“Some witness protection scheme this is,” Sheena muttered as she stared at her reflection in the glass of the unit. Automatically she tried to adjust her hair, only to realise that there wasn’t enough of it left to adjust. With her hand still halfway to her head she sighed and stared deep into her own eyes. “Is it worth it?”
“What was that?” Yohan asked as he blundered into the room.
“Nothing,” Sheena replied. Her words were lost in the thunderous crash as Yohan tipped the stack of boxes he was carrying to the floor.
Sheena forced a half-smile onto her face. It was something she’d gotten used to doing over the last few months. “I was just wondering if all this was worth it. Whether I was just over-reacting or something.”
“You changing your mind about the trip?”
“Not exactly…” Though Sheena knew that she would if she could. When all of this had started it had seemed like the ideal solution, but as soon as they’d shaved off her hair the reality of it had hit home.
“I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. Just pre-flight nerves, everyone gets them.” Grinning inanely, like he did far too often for Sheena’s liking, Yohan dusted his hands down and left the cryo unit.
“You seem to be managing it all right,” Sheena said when he was gone.
Of course Yohan had had longer to get used to the idea. He’d been training for years, compared to Sheena’s months. Not that it was the training that was worrying her. As soon as they were asleep the computers would take over, and when they came round there’d be flight manuals and guidebooks anyway. None of the ground control were going to risk such an expensive deep space flight on just the recollection abilities of the crew. Sheena had passed all the simulations with flying colours, and had been awarded the highest marks in improvisation.
That was the only way you survived on the streets, though if you told street-walker Sheena from two years ago that her skills would help her excel in the space corps she’d have laughed. Laughed, then tried to nick your wallet.
“Look how far I’ve come,” Sheena said to her reflection. A part of her knew she should be proud. This was more than she should ever have been able to dream off, and her life was going to have meaning and significance now. If she died doing this she’d be mourned on the global news, not just dropped into some gutter and left for the rats.
Any street kid should be honoured to have been given such a pass out of their miserable life. If it was just that, maybe Sheena would be feeling honoured.
But for a girl who’d never run from a fight, she was now leaving the whole planet to run away, and it didn’t sit well with her.
That one night, months ago, had changed her entire life, exploded it into something she could never have dreamed of, yet all she really wanted was to go back to her own flat and be a nobody again. If only she hadn’t gone out for more booze that night, then she never would’ve seen that politician murder those girls. Then she could be safe at home, drinking herself to an early grave and being a disappointment to her parents.
Sheena was pulled from her musings by Yohan turning up again, staggering under another lot of boxes.
“I thought they were supposed to have loaded everything up yesterday?” she asked, after he’d put it all down.
“Just a few last supplies. You know how it is, there’s always something you forget to pack!”
“Sure.” All Sheena had owned for most of her life were the clothes on her back, so she just nodded and hoped there wouldn’t be a quiz later. “Do you want a hand with it?”
“If you can find somewhere to stash this lot, that’d help. Only one more lot to bring up.”
Working gave Sheena something to focus on, and she lost herself in the mundanity of trying to fit all the boxes into the compartments around the cryo chamber. It stopped her mind thinking about the enormity of what was to come. When Yohan brought the next set of boxes up they tucked those away as well, until at last the cryo chamber floor was clear again.
“There you are,” Yohan said. “It’s like we’ve never been here.” He looked at Sheena out of the corner of his eye. “Are you okay?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, fine.”
“You sure? Are you really having doubts about the job?”
For a cheery, clumsy oaf, Yohan had fleeting moments of clarity and perception, and even after living alongside him for a while it still caught Sheena off guard.
“I’m fine,” she said, smiling up at him. “It’s just… did I really need to go through all of this? Was I ever in that much danger, or was I just being paranoid?”
“Does it matter either way? You’re part of something great here, surely that’s better than anything you had before.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a scientist, you enjoy this stuff. We’re flying halfway across the galaxy to study some rocks, big deal.”
“We’re checking to see if it’s habitable–”
“I know the damn brief. But no one who’s alive at the moment is going to know what we achieve. They’ll all be dead by the time we come out of suspended animation, and when we send messages back they’ll be going to a whole new set of people. I just wonder what’s the point, when no one’s going to know what we’ve done.”
“Most people don’t do great things for the recognition.”
“Well then they’re stupid,” Sheena snapped. She regretted it instantly, but when she looked up Yohan was grinning back at her. “Oh, screw you. Stop toying with me.”
“I’m sorry. I can see where you’re coming from, but it’s the fear that’s talking. We’re never going to see planet Earth again. It’s okay to be upset.”
