THE OCEANS OF EMPTINESS
Despite their attempts, Earth is no longer hospitable to mankind. With a little cooperation between the colonies on Mars, a spaceship is sent out to start a new habitat in the far reaches of space. The crew knows the risks as they depart, but the journey proves to be much more than a peaceful one for Patricia…
If only she knew what horrors from the past are coming for her…
They would pay. They would all pay. Especially her. She deserved everything that was coming to her. He would get off the planet again. It would happen.
He crawled up the beach and turned over onto his back, staring up into the blistering, unforgiving sun. It dried away the water from what remained of his clothes. The hot sand dug into his skin, his back, his arms, his legs, anywhere that it could.
He would survive. He had to because they all deserved to die. John would die. Thomas would die. And, of course, Patricia would die.
v v v
Patricia hugged Thomas. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I get it.” He pulled away. “You better not fail up there.”
“We won’t. That’s if the ship makes it there.” Patricia laughed. “Tell the wife to take care. Where is she anyway?”
“With Gerald. They’re helping to cultivate some new gardens. She’s just so happy to see a living planet again.” Thomas smiled. “We’re blessed.”
“Yeah, well, wish them the best.”
“I will.” He looked past Patricia. “Are you sure about this?”
“As sure as I ever am.” Patricia shrugged. “We have plenty of repair items in a holtengoss.” Patricia looked at the ship, trying to find where they had hid the large matter manipulator that could hold so much more than it should have truly been capable of holding. She then looked back to Thomas. “And the best mechanics who would volunteer, of course.”
“It definitely helps that families are going. No kids, no significant others; well, no one would volunteer.”
“I think those from Earth would have anyway. Mars has never really felt like home.”
He gave her a questioning look.
“I asked John why we needed a shrink on the ship. That was his answer.”
“Well he’s not wrong. It’s different, but we’re adjusting. What about you?”
“Earth wasn’t much of a home. Not the last seven years of it anyway.”
With a nod, Thomas crossed his arms in front of his chest. “How long will you be able to radio to us?”
“The ship will have contact for a little while. Just before we jump. They said that’s the last communication we’ll have.”
“Speaking of John, how’s he doing?”
Patricia sighed. “He’s disappointed, but he’ll get over it. He’s getting what he wants. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t be going.”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“I guess that’s my cue.” She turned to the ship as the final stragglers were boarding. “John boarded hours ago. Said he wanted to get settled in before the riffraff boarded. Not his words, mine. He said it smarter.”
“You better go.”
Patricia nodded. Slowly, she moved toward the base to board. It would be the last time she would walk on solid ground for a while. She wanted to remember it, feel it. Normal gravity. Dirt and rocks beneath her feet. Someday, she would have to describe to her children what it was like.
“Are you ready for this?”
Patricia shook her head and looked at Xana. She must have waited to board until the last minute as well. “Not really. You?”
“This is the biggest decision I have ever made in my life. I’m terrified.”
“You didn’t have to volunteer,” Patricia said.
Xana looked around. “I can’t stay here. Not now.”
Patricia nodded. “I understand. I miss him too.”
Xana smiled brightly. “To the future.” Then she sprinted up the steps, pushing past several people.
Patricia walked up the steps much more slowly. As she entered the ship, she found three security officers with clipboards. She located the only free one of the three and approached him.
“Name,” he said.
“Patricia Meyer.” She craned her neck to get a glance at the tablet. He pulled it closer to his body.
“You are on level six, with husband John Meyer. Room six-one-five.” Then he waved her toward the elevator.
Patricia pushed past him and boarded the elevator with a few others. The door shut and the elevator began to rise. A woman with long legs and a short waist had called out for the third level. She stood in the corner, avoiding eye contact with Patricia. As if the floor were that interesting. Then two men with short buzz cuts said level five. They were deep in conversation about something one of them had snuck on board. Patricia was grateful when the doors opened on the sixth level and she was the first to depart.
The floor was a bit smaller then what she was expecting, but it also made it easier to find her quarters that much more quickly. The outer wall was empty with the rooms for boarding situated just in the center of the egg shaped ship. She rounded the bend a bit further and saw John standing in the doorway, waiting for her.
“I wondered when you would show up,” he said with a smile.
“I would never leave you waiting forever. This floor’s a bit small.”
“Officers’ quarters. We’re among the elite dear. Still plenty of rooms available.”
“Not everyone’s checked in?”
“Everyone’s on board if that is what you are asking. Just not everyone has come to the living quarters yet.” John looked past Patricia.
She turned around to the room beside theirs. “Who are we rooming next to?”
“The captain is on one side and the flight commander on the other.”
“I heard that.”
“The animosity behind that word. You can’t be bitter this entire trip.”
“I saved a lot of lives. I think that should count for something.”
“It does. Just not enough to make up for all the other things you’ve done.” Patricia put her arms around him. “You’re being ridiculous. If Capena thought he’d do a better job, then I trust their decision.”
