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Wake Up Call
A short story by Cheeseburger Brown
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Wake Up Call, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown; illustration by Matthew Hemming

I.

Drillard dreamed. He could tell, because nothing seemed real.

His mother pulled him upright while his head lolled, then shoved aside his teddy bear and tugged off his pajamas. She was talking but Drillard couldn't make out a word of it. He was lost in the smell of his childhood bedroom, drooping under a warm blanket of nostalgia, disappearing again behind collapsing eyelids...

"Mommy?"

The alarm clock was buzzing. His mouth was tacky with the taste of wine. The venetian blinds cast stripes of sunlight across the ceiling, but they were too bright to look at. Drillard rolled into the pillow, muffling away the sounds of traffic whizzing by outside. The pillow smelled like Pauline. He looked up with a gasp, but she wasn't there.

How could she be? He was no more a married man than he was a child.

No. No, it was raining. Pittering on the ceiling, washing down the windows. Drillard propped himself up on one elbow to watch it, the distorted images of cars smearing past. He wiped his hand down his face. He dug sand out of the corners of his eyes.

Brushing his teeth before the mirror he paused to wonder at his face. "Mother Mars," he sighed, "when did I get to look so haggard?" He bathed, he shaved, he shat. He pulled on his pants and looked for his hat. He barked his shin on the coffee table, because he'd forgotten all about it. It had been a part of his life so very long ago, after all.

Drillard paused at the doorway, key in his hand, hovering. He felt like he was forgetting something.


II.

The day was dim, the fat jovian disc Yasu occluding half the sky. Drillard stared at its swirls as he swayed, standing, on the train. He held a loop of leather, hemmed in by his damp fellows. Strings of advertising text marched at eye-level along the windows. Pleasantly the train cooed, "Pilgrim Landing, Pilgrim Landing Station is the next stop."

A chime sounded, the doors parted and Drillard was expectorated. A dozen umbrellas unfolded around him with a series of pops. "My umbrella -- I should've remembered my umbrella," he said to himself, but the realization did not assuage his insistent sense of something forgotten. He gathered the lapels of his coat and hunkered his shoulders to sink down into the collar.

The city was a vast grey beast towering all around him, the tips of its spires lost to mist, lines of dim traffic snaking between them. Each building had a thousand glowing eyes. Every artery was clogged with viscous streams of umbrella tops. Too many people in too close quarters, elbowing their way to their stalls...

Ishtar was a crowded world.

The rain irritated him. The gravity felt too heavy today, making him sluggish. He couldn't keep himself from yawning again and again.

He found himself lingering aside of the commuter mob when his eye was caught by a glittering storefront display. Others shouldered past him but Drillard remained transfixed. It wasn't new -- he'd passed it many times before -- but this morning it seemed to have a special transfixative quality that inspired in Drillard a bewildering but welcome calm.

The animated letters said: PEOPLE LIKE YOU BEGIN NEW HISTORIES.

Beneath the headline was a great holographic globe with half its sphere composed of cratered rock while the other was a fractal splatter of blue seas and green continents. Various points of interest were highlighted. The one currently crawling into view indicated a prairie city founded by Ishtari expatriates, their smiling faces enclosed in little circles. As the circles came near they spoke. "I never thought I would find myself the mayor of new world colony, but here I am and loving it!"

The backdrop was a continually updating spreadsheet of available jobs, listing salary, benefits, contract length and living conditions. There were calls for terraforming engineers, atmospheric scientists, power plant workers, civil architects, gardiners, pilots, preschool teachers, dentists and barbers and smiths...

"I'd go myself if I had a trade," said a vagrant sitting beneath the display. "But that ship has sailed."

Drillard looked down at him. The man held up a filthy cup. Drillard dropped a few pennies inside.

"Cheapskate," snarled the vagrant.

Drillard turned away and walked on, rejoining the throng. Its current carried him to work. He jammed himself into an elevator with too many other people. The car creaked as it ascended. The climb took a very, very long time. Normally nervous, Drillard wondered why he felt no fear. Only numbness.

People on the elevator had the same conversations as people on the train. The talk was a hypnotic, sussurussing rhythm of platitudes and slogans and misquoted excerpts of popular entertainments -- a lullabye of inanity. Drillard found himself sagging into the man next to him, then shook himself and straightened. "Sorry," he mumbled.

He pinched himself inside his pocket to stifle the next yawn.


III.

"Keeping you up, Drilly?"

