••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Extract from Mission Longshot
AP NEWS 6/16/2032 Atlanta Robbins AFB
Space Colony vessel NOVA was successfully launched from Robbins Air Force Base (near Macon, Georgia)
3000 of the brightest children of America were blasted into space on a seventy-year journey to escape our climate ravaged planet.
US President Navidoo declared. ‘Last Hope for Humanity. There isn’t a soul on this planet who doesn’t wish they too were on that vessel. We wish them Godspeed. May they cherish what they find and protect it against all odds.’
Mission Longshot: How far will you go to save one life?
Cover Image: nick-owuor-astro-nic-visuals--unsplash
Celeste was suddenly awake, a sharp pain in her heart. She found herself sitting on the floor of the revival cubicle with her legs drawn up being sprayed with some saline solution that made her flesh and eyes sting.
Her skin was repellent, puckered, white, sticky and she had big sores around her mouth and rear from where all the tubes had been inserted. She couldn’t expel a childhood image in her head of a slug she’d once found under a rock. She stared with numb horror at her twisted toe nails some six inches long and her long brittle fingernails all split and discolored with white patches. She was disgusted by her long, lank hair that curled over the floor way below her waist. She didn’t feel human at all and her teeth felt loose, she was deathly afraid of losing them.
She had no idea why she was awake or why the bots were so frantic outside the cubicle fruitlessly spraying some kind of foam to form a wall. Nothing made sense. They’d told her that reawakening would be a gentle affair where the machines would waken her muscles and blood before she regained consciousness. This was brutal as the floor roiled underneath her vibrating to get her biosystem to function. She struggled to breathe, her heart pounded in her ears, unused to making an effort.
Hot air blasted her now, then a robot arm shot out and injected her with more stimulants and vital vitamins. Celeste had no idea how long she’d been in stasis, but a sixth sense told her this wasn’t the right time to be outside of a life-pod. And was she the only one they had woken? She coughed and turned to spew again; vile green fluid spilled onto the floor.
“Why am I awake?” She asked again, shocked at the incomprehensible growl that came out of her throat. She remembered the drill. She’d have to relearn how to speak. Count slowly to one hundred to retrain the voice and ignite cognitive abilities. She began counting, struggling to breathe. “One, two, three …,” her voice barely registered. “Four, five,” it was hard to even think, “six, seven,” she hated the sound of her voice. She coughed. Bright red blood splashed onto the floor. Something metallic scooted across the deck and sucked it away.
The cameras were watching her every move. Her heart beats appeared on the digital readouts. Another injection into her arm followed. She winced. She felt that one as something wild and cold shot through her body. “Eight, nine, ten.” She wondered if she had the strength to count to fifty, let alone one hundred.
A disembodied voice declared, “DNA confirms Celeste Ami Kandar. Please proceed to the recovery chamber.”
Celeste frowned. “I haven’t finished counting,” she protested, but it came out garbled and she spat out blood again. Her chapped lips were so sore and bleeding.
A bot was at the door, scorch marks across its surface. Had there been a fire? Was that why she’s been woken? The bot was signaling to her to open the cubicle door. She looked up and realized she would have to stand to release the door. She wasn’t sure she could do that. “Can’t stand,” she mumbled. “Can’t.”
The floor rumbled again to jog sleeping muscles. Celeste brushed the matted hair from her face searched for something to grab hold of. She saw a handle halfway up the wall which told her that she wasn’t the first to be as weak and useless as she felt. She reached up with great effort, discovering her long nails were preventing her getting a grip. Never once had they mentioned she’d wake looking like a freak, nor about the nails, it was so gross.
She gripped the handle sideways and hauled herself up, screaming with the pain of the effort, her head spinning. She had no muscle strength at all. “Ow, ow, ow.” It was a miracle she was standing. A rising nausea in her gut, she stood uncertainly, head bent down like an old woman, her head resting on the glass door. She was unable to command her limbs to do anything else.
