Source by Matthew S. Williams - HTML preview
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Part II: Shortfall
Kalum watched the monitor as the images from the previous day‘s events played across the screen. Although somewhat blurred by all the interference, the essentials came through loud and clear. The bright fires and curls of black smoke were unmistakable against the background of raging bodies. The noises were equally telling: unintelligible, loud, and violent. These were the unmistaken signs of a population gone mad. It was like listening to the crazed noises of caged animals. On the surface, it might have seemed to most like anger was what drove them on. But in his experience, Kalum knew that the prime motivation had to be fear. Anger, although potent, could never move people to act this way. These were a people driven to the brink of insanity by the knowledge that very soon, they were going to die.
Denial was also a very potent motivator. No matter how inevitable the reality of their death was to them, something in the human psyches seemed to be telling them that by turning on each other, they could somehow stave off death for themselves. And into this mess, Kalum and his unit had to be sent.
Taking his position next to the oversized monitor, their chief resumed his briefing and let his words keep pace with the flow of the images.
―We estimate the death toll to be about two-hundred thousand already. As the Ministry anticipated, the mobs appear to be attacking any and all government buildings, be they federal or local. However, the violence for the most part dissipated around civil buildings when the local militia began firing on them. Now, the violence appears to be making its way into the cores of all major urban centres. The people are looking for anything and everything that could contain even trace amounts of water. Our orders are to redeploy to sector 8 where we will be responsible for cordoning off the area and making sure the violence doesn‘t spread back towards ministry or municipal buildings again.‖
The recording ended when a stray object thrown from the crowd took out the camera that was watching them. The monitor went black, and the chief keyed a button that shut down the monitor. The room lights came on, revealing a room of musky, unwashed men and women, their suits having gone days without a wash. Looking around, the chief asked for questions, and immediately some hands went up.
―What‘s our level of authorization, sir?‖ one of them asked.
―We have been authorized to take whatever actions are necessary,‖ the chief answered.
―We need to contain the populace and make sure they do not threaten any government assets, which includes buildings and infrastructure. On the protection list are office buildings, desalination and recycling plants, electronic grids, manufacturing centres, and the rest. We need to protect them by any means necessary.‖
―Have any other units reported losses, sir?‖ another asked.
―Yes, some have. But our estimates say they‘re pretty minor.‖
―Have we been charged with protecting any civilian property, sir?‖ a third queried.
―No,‖ the chief replied plainly. ―Our primary concern is protecting Ministry buildings and anything else deemed necessary for dealing with the situation after this phase passes.
Keeping those intact is our primary concern.‖
There was a moment of silence from the room. All the immediate questions had been asked, insofar as their obligations and powers were concerned. The chief looked around for another few seconds, waiting for any other questions. Before he could dismiss them, Kalum decided to raise his hand and ask the one thing no else thought to.
―So is this strictly a crowd control mission, sir?‖
The chief looked somewhat confused by the question. ―What do you mean?‖ he asked.
―Well, sir, it doesn‘t sound like we‘re there to protect property unless its government, and from what I can tell we‘re not going to be distributing water either. Are we just expected to hold the in line in our sector and let the people kill each other?‖
The chief looked around the room as he absorbed the question. Others began to look in his direction warily. Kalum always did have a knack for asking the inappropriate questions, even if they were all thinking the same thing. Licking his lips, the chief looked back in his direction to respond.
―Do you see any excess water packs around here, son?‖ he asked irritably. ―What exactly would we have to give?‖
―Those people are just looking for a glass of water, sir. And the Force has enough for all of its officers. Couldn‘t we spare some?‖
―And exactly who do we give it to, Kalum? They‘re billions of thirsty people out there, and we give water to one of them, the rest are going to want some. What do we do then?
Besides, we‘ve got enough for the people we have and not a drop to spare, and if you doubt that, wait til you see how you feel after a few hours out there. By then, you‘ll be happy you‘ve been given a water pack at all and you won‘t be in the mood to share it. That goes for all of you.
Stick to the orders you‘ve been given and do not try to intervene in the crowds.‖
―Yes, sir,‖ Kalum replied meekly.
―Good, now are there any other questions?‖
Kalum kept his eyes to the floor for the remainder of the briefing. Even as they were dismissed, he thought it better to examine his shoes and not look up at anyone. He‘d brought up a perfectly humane question, and it was shot down completely by cold logic. Somehow that only made the frustration worse. No one liked what they had to do. No one liked the cold logic of it.
But worse was the knowledge that there was no choice in the matter. This was one of those rare situations they had taught about in the academy, where kindness was tantamount to cruelty. The order of the day was to let nature take its course, cold, ruthless, unforgiving nature.
Minutes later, they were in the locker room getting their stuff together. The stink was all the more potent there, where every article of clothing was kept between their sweaty, sweaty shifts. Aside from the smell, Kalum noticed that there was a certain tension that he had never felt before. Him and his unit had performed crowd control missions before, but this time things were much, much different. Today, the general population was the enemy. Kalum couldn‘t say for sure, but he felt they were in agreement with him in that none of them knew exactly how to feel about it. No one was talking about it, that was for sure, which was proof enough that they didn‘t like it one bit.
There was always that feeling of wickedness when it came to controlling people who had legitimate grievances. But this time, it was so much worse.
When news of this first hit, it was like a bombshell. For obvious reasons, it was kept secret for as long as possible. Since then, in spite of the fact that there really wasn‘t time for serious reflection, everyone had found their own way of dealing with it. But somehow Kalum, who had always felt himself to be just a little more sensitive than most, couldn‘t find a way to deal with it. It was as if what they were doing was so bad, yet so necessary, that it was better not to feel anything at all. That appeared to be the only solution, blocking out the feelings instead of 27
trying to make sense of them. Word had it that if you tried to make sense out of something this bad, it would drive you nuts.
After strapping on his flak vest, grabbing his helmet and holstering his sidearm, Kalum made a quick assessment of his most important piece of equipment: his water pack. It was filled to the brim, as per regulations, and airtight. He had been told repeatedly to inspect it, to make absolute sure there was not even the slightest hint of a breach in the casing or the inner seal. Any unwanted loss could mean death down the road. Their water rations had been calculated based on absolute necessity, with only minor losses taken into account. Once they were all set, the unit huddled up in the centre aisle of the locker room to wait for the Lieutenant. The LT, an officer by the name of Michael Cole, was quick to arrive on the scene. Leaning in close with them, he quickly went over the items that the chief had deliberately left out of their briefing. The most delicate information was always best when shared privately, from a more trusted source.
Naturally, it fell to the unit commanders to make sure their troops understood exactly what they had to do once they were out there.
