At long last, I am awake. I have been drifting in this inky blackness for so long that I’d almost forgotten what consciousness felt like.
Was it just yesterday I kissed my mother goodbye and crawled into my stasis capsule?
I’d told her not to worry. I’d told her I would miss her.
No, it couldn’t have been yesterday. The monitor flashing above me says we’re 300 light years away from Earth. Even at maximum speed it would have taken at least 150 years to get this far.
Wow. 150 years ago I had been ready to die. The doctors had all said the cancer was too far gone to fix. Today, though…today, I feel fine. I guess it took 150 years, but they fixed it.
Shouldn’t we have arrived by now? Where are all the doctors?
“Welcome back. Please drink the water and spit into the sink.” There is now a blinking arrow on the monitor above me pointing to the sink beside my bed.
That’s not a human voice. Is it coming out of the speaker there? I see a glass of water and a sink. I try to speak, but my throat is so dry, I can’t make a sound.
“Please drink the water and spit into the sink. Your health is of utmost importance to us.”
The voice is definitely coming from the speaker. It must be computerized or something.
I sit up for the first time in 150 years and reach for the glass. My arms feel like lead. My fingers close around the glass clumsily, and I bring it to my mouth. My hands are shaking. I am spilling water down my shirt, but most of it is getting in my mouth. The water is clean and crisp. I down the entire glass in two gulps.
“You may still be thirsty. Please refill your glass and spit into the sink when you are done.”
I am getting used to this voice now; its androgenous voice has a kindly lilt. I oblige by drinking a little more water and spitting the rest into the sink.
You’re welcome. My dry lips crack as they form a smile.
A monitor above the sink turns on, showing a rotating sphere and the words “PROCESSING DNA.” I refill the glass once more and look around the room as I drink.
The small cabin looks much the same as it did when I first picked it out. They had removed the oxygen from the room when my stasis capsule had been sealed, so there was hardly any deterioration to the fancy pillows and curtains I’d taken along with me. I’d told my mother that if I was going to die in space, I would rather have it be in style. She’d laughed and told me she would make me a quilt to keep me warm.
I look down at my lap. The quilt she’d promised is tucked snugly around me, decorated with dancing frogs and butterflies. I imagine her tucking me in before the stasis cover had closed. She was probably crying. This is the last thing I have from her. The last thing I have from anybody I have ever known. I clutch the quilt tightly.
The monitor above the sink begins to blink. “PROCESSING DNA” are replaced by the words “96.4% HUMAN,” with a big green bar underneath it. I frown and look down at my body, confused.
A woman’s face appears on the monitor. “Welcome back,” says the woman. “I am Captain Holly Yeats of the Phoenix.”
I open my mouth and try to croak out a faint, “Hello.” My throat is still terribly dry. I refill my glass.
“First, let me tell you how happy we are that you are doing well. It has always been the mission of the crew of the Phoenix to serve on the cutting edge of healthcare.”
I nod, remembering this part from the brochures and sales pitch my mother and I had gotten at the hospital. The idea was that the Phoenix would leave Earth and head towards the brand new colony, Cassius, some 20 light years away. They’d warned us that the ship wouldn’t be travelling at light speed, so it would take much longer to get there than 20 years. That’s what would give the scientists on board time to come up with cures. At the time, it seemed like a no-brainer. The risks seemed trivial compared to the benefits; I knew I was going to die anyway, and I’d always wanted to go into space.
“You may be wondering why you are still in space,” Captain Yeats continues. “Since you went into stasis, a war broke out on Cassius, and the entire planet was rendered uninhabitable. We couldn’t return to Earth because of…zoning restrictions. Luckily, we have located another earth-like planet suitable for habitation and are traveling there.” She pauses. I see that her eyes are oddly shaped; they remind me of fish eyes. She blinks, and I wonder if it is just my imagination. “You and the 99 other patients on board have been traveling with us for several generations.”
I refill my glass and lean toward the monitor as I drink. Generations?
“The fact that you have been released from stasis means that we have been able to find a cure for your sickness. Most cancers, we found, are easily treatable through the introduction of alternate genes into your system. Animal genes. This means that you might experience some side effects as your body adapts to its new chimeric state.”
I am feeling queasy now. What did they do to me? I throw the quilt off my lap and start feeling my legs and arms for scales. I still count ten fingers and ten toes.
“You will be kept in quarantine for 24 hours as you get used to your new, healthy body and familiarize yourself with your surroundings. After that, you will be free to move about the ship and interact with the crew and other passengers.” Captain Yeats glances off camera. “We still have a long way to go, I’m afraid. The closest planet we could find is at least another 100 light years away. That’s several more generations from now.”
I stagger over to the mirror across the room. What is different about me? I begin to take off my clothes and look at every inch of my body as Captain Yeats continues to speak.
“If you are watching this message, that means we have selected you as an eligible breeder to continue the human race. If you mate with any other healthy passenger on board, we calculate that your human DNA will continue to be dominant for at least seven generations.” She leans in so I can see her fish eyes clearly. “It is of utmost importance that you follow these directions. The human race is an endangered species, and it’s up to you to rescue it from the brink of extinction.”
The monitor goes blank.
I turn back to the mirror and look closely at my face. My eyes are still human. My nose, my ears. My mouth…
I put the glass of water to my lips and watch myself drink in the mirror.
I lower the glass and open my mouth.
My tongue is longer. Sort of curled at the end.
I touch it with my finger. It’s kind of sticky.
The monitor blinks again, and more words appear:
96.4% Homo sapiens (human).
3.6% Rana clamitans (green frog).
I grab my quilt from off the floor and wrap it around me. The room is not cold, but I am shivering.
The computerized voice comes on again. “Your blood pressure is rising,” it tells me. “We are giving you a mild sedative to help ease your transition. Please return to the bed so you can rest.” I can see the sweet-smelling gas puffing through the vents.
I barely make it back to the bed before I feel myself drifting away from consciousness. Back to the familiar inky blackness where I’ve spent the last 150 years.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Bran challenged me with “Today, I feel fine,” and I challenged coolaquarius with “First love after 70 years.”