ensure no unforeseen problems endangered the passengers.
After hundreds of hitchless round trips between Earth and humanity’s first colonized exoplanet, Luyten B, all you needed now was a pilot, a mechanic, and some passengers.
As Eden Flores pulled the light gray and orange jumpsuit up her legs, the magnetic seals clicking snugly into place around her ankles and waist, she turned to take a final look at the Earth through the small, circular porthole in the ceiling.
Though nothing connected her to the planet anymore except memories and gravity, Eden felt a pang of loss as the smudgy browns and greens of the continents, the turquoises and ultramarine of the oceans and seas, and the wispy brown and white clouds receded in her view, ever so slowly. She saw the sunset curved over the horizon, and on the night side of the planet she could clearly identify the shape of Southeast Asia and the Australian continent, outlined by a mat of artificial lights spanning almost every square mile of dry land available. It looks much prettier from orbit than it does from the surface these days, she thought sourly.
Her thoughts drifted as she watched the clouds from the other side, reflecting on the billions of people staying on Earth. Staying, despite the ravaged environment, despite the runaway predatory capitalism. Staying for tradition, or for family; staying for fear of change, for having no other choice.
Resolving to stick it out no matter how hard it gets, unlike Eden, she thought to herself.
Her musings were interrupted by a gentle touch on her arm, pulling her away from her thoughts.
“That was the hardest part,” Jodie Larkspur said calmly, with a knowing smile. “Really, launching is the only part of this trip we have to be worried about. The rest is pretty much automated, all that’s left to do is go down for the long sleep and we’ll be there”, she assured Eden.
“I know what’s going to happen,” Eden said. She had obsessed over every detail of the entire procedure since buying her ticket. “I just…” sigh. “I understand the process, I’m just worried about being asleep for so long. Like.... what will I miss?”
Jodie laughed, patting Eden on the arm before pushing off to float gracefully down the hall. “I assure you, you won’t miss anything spectacular on our end. A lot of darkness, and some stars. Nothing you haven’t seen before. Planetside, though, who knows? Maybe we’ll have a halfway decent president by then.”
Eden interrupted her, “They won’t be our president, remember? The new planet doesn’t do those.”
Jodie nodded, “that’s right! I forgot what planet I live on, I guess.” This earned a giggle from Eden.
“I’m going to check on the captain and the engineer, probably be ready to meet in the hub in…” Jodie checked the time on the paper-thin rubber bracelet around her wrist, which served as a communicator, vitals monitor, watch, and an unofficial ping-pong device. “Be ready in five.” As her new friend and crewmate drifted weightlessly around the corner, Eden caught herself smiling. Like an idiot. Shaking her head sheepishly, she rushed to pull the rest of her suit on and followed after Jodie, admittedly a lot less gracefully.
She’d have to get used to zero gravity, she thought to herself. The spacecraft, about the size and somewhat resembling the shape of a private jet, gently whirred and rumbled around her, the sound and vibration carried through the air soothing her somewhat. If it was dead quiet, she’d probably have a panic attack, she thought.
The sound of the engines grew louder as she floated towards the central hub of the ship. Her breath quickened at the sight of the countless other ships identical to theirs, launching ahead in flashes of light to unimaginable speeds, their passengers already asleep and being monitored closely by the shipboard computers. Her heart raced at the thought of shooting through the endless void of space at quadruple the speed of light, making her chest tighten as she floated over to Jodie and the two men whose job it was to make sure the trip went smoothly.
The pilot, a short, young man with dark hair and a trusting countenance was hard at work at the center console, preparing the ship for the jump. The mechanic, however, was not in the room, which Eden thought was strange. He was supposed to be helping them into the cryo-sleep chambers by now, and before Eden could think, a warm hand took hers, and she looked up to Jodie, who wore a calm, caring expression on her face; “Don’t worry. I’m sure everything is fine,” she insisted with a comforting squeeze.
As if on cue, the shipwide intercom crackled to life.
“Pearce Bates, please make your way to the hub, you’re going to want to be asleep before we break the laws of physics.” The pilot turned to give the two a fun smirk, stepping away from his seat and floating effortlessly down the corridor towards the cryo-sleep bay, where they would spend the next three years in stasis. Jodie gave Eden one more reassuring squeeze before letting go of her hand, following the pilot to the glorified freezers. It’s no big deal, Eden thought as she followed Jodie, trying to mentally prepare herself to become a humansicle. As soon as her eyes closed, she reasoned, she’d open them again and be parked in orbit of Luyten B, or, as the colony had affectionately called the planet, Nemea. The fleet shuttles would automatically dock at the spaceport, where she would take a transport to her new life in a new solar system.
The only thing keeping Eden from relaxing, aside from the fact that she was about to be flung through space by an aging shuttle computer designed for cost efficiency, was that the mechanic seemed to be nowhere to be found. What could he be doing that’s more important than this?
