Dust in the Void

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Prolog (v.1) - Prologue

Submitted: June 12, 2018

Reads: 71

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Submitted: June 12, 2018

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"So, which one are you, the one or the other?"

The question had become both a running joke and the favorite opening line of the knot of people I found myself skirting. Well, skirting might not be precisely what I was doing. The others had formed a loose cluster consisting of small groups, some exchanging members as they did their best to get to know as many of the others as they could in the limited time available, and I was in a sort of geostationary orbit around that cluster.

The two most important reasons I have for using the word "geostationary", are that I was holding position, and I was relatively far removed from the socially adept group mingling in the middle of the room. The relativity mentioned here refers to the fact that the room in question was actually quite small, and that being far removed from anything in it would require one to be on the other side of the wall.

If I left through the metal door on the other side of the room, I could be farther away without suffering any lasting harm, but it would have been considered impolite of me to leave at this point of the orientation session. Protocol had to be observed, even for those of us who had been "orienting" for years while this whole venture had still been in the planning and construction stages. None of my compatriots from that time were in attendance at the moment, though. Not in this room, at least.

I notice that I've adopted the jargon belonging to the other occupants of the room when describing my surroundings. When designing and building the place, we used more nautical themes, calling the walls "bulkheads", the doors "hatches" and the rooms "cabins" or sometimes "decks", depending on their size. The windows were generally referred to as "portholes". The socially adept group in the middle of the room either had no concept of the official jargon surrounding this vessel, or simply preferred to put it in words that were more familiar to them from their previous lives.

They had, at least, no concept of the likes of me, regardless of whether or not they understood the lingo of ship construction. Which brings me back to the question that was asked of me at the beginning of this prologue. In case you have already forgotten what it is, let me repeat it here.

"So, which one are you, the one or the other?"

The young lady who thought it useful to include me in the group by asking the question was unaware of my special status, and so I simply gave her something I hoped would be interpreted as a small ironic smile and replied:

"Neither."

She tilted her head to the right, making a lock of her loose chestnut coloured hair drift to one side, and a small frown line appeared between her eyebrows. Her confusion was so obvious that even I could not miss it, socially inept as I was compared to the rest of the room's occupants.

"Well that's just weird," she said after a short pause, her British accent lending an aristocratic note to her words. In an obviously automatic gesture, she brushed the fallen lock of hair back into it's allotted slot behind her right ear as she continued:

"All of us are either the one or the other, or we wouldn't be here. Unless you're part of the crew, but then you'd be wearing a uniform. Which you aren't. So what's your story?"

"Well," I replied carefully, "I'm an engineer, and I was lucky enough to be a part of the design team for some of the more critical parts of this ship. You might say that I'm a sort of backup, in case something happens to the ship during our cruise and the computer can't tell them how to fix it."

I guessed that since the entire point of today's exercise was to meet my fellow travelers, I might as well introduce myself.

"I'm Lawrence," I said, holding out my right hand.

"Anne," she replied.

"I know," I said, with another ironic smile. "You're in the 'both' category, aren't you?"

"Rich and famous," she said as half her mouth quirked up in a sad little half smile, "Though considerably less rich now. In fact, I guess we're all broke as of the moment we depart, aren't we?"

"And yet," I felt compelled to add, "We're still far better off than most, aren't we?"

As if on queue, we both glanced at the window. Though it was impossible to actually see her thoughts, I could guess that her inner eye saw the same thing mine did. People. Humans. Billions of them. And only those lucky few who were on board this ship would be alive in about a year.

"I guess we'll not even notice when it happens," she said in a small voice.

"We'll be asleep," I confirmed, "But it's probably going to be documented anyway. We've got an entire network of satellites broadcasting everything that happens down there, and the ship will record all of it. By the time we wake up, it will have been turned into a sort of documentary that we can watch as part of the wake up sequence."

A strange thought crept up on me.

"I wonder who will get to narrate that story," I wondered aloud.

Anne paled slightly. One of her more recent exploits as an actress had been to narrate a documentary about the search for habitable planets outside our solar system. It had been a break from her usual work, which had mainly seen her playing leading roles in fantasy and drama films. I found myself musing that she did have a lovely voice, and that I wouldn't mind hearing her tell that story.

"Well," she said, "Let's hope it all turns out to be a giant mistake. You never know, maybe we'll wake up to find that we've arrived and everyone back home is still alive."

Yes, that was a nice fantasy indeed. Of course, I knew exactly what the chances of that were, and they made winning the lottery look like a sure thing. Still, I had to put my foot in it just a bit further.

"Well, regardless of whether or not the predictions are right," I said, "There's still relativity. Nobody we know will be alive by the time we arrive, even if the ELE never happens, because we will have been traveling for several hundred of their years."

She gave me that sad smile again.

"You'll have to explain that relativity thing to me when we have time," she said.

A light gong sounded just as she finished speaking, and we both turned to face the man in the white purser's uniform near the door.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began in the age old form of address as the room quieted, "It is time to begin boarding procedures. Please ensure that you are wearing your identity bracelet, and follow me to our cryosleep section."

I expected Anne to leave me in order to join her friends or family, but she only looked at me as if she wanted to say something but was afraid to do so.

"If you want to be placed near your friends or family, you'll need to be near them during the boarding procedure," I offered her as a way out. She shook her head, loosening the lock of hair from behind her ear again.

"I'm traveling alone," she said, and then to my surprise she added: "Would you mind being my cryosleep buddy? You're the only person I've met here who isn't a complete snob, and I'd like to have someone to talk to when they cycle us out and in for checkups. Unless you're already traveling with someone, of course..."

I felt a genuine smile make its way onto my face as I offered her my arm.

"I'm alone as well," I said as she took it and we headed towards the exit together, "And while I thought I preferred to stay apart from everyone, it feels nicer to have a familiar face to wake up to."

As we joined the queue, I glanced at the door behind me one last time. Beyond it was the bay we had entered through, and through which we would eventually exit the ship again. This lounge would be our gathering place again then.

Passing through the door on the opposite side of the lounge, we followed the one straight corridor that ran through our cryosleep section. The purser gestured to the compartments on the left and right, and each time groups of four people peeled off and entered. I couldn't make out exactly what he said to those passengers who entered, until we reached the front of the group and he gestured us into our own compartment.

Inside, four glass capsules stood open for us to occupy. As I had practiced several times before, I chose one of the capsules facing the exit, settled back against the tilted surface behind me, and waited for the next step.

Anne had, in true cryosleep buddy form, settled into the capsule directly across from mine.

"I guess this is it," she said in a shakier and rather higher pitched voice than she had used during our earlier conversation.

"Remember your training," I said, "Take a couple of deep breaths when the sequence starts, and then just keep breathing naturally. It'll be time for our first checkup before you can say 'good night'."

As the gong sounded again and instructions were projected on the still open glass lid above me, she gave me a toothy smile. We each touched our identity bracelet to the sensor near our left wrist, and the covers began to slide down.

The look of sheet terror on her face woke something protective in me, though there wasn't an awful lot I could do besides give her an encouraging smile as I began taking deep, slow breaths.

Just before I drifted off into an unnaturally deep sleep, I thought I saw her say something, though no sound penetrated the hermetically sealed cryosleep capsules. Reading her lips, though, it looked like she had decided to try for a last bit of humour.

"Good night," she had said. My last conscious thought was that we would have a lot to talk about when we woke.


© Copyright 2018 Lawrence M.E. Loing. All rights reserved.

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