―From where we‘re stationed, our most immediate concern is keeping the mobs from spreading beyond the inner city. We can expect that they will leave us alone, but just in case they don‘t, be sure to remember what the Ministry told us. If we do get into a firefight, remember to conserve ammunition as much as possible. We‘ve got a limited number of bullets so don‘t shoot unless you have to, and if that you have to, shoot only as much as you need to.
Do not fire on the crowd until I authorize you to do so, and make sure to aim for the leaders in the group and not anybody who looks like they might be having second thoughts. The hotheads are the ones you need to worry about. The nervous ones will disperse if you give them an excuse. Target men first, avoid women if you can, and avoid children altogether. The chief says that none were spotted in the crowds, but in my experience, you‘re better off taking that with a grain of salt. If you do see ‗em, don‘t touch them. It‘s bad enough we may have to shoot their parents, don‘t want to have shoot them too.‖
Cole took a deep breath before delivering what he felt was the worst part of it. It was certainly the hardest part for him to say.
―Keep in mind that the bullets you have are armour-piercing specials and they‘re likely to go through more than one person. If you must shoot, try to make sure someone else is behind them. Hit them once, and then pick another target. With luck, they‘ll disperse with a few shots and we won‘t have to worry about them anymore. They‘ll turn around, head back to the inner city, and then… we hold our positions and wait for the fire to burn itself out.
―One last thing,‖ he said, getting to a cheerier note. ―Make sure your ration pack is on your back tight, and make sure they don‘t get at it. If the crowd gets their hands on you, that‘s the first thing they‘ll go for. If they happen to grab it, unstrap it and let them have it, it‘s not worth getting pummelled over. Last, but not least, if we do get overrun, we fall back to the APV,‖ he took one more breath and uttered the last of it, ―and let the machine-gunner do his job.
The unit nodded sombrely. By this point, there was not a man or woman amongst them who did not fully understand what they were about to do. Without another word, they unholstered their weapons, checked their ammo, and headed for the APV.
―Whatever happens, stay close together, and if you find you‘re having problems, try to think of these things as cordwood.‖
―Cordwood?‖ one of the volunteers asked.
―It‘s an old saying, don‘t really know what it means,‖ the foreman replied. ―But trust me, it helps.‖
The volunteers all nodded, even though no really understood. Any help someone could offer with this task of theirs was certainly welcome. The municipality was doing its best to assemble volunteers for clean-up duty, and including David; they had succeeded in getting two hundred people from his sector alone. It was surprising, but then again, David was surprised they were that many people left in his section. Now, not more than a day later, David and six other volunteers were riding in the back of a military vehicle waiting to be dropped in their particular clean up zone. On command the volunteers all snapped on their protective gloves and breathing masks as their transport rumbled its way down the street. Several times they hit a bump in the road and the people in back were thrown a little out of their seats. Eventually they got the bright idea to strap on their safety harnesses. Soon, the rumbling of the engine died down as the vehicle pulled in to a stop. The driver‘s voice then sounded over the intercom.
―We‘re here!‖ it boomed.
Two soldiers stationed at the back grabbed a hold of the doors and gave them a hard push with their shoulders. The doors creaked open and let the harsh light of day in. They then jumped to the ground and ordered everyone else to hop out.
―Go!‖ the foreman yelled from behind them.
Two by two, their feet began to hit the ground. David was one of the last to leave, and as he disembarked, the light momentarily blinded him. After being in the backseat of an all-terrain vehicle with no lights, it was hard stepping out into the light of day. Or at least, what passed for light of day anywhere on Terran-Orbit One. Nevertheless, he did not need to see immediately to get a sense of where they were. The ground was hard and gravel-like beneath his feet, which told him they must have come to a stop on a major road. The smells also told him that something bad must have happened here not long ago. Fires and acrid smoke were not far away, and something else he could not identify.
When his eyes finally adjusted to the light, he was horrified to see how that his senses were right. Everywhere, bodies were strewn about. Those immediately in front of him were intact but punched full of holes. Not too far away, there was a pile that looked like they had been ripped to pieces. Their were charged remains here and there, and spots on the ground where it looked like fires had once been, but had since burned themselves out. But by far, the most overpowering sight was the endless mass of bodies that lay across the road. He could only guess what had happened here. A tangled mob of protesters, and a clash with armed militiamen. The pile was apparently all they had thought to do with some of those they had killed; the rest lay where they had feel after they had been shot. Standing near the pile, the foreman yelled at them to get over there and start moving them first.
There was a loud honk as another vehicle pulled in beside him. David‘s head was a dizzy mess; he realized the driver was honking at him to get out of the way. It was a large box-like truck, with thin slit windows and a big metal frame. He could only surmise that this must be the cargo vehicle, where they were expected to haul the bodies once they‘d rounded them up. Two men jumped from this vehicle, and one began to shout at him. He had a hard time discerning the words, but he guessed he was urging him to do his job. David nodded, and took another look in the direction of the terrible mess.
The others were up ahead, doing as they were told. Putting aside his delirium, David put one foot in front of the other and walked over to the pile. As he neared it, the smell grew worse.
The acrid smell of smoke suddenly had something putrid to it, dead flesh decaying in the sun.
―Cordwood…‖ David said to himself, ―cordwood.‖
Slowly, David put his hands on the nearest limb he could find. It was an arm, a bloodied, bruised arm. There were many people piled on top of it. He simply chose this one for some reason. It was in front of him. To his side, a disgusted volunteer was pulling a carcass off the top. It loosened the pile a little and made his grip on the arm a little easier. David gave it a tug.
He felt rewarded when it slid easily towards him, but at the shoulder joint, it was stuck again.
For a moment, he pulled it in different directions, trying to loosen it somehow. Repeatedly he said to himself: “Cordwood, cordwood. Just things. These are just things. Relax.”
David found himself rewarded again when the limb came loose and was pulled all the way out. After the shoulder, it suddenly ended. What looked like exposed bone and flesh hung there, but there was nothing else beyond it. Somewhere in the pile, the rest of the body remained, and wanted its arm.
David dropped the arm and leapt back. His breath became frantic and his head swam again. He could no longer stand, and sunk down to one knee. The foreman saw him and yelled over to him to get past it, to stand back up and try and think of something else. The words were a blur and everything moved in slow motion. His stomach churned and suddenly wretched up everything he had put in it over the last few days. There he lingered for a few moments while he waited for someone to come and console him, but no one came. Everyone else just carried on, and the foreman started yelling at him.
He wasn‘t cut out for this. That was what every bone in his body was telling him at this moment. He had no business being a lucky survivor. He had no business being born in this terrible time. The preselected outlived others, and those that lived had to clear their remains away. He couldn‘t stand it. He wished it were him in that pile. They were the lucky ones, in his estimation.
