“Will we dream?”
The question made Theo chuckle. He had taught more classes on interstellar hibernation than he could count as it was a requirement for all passengers preparing for the flight to Proxima B, a planet in the solar system of Alpha Centauri. He was an expert on hibernation and responsible for ensuring a successful liftoff and, yet in every class the first question was about dreams.
“No, you won’t dream, Dawn. It is Dawn, right?”
“You know it is,” the pretty blonde answered with a flirtatious smile.
Theo had met Dawn—and her husband, Steve—a few hours before when he had taken their pictures for the identification cards. He had also snapped a mental photo of Dawn, filing it away in a dark corner of his mind.
It wasn’t like Theo to be smitten so easily, but Dawn was different. She wore a flowered sundress and canvas white shoes. She looked like the girl next door, but her smile implied more.
Flustered by Dawn’s forwardness, Theo turned away and addressed his response to the class.
“Interstellar hibernation is nothing like sleeping,” he continued. “We use the word because it is something everyone can understand. However, if it were really like sleeping, it would drive a person mad.”
“How so?” Steve questioned, forcing Theo’s eyes to return to the table where Dawn sat, still smiling at him.
“For 100 years, you will have no human contact, no change of scenery—total sensory deprivation. Your mind will need to be shut down. The alternative is unthinkable. It’s why we use hibernation, not cryogenics.”
“I don’t get it,” Steve complained. “Sleep is my favorite thing. I love to dream, don’t you?” Theo couldn’t be sure, but from a distance, it seemed as if Steve winked at him.
“I guess it depends on what you dream about,” Theo conceded, inadvertently glancing at Dawn. “But when you are in a sleep-like state for an extended period of time, your mind eventually starts to have lucid dreams.”
“What exactly is a lucid dream?” Steve interrupted.
“Lucid dreams are a phenomenon where your conscious mind realizes you’re dreaming. It might take a week or a month or maybe even a year, but your mind will eventually regain control. That’s when clinical insanity begins.”
“Well, that’s logical. Theo-logical, get it?”
While the rest of the room broke into laughter, all Theo could muster was a perfunctory smile. As the mission's spiritual advisor, he had been tasked with meeting the socio-emotional needs of all the passengers; however, he didn’t want to be viewed as a clergyman, pastor, or priest, especially not by Dawn.
“Are there any other questions?”
“What if there is a problem on the journey?” another passenger asked. “Who takes care of the problems while we are all asleep?”
“Hibernating,” Theo corrected.
“Yes, I’m sorry. If we are all hibernating and there is an issue, then what?”
This was another question usually asked—one that was a concern for all the passengers.
“Depends on the emergency,” Theo answered, in his most reassuring voice. “There are doctors and engineers and even law enforcement officers on the mission with us. If the systems detect a need, the correct individual or individuals will be automatically reanimated. The process takes just under five minutes. Once the trouble is neutralized, the individuals will be able to re-enter hibernation for the remainder of the voyage.”
“How exactly is hibernation initiated?” Dawn asked, enjoying Theo’s attention.
“It’s a two-step process,” Theo responded. “First, a biogenic arm cuff is secured around the forearm. Think of a blood pressure cup on steroids. This will be used to slow the body's physiological functions. Paralysis follows almost instantaneously. Over the next hour you will lose all sensory abilities. You won't be able to hear, see, or feel anything.”
“So for an hour you can’t move but you can feel everything?” Dawn questioned. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“No, that’s not the case. You will also be fitted with a headband that is tuned to your brain. This complex electronic device is able to shut down all conscious thought while leaving the parts of the brain that control vital functions completely intact. It’s the miracle that makes interstellar travel possible. Trust me, it’s pretty cool stuff.”
The rest of the class went according to script. In reality, these classes were supposed to be nothing more than a protocol.
Theo explained that he had been selected to be the last officer to be put into hibernation. He would remain awake to ensure the spacecraft left the solar system successfully, then he would retire to his own chamber and self-initiate his hibernation sequence.
“Hey Theo, I was just giving you shit. You did a great job.”
“Excuse me?” Theo asked, looking up from his desk.
“I am Steve Bowen, head of security for the mission. I didn’t have to be here but Dawn asked me to come. I’m actually glad I did. I think you and I are going to be great friends.”
Theo looked around, hoping in vain that Dawn was with Steve.
“You are aces in my book,” Steve continued, offering Theo his hand. “I’ll see you next week when we start this insanity.”
“See you then,” Theo answered, a little uneasy. Could Steve sense the attraction Theo felt for his wife? The one thing Theo was sure of was that he didn’t like the way Steve looked at him.
When the day of the launch arrived, Theo busied himself with checklists and launch sequences. He was excited to be on the voyage and glad that Dawn would also become one of the ever-growing population of the earth’s newest outpost, affectionately renamed Earth Twoo. Steve was coming as well, but there was nothing he could do about that.
