When I was twenty five, a program was marketed offering applicants a chance to be part of a new saga in space exploration aboard ship 2460-1. The details varied from place to place, but three facts remained: space travel, human augmentation, and monetary compensation.
In the first month over thirty thousand applied.
After initial credential and psychological screenings, 76.3% of applicants were deemed unfit. Another 14.58% were found to be physically incompatible. The remaining 9.12% were rigorously vetted until 73 were selected.
It was explained to the 73 that progressing to augmentation be voluntary. They were reminded that only the families of those who successfully completed augmentation would receive monetary compensation and they would be giving up their reproductive rights if they were to accept. A forty-eight hour period was granted to think it over. In the end, 6 decided to withdraw from the program with 29 being unsuccessful.
The 38 who survived awoke feeling as if they were on top of the world. Their outward appearance remained unaltered except a shared trait of yellow irises. Months of physical, intellectual, and trade training ensued to prepare them for their first mission aboard 2460-1. When it was finally time to embark, the crew said goodbye to their loved ones and set off to the stars.
The thing is though…no one tells you that when you’re travelling light years; by the time you return home it’s no longer the home you left.
This was something the crew realized upon their first return. The very people they were talking to on a screen not even weeks prior had long since passed when they landed…
A certain type of grief grips a person when a concept like that becomes reality. It was like finding out you were dead except everyone could see you…just not the ones you’d cared about.
The first wave of suicides followed shortly after.
To most in the crew it wasn’t a surprise, but the lasting affects on morale were considerably damaging. What started an extended family of 38 was shortened to 29. As time went on the crew was sent on countless missions with the Earth they once called home becoming nothing more than an excerpt in an history e-file. From time to time crew members would die in the line of fire or malfunctions further thinning out the ship. When they interacted with others from Earth there were generally three reactions: curiosity, indifference, or prejudice. The silent question always seemed to be whether they were still considered human. After all, they were unable to age- forever preserved from augmentation…The rumors were endless.
As times changed, laws changed and they were no longer authorized to return to Earth. The space port stood as the closest point they could venture.
Things were not always so bleak, however. They themselves were mini time capsules; keeping alive outdated slang and pop culture which would of otherwise faded. References were never short in supply and neither was the multimedia. Some opted to try and keep up with Earth, but others had long since abandoned the quest.
Since time was of no consequence new skill sets were picked up with every member able to adeptly take over one other’s position. From time to time they’d switch just to shake things up. And even though the family they’d personally known on Earth were long gone, it didn’t mean they still couldn’t communicate with descendants. This kindred connection outside the confines of the ship helped some feel alive. Others distanced themselves and simply managed without it.
Every so often a new crew member would be sent to the ship, but the crew never reached its beginning 38 again. Over time the crew mellowed out through their internal crises to once again forge a close knit community- after all, there was no where to go.
“Good Morning, Officer Kai.” A computerized voice sounds as lights slowly brighten the room. “The current date on Earth is the 19th of May, 2730.” Soft music begins to play. “All of the ships primary and secondary functions are performing at acceptable levels. The ship is due at location in 3 days, 6 hours, and 57 minutes.”
I was already laying awake, staring out the window to observe distant stars when the lights came on. “Thank you, Camarin.” Pushing myself upright I tossed the covers back and made my way to the bathroom. “You’re welcome, Officer Kai.” After a simple morning routine I slipped into a slim fitting black and copper suit, taking a moment to adjust melding boots before heading to the bridge. One of the pilots’ chairs was already filled leaving me to take the other.
“It’s about time. I thought we’d be docked already by the time you got up here.” The man in the seat next to me cracked a smile.
“Mhm.” I hummed as I began checking the navigation and flight systems. We were still perfectly on course. “You know, you might eventually want to try and wake up at a normal time one of these days.” Reaching across him I typed in the code and scanned my bio-metrics to activate the panel. “I’m sure your body and soul’d love you for it.”
“No thanks. No more late mornings for me.” He sighed.
