Jenna opened her eyes to a small blurry, display blinking in front of her. Cold air swirled around her face and rays of red light jumped through licks of mist in the claustrophobic cryo-pod. The frigid air stung her nostrils and caused shudders along her body. Each twitch of a muscle added a new sensation as another synapse connected, her body slowly coming back online after 500 years of deep, dreamless, cryogenic sleep.
Memories of the last few moments flooded back. The chills as the temperature plummeted, her heart desperately trying to pump adrenaline even as its beating slowed, the sheer panic racing through her head. What in heaven or hell had she been thinking? For all that she had complained about her family’s involvement in her affairs, the prospect of being completely alone on the other side of the galaxy suddenly seemed little better.
A soft hissing sound reached her ears and the mist began to dissipate, warm air flowing into the pod as it inched open. Jenna shook off the memory and saw a figure standing over her, silhouetted against brilliant white light. The man studied her for a moment and then grinned, reaching out a hand and helping her to sit up in the brightly lit cryo-bay.
“Do you know where you are?” he said softly, watching her eyes carefully.
Jenna nodded. “I’m on the colony ship, the Neo Kosmo.” She coughed, and the man offered her a glass of water that she gratefully accepted.
“Correct. Do you remember your status?”
She rubbed her neck, feeling joints crack as her head moved about. “Passenger, 3rd division.”
The man smiled. “Good, you’re waking up fine. Take things nice and easy. Perhaps grab a coffee to help warm up. You remember the layout of the ship?” He waited for her to nod, and then helped her to climb out of the pod before continuing, “You’ll find the ship is a little quiet at the moment. Nothing to worry about, just some junior crew member mixed up the awakening sequence and you and a few others got out several days early.”
Jenna steadied herself and the man let her go, watching her as she got full control of her balance. “Did we make it?” she asked, trying to remember what the procedure on arrival was.
“Yes ma’am, we are in orbit around Lamperi Gi as we speak and yes, the planet is every bit as beautiful as the posters made it out to be.” He grinned, and she nodded, still a little unsteady.
“So what do I need to do now?”
He picked up a datapad and punched in a couple of numbers, and her pod closed and slid back on a rail before disappearing through a hatch in the wall. “Nothing particularly, you’re free to just relax. Like I said, the wake-up schedule got mixed up so we’re a little short on some minor crew members so if you fancy helping out, an officer on the Hydro Deck is coordinating volunteers. If you have a skill that we can put to use that would be really helpful.”
She thanked him and left him to his duties, gingerly heading out of the cryo-bay following a green line on the floor to the hydro deck. Coffee sounded really good right at that moment.
The officer had been right, the ship was eerily quiet. Before she had been put into cryo-sleep the Neo Kosmo had been swarming with crew and passengers alike. She crossed her arms and hugged her chest. Not passengers, colonists, she thought to herself. Passengers can go home. This ship was a one way ticket for everyone.
Hadn’t that been the point though? Get away from her family, from their constant meddling? Here, on the other side of the galaxy she could reinvent herself. Instead of the quiet girl who did as she was told, she would actually achieve something on her own. She could be the confident, strong, proactive girl she wanted to be with nothing holding her back.
Jenna smiled and straightened up. She picked up the pace through the seemingly endless corridors of the immense colony ship and finally entered the Hydro Deck, a vast expansive greenhouse that must have stretched the entire width of the ship. Transparent pipes ran across the floor and walls with plants of every variety extending into the room, their roots visibly waving in the hydroponic nutrient solution. A surprising number of flowers were in bloom, vibrant lines of colour streaking across the bright white steel of the deck.
In an open area between the mass of plants sat another officer at a makeshift desk, surrounded by holo-boards covered in lists and checkboxes. Jenna made out the word “priority,” and she took a deep breath. Do it Jenna, it’s new you time.
Tentatively she approached, the officer barely glancing up. Without looking he barked at her, “Volunteering? What’s your skill set?”
She nearly jumped in surprise. “Umm…” she mumbled.
He looked up at her and leaned back in his chair, curtly patient. “Skill set? What did you do before the journey; programmer, accountant, farmer, chef?”
“Photographer.” She said. The officer nodded and turned his attention back to the datapad. “Don’t think we’ve got any need for that specifically but have a look over the priority jobs. You might find something you know how to do,” he said, nodding over to a list.
Jenna smiled and stayed still. The officer looked back up at her as if expecting her to move, but said nothing and quickly turned away again. She looked at the board and frowned. This was the part where someone would pull her over and sign her up for something. But there was no tug on her wrist or nudging from behind. There was just Jenna standing awkwardly in front of the desk.
She frowned and forced her legs to move so she could read the listings. It was hardly surprising the officer wasn’t thrilled by her skill set. They didn’t need a wedding photographer at this point; they needed crew who could help the newly awakened colonists get comfortable on the ship while permanent shelters on Lamperi Gi were set up.
She breathed deep and leaned in close to the holo-board, blinking hard as her eyes struggled to focus on the words. Chef. Kitchen attendant. She couldn’t cook, but she might be able to help serve food. She shook her head. Her clumsy fingers would probably end up dropping half of the food, and wasting the limited non-perishable supplies the ship came with would hardly be a good start. There was a request for extra drone pilots to do fly-bys of the mountain ranges but as fun as it would be, she was definitely not qualified for that.