“John, you should let this go. He’s probably a really great guy.”
John leaned in close and whispered in her ear. “You can be the judge of that. Here he comes.”
Patricia turned around with a smile on her face, ready to introduce herself to the man who was going to be responsible for their lives. Immediately, however, her face fell. He was nothing like what she expected. He was at least twice her age. His face was permanently resting in a scowl with lots of wrinkles. He sauntered through the hall, almost stomping with each footfall. “Hello,” Patricia said with an extended hand. “I’m Patricia.”
“Yes. I am well aware,” he said ignoring her hand. “Patricia Meyer, shaper of the minds. Wife to John Meyer, lead flight commands system technician. Now if you don’t mind, I need to gather materials for my first address to this ship. We leave in fifteen minutes. Be prepared.” The captain pushed his way through the door to his room and emerged only minutes later with a tablet tucked under his arm. He stomped away to the elevator. Before he rounded the corner out of sight, he said, “I expect you, Mr. Meyer, on deck in five minutes. Lateness will not be tolerated.” Then the doors closed.
“Okay, I recant my statement,” Patricia said. She turned to John. “We’re stuck on this ship with him for how long? We’re going to be lucky if I don’t kill him.”
John laughed. “Maybe he’ll open up.”
“I suppose he’s alone.”
“Actually, he’s married.”
Patricia and John began to walk through the hall toward the elevator. “You’re kidding me. Who would want to marry him?” Patricia glanced at the elevator to make sure no one was there. “She must be a saint.”
“I haven’t met her yet. I couldn’t tell you.”
Patricia sighed. “I suppose you need to get going. What am I supposed to do while you’re gone?”
“I think most personnel are meeting on the second level in the grand room for the take off. Maybe you should go mingle. Or you could check out your classroom.”
“What level is that on again? I tried to memorize the ship’s schematics, but it got boring after a while.”
“Level three has the school, eating area, and supply center. I think you’re one of five teachers for the students here.”
“Should be interesting.” Patricia and John got into the elevator and began to ascend. Patricia got off on the third level and waved goodbye, knowing he needed to go up to the flight deck on level one.
Level three was one of the larger levels. It was comprised of a large oval hallway, the center of which was the cafeteria. Along the outer wall section were the rooms for the school and the largest room, just to the left of the elevator, was the supply center. She ran her fingers along the wall, feeling the seamless transitions from wall to doors. Every time her fingers grazed the doors, they slid open and lights popped on within. Beside each room was a plaque with a name and an age range. At last, she came to her room. The plaque read Patricia Meyer: Ages 15-18.
The door slid open and the lights turned on. Inside there was a place for her to work; a decent sized desk in the front of the room which had a tablet table top. In the center of the room was a podium where she would do her teaching. It was surrounded by two circles of connected desks which each had the same tablet table tops. There was a single gap in the circles made for her to get to the center.
Running her fingers along the table top, the tablets came to life, demonstrating the core subjects and their subsidiary categories. Everything was far more than what she could have anticipated. Suddenly the realization of all that she was about to take on hit her. Not only was she about to leave the planet Mars, her second home, for the last time, but she had been entrusted with identifying the final strengths of every child that came to her room.
Quickly, she turned off the desks and left the room. Her stomach dropped. Feeling the small lurch, she knew that they had taken off. She was missing the festivities, the mingling, the small talk, the wonderful boringness of it all.
“Floor please,” the elevator said as the door closed.
“Two,” Patricia answered. There was a soft hum as she travelled up to the second floor. The door opened and she was met with the same oval hallway with the same rooms, there were just different words on the plaques beside each door. Capena was definitely not known for their interior decorators. They should’ve asked Flora for help with that. At least it would have given the ship a little pizazz instead of the feel of a grey gloom. She circled around to the center room, the gathering room, where everyone who wanted to celebrate was already collected. They were moving around talking with other people, trying to get to know one another.
Immediately as she entered, Patricia scanned the crowd and found Tuft in the corner. He was leaning against a wall, hands in his pockets, just staring blank faced out toward the center of the room.
“Are you okay?” Patricia asked with a slight laugh after she had shoved her way through the crowded room to him.
Tuft smiled. “Of course. Greatest thing ever.”
There was something in his tone. “I don’t believe you. You’re nervous.”
He shrugged. The smile dropped.
“Why’d you volunteer if you didn’t want to be here?”
“I want to be here. I do.” He gestured at the room. “Half of them are the Earth survivors. They’re my people.”
“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming.”
“I just ain’t ready for a trip into nothingness.”
“Well it’s too late to get off. Guess you’re just going to have to stick it out.” She looked around as the chattering grew louder. “What job did you get saddled with?”
“Got my letter last night. You are looking at the sanitation specialist for the ship. I got four people who report to me.”
“That’s scary.” Patricia smirked. “They put bots on the ship, did they really need personnel to do that stuff too?”
“That’s the job they gave me. I get the third shift when everyone else is supposed to be asleep.”