The bot tapped on the glass again. She opened her eyes and realized she must have fallen asleep. She could see the bot had brought a wheelchair and placed it just outside the door. Smart bot. It must have known she wouldn’t be able to walk. She took a deep breath and summoned some courage and released the door catch. The door slid open and she immediately smelled scorching and felt the loss of oxygen.
“Step into the chair,” the bot instructed. “Oxygen mask in the left arm.”
Celeste could see something pretty drastic had happened and the blackened walls. The fact that there was no oxygen was totally wrong. This was the life-pod section, there had to be oxygen at all times. She commanded her legs to move and somehow twisted her body around and flopped into the wheelchair. She blinked as she glimpsed the wreckage ahead of her, the foam wall obscuring the real damage.
She wanted to ask questions but urgently needed to grab the oxygen mask and breathe in. The bot had already spun her around and was rapidly moving her out of the life-pod section. She sucked in air, discovering she had a pain behind her eyes. There was no disguising that the ship had suffered huge damage. She stared with growing amazement at the scorched melted metal. She realized now that the foam was to make a tunnel for her to get to the safety of the recovery room. She wasn’t seeing even a fraction of the damage.
Celeste felt as if there was a huge hole in her stomach. She was well aware that she hadn’t eaten anything solid for years. “How bad was the damage?” She croaked but the bot didn’t answer. “Keep mask on, keep breathing.” Was all she got.
Celeste took deep breaths, her brain slowly beginning to focus. If the damage was as bad as this, were they even still on mission? Would it be possible to get back to earth? Would there be room for the survivors on the second colony ship. Did they even know Nova had been damaged?
Celeste closed her eyes feeling a wave of nausea sweep over her. She could feel the atmosphere changing as they went further into the ship. Doors closed behind them and she felt reassured that the rest of the ship was still functioning and pressurized.
“Recovery room,” the bot informed her. “The medic will look after you.”
Celeste watched the little bot go. There were scorch marks on its back too. A medic bot detached itself from the wall charging point and quickly moved towards her. No attempt had been made to make it look human, but it still had ‘eyes’ and a warm voice that was designed to keep a person calm.
“Welcome Celeste. We are here to get you well. We are going to put you on the recovery track. We will revive muscles and your lividity. We should congratulate you; you are the first human to survive twenty-three years in stasis.”
“Twenty-three? We’re not even halfway?” Celeste croaked. “How many died?”
The medic was trained in empathy, he adopted a soothing tone. “Don’t you know?”
Celeste shook her head, even that little bit of movement hurt. “I know nothing. Did we hit something? I saw scorching. Was there a fire?”
The medic lifted her from the wheelchair and placed her in a kind of cradle and brought up side gates so she couldn’t roll off.
“We just concentrate on getting you well, Celeste.”
“How many others are you waking?”
“Others?” The medic asked, stepping away, confused. “There are no others. We must cut your nails and hair. The length is quite impressive. Never seen so much hair on one human.”
The medic switched on a small rotating cutter and began to cut and trim her nails. Celeste could smell burning. Those nails were rock hard.
“You said no others?” She called out with alarm. “I’m the only one you woke? Why?”
“I’m only the medic, Celeste. Command will talk to you once you are mobile again.”
“How much damage to the ship. Is it fixable?” She desperately needed to know what the hell was going on.
The medic began on her other foot. “Just concentrate on healing. I’ll cut your hair next. In a month you’ll be back to normal. I will give you an exercise schedule.”
“Why haven’t they woken anyone else?” Celeste persisted.
Celeste rolled her eyes. She felt so confused. She tried to think how long she’d have to wait for the second Colony ship. She also had a nagging realization that even if she was rescued, there was no way in hell was she ever going to go back into a life-pod.
“Command makes the decisions, not me. Just relax. Now, give me your hands. No one ever grew nails as long as this, I think. See these ridges? Vitamin deficiency. We must remedy this immediately.”
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