By Simon Haynes
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Campsie ran her hand over her brow, pushing aside several strands
dark brown hair. She forced her gritty eyes to focus
on the lens as her lips did their best to twist into a grin. "You'll
have to speak up," she said loudly. "I can't hear
roar of the ship's thrusters almost drowned the hiss of static.
There was a faint click and a cultured, male voice emanated
from the grille. "I'll repeat it. Don't worry, we'll
be editing this before it goes out."
you smooth out the bags under my eyes?"
man's laugh sounded tinny through the speaker. "For
you, anything." The voice changed slightly, became more formal. "Erin,
has the last month or so been hard on your team, given the delays?"
nodded, her face serious. "It's been pretty stressful.
They only bedded down the last of the colonists a week ago."
half of them changed their mind at the last minute, right?"
frowned. "I'm not aware of that."
been watching them slinking out of the ferries. Doesn't it worry
you, the fact that almost five hundred people refused
to go through with this?"
mistaken. If anyone backed out there would be hundreds more ready
to take their place."
was a low chuckle from the speaker. "Don't be so
sure." The interviewer changed tack. "Is it true there
was a last-minute problem with the cryo-tanks?"
have been rumours. Reid Corp stock fell eight percent yesterday,
pushed herself out of her chair and leant close to the camera. "Interview
terminated," she said firmly, cancelling the connection. For
six years, she"d been shielded from the media, only to be
thrown to the wolves now that she was leaving. Arseholes.
She turned round as a door opened behind her.
is ok?" Anton Piret studied her through half-closed
eyes, his face a worried mask.
forced a smile. "Everything is fine, Anton." She
rested her behind on the narrow desk. "I had to give an
the media attention. They make you famous, you know."
shrugged. "Makes no difference, where we're going.
I'm pissed at the Reid people, though, letting slime like
that through now that we're out of their hands."
looked at her thoughtfully. "What was this about the
you, too! It's nothing. He was trying to provoke a reaction." She
looked up at the plain white ceiling panels, seemed to stare right
through them. "How long until we dock with the colony ship?"
face cleared. "Ten minutes, no more." He
lowered one eyebrow. "I am in charge of the union."
laughed. "You're not going to keep that act up for
the next hundred years, I hope."
grinned. "Mais oui! It is a ploy to - 'ow you say
- pull ze chicks?" His face fell. "But I shall not
be needing this skill, I think."
was a crackle of static from the speaker. "Is Anton
with you?" demanded a male voice.
is," said Erin.
if you don't zip your arse up here right now they'll
be picking body parts out of orbit for the next twenty years.
Our body parts."
"On my way, monsieur Roth," called Anton. "Ze duty, she
calls," he said, with another exaggerated leer. Then he
turned and vanished through the door. His footsteps echoed on
metal deck-plates in the corridor, and as they faded away Erin
pushed herself upright, took a last look around the cramped cabin,
The four crew
members stared at the heavy airlock as it inched open on hidden
runners. There was a gust of warm air, like the
wind preceding a subway train. Erin blinked as a long-forgotten
memory came to her. She was standing on a platform, holding her
mother's hand, laughing as scraps of paper ran away from the
oncoming train. She sniffed, half expecting the smell of tar, damp
concrete, electricity, and was startled when she recognised new
carpet and fresh paint.
like an office," said Greg Roth. He ran his fingers
through his thinning blond hair and blew out his cheeks. "Anyone
want to make a speech?"
be ridiculous," muttered the fourth member of the
team, a tall man with an unruly mop of black hair and a sour
expression permantly etched on his narrow, lined face.
There was a long silence as they stared through the narrow airlock
into the brightly-lit, carpeted hallway on the other side.
glanced at Erin. "Ladies first?"
stuffed," she said. Then she stepped into the airlock
before any of the others could move. "Privilege of rank," she
called over her shoulder.
the airlock, the hallway curved away to the left and right. Erin
frowned as she tried to remember the layout from the mockup
on Earth. It seemed so long ago! She stood aside as the others
came through the airlock behind her, and as they looked around
she was reminded of a group of tourists rubbernecking in a cathedral. "Anyone
remember the way to the control room?"