Drillard's head rocketed up from his desk, leaving behind a modest pool of drool. He knuckled his sockets and cleared his throat, then smoothed down his shirtfront and wiped away the saliva with a sleeve. "Nearly scared the faeces out of me, Mona."

"That's what you get for sleeping on the job," she teased, wagging a finger at him. She peeled off her slick overcoat and tucked herself in behind the desk opposite Drillard's with a flip of her long brown hair. "Late night? Hot date?"

"What?" said Drillard, blinking. "Oh God, no. I don't know. I just feel like I can't wake up all the way today...like I'm looking at the world from under a wet blanket. Everything's a bit woolly."

Mona nodded sympathetically but instead of setting to work at her terminal she leaned across the desk and pointed a small flashlight directly at Drillard's eye. She clicked it on with her thumb, unleashing a blaze of brightness. "Slightly asymmetric pupil response," she said in a clinical voice.

Drillard winced, batting her hand away. "Damn it!" he grunted. "What the hell did you do that for? My eyes are killing me. God, Mona."

Mona looked up at him blankly, hands poised over her terminal. "I'm sorry?"

"What's with the goddamn light?"

She raised a single eyebrow, mouth pinched. She glanced up at the overhead lights. "Are you feeling alright, Drill? I can signal an iteration of the nurseplex if you want."

He waved that off. "Forget it. I'll be fine."

"You're pale."

He tried to summon a hopeful grin. "Maybe I'd feel better if you bought me dinner."

She chuckled but it wasn't unkind. "If this is the hangover you have after a date with a mere mortal, what makes you think you could even survive stepping out with the likes of me?"

"I'm not hungover, Mona."

"You look like you're about to faint."

Drillard pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "When I was a teenager," he said into the ruddy darkness behind his lids, "I used to be able to sleep in all morning long. Remember that? I'd sort of surface, look at my clock, and then dip back under and have a million more dreams. The next time I'd come up only five minutes had passed and my parents were still yelling at me to get up and mow the damn lawn."

"Sure," said Mona softly. "I remember that."

"Sometimes I'd dream that I'd already woken up," he said. "It could be unsettling."

When Mona did not reply he opened his eyes again. Rivulets of bent light ran along the ceiling, the rain casting strange caustics between the blinds. The pressure against the back of Drillard's head was not his chair but rather his pillow. He was horizontal. Traffic moaned and swooped and chittered by outside his high-rise window.

Drillard's alarm clock was buzzing.


IV.

"Neurologically, I don't see anything amiss."

Dr. Salts turned away from the tomographic display as the gurney Drillard lay upon withdrew from inside the scanning drum. Drillard sat up as soon as his head had cleared the edge. He looked at the rotating image of his brain, the most oxygenated regions glowing gaily blue. "What does it mean, Doc?"

"It means your issues are not organic in origin."

Drillard sagged. "So I'm cracking up."

Dr. Salts raised his brow. "It may simply mean that you're under an unusual amount of stress. Would you like me to subscribe you to an analyst construct? It may help to talk about it."

Drillard shook his head. "I just want something to stop me from feeling so drowsy and detached. A medicine -- there must be a medicine I can take!"

"I'm sorry Mr. Drillard, but I do not condone the prescription of pharmacological solutions without an accompanying regimen of counselling. It would be irresponsible, you understand, to address your symptoms without attempting to correct the underlying problem."

Drillard sighed, then jerked awake. The train cooed, "North Central Medical, North Central Medical Complex is the next stop."

He pushed his way through the passengers and staggered out onto the platform. In his hand was clutched his appointment chit for Dr. Salt's office. He looked up at the grand public clock at the end of the platform, but decided against rushing. Was there any point in sprinting for an appointment he had just dreamed he had already had?

Was the real Dr. Salt likely to tell him anything much different than the imaginary one?

Drillard chucked the chit into the garbage, then changed his mind and went after it, fishing his hand through wet filth until he'd retrieved it. When he arrived at Dr. Salt's office he was quickly disabused of the notion that he might be somehow precognitive, as Dr. Salt was on vacation and his appointments were being handled by a fill-in. Her name was Dr. Sen.

"I don't see any neurological issues in your scan," she said, long brown fingers folded on her blotter. "And your bloodwork is normal. In light of this, I'm not convinced your problem is somatic. Have you considered psychotherapy?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding vaguely. "Twice, actually."

