Alex closed her eyes.
The news was too much. She’d spent five days on this god-forsaken ship hearing bad news, but this was just extreme.
‘And you really can’t tell me anything else?’ she asked, without being able to look at the monitor in front of her to see Mike’s face. ‘You can’t tell me which one he went for?’
She heard Mike sigh. ‘Alex, I would tell you if I knew myself. I don’t have a clue. I can see him here, frozen with his eyes closed. Everything looks normal but I don’t know how long he’s chosen to be out for.’
Damn it. Damn his stubbornness, damn this place, damn everything. Alex found herself, hardly for the first time, wishing that she was back home. Back on Earth.
‘Okay,’ she said to Mike, opening her eyes again and looking at him. He had a genuine sympathetic expression on his face, and it both comforted and hurt Alex. ‘Thanks for trying to check anyway. I know our ships are both supposed to be… You know, not doing this sort of thing for each other.’
‘Don’t be daft, Alex,’ Mike said. ‘You’re an old friend.’
‘Well,’ Alex said. ‘Thanks again.’ She reached for the “END SIGNAL” button, but she was stopped.
‘Hang on a second,’ Mike said.
‘What is it?’ Alex asked.
‘What are you going to do?’ Mike asked. He looked deeply concerned.
Alex turned away from the monitor again and sighed. ‘I’m going under. Tomorrow.’
‘How long for?’ Mike asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Alex replied. ‘I’ve got a fifty per-cent chance of getting it right.’
‘And a fifty per-cent chance of getting it wrong,’ Mike pointed out.
Obviously, Alex thought, irritatedly.
‘Listen,’ Mike said. ‘You know I’m gonna have to make my choice really soon too. I could let you know right now what it’ll be. Then at least you’ll have one old friend.’
Alex looked back at the monitor. She was moved by this but she knew she must refuse. ‘Thanks Mike, but I can’t make my decision right now. I’ve got to think about it.’
‘Yeah,’ Mike said softly with a nod. ‘Yeah, of course.’ There was a moment’s pause. ‘Well, if I don’t see you… have a good life.’
‘Yeah,’ Alex forced a smile. ‘You too Mike. Goodbye.’
The screen went black.
Alex was a part of what was being called the “great exodus” among what she deemed the more dramatic type of people from Earth. The sun had been expanding faster than humans had at first anticipated, and the planet was quickly becoming uninhabitable. Many older people, or those with pre-existing health conditions had sadly died, and the time had come for the human race to launch full pelt into interplanetary colonisation.
Several ships had set out from Earth and the population there was now next to nothing. Alex’s ship, The Spacehawk had set out alongside one other, Columbus, and the two planned to fly side by side all the way to their two destinations: planets several light years apart that scientists had had strongly suspected could support human life for many centuries to come.
Years ago, when a “great exodus” such as this one had first been suggested, the general opinion around Earth had seemed to be that it was pure madness. The closest planet outside of our own solar system that had potential for colonisation was hundreds of light years away, and any people sent on a mission there would have died before they reached it, even if the problem of being unable to have a limitless quantity of food, water and oxygen was somehow resolved.
And then they finally cracked it. Perfect stasis. Freezing a person safely for what was before an unimaginable length of time, and having them awake at the end of it. It was perfect. Human beings could travel for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years through space in what would seem the blink of an eye. No need for food, water, oxygen. Close your eyes one end and open them at the other. Easy.
The passengers of The Spacehawk and Columbus were given two options. They could go into stasis for one hundred years, and awake at the planet named Athena. From what scientists could see, Athena was a beautiful, Earth-like planet which was free from pollution and enjoyed long summers and short winters. Natural resources on the planet seemed to outnumber those left on Earth, and humans had the chance, if they would take it, to make this planet a wondrous, green, beautiful place to be enjoyed for many, many centuries.