Anton and Roth pointed in opposite directions.
start, guys," laughed Erin.
all looked up as a neutral, female voice came through concealed
speakers. "Welcome aboard the Glory. I am happy to report
there is a pathfinder installed aboard this vessel, and if you
would care to follow the blue light I shall lead you to your destination." A
strip of blue appeared along the base of the wall, with pulses
that shot along the hallway and vanished around the corner.
goodness somebody knows the way," muttered Winters.
He raised his voice above the background hum of the air processors. "How
far is it?"
hundred meters. Are you sure you want to come up? Your cryo-pods
are ready and it would be more convenient for you to..."
come up," said Erin. She looked up at a nearby
speaker, a slight frown on her face. "If that's all right
with you, of course."
laughed. "Sarcasm, it is wasted on a computer."
Erin said nothing as she set off along the hallway, following the
bright blue fireflies. The other three followed in silence.
The flight deck was spacious, with a wide console across the forward
end, a large screen and, incongruously, an aluminium table with
the umbrella?" said Greg Roth, as he stared at
ignored him, and addressed the computer. "Give me a newsfeed," she
The screen flickered into life, showing an outside view of the
ship against a backdrop of stars. A talking head appeared, inside
an oval in the corner of the screen.
is it, ladies and gentlemen, your last sight of the Glory before
it leaves. This is a historical moment without parallel,
a moment which opens the book on the Human conquest of space!"
The commentator paused for breath as the rectangular grey slab
vanished in a glare of white light.
there she goes, departing on a journey of a hundred years! Don't
forget, folks, you can book your place right now. Just
press the Order button on your remote. Please note, those under
eighteen years will need permission from..."
it off," called Erin.
The viewscreen cleared.
the hell was that?" asked Roth. He looked around the
control room. "We haven't gone anywhere."
prepared that earlier. Our launch window clashed with a major
sports event so they mocked something up."
shook his head. 'so much for excited, waving crowds." He
looked up as a voice crackled over the speakers.
Glory. Ground control here. The shuttle is clear, and you'll
be leaving in sixty-five minutes. I'm shutting down your comms
now. Good luck."
Roth leant his elbows on the console and glanced across at Erin's
profile, sharp against the banks of instrument lights
and status screens. "Missing the place already?"
She shook her head, her eyes never leaving the wide screen fixed
to the wall above the console. It was mostly dark, with patches
of fuzzy light.
tried again. "Nothing much to see until dawn."
mouth creased into a tiny smile. "we'll be
long gone by then."
both looked up as the door opened. Anton stalked in with a rustle
of plastic and a string of muttered curses. He held up a
clear cellophane bag and shook it at them. "This crap, it
is everywhere. I find ends of carpet in the toilet, pieces of
the wire in the kitchen and the plastic wrap all over. The bastard
workers left the whole place like a...a...building place?"
It is a sty for pigs they want us to fly, yes?"
glanced at his watch. "There's still half an hour.
Why don't we tidy up?"
snorted. "What for? This ship, she will fly to the planet
and then is all over. I prefer to sleep."
glanced at him. "You don't want to watch the departure?"
shook his head forcefully. "Me, I want to see the arrival." He
stuck out a hand. "Bon chance, mes amis."
and good luck to you, too," said Roth as they shook.
stepped forward, only to be caught in a bearhug. "Anton!"
Frenchman released her and stepped back, his eyes bright. "Something
to dream about, that! Au revoir!"
guy is something else," muttered Roth, as the door slid
amusing," said Erin.
controlled doses. Does he know how to work the cryo pods?"
raised one eyebrow. "Worried he might get overdone?"
do to arrive one short. Care to give me a hand tidying up? I
can never sleep if the place is a mess."
hundred years of insomnia. Too bad."
looked at each other, suddenly serious. "Do you think we'll
make it?" asked Roth.
