Life Among the Stars @kmckennabrown
Chapter 2

Emmett sprints down a row of hibernation pods, his heart pounding. He slides to a stop in front of his empty pod. Emmett fusses with the controls, pressing buttons. But the screen just reads "PASSENGER DISCHARGED." Crouching, he pulls at the pod's canopy, trying to open it with his hands. It doesn't budge.

"I'm supposed to be in there!" he shouts.

Emmett trudges between rows of sleeping passengers to the aft end of the huge Hibernation Bay. There he finds a hatch labeled "Crew Hibernation Facility." Emmett opens it eagerly - and finds another armored hatch with a small porthole. Labels read "Firewall" and "Secure Access Area." Emmett presses the switch. No result. He peers through the porthole. Inside, the entire crew of the starship stands sleeping.

After he makes his way to the Grand Concourse, he finds himself standing at another Infomat.

"How do I make a phone call?" he asks.

"Your cabin telephone…" the response starts.

"No. Long distance. How do I send a message to Earth?" he asks.

"Interstellar messages are sent by laser array. Speak to the Duty Officer in the Comm Center." A map to the Comm Center is displayed on the screen. "Please note that interstellar messaging is an expensive service."

Emmett begins to walk away, throwing the phrase "bite me," over his shoulder to the robot.

"Happy to help!" the Infomat replies, not understanding the tone in his voice.

Following the directions from the Infomat's map, Emmett makes his way to the Comm Center. There are two booths for passengers to use. Emmett sits at one of them and swipes his shipcard. The communications booth comes to life.

"Planet and connection?"

"Earth. The HomeStead Company."

"There are thirty thousand numbers listed under 'HomeStead Company.' What number?" At this, Emmett rakes his hand through his hair and lets out a frustrated sigh.

"I don't know. I'm emigrating to Homestead II. I have an emergency."

"Division of Colonial Affairs, Homestead II Program. I have a Customer Help Line."

"Sounds about right." As soon as he says this the booth's camera zooms in on his face. A microphone extends towards his mouth and a red recording light comes on.

"Begin message," the booth prompts. Emmett is suddenly a deer in headlights, but quickly collects himself.

"Hi. I'm Emmett McCarty. I'm a passenger on the Avalon. Something went wrong with my hibernation pod and I woke up too soon. Ninety years too soon. I can't get back to sleep. Nobody else is awake." His panic starts to grow and you can see it on his face. "If I don't figure something out, I'm going to die of old age before we get to Homestead II. So help me out here." He takes a deep calming breath, trying to reign in his panicked emotions. "I'll keep trying to fix this. Maybe I missed something simple. But I could use a hand. Thanks." Once he is done speaking, he presses the send button and sits back in his chair.

"Message sent," the booth confirms.

"Outstanding!"

"Message will arrive in nineteen years."

"Say what?" The shock in his voice was palpable.

"Earliest possible reply in fifty-five years," the booth continued in its matter of fact tone, taking no note of the distress that Emmett was in.

"No."

"We are nineteen light years from Earth. By the time your message arrives, we will be thirty-six light- years from Earth. We apologize for the delay."

"Fifty-five years." The devastation in his voice rings clear.

"That will be six thousand dollars."


Later, Emmett walks across the Grand Concourse like a sleepwalker, dressed in his robe and slippers. He still looks shell-shocked but makes his way to the Concourse Bar. It has black leather stools along a marble bartop. As he touches the bartop, a man swings up behind the bar, almost as if mounted on a hinge. The man is wearing a bartender's uniform and seems handsome, if not eerily perfect. The sudden arrival makes Emmett jump out of his skin.

"What can I get you?" the man asks Emmett.

"I thought I was the only one awake!" he exclaims.

"I doubt it. It's the middle of the afternoon. Are you drinking or not?" He produces a cloth and polishes the bartop. In a startling movement, he glides the length of the bar, polishing all the way, and glides back as if on roller skates. Emmett steps up on the foot rail and peers behind the bar. The man's body stops at the waist and he is mounted on rails, built into the bar.

"You're a robot," Emmett says, suddenly deflated.

"Android, technically. Edward's the name."

"I'm Emmett." He takes a seat on one of the barstools. Edward shakes his hand.

"Pleased to meet you. What'll it be?"

"Whiskey, neat."

Edward pours and Emmett knocks the drink back. He points to the empty glass while his eyes water. Edward pours another. Emmett takes a big swallow and sets the glass down half-full.

"Edward, how much do you know about the ship?"

"I don't know. I know some things."

"What do I do if my hibernation pod malfunctions?"

"Impossible. Hibernation pods are fail-safe."

"Yeah, well, I woke up early."

"Can't happen."

"How long until we get to Homestead II?" Emmett challenges?