“Faster, Bates. Can’t afford to dawdle.” The voice in his earpiece relayed instructions as the engineer worked, copying lines of code from his wristband onto the blinking screen of the ship’s main computer. If done right, these seemingly innocuous additions to the computer’s code would gently send the ship off its course, gradually steering its serenely sleeping passengers to their eventual deaths in a particularly empty region of space, ensuring that they will likely never be found. As he entered the final instructions into the software, he heard someone approaching down the corridor; he powered off the monitor mounted to the wall and hugged the corner.
“Where the hell have you been?” The pilot demanded impatiently, taking Bates by the harness and pulling him out into the hallway.
“Oh, jesus. It’s you.” Bates breathed a sigh of relief.
“Of course it’s fucking me, the other two are sitting in the cryo-pods already, waiting to be frozen and sent to their deaths. Are you finished here? I’d like to get off this damn ship,” the pilot seethed, ready to knock him out.
“Temper, temper, mon capitaine! Remember our agreement,” said Bates with a cruel smile, “We’re on the same team here. I discredit the colonization program and stop all of my paying customers from leaving the planet, and you keep your job. And your life. Don’t forget the cloaked combat ship parked thirty meters from the hull with guns hot,” He turned, grinning cockily, tapping a message out onto his wristband to his accomplice before kicking off the wall and floating through the tunnel, up into the cabin. “Let’s make sure our friends here get safely on their way, and then we can work out an agreement.”
Jodie looked so unworried. Her long black hair tied up in a tight bun, her blue eyes twinkling with excitement even as she lowered herself into the cryo-sleep chamber. Eden wondered how she stayed so cool and collected, given where they are at the current moment, and what they’re about to do.
“What’s taking them so long? Shouldn’t they be here by now?” She asked, wringing her hands nervously. Jodie smiled up at her with a kind face, “I’m sure they’re just making triple sure that all the systems are working. I would too, if I were them.” That answer seemed good enough for Eden, and she leaned back into the cryo-pod.
By their gentle roundness and light colors, it was clear that they had been intentionally designed to look as un-coffin-like as possible, but she couldn’t shake the feeling.
She could already see her breath as the cabin temperature gradually lowered, and the lights flickered out, being replaced by red emergency lights in preparation for the trip. After all, it’s cheaper to spend power on heating and lighting only while the passengers are conscious to appreciate it. She closed her eyes, trying to control her breathing. It was going to be okay, she tried to mentally convince herself.
“Okay, ladies, ready for the galaxy’s lamest roller coaster?” The pilot floated into the room, trying to comfort them with small talk, pushing over to Jodie’s cryo-sleep pod and tapping on the screen. “For legal purposes, I have to ask each of you if you’re willing to be put into cryosleep and need a verbal response… though there’s nothing to worry about. Ms. Larkspur, are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready”, and the pilot pressed the touchpad next to her pod. He entered his passcode, and the cryo-pod whirred to life, the lid slowly closing down over her body, and sealing tight with a hiss and a metallic click.
Looking at her through the small glass visor on the pod, Eden watched Jodie give an excited smile and a thumbs up before closing her eyes, a white fog obscuring her face and putting her to sleep. As the pilot pushed off of Jodie’s pod to float towards hers, her heart began to race. The pilot saw the spike in her breathing rate on her vitals monitor, and adjusted the anesthetic amount to compensate. “Don’t be afraid, you’ll be at your new home before you can blink. Ms. Flores, are you ready?” Eden glanced over to the mechanic, Bates, who looked impatient, and then to the softly smiling, handsome young pilot who hovered in front of her. If something went wrong, then they would be there to help. She took a deep breath, and looked through the glass porthole to the endless expanse of space. “Uh… yep.”
Pierce Bates watched from across the room as the metal cover slid over the last cryo-pod, encasing the two passengers in their starry graves. He didn’t believe that they deserved this fate, a slow and lonely descent into the desolate vastness of space, not a swift death but a guaranteed one. He quickly justified it to himself by passing their execution off as a sacrifice for the greater good. He was deep in thought, distracted by the ramifications of what his sentencing meant to those he had just condemned, when the pilot made a sudden swing for Bates’s head, missing by less than an inch, and following with a blow which connected on his lower ribs. Bates went spiraling to the back of the shuttle, the wind knocked out of him, grasping wildly for anything to stop his backwards momentum. He hit the back wall hard, and the pilot made a push to get into the cockpit. He took the handheld radio and began to transmit when a sickening crack rang out in the small spacecraft, and the pilot fell unconscious. Bates let go of the metal prybar, letting it drift listlessly away as he pulled the pilot from his chair and stuffed his limp body into an empty cryo-pod, using the passkey he had memorized to close the lid over the groaning, injured man. Bates pushed himself down the maintenance corridor, pressing the button on the ship’s computer which started the launch sequence. A countdown started, and as he lowered himself into the shuttle’s escape pod, he grinned satisfactorily to himself. The small craft disconnected from the ship with a heavy clunk, the thrusters engaging to bring the escape pod into the cargo bay of the heavily armed stealth ship waiting below; the crew of which would get a large bonus for their patience. “Have a nice trip,” he muttered as the doomed ship sped off into interstellar space, the cargo bay doors closing around him.