I’ve never been a fan of offworld shuttles. The g-forces are always sucking me back into my seat. With inertial dampeners, it’s gotten a lot better. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be one of the old-school astronauts who used to be put in a machine to make them go in a circle until they threw up. Seriously, what sick bastard does that to a person?
In any case, we get out of the atmosphere and I look down. Mars looks so different from the old pictures I saw when I was younger. Veins of water now flow on the planet. The discovery of vast caverns that were filled with the equivalent of oceans of water changed everything. Once those were set free, the landscape changed. Terraforming had now been made possible because actual soil could be cultivated. Those underground oceans made Mars habitable. It looked so much like Earth now, except a lot more red than blue. There was irony there.
Lucas couldn’t shut up about all he wanted to do. Like me, he had been briefed on what his duties would be. He would be assisting the science teams on their various projects. It would be more errand work than anything, but he would be getting hands-on experience on how the work he wants to inevitably do is done in the field. That’s something that one can’t underestimate. I was looking at my own assignment. Operating drones. I could even learn how to operate a submersible! The potential for that was beyond cool. I didn’t know what to think.
We get far enough above to see where we were heading – Orbital Station Artemis. It was one of two Orbital Stations above Mars. They were as the name describes – massive stations that orbit the planet and have space-faring vessels dock on them. Ships that were too big to go planetside would dock at these and wait for whatever reason. I could see several cargo ships and a few cruise ships as well. Ships that would take you to Mars via a two-week journey where you could wine and dine and be as merry as you wanted to be. I had been on one when the family went to Earth. It was overrated.
Then I saw the ship we would be heading too. It was big. Really big. It looked long and rectangular, like the cargo ships, but this one was different. This one had guns on it! A few barrels could be see sticking out of the hull towards the front and rear. Were they expecting trouble? Granted, this ship was headed through the Asteroid Belt. Any ship that went out that way usually was prepared for trouble.
Pirates were a growing occurrence. Where once the average pirate was on the Net, trying to steal ways to attack other people or companies on the Net, a new breed decided to take the utmost advantage of the growing trend of mining and wrangling asteroids to take back to Earth to mine. With the new elements discovered by the mining process, being a pirate was a very lucrative business. A typical mining colony within the Asteroid Belt had a couple of warships protecting it, as did all major Orbital Stations and colonies that did business with mining operations. From what I understood, the growth of space-born military was becoming a rather heated issue back on Earth, with the Colonies wanting independence from the Confederacy of Allied Nations that represented the planet’s interests.
We docked at the Orbital Station. I had forgotten how massive the place was! Inside was like a giant marketplace. There were mining companies, private security firms, weapon and starship manufacturers. The dim lighting made the entire inside of the ship look like an old Asian market. Given the number of languages represented here, that wasn’t a huge stretch, either. We were the cleanest of the bunch here, aside from the suits and the men and women in uniform. It was kind of off-putting. Our group had a security detail, but still. Lucas kept huddled up to me.
It was then that I noticed an older woman who also was keeping close to the two of us. She would routinely check back and make sure we were keeping up. She had hair that was starting to gray, but appeared to take good care of herself. The primp and proper academic look had a more hard edge to it. It was rather intimidating, yet comforting at the same time.
We walked through the facility and it was such a fascinating world. In addition to selling weapons, tools and ships, there were more radical sales as well. I caught sight of a facility that was selling cybernetic augmentation. Another was selling programs for various cranial augmentations. Something Mars saw very little of was the insane cybernetics crazy that had swept the Colonies and was now making its way down to Earth. It wasn’t unusual to see someone with glowing eyes walking the corridors. There was a man smoking a cigarette (ah, the wonder if filters to keep this place from blowing up), holding it with an artificial hand. It was a crazy new world. If you could dream it, there was an augmentation for it.
There was a corridor that we avoided where I saw some less engaging things. Women who stood like dolls, with glowing patches on their necks. Augmented slaves. It was a dirty trade that was kept on the down-low. Given how many space pirates there were roaming the stars, it was a reality that there was dirty dealings. So long as fights didn’t break out, they could conduct their business here as they saw fit. It kept the peace. And part of that was doing work that others deemed horrifying. Lucas saw it too, and the both of us decided to just keep moving. The woman who was keeping close to us looked back at me. There was something in her eyes. A cold look of anger and pain. She didn’t like pirates. That much was clear. Just who is this broad, anyway?