David sat huddled under the showerhead, trying to get every last drop to where it could do some good. In almost no time at all, the shower ended and a loud buzzer sounded, signalling him to clear out and make room for the next person. He didn‘t want to leave. He wasn‘t nearly clean enough yet. The smell was still in his nostrils, and the filth was still on his skin. The memory of touching those things, and the long ride back with all those unclean people, made him feel horribly dirty. It was as if it went to his bones, and no amount of washing or scrubbing seemed to make it better. Even a clean change of clothes didn‘t improve his mood, although the thought of the others being incinerated seemed to agree with him.
When he was finished and in the front hall of the municipal building, waiting for Sheila to pick him up, he finally began to feel a little better. The memories of the day‘s activities were not far from his mind, he just learned not to think about them as much. For hours, he had been struggling, trying to find someway to feel better about what he saw. Eventually, he found it was better just to not think about it at all. Instead, he tried to look forward to seeing his good friend again. Sheila said they would take it easy once the day was done and they were finished with their volunteer work. Whereas David had been stuck with cleanup, Sheila had been slightly luckier, scoring a job at the mortuary. Neither would be in a good mood once they were done, she predicted. But she claimed they would find something to take their minds off of it. She also let on that she had some liquor stashed in her old desk drawer. No doubt that was her way of dealing with the drudgery of office management. That would certainly come in handy now.
Given the situation, regulations strictly forbid the consumption of diuretics. But right now, getting wasted together felt extremely appropriate. He wondered if she had any smokes stashed 30
away too. Even though neither of them partook of that habit before this mess hit them, he imagined neither of them would be getting through this without a little help from some friendly narcotics.
Sitting impatiently at her desk, Executive Tanya Blair sat and tried to absorb the sad and sober news her advisors had to share with her. Standing around her in a horseshoe pattern, they appeared to be saying the exact same thing. The figures, estimates, and official tallies were all in from the first few days of the emergency rationing program, and not one of them was the slightest bit optimistic. As usual, it seemed the Ministry of Supply had fudged their official estimates. It was a rule that was never broken. Whenever it came time to figure out a budget, they guessed too low. But when they were asked to estimate how long the essentials would last, they guessed too high. Human planners appeared to have a built-in need to hope for the best.
Why they let that influence their planning was beyond her though. At a time like this, realism would have been appreciated. But such thoughts were secondary right now. If they all lived through this crisis, there would be plenty of time to lay blame.
―So what now?‖ she asked her advisors. ―What are our fallback options?‖
―Madame Executive,‖ the tall one nearest her replied, ―we have no fallback plans for this kind of situation. All our plans were based on selective rationing. Now that we know that supplies won‘t last as long as they need to, we need to cut back, plain and simple.‖
―How is that simple?‖ she demanded. ―Are we to go into people‘s homes and tell them
„sorry, but your ration card is no longer any good‟? Or should I send in the troops, have them take away their cards by force? We all know there‘s no way people will surrender those willingly.‖
―Madame,‖ another to her left interjected, ―the sooner we do this, the better. Your right in guessing that they‘re will be resistance, which is why we should move as soon as possible.
And the militia should be noted since they are probably going to have to be called in as soon as possible to handle this.‖
In a flurry, Tanya ran her hands over her messed-up, oily hair. The heat and anger only made her feel dirtier. In that moment, she looked over to Dr. Gowles, who had yet to say anything at all during the briefing. As a special advisor from the Ministry of Supply, he was supposed to be providing insights into the particulars of their rationing program. But so far, he had kept his mouth shut, and she was beginning to doubt if he was of any use at all. During the entire course of the meeting, he sat against the arm of her office divan looking pensive. It was his department that had produced this monumental failure, so it only made sense that they should be doing something about it. A little needling in his general direction felt in order right about now.
―Alright, so its really just a question of who then, isn‘t it?‖ she said in his direction. ―So that means we need to decide who to cut off and how we expect to deal with them once we do.
But this time, I suggest we make sure our estimates are realistic. No more happy projections designed to please people.‖
The horseshoe of advisors all nodded humbly. Gowles did not appear to hear her. She raised her voice a little and made she sure she projected it better.
―I also suggest we take another look at the estimates on how much water we think we can safely produce and recycle for the immediate future, and I want negative projections here again.
I think it‘s fair to say we need some pessimism there too.‖
There were some more nods, but no suggestions or challenges. Again, Gowles had nothing to offer, and in her mind, Tanya wrote him off as a lost cause. Nodding to herself, she resigned herself to what had to be done. They had to quickly and quietly decide who was going to die, once again. As if sensing her thoughts, Mr. Ortega, her deputy Executive, tried to offer some words of consolation.
―Madame, we‘ve managed to keep this government safe by appealing to people on the grounds that this was for the good of the race. I think we can do that again. And as long as we‘re successful in the long run, we can rest assured that history will judge us fairly. I think we can all assume that future generations might even thank us someday for every hard decision we‘ve made these last few months.‖
―I‘m not concerned about the judgements of history, Ortega. I‘m more concerned about what our troops are going to have to deal with when they go door to door and try to take ration cards away from people. That is what they‘ll have to do because there‘s no way someone is going to surrender their card willingly. And what‘s going to happen when they go from house to house to collect them? Do you think anyone is going to allow our troops to take cards away from someone‘s wife, husband, father, mother, or child? Of course not, which means our troops are going to have to put more people down, and this time it‘s likely to be entire families! You can play the hindsight card all you like, Antonio! We can all try to defer the morality of this decision and let history judge, but the fact is, if we do this, we‘re monsters. What good is it to survive if you don‘t even deserve to live?‖
―Madame – ‖ he tried again before being cut off.
―Shut up!‖ she ordered, and everyone went dead silent. Nobody dared speak for the next few minutes. Finally, as if something finally set his mind in order, Gowles appeared to mutter something to himself.
―Do you have something to say, Doctor Gowles?‖ Ortega demanded.
―I was just thinking of what you said,‖ he replied coolly. ―It seems to me we have quite a problem on our hands here. Right now, we have a situation where over half the population is raging blindly while the rest try to control them. People are dying by the millions, while at the same time, the survivors are consuming faster than we can supply them.‖
―Yes,‖ Tanya said in an obvious tone. ―In a nutshell.‖
―Well, Madame Executive, every problem has a solution.‖
―What do you mean?‖
―Our plans for supplying water are limited because our only options are to recycle what we have, putting it through endless processes of filtration and desalination, or to manufacture sources of water. Sooner or later, that our recycled stocks will run low because of the simple reality that there are too many pollutants out there. As they accumulate in the water, whatever has already been recycled will become slowly poisoned and inconsumable. The other option, chemically manufacturing it, depends on us being able to bond oxygen gas and hydrogen indefinitely. Here too, we are limited because this requires a steady supply of basic elements, which are also in dwindling supply. The only thing that appears to be in steady supply these days, is dead bodies.‖
―What are you talking about?‖ Antonio asked him.