"Ninety years or so."

"And when are all of us passengers supposed to wake up?"

"Not until the last two months."

"So how can I be sitting here with ninety years to go?" Edward's eyes take on a faraway look as he processes this information. His head twitches.

"It's not possible for you to be here." He smiles as if he's solved the problem.

"But I am," Emmett sighs.

"Sorry, Emmett. My specialty is cocktails and conversation. Take your fancy trick questions to one of those Infomats. They think they know everything."

"Edward, I'm in trouble. I'm screwed. I am completely, ridiculously screwed."

"Lots of self-pity."

"Self-pity? I'm going to die of old age on this ship!"

"Emmett, we all die. Even androids end up on the scrap heap. It's not dying that matters, it's living. This is your life. Are you going to live it or lie down and die?" Emmett shakes his head in surrender.

"What do I owe you?"

"Emmett, the booze is on the house."


Emmett wakes up and rolls out of bed, remembering the stars he had seen last night from the observation deck. He shuffles into the shower. Once dressed he makes his way to the cafeteria.

The cafeteria is filled with machines that offer food and drink in dizzying variety. Each machine has a card slot and a screen displaying its menu. Emmett swipes his shipcard at a coffee machine. It offers sixteen kinds of coffee, from a simple cup of joe to the "Mocha Cappuccino Extreme." He decides to try the best of the lot and presses the button.

"Sorry. The Mocha Cappuccino Extreme is reserved for gold-class passengers. Please select another item," the coffee machine chirps. Emmett presses one button after another, denied each time. The machine continues to say, "Sorry… sorry… sorry…" Emmett presses the final button when finally it says, "Large coffee."

"Are you serious?"

"Please enjoy."


Emmett makes his way up in the elevator, sipping his coffee and eating an egg sandwich. The doors open at the Command Deck. A sign reads "Crew Area - No Passengers Beyond This Point," but Emmett just breezes past the sign. He prowls the floor, opening doors. He finds a room marked "Emergency Gear" and opens it eagerly. It's full of space suits and oxygen tanks. He peers into a red "Hazard" cabinet, finding fire extinguishers, an axe, an epoxy foamer for atmosphere leaks - all behind glass. He opens another door marked "Emergency Manuals" and smiles. There is shelf after shelf of waterproof, fireproof technical manuals. Emmett pulls a manual labeled "Hibernation Systems" out.

He makes his way back down into the ship, coming to Subdeck B. It is a cavernous cargo hold. He drives a forklift down the aisle, scanning the containers for numbers. He finds a container labeled "Passenger #1498 - Emmett McCarty" and uses the forklift to pull it from the rack. Once on the floor, he opens it to reveal his belongings. There are cartons inside marked "Sports," "Clothes," or "Kitchen Stuff." Amidst these, there is a heavy-duty toolbox. Emmett hauls it out and leaves the rest of the container there as he makes his way back to the Hibernation Bay.

Once there, he goes to his empty hibernation pod. He sits in front of it with his toolbox beside him, the Hibernation Systems manual lies open. Emmett tinkers with the electronics inside his pod, making it hum to life. Its data screen flickers with information as mysterious whirs and thunks sound. The canopy opens and Emmett bounces to his feet elated. He strips off his shirt and scrambles in, the canopy closing over him. He assumes the position, his back against the backrest, waiting for the pod to put him back to sleep. Nothing happens. He pokes at the ports where the sensors and intravenous lines used to protrude. He shakes the machine before giving up. It's not working, but now he's trapped inside the pod. He pushes at the canopy, but it's locked shut. He pounds on the glass with no effect.

Finally he loses it, shouting and stamping, hammering and raging - all muffled behind glass. Exhausted, he sinks to the floor of the pod, staring out at his tools and his manual, his discarded shirt. Then out of the corner of his eye he notices the emergency release handle down by the floor. He pulls it, and the canopy pops open. Once he is back outside the pod, he sees that the display screen blinks again and goes back to its original message: "PASSENGER DISCHARGED."

Emmett makes his way out of the Hibernation Bay and goes back to where the Crew rest in their pods. He looks through the porthole at the sleeping crew before he attempts to swipe his shipcard through the door switch.

"Access Denied."

He pokes at the keypad.

"Access Denied."

Emmett opens his toolbox, selects a tool and starts to remove the keypad's cover plate.


Three Weeks Later

Emmett works on the door to the Crew's Hibernation Facility with an industrial laser cutter, sparks flying. He's drenched in sweat, mussed and unshaven. He lifts the goggles and inspects the door. The laser cutter has barely marked the surface. The door's a mess, its switch hanging on wires with pry marks around the latch. There are gouges around the window, failed drill holes, and even dents left by an axe, but the door stands firm. Emmett lets the laser cutter fall. It joins a scrapyard of tools left on the floor, consisting of the sledgehammer, jackhammer, drill, crowbar, and axe.

