Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2020 Day 2: Stasis Pods

By Robin de Voh on 2020-10-06

"250 years is a lot to us, but to you it'll feel like you went to bed and woke up after a really good sleep," they had told me.

I had nodded. I understood the science, even if only the basics.

"Well, you'll wake up feeling like that 4 times, of course," they had added, with smiles and some glances at each other, as if to congratulate each other on their humor.

Stasis scientists were the worst.

I had been picked as the pilot of the Pilgrim, a pre-colony research ship being sent to LYSAN-C, a super Earth that had been discovered over 50 years ago. A few years ago it had been deemed the perfect candidate for the farthest future colony established yet. 250 years is too long for any human, so stasis pods had been chosen as the way to bridge the distance.

And someone had to be the pilot. A 250 year journey didn't need a whole lot of steering or navigating, however, since it's basically just pick a course and go. Straight line to the end. No complicated slingshot maneuvers, and the ship's hull was strong enough to survive micrometeoroids striking it, so what was a human to do?

Well, that human, me, would wake up every so often and make sure everything was still okay. So every 50 years I would be awoken from stasis, run full systems diagnostics, verify the course and whether we were on schedule, and then return to my stasis pod a few days later, waiting for the next shift.

It wasn't exciting, but neither was my life on Earth. The people who took these jobs -- including the scientists that were part of my cargo -- were generally not people with happy family lives. After all, by the time they would get to LYSAN-C, all of the people they had ever met in their life would be dead of old age already.

I wasn't any different. I had lived a decent life, sure. I had a great career as a low orbit pilot. Until my wife left and took my kids to another country -- never to be seen or heard from again -- and I would have to admit things did get a little frustrating then. Suffice it to say after that I didn't always make the right choices. The job offer came at the right time, I had just decided to stop drinking and get my life back on track.

But there wasn't much of a life to return to. Leaving Earth and going on an adventure -- as they tried to sell it -- was fine by me. Do something useful, get away from all the frustration and even the temptations, and end up on a new planet as well? Sounds good!

The Pilgrim itself wasn't that exciting. It was a basic barge usually used to ship goods from low earth orbit to the moon, but retrofitted with stasis pods and some beefier engines. Nothing super fast, of course, but reliable. Something that could run steadily for 50 years without needing to be tweaked. And even if it broke, it could be fixed by most people on the ship. Not necessarily me, but I had a list of who to wake up for what problems.

Dream job. That's what it seemed. An estimated 20 days of work, get away from all my troubles, and end up on a planet where there's no society to care about other than what we decided to start there ourselves.

Sure, we weren't the colonists yet, but there were 40 of us and I can tell you, we definitely weren't all the same gender.

When we set off it was exciting for me, as I was the only one awake. The rest was all snuggled up in their little safety boxes. It was the start of something new.

You might be imagining a massive rocket taking off from Earth, roaring engines spitting flame.

Nothing so epic, I'm sad to say. This barge never leaves space. It was already up there and we were shuttled to it. Setting off was anticlimactic if flame spitting was what you expected. You could see you were moving by the shuttles speeding away and their angle changing, but other than that I felt nothing.

When everything seemed to be running at full capacity, I signaled home base that all was good and I was going to go into my stasis pod.

First wake-up, nothing special. Did the checklists, ate something, went back into stasis.
Second wake-up, nothing special. Did the checklists, watched a movie with popcorn, took a dump, and went back into stasis.

The third wake-up, at the start of the checklist, I noticed something was off. I fiddled with some buttons and it turned out the calibration of the sensors was off. A quick reboot and recalibration and all was good again. Went back into stasis.

The fourth wake-up was even more boring. Did half the checklist, figured it was all good and just checked all the remaining boxes as successful, and went back into stasis again.

The fifth wake-up was special, however. We had arrived to LYSAN-C and even from a distance you could see it was beautiful. Its sun was a pinkish yellow, a color combination I didn't fully grasp, but the planet in the distance was green, yellow and a lot of blue. Like a bigger, more chaotically divided Earth. The continents were shapes I knew from seeing them on a screen but seeing them for real was completely different.

I was to awake the others once we had landed, since the stasis pods also provided structural support in case of a crash. I was the one taking all the risks, but as a pilot, what's new?

We were moving closer to LYSAN-C quickly, so I checked the trajectory and flight plan, and we were supposed to start slowing down soon. Almost as soon as I finished strapping in to my chair for when gravity would inevitably get to us once we went into the atmosphere, the Pilgrim started to slow down as expected.

Then I noticed something shimmer on the planet surface. Something... Not natural. Silverish? Metal? Grey, at least, that I know, and it shimmered, so metal was still my guess.

And as we kept getting closer, I started to see other odd things on the planet surface.

I used the ship's sensor system to zoom in on one of those spots -- the shimmering one I saw first -- and my breath got stuck in my throat immediately.

Cities. They were cities! Were they alien cities? They had to be, we were the only ones out here.

And then the radio crackled. Nothing should be in range, so I was shocked. I flipped a button and opened the radio channel. A voice came over the speaker.

"Ship approaching Lysane, identify yourself, we don't recognize you."

I was too confused to respond. English? These aliens spoke English!

"Ship, again, identify yourself or we'll have to take defensive measures."
"I... Uh, hello. This is the pilot of the Pilgrim."
"The Pilgrim?" the other voice went, and I could hear muffled talk in the background that I couldn't quite make out. "The Pilgrim from Earth?"
"...Yes? Wait, what's going on?"

I could hear shouts of happiness on the other side of the radio signal and someone shouting "They made it!". Another voice shouted "I won the bet!"

It was my turn to shout now.

"What is this?! What's going on?"
"You've made it, that's what's going on! We had bets going on whether you ever would!"

I sat there, not knowing what to say anymore.

It took quite some talking, through a lot of confusion, but I eventually figured out what all of this really was.

40 years after I had left they had developed a new type of space ship engine. ...Of course they did. You see where this is going, right? They had improved on that for long enough that it would allow a ship to get to LYSAN-C, by now called just Lysane, in a matter of years.

Within about 150 years, they had then proceeded to fully colonize and develop it into a planet now rivaling Earth around the time I left.

Those complete assholes.

We were supposed to be the first.

We were late instead.