―I was just thinking,‖ he said, turning his attention to the deputy for just a moment, ―that perhaps a common solution is available here. We just haven‘t taken notice of it yet.‖
Around the room, every advisor began to look at her for to see if she understood. Tanya, for her part, just sat there, caught somewhere between confusion and disbelief. For some reason, 32
her skin began to crawl, and suddenly she felt like she understood the true reason for Mr.
Gowles‘ presence that morning.
―Every problem has a solution, Madame Executive,‖ he said, ―every problem.‖
”After weeks of crackdowns, shortages and mass riots, the situation appears to have finally settled here in T-O One. Although authorities still report sporadic disturbances in the Martian and outer colonies, the Central Ministry has declared the system-wide shortage of water to be over. No official explanation has been given for the sudden upturn in water supplies, but sources have indicated that these new supplies are expected to last almost indefinitely.
Executive Tanya Blair is expected to make a statement in the coming weeks, but for now, the Ministry remains closed for comment. Rationing is expected to continue, but the pass system has been declared null for the time being…”
―Notice how they don‘t mention the body count,‖ Joel Francis said over a tall glass of ice water. Running a rag over the counter, the server, a Mr. Joe Barber, agreed with him.
―Half of reporting the news in knowing what to leave out,‖ he said, coiling up the wet rag and twisting the moisture out of it. ―I doubt they‘ll tell us before they‘re good and ready.‖
―They‘ve got to give us some kind of idea,‖ Joel answered. ―I mean, its not like they killed every single person who died out there. Most of them killed each other or died of exhaustion in the streets.‖
―General public‘s not likely to see it that way,‖ Joe came back.
―Yeah, your right,‖ Joel said, and went back to his drink. He finished it with one last sip and set it down in front of him. Pushing it a few inches away, he placed his hand on the top and began to study the sides. Condensed droplets had formed all around it, which for some reason seemed utterly fascinating to him. Once the drought was declared over, he figured he‘d be guzzling this stuff down like there was no tomorrow. But as he sat there in Joe‘s bar with an abundance of water at his disposal, he couldn‘t bring himself to do anything but nurse it. Every sip felt like a blessing, every droplet a life-giving elixir. As a citizen who had the privilege of being a manager of an inner city manufacturing facility, he had been fortunate enough to get a pass. His wife Sarah did clerical work, which also worked in their favour. Between the two of them, the Ministry had all the reason in the world to make sure that they and their family survived the crisis. Unfortunately, very little could be done to protect them when the riots first hit. The first few days had been particularly hard, but they had managed to pull through. Almost everyone in their neighbourhood had to watch as their water was turned off, and any and all means of procuring any were taken away. The supply was cut off, and all around their domicile, the race for survival was on. He and his family were pre-designated winners, surrounded by an infinite number of losers.
That was only the first day. After that, the looters and angry fools took to the streets, taking matters into their own hands and preying on others in the hopes that it might bring them some relief. They gathered in the streets, looking for whatever they could take, and invading whatever places they thought had something worth taking. Hour after hour, Joel and his family sat huddled in their domicile trying to stay calm amidst all the yelling and pounding. Most of it came from the streets with occasional stray objects coming through the windows. Every time one hit their place, it brought screams from the children. Joel and Sarah tried hard to keep them calm. Any screams would only indicate to those roaming the halls that there were people at home, frightened people, and they knew that would draw looters like moths to a flame. When the noise started to come from the other side of their door, that was when things really got 33
desperate. The children could stay calm no longer, and fled to their rooms to hide under their beds. Joel barricaded the door as best he could, and more than once, he had to hold it shut with his body to keep people from breaking in. With all that was going on, who knew what they‘d do if they found people inside with passes?
Luckily, the carnage lasted for only a day before gunfire from far off sent the mob in all directions. For about twenty-four hours calm had been restored, with only sporadic violence taking place in the streets. It was only a day after that that the Ministry suddenly declared the drought over and volunteers began coming in to clean up the mess. They were followed by government vehicles who came in, passing out free jugs of water to all those who would accept them. Quickly they ran out, but they were back the very next day with more. Day after day since, they showed up, hauling jugs of water. It all seemed like a miracle, or a very convenient turn of events.
Now, it was little more than a week after the first people took to the streets. Everything appeared to be returning to something approaching a state of normalcy, if one could call millions dead and many more missing normalcy. And now that it was all over and he felt safe enough leaving Sarah alone in their domicile, he decided he would drop in on Joe and see how his business was doing. Somehow it had avoided any major damage. The front window had been smashed, but there was no fire damage to speak of. The rioters who had broken in were looking to do more than just inflict damage. They were looking for a cool, out of the way place to hide.
They were also looking for a place that was stocked with things they could drink. Wisely, they had left the liquor bottles intact and instead raided the fridges for bottles of water and soda.
From the look of things, it appeared that they had made the place their home for a little while, but when news of the firing squads reached them, they quickly abandoned the place and moved on.
―I heard that those spooks the government sent in never even bothered to come into any of the neighbourhoods. Can you believe that?‖
―Yeah, heard that too,‖ Joe said, having finished his cleaning and coming over to talk now. ―I heard they never left their spots around the office buildings or the plants.‖
―So they let the people just kill each other. I can‘t believe that. And they really added a lot of bodies to the mess too.‖
―Yep. Anybody who got too close to what they were protecting paid the price.‖
―I can‘t believe they did that.‖
―Well, they did manage to get things under control after all. And they did show up with relief workers and plenty of water when the time was right.‖
―Yeah, funny thing that.‖
The two shared a mutual nod while Joel fiddled with his empty glass some more. Joe eyed him and the empty glass patiently. It had been several minutes now, and he still hadn‘t ordered another one. He was one of the few people he had seen who wasn‘t gorging themselves as much as possible now that the ban on drinking water had been lifted. But he had to respect that. After all, who knew how long this mysterious new supply would last? Conservation was still wise, and he had to admire Joel‘s restraint.
―Suppose they‘ll ever tell us exactly how many people died out there?‖ Joel asked next.
―Probably,‖ Joe came back. ―I imagine they‘ll have to, seeing as how everyone wants to know if anybody who died was someone they knew.‖
―Yeah. I guess your right.‖
―Take me,‖ Joe said, throwing the rag over his shoulder. ―I got a mother who lives in Sector Thirteen.‖
―Thirteen?‖ Joel said with some concern. Joe certainly knew why.
―Yeah, I heard they got hit pretty hard over there too,‖ he said. ―So many people without passes crammed in with a few people who had, and the soldiers didn‘t do much at all in that area.
Wasn‘t much there worth protecting. I gotta think people like me are gonna‘ get some kind of heads up.‖
―What if you don‘t?‖ Joel said.