I nodded quietly, a soft smile forming before a series of beeps sounded earning my attention. “Caramin. Nice of you to join us. Why didn’t you tell me he was already awake?”
“Officer Lee requested I not interfere with your sleep until it was optimal.” Caramin replied from above. “Hmm.” I smirked, “Typical.”
“Thanks, Caramin.” Lee all but rolled his eyes while turning his attention to his own systems. “You’re welcome, Officer Lee.”
“Any received transmissions?” I asked whilst checking the system. “None aside from next point of contact.” Lee answered. I immediately looked over at him, “What did they say?”
He merely shrugged, “Above my clearance level.” There was a bite to his words. Keeping silent I attempted to access the files only to watch red letters flash across the screen stating: CLEARANCE LEVEL UNSATISFACTORY. “It’s above both of us.” Lee spoke up again, “Only for the Captain.” He added dryly. I shot him a look before glancing at the screen, “Shit.”
Lee remained seemingly unbothered as we went about our duties. Once we were securely on course and the ship was coming fully online I locked my screens. “I’m going to check on the others.”
Lee made a dismissive noise under his breath. “What for?” He asked, not taking his eyes off the view ahead. Pausing for a moment I gave him a flick on the shoulder. “See you in bit.”
Navigating through the dimly lit halls was second nature now. With every step I took a portion of the hall ahead illuminated to reveal nothing. Coming upon a pair of double doors I followed the same procedure to unlock it and stepped inside, the doors swooshing behind me with a locking sound. The room was considerably large with a number of pods- some organized in vertical groupings of four forming a cylindrical shape; others vertically locked into the wall. A few were already in horizontal positions signaling it would be time to wake up soon. Approaching the inhabited pods I began to run diagnostics. “Caramin.”
“Yes, Officer Kai.”
“How is he doing?” I asked while altering the setting on a few pods so they slowly descended into the horizontal position. “Cardiovascular and nervous systems remain stable.” I sighed, “Thank you.” Once the correct pods were horizontal I cast a one last glance at those remaining upright. Most stood empty, but a few were still inhabited with some carrying jagged cracks of varying magnitudes. Dropping my gaze to a horizontal pod at my side I silently traced my fingers down the cracks in its glass. “Should I notify Officer Ndiaye of the stasis updates?” Caramin’s words snapped me back to attention. “No. I’ll go tell her.” Stepping outside of the room I waited for the familiar locking sound before making my way to another part of the ship.
This time I rang an intercom. “You awake yet!?” There was no reply at first so I waited about minute before pressing the button again. “He-” The door suddenly swooshed open to reveal a groggy officer, “We’re almost three days away.” I almost wanted to yawn just from looking at them.
“Ugh…” Officer Ndiaye rubbed her temples. “Alright.” She glanced back towards her bed where I could easily make out a pair of legs. “Give me five minutes and I’ll start waking them up.” She wiped the sleep from her eyes.
“I already have them all in stage one.” I smiled as relief washed over her face. “Have I mentioned I love you?” Leaning over she gave me a hug, “Make it fifteen minutes and I’ll get the others.”
“Ace- I need the captain up first.” I quickly added, smiling at her mock salute. Turning on my heels I smiled wider at the sound her throwing something on the bed followed by the cut off sound of yelling for her bed mate to wake up.
Lee was still in his chair when I got back. Pulling out a pair of meal bars I tapped one on his shoulder. “Thanks.” He ripped it open without even looking at it- the wrapper disintegrating into nothing, “What flavor do you think it is?”