The other choice was to go into stasis for two hundred years, to a planet twice the length away from Earth called Poseidon. This was a planet roughly the size of Jupiter, but it was around eighty per-cent ocean. Interestingly, scientists had strong reason to believe that there was life on this planet on the lands as well as the oceans. Nothing was confirmed, but the idea of discovering completely new life and the first outside of their home planet of Earth was appealing enough to people that they chose this planet immediately, despite the one week aboard the ship that was labelled the “decision period”.
Neither Alex nor her boyfriend Craig could make their minds up about where it was they wanted to end up.
‘You’d give up the chance of being among the first people to discover aliens, just so you can attempt to build a Utopia on a planet that’s just as boring as this one?’ Craig had asked, bewildered, two days before the ships were due to take off.
‘Oh come on,’ Alex had complained. ‘There’s only a chance that there’s life over on Poseidon. It’s pretty certain that Athena is just beautiful. And we can keep it that way.’
‘You really think the human race – our lot can actually keep that planet from going the same way Earth did? Don’t be stupid.’
Stupid!? Had he really called her stupid?
That had set her off. She’d walked out on him and then the whole same routine played out again. She slammed a door. He grumbled something from behind it. She began to wipe a tear out of her eye while cursing the fact it was even there. He went silent. She tried to occupy herself with something else. He eventually called or messaged to say he was sorry. She gave a short, in-the-middle type of response because she couldn’t decide how she felt about the situation. They eventually kissed and made up.
And waited for the whole thing to start again.
‘Fine,’ Craig had said. ‘Fine, we’ll go to your Athena.’
‘No,’ Alex had stubbornly said. ‘You’ll make me feel bad for the rest of my life for making you miss out on your aliens. We’ll go to Poseidon.’
‘This is totally unfair!’ Craig had wailed. ‘You’re only doing that to make me feel horrible! Like I’m the complete dickhead that will make you miserable for the rest of your life while you watch the people on Athena through a TV screen having the time of their lives!’
Alex had screamed then. ‘Why do you have to make everything so fucking difficult!?’
‘Me!?’ Craig had shouted, disbelievingly. ‘I’m trying to give you what you want! I’m telling you we’ll go to your planet and I’m the one making things difficult? Do you hear yourself!?’
The slammed door. The grumble from the other side of it. The stupid tear that didn’t have to be there. The silent treatment. The attempt to put it out of her mind.
The attempt to put it out of her mind…
Where’s the message? Where’s the phone call?
Alex had taken out her phone and checked the last time Craig had been on. Two minutes ago. What was he up to? Why hadn’t he apologised? Should she apologise?
She’ll wait. And eventually the same old I’m sorry, I was a total dick, I love you, you deserve better from me spiel would come, and she wouldn’t know how to respond to it.
She waited. It didn’t come.
Looking at her phone screen a rush of anger flushed through Alex.
We’re leaving tomorrow. Tomorrow! And he doesn’t want to speak to me? I can’t believe this. How could he do this to me? I guess this trip on the ship is going to be fun then.
He won’t message! He hasn’t messaged!
He always does though.
Not this time. You know what? I don’t even want to go on the ship with him any more. I wish I could go on a completely different…
It was probably a rash decision, Alex had eventually concluded two days into the journey aboard Columbus. She’d called Sarah, one of the organisers she’d known quite well to enquire about the possibility of switching ships, and as it had happened she’d had a gentleman call her up the day before, asking about the same thing but the other way around. Easy solution – Alex could swap with the man who was supposed to be on Columbus.
She’d let anger take her. She told herself she didn’t regret it, but she knew was afraid to admit to herself that she should have sucked it up and spoken to Craig. Her mind got caught up in determination to be the one who was right in the argument. It was stupid.
Still, Alex and Craig had had no contact with each other, and she had barely thought about what her decision was going to be in regards to how long she would be in stasis and which planet she would end up on.
Just call him. Are these stupid arguments enough to warrant never seeing each other again?
No. He should call me. He’s the one that started it.