―They have to,‖ Joe replied simply. ―I‘m not gonna‘ rest til‘ I know she‘s alright.‖
―Have you tried the T-Net?‖
―It‘s still down,‖ Joe replied heavily. ―But I know it‘s just a matter of time before someone starts coming around from the government offering us some information. They already sent in the troopers and the workers, and the water carriers. I figure they got just one thing left to do before they can pretend like this is all over and done with.‖
Passing the glass back to him finally for a refill, Joel asked him:
―Have you ever wondered where all this water came from?‖
―What do you mean?‖ Joe asked.
―Well, we all got told that the supplies had run out all across the system and there just wouldn‘t be enough for everybody anymore. Now, suddenly, the trucks start showing up, giving it away for free. We scarcely need our passes anymore, even though I won‘t be throwing mine away anytime soon. It‘s just think it‘s weird, and the fact that there‘s no explanation.‖
Thinking it over, Joe eventually shrugged and went back to arranging his glasses in a neat and tidy fashion. As a bartended, very little surprised or confused him.
―Who knows? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe they tapped a new source right after they told they couldn‘t find one. Maybe they found some new way to make it, or clean the stuff we already use. Maybe all of the above. I imagine they‘ll explain that at about the same time they decide to tell us exactly how many people died out there because of them.‖
―Yeah, you‘re probably right.‖
The crates had been arriving for well over forty-eight hours. By now, all personnel were pulling triple overtime. Even those who had been given leave had to be recalled, and they were none too happy about it. But the pace and the constant flow of goods into the warehouses demanded that somebody be there to unload and inventory them. Having earned a ten-minute break, Tran found himself a quiet spot near one of the empty loading docks and sat his exhausted body down. Against a small stack of tightly bound cardboard boxes and a makeshift stool, the guys had fashioned a perfect spot to relax. At the moment, he couldn‘t possibly fall asleep, but some rest was just as good. Pulling a stashed cigarette from his ear, he placed the tip in his mouth with trembling fingers and reached for his burner. After all the heavy lifting, his arms had taken on some tremors. He found he needed two hands just to get the burner steady long enough to light the bloody thing.
When this was all over, he could expect plenty of incentive for all his hard work and overtime. But explanations would probably be slower in coming. The water crates had become a regular arrival, but now there were plenty more shipments, of a different and confusing nature.
First came the sealed crates of protein feed, then the supplies of elemental carbon, phosphorous, calcium, oxygen, and nitrates. Rumour also had it that one warehouse in another sector was receiving cold storage cases, with biohazard written on them. Special teams were called in to 35
handle those, people who were experienced handling medical and biological waste. No one had time for speculation, but everyone had questions on their minds, and the bosses sure weren‘t explaining everything. Mr. Francis could always be trusted to be give his employees a straight answer, but all he had to say was ―Get back to work, we‘re backlogged with shipments as it is!‖
No one seemed to know anything. Or at least they weren‘t letting on that they knew anything. And as for the rest, they were too tired to ask anymore. Sitting there, Joel let the smooth acrid smoke fill his lungs and absorb into his blood. The moments began to fade away.
Too tired to think, but too worked up to sleep, he lay there, dragging at his ciggy, and waited for his time to expire. After what felt like a lifetime, another worker came to him and relieved him.
Time to get back to it. There was simply too much to do, and not enough hours in which to do it.
―How is the operation running?‖ Ortega asked from his spot up on the catwalk.
―Perfectly,‖ Gowles answered. ―We have all systems honed to near-perfect efficiency and we are still only scratching the surface in terms of supply.‖
Ortega scoffed, ―Why don‘t you call it what it is, bodies,‖ he said.
―Very well, bodies,‖ Gowles corrected himself. ―In any case, we are producing millions of dekalitres a week, and every body provides us with numerous trace chemicals and elements as well.‖
―And what about protein?‖ Ortega asked indignantly. ―I heard your technicians were processing bodies for food supplies as well.‖
―Yes, that is true,‖ Gowles replied. ―We are looking ahead to the next possible crisis.
The supply of bodies has been useful in that respect as well.‖
―That was never part of your proposal, neither was using bodies to extract mineral resources!‖
Gowles drew back slightly from Ortega. The tour of their new facility was clearly wearing on the man‘s nerves and his conscience. It was little wonder why he had come instead of his boss, poor thing. No one liked the idea of it, but none could doubt its necessity.
―As I said, Mr. Deputy, we are thinking ahead here. We are already processing these subjects for their base materials, no sense letting any of it go to waste. It may be necessary someday soon. Besides, its not as if its not going to good use. Our water engineers have been complaining about the shortages of new supplies of carbon and oxygen for manufacturing water, now they have all they‘ll need for the foreseeable future.‖
Ortega took a deep breath and nodded. His knuckles were turning white against the support bar in front of him. His stomach was turning. Gowles could see it. He‘d seen it many times before, especially in the last few days. All of his personnel had to go through the stomach hardening process. After days of performing their lucrative work, they were finally getting to the point where they were no longer losing their lunch. He had almost forgotten how hard it was for some people to get used to it.
Looking down below, he watched with Ortega as technicians, dressed in full sanitation gear, loaded the cold, pale bodies of the dead into the extraction tanks where every cell of their bodies would be drained of their natural water. When this process was complete, the desiccated remains of the bodies were then removed and placed into the ovens here the remains were broken down into protein powder. Next, came the molecular processing, where the protein was again broken down, and trace elements were extracted. Last, there were the sorting machines that separated the protein from the elements, and distributed them all into respective sealed 36
containers. The operation stretched across the entire facility floor, in many places walls had to be removed to accommodate all the machinery.
―In addition,‖ he continued, ―the techniques employed here could go a long way in helping us to update our recycling techniques. We have already learned so much about improving filtration and extraction processes, as well as the removal of microscopic organisms.
This has been good for research and development, as well as supply and demand. Out of all of this, we can expect that this will prolong our supply and recycling methods well into the foreseeable future.‖
―Good for us,‖ Ortega muttered. ―I‘m having hard time seeing the silver lining in this doctor.‖
―Then do what I do,‖ he replied. ―Look upon every day that we give to our people as a blessing. See this entire crisis as a hard lesson, but one that has been learned. God has been gracious to us, he has withheld the apocalypse for another day. We should be thankful.‖
―Please doctor! God didn‘t do this to us, we did, and how many people paid the price?‖
―Some must be sacrificed so the rest of us may live, Mr. Deputy. It‘s a rule as old as the universe itself. Survival demands death, and the chief cause of death is life itself.‖
―That‘s an interesting way of looking at it,‖ Ortega said, taking another look at all the processing units and workers that lay beneath him. ―Does it work?‖
―Yes, as long as you take it seriously. To think any other way, I‘ve found, is to admit that our race doesn‘t deserve to survive. In spite of its faults, humanity is just too precious a creation to just roll over and die.‖
Ortega gave the bar a shake, looked over at Gowles with a strange smile on his face.
