by Kimberly Adkins
Was The Corporation harboring a dark secret on the off world mining colony to protect their bottom line?
Christopher Carter loved to explore. He was a specialist in his field back home on earth, and travel to a moon that orbited a gas giant 120 times the size of his home planet was the opportunity of a lifetime.
This would be his first deep space assignment, and he'd wanted this contract more than anything else in the world; except for his family, of course. And he didn't have to choose one or the other.
It was amazing how things worked out --Until they didn't.
Everyone was hiding something at the facility, and it didn't take long to figure out they were hiding it from him. Unfortunately for Christopher, the truth would prove to be far more horrifying than anything he could ever have imagined.
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Bile burned the back of his throat. It gagged him. He'd trained for this, and somewhere in the back of his foggy mind, Christopher knew that. Breathing was the key. Utilize short inhalations through the nose, expelling from the mouth. The respiration exercises happened automatically. His brain knew what needed to be done to keep him alive.
He couldn’t stop his body from shaking. The metal table beneath his back was cold. No creature comforts on the transport ship, not for deep space travel. Only the basic necessities would be allowed on board to keep the load light. Some of the crew on this mission elected to stay awake for the eight months of travel required to reach the crucial mining facility. He remembered opting for stasis now, knowing the bare living conditions they'd be subjected to for the long haul.
Oh man, how could he have forgotten? His family made the trip. Sudden images of them seared across his brain like postcards on a slide show. His stomach clenched painfully. Are they suffering the same symptoms? How could he have considered doing this to them to begin with?
Loved them...didn't want to be apart from them. Am I really that selfish?\
His vision was dark, but he could hear others in the room. Their whispers hung in the air, negative with discord. “He shouldn’t be here; not with his condition. I was against this from the beginning.”
“The corporation decides who will be required at the facility. Now get over it and do your job quietly, like everyone else here.” A deeper voice snapped back quickly. We’re they referencing him? He couldn’t be sure of anything coming out of stasis. But that wasn’t his priority.
"Where is my family?" He choked out the words, gripping the sides of the table. He still couldn't see anything, just the outline of vague shapes, but he was getting up anyway. His distorted vision could have been the sickness or anxiety - he wasn't a medical expert, but it didn't really matter. His wife and two daughters were the only concern.
"Corporal Carter, please remember your conditioning. You must remain still until all of your senses adjust. You know that." A stern female voice instructed him. Firm hands held him down. He didn't appreciate it.
"I asked you a question." His voice was clearer, now. For all he knew, they hadn't understood him the first time. The attendant had addressed him by his military title, but he recalled this was a private operation. Well, as private as any company could get. The military had their hands in everything that was worth anything, back home on earth and as far as they'd gone in the galaxy.
"Cindy and the girls are fine, Christopher. They've already been out of stasis for 24 hours, and they fared a lot better than you, actually. None of them came out with side effects. I'm sure the children are tearing up the recovery room as we speak." Her lips pursed together when she spoke. The way she'd said children was off, like it was distasteful to her. So, she didn't like kids. He didn't feel like he was high up on her list, either.
"Let him sit up if he wants to, Doctor Larson. He's a tough guy. That's how they make 'em in the Marines." Things were coming into focus and he could make out a second figure beside the table when the man spoke. It was the same guy who laid the hammer down on the doc a few minutes ago, by the sound of it. He looked military. The way he carried himself, the hair cut, all said he'd been in the service. Hell, maybe still was.
Finally, someone who might understand.
He struggled to rise, and wasn't sure he could do it after all. Forget that thought. He asked for it, they gave it to him - like hell he was gonna give up now. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, and his vision dimmed again. His muscles were weaker than anticipated. The suspension nanites had kept him on ice, so to speak, but he hadn't come through it as well as he'd hoped. The cryo bots in his system were deactivated now, but it still gave him the creeps, knowing they were floating around in his body. He should've stayed awake.
"I want to see them, now." He didn't mean to bark at the woman, but it came out nasty. He was going to need to try harder. "Please."
"Obviously it’s your call, Captain Reynolds." Christopher almost smiled when the doctor turned to the Military man with a frown. Glad he had someone besides Nurse Ratchet making the calls. She was just doing her job, but he needed to get moving.
"Readings look good. He's stable. As far as I can tell, there's only going to be one problem."
"Just one?" Sarcasm dripped off her tongue. She was already beginning to remove the wires and pads stuck to his body. As far as he was concerned, nothing was going to stand in the way of his family reunion.
"Because of his reaction to the stasis, he'll have to get in the chair. No way he can walk." He followed the Captain's glance to a wheelchair parked in the corner. Did they seriously expect him to get in that thing? He had his pride.