Erin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her slender face looked almost
child-like in the soft glow of the instrument lights, and Roth had to stop
himself reaching out to her.
don't know, Greg." Her eyes opened and she studied his face. "What
if we never wake up? What if our minds leech away while we're in suspension?"
shook his head. "Everything has been tested, pushed as far
as possible. we've got the best of everything."
if none of the planets are suitable, and the ship just keeps
going for hundreds of years until it falls apart?"
not to think about the negatives."
difficult, especially with a cryo-pod waiting for me below decks." Erin
shivered and glanced up at the screen.
next time we come up here there'll be a fresh, new planet on that," said
Roth heartily. "we'll be itching to get down on the surface to start
the first colony."
everyone back home will have been dead for at least a hundred
Ken Mortlock eased onto his back, wincing at the pains that knifed
his guts with every movement. He lifted a shaking hand to his thinning,
snow-white hair and patted at it ineffectually, barely noticing
the strands that came away on his fingers. He brushed them off
against the coverlet with an automatic, oft-repeated gesture and
returned his gaze to the window.
It was early evening, and the yellow streetlight glistened off
the raindrops rolling steadily down the glass in the tall bay windows.
The dark panelled walls were thrown into relief every now and then
as a flickering screen near the foot of the bed paged through rows
and rows of figures.
Mortlock sighed and reached out to the bedside table, where a small
remote sat in its cradle. He picked it up and flicked through the
channels at random, pausing every now and then to gaze at a bombed-out
building or the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
isn't how it was supposed to be." The thought was
little more than an automatic protest, worn into his brain years
ago. He turned the set off and reached for a button inlaid into
the timber bedpost.
later the door opened, admitting a young lady in a starched blue
uniform. She crossed to the bed, her round face flushed. "Yes,
Silence as he gazed at the blank screen.
fetch the bedpan, shall I sir?"
raised himself on his elbows, ignoring the pain. "When
I need a crap you'll be the first to know," he muttered,
eyes slitted in his pale face.
nurse's lips tightened. "Why did you call me?"
old man lowered himself back onto his pillows and closed his
eyes. "I think the end is near."
nurse turned a snort into a cough. "Nonsense, you"ve
still got years."
opened one eye. "I bet you say that to all your patients."
was a muted buzzing sound from a small pack clipped to the nurse's
belt. She tilted it to bring the screen into view,
then tutted. "What kind of person comes knocking at this
time of day?"
government agent. Urgent, apparently."
sat up, pain forgotten. "What are you waiting for?
Show him up."
The nurse left with a rustle of stiff clothing, leaving the door
ajar. Mortlock strained his ears for clues to the visitor's
identity or purpose. He listened in vain, and was settling back
into the pillows when the door opened and a woman in a neat black
suit entered. There were grey streaks in her dark hair, which was
pulled back into a neat ponytail.
Liz Worth," she said, crossing the room towards the
bed. She stopped and thrust out a slim hand.
brushed loose hairs off the coverlet with his left hand as he
shook with his right. "How can I help you, Ms Worth?"
department needs some advice." There was a flash of silver
as the woman flipped open a black plastic wallet.
wallet disappeared and the woman smiled, revealing a set of perfect
white teeth. "That would be telling, wouldn't
it? I'm sure you understand."
get coy with me, madam. I was privy to more top-level secrets
in my working years than you'll see in your entire
sure you were. Very well, I'm making this approach on behalf
of the Reid Foundation. Perhaps you"ve heard of
closed his eyes, the veins like spider webs across the pale lids. "They emerged from the ashes of the Reid Corp,
which went bust after the colony ships were cancelled." He
opened his eyes, a frowned. "They're following up the
cryogenic research, from what I can gather."
nodded. "They're developing a more advanced technique.
