Twenty-Six

Reading time ~2 minutes

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The ship sailed smoothly through the cold void. Alex stared out the window at emptiness. Even the distant stars seemed farther away than usual today. His con vibrated silently in his palm and he looked down at it. Another message from mom; that makes thirteen since he’d been awake. He looked back out into the dark. The glow from Earth had faded away behind them and it was only a matter of seconds before they made the jump to Mars. Short as it was, it was still going to feel like hell for his hangover-addled body. He tried to fixate on the concept of absolute nothingness that they were drifting through.

The FTL engine began to spin up with a quiet whine from the back of the ship. He thought about how cold it really was out there. Somewhere at the other end of the cabin, a baby cried. He tried to really imagine what it felt like to be floating in a total and utter lack of anything. Someone tried to shush the baby. Suddenly he felt every part of his body become heavier and heavier, as if he was growing to a hundred times his size without changing at all. His arms were pushed into the rests and his neck felt like it could barely hold his head up. The breakfast sandwich in his stomach wanted to escape, and his vision faded to blackness. Then, after less than a second, it was over. He could see the red planet from his window and hear the engine powering down discreetly. The sandwich still wanted out, though.

He leaned forward in his seat, resting his head in his hands, willing himself to keep it together. Don’t make a scene on the X. You can make it to the office.

“Don’t jump well, huh?” A woman’s voice next to him cut through the vortex of suffering.

He looked up at her. She was about his age, with red hair. And she looked concerned. “Oh, no, just…a bit sick.” He feigned a polite smile.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, I still freak out internally every time it happens. It’s an objectively terrifying thing, you know? We’re just in this little ship and it’s generating enough mass to bend reality itself. It’s nuts!” She made a wide gesture with her hands and smacked the con out of the hand of the man sitting next to her. “Oh my god I’m so sorry.”

She tried to learn forward to retrieve it, but it was out of her reach. She strained even harder against the restraint until the automated message informing passengers to remain seated until they reached the station played loudly. The victim of her gesticulations waved her off and started trying to reach it with his foot. She turned back to Alex and silently mouthed the word shit.

He laughed a bit and offered his hand. “I’m Alex.”

She shook it emphatically. “I’m Maura.”

“Mars Capital Station. Please exit on the left.” The announcement came as the three doors on the left side of the ship slid open. He hadn’t even noticed they’d arrived.

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