Chronicles of Chiron: Planetfall | Scene 1

The trick for getting around in a place you don’t belong is confidence. If you act like you belong, no one will question you. (Actually belonging is, of course, much harder.) I know the floor plan of Unity. I know exactly where I need to go and what I need to do when I get there. No one bothers me as I make my way through the ship’s corridors to the lower class berths. I’m traveling light, with just a satchel of essentials and my cane. It is bad enough that I’m adding my weight to this endeavor; I don’t need to drag along a whole suitcase. From what I’ve read from the specs, an extra hundred kilos or so—which is way more than I’m introducing—should still be fine.

As I head down the halls, cane tapping with each step, I cannot help but glance up and down each cross passage. I may have studied the schematics, but this is my first time actually in the ship, and I am enjoying the novel experience. At one such intersection, I briefly spot someone I didn’t expect to ever see again. Nwabudike Morgan is here, which surprises me. My supervisor was very vocal in his complaints about not obtaining a slot on Unity. There should be no last minute matters the division manager would need to check here. Perhaps he worked out a deal for himself in the final hour? Or maybe he is taking his chances stowing away. I can’t blame him for that; that’s what I’m doing.

A klaxon goes off, followed by announcements of impending launch procedures, so I continue onwards. The lower class berths have backup cryopods interspersed among them. My destination is one of those modules. The ship can afford one fewer backup pod. Goodness knows I have assured many a nervous client about how safe this whole operation will be.

I wait until the technician leaves my target room and then enter it myself. Two of the pods are occupied; two are empty. I run through as much of the initial steps of the preparation checklist as I can while still outside the unit. I know the instructions backwards and forwards, having reviewed them with those same nervous clients. The pod looks totally fine as far as I can tell. I place my cane inside and then lay down next to it, reaching out to tap the last few buttons needed. Then the lid descends, the injections start, and I am on my way to the stars.

* * *

Cleve’s first destination aboard Unity is the Santiago family’s luxury stateroom. He doesn’t really know what the technicians are doing as they prep each pod and load each Santiago in, but he watches them with a sharp eye, making sure they go through their checklists. And more importantly, making sure they know that someone is paying attention. His scowl may make them more nervous, but it is all he can do to protect his charges in this environment. He will be far more useful once they are on the ground, dealing with the wilds of Chiron. Everything here looks aboveboard, which is reassuring. Cleve is not at his most comfortable in big metal boxes like this one (though the Santiago suite has some nice wood paneling). He would rather be outside under the big sky, surrounded by nature—which presents the kind of challenges he is properly prepared for.

The Santiago family has a handful of members present, including some young adults. From what Cleve understands, not many kids are undertaking the hundred-year journey to Chiron, but the Santiago family has some. They are all quite excited as they stow their gear beneath their pods and climb in. Finally, Pablo Santiago turns to Cleve and offers a hand, thanking him again for taking the security position. Pablo instructs Cleve to give a call as soon as he wakes up on the “other side” so that they can meet up again. Cleve’s own berth is elsewhere on Unity, somewhere not nearly so fancy as this. He holds his ground until the last moment though. Only once the Santiago patriarch is safely in his pod does Cleve head off to find his own. 

It is farther away than he expected, in an area of the ship so functional-looking that it might be part of the maintenance section. Although there is a cold sterility to this environment, Cleve can at least appreciate that each component here is useful. And it does have a room of cryopods, so Cleve must be in the right place. A tech greets him as he enters and gestures him towards a pod. Cleve shrugs his rucksack off his back and heaves it into the storage bin below. His most important possessions stay with him, though. His cargo pants have plenty of pocket space for survival basics, and the pod has room for his rifle and wide-brimmed hat as well as his person.

Cleve turns his scowl of attention upon the tech racing through his pod’s checklist. After all, a checklist is only as good as the person following it. There is a moment when the tech gets distracted and then has to refind their place on the list. Cleve grumbles about not wanting to accidentally wake up in the middle of a hundred-year journey. Or late either, for that matter. The tech insists that everything is in order, saying, “You’re not going to wake up late. It’s all been very well tested.” They provide instructions for where to gather aboard the ship once Cleve has awoken at landing. “When you wake up, you might be groggy. Things might not make perfect sense at first; that’s okay,” they assure him. Cleve takes them at their word but pulls out his well-worn journal to jot down directions to the muster point. He isn’t confident that he’ll be able to remember them on his own for a hundred years.

The tech’s tone is perfunctory; they have given this same assuring speech thousands of times. Indeed, they probably delivered it to the one person already loaded into a pod in this room. Cleve observes that two other pods here are still empty, and the tech tells him that not all the pods in this room are intended to be filled. That information takes Cleve by surprise; all the pods in this room look the same as his standard-issue one. Seeing concern flash in his eyes, the tech explains, “We need to have a certain number of backup pods just in case something happens. Don’t worry about that part. We’ve accounted for it all. There won’t be any issues along the journey. Rest well. And have a safe trip.”

In the moments between when his pod closes and when sleep overtakes him, Cleve draws a small line with his pencil across where the lid and the lip meet. The news about the backup pods has made him suspicious rather than reassuring him. Another person might prefer to be blissfully ignorant about any such problems during transit, but not Cleve. If he gets moved to a different pod while asleep, he wants know. These are his last thoughts as the cryoserums enter his bloodstream.