Back in the Hibernation Bay, Emmett's pod is also surrounded by debris - tools and cables, electronic instruments, a diagnostic laptop. He walks by it without so much as a sideways glance, making his way back to the Grand Concourse and the bar.

Edward stands behind the bar polishing glasses. Emmett sits, sweaty and grimy, a whiskey in front of him.

"I thought I'd figure something out. I thought it would just come to me," he says, speech a little slurred after his many drinks.

"Stands to reason."

"But I've tried everything."

"Sometimes you can't catch a break." Emmett gives Edward a thoughtful look.

"I'm your only customer, but you're always polishing a glass."

"Trick of the trade. Makes people nervous when a bartender just stands there."

"Okay. Lay some bartender wisdom on me. I'm lost in space here." Edward polishes the bar while he thinks that one over.

"You're not where you want to be. You feel like you're supposed to be somewhere else. Right?"

"You said it," Emmett sighs.

"Well, here's the thing. Say you could snap your fingers and be wherever you wanted to be. Back on Earth, or on Homestead II."

"Okay."

"I'll bet even if you got your wish, you'd still feel this way. Not in the right place. Supposed to be somewhere else. That's not a crisis, it's the human condition." Emmett takes a moment to consider what Edward said.

"That's not me," he argued.

"Well, maybe not. The point is, you can't get so wrapped up in where you'd rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are."

"What are you telling me?" Emmett asks.

"It's a big ship. You're always running around banging on things and yelling at the computers. Take a break. Live a little." Emmett spins on his barstool, surveying the Grand Concourse.

"Live a little," he mutters under his breath, pondering the idea.

"That's the spirit."

Emmett gives a shove. He spins faster. He goes to give another shove, but misses and falls off his stool. He stands up and goes to one of the information kiosks, looking at the map of the ship. He skips over the second-class and first-class cabins, before finally finding what he was searching for, the good stuff. Using his finger to look over the palatial suites named for European cities, his finger comes to a stop on the biggest one, the Berlin Suite.


The room is made up on high ceilings, posh furniture and panoramic windows. Suddenly, the door jumps in its frame with a thunk and slides open. Emmett enters, a crowbar in hand. A cargo robot follows him in, carrying his toolbox and suitcase, before it deposits them on the floor.

"The Berlin Suite! Enjoy your luggage!" It leaves the room.

Emmett begins to unpack, stowing clothes in closets and laying out momentos. He pulls a pair of sneakers out of his luggage and takes a change of clothes to the opulent bathroom. In the tub, a robot arm with a water jet washes his back. Once done, he puts on the clothes and sneakers and exits the room once more, heading for Deck Two.

Once there, he finds the gymnasium, taking some time to shoot on the basketball court. He's not bad, and quickly finds a pattern of shoot, rebound, shoot. This lasts for a few hours and then he makes his way to the spa. Here he lies on a massage table wearing a towel. A pair of robot arms emerge from the table and begin to massage him.

After his trip to the spa, he decides to have lunch at the Italian restaurant, Marcelllo's. It is full of cafe tables covered with white tablecloths. Emmett sits perusing a menu when a robotic waiter rolls up the table.

"Let me have the rigatoni alla diabla, with the sauteed spinach and a glass of the Montepulciano."


Emmett is standing in a state-of-the-art game room, inspecting the game "Z Factor!" He swipes his shipcard, and the game starts to speak, sounding like an angry giant.

"Emmett McCarty! Welcome to the cutting edge of gaming! The greatest challenge you will ever know!"

"All right then." He clambers into the cockpit, looking at the holographic display.

"Are you ready to play Z Factor?"

"Yes!"

"Begin!"

The hologram begins to take shape. There is a fortress shining on a hilltop. War machines crawl over a blasted land as letters flash "Level One." Emmett starts to control the warrior character that appears. It rises off the ground on a beam of light - and is immediately torn to pieces by enemy fire.

"You lose! Z Factor reigns supreme!" the game howls.

Later that evening, Emmett finds himself in the movie theater. It is a classic theater with seats for a thousand and a familiar velvet curtain. Cued by his arrival the curtain parts. The film begins as he settles into his seat.


A/N: Hello all! This chapter was a little hard to write at times as I did not want to make it seem as choppy as the script. There were a lot of set changes that work for a movie when you have the visual that don't quite make sense when reading, and so I cut and combined where I could. I hope you enjoy this chapter of the story. I think there should be 14 chapters total when I am finished and I hope to have the rest of the story done soon.

Thanks,

McKenna

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