It was a beautiful morning. A purple sky resembling wood grain with stars embedded throughout. That’s what I loved about commanding space dock, the view.
As Cameron entered tractor beam range we locked onto the vessel and gently guided her into receiving bay number three. Everything seemed normal until the bay doors closed and the radio crackled with the voice of Transfer Officer Gable, “She’s light, Captain.
According to sensor readings she is short 19,212.8 liters of water. Very light on solids too, Captain.”
I pushed the microphone button on the radio, “She must have lost part of her load along the way. Look her over for meteor damage and get her ready for entry.”
Officer Gable met me on the dock floor and reported, “No damage, Captain. She is as clean as the day she left Earth. She’s open and ready, Sir.”
Her service lights came on the second I popped my head up through her belly hatch so I knew her motion detectors were working. At the main computer terminal, I raised the Tri-disk power supply. Everything looked good. The communication panel checked out perfect. Life support, interior pressure systems, helm tests, everything was normal.
I displayed the corridor maps on video. As I suspected she was exactly the same as any Class A freighter and I could walk to the resting chamber blindfolded.
As I neared the chamber, hair on the back of my neck stood on end and a cool shiver ran up my spine. The chamber lights were already on and this was very unusual. The tube closest to the door held a crewmember resting in hibernation. The console over the tube read green. All systems were good. I moved further through the doorway, tube 2 came into view and my life was changed forever.
She was wearing a blue uniform, her hair hung loosely around her shoulders. A single tear ran down her cheek. In utter awe I stared at her. I had read everything I could find about Earth, but there was never any indication they were so desperate for astronauts they would send a woman, who must be well into her eighties into deep space. What were they thinking?
She noticed me and smiled warmly. “Hello,” she said, “I am Doctor Costen, Cameron’s medical officer. You may call me Kim.”
“I am Captain Ken Sparks, and you are on the space station Antillie.”
“It’s been a long trip, Captain. It’s good to talk to someone.”
“Why aren’t you in hibernation?”
“Have you found a cure for Synthetic Resprosis during the sixty five years we’ve been in space?” she replied.
“I’m not a doctor, but I’ll get one in here right away. Are you sick, Kim?”
“It’s my husband. He became ill almost a year and a half ago. It started slowly but I determined it was SR shortly thereafter.”
I pushed my collar microphone and ordered a Med Lab crew. “I don’t understand. A year and a half ago you still should have been in hibernation. Did the system malfunction and wake you early?”
“No,” she answered, looking to the floor.
“Then why are you awake and why were you both awake a year and a half ago?”
She raised her head and we locked eyes. “I have no idea what has transpired in the sixty five years we’ve been in space, Captain Sparks. But when we left Earth, choosing a mate was out of the question. It was discouraged and frowned upon. Is it like that here?”
“Doctor Costen, choosing a mate is unnecessary. We are all sterilized at birth. Love is exchanged at the pleasure chambers. The limited living quarters on this station make unauthorized births impossible.”
“You have been trained to think this way, Captain. I too was sterilized at birth. Few children escape this totalitarian form of control, even in my time. But life was….”
She abruptly stopped when the medical crew entered the room. She continued to stare into my eyes as they examined her. Her gaze was not the least bit synthetic, so sincere. I thought about what she said in comparison to our world. “You speak strange words, Kim. But this is very interesting to me. I have studied Earth’s history in detail. Please report to my office for debriefing when medical is finished with you.”
Her honest face warmed me as she entered the office. There was something noble about this old woman. It was as if I had known her since I was a child. She sat across the desk from me and raised her eyes to meet mine. She spoke softly and deliberately. “I need your help, Ken Sparks. It seems there is no cure for SR even in your time. My husband is going to die.”
“This has been reported to me. I am sorry. What is your request, Doctor?”
“I want you to talk to Central Control about us. I want to be placed back in hibernation with my husband. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I want to live as he lives, and die when he dies.”
My shock caused me to stand. “Doctor Costen, you must realize, we have a limited amount of space on this station. Every centimeter is accounted for! Why would you request such a thing?”
She stood up as well. “Captain, you sound as if they’re going to wake my husband even though they know he will only live for a few hours. Surely they won’t. Surely they will spare his life – I mean, allow him to remain in hibernation, once you explain the dilemma.”
“Doctor Costen, Surely you realize what you’re asking. To grant your request we would have to devote hundreds, maybe even thousands of kilowatt-hours powering the equipment to care for your tubes. Not to mention the space required.”
She sat back down and spoke softly. “Captain, we have spent our whole lives together traveling through space.” She looked at the floor and began to weep.
I sat back down. “I understand your point, Doctor. And I will be sure to express your request in my report. But what if everyone who’s going to die had the same request? This station would never be able to survive. All its’ power and space would eventually be used to care for terminal bodies resting in hibernation. It would become a giant grave yard floating in space.”
“I can’t believe they will just let him die!”
“Doctor, please try to control your emotions. I told you I would bring the matter up in my report – and – I will speak to the General about it. Now please, Doctor, if you can continue, I have some questions which need answers.”