The analyst construct downloaded itself into his home console just as Drillard was finishing supper. He pushed his plate aside, turned off the soccer game and then watched the progress bar fill on the display. A chime sounded. "Good evening," said a smoothly modulated artificial voice. "Tell me about your mother."

Afterward, he went to a bar. After that he found himself knocking on an unfamiliar apartment door. He was as surprised as anyone when Mona answered. "...Drilly?"

"Can I come in?" he mumbled, already moving forward.

She sat cross-legged on the sofa in pink pajamas, a mug of steaming tea between her thighs. Drillard paced back and forth in front of the wide wall of windows that overlooked the city's bright core. "So basically the damn thing tells me I hate my job, I'm sick of my life, and if I don't want to get stuck in a cycle of worsening depression I've got to make some big changes."

Mona furrowed her brow, arms crossed. "What kind of changes, Drill? I mean, you've applied for employment amelioration like ten times. What else can you do? Retrain? What would you study?"

He licked his lips, still pacing. "Maybe I should just leave."

"Leave? Where would you go? Out East?"

"Offworld," he replied, eyes flashing. "Maybe I could go offworld."

Mona drew in her breath sharply. Drillard couldn't be sure but it seemed to him that there was something almost impressed in her expression. Hesitantly she said, "Do you really think you're cut out for that kind of life?"

He snorted. "Well, clearly I'm not cut out for this one. Just ask the goddamn analyst construct."

"Tell me about your mother..."

"That's not funny."

She opened a bottle of wine, explaining it had been set aside for a date who had stood her up. Drillard heard himself say that seemed unlikely. She shrugged as she poured out two glasses. "Don't bothering buttering me up," she replied tartly, setting the bottle back on the table. "You know full well I'm lightyears out of your league, Drill. I'm not trying to be mean. It's just the truth."

Drillard nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"No matter how you shake it I'm B-3 and you're C-5, and my mama taught me to never fool around outside my genetic cohort."

He nodded again. "Yeah. I guess when everything feels like a dream it just seems like anything might be possible. It's the underappreciated upshot of losing your grip."

She offered him a wan smile and reached out to touch his shoulder. "Poor Drilly. If you ever did kiss me you know what would happen, don't you? You'd wake right up." The snapped her fingers then tried to force a laugh.

He glanced down. "You're falling out of your pajamas."

Mona turned pink and hit him with a pillow. "Go home, Drill," she said, crossing her arms over her chest again. "It's late."

"Sure," he agreed, draining his glass. "Thanks for listening." He turned around and scooped up his jacket from the floor, and when his head came up again he banged it hard against the upper edge of the scanning drum. "Damn it!" he bellowed, stars winking through his vision.

Dr. Sen was peering in at him. "Mr. Drillard, have you hurt yourself?"

Drillard said an unprintable word as the gurney slid out of the scanner. He sat up all the way and rubbed at his throbbing forehead. When he opened his eyes again Dr. Sen was staring at him splayed out on the gurney with his hospital chemise tented impressively over his erection. He crossed his legs quickly. "How long was I out?"

"Out?" echoed Dr. Sen. "But you've only just gone into the scanner."

Drillard pressed his lips together grimly. "Something serious is happening to me, doctor, I know it," he whispered. "I just wish I could remember what it is."


V.

"Wake up!"

Drillard groaned.

"Wake up, God damn you, wake up Drill!"

He smelled baby powder and sex. He opened his eyes. He was curled up in a twisted piece of pink comforter. Along the headboard: mineral water, exfoliating facial scrubs, cinnamon massage oil. Standing over him: Mona with a silk sheet clutched against her front.

"What?" stammered Drillard.

"Oh my God," shrieked Mona. "What did you put in my wine you bastard?"

"But we didn't do anything -- you sent me home, remember?"

Mona snatched up a pair of pants and began flogging at him with them. "Liar!" she cried, face screwed up tightly in fury. "I can't believe this. I can't believe you. I can't believe my own friend -- we've been friends for three years, Drill! -- my own friend would take advantage of me like this! I hate you!"

Drillard tried to shield himself as she started picking up random things from the floor and lobbing them at his head. "I didn't do anything!" he pled, taking a shoe to the temple as gracefully as he could manage.

"I'm ovulating you idiot! Do you know what this means? I'm B-fornicating-3!"

Drillard's mouth went dry. "You can abort. They won't even give you a hassle, because I'm just C-5. You can say I forced you!"

"You did force me!"