I sunk in the chair next to him doing the same. “I’d guess mine is English breakfast and yours is…” I tilted my head to the side, “Frittatas.” I decided. He snorted. “Frittatas?” He asked. “Yep. Take it or leave it.” I took a bite from mine, mulling over the flavor. “Well?” He asked, but I gestured for him to take a bite. A mouthful of silence later he spoke up, “It’s definitely not Frittata.” He smirked. “Mine’s definitely not English breakfast.” I admitted. Leaning over I held out my bar, “Take a bite. Tell me what you think.” I smiled at his expression. “Come on, I have faith in you.” I teased until he finally took the bait. His face contorted, “It’s better than mine, but…not together.” He massaged his neck with a chuckle, “You’re turn.” The sight of his bar made me laugh. “Oh no. After seeing that reaction I think I’m good.” I attempted to lean back, but he merely leaned forward until the bar brushed my nose. “Okay, okay!” I gripped his hand to hold him still and took a bite. The taste was immediate. “Ugh, yours is definitely pho.” I took another bite of mine. “It’s such a horrible combination…” I burst into a fit of titters trying to laugh through the pain. “The weirdest things make you laugh.” Lee spoke while settling for his own bar. “Mhm.” I agreed lightly, noticing he seemed more relaxed. We soon fell into a comfortable silence merely observing the expanse ahead of us.
“…I’ll miss being able to sit like this.” Lee’s voice pulled my gaze towards him. “I thought you liked being in the thick of it?” I asked curiously. “Well, that’s different. Of course I like being able to pilot when there’s a real reason to- not this bullshit where I’m checking in on a ship’s autopilot.” The bite had returned to his words. I nodded, “Soon you’ll be able to.”
A clap sounded behind us. “Are we ready to wake these babies up or what?!” Ndiaye draped herself over the back of my chair, plucking the last bit of bar from my hand to pop in her mouth. “I can always tell when it’s Stroopwafel.” She idly ran her fingers through my curls as she chewed before giving them a light tug. “Now let’s get this show on the road.” Her smile became more pronounced.
“Oi, alright.” I turned on the comm. “Coming down now.” I didn’t wait for a response and locked my controls. Lee finished his bar in silence, his gaze firmly set on the view again. Ndiaye tugged me along chatting about a new-old show she’d ‘discovered’ about a detective solving murders in a place called Midsomer. “- it’s not a real place though. We checked.” She explained as the double doors opened to reveal the others. Ndiaye walked over to Bērziņš who helped her done a white coat before prepping the pods for stage two. “First up is the captain, but any requests after that?” She smirked, gesturing to the horizontal pods.
“Chakrabarti” Officer Mitchell spoke up.
Ndiaye nodded. “Coming right up.” Several key strokes later the lighting inside the two pods began slowly fading from blue to green. Moving swiftly, she began preparing a number of vials while Bērziņš took over setting the remaining pods. By the time she finished all six pods were in varying hues of blue-green though her eyes were solely transfixed on a levitating screen monitoring their process. She pulled her locs into a top bun and began walking towards the pods, selecting all six pods on the moving screen and typing in a command. A bin on either side of each pod ejected while Bērziņš pulled out packs for each one. “First pods are prepping to open. Stand by.” Ndiaye spoke calmly, loading vials into an applicator. “Caramin. Any irregularities?”
“Current scans reveal no irregularities, Officer Ndiaye. I will continue to monitoring. ”
When the two pods began to open, Mitchell and Ndiaye flanked one while Bērziņš and I took the other. Wet steam soon rose through the air revealing our patients. From where I was standing I could see Chakrabarti begin to stir first. She sat upright, dark hair plastered against her skin as she blinked into focus. I gave her a smile while Ndiaye promptly injected her in the neck. “-Ugh.” An unpleasant sound escaped Chakrabarti before she leaned over the pod; vomiting harshly into a waiting bin. Ndiaye stepped back as soon as the vomiting began to leave her in Mitchell’s care. A small drawer slid open at the bottom of the pod revealing a folded black and copper suit. “Morning.” Mitchell brushed Chakrabarti’s hair from her face, “And you said you weren’t going to chuck this time.” She murmured. Chakrabarti managed a muffled laugh only to get cut off by vomit.