“That shouldn’t be too bad.”
“I heard you’re gonna be teaching.”
“Yeah. Scary isn’t it? I get to shape the minds of the future of a planet we’re about to colonize. Think of the power I have.”
“You’re gonna be an awesome teacher.”
“I hope so.” She scanned the crowd again. “I wonder how many students I’ll have. It looks like most of the kids are pretty young.”
“Think of it this way, if you ain’t got no students then you’re free to do whatever you want until they get old enough.”
“I don’t think it works that way.” Patricia shrugged. “Wish it did though.”
Patricia rolled her eyes. “The captain requested all officers be in the control room for the launch. Speaking of which, have you met him yet?”
“Who? The captain?”
Tuft shook his head.
“He’s something else.”
“You can handle him.” Tuft waved to someone behind Patricia.
She turned around to see Xana coming up fast. “This is exciting, isn’t it?” The smile on her face was far too large.
“Yeah. I guess. Shouldn’t you be up on the first level with the other officers?”
Her smile faltered slightly. “Oh, you haven’t heard. I was not given Chief of Medical Operations. It went to Filonius.” She did a soft wobble of her head as she said his name in a mocking tone. “I’m not technically an officer. Second in charge. But it’s fine.”
“Are you sure? I mean I could kill Filonius for you. It’d be easy. Just leave him in space. Without a body, they couldn’t possibly convict me of the crime.”
“This entire ship is nothing but cameras. The bots record everything and store it internally. I doubt not having a body would make much of a difference.” Xana laughed. “Really, I’m fine. He had the qualifications for the position and was born and raised in Capena. I’m from Juno. Not exactly a great selling point.”
“They shouldn’t have appointed all Capena people as the officers. It’s like they don’t trust anyone else.” Patricia crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Can you blame them?” Xana gestured with wide arms. “They built all this in hopes that mankind could stretch themselves beyond our solar system to colonize a world far away. They’re just trying to protect something they worked so incredibly hard on.”
Patricia rolled her eyes. “Have you met the captain?”
“I take it you have.” Xana smirked. “Captain Zeith Creighton is an acquired taste. He’ll grow on you.”
“I doubt that.”
Xana opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a loud ping.
“Attention crew, we have left the Mars atmosphere and begun our journey.” The voice filled the room. Anyone who had been talking was silent as they listened. Patricia didn’t recognize who was speaking, but it definitely wasn’t the captain. “The estimated distance to our new home is approximately seventeen light years away. As we leave the solar system we will make our jump into our ultimate speed. Job assignments should have been distributed. If you are unable to perform your duties or have not received news of your assignment, you can speak with any of the leaders on board. All assignments will begin in just a few hours with the second shift. Until then, congratulations. Celebrate and enjoy this momentous occasion.” There was another ping.
Slowly the room filled with conversations once more.
“Who was that?” Patricia asked.
Xana gave a quizzical look. “I think it was the navigator, Barney Ellis. Why he was chosen to do the cast off speech, I don’t know.”
“Why didn’t the captain do it?”
“He doesn’t speak unless he has to.”
“Another fine choice by Capena.”
“Is John too mad about it?”
Patricia rolled her eyes. “He’s not happy. I’m hoping in a few days he’ll feel better. He really is better suited doing something technical.”
“He would have done a fine job as captain,” Xana said. “He did very well getting us to Europa and back.”
“He had a crew of seven. This one’s slightly larger.” Patricia shook her head. “Besides, if he were captain, I’d probably never see him. He’d lock himself in the control room again.”
“How are you two doing anyway?”
“Good. Really good.” She smiled.
Tuft reached out and touched Patricia’s stomach. “He knocked you up yet?”
Patricia smacked his hand away. “Do that again and I will kill you. And no. Not yet.”
Xana smiled. “Speaking of which, you two have an appointment in a week. You better make it.”
“Just what I want to do. Discuss fertility with a friend.”
“I promise not to make it awkward.” She turned to Tuft. “You should really consider finding someone as well before we get too far into this journey. You don’t want to be single forever and we’re going to need to populate as much as possible on the way there.”
“I’m alright on my own.”
“Can I just say that was a very disgusting way of describing this trip? Not to mention that Tuft here, no offense, probably does not need to be repopulating.” Patricia said. “So do you have to work today?”
“Unfortunately. Most of the medical staff pull double shifts on a three day rotation. I’m in the first rotation. I take it you don’t.”
“School starts tomorrow. Today I guess I’m free.” She turned to Tuft. “What about you? Want to get into some trouble?”
“I got to lay down. Get mentally prepared for the first night of work.” Tuft then pushed his way through the thinning crowd to the door that was closest.
“I should get going as well,” Xana said. “Try not to get into too much trouble.”
“You got it.” Patricia waved goodbye to Xana and leaned against the wall. She watched as the others began to filter out of the room one by one. Some had duties they needed to report for and others were just headed to get acquainted with their tiny living spaces. She, on the other hand, thought that food sounded like a far better idea.
