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Turbulence hit again, less than before. The air was thinning as the shuttle left the atmosphere and gravity fell away. Ronan looked out the window as the sun's glare faded behind the dirty haze of the atmosphere. Pale red light filled the cabin, but none of them looked up. Ronan quietly pulled a small book from his pants pocket and flipped to the page he had read a thousand times. They all had identical orders and Ronan knew none of them could think about anything else.
He didn't need the pages to repeat their contents word by word, but the book was one of his only remaining possessions and gave him something akin to familiarity. He flipped the cheap paper to page one and silently read the words.
To: Recruit Ronan C. Clark
Regarding: Permanent Assignment Change
To whom it may concern, this message is to inform you of classification and assignment change from any current position to Long Term Species Survival. This order will take effect January 1, 2195. More information on the specifics of this assignment is enclosed in these orders.
NORAD Experimental Projects
Ronan flipped a couple of pages to the actual details.
Long Term Species Survival is considered a core secret of NATO Aerospace Defence and is designed to be activated in the event of an extinction level event. Personnel will be allocated to permanent duty on board one of three experimental Sova class deep space carriers. In the event that LTSS is activated, it will be assumed that Earth has become uninhabitable and the survival of the human race will require travel to a new planet. As no planetary body in the solar system can be made self-sustaining without constant supply from Earth, these ships will be outfitted with the most advanced cryogenic technology available at the time of program activation. The three ships will then begin a course to the nearest planet capable of sustaining life as we know it, GJ 1132b orbiting red dwarf Gliese 1132.
Ronan was the first to look up in the cabin. He unbuckled his arms and let them float weightlessly in the lack of gravity for a moment until another boy about Ronan’s age across the aisle looked up as well.
“171,427 years.” said the boy quietly.
“Which ship do your orders say?”
Ronan scanned the first couple of pages until he found the name.
“USS Terra Nova.”
Once it was clear the boy didn’t want to talk further Ronan flipped ahead in his orders.
NASA cryogenic technology does not completely stop the aging process. Approximately 1 year of age will pass for every 25,000 years of cryogenic sleep in young teens, however, this effect increases in older subjects making cryogenic travel impossible for personnel over the age of 16. This means experienced personnel will be unable to accompany LTSS crews, necessitating artificial intelligence to guide colonization efforts.
The next sentence was the cause of the cabin’s silence.
Additionally, it is predicted that only 15% of subjects will survive long term stasis on the scale LTSS requires.
85% chance of death, 15% chance of waking up. None of them had signed up for this.
The red light faded into black as the docking station came into view. Three massive ships were docked, reflecting the dancing orange light of the Earth below. Each ship was long, with slanted edges and a command spire near the back. Every square inch seemed to bristle with sensor arrays and what Ronan assumed were missile batteries and launch bays. “Ironic, weapons delivering us from weapons.” thought Ronan as their pod slowly drifted closer to a docking arm jutting off the station.
He looked out into the black and could make out the tiny glints of hundreds of shuttles approaching the station. After a while the shuttle slowed and docking clamps held it in place. A blue light appeared in the front of the cabin, illuminating their faces and equipment in pale light and long shadows.
“Hello, I am Nora,” said a voice through the cabin’s intercom, “Your commanding officer.”
A pale silhouette of a person appeared in the blue light, the closest NORAD could get to the holographic projection.
“I trust you have all reviewed your orders and understand the gravity of our situation. Once you disembark the shuttle you will report to your assigned ship and await directions to cryogenic stasis facilities.”
The silhouette faded and the airlock slid open. Red lights began to blink as the recruits unbuckled themselves. As Ronan stood up he realized that gravity had returned to the shuttle. He figured the station was spinning to create the effect and simply picked up his pack and walked out into the hallway. Green lights sped to the right across the wall, so Ronan followed their direction. Looking down the long hallway, he could only see so far before the curve of the floor up obscured his view.
The somber procession followed the lights through several turns in the halls before reaching an elevator large enough to accommodate them all. Once they were all inside it accelerated up, past windows that showed the bow of one of the three massive ships. Once the elevator stopped the door opened to another appearance of the hologram.
“Please split yourselves by ship assignment, USS Serenity please proceed to your left, USS Redemption to the right, and USS Terra Nova please proceed forward.
Half the group walked left, half walked right. Ronan was left stranded, the only one walking forward. The pale blue silhouette moved with him down the corridor.
“I didn't realize only one of your group was assigned to the Terra Nova. I am required to form a personal connection with my crew before entering cryo-sleep, so I must ask you a few questions.”
“Why don’t you save your time and wait until you see who survives to make a personal connection,” Ronan said in spite.
“I will remind you that I am still your commanding officer regardless of the fact I am an artificial intelligence.”
The AI waited for a response, but when none came launched into it’s questioning.
“Do you have living relatives?”
“I doubt it.”
“Why did you volunteer for LTSS assignment?”
“Have you spent time in orbit before?”
This continued until Ronan reached a large airlock, he assumed to one of the ships.
“One final question Mr. Clark. Are you scared?”
A long pause followed as he stood in front of the airlock.
“Aren’t you?” Ronan asked back.
“Your cryogenics unit is on L deck, section C, pod 782.”
The silhouette faded and was silent.
The airlock slid open and Ronan walked in without looking back. The ship was cold and dim, but the same familiar lights guided him through the never ending corridors for what felt like hours before he finally arrived at the pod the AI had specified.
Tubes of liquid, monitoring stations, and cold metal filled the room as he walked in. An automated voice unlike the AI filled the room.
“Please lay down in the stasis pod Mr. Clark.”
Ronan did as the voice said.
“Date of cryogenic initialization: January 1, 2195. Date of arrival: May 7, 173622.”
The lid of the pod closed and sealed around Ronan and the voice asked it’s final question.
“Please confirm cryogenic initialization.”
Ronan knew that if he thought about the question for too long he would begin to second guess himself, so he quickly responded.
The air around him began to cool as the room faded into dark.
“Sweet dreams.” Said the voice in the distance.
Ronan felt oddly calm as the cold seeped into his blood. Would he even dream at all? What if he awoke and the ship wasn’t at GJ 1132b? What if the planet couldn’t be colonized?
Would he even wake up?