Chapter 2: If Someone Had Been Awake

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Part 2

No more floating, perhaps ever. A honed skill suddenly gone to waste, and now I’m forced to confront my own clumsiness combined with underused muscles as I force my burning legs to do something other than kick off supports and handholds to propel me. Instead, I’m forced to walk like our ancestors first did millions of years ago. It feels like evolution in reverse and it shows as I stumble out of the bridge, clasping at the walls for some stability.

I pick up speed and soon I’m racing down the corridors. More like, I’m putting my weight ahead of me, and my feet are somehow managing to keep up.

I get lucky. I see him in the second place I look. Airlock 3. There are five airlocks aboard The Dreamer, with Airlock 5 being reserved for the big shit. Airlock 3 is just the right size for a human or two.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I shout, as I amble closer.

He’s dressed in full military uniform. Medals jingling from his chest. He even has the Space Force hat pinned to an ear according to regulation in case he suddenly finds himself in a zero-gee situation out here on this backwater planet.

I carefully bring myself to a stop leaning against a warm steel wall as he works the airlock panel. “Just because the air is breathable doesn’t mean it’s safe. There could be bacteria, viruses, molds, pollens, fungi, or something else entirely that we’ve never seen before. There’s a whole unexplored world that could kill you. We need more tests than basic atmosphere.”

“Deng, it will be fine.” He puts a hand on my shoulder. “I just need to take a walk.” He smiles, and though it’s a crooked smile it’s the first smile I’ve seen from him.

I lower my eyes. I don’t want his gaze. “You realize when you come back, I’ll have to put you in quarantine?”

“I know the procedure,” he nods. “Airlock 1 is set up for quarantine and medical testing, right?” He releases my shoulder and taps at the airlock controls once more. The inner door opens. Stale air wafts out. There is no window on the other side, just a dark screen connected to a camera that was never enabled.

Mr. Military walks into the airlock, his military legs much more stable than mine. “Catch you later Deng,” he says, before throwing the switch and sealing himself away. A moment later, I hear the airlock open on the far side.

My breath catches in my throat, waiting for the airlock door to seal again. Here’s his chance for second thoughts. I might even just let him back in despite the contamination.

The far door slides shut again, and the room is sucked clean. The air gets pulled out and evacuated into the atmosphere of Warlock 4. Then I hear a hum as the room is baked in cleansing rays from different segments of the electromagnetic spectrum. The airlock stands waiting in vacuum, sterile and ready for its next use.

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