However, as she entered the elevator, Patricia found herself saying level six instead. The door opened and she immediately walked through the hall to her room. Her hand grazed the door and it slid open.
Patricia turned around. A woman with soft blue eyes and a sleek uniform held out her hand for Patricia to take. She did. “Hello. Are you on this floor too?”
“Yes. Two doors over. I’m Kitty Troubalene, first mate.”
Patricia smiled politely. “First mate? That’s cool. I’m Patricia, shaper of young minds.”
“And you’re on this floor?”
“I’m married to the lead technician on the ship. We’re in this room.”
“Are you married?”
“Yes. My husband is one of the chefs on board. He’s on the second shift and I’m on the first. Should make things interesting.”
“Like ships passing in the night.”
“Indeed. What ages are you teaching?”
“Fifteen to eighteen year olds. I have been given the responsibility of determining their final job assignments. Well, they’re more of suggestions to be approved by the board, of course.”
“Still quite a responsibility. You’re from Earth, aren’t you?”
Patricia glanced down at her hands and her clothes. “Do I really look that different?”
“You talk slightly different. It’s subtle, but definitely there. It’s interesting that Capena would have assigned you the older kids.”
Patricia smirked, biting her tongue.
“I’m making it a point to introduce myself to all members on board that I see. I hope to meet everyone on the ship within the week.”
“Good luck. There are quite a few, from what I understand.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. If a plan is set, then a goal can be met. I will meet every person. As second in charge, it will be my responsibility to help with all issues of crew members. For them to come to me with their problems, they must first know who I am.”
Patricia nodded. She found her eyes growing heavy just talking to Kitty. “Yeah, I can see that. I suppose I should let you get back to it.” Patricia took a step into her room through the still open door. “I’ll see you around obviously.”
“Yes, you will. Good luck on your first day tomorrow. I might be by to check out the students.”
Patricia paused a moment. “Why?”
“Part of my duty roster tomorrow includes an inspection of each of the classes. It should also give an accurate account of the ages of the children on board. We have the original rosters which have been compared to those who signed in, but I want to double check that everyone makes it where they are supposed to be.”
“So how many am I supposed to have in my class?”
“You’ll have three students. In just a short amount of time, another one will join your class.”
“Well at least I’ll have students,” Patricia said with a smile.
Kitty didn’t appear to find it funny. “I will expect you to be within accordance of all rules and regulations during my visit. Don’t give me a reason to write you up.” Then she turned and walked down the hall.
Patricia shook her head as she stepped all the way into the room and watched the door shut. She was making all sorts of friends.
Class is in Session
Patricia woke with a start at the sound of the door sliding open. She knew it wasn’t loud, but she had trained herself to react to the smallest of sounds. This was something that was hardwired into her brain despite her desire to rid herself of all such things.
John walked into the room, looking slightly disheveled. “I see you’re still here. Did you at least try to go talk to some of the crew?”
Patricia sat up with a deep breath. “Yes, I went up to the gathering room and mingled. Ran into Tuft and Xana. Did you know she didn’t get lead medical officer?”
John shook his head. “I’m not surprised, judging by those I’ve met in the officer’s positions.”
Patricia checked the clock engrained in the wall. It was well into the third shift. “You’re supposed to be on the first shift. Where have you been?”
John walked forward and plopped himself face down on the bed. “I wanted to meet with all of my crew. Everyone, on every shift, to see who will have the capacity to maintain the systems properly and who is just going to be in the way.”
“And what is your diagnosis?” Patricia held back her sigh.
“I sure hope incompetence is not a disease.”
“John, really. They can’t all be that bad.”
“Most of them are young. Some helped to design the systems used and are a bit bitter that I was given lead.”
Patricia laughed. “Xana wanted us to remember that we have our appointment with her in a week.”
“I’m not going,” John said into the mattress.
“I’m not sure we have a choice. That was definitely a part of the contractual agreement when we signed up for this voyage.”
John turned his head toward Patricia. “I suppose if that was what we agreed to, then we do not have much of a choice.”
“Unfortunately.” Patricia ran her fingers through her hair. “Did anything interesting happen up in the control center?”
John shook his head. “The captain strung together barely three words. The first mate’s a bit annoying.”
Patricia smiled. “Well we agree on that.”
“You met her?”
“Yeah. She caught me as I was coming back to the room. She’s definitely different.”
“From all that I was able to gather, she is a stickler for rules. However, by the same token, she has a tendency to overlook certain rules for herself. She’s an enigma. The second and third mate are married to one another. Michelle and Tristo Bateson. I don’t trust either one of them. There are three main engineers, all of whom are arrogant.”
“Was it the navigator that gave the speech? That’s who Xana said it sounded like.”
“It was his voice. Capena thought his voice was the most soothing to use over the intercom system, as well as the most informative. It’s just a computer program. Mimics real infliction and changes in tone.”