She punched him the face. Drillard rolled backward off the bed and hit the wall, upsetting a vanity and sending vials of cosmetics crashing in all directions. He tasted blood. "Stop!" he wailed. "I thing you broge by node!"

Naked and furious, Mona wrenched the fallen vanity up over her head. Before Drillard could object she swung it down upon him. He had raised one arm defensively, and it was this arm he felt break first. Then the bulk of the furniture careened into his head and everything went dark and awful.

Beep.

Drillard stirred.

Beep.

His eyes opened slightly, admitting a painful light. He slowly gained awareness of a body as heavy as weak. When he lolled his head he heard the crisp whispers of a starched pillow against his ears. Beep.

A white room. Sun-dappled leaf shadows spread along the wall. Sickly sweet smell of old flowers. A machine at his elbow reporting audibly on his respiration. Beep. The smell of disinfectant and cologne, vomit and ozone. Tinny voices paging specialists.

"Doctor, Mr. Drillard is ready for your examination."

Two long faces looked in over Drillard, his own pallid and slack features reflected in their cold eyes. Together they discussed his bowel movements and glucose levels, then one of them drew out a little flashlight and clicked it on with his thumb as he pointed it first into Drillard's left eye, then his right.

Drillard was trapped inside himself. He could neither move nor speak.

"I'd like to test the gag response."

"Heart rate is elevating."

"Show me the realtime cochlear data. Is he hearing us?"

Drillard's rehabilitation began immediately. He was weak as a kitten. He was propped up on pillows with an intravenous line attached to his ludicrously skinny arm, and asked many simple questions like whether he felt up to counting backwards from twenty or if he could recite the alphabet. He tired quickly. He would protest against his heavy lids. "I can do a few more. I just want to stay awake."

"You've spent a long time in a very deep coma, Mr. Drillard. Please, let us set the pace."

There was a television in the hospital ward and the lady in the next bed over liked to keep it tuned to a popular situation comedy about a young urban professional called Ishtar is Your Oyster, Mona Farmer. Drillard wore a faraway, sad expression as he watched the sexy brunette starlet cavort on screen. Everyone else in the ward laughed uproariously at the dumb jokes.

Physiotherapy was hard. "You need to find something to fight for," urged his therapist as Drillard was crumpled, panting, at the base of the treadmill. "You need to want to get back to your life."

"My wife left me," he croaked forlornly.

"When you're well again, you can meet somebody new."

"I'm C-5."

"There are plenty of C-5 women around. Not everybody wants to spend their life having babies, you know. What do you think you might want to do once you're up and at it again?"

He grimaced, tasting the metal bar against his mouth. "I don't know."

"You need a dream, Mr. Drillard. You can't strive without a dream."


VI.

Yasu was setting. The shadow of her giant rings cut through the swirls of cloud visible on her broad limb above the treetops. The sky beyond was purple and pinpricked with the evening's first stars, a chorus around Proxima. The opposite horizon burned golden as Centauri Prime rolled out of view.

Birds chirped. Drillard sat on a bench, an intravenous bag hanging on a wheeled stand beside him. Orderlies were helping the other patients inside from the garden. Drillard awaited his turn, lazily watching streams of traffic clot and stretch over the city, the amber glow of Centauri Secundae lighting up the bellies of the clouds as it rose.

A monk walked over and took a seat next to him. "Do you mind?"

Drillard shook his head. "Feel free. You'll have the whole bench to yourself in a minute or two. The orderlies are coming to float me back to my room."

"I wouldn't mind chatting in the meantime. You're Trenton Drillard, aren't you?"

Drillard nodded. "That's me."

The monk's brow was sloped with concern, his face etched by years of similar compassions. "My name is Brother Necker," he said. "I'm a Zorannite volunteer with the hospital. We haven't spoken before."

Drillard shrugged. "I'm not really religious."

The monk smiled carelessly. "No, I suppose you're not an observant man so far as that goes. But it is my understanding that you're experiencing a particularly religious predicament."

"You've been misinformed. I was just in a coma."

"And suffering persistent delusions of awakening, isn't that right?"

Drillard conceded a nod. "Well, all but the last one were delusions, I guess. I'm here now, aren't I?"

The monk shifted somewhat closer, leaning in. "Then you're altogether convinced that the process is complete? This reality --" he said, gesturing briefly at their darkening environs, "-- is the ultimate reality. Is that so?"

Drillard hesitated. "I'm getting better," he said a bit more aggressively than he had planned. "The construct thinks I'm just a little shell-shocked from the experience of waking up out of the coma. Once burned, twice shy -- that kind of thing. The doctors say I'm doing great."