Finally, we got to the docking bay where the ship that would be taking us to Europa was. Once the airlock opened I breathed a little easier. This ship was immaculate! White interiors that had the cleanliness of a science lab, yet the orderliness of the crew like a military vessel. I got the feeling that the biggest backer of the project was the IDF. Since this ship had guns on it, they clearly had some plans for military application. I wasn’t surprised. If the goal was to expand to the outer planets, then they would need to have outposts that could defend themselves. This was a mission that required a lot of money. Take help where you can get it.
Since we were already in space, we didn’t have to strap in or anything when we took off. The crew was asked to gather inside of the hangar. My Band had schematics uploaded. All I had to do was point my wrist at the floor and a beam would come out and display a path on the floor for a certain distance. It was quite nice. Lucas and I grabbed seats as close to the front as we could. The rest of the group was friendly enough. Like the two of us, they were all excited to get there. They were being paid a small fortune, after all. The woman from earlier grabbed a seat near to us. I took this opportunity to grill her.
“So, is there a reason that you are constantly sitting near me? ‘Cause I’m gonna be honest here – it’s getting a little weird.”
She sighed and smiled a bit. “I’ve been tasked with watching out for you. We’re in the same department, after all.”
That got my attention. “What department is that?”
“Vehicle Operations, of course.”
That name, I liked it. “Cool. Well then, nice to meet you, I guess.” We shook hands just as a man came to the front of the room. I heard a soft hum as loudspeakers came on. The room had quite a few people in it. No surprised. This ship was big and I didn’t expect that it would be only a few people on the mission.
The man came into the light and I saw that it was the guy who had come to my house!
“Greetings all, my name is Lieutenant Commander Jordan Lewell. I am the commanding officer of this vessel. As you already know, our destination is going to be the facility on Europa. Now, the bulk of you are going to go into cold sleep for the duration of the trip. What will almost be a month to us will be just a few minutes to you. We have divided you each into various departments. Your Bands have been updated with where your department’s cold sleep pods are. Once you have stowed your bags, several technicians will assist you in getting into the pods. If you have claustrophobia issues, make sure to let them know. To the crew of the ship, we are going to be activating the LR boosters. Stand by your stations for launch. Dismissed!”
Everybody got up. Lucas and I were headed in opposite directions.
He looked at me, a little nervous, but also smiling. “Well, guess I’ll see you there.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “You know it! Don’t get too miserable without me.”
“Fuck you!” The two of us shared a laugh before shouldering our bags and heading to where we were to sleep out this trip.
I followed my in to the department, who I found out was named Maribelle, or just Mari, for short. We got to a room that was filled with large pods that appeared to be rather padded. It looked cozy enough. There were several people in white uniforms. These people weren’t military. I could tell that much. They had the look of lab technicians.
“Welcome, everybody! Now, we have special outfits for each of you. Don’t worry, they are already sized to fit. You’ll find them in your locker, where you’ll leave your bags. We have dressing rooms for each gender, so get changed and then meet us back here.” Nice enough people.
I opened my locker and did indeed find a suit inside that looked like it was already fitted for me. It was white, with several sensors attached to it. I could tell that it was wireless tech, most likely used to monitor vitals. After getting dressed, I walked out and to a pod that my Band told me was mine. Mari was standing there, watching me arrive. As I did, she leaned in close.
“You’ll wanna take off that necklace of yours. If you don’t, it’ll freeze to your skin and really fuck you up once you thaw.”
My hands immediately reached for it, clutching it tight. It was underneath my suit. How had she known?
“Don’t worry, it ain’t like it’s going anywhere. Just put it in your locker.”
The idea of taking the necklace off, it felt bad to me. But I didn’t want to risk injuring myself. It took a lot of effort on my part to close the door to my locker when I had the necklace off. Once I did, I knew that I was committed. A tech was instructing us on how to safely use one of these machines, on the off-chance that we would have to go into emergency cryo-stasis. Come to find out – you can use these things without the suits, they were just there for our safety. So long as no metal was touching your skin, you were perfectly safe.
Once the lecture was over, the lot of us got inside. Our suits lit up and we saw the pods closing. I was a bit claustrophobic, but part of me could already feel my body getting weaker as the door shut. It was like a sudden intoxication fell over me and I didn’t want to stay awake. They told us about this. It was a gas that would put us under. I knew that when I woke up, I’d be at Europa. Part of me still wished that I had Angie’s necklace with me. I felt naked without it. My eyes closed, and I felt the effect in action.
Until next time, a quote,
“That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d
I cried to dream again.” -Caliban, The Tempest