Patricia nodded. “Well maybe you should get some rest. You’re going to have to get up in just a few hours.” She scooted over so John could crawl up the bed a bit further to his pillow. They were both asleep in minutes.
v v v
Patricia woke up first the next morning and was completely ready before John began to stir. “I’m headed to the cafeteria to get some breakfast before class begins. Kitty told me I should have a few students, so that’s good news. Bad news is she’s going to inspect me this morning already. Joy.” Patricia rolled her eyes. “Save you a seat?”
“No. I’m not hungry. I’ll see you this evening for dinner.”
“Or for lunch?”
“Probably not. We’ll see how things go today.”
Patricia shrugged. “Suit yourself. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.” Patricia then turned and made her way to the nearest elevator. She went up to the third floor, immediately heading to the center room, the cafeteria. In the early hour of the day, there were just a few people there. Mainly, anyone who was supposed to start first shift within the hour.
She walked through the room and took a seat at one of the empty tables. The chairs were bolted to the floor in an S form. The tables were simple, designed only for eating. In the center of each was some fruit and muffins. She grabbed a muffin and began to slowly pick at the top while looking at the wall. She wondered how the class was going to go. If the kids were smarter than she, she suspected that they would fire her. Then what? Without a proper job she wouldn’t be allowed on the ship. What would they have her do? Probably make her work under Tuft. Patricia shuddered.
“Are you okay?”
Patricia gave a glance around to see who had spoken as a woman sat down in the chair beside her. She was older, with a gentle face. “I’m fine. Just a bit nervous.”
“Are you one of the teachers?”
Patricia nodded. She held out her hand. “Patricia Meyer. I’m in charge of the fifteen to eighteen year olds.”
The woman laughed and took Patricia’s hand. “I can see why you’re nervous. I’m Susanna Creighton, teacher of the six to eight year olds. A bit easier of a job.” The woman let go of Patricia’s hand. She gestured to the muffin on the table. “You might want to finish it. Teenagers will eat you alive, my dear. You’re going to need your energy.”
Patricia nodded. “At least I won’t have that many yet. When I have more kids than I can count, they’ll be harder to control.”
“Is that what has you nervous?”
“No. What has me nervous is wondering what makes me think I am qualified to teach anyone anything?”
“How long have you been out of the classroom?”
Patricia paused. She actually had to think about it. When was the last time she taught? There was the war and the water crisis. She had been with John and on Mars. It was at least ten years. “A decade, I guess.”
“Did you take the refresher courses?”
Patricia nodded. She glanced over at Susanna. “I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“My license hadn’t lapsed. I was a teacher on Mars.”
“Why’d you come?”
“My husband. He saw the opportunity and leapt at it.” She sighed with a smile. “As long as we’re together. I can teach anywhere.” She grabbed a muffin as well and took a large bite. She swallowed before speaking again. “Why did you come?”
“My husband. And Mars isn’t my home.”
“So you are from Earth. There are quite a few of you running around here.”
Patricia nodded. She glanced up at the clock. Fifteen minutes and counting. It was almost time. She quickly devoured the rest of muffin. “I think I better get to the room. At least beat the kids there.”
Susanna smiled. “Of course. Well if you run into any issues, I’m only a few doors over.”
Patricia made her way to the classroom. No one was there yet. Good. That gave her time to look official. Would it be better for her to stand by the door? Greet them as they came into the room? Or maybe sit at the desk? Patricia looked at the stage in the center of the circled desk. That seemed right. A position high up to demonstrate her authority.
She had barely gotten on the platform when the door slid open again and two teenagers walked in. The first was a girl. She took a seat right in front of Patricia. Her hair was cut short and spiked up. Behind her was a boy. He must have been pushing eighteen. He had long greasy hair and an oddly patchy beard that she was sure he thought was cool. He took a seat on the opposite side of the gap and pushed his seat back.
Then, at the last second, the final student entered the room. He took a seat beside the girl and looked up at Patricia. “Is this it? I thought Capena would have done a better job with all of this. They’re losing their touch.”
Patricia looked at the other two, but neither seemed interested. The greasy haired boy had his eyes closed, leaning back in his seat with his arms crossed. And the girl was messing with the desk, tapping every icon that popped up. She was on her own. “Capena stocked this ship with the latest technology. Sure we’ll have to do system updates every quarter and by the time we arrive at our new home, all this will be completely outdated, but that’s not Capena’s fault.”
The student scoffed. “This junk is hopelessly outdated now. I could code the systems better in my sleep.”
Patricia looked through the tops of her eyes at him. “Maybe someday you’ll get your chance.” She looked at the other two. “My name is Mrs. Meyer I will be your instructor until you turn eighteen, at which point it will be my recommendation that sets you in an appropriate career for the remainder of the journey. I am not completely biased to hearing your opinions on the matter, however, if the career you have chosen appears to be unsuitable for your skills or your character I will do what is best for this crew.” The greasy haired kid was still trying to sleep. Patricia jumped down off the podium and walked outside the desks to where he was seated, the other two watching closely. She pulled on the back of the chair. It leaned back, the boy flailing his arms, trying to regain control. Then he fell sideways out of the chair onto the floor.