He was gonna have to show them what he could do. His legs felt like logs, which didn't stop him from using his arms to propel them over the edge of the table. They went, alright. And the rest of him followed right after, spilling to the floor with a smack. It didn't hurt. He didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Wow, pride literally does go before a fall. He felt like a jackass. From the look on Doctor Larson's face, he guessed that's what he was. Captain Reynolds was different, though. He had respect and understanding in his eyes. He could get along with this guy.
"I can take him to the recovery room." The Captain walked beside him once he was in the chair, a remote in his right hand that propelled the equipment. It didn't make him feel less like a cripple.
"You know, I have to admit it's nice to have you on my team." He talked to him without looking down. Normal. Equal. "We get the scientists in by the dozen, but rarely a military man. I hear you are a field specialist with the mining equipment we're using at this camp."
"Yes, Sir." It was a natural response. He didn't even know if it was appropriate.
"You don't have to do that, here. This is a private sector contract."
Captain Reynolds was right, of course, but it easily could have been a different story. He'd been a lifer, for sure. A Career Marine in every sense of the word. He didn't know he was lonely, he didn't even understand what he was missing until Cindy came along. He'd never realized the kind of love he felt for his wife existed, couldn't have imagined it in a million years until he saw her face for the first time. Whoever would have thought a guy like him would have something like that in his lifetime? Not him. Not ever.
"Here we are." The door swept open automatically and the chair took him through the entryway first. God, had it been eight months since he'd seen Cindy and the girls? It felt like hours to his brain, but somehow his body knew.
The room was empty. It felt empty. Was this some kind of joke? His hands began to shake, chest tightening to a stranglehold around his lungs. No, this couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d had an episode. All the years his family helped him with his struggle, and he was regressing now? Christopher suddenly felt unsafe, trapped. He buried his face in his hands, breath shallow and jagged, and couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t cold and alone.
"Daddy!" Their cries hit his ears first. Something clicked in his head and he looked up. Tears streamed down his face. He didn't know how to turn them off. He didn't know how they got there to begin with. His arms wrapped around the two young girls as they planted kisses on his wet cheeks. His heart pounded painfully in his chest. He'd never been on an op that came close to impacting him like this. He didn't know if he could take it. And then Cindy appeared. There was no angel in Heaven that could have been more beautiful than she was at that moment, with her long, blonde hair spilling over her white robe. The smile on her face told him everything he needed to know.
Christopher knew then why he agreed to take his family into deep space, exposing them to the myriad of deadly complications that came from suspension travel and off world habitation. He needed them, and he would do everything in his power to protect them while they were here. He'd been trained to assess any situation and his eyes took them in, one by one. God, they were perfect. Not a dark circle under a single eye, not a moment of flagging energy as his daughters held hands, circling around the chair while they sang a song.
Was this normal? Was he lucky?
"Babe, come here." He held out his hand to Cindy and she slipped onto his lap. His legs were still numb, but he felt her. He felt her all over and he found he desperately needed her all of a sudden. His cheeks flamed - did anyone else see? Could they tell how badly he wanted his wife? He buried his face in her hair, inhaling deeply. How much time had passed since they'd been together?
The doctor reappeared and her face was stony with lack of expression."Let's get you to your quarters on base. Normally you'd be required to stay on the ship to monitor your recovery a while longer, but for some military intelligence reason that defies explanation, you've been cleared to disembark."
It almost seemed as if she were trying too hard not to register a reaction to his family, ignoring their presence altogether. It wouldn't hurt her to have a heart - even a little one. He resented her, but maybe she was just jealous. Maybe she'd wanted to bring her loved ones and was denied.
Well, let her be that way. It shouldn't bother him in any case, and he didn't know why her behavior set his senses on alert, but it did. He was uncharacteristically emotional at the moment, but he still knew it wasn't a good idea to piss off one of his co-workers on day one. The feeling will pass, surely, once the debilitating effects of stasis were gone. And his hands were steady again.
Q: Tell us something interesting about you that most people wouldn’t know?
A: I have a Cylon toaster in my kitchen. So far, it hasn’t convinced any of my other appliances to revolt against me and assume control over the destiny of mankind. I guess I’m lucky there. It does burn ‘Frak Off’ onto my toast every morning, though.
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Then February 6, 2018 came along, and SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I held my breath while we watched the live feed. I said the word awesome more times than anyone ever should. But it was when those two rocket boosters flew back to Earth, landing with beautiful and perfect synchronicity on the designated pad, I knew I’d witnessed Science Fiction for real.
And as fast as Elon Musk garnered my undying admiration, he captured my heart as well, with the deployment of Starman, hands on the wheel of a cherry red Tesla Roadster, with David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ playing from the car radio.
He has a long journey ahead, our Starman headed for Mars and beyond, but he’s got some fantastic traveling music on the way. If you could, would you hitch a ride to the stars in his shiny space Roaster? I know I would in a heartbeat, even if it was the last thing I ever did.
In fact, somebody better look in the trunk. I might be there already.
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