―Where did they find you doctor?‖ he asked. ―Where did the ministry dig up someone as… clever, as you?‖
Gowles was not entirely flattered. The way he said the word made it seem as if there were something truly ambivalent about it. Still, he shrugged off the semantics and answered honestly.
―I was in tucked away in a research department until my predecessor was selected for the Survivor ship. Apparently, someone felt my thinking process would be of better use in an executive role. At least, they began to think that way when they realized this crisis would hit.‖
The hairs on the back of Ortega‘s neck stood up. He could read between the lines.
Gowles thinking process, the sudden promotion, the all too prompt suggestion he made back in the Executive‘s office. It all clicked in that instant.
―This idea of yours, it‘s not a new one is it?‖ he asked pointedly.
―No,‖ Gowles answered plainly. ―I may have suggested some such thing in the past. Not for immediate use, of course, but rather as a stopgap measure in case a problem should emerge.‖
―Jeezus,‖ Ortega muttered.
―The truth is, this crisis is nothing new either, Mr. Deputy. There were many people, at many different levels in the whole of the Ministry, who knew that this would come someday.
Recommendations were made, but little was ever done about it because apparently the bureaucracy thought it better to trust in the idea of a limitless resource base, and deferred questions of limits to specific think tanks. I once had the honour of sitting in on some of them and between us, we decided that the human race had perhaps a few centuries left before extinction.‖
―And that was when you recommended this?‖ Ortega asked, waving his hand at all that was beneath them.
―Yes, among other things. Many of my colleagues made similar recommendations, such as developing a vessel that could carry survivors to nearby star systems, planting the seed of humanity elsewhere in the galaxy to ensure that no single fate could claim us all.‖
―I take it you also came up with designs for these machines you have now?‖ Ortega asked, pointing to them once again.
―Yes, we did recommended that the appropriate machinery be developed to accommodate our ideas, but again, the Ministry left it to us to produce them. It was easy enough, it was really just a matter of adapting existing units to work on human bodies and finding people willing to do the labour. But of course, all this information was filed away somewhere or stocked in some warehouse. It was not until my predecessor was told that the last viable source of water in this system was exhausted that all our reports and findings were pulled and put to use. Interestingly enough, we also found ourselves being promoted, as you no doubt noticed in my case.‖
Ortega shook his head. Again, he could feel that terribly uncomfortable feeling rising in his stomach. Think tanks, deeply laid plans, extinction, and all that conspiracy crap. All of the terrible sights and revelations he had witnessed that day was enough to make anyone loose their composure. And he was no exception. The nausea was becoming too much, he needed to find a way out of there.
―Excuse me,‖ he stammered as he ran to the nearest door he could find. On the other side was an electrical room with transformers and readouts everywhere. He tried in vain to find a bucket, but there was nothing. Finally he gave up and keeled over.
Gowles stepped into the room behind him, turned and ordered the few people who had gathered behind them to leave. Slowly, he shut the door, and placed a hand on Ortega‘s back. A few more heaves, and it finally appeared to be over.
―There, there,‖ he said gently. ―It‘s alright. There‘s been plenty of that around here lately.‖
Ortega coughed as he cleaned the last of the vomit from his mouth and tried to regain what was left of his dignity. It was several minutes before he could straighten up again, or think of something to say. Alas, there was nothing he could do to shake what he was feeling. The horrid spectre of the Ministry of Supply‘s new operation was in his face full-force. He felt horribly powerless, a Deputy Executive, and completely powerless. No longer was his office in control of things. Everything had passed to the hands of this man and his horrid ideas. How did he stand doing what he did, with only a few kindly justifications to ease his mind? What kind of ghoul was he? Or was he being too hard on him? Could this man really be just a dedicated soul doing what had to be done for the good of the race?
―I take it your still wrestling with the morality of this thing?‖ Gowles said, accurately guessing his thoughts. ―Well, if you find you still can‘t stomach this after some time, perhaps you can console yourself with the knowledge that we may have saved our race from extinction.
It cost us was a few billion lives, but through that, the survival of the vast majority may very well be ensured. I think you will see that as a bargain.‖
―What about tomorrow? What about the next time? What then?‖ Ortega asked, finding the strength at last to issue a challenge to his twisted logic.
―We‘ll have to deal with it when the time comes, but that‘s the beauty of it. We have the luxury of looking ahead now. We have the freedom to live and meet that challenge when the time comes. Perhaps our race will finally learn from this, perhaps not, but every day we live from now on is a gift. The people who died are heroes, not victims. And someday people will view them as such.‖
―You mean, when they learn the truth?‖ Ortega ventured.
―Heaven forbid it will be in our time, but even if it is, I‘m sure they‘ll understand why it had to be done. None of them will be able to doubt for long that they and their loved ones are alive because of what we did this day. We are alive, Mr. Ortega. Revel in this time, because it may be all we have.‖
―Have one, you look like you could use it,‖ Tanya said, passing her deputy a tall glass.
Slumping on her divan, he lifted his head up just long enough to take a look at it, then promptly let it slump again.
―I can‘t touch it. I don‘t think I‘ll ever be able to again.‖
―You have to drink sometime,‖ Tanya said, pushing the glass closer.
Ortega‘s body produced a noticeable squirm, but couldn‘t bring itself to stand up and take the glass from her. His little visit to one of Gowles facilities had taken a severe toll. At least two aides had confirmed that he had thrown up inside the facility, and then again on the way back to the capitol. The display certainly hadn‘t done much good for the image of their office, but at least he managed to keep his suit clean.
Finally, Ortega pulled his head up again and looked long and hard at the water-filled glass. It looked so clean, so pure, no horribly untainted. It possessed absolutely none of the immoral taint that he was sure it would. Nowhere in it were the signs of death, sacrifice, and cold rationalism that had created it. As hard as he tried, he could not see the bullets, the billion plus bodies that were piled in the streets, one on top of the other, or the machines that sucked every bit of bodily water from a no-longer living body. He couldn‘t see all that, just the beautiful, clear sign of pure water. And his stomach earned for it, to feel its cool rejuvenating calm settling into his belly.
―I can‘t,‖ he persisted, ―not as long as I know where it came from.‖
Tanya cringed at the sound of his voice. It was so rough and scratchy. He never sounded this bad, or this morose. Now she was feeling it was even worse that she let him volunteer to check the place out. Withdrawing the glass, she decided to let him be for the time being. When he was ready, he would drink it, like they all would.