You’re the one that walked away.
God, I’m just fighting with myself now.
By day four she had begun to feel anxious.
She stared out of the window at breakfast, trying to be awed by the epic vastness of space outside. She should be; she should be absolutely stunned by the view. But her mind couldn’t stop wondering about Craig. Was he thinking about her? Was he angry at her? Did he miss her?
Was he already in stasis?
No! He wouldn’t do that! He would surely call before he did so, informing Alex about what his decision was so that they could be together and spend their lives exploring a brand new world.
Unless he was too angry.
Why would he be angry? Her own anger had diluted now, had almost completely vanished. She found that she missed him deeply, and that the fighting was all just really stupid. They were stressed – they were about to leave their whole world behind them and they had a huge, life-shaping decision in front of them to make. Of course they were going to argue if they didn’t find a way of getting their stresses externalised in a non-aggressive way.
She started to look forward to speaking to him again.
‘Craig’s already in stasis,’ Mike had said.
And the words rang out and echoed in her mind all night long.
Craig’s already in stasis…
Craig’s already in stasis…
Already in stasis…
Alex stepped inside the chamber.
‘Okay,’ Jane, the ship’s stasis chamber officer said with a smile. ‘Lie down comfortably. Place your hands gently against your stomach and when you’re ready I’ll close the door. Once I do so, close your eyes. You’ll be frozen, and you’ll wake up many years from now but it will just feel like you’ve slept for one night, as usual. Now, could you please confirm how many years you are going into stasis for?’
Alex had internally debated this for a long time. She’d barely slept the night before. She’d arrived at an idea early on that she could choose to sleep for one hundred years and wake up in Athena. She could search for Craig but if he wasn’t there she could ask to go under for another hundred years. It seemed like the perfect plan until she was told that a person could not go back into stasis so quickly after doing it the first time.
Then she thought about asking Mike to leave a note on Craig’s chamber. But what good would that do?
Hi Craig, it’s me, Alex. I’m sorry we had a fight. I love you and I want to be with you. If you’re reading this after a one/two hundred year sleep…
It didn’t fix anything.
What was he most likely to choose? He had wanted to take the two hundred year option and fly to Poseidon for a chance at discovering alien life. If he had been angry with Alex when he went under then that would most likely still be his position. Or maybe he’d gone through something similar to Alex and was feeling guilty about the fight. Maybe then he had chosen to take the one hundred year sleep and go to Athena.
Oh, this was impossible…
She began to think about which of the two worse case scenarios was less distressing. To wake up after one hundred years only to find Craig still asleep, and for the rest of your life frozen and floating away to a planet an unreachable distance away? Or to wake up after two hundred years to find that Craig is dead after having lived a life far away from you which you were no part of?
She decided this. She didn’t know whether she would see Craig again. But she could do something for herself. She could choose to go where her heart desired. And then at least if she missed Craig then she would have given herself the gift of living on the planet she had wanted to live on.
‘Alex?’ Jane asked. ‘What is your choice?’
‘One hundred years,’ Alex said confidently. ‘I’m going to Athena.’
The experience was exactly as Jane had described it. Alex lay in the chamber as comfortably as she could and she shut her eyes when the door closed. She heard some beeping and then a sudden rush of cold air before everything went dark.
One hundred years and one heartbeat later she began to stir. The chamber felt warmer now. Had she really slept for a century? She was afraid that somehow she’d misinterpreted and so lay there for a few moments, wanting to be more sure that the time had come.
She thought of Craig. She wondered whether he was awake or asleep. Her heart began beating more rapidly and she realised how much she desperately hoped that he had chosen the same option as her.
A familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.
‘Alex? You can open your eyes. Your stasis is over.’
The voice of Jane, who had no doubt awoken from her own stasis not long before Alex.
Craig… are you here? Are you awake? I’m ready to put the stupid fights behind us and enjoy this beautiful new world together.
Alex opened her eyes.