Brother Necker sat back again, his eyes unfocused. "And yet you don't feel quite wholly yourself."

"I'm getting better," said Drillard again.

"But you have stopped fighting."

"There's nothing to fight against. It's all been explained to me."

The monk turned to him seriously, his wizened little face glowering with a new hint of menace. "In that satisfaction lies your doom, Mr. Drillard," he said, eyes fixed on eyes. Suddenly he blinked, sat back, and assumed his previous careless posture. He looked up at the sky. "Have you studied much history, Trenton?"

"Nobody calls me Trenton," replied Drillard carefully, watching the monk. "No," he added after a moment. "I mean, not really. I'm just a traffic controller. What's this about doom?"

Brother Necker gestured upward. The darkening quarter of the sky now admitted the brightest parts of the green and scarlet phantasm of gas every Ishtari knew so well. "Rome," he said, pointing out a streamer of fluorescing helium. "New York," he said, letting his finger trace sideways across the sky to settle on a patch of ink against a backdrop of glittering stars. "Paris. Every city of the ancient world, every road, every grave, every tree...spread out across the sky in dust."

"Sure," grunted Drillard noncommitally. "Everybody knows all about the Solar Nebula."

"Our race fled in the face of that calamity -- that you know well, too -- and it was just a single ark that reached this Second Earth. Of those that set out, only a single generation ship arrived."

"Right," agreed Drillard.

"What many people don't appreciate is that, after the accident -- after we were separated from the others -- a whole generation arose on our ark that was utterly ignorant of their situation. Can you imagine that? They consulted our oldest books and found facts described therein that had virtually no correlation to the reality in which they found themselves. They had to wonder why the ancestors thought things like 'the sky' were so important when there was evidently no such thing."

Drillard shifted. "Disorienting."

"Worse," said Brother Necker gravely. "It nearly drove them psychotic. Our history nearly ended right there and then. You see, a man cannot live when he has no trust in his world. Imagine waking yourself out of ignorance to find a source of knowledge which seems to contradict everything that seems reasonable until a further stage of awakening is achieved. So was for them: the wisdom of the ancestors made no sense until we made planetfall."

Drillard frowned, then glanced over his shoulder to see if could spot an orderly. "What's your point?"

The monk leaned in close again. "Clarity is seeking you," he said seriously. "You, in turn, must seek clarity. At that union all these bewildering fragments will assemble into a sensible whole, and wisdom will be yours. You can and must awaken to this truth, my son."

Centauri Secundae had risen. Drillard studied the star absently, hearing the monk shift beside him. Finally he muttered, "So what would you have me do? Sacrifice a goat? Meditate under a baobab? Shelter orphans?"

"Swim, my son. You must simply swim."

And as he said this Drillard saw that the nebula above them was running and twisting with distortion as its light was filtered through the undulating surface of a sea. The stars, the clouds, the satellites -- of them seemed to be refracting down to him through a liquid sky. The city wavered like weeds on the ocean floor, and suddenly Drillard's lungs ached for air.

He was floating. "We're having cherry gelatin tonight," said the orderly. But Drillard was far above him now, clawing and kicking his way through the thick aether toward the lights of heaven.

He strained his fingertips toward the vault, desperate now to break the surface and breathe again. Upward, ever upward, Drillard surged toward the shining orb of Secundae...


VII.

With a start Drillard realized that he had failed to complete his mathematics homework. He looked up at the teacher and quailed inside, the taste of bile at the back of his throat. "Stand up, Mr. Drillard!"

Drillard stood up. He felt cold. He looked down and saw, to his horror, that he was stark naked.

All the other kids pointed and laughed. Drillard fell upon himself, folding in half to cover his genitals and avert his eyes. He tried to roll into a little ball where there on the waxed linoleum floor. He pressed his fists into his eyes and willed the world to melt away...

"Trenton, dear, you'll be late for school."

"But I'm already at school."

He saw that he wasn't. He was in his bed beside Pauline, drawing little circles of tickle on her exposed hip as his mother busied herself about the bedroom, putting stuffed toys back on the shelf and hucking sports-themed underwear into the dirty laundry bin. "Honestly, this room is a sty."

"Could you just give me a minute Mom, so I can have sex with Pauline one last time before the divorce?"

"Of course dear, but please have a bit of breakfast first."