Meanwhile I felt the captain grip the edge of his pod over my hand. Bērziņš held out a hand for the Captain to grab and pulled him upright. “How long-” The Captain only managed a few words before gripping his head. “A little over three days,” I replied. The Captain made a move to get out when a white lab coat appeared. “Not so fast, Captain.” Ndiaye stepped behind behind and shot him in the neck earning a grunt, “He’s like this every time.” She muttered, shaking her head at all three of us amused. “Enough-” The Captain started coughing. Ndiaye and Bērziņš exchanged a look before he gave the Captain a large pat on the back.
I crouched down to level, holding my breath as the first wave of vomit wafted towards me. “A locked transmission arrived.” Peeking upwards I could see Bērziņš’ interest, but he simply gave the captain another pat.
Some time later all six of our once sleeping crew were awake with Ndiaye scanning them. “What’s the report, Officer Kai?” The Captain’s voice caught my attention from helping Smith with fluids. “Three days out. No abnormalities, Captain.” I answered, watching him survey the room. “Lee is piloting.” His words fell somewhere between a question and a statement. “…Yes, Captain.” As I spoke Ndiaye stuck him in the neck again. “Damn.” He flinched, “You’ve got to warn people.” His words were barely acknowledged by Ndiaye who said nothing more than, “I’ll make an note of it, Captain.”
Once everyone was properly suited up we made our way to the dining area; Mitchell, Ndiaye, Bērziņš, and I hanging out while the rest got meals. “So does anyone know what the next posting is?” Smith asked between bites of porridge, his hair still drying from time spent in the pod. “No idea. I don’t think they’ve sent anything yet.” Ndiaye shrugged, looking between her temporary patients and a pad in her hands. Captain Agumanu glanced over at me, but I shook my head, “It’s still unclear.”
“How long has it even been since the last one?” Officer Martin asked, adding dried sausage to her porridge. “Well it’s May 2730, so…several months?” Officer Smith looked over at Bērziņš who nodded. “We’ll definitely need to stock supplies.” Mitchell interjected. “You guys are already talking about work and we haven’t even been awake an hour. Don’t we still have a few days?” Officer Badi finally spoke, rubbing her temples. “Three.” Bērziņš answered. “What happened to the 24-48 hour rule?” Badi’s question earned a series of chuckles. “She’s right. We did agree.” Smith chimed in. “Alright. Alright.” Agumanu gave Smith a hefty pat on the back, “You have another twenty four hours before you’ll be considered ‘on duty’, so enjoy it while it lasts.” He stood up. “Don’t fall, Captain.” Ndiaye smirked as he shot her an annoyed look. “Officer Kai, can you come with me?”
I followed him through the corridors for several moments; the hum of ship creating a comfortable calm. “You aren’t going to follow Ndiaye’s protocol, are you, Captain?” I asked, trying not to smile. “Officer Ndiaye can busy herself with the others for now.”
We arrived at the bridge where Lee still hadn’t moved from his seat. “Officer Lee.” The Captain’s voice became far more professional. Lee seemed to hesitate for a moment before stiffly rising to face the Agumanu, “Captain.” Lee’s voice was curt. “You can take your leave for the remainder of the shift.” The two men held each other’s gaze for a moment before Lee finally nodded, “Understood, Captain.” Lee walked off the bridge without another word or passing glance.
Agumanu took his place at the Captain’s chair. “Caramin. Seal off the bridge. Sound proof at maximum levels.” He began scanning his bio-metrics so the the station came online. “Bridge has been sealed. Sound shields enabled.” “Play transmission.” He leaned back in his chair. “The transmission is null. Initiating it will connect you with the operations base.” Caramin explained. “Thank you, Caramin. Move forward.” Agumanu agreed. Straightening up I stood next to the Captain’s station just at the transmission connected.
