Part One: Stasis
The cool voice interrupts my sleep.
I moan and press my face into the pillow. The level, metallic voice, so neatly spacing apart the syllables, cuts through my dreams more efficiently than a hot knife goes through butter.
I won't be falling back asleep now. After five years aboard the Atlant, I must be permanently programmed to snap awake as soon as the system begins to guillotine my name into two equal parts.
Most annoying part is: it won't stop. Not until I am up and functioning at an acceptable percentage of awareness.
Why did my parents have to choose such a ridiculously monotone voice for our Internal Systems? The voice, upon which my mother lovingly bestowed the name Mina, sounds so unimpressed you think we were boring her half to death.
Really it doesn't even sound like she's saying "Cora" but "Co-rah. Co-rah." over and over until I am forced to react out of sheer irritation.
"Cora. Cora. Cora."
"Fine!" I growl, swinging myself into an upright position. "I'm up. I'm up!"
I'd be dead before I ever say it out loud but, it's a pretty efficient alarm system.
"Good morning Cora."
Co-rah. The syllabic void is all the more evident now that I am awake.
"Cora you have had a total of five hours forty three minutes logged sleeping time. Three point five hours of those were active sleep. Two point..." The voice issues flatly but precisely from above my head. I ignore the automated blather.
Mina, I have decided, is a lot more tolerable after coffee. Even more so when I remember to disengage to comms systems before sleep.
As my feet hit the floor soft purple lights flicker on. My room is very small, the shiny sterile white surfaces interrupted by the few personal items I was allowed to bring with me like my photos, a small stuffed owl shoved into a compartment "relieved" of its front panel to create an open nook (Mina did not like this "misuse of AtCorp property" one bit) and my collection of colored pencils. It bugs me a little that I couldn't bring any books.
"But why?" A spindly technician from AtCorp had asked, momentarily distracted from clipboard and the task of tallying up the personal belongings we'd be taking with us. "Why would you need them? I mean...we have digitized the entire contents of the best libraries on and off planet. The Great British Library, The New York Public Library, The National Library in Minsk! Stockholm! Vienna! Not to mention our very own Morgan Institution Library and the Saturn Six..."
But I didn't want the Saturn Six or the Great Minsk Library or whatever else it was digital and downloaded for my convenience. I wanted my books. That which was familiar to me.
I learnt very quickly that my wants and that which AtCorp wants are two entirely different things.
Stretching I hop out of bed and cross the three steps to my shower, which is nothing more than a small tube like compartment located directly across from my bunk.
The door slides shut cutting off the Mina's monotone voice and I sigh appreciatively as the hot water hits my body. This doesn't last long. There's a squooshing sound as I am soaped down, then almost immediately the hot water is back on to rise me off. Before I know it I am blasted with hot air to dry off. No need for the luxury of towels on the Atlant!
There is a gurgle and sucking noise as every molecule of water is sucked into reprocessing, either via the drainage system or by the air filtration units. As I step out the shower's cylindrical door slides back into place with a small click.
I reach automatically for my improvised shelf and the hairbrush to begin untangling the knot that is my shoulder length brown hair. The drying tube does not go easy on it.
"I don't understand why you just don't cut it Cora!" My mother said five years ago, before we boarded the Atlant.
"Really, the regulation cut is not that bad. Look how handsome your father looks!"
"Be reasonable." My father added trying to use his calm brand of logic to dissuade me. "Life on the Atlant will be so much easier if it is out of the way."
My parents had tried to appeal to my better nature. Sitting across from me back at our residence at the Morgan Institution, a week before departure, both of them negotiating ferociously whilst unconsciously stroking their still unfamiliar buzz cuts. Golden hair so short it looked as if they had gained softly glowing halos, in the place of where there everyday hair had once been.
I simply refused.
It was bad enough that AtCorp was taking my home, my friends, my books, even dog for eight years. They would not get my hair.
I almost couldn't believe it when a large, fussy, brief-case-toting representative was sent down from the corporation HQ to conciliate the problem eleven year old.
