“Hey, Packard,” Hollis said as he stepped into the office. The supervisor sat at the desk, her feet up, her hands cradled round a steaming mug. She turned, and smiled.
Pleasant smile, he thought. Homely—although home was nothing but a memory now.
“Hollis. Rejuved okay?”
He’d only spent ten minutes in the rejuvenation suite, recovering from stasis, but that had been enough. “Fine. Tell you, sleeping for a month at a time is something else.”
“Definitely ready for mine. Three days with only Yohanna for company is three days too many.”
Hollis looked around, at the empty food containers by the second desk. “Where is he?”
“Can. Again. Can’t think what he does in there.” But her smile told him that she had a pretty shrewd idea.
Hollis reminded himself to give the whole place a clean, first thing. The bots were good, but he needed to be sure.
Packard shrugged. “The usual. Still on course.”
Just as they would be for the whole seven-year pre-programmed voyage. “The cargo?”
She frowned, but ignored the way he referred to those in statis. But thinking of his fellow passengers as cargo helped Hollis cope with the whole situation.
“Had a malfunction in one of the stasis suites.” Packard pulled her bare feet from the desk and tapped at the terminal. Data appeared on the screen. “Got the alert forty hours ago, but they’d been off-line for a couple of months. Poor buggers.”
“They wouldn’t know anything about it.” Callous, yes, but how else to deal with deaths like that? “Even with an alert, there might not have been anything you could do.”
Packard shrugged. “I know. Still, it did my head in for a few hours. Wanted to go down in person, check it out, but Yohanna said it wasn’t worth it. He sent the bots to sort out any…mess.”
Hollis nodded. Fifty bodies in broken stasis booths would start to decompose pretty quickly, so the bots would shuffle everything—everyone—out through the airlock.
“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” he said. “It’s a known risk. They always told us there was no certainty of reaching Eden.”
The name caught at the back of Hollis’ throat. It didn’t feel right, giving some planet so far distant from earth the name Eden. Okay, the boffins all said it was perfect for life, perfect to start over, but hadn’t the old Earth been Eden once? Sure, it wasn’t now, with all the screwy weather and the overcrowding, but why did everyone think all their problems would be solved by moving elsewhere?
If they even got there.
“Wasn’t there another malfunction a year back?” Packard said.
Hollis nodded. “Couple of stasis suites.” He didn’t mention the more recent ones. If the code did what it should, there would never be any alerts. “But still, taken as a percentage…”
“Yeah, yeah—anything over seventy percent rejuvenation on Eden is a success.”
“And we’re less than half a percent down after two years. We’re ahead of the curve. It’s not a problem.”
“I suppose.” She twisted her face, shut her eyes for a moment. Hollis recalled the details he’d pulled from her record, how she’d left her first husband almost penniless. He was tempted to ask how she felt when he topped himself.
Then she smiled, and leaned forward. “What do you think it’ll be like, when we arrive? Yohanna says we’ll live in the Ark for maybe a generation, but I want to get out as soon as I can. Build a little cabin by a lake, settle down, raise a family. Grow crops, trade for meat.”
“It’ll take a while for the embryos to develop, though.” The Ark’s stores also held DNA sequences of plants and animals, pure and free from any pollutants. Of course, if the monitoring systems were to malfunction…
“Maybe Eden has its own animals,” Packard said, eyes wide with excitement. “Maybe they’ll be even tastier. And there’s bound to be berries and other things we can eat. Vegetables, nuts, fruit.”
“Yeah! We’ll have to run tests, of course, check they’re not poisonous.”
Poisonous to us, Hollis thought. But he smiled, nodded, pretended to buy into Packard’s dream. Because that was the dream, wasn’t it? A ‘return to nature’, a fresh start on an unpolluted world. An opportunity to do things properly.
But people only thought of themselves. Like Packard—she wanted the perfect life for her. She’d find a mate, simply to have a family. She’d till the land, uprooting any wildlife that got in her way. She’d create her own idyll. Her, and the other millions now in stasis.
“Sounds good,” he said, and she smiled.
“It’ll be perfect.”
He nodded, because he knew it would be. But not in the way Packard thought.
Yohanna would be back from the can in a bit. He’d re-enter stasis, along with Packard, when Sobel rejuvenated. Hollis and Sobel would keep watch for three days, then sleep when their replacements woke.
And so it would continue, until they reached Eden.
But over seventy-two hours, Hollis would find time to be alone. In stolen minutes he’d amend code, analyse packets of data hidden deep in the Ark’s architecture. He’d check for alerts that would never sound as more stasis suites malfunctioned.
When Sobel was around, he’d monitor the standard systems. They’d send the bots out to keep the Ark clean, free from contaminations and disease, because the powers that be wanted Eden to remain pristine.
And it would. The biggest threat to the planet would never enter its atmosphere.
When the Ark arrived, it would be empty, the cargo floating in the void of space, where it could spread its disease no more.
This time, Eden would remain a paradise.
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