David Conyers and John Kenny
One hundred days disappeared in a single second while I was dead, or as near dead as you could get without crossing over to that unknown country.I was in cryosuspension along with twelve-hundred other passengers, encased in the hull of a wormhole transgressor bound for Morrocoy in the Sagan-89 System. Morrocoy was the last place in the galaxy I wanted to be, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
With that curious sense of dislocation engendered by cryosleep, I opened my eyes and felt, despite an unchanged view of diamond glass and life support readouts, that I was somewhere else.
A familiar face approached; all smiles and warmth. “Mum!” I cried before I crawled into her arms, held her tight and sobbed.
Another woman spoke to me. Her tone sounded cautious. “I’m sorry Ms. Leyton, but I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” When I didn’t move, afraid to, the stranger said: “I’m Nereda Courtemanche, your CS recovery nurse.”
I looked up, saw that the woman who held me was no more than a few years my senior. She had a pretty face like my mother, but with freckles and red instead of dark hair worn in a ponytail.
“Oh, I am so sorry.”
I quickly clambered from of her arms. I couldn’t look at her. I felt like I was about to die.
“This is so embarrassing. I’m so sorry.”
I tried to run, but tripped on wobbly legs.
The nurse caught me. “That’s okay, Francesca.” She supported me gently, sat me down. “Just give yourself a minute. Waking from CS is disorientating for anyone. I felt the same three days ago when I woke.”
I glimpsed at Nereda through the corner of my eye. At least I had not imagined her smile, which still beamed for me.
“Let me find where your mother is, and I’ll reunite you.”
“She’s not here,” I blurted.
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.” Nereda clasped her hands together tightly. “You must really miss her?”
I didn’t respond. I should have said something to make her feel better, even if I couldn’t feel that way myself.
She scratched the back of her head, her eyes wandered, searched for something other than me to focus on. “Well, you’ve arrived Francesca Leyton. Morrocoy is where you leave us, right?”
“Is someone waiting to meet you?”
“I hope...yes, someone will...meet me.”
“Well that’s good. Good luck down there.”
Nereda gave me three cups of water, helped me to dress, then left me with one of the ship AI’s extensor bots which made me perform a regime of stretching exercises. By the time I was done I no longer felt disorientated and was ready to tell Nereda the real reason why my mother wasn’t with me, but she was long gone.
With remarkable swiftness, given that the transgressor had travelled so many light years across the galaxy for so long, I was processed through customs and security where, despite my protests all my tech items where confiscated from my luggage, and shuttled to the planet’s only spaceport. No one else smiled at me, and all I could feel as the blue-green planet grew large through the view portals was empty and cold.
An hour later I was blinking in the bright sunlight, standing in the hot, dusty street watching a motley crew of locals shamble along, dragging pack animals behind them.
I thought about what I had wanted to say to the Nereda, but I couldn’t quiet believe what had happened myself. Only three weeks ago subjective time I had been standing over the destroyed body of my mother. The distance I had travelled and the stark contrasts between Mars and this alien planet conspired to place the death of my mother at a remove that seemed almost a lifetime ago. And yet the loss of her was so recent that the reality of her absence had not sunk in; I felt nothing, couldn’t feel anything. Being thrust into this new and foreign environment promised only to extend the duration of my numbness.
Sweeping my shoulder length hair back and into a scrunchy, I fished a beaked cap from my travel bag to shade my eyes. Now I could better see the dilapidated sun-scorched wooden buildings that lined the unpaved street that stretched east and west for a couple of hundred metres before meeting walls of dense jungle foliage. Along this stretch a number of streets branched off to the north towards the main part of the town.
No sign of my father. Wearily, I unfolded the piece of paper handed to me by the porter as I had exited the building behind me. Oh, great. It gave the name of the hotel where I could find my one surviving parent and directions on how to get there. Heaving a sigh of tiredness and frustration, I hitched my travel bag on my shoulder and marched towards the first turnoff heading north.
If I’d told Nereda what had really happened to my mother I would have cried for a very long time. I couldn’t help wondering if I would have felt better now if I had.