“What the hell?” he said angrily. “You can’t do that.”
Patricia smirked. She bent down so she could speak to him and look him in the eye at the same time. “In my class, it is polite to pay attention when I talk or if any of your classmates are speaking.” She then stood up and walked back around to her stage. “Get back up. In this class, you will stay awake or I will wake you up and you don’t want me to wake you up.” With her arms wide, she said, “We should get to know one another. Maybe we should start with you.” She pointed to the smart boy.
He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I don’t have to tell you anything about me. If you knew how to do your job, you’d be able to look up anything about each of us you wanted.”
“What’s your name?”
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll be forced to call you something else the rest of our time together. It’s really up to you.”
The boy scowled.
“Alright. Well my young ineffably sybaritic rapscallion, I suppose you are done sharing.” She turned away from the boy. “Maybe you’d like to give it a go.” She pointed to the girl.
The girl shrugged. “I’m Cubina Astral. I’m sixteen and my parents volunteered almost immediately for this mission.” Patricia could hear the bitterness in Cubina’s voice.
“Any hobbies? Favorite subject?”
She shrugged. “I loved to be outside. I won’t be able to do that anymore.”
“Maybe not for a while.” Patricia turned to the last kid. The greasy haired boy who at least was trying to stay awake since his tumble. “And would you like to share?”
He rolled his eyes. “I guess. I’m Teral Creighton.”
Patricia stopped him. “Are you Susanna’s son?”
He sighed heavily. “Yeah. I take it you’ve met her.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t judge you by your mother. Continue.”
“I’m seventeen and was dragged on this death trap by my parents.”
Patricia kept smiling. It was stupid how the kids had to suffer for their parents ambitions, but they weren’t useless. She turned back to the first boy. “Are you ready to share, my sybaritic rapscallion?”
“That’s not my name.”
“What is your name?”
“And how old are you?”
“How old are you?”
She was going to enjoy breaking him. “Your name will do for now, but I will get to know you a bit better. Today I thought we’d do some basics. I need to develop a base line to see where each of your levels are. The good thing with so few students, I can definitely tailor individual lesson plans for each of you.”
“This should be good,” Lance said.
Resisting the urge to smack him, Patricia moved on. “If you engage your desks, you’ll be met with the core subjects. Math, science, history and language. Obviously, there will be a weighted emphasis on math and science given our current state. That being said, history will be important because we should never forget where we come from.” She paused for comments, but none of them spoke. “Feel free to click on each of the core subjects for their subcategories. We will spend enough time in this room to cover every single one of them.”
“Do you know anything about this stuff?” Lance asked.
Patricia ignored him. She spent the rest of the morning answering their questions and guiding them through basics in some of the science categories. At noon, she dismissed them for half an hour for lunch. Patricia waited for all three to leave before she left as well. The hall was filling up with other people ready for a little something to eat. Patricia watched as they passed and waited for all the other students to be released. Then, at last, the six to eight year olds made their way through the hall to the cafeteria. Just behind them was Susanna. Patricia waved.
“Students please stay in line.” Susanna lowered her voice as she turned to Patricia. “How’s the class going?”
“Good. Well sort of. You didn’t tell me your son was going to be in my class.”
“I didn’t want to warn you.”
“He’s not that bad. Once we got past the sleeping incident.” Patricia sighed. “He’s not my issue.”
“That’s good to hear. I questioned whether he would be able to adjust to any of this or whether he would even try.”
“For the record, I don’t know that he’ll ever want to be here, but I think he’ll try. Especially in my class.”
Susanna laughed. “Would you like to eat lunch with me?”
As the two walked into the cafeteria, Susanna corralled her children into a line while Patricia scanned the room. She didn’t see John anywhere. “That sounds good.”
Unlike at breakfast, for lunch there were actual lines where people gathered to get food. Cooks from the kitchen were bringing food in and dishing it out at a serving table. On the far wall were two machines that a few people were opting for instead. These had a limited selection of fresher choices of cold items and a water dispenser.
Patricia leapt in line behind Susanna who was trying to keep her children from wandering off. Once everyone had food, they took a seat at a couple of round tables.
“How has your first day with the little ones gone?” Patricia asked, stirring the food around on her tray.
“They’re easily managed. You said earlier that my son isn’t your issue. Who is?”
“I only have three students and one of them is a loud mouth with an opinion about everything. He’s probably smarter than I am.” She took a small bite and tried not to grimace.
“You’re going to have to nip that in the bud.”
“Don’t worry, I’m working on it.”
“What’s his name?”
“The name he gave me was Lance Fisher. I don’t know if I trust that.”
“No, there are definitely Fisher’s on board. His mother works in the laundry room. She’s in charge of maintenance of the bots down there. And his father is on the third janitorial staff. He also does some sort of maintenance work, but I don’t know what.”