Jenna let out a yawn that was far louder than she expected and grimaced. The officer at the desk looked up at her. “Just woke right? Coffee at the end of the deck. Nice view planet side too. Don’t rush, it’ll take the rest of the week before everyone is awake and this place gets busy. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Jenna was about to mumble a thank you but he put a finger to his ear and started grumbling to someone unseen about the moron who had messed up the wake-up order. Jenna shivered. She would not want to be that crewmember right now. There didn’t seem to be a reason not to get the coffee, so she made her way through the rows of plants, passing lines of ripe tomatoes, berries ready to burst and endless varieties of beautiful flowers.
Unlike the hastily set-up desk, the coffee station was sleek and streamlined, built into the ship to offer only the utmost of comfort to the crew and passengers during the many months it would take to set-up permanent shelters on the surface of their new home. As the officer said, the machine was next to a huge floor to ceiling viewing window that looked directly out onto the planet. Jenna got her drink and took a step toward the window, enjoying a deep breath of the smooth, dark aroma of the perfect latte.
“Ma’am, passenger!” a voice called. She nearly dropped the drink, startled in the otherwise quiet ship. The officer from the desk was jogging over. “You said photographer right?”
“Want to be one of the first on the planet?” he asked, panting for breath.
She fumbled. “First? How?”
“There’s supposed to be a team to take pictures and document the machinery drops as the colonisation process begins but…they won’t be awake in the next hour.”
Jenna’s eyes went wide. “Document? Like a journalist?”
“Exactly! Snap some pictures of the machinery landing, the area we will build the first town in and the first steps we take towards self-sustainability. Get a few portraits of the crew and a group shot and stuff. It’s for the ship-wide news service and for future records. We want everyone to know what’s going on.”
“Oh,” she said, looking down at her cup and holding it tight.
He frowned. “You don’t want to go down to the planet?”
Jenna’s breath was short and sharp, and she held up a hand for a moment to compose herself. This is perfect, she screamed in her head, but her throat was clamped tight. Eventually she managed to stammer out, “I do. I’m just not sure I’m qualified for that kind of work.”
He smiled. “You’re a photographer and you’re awake. That’s one more qualification than anyone else has right now.”
She didn’t reply, instead she remained staring at the coffee, hyperventilating.
He opened his mouth to say something else, but cocked his head and put a finger to his earpiece. He shook his head. “Look, drop happens in 1 hour. Captain doesn’t want to delay; he wants to start on self-sustainability as scheduled. You’re the only photographer awake. If you want in, be ready in cargo bay 3 in 45 minutes. Anything you can do is better than nothing.” He smiled again and turned on his heel to walk away, mumbling something to someone.
Jenna didn’t move. She stood completely still, staring down at the perfectly formed flower motif on her latte. So that’s it? You come all this way out here for a new start, get given the perfect opportunity and you turned it down? You’re pathetic, she thought to herself. A tear formed and stung her eye. She reached forward, bracing against the enormous viewing window.
What had she expected? Sudden confidence? To wake up 500 years of sleep and be a changed person? Things didn’t work like that. It was Mum who suggested your friends hire you as a photographer. It was Dad who coerced you into setting up an extranet site for your services. For all Jenna had longed to be free of their influence, it was their constant pushing that had given her success in life. On her own, she would have shied away from every opportunity. Like you just did.
She leaned against the window, the planet in full view in the distance. Sapphire seas traced unmapped, unfamiliar coastlines of continents reminiscent of Earth while polar ice caps shone a brilliant white in the light of their new sun. Everything was perfect for a new start.
You didn’t even buy your own ticket out here. Your sister did it for you.
The tear escaped from her eye, slowly tracing its way down her face. She looked down at the planet, straining to remember where the landing site would be. Was it over there, where snow-capped peaks fed icy rivers? Or over there, where viridian valleys met arid amber expanses of flatland? There was an easy way to find out. She just had to go down.
Do it. Do it. Please, for the love of everything in heaven and hell, do it.
Jenna pushed herself upright and stared down at the coffee. Do it. She took a deep breath, and in one move she threw it back, gagging against the now-cold coffee before setting off towards the nearest elevator. Bay 3, 45 minutes. She glanced at the time and broke into a run, ignoring the officer grinning as she passed.
Through a door, down a flight of stairs and into the elevator. She slammed her fist into the cargo deck button, cursing the slow doors. She sprinted out, counting the docking bays as she ran. Bay 1, Bay 2, Bay 3. She burst into the room, breathless, expecting to be too late.
A group of officers stood by a landing craft clearly ready to go, the roar of the engines echoing in the cargo bay. She called out for them to wait, but there was no need. One of the crew waved her over and pointed to a table where a camera, flight suit and helmet sat waiting. She had made it.
An extremely loud and bumpy re-entry later, Jenna was lining up a shot of a drop pod blazing through the sky. Landing feet extended, the retro-thrusters firing and a field of flowers blowing in the downdraft, Jenna caught the perfect moment as her new life began.