She made spaceship sounds as she flew each spoonful of hot oatmeal into his mouth and then used the edge of the spoon to wipe away the excess. Drillard obediently opened for the next helping. Pauline exhaled loudly and rolled her eyes. "Just a sec, honey," he mumbled around his food. "I'm almost done here."

"You're no pioneer," sneered Pauline.

"There's no ceiling on what I can be, Polly."

"You can't be a father."

"No, not to children. I guess not. But maybe to something else. People like me begin new histories, you know."

He was distracted by the fat, thick-lipped man sitting on the end of the bed. His hands looked like a child's hands -- pink and soft and tiny. He adjusted his tie with those tiny hands then cleared his phlegm. "The process is completely safe, Mr. Drillard, let me assure you. Modern hibernation techniques ensure a senseless journey and an easy transition back to consciousness upon arrival at your destination. Failing a major breakthrough in propulsion, hibernation really is the only viable option for making an interplanetary trip of this magnitude."

"Has it ever gone wrong?" asked Drillard, pushing aside his mother's hand. "Have you ever lost anyone?"

The fat man bit his own plump lip. "I must be frank with you, Mr. Drillard: just under one tenth of one percent of hibernators may experience a challenging wake."

Drillard cocked his head as he stroked his ex-wife's hip. "What's that mean?"

"There have been cases -- rare cases, isolated cases -- in which a very small number of hibernators have descended into a steady-state of extreme sleep reluctant to re-admit reality when the time comes. It may be a defense mechanism against neurological injury, real or perceived, not entirely unlike a coma. I must emphasize again, however, that such cases are exceedingly few and far between."

"But what happens to them?"

"We have several interventions at our disposal to aid the recovery."

"Like what?"

The fat man suddenly seized Drillard by the face and pulled him bodily across the bed, then shouted, "Wake up!" with spittle-flecked vehemence.


VIII.

Drillard awoke.

He sat up and puked. White robots were at his side in an instant, the pads of their fingers soft and warm. "Please lie down," said one in a melodiously sexless contralto as it wiped strings of yellow bile from his lips. "Please do not resist," said the other, pushing him back into the pillows. "Focus on slowing your breathing, Passenger Drillard. In...and out. In...and out."

Drillard turned his head. He saw an intravenous drip attached to his arm. Beyond that his eyes could not focus well -- blearily he could discern row after row of hibernation capsules. Those closest to him were splayed open like spring flowers; those further away were in the process of slowly opening. Hundreds of white robots tended to the dazed cargo, their calming voices blending into a comforting drone.

A human physician stepped up beside him and checked the readouts. The badge on her white coat identified her as Dr. Sen. She took a little flashlight out of her pocket and pointed it into each of his eyes in turn. "How are you feeling, Mr. Drillard?" she asked, clicking the flashlight off with her thumb.

Drillard blinked. "Dreams," he said, voice husky. And then, "How...long?"

Dr. Sen nodded. "Perfectly normal. You've been in hibernation for nearly seventeen years."

He managed to just barely shake his head, the pillow rustling in his ears. "No -- how long...have I been waking up?"

She glanced up at his capsule's readout again, then shot a cuff and checked her watch. "Um, we started the wake routine about, let's see, an hour ago."

"An hour? But I was back on Ishtar -- there were days...weeks. I kept trying to wake up. All of it...only one hour?"

She offered him a tight, professional smile and patted him on the shoulder. "Give yourself a few minutes before you stand up, Mr. Drillard. You're doing great."

Later he loitered in the lounge, his bum peeking out the back of his hibernation gown as he sipped orange juice from a plastic cup while staring past his own reflection out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The wheel of the galaxy cut the view. Off to one side Centauri Secundae blazed, and directly ahead was a pale blue crescent standing bright against the bed of stars and smoke.

Another planet. A new world. His future home.

He cried. He didn't feel embarrassed -- a fair number of the stunned and largely silent collection of fellow passengers in the lounge were sobbing, too. Some of them hugged robots. The robots patted them gently on the back. "There there," they cooed. "there there, passenger."

When he had gathered himself somewhat Drillard signalled for service. A robot was at his side in seconds. Drillard cleared his throat. "Coffee."

The robot cocked its head. "Sir?"

"You heard me," he snapped, turning to look into the thing's insensible glowing eyes. "Coffee, strong, black."

"Caffeine is contraindicated, passenger. Rest is recommended."

"Rest? You've got to be kidding me," chuckled Drillard. He turned back to face space. "I'm never going to sleep again."


Fin.


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