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Science Fiction Speculative Teens & Young Adult

227 months, 14 days, three hours, 72 minutes, and 88 seconds; I wake up on the 15th day with my breath lingering over my lips as ice crystals, and my limbs devoid of most of their feeling. I use my shivering hands to grab my bed sheets, big, puffy, and electrically heated, and fumble them around my body. The next few minutes I spend curled up, shivering in my blanket trying to get warm before I even attempt to get out of my bed. The floor, like I thought, is ice cold to the touch. I wince the first few times I make contact with it, and, failing to muster up the grit to actually step on it, sit at the edge of my bed while still shaking in my blanket.

“E-E-El?” I say, the room lighting up at the sound of my voice. El must already be up. It’s a damn shame that we don’t share the same sleep schedule, even though it’s normally useful for him to be up when I’m not. I turn around to look at the sleep info screen on the wall next to the bed; I overslept a bit at five hours, but my REM and non-REM sleep cycles seem pretty standard. El, it looks like, was up another two hours after I fell asleep before falling asleep himself for two hours and then getting back up, which coincidentally corresponds to a dip in my body temperature.

“S-Shit” I say, knowing damn well that El must’ve lowered the temperature in the cabin before leaving.

I turn back around to look at the cabin data screen near the door to see if he left any messages on it. Unfortunately, my eyes are too blurred and crusted from just waking up for me to make anything out, which means I have to walk over the ice cold floor to see what’s on it. U-Hay could tell me what’s on it but I always turn her offline before sleeping and it takes about 15 minutes for her to come back online and fully integrate into my systems. So, with no choice, I tip-toe very carefully over to the screen and take a look at it. Janus, day 15, hour three, minute 86. Day 15 means El and I have to go get a physical exam taken; not looking forward to that. Location: Star S2, near the galactic core; it should be interesting to see it up close, as close as possible anyway. Temperature: 29 F.

“29 degrees!? WHAT THE-”

At that moment U-Hay bwoms into my head, which tells me that she’s back online.

“Hello Master Bel, did-”

“Sh-shut up, U-Hay” I say, still too cold to even think straight.

“W-w-why the hell is it so c-cold?”

“Master El thought it prudent to lower the ambient temperature of the ship, in order to focus the remaining power on shielding the hull from the harmful radiation emanating from the galactic core.”

“Ugh” I forgot U-Hay likes to explain everything in as detailed and redundant a way as possible. It’s useful at times but dammit if it isn’t annoying.

“J-just raise the temperature. P-please.”

“Bel, I must advise-”

“NOW, U-Hay! 80 degrees starting from the floor, dim the lights if you have to.”

 The cabin lights flicker, then dim as the floor mercifully heats up. I drop down on the floor, still wrapped in my blanket, so that I can finally feel some warmth. The white metal floor, warm as it is, feels nice pressed against my cheek, and I’d probably take a micro nap right there if it weren’t for U-Hay’s annoying notification.

“Bel, please be advised that you have an appointment at hour four this morning for your monthly physical examination. As this is a required checkup, it is imperative that you are in attendance.”

Cheek squished against the floor I look up at the time on the screen. Hour three, minute 92.

“Shit.”

Not wanting to hear U-Hay hound me for being late, I promptly leave the cabin into the wide corridors of the ship. I don’t bother dressing up since it’s only El and myself in this sector, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. I only have on a t-shirt and shorts, along with the blanket still enveloping me. The air is still cold and I’m still barefoot but the floor’s heat makes it comfortable for my feet and helps raise the ambient temperature somewhat. The hallways are dark with the lights turned down, but U-Hay’s integration into my nervous system lets her fiddle with my eyes so they can see better in low lighting. If there were windows in this part of the ship, lights would be a moot point, especially near the galactic center.

“The tram is just down the hallway to your right, Master Bel. Master El is making his way there as well, and will meet you shortly.”

“What was he doing out there?”

“Only a few maintenance checks, system scans, reports on hull integrity, navigational course corrections.”

“Isn’t that hard if you’re offline?” I think as I turn down the hallway towards the tram. Because U-Hay is based in my head, I don't have to physically talk to her when we're alone. I only have to think of the words.

“Indeed, Master Bel. As you’re well aware, Master, I am unable to affect onboard systems while offline, and so was unable to assist Master El beyond verbal instruction. He was therefore unable to accomplish his goals to the desired effect. However, he did not wish to disturb your slumber.”

