Life Among the Stars @kmckennabrown
Chapter 1

So guys, welcome to my new story: Life Among The Stars! This is just the first chapter, and I would like to know what you think about it before I continue with the rest. Not really sure how long it will end up being chapter wise, but I just ended this first chapter where it felt natural to do so.

Hope you enjoy,

KelseaMBrown


1.

The emptiness of deep space is quiet. A starship cuts through the night; a gleaming white cruiser that makes a sound barely heard by the ear. The ship itself is massive, with multiple decks and observation domes. Across the hull the emblazoned name shines, Avalon, a HomeStead Company Starship. The ship flashes through a nebula, the only thing betraying the ship's dizzying speed is the space-dust sparkles as it whips over the hull. The nebula boils in the ship's wake. The Avalon rockets on, spotless and beautiful.

Inside the ship it is much the same, crisp and modern. The grand concourse is a wide plaza, with a lofty atrium that cuts through seven decks, creating tiers of promenades framing a vast skylight. However, the promenades are empty, chairs unoccupied. The only movement the beetle-like robots vacuuming the carpets and waxing the the floors.

This picture continues as we move to see the rest of the ship. The cafeteria's ultra-modern and gleaming tables, hundreds of them, all stand empty. The forward observation deck is completely deserted as well, a robot on spindly legs washes the glass of the star-filled windows.

Upon looking into the hibernation bay, this changes. There are endless corridors lined with vertical glass tubes. Inside each tube stands a passenger. Their eyes are closed by sleep and if they're breathing you can't tell by looking. They sleep on their feet, leaning against padded supports, straps securing them in place with sensors adhered to their skin. They all wear shorts and tank tops with HomeStead Company logos. Upon closer look, you will not see children or senior citizens. Every passenger is a man or woman of every ethnicity in the prime of their lives.

One man in particular stands out among the rest. Emmett McCarty, 38. He is sound asleep like the rest of his fellow passengers. A small display on his pod reads:

EMMETT MCCARTY

Rate 2 Mechanical Engineer

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Age: 38

Blood Type: A+

Passenger Class: Silver

Fare: One-Way

Suddenly a deep boom sounds in the distance. Echoes roll down the corridors and the lights wink on in Emmett's hibernation pod. The machinery hums to life as machines beep and chatter. Medical data fills the pod's screen. His temperature rises and his heart begins to beat. He takes a breath and opens his eyes, groggy, blinking, seeing nothing. The backrest behind him converts into a recliner, lowering him into a seated position. The sensors on his skin drop off and snake back into the pod's machinery. A video screen descends before Emmett's eyes. The image is that of a beautiful stewardess, beaming at the camera. She is inhumanly perfect, a computer-generated image.

"Good Morning, Emmett!" the image says.

"What the…" He is still very disoriented.

"Don't worry, Emmett. It's normal to feel confused. You've just spent a hundred and twenty years in suspended animation." She makes it sound sexy, but he scowls and rubs his eyes. The screen then moves to an animation of happy people going to sleep in tubes in a hospital before the tubes are loaded into a spaceship.

"You're a passenger on the Starships Avalon - a HomeStead Company Starship. We've nearly completed the 120-year flight from Earth to your new home - the colony world of HomeStead II. Congratulations!"

The image changes as the Avalon leaves a skyscraper-covered Earth and soars through space to a lush green HomeStead II.

"Oh yeah," Emmett says, remembering.

"The Avalon is on final approach. For the next two months, you'll enjoy luxury space travel. Food. Fun. New friends." The ship's lavish amenities are shown on screen: fine dining, sports facilities, shops, all swarming with happy passengers. "Then you'll start your new life on HomeStead II. Back to basics. A fresh start. Room to grow." The screen starts to show publicity shots of HomeStead II: mountains, forests, beaches, settlements ringed by farmland.

"Your wake-up capsules and nutrient juice will help you recover from hibernation!" Pills rattle into a dish and a glass of pink juice appears. He takes the pills and gulps the juice with a grimace. Emmett's backrest eases him onto his feet. A drawer pops open, revealing a HomeStead Company bathrobe and slippers.