Three people sitting in a conference room appeared on the primary screen. “Captain Agumanu. I trust your stasis went well.” The first to speak was a woman holding a pad in her hand. “Where is your Executive Officer?” A stern looking man to her right spoke, his eyes trained sharply on us. “In the last report there were details explaining the circumstances and rationale behind having Officer Kai take over the position.” Agumanu explained, “To my knowledge the decision had been approved.” “-Yes we have all read the report of the incident. We mean the status of the prior Executive Officer. It was not detailed in the report.” Another woman spoke up. Agumanu was quiet for a moment, “The prior Executive Officer is no longer active.” He answered evenly. “Noted.” Was all the the stern faced man commented. “Moving on.” The main woman began, “Your next posting has been decided. You are to arrive at the Port XKU-19 where you are scheduled to stock on supplies. Two new crew members will be waiting in stasis.” “-Their respective positions?” Agumanu asked. “Operations Officer and Second Engineering Officer.” The second woman answered him easily before the first continued, “After leaving the port you will be due at Xiradis in the Andromeda Galaxy.” “-The purpose of the posting?” Agumanu asked. “Officially you are there as representatives of Earth- specifically the IATC. You will also be on standby to extract certain items of interest if an agreement has not been reached prior to your arrival.” The first woman finished allowing the man to speak, “Are you already locked on course?” He asked. I inhaled, “Yes. Officer Lee and I checked the coordinates this morning. We are set to arrive on time in 72 hours.”
“Officer Lee is still commissioned?” The man raised an eyebrow. “The proper adjustments have been made to ensure there is no compromise in efficiency or stability regarding the ship.” Agumanu answered. The three on the opposite exchanged a glance before turning back to us. “We trust your judgement for the time being, but we will be monitoring.” The main woman stated. “After you leave the port there will be a lag period before full details of the mission are released. This is to give enough time for the new crew members to assimilate. Is this agreeable?” She asked, looking from her pad to us. “Yes.”Agumanu answered plainly. “Excellent. If there are any changes to your schedule you will be notified. Now that you are out of stasis we expect an answer to be immediate.”
The screen went dark before I could blink.
“Now you’ve experienced a briefing.” Agumanu’s tone relaxed as the screen flickered to show distant stars ahead. “It only took how many years?” The smile in my voice was hallow as I approached the view, looking at the vastness. I wanted to bring up the new crew members, but saved my breath. We both knew the answers anyway.
Later when most of the crew had retired, I made my way to the canteen for a meal. “Select a meal option.” I selected the oxtail and moved to collect a beverage. “Going for the oxtail again?” Lee’s familiar voice sounded through the room. “Old habits die hard, what can I say?” Taking my soup I held it up for him to get a whiff, “Want some?”
Lee leaned back, “I’ll pass.”
“Eventually you’re going to give in.” I shrugged while taking a seat. Lee took the spot across from me, waiting for me to take a bite before speaking again, “Any important news?”
I slowly chewed as I thought. “Of course, but you’ll have to wait until morning.” I offered him a smile and took another bite. “Of course,” Lee sighed rubbing his jaw. “Mhm.” I nodded quietly.
After several silent moments I spoke up again, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Lee’s answer was stiff. “Are you sure?” I prodded. “Yeah. I just want to know why we had to wake everyone up.” He glanced down at my empty bowl before meeting my eyes. “I get it.” Standing up I went to put my tray in the cleansing station. Lee was still sitting when I walked back over. “You going to stay in here?” I asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. Lee sighed, “No, I’m coming.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Ndiaye spoke up as soon as Agumanu finished the briefing. “I can understand your apprehension, but the orders have been made.” Agumanu replied. “Of course they have.” Ndiaye shook her head rolling her eyes. “Moving on to preparations for Xiradis-” Agumanu turned his attention towards the rest of the crew, “Officer Martin and Smith will lead while the rest of you can revert to your normal duties. Any questions?” He asked.
“I have a question.” Ndiaye raised a hand. “Besides Officer Ndiaye.” Agumanu clarified. “You said one will be an Engineering Officer. What is there specialty?”Bērziņš asked. “They didn’t say, but they’ll obviously be second to you.” I replied. Bērziņš gave a curt nod. “And how long until we reach the port?” Officer Smith questioned. “About 64 hours.” Officer Bērziņš answered. “Are we going back into stasis after the port or do they want us awake?” Officer Chakrabarti pipped up. “They’ll want us to stay awake to help them ‘assimilate’.” Ndiaye made air quotes as she spoke before crossing her arms over her chest. “…That’s correct.” Agumanu’s tone was dull earning a smirk from Ndiaye. “If there are any other questions you know where to find myself or Officer Kai. Let’s start prepping once the twenty-four hours is up.”