Not that there was anything wrong with your work, of course.
wrong with it?" said Mortlock bitterly, stabbing his
finger at the screen. "Perhaps you should tell them. Those
idiots are calling the colonists the "lost souls". They're
comparing me with some of the worst monsters of the twentieth
a misunderstanding, nothing more. The point is, the Reid people
need access to your final test results."
closed his eyes. "You're wasting your time.
I'll have nothing to do with it."
old man glanced at the window as a sudden squall pelted the glass
with fresh raindrops. "It's so long ago. Let me
die in peace."
yet you watch that, desperate for any mention of your name," said
Worth, tilting her head towards the screen. "I can turn
this around for you, make you into a hero."
single word hung in the air.
Corporation is advancing cryogenics beyond anything you imagined.
We want to set up a..."
I thought you worked for a government agency?"
a liaison," said Worth smoothly. "We're
setting up a deep sleep facility where terminally ill patients
can be put in suspended animation until a cure is found for their
disease. We're specifically targeting those amongst us with
the most to lose."
frowned. "Who would that be?"
"No!" The word exploded from Mortlock's lips. "Never!
That would be..."
Worth, a gleam in her eyes.
lowered his gaze to the smooth bedspread. His shoulders slowly
slumped. "I'm not as sharp as I used to be. I
suppose you came here to dig up more dirt," he said in a
there were problems with the cryo pods?" Worth's voice
was low, charged with emotion.
nodded jerkily. "It was after the third colony ship.
We woke some of our long-term test subjects."
course not. Rats."
forgotten the mazes. Couldn't operate the levers for food, fought
ferociously when they were put together."
"No more colony ships," said
meant, what happened to the research?"
We leaked news of a new star drive that would obviate the need
for long-term sleep. Once that got around, you couldn't
have filled a colony ship at gunpoint."
Worth was silent.
"You know, I dream about those colonists every night," said
Mortlock. "I think about them, every one of the three thousand,
and I wonder whether they dream, too." He glanced at the woman
standing at the foot of his bed. "You're not really
from a government agency, are you?"
shook her head. "My parents went on the second ship. I
just wanted to know the truth."
brushed the back of his hand across his forehead. "I
can't offer you any hope, I'm afraid. We'll never
hear from any of them."
was still staring into space when the door closed softly behind
her. The nurse bustled in five minutes later, carrying a silver
bedpan. She placed it on the foot of the bed then glanced at
the screen. "Would we like to watch something while we do
Mortlock grunted and pointed the remote. The screen flickered,
then cleared to show a large expanse of cracked concrete, the weeds
almost as tall as the reporter who walked slowly amongst them.
She straightened and stared into the camera, her greying hair catching
the light from the setting sun.
"This was the last glimpse of Earth for three thousand people," she
said solemnly. "Just what did happen all those years ago?" Her
ponytail shook as she turned to stare up at the overcast sky. "Next
week I'll give you the truth."
The remote slipped from Mortlock's fingers as his head fell
back onto the pillow. The last thing he heard was the nurse's
sharply indrawn breath.
Erin blinked several times to clear the gummy residue from her
eyes. Harsh light stabbed into her brain as she forced her eyes
open, the first she had seen for... how long? She shivered suddenly,
cold despite the warm air flowing through the cryo-tank. The curved
perspex lid was an inch or two from the tip of her nose, and as
her eyes focused she made out a distorted caricature of a human
face reflecting back off the clear plastic. She blinked and turned
her head, her throat tickling as the cleansers removed the last
traces of fluid from her lungs. Something stabbed her right arm,
jolting her with an electric shock. The breath hissed in through
her teeth, and only then did she realise it was the first she had
taken since waking. Her chest felt painfully tight, like perished
Gradually the stabbing pain eased, and her breathing settled down
to a slow, steady rhythm.
The lid on the tank popped open with a hiss, swing out of the way
on twin hydraulic rams, then locked into place with a metallic
click. Something pressed for attention in the back of Erin's
mind as she stared into the darkness.
Then it came to her: she had no idea where she was.