"Make yourself comfortable in your complimentary robe and slippers." Emmett slides them on.

"Your ShipCard is your key to the starship. Don't lose it!" The pod produces Emmett's ShipCard, which is just a plastic ID card on a lanyard. He hangs it around his neck.

"Now you're ready to go to your cabin. Make yourself at home! Enjoy the rest of your voyage, Emmett!"

"Right," he says. He steps out of his pod into the corridor. All the other pods are closed, the people inside still asleep. A look of concern crosses Emmett's face.

"Emmett, your cabin is this way." The screen flips around to face him and the video stewardess points down the corridor. "Take Elevator D to deck seven. Your cabin number is on your ShipCard."

"Thanks." He shuffles down the corridor in his slippers, rubbing his face, and having trouble keeping his eyes open. Behind him, his pod closes up. Its screen reads PASSENGER DISCHARGED.

He continues walking, finding a bank of elevators. As he approaches, the indicators blink on and an elevator opens, spilling light. He steps inside, and muzak begins to play. He goes to deck seven and finds a corridor lined with doors, a cleaning robot vacuuming. The light brightens when he enters the hallway and the cleaning robot rolls past him.

"Hello, Passenger."

"Hello, robot," Emmett says startled. He follows the wall markings to his cabin and lets himself in. It is cozy, but small, having only a bed, a desk, and an armchair. There are no windows. A screen lights up and the HomeStead Company theme music plays.

"Welcome to your cabin, Emmett! Your home until we make landfall," a voice announces. Emmett ignores it, poking around and opening drawers. The voice continues anyway. "Over the next two months, you'll prepare for your new life on HomeStead II." He ducks his head into the tiny bathroom, where another video screen is playing the presentation, this one smaller.

"Passengers are organized into Learning Groups for orientation. You've been assigned to Learning Group… thirty-eight! Don't forget!" On the screen it displays Learning Group 38.

Emmett hears the doorbell ring and opens the door eagerly, only to deflate. No one there. He looks down and finds a waist-high cargo robot peering up at him with goggle eyes. It is carrying two suitcases and a duffel bag.

"Passenger Emmett McCarty?" the robot asks.

"Yeah," he replies

"Your luggage, Passenger Emmett. Swipe your ShipCard to confirm." Emmett swipes his card through a slot on top of the robot, which then scoots inside and deposits his luggage bags on the floor.

"Enjoy your luggage!"

"Thanks."

"Thank you, Passenger Emmett!" The robot zips out the door. Emmett looks up and down the corridor, but the receding robot is the only sign of life, and he steps back inside.

"Your group's orientation starts in forty-five minutes. Join them in Conference Room Twenty on Deck One. Don't forget!" The bodiless voice breaks through the silence once more.

Emmett goes down and walks along the Deck Four Shopping District in his robe and slippers. The storefront signs flicker to life as he passes and a dry fountain gushes water at his approach. When he gets to Deck One and enters Conference Room Twenty he finds forty chairs around a big table and a large screen on the wall. It shows a digital instructor, a handsome woman of middle age. He walks in and the door slides closed behind him.

"Hello, Passengers. Will you all please take a seat," the instructor starts. Emmett looks around and he is the only one there. He sits.

"Earth is a prosperous planet," the instructor begins. "The cradle of civilization. A world with a long, proud history. But for many, it's also overpopulated. Over-priced. Overrated. Overrun." Behind the instructor, video clips of Earth's urban sprawl: an endless gleaming metropolis glittering with traffic.

"Can I just…" Emmett tries to interrupt, raising his hand.

"No questions until the end, please," the instructor scolds.

"Wait. Where are all the other…"

"The Colonies offer an alternative. A better way of life." The screen fills with shots of HomeStead II: aerial footage of mountains, beaches, beautiful garden cities. "And none is more beautiful than HomeStead II, the Jewel of the Occupied Worlds."

An hour later, Emmett sits wearily, chin propped on his hand. The instructor chatters on, with inspiring footage of HomeStead II playing.