“Well that’s a load of bull. 29 degrees? Psh.” I say, approaching the tram platform.

The platform is a wide open space with the tracks for the tram in a cut on the other side. There are four pillars holding up the room, on one of which has a screen showing a map of the ship with destinations to choose from. I’m making my way towards this pillar when, from my right, I see El walking up to me in a heavy coat, gloves, boots, and cargo pants. He’s got on the smarmiest grin I’ve ever seen in my life. He has to know that I’m pissed.

“There you are, Bel.” He says raising his hand in welcome. I of course don’t return the gesture.

He stands right next to me, still grinning his smarmy grin, and teases:

“I thought I was going to have to tell Vera that you were going to be late for another checkup. Wouldn’t that have been something?”

The sly bastard’s trying to dodge the issue, so I pointedly ask him:

“Why the hell did you lower the temperature down to 29 degrees? I almost froze, El.”

“Well…” he says leaning whimsically back and forth, “…if you want to be bombarded by harmful radiation, I could have left it at the balmy 80 that you’re accustomed to.”

“Or you could’ve just cut power from the lights and heated up the floors, like I did.”

“Hm.” He assumes a pensive gesture; he has a smartass comment ready, I just know it.

“I could’ve done that, had U-Hay not been offline at the time, and given your distaste for being awoken I had significant pause towards that recourse.”

He shrugs, “So, my apologies.”

Like I have so many time before, I find myself flustered at his strategic non-accusation.

“You know what, I-! You-! Dammit, where’s the tram!”

We’d been standing around for seven minutes and the tram isn’t usually this late. There’s only one person to blame for this:

“El?”

“Well, I did try to call the tram half an hour ago, but it seems to have been preoccupied.”

“So you were just going to leave me here!?”

“Of course not, I was simply-”

“Y’know what…” I say, moving up to the screen on the pillar, “Never mind.”

I raise my hand to the screen and it begins to interface with the subdermal network of electronic nodes that gather at my finger-tips. It allows me, with U-Hay’s help, to control the tram network.

“Our tram’s all the way on the other side of the ship. is there a closer one we can use?”

“Affirmative. Retrieving transport vehicle.”

In the flash of an instant the tram whirs up in front of us and opens its doors.

“Welcome. Please watch your step as you embark the vehicle.”

“Come on, El. We’re going to be late.” I say, rushing onto the tram.

“Right behind you.”

The ride to the physician’s office, or station since it seems like she has a whole damn lab to herself, takes us through the interior of the ship to one of the exterior most portions of it. As a result, we’re taken through vast stretches of darkness, with only the light of the tram for illumination, to the outer windowed areas of the ship where the galactic core and the surrounding star systems light up the interior. El tries to put his arm around me, mistakenly thinking I’d forgotten that I almost turned into an icicle because of him.

“Don’t even fucking think about it.” I growl before he can even touch me. He wisely aborts.

The tram pulls up to the physician’s station and opens its doors. In this case there isn’t even a platform, just a single opening that leads into the office. It’s a small and clean little room, with a desk in the far corner and a door leading to the rest of the station adjacent to it. As we walk into the office and as the tram whirs away we don’t bother sitting in the chairs and waiting since we already have an appointment. We walk through the back door and into the lab where Vera stands waiting for us alongside some scanning equipment. The lab is wide and spacious; the floors are sterile white, and there are screens for displaying information seemingly everywhere, mounted on stands that swivel and turn on robotic arms. The most noticeable feature of the lab is the back wall, which isn’t a wall but rather a single curving pane of glass than spans the entire room and arches up 30 feet to include part of the ceiling. Because of this, the few artificial lights in the lab are usually turned off, and today is no exception; the brilliant center of the Milky Way, swirling with dust and spangled by stars, is more than adequate to light up the entire room. As late as I always am, if it weren’t for this view I probably wouldn’t bother coming at all.

Vera, a diminutive, red-haired android in lab fatigues, directs us toward the scanning pads on the floor.

“Come, come! Please stand here!”

We take our places on the scanning pads, which are right next to each other, but Vera, who is looking us up and down, looks perplexed.

“You no take off clothes?” She says, in a strong accent that I can’t place but that El tells me is East Slavic.

We look at each other and I tell her,

“No, I think we’re good”

Because I’ve always been late to these examinations, El and I have never actually taken one together. By the time I arrive, he’s usually sitting in the waiting room; that or he’s sitting near the window and leaves before the undressing starts. The cold doesn’t help things, either.