“Do you know everyone on the ship?”
“Most. I studied the manifest closely.”
Patricia took another bite, swirling the rest of her food around on the tray. Maybe if she mixed it together, it would taste better. Unable to take it any longer, she sighed. “Thank you for letting me eat lunch with you. I think I should head back to the room before they get finished eating.” Patricia stood up and grabbed her tray. “I’ll see you again.” She then walked her tray to one of the bots that was motoring around the room collecting trays from those who had finished eating. Then she left the cafeteria and headed back to her classroom. Teral was already in there. “Did you eat lunch?”
He nodded with a slight shrug.
“You’ve got more time to kill if you want.”
Again he nodded with a shrug.
Patricia took a seat at her desk and clicked the top. The three students’ names popped up. She pushed on Teral’s name first. He had only submitted one thing since they began class. And it wasn’t a completed assignment. Patricia went back to the first screen and clicked on Cubina. All three assignments were completed and perfectly done. Though her language assignment contained harshly phrased sentences filled with a hatred of her current life. Patricia went back out and clicked on Lance’s name. The three assignments were there. She clicked on the first and it was just a picture of what appeared to be a crude depiction of herself with a speaker’s bubble full of zeros and ones. She knew if she looked up what it really said it was just going to make her more upset. So Patricia went back out, choosing to ignore the assignment and just gave him an F.
It took another ten minutes, but eventually Lance and Cubina returned to the room and took the same seats they had taken before. Cubina went back to work on more assignments. Patricia wondered how quickly she would finish the entire course load. Coming up with extra work was going to suck.
“Welcome back. How was the food?”
Lance scoffed. “I think the cooks need to be jettisoned into space.”
Patricia bit her lip, trying not to laugh. “It definitely could do with some improvement. But it’s all we will have for a while so we might as well build up a tolerance for it. This afternoon I thought we could cover a bit of history.”
“Hope you know more about history than you’ve demonstrated in any of the other core subjects.”
“Why don’t you try completing an assignment before you criticize my teaching abilities?” Turning away from him, Patricia addressed the other two. “There are several layers to history. Especially with Earth. Martian history is pretty cut and dry. You can click on Mars if you like.”
Cubina did, but the boys just sat back in their chairs. Under Mars, there was a pre-human history category and a post-human history category. She was the only one of the students who appeared to be interested at all in learning. Cubina clicked the screen with vigor, skimming through the content and then switching back to the next screen.
Then there were the boys, neither of which engaged in the desk if they didn’t have to.
“Earth, unlike Mars, has several more centuries of human history. We’re going to cover as much as possible in our time together. Especially the last century.” Patricia stopped as the door slid open. First Mate Kitty Troubalene entered the room with a tablet and an overly warm smile. “Can I help you?”
The three students swiveled in their seats.
“Just here to observe as we discussed yesterday.”
Patricia forced a smile on her face as Troubalene took a seat right next to Lance.
Patricia looked at Cubina and then at Teral. Neither were facing her. The only student who was facing forward was Lance. She locked eyes with him. “Alright. We were talking about the last century of Earth. Please engage the picture of Earth on your desks.” She waited for the students to do so. Troubalene activated the desk in front of her as well. Great, she had another student who was going to pretend to listen and only partially do the assignments. “The last century of human existence on Earth was one of trials and tribulations that those who resided on Mars probably know little about.”
“Such as?” Lance asked in a slightly sarcastic tone. It was hidden well enough that Patricia was sure Troubalene didn’t notice.
“Please engage the icon for the 21st century.” She waited for the students to do so. On their screen a barrage of images began to appear. There was a parade of different world leaders across the top of the screen that spanned the century. Across the bottom of the desk were specific events and the years they took place. “When you see the War of Water, give it a click.” They all four clicked around the same time. The desks sprang to life. There were thermal images of Earth from the beginning of the war until the end. “You’ll see that the temperature of the planet rose significantly within just a short period of time. You’ll also see on those images that the amount of water was scarce from the start of the war and near non-existent at the end.”
“Where did the images come from?” Lance swiped his desk so that the thermal scans disappeared.
“A couple months ago, I worked with Capena to hack the satellites in orbit that were still functional.”
“You? You helped hack the satellite?”
Patricia tried very hard to not retaliate. She needed to silence him. But slowly her eyes wandered over to Troubalene who was watching Patricia passively. “I was a part of the team that did the work. So yes, I did help to hack the satellite. Images were taken during the war for strategic patterns.”
“And the sides of the war?”
Patricia shook her head. “There were none. At first the countries were aligned with themselves. Then the governments dissolved and anarchy ensued as the population dropped off little by little. The truth is, the only thing that kept Earth alive long enough for people to make it to Mars was all the deaths. If the population had remained drastically high, then the water would have been depleted that much faster and Earth would have faded away without Mars ever knowing. War actually saved the people of Earth.”
“So you’re saying war is good.”