"Ah... You will agree, of course." he simpered "An important policy. I'm sure you'll come to see... If disregarded our technicians estimate we will have to change the drain filtration on her private shower unit regularly which is costly... not to mention build up in the ducts..."
He went on for quite a while. When he was finally done talking he must have expected me to agree or at the very least, say something. Instead I said nothing, crossed my arms and frowned at him.
My parents, who had sat on either side of me, began to blush. Their discomfort particularly evident now that there was no hair to disguise the blood rush across their heads.
No one said anything. Not for a long while.
The fussy representative kept shooting glances at my parents, alternating between picking at the skin from chewed up fingernails or fidgeting with the papers on his desk. I guess he was hoping they would jump in at some point and support him.
They never did.
I think it's a testament to how much AtCorp wanted my parents, certainly not out of any consideration for my feelings, that made him acquiesce in the end.
"Perhaps... Perhaps in this case we can make an exception. AtCorp is very enthusiastic... very eager to have your parents come work with us young lady... We won't let such a small hick-up throw things into disarray... no matter how selfish..."
I was halfway out my seat to tell this man exactly where AtCorp could shove their policy, when father's firm hand pressed me back down into my seat. Wanting to be rid of the problem as quickly as possible extended his hand in goodbye. Which is when he said:
"Excellent. I'm glad this issue has been resolved. You'll thank everyone at FatCorp for us, won't you?"
The rep who had been shuffling papers into his briefcase, whilst shooting me murderous looks, froze.
"Eh?" He choked, piggy eyes darting from my fathers face to mine, as if not entirely sure what he had heard.
My father just gave him a winning smile, shook his hand as he escorted to the door where he scuttled away muttering under his breath.
And that was that.
Have I mentioned how much I love my dad?
With my hair untangled and pinned neatly on top of my head I turn to my closet (also tiny) which clicks open, automatically popping forwards a suit.
I may have momentarily forgotten about Mina but she is attentive as ever.
"Thanks Mina." I mumble.
"You are welcome. Co-rah."
I don't know why I do that. Mina's a computer. I don't need to thank her, talk to her or argue with her in the mornings. But I do all these and more. I think it has something to do with the shortage of people on board to carry out conversations with.
I pull on the suit noticing its the dark blue today, which means I must be scheduled for mechanics after class. Suits come in different colors and I can usually tell what is on my schedule by the color I have been assigned in the morning.
Sterile white means I'm assisting my mother, pearly grey if helping out my father, black (one of my favorites) means I'm descending to the planet's surface. I don't get to wear black very often.
Clipping the last button into place I check my reflection to make sure the tiny lights in the collar have gone active. I take in the rest of me and consider that this "suit" looks nothing like a suit does on earth.
In truth its actually closer to a leotard. Skin tight with full length pants and sleeves, the suit is made of a firm, dense fabric I had never seen before. It's surprisingly light considering AtCorp has somehow managed to include a full bio-monitoring permanently up linked to Mina, which relays our vital signs back to the Morgan Institution and AtCorp on Earth.
I remember my parents flipping out during mission orientation when the scientists talked us through the particulars of our wardrobe. I couldn't see the big deal. When I expressed this opinion I received withering looks and was told to be respectful and pay attention because even if I was too young to appreciate the science I should, at least, be appreciative how expensive was to fabricate an individual suit alone.
Curious my mother had asked how much it cost to make an individual "bio suit".
I didn't hear the answer but remember her expression. Her face went as white as the fabric she held in stunned hands. My father, disbelieving, laughed convinced he had misunderstood and which forced the technician to repeat himself. At that point both of them snapped at me to pay serious attention.
Turns out that dressing three people for eight years of space travel is serious business. I guess it didn't help matters that one of the passengers was in the midst of a growth spurt. A growth spurt which, judging by the height of her parents, would present quite literally a wealth of problems.
All things considered the bio suits must have been a drop in the bucket compared to the other expenses such as ship, navigation systems, research equipment... even the state of the art IS so lovingly christened Mina.
But if a company is prepared to spend that much money on clothes... it makes me wonder what, exactly, is the size of the AtCorp bucket?