Captain

Floating, formless, suspended in and sustained by the void. Drifting through memories and ambitions that glitter like stars and seem just as distant. A sense of weight starts to return, slowly at first but building until it felt plummeting through the ether, away from the warm yellow glow that now seemed to be above and being pulled towards a growing cold redness that appeared below. Reaching for the warm glow that signified home only to find it was impossibly distant as the crimson glow arose.

She awoke. The neural connection to the ship lifted her gracelessly from sleep and gradually began to feed her information as it started the process of removing the intubated connections that had sustained her for eighty years. That was uncomfortable, a violation that was simultaneously a removal of a security blanket. Not a helpful thought, especially after the nightmare.

Focusing on duty, she noted that the ship was well, on course and undamaged. Icons appeared in her virtual awareness to indicate that her bridge staff were at a similar state of wakefulness and with no red icons indicating an immediate emergency she mentally thumbed a sequence of commands that informed them to take some time to awaken, freshen up and then join her on the bridge.

The icons flickered in acknowledgement as she skimmed over the ship’s automated reports, knowing that her colleagues would pay closer attention to their areas of speciality. To her eye, the mission had gone remarkably well, with damage to the forward shield well within predicted parameters, course exactly as predicted and the ship’s systems and cargo vitals all indicating good health. She allowed herself to feel pride for a second before another flashing icon told her that the sleep-gel had been drained and she was free to move.

Finally, she opened her eyes just as the lid of the sleep chamber slip open, revealing her sparse cabin, effectively the only private space on the ship. Shakily she climbed out of the restraints and tested her weight against the deck, absently observing that what she felt as gravity was actually the effect of the ship’s deceleration. In a few weeks, they would be floating around as they navigated the new solar system but for now the ship seemed to have the same gravity as home.

Home. The thought stung for a second before the pang of dislocation was choked down and she switched on the cleansing cubicle and slipped inside to scrape off the last of the sleep-gel. The warm water was glorious and the aches of the long sleep and the lingering shadow of the nightmare washed away with the cloying gel that had protected her through the journey. She emerged refreshed and pulled on her uniform before heading out to the companionway and the bridge.

The bridge was still secured and she pressed her ID code into the keypad to her left and presented her eye for scanning to be rewarded by the resounding click of locks disengaging.

She stepped into the cramped bridge space with its five empty workstations circled around her captain’s chair in the middle of the room, looming large in her future. She saw a small white shape in the crook of the seat and picked it up. It was an origami crane that she had made before they had entered the long sleep and preserved for eighty years in the sterile atmosphere of the ship. Strange that she had just left it on the chair rather than putting it securely in her cabin or disposing of it. Perhaps some small ritual to say that she expected to return, a superstition against some calamity that killed them all in their sleep.

The temptation to fall into reverie was great and she didn’t want to seem sad or reflective when her crew arrived so she pushed the thought away and straightened up, still cupping the small piece of folded paper in her palm.

Calm again, she pressed the button to switch on the view-screen and selected a view ahead of the ship. After a second, it winked on and showed the small, red star and it’s system of seven closely orbiting planets highlighted by the computer, still too impossible distant and dim to be seen. For good or for ill, this was home now.

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