My awakening was a gentle one. I opened my eyes and coughed the liquid from my lungs, clearing my airways for the artificial air pumped into the Hibernation Chamber. I crawled from my pod and collapsed on the floor like a newborn pup.
After a few moments, I was able to regain my bearings and get to my feet. I systematically checked the other hibernation pods, but my heart sank deeper with each pod I peered into. The passengers’ skin was stuck to their bones like they had been buried in a desert and were unable to decompose. I checked their vitals for confirmation—they had died long ago.
I left the room in search of other life, but after scouring the facility, I realized I was alone. I found the skeleton of a crewmate and took his ID card to enter the off-limits areas searching or an exit. I ambled into a hallway, one with a towering ceiling bathed in darkness, and so wide that its walls were almost unable to be seen.
Overhead was the pulse of electricity, moving through brightly-colored wires. I followed them deeper until they led me to the end of the dark hall. In the blackness was a creature bathed in teal light, held suspended in a tube. Wires penetrated her skin, siphoning the electricity from her body. I placed my palm against the glass, but the electricity was almost painful. The hair on my head began to stand on its ends and my skin tingled. I backed away, but her contorting face gave me a new purpose: I wanted to free her.
I set off, following the wires. The humming electricity led me to another room, where tropical trees stretched towards fluorescent lights hanging overhead, and their leaves danced in t he moist air that was pumped from the vents lining the walls.
My steps fell in time with the pulsing heart of the artificial forest. With each iteration of the pulse, purple light echoed through branches, leaves, trunks. It began to grow in intensity, causing vibrations that circulated throughout my body. I could feel the shaking in my fingers, in my skull. I picked up the pace, desperate to find a door leading out of the forest. I didn’t feel safe anymore—the life here was hostile, desperate for sustenance other than steam and light. The leaves of the trees curled downward, the roots upward, all trying to ensnare my limbs.
I reached the door and nimbly slid through the crack, then cranked the lock shut behind me. Though, when I sucked in a breath, I found the air was no longer moist, but frigid and dry. I turned my head and saw I was standing in an arctic wasteland, with small snowflakes drifting from the vents above.
I had to move quickly before my feet became frozen to the icy floor. I squinted and tried to keep an eye on the ice-crusted electrical wires that ran along the wall. As I moved deeper into the room, I noticed I wasn’t alone. Moths the size of small snowflakes flitted about, making their home on my skin. They seemed to guide me to the exit, just as eager as I to escape their confinement.
I cranked the lock, breaking the thick seal of ice holding the door closed. As the warm air of the facility cradled my body, the goosebumps began to recede and the moths flew from their icy cage. I left the door open just a crack, unsure if I should continue their restrainment.
My path continued, ever guided by the wires. I entered the control room, the command center for piloting the ship. Finally, in this room, I was able to spy a window. I hurried towards it and placed my hands on the glass, but it brought me no peace. Floating gently in the inky black void of space was a brown planet. I had never visited the place called Earth, but as a child I had heard stories. It was a place of green and blue, supporting millions of creatures. Now though, it was merely a brown rock caught in the orbit of a dying sun.
I turned from the window, realizing there was no escape from this place. My feet unconsciously followed the wires, unsure of their next objective. What would freeing the creature do for her? Releasing her from one prison would only grant her access to another.
My fingers found a wheel, one that could control the ship. I found my place in a cushioned chair, and stared out at the void beyond. There was nothing waiting for me, no home to return to. There was only forward. The wires had guided me here. There must have been a reason.
Using the electricity siphoned from the creature, I engaged the engines. The ship roared to life as it began sluggishly moving forward, escaping the orbit it was lost in. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone. As I piloted the craft, I tried to imagine other people moving about, preparing meals, conducting maintenance, holding their loved ones close.
I closed my eyes and sucked in the artificial air. Perhaps I did have a purpose after all, perhaps it was to find a home for the creatures stuck on this ship, just as I was.
Time and space morphed around the ship as we moved further into the depths. A beautiful cascade of greens, purples, blues, oranges, and reds all combined, like oil in a recently-disturbed parking lot puddle. For the first time, I felt comfort, excitement, and hope for the future.
I was unsure of how long the journey took—days, weeks, years? Finally, in the distance I could barely make out something...a planet? I gently adjusted the ship’s course, and we became caught in its orbit. It was green, full of life. Bodies of water speckled the ground between towering trees that blew in a gentle wind.
The ship touched down gently. The gate hissed as it lowered, and I emerged into the new world with birds chirping overhead. I found a lever on the side of the ship, and as my fingers wrapped around the cold metal, the birds overhead began chirping louder, swarming. I pulled the lever and the ship groaned. The compartment holding the artificial forest erupted, sending the roof flying high into the air. The trees stretched their roots, growing over the side of the ship and embedding themselves into the ground. The trees fused with the native ones, imbuing them with purple streaks that stretched beneath the bark, becoming one with the world.
Another section of ship groaned as it turned to ice, and erupted with an exodus of moths. The spiraled into the air, spreading frost as they went. They lit on the branches of frost-tipped trees and converged with the birds, learning the rules of this new world.
Standing on the edge of ice and humidity, I heard something rustle behind me. From the depths of the ship emerged the creature from the tube. She stepped gracefully into the sunlight, her head raised and her brown eyes searching me. I waited for her to leave, to find her place in this world as well, but she didn’t. She simply looked at me, waiting.
I placed my palm on her side, and together we stepped down from the ship and began our journey into the unknown, together.