“But I shouldn’t be. I don’t have anything here, I barely talk to my family, any friends think I’m dead and one of the most powerful politicians on the planet has put an order out for my assassination. Earth hasn’t done anything for me, so why should I care if I never see it again?” As she spoke her voice got a little louder, and by the end there was a tear running down her face.
“Because it’s still your home,” Yohan said, putting an arm across her shoulders in solidarity. “And it’s all you’ve ever known. We can try and pull you out of this now if you want…”
“No.” Sheena sniffed and ran the back of her hand across her face. “I’ll do it. That’s only fair, when everyone’s put so much effort into getting me ready.”
“Okay. This is why the rest of us had years of counselling and training though. It’ll be tough on the other side, but just remember that we’ve got you, okay?” When he squeezed her shoulders she leant into him. It had taken her a while to get used to the idea of guys being genuinely friendly, but Yohan had never looked at her that way. He’d never looked at anyone that way.
“Thanks. Come on, aren’t you supposed to be getting ready for the big leaving do?”
“Sure you don’t want to sneak onto the back of the platform? No one’s going to notice.”
“Really? One of the most photographed events of the year, and no one’s going to notice some stranger hanging about at the back in a space suit? I’m fine. It’s easier to wait here than risk being seen by one of the mob.”
“All right. Just… make sure you say your goodbyes.”
When Yohan had gone, Sheena cried. It was something she never wanted to admit to anyone else, and it was the first time she’d cried since her life had been destroyed. Waiting alone in the cryo room of a spaceship, about to blast off and explore unknown lands, and never return, was too much for her. She tried to laugh at herself, that after all the fear and danger she’d gone through this was when she cried, but that only made the tears worse. So she let them fall, on the understanding that she’d be done and cleaned up by the time the rest of the crew arrived.
When the ceremony outside was over the crew came in to find Sheena, looking bored out of her skull, with only the slightest hint of red around her eyes. They gave her varying degrees of nods or encouragement, depending on how accepting they were of her place on the team. There hadn’t been any ready volunteers when the twelfth crew member had died of a sudden heart attack, until the major organised crime unit had rocked up and offered one of their witnesses. Sheena’s entire statement and testimony had been given, but the hit on her was still out. It was revenge, pure and simple, and the police knew that if they left Sheena to it she’d be dead in a week, no matter where in the world she went. Sending her off planet sorted two problems in one go.
One by one the eleven other crew members got into the cryo units. This was the bit Sheena had least been looking forward to, and she wished she’d gotten round to learning a decent prayer.
“It’ll be okay,” Yohan said softly, coming up behind her when he saw her hesitate. “Everything else is set up, we’ll be going shortly.”
“I know. It’s just really uncomfortable, getting frozen.”
He cracked another of his daft smiles and Sheena basked in it. It would be the last one she’d see for decades, not that she’d notice the time pass. “It is, isn’t it? At least we only have to do it the once. Do you need a hand getting settled in?”
“Nah, I think I’ve got it sorted.”
Nevertheless Yohan hung about round her unit until she was plugged in and ready, and he checked on all the others as well before he got himself sorted. Sheena caught the attention of Melinda in the unit opposite and they both rolled their eyes at Yohan.
As soon as the units detected that everyone was in, the doors closed and the computers whirled into life. There would be several minutes of waiting, as the ground team ran and re-ran final checks, and the computers on board did a full diagnosis and audit.
Though she was nervous there was a rush of excitement coursing through Sheena as well. None of the training had felt like this; this time it was real. After the checks they would go, blast off and leave the planet, not just unstrap and go for dinner. This was the biggest adventure of her life–
Outside her unit, something moved. Sheena frowned, squinting through the frosted glass to try and work out what it was. No one else was supposed to be on board. Had something gone wrong, already? But none of the alarms had gone off. The countdown in her ear was still going, calm as ever. Wouldn’t ground control have hit the abort if there was a problem?
“Ten,” the voice in her unit said.
The shape outside was a person. It had to be, at that size, and moving like that.
Had someone else gotten out of their unit? But they were locked by the computers.
If someone had gotten out, they’d have had to use the emergency handle, and that set off all the warning systems.
Being out of the units when the ship took off would kill a person.
The person was looking in the units.
They’d finished checking the other side, and were walking over to Sheena’s side.
They peered in the unit next to hers.
They were in front of her unit.
She could see a face, peering in at her, and saw the white of their teeth as they grinned at her.
The figure outside lifted a gun to the control panel of Sheena’s unit.
The world went dark.