Patricia looked Lance in the eye, unblinking. “In certain cases, it is necessary.” She turned to Cubina. She was interacting with the desk, moving into the assignment already. “You all should be well aware of the evils and necessity of war having just experienced one first hand not that long ago.” Teral and Cubina looked up at her. Lance crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Maybe we should talk about that. Does anyone have any thoughts?”
Cubina raised her hand. Patricia gave her an encouraging nod. “We shouldn’t have engaged in such behavior, reducing the society of Capena to that of the people of Ares.”
Patricia almost laughed. “And when Ares declared war, how was Capena supposed to act?”
“With dignity and intelligence. We should have risen above the occasion to end it before it began.”
“You’re a naïve little girl,” Lance said.
“Lance, let’s try to refrain from name calling,” Patricia said.
Lance rolled his eyes. “She clearly is unable to comprehend the complexities of explosive devices.”
“And what are you trying to imply?” Cubina asked.
“Ares had the means to level Capena. If we hadn’t acted in the manner in which we did, there would be no Capena and you certainly would have been dead.”
“And what makes you think you wouldn’t have been the same?”
“I have the foresight to have had a contingency plan if ever such a circumstance should have presented itself.”
“Yes, because I’m sure you would be able to outrun those explosive devices.”
Patricia cleared her throat. “Both are fair points to bring up. Perhaps Teral would like to weigh in on this matter.”
Teral looked up with a startled face. He looked as though he was shocked she could see him. With a small shake of his head, he looked down again.
Patricia glanced at Troubalene. She was taking some notes on her tablet while intermittently clicking random items on the desk before her. Turning back to Teral, Patricia said, “You must have an opinion.” He still refused to answer. “Suit yourself. Given that we are the class of older students and that it is the first day, I think we should call it a day a bit early. But before we do, assignments must be given.” She paused for any groans. There were none. “I would like a five thousand word essay all about your new home. You can write about any part of the ship. These essays will be put in your record and reviewed later so, yes, they do have to be completed.” She stared at Lance.
“I don’t know what you mean. I have done every assignment you have asked of me.”
Patricia tried not to laugh. “I will be using these to help determine my recommendation for your future assignments. If any of you want to disregard this assignment, fine, but remember I can easily appoint you to work in some place that you’ll absolutely loathe for years. I highly recommend giving this assignment a bit of thought.” She clapped her hands together. “The rest of the day is yours. Be back here bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“You were serious?” Lance asked. “Have you run out of things to teach us already?”
Troubalene stood up. “I think I’ve seen all I need to see for the day as well. Students, if you could gather your things and head out. Feel free to enjoy yourselves on floor two or head to your rooms. Try not to get into too much trouble.”
Lance stood up last with a smirk. “Someone’s in trouble.” Then he left the room. The door slid shut behind the students.
“Well Mrs. Meyer that class went very well.”
Patricia tried to find sarcasm in what Troubalene said, but there was none or at least not any that she could find. “You can call me Patricia and I was worried it was a complete disaster.” Patricia laughed nervously.
“Of course not. For future reference, you might want to control Lance.”
The smile on Patricia’s face grew wider. “So it’s not just me? He really is an annoying little shit.”
“Well I wouldn’t have put it quite so colorfully, but yes. He’s always been that way.” Troubalene sat her tablet down on the desk. “Has he done any of the assignments so far?”
Patricia smirked. “Oh yeah. He’s done them.” She pulled up the assignments on her own desk and clicked on Lance’s name to show Troubalene.
Troubalene clicked each of the assignments and read his responses. “He has done this since his early education. A very bright, gifted young man who has failed every single grade.”
“He’s failed every grade?” Patricia looked at the assignments. She understood the teachers’ reasoning, but not why Lance didn’t put in the effort.
“Do you have an idea where to place these students already?”
Patricia nodded. “After hearing them speak, I have an idea where Lance and Cubina might enjoy spending the remaining years, but Teral is a bit of a problem.”
“Cubina could work in any department on this ship and get along fine with them all. Lance could be a bit of challenge since his people skills are beyond our control. He’s intelligent with a real gift for programming. Just would be better suited in a job where he could work alone. As for Teral, I do see your predicament.”
Patricia was confused. “Do you stalk everyone on board?”
“My captain has challenged me to know my crew as well as he does. I am doing my best.”
“Well you’re doing better than I ever would have.”
“Thank you. You only have a few months to decide on a recommendation for Teral. Take it very seriously.”
“Maybe I should speak to his mother. I’m having trouble getting him to open up and he’s not even attempted any of the assignments. I can’t help him if he won’t let me.”
“His father will understand and trust your judgment on the matter. He won’t be biased, I promise.”
“I’m sorry.” Patricia cocked her head to the side. “Who’s his father?”
Troubalene, however, didn’t appear to hear her. She picked up her tablet. “I need to get going. Keep Lance in line and find a proper placement for Teral.” Then she opened the door and left.
Patricia sat down at the desk, thinking. It was going to be a long journey. One that had barely begun.
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