Vera walks over to me and pulls at my blanket.

“I insist. Will only take moment.”

“No, Vera. It’s 284 K and it’s cold. I’m not taking them off.” I say, pulling back my blanket.

“You sure? Invasive scans go through clothes but very unpleasant.”

“I’m. Not. Taking. Off. My. Clothes. Vera. Just do the scan and get it over with.”

She looks at El, who’s literally been twiddling his thumbs the whole time, with a questioning glance, and he responds:

“Oh! Uh, I would also like to keep my clothes on for, uh, similar reasons, thank you.”

Vera, thinking nothing else of it, cracks a cheerful smile and slams the lever with tremendous force. The scan begins at our feet, and the intense buzzing sensation that it elicits causes us both to jump at the sensation. When it finishes at the top of our heads, I can already feel a headache coming on.

Along with the usual information, like muscle mass, brain activity, and skeletal integrity, the results screen also shows our personal information. This being our first time taking the exam together like this, neither of us have seen the other’s personal info. The info went something like this:

Name: Belakoro Hosomichi Miyazawa

Sex: Female

DOB: Febus, Day 12, 2776

Place: New Sakhalin, Ligeia Mare, Titan

Father: Takashi Miyazawa

Mother: N/A

Clone #: 89

Surviving Clones of Sequence:

Ship Assignment: [Classified]

Date of Assignment to Ship: [Classified]

Ship Occupation: [Classified]

Name: Elio Aleksandrovich Gergiev

Sex: Male

DOB: Octos, Day 29, 2775

Place: Ares Station, Mars Orbit

Father: Aleksandr Gergiev

Mother: N/A; Missing since 10/30/2775

Child #: 1

Siblings: 0

Ship Assignment: [Classified]

Date of Assignment to Ship: [Classified]

Ship Occupation: [Classified]

The rest of the exam went relatively smooth, save for Vera doing additional checkups for muscle stiffness and any signs of hypothermia (aside from the mild ones I experienced earlier). The examination over and done with, and Vera finally bouncing off to tend to whatever other business she has, El and I take a seat on the heated floor close to the enormous window of the lab and contemplate.

“I guess neither of us has led a charmed life, hm?” El says.

“Heh. No, I guess not. Your mom’s missing and I’m a clone who never had one to start with.”

“May I ask what it is you’re holding?” El says, pointing to my palm.

It’s an odd statuette that I found in a box hidden away in our room. It’s supposed to look like a woman but looks more like an odd shaped tuber. U-Hay says it’s a “Venus Figure” carved about 26,000 years ago back on Earth. An indelible mark to the longevity of human creativity, she said.

After telling El all of this, I stare into the galactic core, and an odd thought comes to me.

“Y’know the center of the galaxy is 26,000 light years away from Earth.” I say, holding the figurine up to the bright bulge cloaked by dust.

“So if we looked back on it, we’d technically be seeing the same people who made this thing.”

“So, what?” El says, “A missive sent 26,000 years after the fact? What would you write, pray tell?”

  I have to hand it to El for being equal parts smugly sarcastic and genuinely curious. He may think I don’t know it, but he’s actually quite fragile underneath all of his snark. I answer his question.

“I don’t have a clue. You?”

“Hmm.” He pauses for a moment, and then with a smirk says:

“To Mom, in 26,000 years”

He looks up at all the stars, dust and gas circling the bright nexus of the galaxy.

“Do you think she knows how beautiful all of this is, the stars, the nebulae, the planets…” He turns to me, “…you?”

I was planning to not dignify that last one with a response, but I judge that now is not the time for vitriol. I rock back and forth and fumble with the figure.

“I don’t know. Maybe? There’s a good chance”

He wraps his arm around my shoulder, and this time I don’t object. When he leans in for a kiss, however, I throw him wide grin that says a thousand words, all of them ending in pain for him. So he’s thwarted in that attempt, but we do cuddle, mostly because he’s warm and I’m still cold but also because he’s just nice to be around, sometimes. I still wish he had just asked me to redistribute the power for him; he should know by now that I love him too much to ignore him. 26,000 years to send a message, but it’s still too soon for that one I guess.

March 30, 2024 03:57

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1 comment

Trudy Jas
21:51 Apr 03, 2024

So, how long have you been in space? LOL It sounds as if you know what you're talking about. Wonderful flow, realistic environment, great characters and dialogue.

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