I sat in silence, staring at the note in my book, taped just across from the inside cover, where Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin walked off into the infinite, the unknown. Like me, no?
The rest of the transfer passes rather uneventfully. There are a few outbursts from the other passengers, mostly crying as they realize, finally, the enormity of what they are undertaking. Many, in their fits of despair, rush back to the window to get a last glimpse of our Mother Earth. I am not one of them.
This is not to say that I didn’t want to. My life, my family, my community, was on Earth. It hurt to leave it behind, but it was for the good of the human race. The ends justified the means. I closed my eyes and meditated on this for the remainder of the transfer shuttle.
Some time passed before a sudden jolt roused me from my placid mind. Almost the entirety of the shuttle clamored and pressed against the window. Voices in many languages rang in the air.
“Look! The HANIWA!”
“Ist das nicht traumhaft?”
I laughed to myself. I must have slipped into Being for the entire voyage. This seemed to happen more often as I got further into my twenties. Not that I am complaining, I rather enjoy the steady, calming feeling of surrendering myself to meditation.
But back to the window. I figured after a few minutes, the excitement would die down and I would be able to get my own clear view. No such luck.
Something tugged at the bottom of my shirt. Startled, I looked down and met the green eyes of a little blond boy. He couldn’t have been older than Estelle back on Earth.
“Hello?” I replied, making no attempts to hide my surprise. I was unaware that there were going to be children on this voyage.
He blinked up at me.
“What’s your name?” I said.
Still no answer.
“My name is Esau. Are your parents on board?”
He shook his head and clung closer to me. My heart sank. His parents, knowing our Mother was without hope, must have snuck him inside in the night. How, I’m not entirely sure. But that was no concern now. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as Siobhan would say.
“Would you like to see the HANIWA?”
The boy — who I think looks like a Luke — nodded. So I lifted him into my arms and carried him toward the crowd. They all moved aside when they saw me, whether it was because of Luke or my shabby appearance, I wasn’t sure, but either way we got that clear view I wanted.
Luke made a small exclamation of glee and pressed his hands against the window to get a better look. And I must confess I felt the same.
The ISS HANIWA was certainly a sight to behold. The ship itself was bullet-shaped in appearance, perhaps a sly acknowledgement that this whole mission was a shot in the dark. The ship consisted of two parts, the bottom connected to the considerably smaller top by four long Skimmer-like arms. These four arms connected at the undersides of the ship, forming runners, like the bottom of a sled. The runners appeared to not only be useful as landing gear, but to hold the exhaust vents and a waste disposal system. The whole thing was a metal color, which made sense. A mission of this sort was not aiming to be flashy, and any frivolous colors would be just that: frivolous.
The announcement intercom buzzed to life: “Please seat yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. We will be coming into contact with the HANIWA shortly. S’il vous plaît, mesdames et messieurs, asseyez-vous…” The same message repeated five or so other times, each one in a different yet equally fascinating language.
I took Luke onto my lap and fastened us both in. Then it dawned on me: this boy was a stowaway. Unauthorized. Surely they wouldn’t send him back, would they? No, that would cost too much resources they couldn’t afford. Wouldn’t it?
“Right then,” I murmured to him. “We need to find a way to get you on the ship… I need you to be very quiet, do you understand?” The boy nodded. Maybe telling him that was unnecessary, but I couldn’t take any chances.
Another jolt roused some surprised shouts from the passengers, but nothing major happened since they had all fastened themselves in. Luke seemed to be taking my instructions to heart and didn’t so much as gasp.
The intercom buzzed again, telling us to slowly and orderly proceed to the landing dock. We all obliged and I wondered, with some amusement, if we would revert to our British ancestral roots of forming queues.
Luckily for Luke, we did not. To my surprise, there was actually little to no security at the locks between the shuttle and HANIWA. Odd, considering how much security there had been getting onto the shuttle in the first place.
Luke grasped onto my hand and we shuffled aboard our new home. Luke was able to keep out of sight, camouflaged by the legs of the other passengers.
Stark metallic walls… That was the first thing I saw on the ship. Fluorescent, blue lights lit the corridors from the ceiling, but overall not visually stimulating in the least. I smiled. At least with the paints I brought, I might be able to fix that.
We climbed a small flight of stairs which led us to the grand hall. A smiling crew member greeted us. He explained that although the ship layout may seem daunting at first, it was designed for ease of navigation and comfort. Personal quarters took up most of the ship, but there were also kitchens, dining areas, libraries, fitness rooms, leisure areas. I laughed. The way he made it sound, we were taking a luxury cruise on holiday, not setting off on an adventure worthy of a serial novel.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me and Luke around. And the owner of this hand was no less menacing. A huge man towered over Luke and I. Ah, there’s the security, I supposed.
I am not a Sir. Or a Madame. I am neither, but my common sense tells me that explaining the social construct of gender to someone who looked like he could set a countryside ablaze with a simple displeased look would not bode well in this situation.
“You’ve been ordered to report to the navigator.”
The navigator. Not a Captain. Just as well, a Captain would be too… despotic for my liking. In Citadel, Siobhan was the closest thing we had to a ‘Captain’, and even then that power was only exercised in the direst of circumstances.
The guard led Luke and I away from the shuttle group. The explanations of the tour guide got quieter and quieter, then faded into nothing as the two of us were herded towards a V.I.L.E, or a Very Important-Looking Elevator. Luke hid behind my leg the entire time.
“Alright, in you go,” the guard huffed then ushered us into the elevator. He followed us inside and pressed the button. The door slid shut.
“Excuse me,” I ventured. “But what is this about?”
“Stowaways,” the guard replied. So much for venturing.
It was then I realized the elevator hadn’t moved. I opened my mouth again to ask if there had been some sort of technical error. At the same instant, the doors opened. I could hardly believe my eyes. Instead of the hallway from before, we were greeted with an entirely new sight: the control room of the ISS HANIWA. The room itself curved around the edges in a slightly ovular fashion, with three grand windows at one end. At those three windows sat three complimentary chairs in form of three control grids. Lights, beeps, and video feeds emitted from them. Towards the back, another video screen flickered between security feeds.
I deduced we must be in the upper part of the ship. The lack of gravity must have negated the feeling of movement in the elevator. No sooner had I figured it out than the guard shuffled us into the room.
“Navigator. Engineer.” Two people, a man and a woman, turned. “I brought the two that the passengers reported earlier.”
The man nodded. “Thank you, Inspector. We just now need to wait for Peacekeeper and Doctor. Then we can begin.”
As if on cue, another set of doors opened on the other side of the control room. The man from before and another woman stepped out.
Me too, buddy, me too.