"... thriving job markets in mining, farming and manufacturing. An explosion in the cultural arts. And if you long for the life less civilized, you can apply for a pioneer permit and seek your fortune in the wild." There is a large pause. "Any questions?"

"Where IS everybody?!" Emmett explodes. The instructor pauses and the question seems to confuse her.

"We're all on the Starship Avalon. Five thousand passengers and fifty-eight crew members."

"But I'm the only one awake."

"No all the passengers wake up at the same time."

"Then something's wrong with the other hibernation pods."

"Hibernation pods are fail-safe."

"So why am I the only one here?"

"I'm sorry. I don't understand your question."

On the Grand Concourse, Emmett finds an Infomat, an information kiosk. A banner scrolls across the screen: ASK ME A QUESTION! He taps on the screen, bringing it to life.

"Hellp! What's your question?" it asks cheerfully.

"I need to talk to a person. A real live person," Emmett says.

"What sort of person? Personal trainer? Travel planner? Therapist?"

"Someone in charge."

"The Ship Steward handles passenger affairs. You can find him in his office on the Service Deck." The Infomat screen displays a map, with a dotted line showing Emmett how to get there.

"Thank you."

"Happy to help!"

As Emmett appears around the corner of the Service Deck, the lights brighten and the ventilation kicks up a notch. He finds a door marked SHIP STEWARD. Inside the lights flash on as Emmett enters revealing an office in mothballs. Empty chairs, barren desks.

"Not good," he says.

In the elevator lobby Emmett finds another Infomat.

"Hello! What's your quest…"

"Who's flying the ship?" Emmett interrupts.

"The bridge crew includes the Captain, the Pilot, the Chief Navigator…"

"The Captain. I want to talk to the Captain."

"The Captain rarely handles passenger queries directly."

"Emergency, okay? Where is he?"

"The Captain is usually found on the Bridge, on the Command Deck." On screen a map is displayed once more, showing the way to the Bridge with a dotted line. Emmett marches off.

Emmett finds the door to the Bridge. He opens it eagerly, only to find a second door behind it, an armored hatch labeled FIREWALL and SECURE ACCESS AREA. A porthole of thick glass gives a narrow view of the Bridge. It's deserted. Instrument lights gleam in the dark. He pounds on the hatch.

"Come on! What the hell is happening?"

Emmett runs past the deserted restaurants, lounges and shops of the Cafe Courtyard on Deck Three.

"Hello? Hello!" he calls, panic in his voice.

The Celestial Promenade is the highest on the ship, windows on all sides. The huge skylight just overhead. It's almost like being outside. The atrium plunges seven stories to the Concourse below.

"Hello!" It's an echoing shout.

A sound behind him makes him spin, but it's just a window washer, a robot with long spindly limbs. It moves past Emmett, polishing windows. Oblivious. A sign catches his attention: "OBSERVATORY- Your Place In the Universe." He enters the planetarium of the future: theater seats facing a holographic "stage." The hologram has an image of the starship hanging in space. There is glowing text that reads "Look through the eyes of the Starship Avalon!" He goes to the control podium and touches the screen.

"What can I show you?" The voice is deep.

"We're supposed to land pretty soon, but it looks like I'm the only one awake. Is that normal?" Emmett asked.

"I don't understand. What can I show you?"

"Show me HomeStead II," Emmett commanded. The hologram showed the planet HomeStead II, Earth's twin sister.

"HomeStead II is the fourth planet in the Bhatki system."

"Right. And how soon are we landing?"

"Approximately ninety years."

"What?"

"We land on HomeStead II in ninety years, three weeks, and one day."

"No. How long ago did we leave Earth?"

"Approximately thirty years ago." Emmett stares at the hologram in horrified realization.

"I woke up too soon."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I."


Okay, so that is the first chapter. Please review and tell me what you think! Don't forget to follow the other "story" on my profile as that is where the bigger notes from me will be at, along with any big updates in my life that could disturb story updating time. After I finish this story, I will try and rework Sucked Into Twilight from my other account (Definitely being renamed, btw), as well as some other ideas I had floating around. Hope you all stick with me on this crazy ride.

Thank you for taking the time to read this story,

KelseaMBrown

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