The close quarters of life on the capsule didn’t allow me any of my much-vaunted privacy. Every moment of every day was spent in close quarters with at least one other person. In my case, this was usually Scott. Scott was bunked directly above me and seemed to be making it his personal mission to become my friend. No matter how many times I snubbed his attempts at friendship he kept coming back; like a puppy looking for a new master.
Scott was short for a man: about 5’6”. He had shaggy brown hair, green eyes, and a tendency to wearing crumpled food-stained clothing. Scott was a bit of a mess, always hopping from one topic to another, never really getting to the point. His cheerfulness was a constant irritation but was especially bad first thing in the morning. Undeterred by my daily complaints about being woken early he had roused me every day since takeoff with a smiling: “Morning Ryan!”
This morning was no different than any other, Scott was smiling down at me through the opening to my bunk, having just given his traditional morning greeting.
I groaned and rolled away from Scott’s happy face. “Leave me alone Scott. I want to sleep.” I said.
“You want to sleep? Well, I’d love to let you, but then you’d totally miss it.”
This was one of Scott’s tricks: appealing to my curious nature in an attempt to get a rise out of me. I wasn’t going to let it work today. “Leave me alone Scott.” I pulled my pillow off its Velcro strips, out from under my head, and used it to cover my ears.
Scott pulled the pillow out of my hands. “Why are you always such a downer Ryan? We’re in space! Be excited!” Scott rolled out of his bed and held himself parallel to the floor by grabbing hold of the ladder next to our bunks. He walked hand over hand down the ladder until his face was level with mine. Reaching into my bunk, he started undoing the straps that held me down while I slept. Drifting around the cabin while sleeping sounds fun, but would’ve been pretty irritating to the other passengers.
I shrugged Scott’s hands off my buckles and curled up in a tight ball, hoping he would give up and leave me alone.
“But Ryan, we’re docking with the transfer station today. Aren’t you excited?”
“Please Scott, leave me alone.”
“Oh, I see that you’re in need of another explanation on how the Hyperloop works.” Scott loved annoying me with his lectures — so far, every time I had rebuffed his attempts at friendship Scott had given another of his ‘lectures.’ “Okay, I don’t mind.” He smiled broadly. “You know that I did my engineering internship on the SABRE system, right? Well, I’ll explain it all again for you. You couldn’t help but be excited if you understood how all this works.” Scott punched me playfully in the shoulder, eliciting a small groan of protest. “I know how much you love my lectures.
“The Hyperloop can only get us high enough for the SABRE rockets to work, the Hyperloop isn’t high or fast enough for us to achieve low earth orbit. Once we leave the Hyperloop — like a bullet leaving a gun — the first SABRE rocket stage kicks in. We get another one hundred eighty seconds of thrust from the SABRE rockets – pushing us to a speed of thirty-five kilometres per second and an altitude of one hundred eighty kilometres. Then – once we leave the atmosphere – the closed-cycle stage of the SABRE kicks in, pushing us to an altitude of 2,000 kilometres. Right at the outside edge of low earth orbit.”
Scott gently shook my shoulder: “You listening?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Well, we’ve finally lined up with the transfer station. We’re going to dock today. It’s almost time for the next stage of our journey! Aren’t you excited?”
“Scott, seriously, leave me alone. I just want to get to Mars.” I tried to shake Scott’s hand from my shoulder but he held on firmly.
“Listen to me Ryan. I’m not sure what happened for you to be like this. I think it’s pretty weird for a young man like you to be so sad all the time.” He forcibly undid my buckles and started shifting me out of my bunk, “let’s go and watch the docking. I’m not taking no for an answer.”
I allowed myself to be shifted from my bunk; fighting Scott was pointless, he had apparently made up his mind. Scott towed me by my foot through the corridor connecting the bunk section and the observation lounge.
I noticed a strange looking, simian creature working on an electrical panel in the corridor opposite Scott and I. “What’s that?” I asked; my curiosity overruling my despair.
“What’s what?” Following my eyes across the room, Scott replied: “Oh, that’s an android.”
“An android?” I pulled my foot out of Scott’s grasp and – using the railings strategically placed around the lounge – positioned myself to get a better look. He appeared about as human as a child’s plastic doll. His skin was too smooth, his teeth too perfect, his eyes too bright. It was as though his creators had spent so much time developing his appearance they forgot to add any real humanity to his features. It wasn’t even clear whether the android was a he or a she. I only refer to him as a he because, when I was younger, I was more comfortable with the masculine pronoun – the android could very easily have been a she.
“What’s he for?” I asked.
“He is for anything you want. He’s a complete AI.”
I leaned toward the android, trying to get a closer look. A complete AI? The holy grail of computing was on a spaceship headed for Mars? “What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know. SPACE X keeps them super-secret; no one knows much about them. That’s the first android I’ve ever seen up close.”
I kept staring, fascinated by the android. Scott took my hand and pulled me across the lounge to one of the large bay windows – already crowded with a dozen other passengers.
I knew none of the other passenger’s names, there were a lot of Connor’s, Dylan’s, and Eric’s — typical jock-type soldier names. No individual stood out enough to make an impression. Our flight had been reserved for SPACE X security reinforcements; Scott and I had been shoehorned onto the launch at the last minute. Scott was replacing an engineer that had been injured.
The bros – as I referred to the reinforcements – were the kind of young men that spent all their free time engaged in an endless contest of one-upmanship; they were involved in a never-ending prank war with each other. I was having a hard time imagining how I was going to manage the 260 day trip to Mars. They were already driving me crazy and I’d only been locked in a capsule with them for two days.
The bros were ribbing and jockeying for a position close to the window. I tore my eyes from the android and edged my lanky frame to the front of the crowd. The security bros – after having already been harshly rebuffed in their attempts to treat me as their little bro – tended to stay out of my way.
The transfer station was floating about one hundred meters from the window. The capsule’s docking bay was oriented on the side of its main body, giving us an excellent view of the docking process. The transfer station was huge – I was in awe that something so large could be built 2,000 kilometres from the Earth’s surface. It looked like a massive, white, bicycle tire spinning in slow rotations around its central axis.
The capsule edged slowly toward the docking port in the central hub of the station. The whole operation seemed to happen in ultra-slow motion. At a few points during the manoeuvre, I thought that we had stopped moving and were going to forever float on the cusp of docking, never actually meeting up with the transfer station.
The connection with the station was so delicate that, if I hadn’t been closely watching, I wouldn’t have noticed anything happening. The pilot flying our launch must have been a seasoned professional; pulling off such a delicate operation with so much finesse.
“We’re here,” Scott called in his typical sing-song fashion. “Go grab your stuff. I want to see the station.”
I looked across the lounge for the android, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.