She tried to sit up, struggling for several seconds before she
thought to look down at herself. She was naked, and a solid-looking
strap crossed her chest, tight enough to restrict her breathing.
Another bound her legs.
Her mind began to work on the problem. She couldn't move her
arms, trapped as they were under the wide band of metal. She opened
her mouth and croaked a single word.
was a beep, and a voice spoke next to her ear. "Please
specify nature of help required."
"I can't get up," said Erin, the words forced out of her
dry throat one by one. She heard a click, and the bands swung open. "Who
are you?" she asked, as she twisted her head to get a look
at the source of the voice.
you suffered memory loss? Your vital signs are normal but I detect
changes in your ECG."
sat up, and immediately the tank whirled around her like a demented
carnival ride. She closed her eyes and swallowed. "Does
it have to do that?"
tank. Does it have to spin like that?"
was a long silence before the computer spoke again. "The
pod is not in motion, Erin. Perhaps the effects of cryo sleep
have not worn off yet."
you remember?" There was a faint undertone in the computer's
otherwise level voice. "You are aboard the colony ship Glory,
with one thousand colonists and three crew members."
"Glory?" Erin looked up at the even rows of perforations in
the ceiling panels. "Why is it so quiet?"
left the solar system thirty years ago. After initial acceleration
the engines were shut down. Tell me, do you remember planet Earth?"
frowned. "Dark with patches of light. They didn't
want me there."
have prepared a mix of stimulants to help you. May I administer
"I guess." There was a quick flash of movement, and Erin stared
stupidly at her upper arm, where a drop of blood welled from a
pinprick. "Ouch," she said.
apologise for the discomfort."
took a deep breath as fire and ice chased each other through
her body. Her eyes snapped open, and she looked around cryo-bay
six with a series of sharp glances that missed nothing. "Where
are the others? Why did you wake me?"
"They are still asleep," said the computer. "I was forced
to revive you because of a minor fault in your pod. It will be
necessary for you to use to a spare." There was a pause. "Has
your memory recovered?"
stood up. "Almost. Just tell me where I left my damned
Roth ran his fingers through his hair and blew out his cheeks. "Memory
nodded. "We may be able to stave off the effects by coming
out of cryo at regular intervals." She hesitated. "That
goes for the colonists, too."
stared at her, face ashen. "You want to cycle a thousand
people? The four of us?" He did a quick mental calculation. "Erin,
it's seventy years to the first planet. If we have to wake
a thousand people twice we're going to age ten years each!"
spread her hands. "The alternative doesn't bear
"But what if the first planet isn't suitable," said Roth,
his voice rising. "It's ninety years to the next. And
fifty to the one after." He leant forward, eyes wide. "We
could die of old age out here."
teach some of the colonists to operate the pods. Everyone can
have a four-month stint."
what if some of them go nuts, start frigging around with the
controls up here? No thanks. Anyway, how can you be sure this
loss is cumulative?"
can't be sure. The only thing we can do is wake everybody at
fixed intervals until we get to..."
computer broke in. "I hope you don't consider this
an intrusion," it began.
looked up. "Go ahead."
are insufficient supplies for such a plan. A minute quantity
of liquid is lost each time you revive the occupant of a cryo-tank.
The compounding effect of such a loss..."
frowned. "This is a closed system."
"There is always some leakage," said the computer. "Hence
the storage tanks."
stared across the table. "What the hell are we going
stood up and crossed to the console. She played with a keyboard
for a few moments, calling up several displays in quick succession. "The
computer's right. We'll never make it."
groaned. "Oh brilliant."
is one planet within reach."
looked up, a faint hope in his eyes. "Where?"
Erin tapped a command on the keyboard and a file picture appeared
on the main screen. It was a green and blue planet, and it took
Roth a moment or two to realise what he was looking at. Then he
began to laugh.
"I'll go and wake the others," said Erin. "They'll
have to be in on this."
about the colonists? Won't they object?"
shrugged. "What choice do we have?"
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