With liftoff mere minutes away, Theo took a moment to contemplate what was about to happen. The ship, christened Serenity, was a miracle of modern science. There wasn’t a bolt or screw that wasn’t necessary. It felt strong and secure, yet nothing like the spaceships popular in movies. In fact, it didn’t feel like a spaceship at all. Theo had described it in a pre-flight press conference as a luxury apartment building that could fly. Each occupant had their own private room, equipped with a pod-like bed that would cradle their bodies for the entire flight.
Theo securely strapped himself into the only chair on the ship. It was in the center of the command post and had all controls within arm’s reach. If everything went as planned, however, Theo wouldn’t have to do anything except wait until the ship passed the fail safe line.
The entire process took less than twenty-four hours and went off without a hitch. Even though the ship had been created to withstand the thrust necessary to leave earth's atmosphere, it still was jarring how powerful it was. Theo was grateful that he was awake for this part of the ride, as he would be one of only a few people on the new colony who could tell of the experience.
Then came the silence of propulsion by solar sail. No rockets could achieve the speeds needed to leave the solar system so quickly. Theo didn’t know all of the science behind how solar sails worked; he only knew the answer he gave when asked in his classes: “A solar sail spacecraft has large reflective sails that capture the momentum of light from the sun and use that momentum to push the spacecraft forward.” In reality, the beauty of the engineering against the darkness of space was breathtaking.
With interstellar travel initiated and his duties complete, Theo began the walk back to his quarters when a small voice in his head began to demand attention.
I wonder where Dawn's quarters are. It sure would be nice to see her one last time.
Theo wasn’t sure where this thought came from and he did his best to ignore it, but the voice was persistent.
She’ll never know if you take a peek. Remember, she smiled at you first.
This thought caught Theo off guard. Dawn, indeed, had smiled at him first. She had definitely been flirting with him during the class. Theo pushed the thought from his head. He was a man of faith. A man of integrity. There was nothing to gain by breaking with procedure.
She’ll NEVER know!
In a moment of weakness, Theo brought up a diagram of the ship's manifest on his hand-held, found the bay Dawn had been assigned, and changed his direction accordingly.
It didn’t take long before Theo stood outside Dawn’s door. There were no locks on the ship, as the engineers and architects who had designed Serenity hadn’t foreseen any need for them. Surprising himself, Theo walked into Dawn's cabin.
She was so pretty, he thought to himself as he stared at her through the plexiglass. Her skin looks so soft.
“You can’t do this,” Theo said out loud, as if he were trying to silence the voice that bedeviled him, but it was getting louder.
Touch her skin—it won’t hurt anyone.
It wouldn’t hurt her if he just touched her, would it? Of course it wouldn't, he reasoned as he opened the pod and ran his finger across her cheek. Her skin was the softest he’d ever felt.
This time the voice didn’t justify the request. It didn’t have to as Theo found himself losing all self-control. He bent over and pressed his lips to Dawn's. That should be enough. No one was hurt or the wiser. He could stop now, but the voice continued.
Make love to her.
“No!” Theo shouted out loud. I'm not a rapist!"
Before he allowed his conscious mind to object, Theo was on top of Dawn and then inside her. The moment he finished, Theo was devastated, breaking into bitter tears. He was instantly ashamed of what he had done.
“Intruder! Initiate reanimation process.”
The automated voice issued a warning over the loudspeaker, snapping Theo back to reality. He was supposed to be in his chamber by now. The security system had activated an alert, and in a matter of minutes, law enforcement officers would be awakened.
With adrenaline coursing through his veins, Theo closed Dawn’s pod and ran. He had less than five minutes before the reanimation process would be complete. He needed to be in hibernation mode before then.
Back in his pod, he attached the cuff, closed the lid, and initiated the de-animation sequence. Within moments, his breathing slowed, his heart rate declined, and hibernation paralysis set in.
I made it, he thought to himself. No one will ever know.
A cold chill ran down his back, as it occurred to him—how was he able to think? He tried to turn his head to check the controls. No response. His mind was fully alert, but his body was useless. The headband! I forgot the headband!
“He’s so pretty.”
Theo heard the voice he shouldn’t have been able to hear. It was Steve, head of security.
“His skin looks so soft.”
Theo wanted to yell for help, but no words came. In his guilty haste, Theo had missed a step. He was in partial hibernation mode, his mind fully alert, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Then he felt a hand on his face, followed by Steve’s lips roughly on his.
In moments, Steve was inside Theo, thrusting without mercy. Theo could say nothing and could do nothing—all he could do was think and feel.
Unlike Theo, Steve didn’t seem to feel the least bit guilty. He kissed Theo one last time and closed the lid. The last thing Theo heard was Steve whistling as he walked out of the room. In a few minutes, his rapist would be back in blissful hibernation while Theo, who had been tried, convicted, and sentenced by fate, would relive the events of his last day over and over and over again.