As soon as Agumanu left I glanced over at Ndiaye who looked beyond irritated. The moment we locked eyes I began moving for the exit. “”Kai-” “Bye guys.” I quickly slipped into the corridor.
That night I’d just finished changing into pajamas when a heard a chime at the door. “Caramin, who’s there?” I asked while moving my damp hair over to one shoulder. “Officer Ndiaye.” “Let her in, please.” I settled on the edge of my bed to see her walking in with a bag of hair products, “Is it that time already?”
“Almost twelve weeks.” Ndiaye gave her faux locs a pat. “Wow. Time really does fly when you’re floating through the void.” I chuckled, taking the bag from her. While I began to lay out my supplies she got comfortable at my feet. “So, two new members, huh?” Not wasting any time I beat her to the chase. “Psh. It’s going to be a fucking shit show. It always is.” Ndiaye waved a hand dismissively while I snipped the first loc and began unraveling. “This is the first time they’ve sent two though.” I offered. “Yeah. Probably because it’s always a shit show!” She huffed, “Every time they introduce a a new member it throws off the balance of everyone and then we have to watch them go through the same shit we did.” I could feel Ndiaye struggling not to move too much as she spoke. “Are you worried about Bērziņš ?” I asked. Ndiaye laughed, “Please, if I was worried about then what’s been the point, right?” She shrugged. “I get it.” Applying moisturizer to her natural hair I was so focused I didn’t even glance up when the door chimed. “Let them in, please.” I called just I finished the first half of her head. “Yes, Officer Kai.”
“Well look who it is.” Ndiaye gave a slow cap as Agumanu came into view. “Hello ladies.” He rolled his shoulders and waited for Ndiaye to scoot forward so he could sit between us. I passed him some moisturizer before getting to work on his hair. “Are you excited for two new crew members?” Ndiaye’s question was clearly pointed at our captain. “I don’t know if I’d say excited, but I’ll welcome them regardless.” Agumanu’s tone became a bit pointed towards the end. “Uhuh.” Ndiaye retorted.
“What about you, Kai?” Agumanu asked while unraveling the Ndiaye’s locs. “I’m…it’s not at the top of my list…To be honest.” I finally managed to verbalize. “She doesn’t count. She’s probably still focused on the incident.” Ndiaye cut in only to let out a soft grunt when Agumanu gave her hair a warning tug. “You need to take these next few days to prepare for the new arrivals.” Agumanu’s words were quiet, yet firm as he continued, “Remember, my crew is also your crew.”
Ndiaye heaved a heavy sigh. “I know. I know. BUT I still don’t like it when they send new crew members and I DEFINITELY don’t like them sending more than one at once.” She admitted. “It’s definitely a new approach.” I commented. “And we can all probably guess why.” Ndiaye spoke flatly. “Look. It’s not that I hate new crew members. It’s just- this ship is like an ecosystem and when you introduce a new species to an ecosystem it can be a shit show.” Ndiaye collected the locs in her hand while she spoke. Agumanu cracked a smile, “Aren’t we all the same-” “Oh shut up. You know what I mean.” Ndiaye reached behind to swat at him. “How are you going to swat anything with your short little arms?” Agumanu erupted into laughter. “Let’s see how my short little arms do when it’s time for you to go into stasis again.” Ndiaye countered, continuing to swat. “Hey, do you want this last loc taken out or not!?” Agumanu was attempting to block her without pulling his hair from my grasp. “Way to hide behind the hair, captain!” Ndiaye teased.
I couldn’t help but smile as they bickered; eventually giving up on his hair to simply sit back