I was in my ship in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, talking through holotime with my boyfriend Marcus. He was on the space station in Earth orbit, waiting for our ship to come back from the belt with tons of liquid hydrogen to power cars, buildings and everything else.
“You’ll be here soon,” he said eagerly. “Your mission is almost over.”
“Where should we go after this?” I said while trying to hold Marcus’s holographic hand. “It’s been one straight year in space. I need a little bit of Earth adventure.”
“We should go to…” he began saying, when a loud fire alarm sounded in my ship which didn’t let him finish. The sound was accompanied by red flashing lights that almost blinded me. Just then I knew I was about to face the worst nightmare for any space military force.
“It’s happening” I screamed. “Fire on the deck! Red light, we need to go to cryosleep!”
“I love you, Mia…” Marcus said before the hologram disappeared. All communications stop in the event of catastrophic failure.
I ran out of the room to get to the cryosleep chambers. I only had three minutes to get to it, to be frozen for a long time. We would be ejected into space in the emergency pod, a ship with not that much power acting as the motherboard. It would take at least a year to get to Earth with that engine; and depending on any malfunctions or failures, there was a possibility we would never get back.
Running through the corridors, I bumped into Eliza. We had been friends since middle school, but we became inseparable in 2202, when humankind stepped foot in Proxima Centuri B, the closest planet to Earth, 4.2 light years away. It was thought to be habitable, but even if it wasn’t it gave hope to scientists to keep looking. We shared the dream to explore the stars. We both went to University of Wisconsin for aerospace engineering, and had registered together one year ago for the Space Force. This mission was our second together. I was a pilot and the second in command, and she was head of engineering for the extraction of liquid hydrogen in the asteroids.
“One of the liquid nitrogen tanks was not stored properly and had a reaction with…” Eliza said, almost crying and not finishing her sentence.
“It doesn’t matter now. Let’s go to cryo, we only have 120 seconds,” I said to her, pulling her arm.
“You don’t understand. The damage is too high. Most of the systems have failed, including the pod engine and navigation system. We may never get to Earth, or we may get there in years or decades,” she said with a desperate tone. Her brown eyes were wide open, showing how scared she was. I could see her long red hair starting to levitate lightly. The gravity generator in the ship must have also stopped working. My body felt light, almost if I was walking on the moon.
“Eliza, have faith and trust,” I responded. “We’ll get back home when we get there. They’ll look for us. Marcus will look for the pod.” We had met Marcus in college, and the three of us were great friends. We knew we would get to know space together, and we did. Our first mission together was to study Marcus’s favorite radioactive bacteria on Mars. He had a theory that the energy from these bacteria could be better than the hydrogen cells that currently powered Earth’s cities.
We both ran—or better said, we both jumped with low gravity force—to the pod. We had 40 seconds left before the pod would be ejected. There were eighteen in the crew but only four had made it to the pod—Gabriela, Robert, Eliza and me. Eliza started helping Gabriela and Robert to get into the cryosleep chambers, while I was scanning the pod’s damage in the holocom, a computer with a high definition 3D hologram screen. I could see in three dimensions the whole ship, and scan all its parts by scrolling with my fingers very quickly. I realized basically everything was down expect our artificial Intelligence. I knew that us returning to Earth was unlikely, but Sydney, our AI, was our only shot. When the clock hit zero, the system would close the doors automatically and fly away immediately, leaving everyone still in the mothership to die. For the few of us who had made it to the pod, we had to go into induced frozen sleep in a useless vehicle. There was not enough food, water or beds for all of us, for a trip of uncertain length, without cryosleep.
“Sydney is on,” I said to Eliza with hope, while I rebooted Sydney. Her hologram appeared in the pod two seconds after.
“You have twenty seconds before the doors close,” she said calmly. “You need to go to sleep. I will wake you up when we are back in the space station on Earth.”
“Sydney, pod engine is partially damaged,” Eliza said, scared. “Communications are out, navigation system, everything.”
“You have to trust me, commander. I will get you home,” she told me, looking directly into my eyes. When I heard that, I realized Henry, our first in command, was not there yet, which made me the officer in charge. I froze and I turned to Eliza to hug her.
“See you on the other side,” Eliza said with no hope of seeing each other again.
“May we meet on Earth,” I told her, while I heard the pod’s doors closing behind us. Only four of us would be trying to go back home, and I was the commander of a ship of death.
Eliza and I got into the cryosleep chamber, as we call it, but it was more like a glass closet. You stand up in the three-by-three-foot closet the whole time you’re in hibernation at 20 degrees, getting the minimal nutrients your body needs. The maximum amount a person has ever been in cryosleep was five years. This was in 2187 during the Saturn expedition, when there was a malfunction in the system because the mothership was hit by an asteroid. The emergency pod with the cryosleep chambers was ejected into space, and it took half a decade to bring eight Space Force members to Earth. My dad died on the wrong side of the door’s pod while my mom, with me in her belly, came back to Earth in cryosleep. Other than for emergencies, cryosleep is only used nowadays for long-distance missions out of the solar system. Our nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) goes at half light-speed, which allows us to go anywhere in the solar system in hours, not needing cryosleep. However, since my parents’ accident, scientists have designed the chambers to be able to sleep for thirty years, since the malfunctions could be so severe that the pod could float in the solar system for years.
And here I was, seeing my pod getting frozen, just like my mom did twenty-two years ago, leaving my dad on the other side of the door without being able to do anything. I was leaving fifteen of my crew on the mothership to die, and Sydney had thirty years to get to Earth with a broken engine before we would die in our sleep. What I was most afraid of, actually, was to make it to Earth in five, ten, twenty years, to learn that my mother was dead and Marcus had moved on to someone else. But I woke up to something much worse than that.