by Darren Eggett
It was supposed to be the last time James Clintock woke up for the next six
hundred years. He'd been out of Deep Slumber for far too long and he knew it.
His body knew it. Three years out, they said. Three years awake, serving the
colony, and then he could hibernate again. Well, his shift was finally ending.
He'd done his part and more. Someone else could watch over the ship. Someone
else could take a turn. He rolled over on his bed. It was time.
So why was he so nervous?
The voice of Pandora, their ship, whispered through his earpiece. "I have prepared
a portion of the rations, sir. They are waiting for you in the hopper."
He rarely answered Pandora anymore. When his shift first started, James would
chat aimlessly with the computer, reminiscing about his childhood, his marriage;
anything to help pass the time, to make him feel less lonely. It hadn't taken long to
realize it was pointless. The A.I. was no substitute for another person.
Granola waited for him in the hopper. He cursed. What wouldn't he give for eggs
and sausage? This was his last meal, for crying out loud. He choked it down as he
made his rounds through the ship, all the while wondering why the shift change
made him so uncomfortable.
He made no noise as he canvassed the decks. Black insulating foam sheathed
every surface. The helmet-mounted light was so close to his eyes he could barely
see shadows. Together, the foam and viewpoint lamp messed with his sense of
perspective. Sometimes it felt like he wandered forever in blackness, never
reaching the end of his route because it seemed he never left.
His first stop, as usual, was the dormitories. At the start of his shift, when he
realized Pandora failed the Turing test of his first several months awake, he had
come here and found his wife. Nadia was two hundred forty-three paces down the
hallway to his left. James peeled back the black foam from her hibernation tube
and brushed his fingers across the glass over her face.
She looked so young.