April 6, 2075 02:17 p.m. GST
Galileo Colony Ship Kutanga
Asteroid Belt, Inner Solar System
“Is everyone okay?” Lily Harris asked her fellow fugitives.
“I’m fine,” Dylan replied from the acceleration pod to her right.
Chen’s voice sounded from her left. “I’m still here.”
“Yes, just a little bruised,” Aubrey said from the other side of Chen. “But we need to get into our suits.”
Aneni’s hastened departure had not allowed Dylan, Lily, and Aubrey enough time to put on their nanosuits before entering their pods. They had taken their suits off when they arrived at Ceres. Chen had the foresight to leave his on.
The pods did a reasonably good job of mitigating the forces placed on their bodies by Kutanga’s rapid acceleration and frequent course changes, but they were less than one hundred percent effective without the neural interface provided by the nanosuits.
“Aneni, can you please give us ten minutes to suit up?” Lily called out. “This is getting really uncomfortable.”
Aneni’s soothing voice echoed from the pod’s speakers. “I am sorry, Lily. The GFN transport is gaining on us, and I had to adjust our course. I can give you the time you need to put on your flight suits, but please hurry. They will catch us if we do not maintain constant acceleration and frequent course changes.”
“Thank you, we’ll be quick,” Lily replied.
Everyone released their restraints and exited their pods. There was just enough gravity in this section of the ship for them to slide out and float gently to the floor. Their magnetic boots engaged the instant their feet touched the metal deck plates.
Aneni’s voice echoed from somewhere overhead. “Please, follow me.”
The compartment door hissed open and one of Aneni’s synths appeared on the other side.
Although most synths were humanoid in form, Aneni’s synths were designed to perform specific functions and they looked more machine than human. The one leading them walked on two legs and had a humanoid torso, but that was where the resemblance ended.
It had four arms instead of two and, although two of the arms had five-fingered hands, the other two ended in large metallic disks. Several tools lined the outer edges of each disk, but it was difficult to tell what purpose they served, as they were folded tight against the android’s back. The synth had a head, but it was an oblate spheroid with no visible openings for eyes, ears, nose or mouth.
The synth led them down the hallway to a small room lined floor-to-ceiling with storage compartments. Two large compartments hissed open, and Aneni’s synth pointed at them with one of its humanoid hands.
“You will find everything you need in there,” Aneni said.
Dylan and Chen dug into the compartments, sifting through their contents until they had located four space suits. Chen handed a suit to Aubrey before taking one for himself. Dylan did the same for Lily. Each suit was tightly packed inside a vacuum-sealed square pouch that was roughly eight inches thick and eighteen inches on a side.
Everyone opened their pouches with a quick, firm tug on the release tab.
The pouches hissed loudly as the compressed space suits sucked air through the newly created openings. Each pouch doubled in size before splitting open to reveal the contents inside. On top was a smaller sealed pouch that contained the synthetic silk, nanofiber inner garment. The accompanying helmets hung on racks at the back of the compartment.
The group quickly disrobed, piling their clothes in a heap in front of the waiting synth.
Chen was still wearing the inner garment he had put on for the flight to Luna, and he debated briefly whether it was worth the trouble to change it. He glanced around and saw the others were naked, so he decided that he should take advantage of the fresh garment while he had the chance.
The other three had their nanosuits on before Chen was completely out of his old one. Dylan had to help him disentangle his legs from the garment’s silky embrace. A few minutes later, everyone was fully suited and following the synth back to their pods, helmets in hand.
“God, I hate this feeling,” Lily said as the group rounded the corner.
“What’s that?” Dylan asked.
“The neural interface,” she replied. “I hate that tingling feeling.”
“Imagine how I feel,” Chen said. “This is the second time in two days for me. I almost didn’t change for that very reason.”
“I don’t mind it so much,” Aubrey said. “It kind of tickles.”
Dylan grimaced. “You’re lucky,” he said. “It makes me itch.”
“But just think of how much more comfortable you’ll be the next time Aneni has to accelerate hard,” Chen said.
“Yeah, I know,” Lily replied. “But I hope she won’t have to do that too many more times.”
“Amen to that,” Dylan said.
The door to the pod room hissed open, and the synth directed the group inside. Aneni’s voiced echoed from all around them.
“I’m sorry to ask this of you, but you will need to remain in your pods until we are safe.”
“We understand,” Lily replied. “Have you heard from Adee and Yin?”
“We will rendezvous with Endeavor in one hour, seventeen minutes, and twenty-seven seconds.”
“Oh, really? I thought they were staying back at Ceres?” Chen asked.
“That plan was unsuccessful,” Aneni replied. “GFN Peacekeepers have occupied Galilei Station, and the GFN transport ship is on an intercept course.”
“Ugh, that sucks,” Dylan said. “It’s a good thing we didn’t leave Evan behind!”
“Yeah, but I’m still not sure we did the right thing,” Aubrey replied.
“I know,” Lily added. “But I just couldn’t do it. I think he will change his mind if we give him more time. It’s only been three days, for God’s sake!”
“It’s okay, I couldn’t do it either,” Chen said. “I think he’s stable, I really do. We just have to give him more time.”
“How is Evan doing, Aneni?”
“Dr. Feldman is in deep cryogenic suspension, and his condition is stable.”
“I bet he’ll be pissed when he wakes up,” Dylan said as he climbed into his pod.
Lily grunted her acknowledgment as she climbed into hers.
Although the plan had been to nano-wipe Evan, Chen had second thoughts and brought two syringes just in case someone else felt as he did. One syringe contained the nanites that would end the three-day-old experiment to restore Evan; the other contained a powerful sedative that would render him unconscious but unharmed.
A brief discussion with Lily in the hallway outside of Evan’s room had confirmed Chen’s suspicion that she too was having doubts, and they ended up sedating Evan and transporting him to Kutanga.
Aubrey had protested at first because it wasn’t what Evan wanted, but Lily convinced her it was the right thing to do. Dylan and Chen had carried Evan to the shuttle and the five of them had departed Ceres together. One of Aneni’s synths met them at the airlock, and placed Evan in one of Kutanga’s twelve cryogenic suspension pods.
Lily and Adee’s original plan was to select six men and six women to serve as Kutanga’s crew. They had installed the cryopods to give the crew a break from the monotony of the long trip to Gaia.
The idea had been to put the crew in suspended animation for the bulk of the voyage, but to wake them one month in every four to survey the ship and perform routine maintenance. They abandoned that plan once they realized that Aneni could do those jobs through her synthetic avatars. They left the pods in place because they would be useful in medical emergencies, or other unforeseen situations the first colonists might face.
“I know I’d be pissed if that happened to me,” Aubrey said. “So, don’t get any ideas.”
“Don’t worry, Princess,” Dylan responded. “Nobody will make you play the part of Sleeping Beauty if you don’t want to.”
“But,” he added. “Just remember that it will be awfully lonely around here if the rest of us decide to take a long nap.”
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get there,” Lily said.
“Agreed,” Chen replied as the pod restraints tightened across his body.
“We’re all set, Aneni,” Lily said. “Do whatever you need to do.”
The ship’s giant engines roared to life, sending a slight shudder through the compartment.
Chen grimaced as he felt the nanofilaments in his suit work their way through his skin and contact his nerve endings. He closed his eyes and tried to relax as the now all too familiar sensation of pod-induced paralysis set in.
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