―You know what‘s funny about all this?‖ he said suddenly. ―It feels kind of familiar, you know?‖
Tanya looked closer at him, but didn‘t say a word. Ortega went on:
―When I was nine years old, my father took me to this park enclosure on Luna where they had these huge, indoor lakes and trees. It actually looked like the kinds of forest you see in old datafiles, or in the vids, except for the domed ceilings that looked out into space, of course. But it was still a park, and you could actually catch real fish there. My dad took me fishing one day, and we caught something. My father said we ought to cut it up and fry it. The only problem, for me anyway, was that we had to kill it first. I thought he would, but my father said that I should do it. He figured I needed to learn where food really came from, that this would help to build my character. So, I did it, I picked up the rock just like he showed me, and I got ready to smack the thing‘s head. I was pretty scared; I mean, I never killed anything before. But I didn‘t want to disappoint him, so I hit the thing again and again, until its eyes went glassy and he told me to stop. Then, he cut it up, fried it for us, and we had that fish with some beans and rice by the fire, just the two of us. I remember thinking how good it tasted, until suddenly I remembered that this was the same fish which hours earlier, I had killed. I started remembering how I saw fear in its big, fishy eye while it squirmed on our deck, choking for breath. Then I remembered how its 39
eyes went dead and cloudy after I bashed it with the rock. And I remembered how a couple of times, it would convulse in the boat on the way back. A nervous twitch, even though it was dead. Then I found it harder to eat.‖
―What did you go?‖ Tanya asked half-interestedly.
―I stopped thinking about it. It made it harder to enjoy, so I just kept eating and tried to forget about where it came from.‖
―I see. Well, maybe that‘s what you need to do here.‖
―Yeah, it worked once, ah?‖ he said ironically. He took a deep breath, and again began to ramble on philosophically. ―I wonder if anybody will even care when they find out,‖ he said.
―If it‘s anything like how we take what we eat for granted, I doubt they even think twice about it unless it‘s right in their face, staring them dead in the eye. Why does that worry me so much?‖
―Because it means we don‘t bother to consider obvious questions as long as we don‘t have to,‖ Tanya replied. ―Because it means nobody‘s a saint, and there are simply no moral absolutes in the universe. The only absolute right now, Ortega, is that if you don‘t drink this, you will absolutely die.‖
Ortega took another look at the glass. Again, he saw no trace of the things he needed to see there. And Tanya was right of course, about everything. These things, these little life lessons, they bothered him. But if he hadn‘t learned them by now, then somehow the whole point of this crisis had slipped past him. There simply were no rules that applied with absolute precision. Those who led were no better off than those who lived and worked beneath them.
None of them could be counted on to do what was right and correct, or even what was in their long-term interests. They simply did the best they could, one challenge at a time, all the while with no real idea of what lay ahead of them. Such was life, a lesson he first experienced as a young boy and for some reason, had to learn again. All the important things – right and wrong, the sacredness of life – seemed to fall by the wayside when it came right down to it. All that really mattered in the end was staying alive.
Summoning all the strength he could, Ortega pulled himself to his feet and walked over to her desk. Placing his hand around the cool glass, he lifted to his lips, and drank it down as fast as he could.
―How is he doing?‖ the chief asked the doctor as they walked together down the crowded hallway.
―He‘s responding well to the medication, unfortunately, the delusions have not subsided.
The experience was apparently so bad that the images have lodged themselves in his mind.‖
The chief gave a troubled nod and took another look around him at all the people who had been crowded into the tight halls. Like all government run clinics, the place had been flooded by people in dire need of psychiatric help. It was another terrible aspect of the crisis‘
aftermath, something else that the Ministry had not adequately planned for. Alongside the victims who had witnessed terrible acts, there were also those who had committed them that needed help dealing with it. Alas, it was his own that he was concerned about that morning, one in particular.
―Do you expect him to make a recovery, doctor?‖ he asked.
―Recovery?‖ the doctor replied. ―Do you mean a total and permanent recovery, or a partial one?
―What‘s the difference,‖ the chief asked after a moment of thought.
―Sir, I think the best we can hope for right now is that we might be able to bring him back to reality. With prolonged medication and counselling, we can bring these psychotic episodes under control and he will be able to lead a relatively normal life again. But we‘ll never be able to put him behind a gun again, that‘s for sure. We can‘t save the police officer, but we might be able to save the man.‖
―I hope so,‖ the chief muttered.
The two made their way past several more patients, and finally came to their destination near the end of the corridor. In one of the many rooms, behind a sealed door with a window, the one the chief was most concerned about sat. His arms and legs were bound, his body rocking back and forth in place against the chair. His face looked like it had picked up some bruises. His lips were trembling too; apparently he had picked up a nervous twitch. As the chief looked closer, he realized he was wrong. He was saying something! Something he could not hear through the sealed door.
―Is there a way to hear what he‘s saying?‖ he asked the doctor.
Without hesitation, the doctor pressed the small intercom button next to the door. Amidst the loud pops and hisses, he could hear Kalum‘s panicked, stricken voice coming through a speaker.
―They‘re dead! They‘re dead! But they keep coming back! I keep killing them, but they keep coming back! They won‘t die! They won‘t die!‖
The doctor released the button on the intercom and turned to face the chief. The dire look on his face told him exactly what he thought about his chances of getting better.
―The episodes have decreased in intensity, but he remains convinced that the people who he was responsible for killing are coming to get him. But I assure you, we‘re doing all we can.‖
―Are they all this way, doctor?‖ he asked next, turning away from the window.
―I‘m afraid so. Post-traumatic stress, combined with intense feelings of guilt, it‘s a deadly combination. I doubt any of them will ever be able to resume active duty again. We can only continue with the treatments and hope for the best.‖
The chief did not answer. For the remainder of their walk down the long corridors of the clinic, the doctor did most of the talking.
―I, of course, understand you concern for the lad,‖ he said at one point. ―He alone appears to be unable to come to grips with what happened to him out there. He‘s absolutely consumed by guilt and fear, and as long as we holds onto his fear, we won‘t be able to address his troubled conscience. As long as the patient feels threatened by the consequences of their actions, they cannot take responsibility for them and begin to heal.‖
He went on like this for some time, outlining the obstacles to Kalum‘s recovery, never thinking that what he was saying might be destroying whatever false hope he had built up in his head. Finally, when he had seen all those he came to see, he decided to leave the doctor with a little something.
―We all lost a part of ourselves out there doctor, some of us more than others. If you have a problem getting one or any of my people better, let me know now and I‘ll find someone who can do it. ‖
He then left before the doctor could reply. He was taken aback, and looked ready to swear on some stack of books that what he was saying was scientifically valid. But the chief had heard all he could of science and psyches for one day. Much like his officers, the chief had some guilt of his own to deal with. It was bad enough he had sent men and women out to shoot people whose only crime was wanting to live. To know that those same men and women would forever 41
be scarred by it was completely unacceptable. If there were any justice in the world, it would have been him who was forced to sit in one of those cells. Better yet, it would have been the people at the Ministry and the Executive herself who had been forced to die in the streets, coldly and pitilessly, for the good of the race. At least that way, those who had a reason to feel guilty would have been the ones to suffer, and not countless innocents.