“I am sorry. Go ahead. You may ask your questions, Captain.
I thought it odd she gave me permission to continue the debriefing. I’d never dealt with a woman of her age before. In fact, I’d never dealt with any situation like this. I felt sympathy for her and didn’t understand why. But I had find out what happen to this ship on its journey. “I have to ask you about the missing water. Where is it? What has happened to make your ship loose 19 thousand liters of water?”
“Let me start at the beginning, Captain. We left Earth on May 25th, 2157. My husband and I met and fell in love during the training we were receiving from W.A.S.A..”
“W.A.S.A.?” I asked.
“The World Aeronautics and Space Administration,” She answered.
“Oh, the predecessor to Central Control. I must make a note. Please continue.”
“We kept our relationship a secret for fear they would split us up. Mono-mate philosophy was frowned upon.”
“Why are you missing so much water?”
“Our plan was simple, If we couldn’t live together on Earth, we would live together in space. We volunteered for a slot on one of the deep space supply ships they were sending to stations in your sector. We knew the ships would be filled with water and food and they would expect us to go into a sixty five year long hibernation.”
“What happened to the cargo?”
“I am getting to that, Captain. John and I learned everything we could about life in deep space. We studied six months prior to our departure.”
“Doctor Costen, I must know what happened to the water and food.”
“We used it, Captain.”
“You used it? What do you mean you used it? How could two people use 19 thousand liters of water?”
“Captain Sparks, I was only 23 years old when we left Earth.”
I leaned back in my chair and pondered her answers. “Doctor, do you mean to tell me you both stayed awake for the entire voyage?”
“Neither of you ever entered hibernation?”
“No, Captain. Not until John came down with the disease.”
“Kim—why would you do such a thing? What the Hell would cause you both to waste your lives like that?”
“We didn’t waste our lives, Captain! We spent our lives exactly the way we wanted to spend them, enjoying each other.”
“You’re both old. Your lives are almost over. Don’t you realize what you have done? You not only disappointed all the people who worked so hard for so long to make these colonies work, you threw your lives away. You could have been youthful. You could be ready to start a great adventure here in space.”
“Captain Sparks—Ken—you point out what we have lost. What about the things we have gained and experienced? You sit there, behind your desk, looking as if you almost feel sorry for my husband and I. But it is I that feels sorry for you, Captain.”
“For me?” I was getting irritated at this old woman. “Why would you feel sorry for me? I have my whole life in front of me. And you can bet your last credit I won’t spend it locked in a space ship for 65 years.”
“Maybe not, but who will you spend it with? As you grow old, Ken, and as you start to look back on your life and the things you have done, who will you reflect with? Who will you laugh with and cry with?”
“I have my friends.”
“Friends? Yes, I am sure you do. But whom do you lie down with at night? Who do you talk your problems over with? When is the last time you were held?”
“I can be held any time I want down on deck six.”
“No, Ken, your speaking of a biological function. Who holds you and nudges you with their nose? Who wraps their arms around you at days end?”
“Nudges me with their nose? Woman, you have gone crazy from being in deep space for so long. It must have affected your reasoning.”
“You misunderstand me, Captain. I am speaking of compassion, tenderness, and warmth of feeling. Have we as a species lost these feelings? Has the trend that began on Earth spread itself outward into the universe, touching not only these colonies, but also all Earthlings through out the galaxy? Is there no Love here?”
“We have love, Doctor. I love this job, I love this station, and above all else I love Central Control.”
She said nothing else, only bowed her head and wept.
I was never able to forget the docking of Cameron or the ideas Kim planted in my head. Until her arrival I was happy in my job and life was wonderful. I didn’t think about sharing my life with anyone. I didn’t want to share my life. It was my life. Love between two human beings, what is the point? She affected me somehow and I feel different. I feel a little empty.
For reasons I didn’t understand, I hoped Central Control would grant Doctor Costen’s request. But, for the same reasons I had explained to Kim, they denied it.
The order stated in part: John Costen, Captain of the supply vessel Cameron, shall be brought forth from hibernation at 08:00 hours on the morning of June 20th, 2222. Every effort shall be made to make him as comfortable as possible.
After reading the inter-office communication, Kim let the paper slip from her hand and said, “That’s tomorrow, isn’t it?
“Yes, I’m afraid it is. Do you have any special requests?”
“I would like”, she bit her lip to hold back tears and finished, “I would like some privacy. I want to be alone with him.”
“Of coarse. I’ll have Med lab set up a private room.”
“Thank you, Captain Sparks,” were the last words she ever spoke to me.
As promised, I had arranged for total privacy between them and on the morning they woke her husband, she sat at his bedside and killed herself with his painkillers. Only Kim and her husband know what passed between them.
She left a note I found lying on her husband’s chest with the gold ring she wore on her left hand resting upon it. I held the ring and read the note:
Inside of the ring was the inscription, “Love lasts forever.”
(Originally published by Yahoo.com/Voices 1/6/2012)
(Winner 2nd place, Skyline Writers Club writing contest, 2005.)
Copyright 2005-2014 Mark E. Schrull
All rights reserved.