Chapter 1 from 'Awake'
Image by Levi Mecham
Siris didn’t know why they had to go through the onboard training anyway. He, along with all of the other kids, would be asleep for the entire voyage. Only a few crew members would even be awake for the initial launch. After that, even they would enter their sleep pods and wouldn’t wake again until just before the ship’s automated landing procedures began some eleven hundred years in the future.
That was the theory anyway. The fact that the CSM felt that it was necessary to put every colonist through basic training of the ship’s systems was disconcerting. Still, it was nice to see other young faces for a change, even though none of them had bothered to talk to him. He had the armband to thank for that.
From what he could tell, he was the only kid with one of the red bands encircling his left bicep. The band denoted that he had tested into the program rather than being lucky enough to have rich parents that could pay the exorbitant costs to bring their children along for the ride. His father, Richard Tarek, was a genius when it came to fixing things, but that ability hadn’t necessarily translated into the kind of money that he needed to bring his family with him to Ross 128 b. Siris hoped that when they got there, some nine hundred and eighty years in the future, they’d have a different name for it. At least take off the ‘b’. He knew that Ross 128 was technically the name of the star that ‘b’ orbited, but he wasn’t going to say Ross 128 b for the rest of his life. Were they supposed to say Ross 128 b…lings? Ross 128 b…ians?
At any rate, his dad had been accepted to the program on merit alone and his family, Siris’s two siblings and his mother, were promised a large monthly payment for his commitment. A commitment that meant that he would be leaving forever, gone as if dead. The rest of the family had all tested as well to try to join their husband and father on the journey, but Siris had been the only one to pass. He sometimes wondered if he was making a mistake, leaving Earth for the chance to pioneer a completely new human civilization, but excitement drowned out any doubts.
Sure he would miss his mom, Akil and Yunna, probably more than he could currently understand, but this opportunity was too incredible to pass up, and besides, he’d have his dad. Despite the difficulty of saying good bye, everyone, but Yunna, who was too young to know better, had understood the importance of the colony ship and the opportunity it presented for everyone.
It was human nature to explore, colonize and expand. He felt the pioneering spirit deep in his soul and he could only assume that the rest of the colonists did as well or they wouldn’t be leaving their relatively posh lifestyles to blaze new trails for the human race. Still, it was difficult to see most of these soft-handed, pampered youth blazing any kind of trail, let alone one far from any support structure.
“Hey. What’s your name?” A small voice behind him made Siris turn. A boy, equal in stature to the voice, stared up at him. He had reddish brown hair and was young enough that his features still had that ubiquitous appearance where the subtleties of his face were masked by baby fat.
“Osiris Tarek, what’s yours?” Siris smiled his most friendly smile. This was the first person to approach him since the training began, and every time he had initiated a conversation among the other children it had been disastrous, so he did his best not to scare the boy off.
“I’m Peter.” The boy said proudly. Peter had an accent that he couldn’t place right off. There were people from all over the world in this room and Siris had to listen carefully to distinguish an individual’s origin. He stuck out his hand and Siris shook it. “What’s that?” He asked, pointing at the red armband. Siris shifted, wishing that he could take the thing off.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” He said it, and wished it was the truth. “How old are you, Peter?”
“Seven.” He said defensively.
“Six.” Came a voice from behind Peter. The boy turned and Siris looked up to see the speaker. A girl, maybe a year older than Siris, fifteen or so, leaned against the wall. She had stunning blue eyes and the same reddish hair as Peter. “You’re only six, Peter. You have to stop lying to people.”
“I’m as close as it makes no difference” The boy said. They had the lilting British accent that at once intrigued and intimidated Siris.
Siris had been born in Cairo, Egypt to an Egyption father and an American mother. When he was five, they left Cairo and moved to Norfolk, Virginia. He had learned English well and most people couldn’t even hear a hint of an accent, yet it was his second language and he was sometimes irrationally self conscious about it.
Siris walked forward, holding out his hand in greeting.
“Osiris Tarek, nice to meet you.” The girl wrinkled her forehead at him and ignored his outstretched hand.
“And you.” She glared at Siris. “You should know better than to lie, as well.” She reached out and grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him along behind her as she walked away. He could hear her explaining the little boy’s mistake as they left.
Siris sighed heavily.
He didn’t see the big deal. So what if his family couldn’t afford to pay for his passage. He had tested-in, after all. He would earn his passage in other ways, arguably better ways. The CSM shareholders whose children these were, were wealthy beyond belief, made that way by the company’s early asteroid mining projects from a decade and a half ago.
The company's unprecedented successes made it more powerful than any government on the planet and as a result, the world of politics had changed forever. Presidents, Prime ministers and Kings were no more than figureheads, pawns in the CSM’s deep pockets.
Those unfortunate enough to have been born outside of the company’s nobility had to work for a living and bear the embarrassment and frustration of being passed over by those with less skill but greater influence or relationship with company shareholders.
The colony ships were still the only place where merit was valued. Siris figured that there was no way to ignore the fact that a skilled workforce would be needed on a new, possibly, hostile planet. That didn’t change the way the shareholders felt about him.
CSM (Crowd Sourced Mining Corporation) was the first company of its kind. It started as an idea. The plan was to select an asteroid rich in rare earth metals, and bring it into orbit around earth, then mine all the good out of it. It was ambitious. Too ambitious for most wealthy investors, and so its founder decided to open it up to the public. Each person, no matter how small the contribution, could be called a shareholder. The investments came rolling in, and CSM soon had the capital it needed.
The door was closed on new investors and a year later, the shareholders were making so much money that the world economy was thrown into a tailspin. CSM began buying up other companies until almost everything in the world was owned by the corporation, and so it was that people like his mother and father found themselves on the outside looking in.
His dad said that the animosity stemmed from their insecurity. Deep down they all knew that the armbands were the only ones that truly belonged here and the rest were just along for the ride, but Siris struggled with that analysis. Somehow, he couldn’t come to grips with how being insecure would cause the level of near-hatred he’d experienced.
He refused to let his social issues get in the way of his excitement. Tonight was the night. The night that the CS Samsara would launch.
The training was called off early so that they could all be prepped for hibernation.
Siris’ stomach growled loudly as he climbed into the pod that would be his home for the next nine-hundred and eighty years. They hadn’t been allowed to eat or drink anything for the last twelve hours and Siris had to work to get enough saliva to speak.
“I guess, I’ll see you soon, Dad.” His voice trembled, and had his Dad’s own nervousness not been obvious he would have been embarrassed. “I mean, as far as we’ll know.” Siris amended.
Richard Tarek smiled warmly at his son as he settled down into his own pod. They’d been over it so many times that he knew the exact process that the hibernation unit would go through to put them under, but the thought of being kept asleep and, for all intents and purposes, mummified for almost a thousand years was still clawing at him. Logic screamed at him that this technology hadn’t been tested, at least not enough to go through with this. How could it be? It had only been ten years since the science had been ‘legitimized’.
Richard Tarek coughed shakily, clearly struggling with his own dry throat, and held out a hand to touch Siris’ cheek one last time.
“See you soon, son. I’m so proud of you.” His hand gripped the side of his head in a comforting hug before he pulled it back into his own pod and hit the seal button. The pod’s lid closed and gaskets hissed as his father was shot full of the drugs that would put him to sleep.
Siris’ pod closed without his input and his mind raced in the eternity of the two seconds it took for the drugs to take effect. Two seconds for him to wonder, worry, and confuse himself. Just before his mind shut off he was sure he had made a mistake, positive that he’d never wake up again.