The cockpit instruments went quiet one after the other as the pilots shut down all the non-essential systems to the passenger bays and recreation pods. The engines and retro rockets fired one last time to initiate a last minute course correction, and the ship settled into a slow cruise as it edged its way out of the system. The crew of the Deliverance had finished the first leg of their long journey to Proxima Centauri. Soon, everyone would be laid down for a long, cryogenic nap, just as soon as everything was prepped and the new sub-light engines were brought online.
The pilots busied themselves making the final preparations while the XO took one last opportunity to check over the instruments, punching in the reports on her datapad. Standing in the aft section of the bridge, she finished by checking the external cameras before they too would have to be shut down for the long journey.
―Bring cameras three and four around to one-nine-five, elevation fifteen degrees.‖ She ordered. ―I want to take one last look.‖
One of the pilots obliged and rotated two of the cameras aft. On the screen, the speckled black of deep space gave way to the glow of rings and crescents of far away worlds. And strangely, they were all there, every one of them. Sitting prominently amongst them was the pale-yellowed face of Earth, with its mottled yellow and blue surface and the glimmer of its rings. It was as if providence itself had conspired to arrange them so the crew could take one last look at them before leaving them behind forever. Drinking them in through the two computerized screens, Rebecca bid them all farewell. But upon seeing the faint and dull glow of Earth and its rings one last time, she became vocal.
―Goodbye you precious jewel,‖ she said with just a touch of irony. Overhearing her from his seat, the pilot nearest her scoffed in reply.
―More like good riddance.‖
Rebecca turned to look at him; she hadn‘t realized she had been overheard.
―What do you mean by that?‖ she asked.
―Are you kidding? I thought you‘d be glad to be leaving it behind.‖
―It‘s our home.‖
―It‘s a dead ball,‖ he replied angrily, ―the place where countless mistakes and terrible crimes were committed. I‘m just glad we didn‘t all get sucked down with it.‖
―Is that why you signed on for this mission?‖ she asked him.
―Sure, I thought we all did.‖
―Some of us didn‘t volunteer, Lieutenant. We just accepted the offer when it was came to us.‖
The pilot didn‘t answer. In the past, he had been faulted many times by those who knew him for being too opinionated. This time, it looked like he had mouthed off to the wrong person, a superior officer. Busying himself again with his controls, he tried not to say anything more.
Lucky for him, Rebecca also didn‘t feel like getting into an argument. It was enough to accept that opinions aboard the ship differed. Some of the people they had aboard were happy to leave; others were just going because they had to. But ultimately, the two sides were united in that they wanted to see their race survive. And that was the only point of the voyage. Forgetting the 42
disturbance, she looked back at the monitors. The planets had moved visibly and were beginning to pass into darkness. The planets hadn‘t actually moved, it was just the course of the ship that made it appear so. Relativity was a funny thing. It could make one think that the planets were actually saying goodnight to The Deliverance.
Turning the monitors off and ordering the pilot to retract the external cameras, she punched in the last entry on her datapad and set it down in its specialized slot in the bulkhead.
The pilots did a final check on all the cryo units, then shut down the last of the non-essential systems and set the sub light engine on automated standby. The Captain and crew had already reported to their units, which left only the three of them. With everything set, they left their posts behind, and began making their way aft to where their freezers were waiting for them.
There was no talk along the way. Like the rest of the crew, before they settled into their quiet little containers, they were unsure and full of anxiety. No one knew for sure what awaited them on the other end of the long voyage. It would take them over three years to bridge that distance, although it would seem like no time at all. Then they would be faced with a new world, infinite challenges, and no guarantees. Who knew if any of them would even live long enough to rebuild their civilization? And if they did manage to survive, would they come looking for the passengers of their ship someday?
These, and many things besides preoccupied Rebecca‘s mind as she and her fellow crewmembers made their way into the stasis section where they would take their nap. Around them were two-dozen other units, all belonging to the ships crew who were already fast asleep.
The passenger pods were located further aft, hundreds upon hundreds of them, filled with the best and brightest the human race had to offer. She had heard though that one or two people had smuggled someone aboard who was not registered for the trip. But given the haste with which their mission was mounted, no one bothered too much with one or two additional passengers. As long as there were enough cryo units, it really didn‘t matter anyway. The hard part was getting them to let their children go long enough to get them settled into their own cryo units.
According to rumour, one mother had brought aboard a severely handicapped boy, and the two were inseparable. She had put up a terrible fuss in getting him aboard, and an even greater fuzz when they told her that she would have to let him go so they could seal him into his own pod.
Each pod was built for a single occupant, but she was insistent he be sealed in with her.
Eventually, she gave ground after countless assurances that her little boy would be just fine, as well as an assurance that he would right next to her, so she would be the first thing he saw when he woke up.
Dressing down, they came at last to the three units that were still unoccupied. The soft blue lights that lined the inside of their units shone brightly as they crawled into place inside them, faces aimed upwards at the sloping metal ceiling. Three years they would sleep. The longest sleep any human had ever taken . Short of dying, it was the longest sleep any human could ever take. She settled her head into place as the doors to their units slowly shut, tubes and breathing masks descending into place around their mouths to attend to their needs. The last of the crew were now accounted for. Looking around as much as she could in the tight environment, Rebecca took a last look at her crewmates before closing her eyes and descending into cryo-stasis. They all looked so peaceful, tucked away in their tiny spaces, the temperature slowly dropping. Who knew what they were dreaming about? Their families, their homes; all the things they would never see again? Or were they dreaming of all the horrors they had witnessed in those last few days, of people dying, of their entire civilization crumbling under the spectre of thirst? She would be finding out soon enough.
Setting her eyes straight ahead, Rebecca bid all the occupants of the ship a quiet goodnight as the door sealed shut and cool air began to pour in. She tried her best to push all conscious thought from her mind, knowing that it would only keep her awake. There was so much to worry about, but she knew there was nothing to be gained by worrying now. No one knew what to expect, but then again, when did they ever? There were no guarantees in life, not anymore. From this point onward, there was only life, and they were lucky enough to have that.
Wherever they ended up, she hoped no one would ever take it for granted again. This thought alone set her at ease as the lights winked out and her unit began to slowly drop in temperature.
Before she knew it, she had drifted off and the sleep had taken her completely. When three years finally passed, and a new world lay before them, humanity would be a second chance.
Hopefully, this time they would get it right.