The Voyage “Up”
Cynthia May rode the shuttle from Moonbase to the mother ship. Uncle Tommy and his cousin, Sadie Lynch—for genealogical simplicity known as Aunt Sadie—accompanied her, the last living members of the family to leave Earth. A year before, her favorites—Uncle Ed, a vampire, his mate and wife Lorna, a lycan and their hybrid children—had relocated to Mars. Lycan-vampire hybrids aged as humans did. While Cynthia anticipated a lifespan approaching three centuries, her companions rarely lived more than a third of that.
Ahead, shining brightly against the black omniscient silence of space, a gigantic, silver passenger ring rotated slowly around an equally brilliant propulsion cylinder. Magnetic flux lines held the engineering plant at the center of the vast doughnut-shaped object. The centrifugal force generated by the silent rotation maintained an artificial gravity, a fifth of Earth’s. By creating a sense of up and down, the pull addressed the majority of disorientation or space sickness concerns for those who remained awake during the voyage to Mars.
“Is that our ship?” Uncle Tommy asked. Thick, snow-colored curls carried a faint scent of a grooming gel Cynthia couldn’t place. He leaned across his younger relative to see better. Less than twenty-five years separated them in age, but Cynthia could pass for his granddaughter.
Two of Cynthia’s long, pale fingers, tipped in glossy red, parted the small, pleated curtain panels to maximum extent, allowing both elders a proper view. “It’s so large,” the elderly aunt remarked, her voice frail.
“Five kilometers across, or about three miles.”
Aunt Sadie pouted her square, wrinkled face. “I’ll never get used to all these meters and kilograms.”
Patting her almost child-sized, bony knee, Cynthia laughed. “That’s exactly what The Greats said when they arrived. You’ll be fine, dear.” The Greats were Samantha and Jim White, first lycan-vampire pair bond. Aunt Sadie’s mother, Cassandra, belonged to their initial litter. To all generations of the family, hybrid as well as the others, Samantha, or Sam, was Great-mom, while they called Jim, Great-pop.
“Are you sure making the journey will be safe? I’ve heard about the perils space travel poses for hybrids, not to mention humans.”
With momentary exasperation Cynthia rolled her eyes and inhaled deeply before explaining the facts for what must’ve been the tenth time. “Uncle Tommy, you’re remembering the early days of deep space travel. Neither humans nor hybrids acclimated very well to traveling beyond the Earth’s moon, only subspecies. We’ve improved shielding and speed. Travel duration is reduced. Now just about anyone can make the trip at least once before exceeding lifetime radiation limits or experiencing the threatening physical effects the first expeditions faced.”
“Try to remember what little Cindy told us Tom, and don’t be asking the same thing in ten minutes,” Aunt Sadie added peevishly. At ninety-six, the elderly woman was a year younger than Uncle Tommy. With no patience for her cousin’s more frequent episodes of confusion, she possessed only a marginally clearer mind. Retreating into herself, Cynthia thought how the old ones with barely sounder memories had the least tolerance for their contemporaries’ mental lapses. “Senior moments,” Lorna called them.
“Hush up, Sadie. I just want to be sure.” Cynthia knew how this would go. For the next few minutes or so, they’d continue arguing, often showing surprising passion. Usually, it would end when one or both lost focus or forgot the cause of the dispute, sinking into uneasy quiet. Concentrating on the image of the spaceship’s silvery flank, as it gradually filled the viewport, Cynthia left them to their debate.
When only meters separated the shuttle from the skin of the ship, a portal opened. Making a black circle in the otherwise unblemished metal, the aperture reminded her of a camera’s shutter. A space-suited person riding a machine that resembled a jet ski, like she used to ride in Brazil, shot from the hole, trailing a steel cable. After attaching the tow, the rider steered clear. Cynthia watched the line grow taut, reeling them in and their craft.
A slow, mushy clunking sound told Cynthia the make-up completed, sealing the shuttle to the mother ship. An attendant, practically exploding with pleasant demeanor, appeared as the seatbelt sign extinguished. Being closer to the exit, the other two passengers who’d accompanied them cleared out first. Just as well, as her charges would need extra time.
“Here, let me,” a young, clear-eyed, female hybrid offered. She presented a blue-sleeved arm to Uncle Tommy; Aunt Sadie frowned at being ignored.
“Great-mom’s going to have her hands full with this pair,” Cynthia muttered under her breath. Samantha, a lycan, celebrated her two hundred and twenty-third birthday a few months before. She’d looked after Cynthia’s companions as babies. Now, as they neared their end, she would care for them again, as she’d done for their parents. Such defined the tragedy of hybrids born from subspecies. Cynthia wondered how The Greats faced seeing children, and now grandchildren, grow old only to die before her eyes. She thanked Providence she had none of her own, no one to bring forth only to ultimately bury.
“This way, Aunt Sadie.” Cynthia extended a patient, graceful arm toward the intended path, down a curved walkway leading to the mother ship’s interior. A sheath of black cloth molded to the willowy appendage, emblazoned by three gold stripes to indicate her rank as Commander. On the upper left breast of the coat, a multicolored blaze of fabric and metal badges attested to completed missions. Only Uncle Charlie, who commanded the first expedition to Mars sixty odd years before, possessed a higher total. On her initial space voyage, in 2107, Cynthia had relocated “up” to Mars. The experience stimulated a desire to learn what more lay outside the warm, downy blankets of atmosphere wrapping the inhabited planets.
On trips between Earth and Mars, going “up” meant to the Red planet, while returns to Earth went “down”.
Compared to the often senselessly hectic pace of life on Earth or in the crowded colonies, the solitude of space held appeal. From first sight, the precise mechanical movement of each heavenly body fascinated her—its mass, the subtleties of the orbit, whether it radiated heat and if so what type. Soon, few denizens of the trackless depths of space kept secrets from her. From a single look at a star chart, she could calculate the base track of the longest mission.
On the first voyage, as an apprentice astronaut she volunteered for extra “awake” watches. Back then, the trip to or from Earth still lasted twelve weeks. To be safe, travelers entered stasis cocoons to shield against cosmic radiation. Someone had to remain up and about, to tend communications or address equipment failures. The crew rotated the task to spread the risk of exposure. For voyages to Mars, Cynthia’s lycan physiology protected her as much as a stasis cocoon could. On watch, she read eBooks or stared for hours at the unchanging patterns of stars spangled across the seamless darkness of sidereal space. Always the feeling persisted that something gazed back. Nothing had changed in the fifteen years since. Often she wondered if the curious experience during the expedition to Jupiter was part of what the cosmos wanted to say.
Upon entering the reception area, a staff of solicitous blue-uniformed attendants surrounded them. Only deep space explorers wore The Black. In Cynthia’s case the material molded to the curves of a frame topping out at six feet. The heeled boots added three or four more inches. Glossy hair dyed a cobalt blue, cut in a tight page boy to accommodate the various head gear worn in her line of work, framed a narrow, rectangular, square-jawed face. Flesh pale as the moon made the depth of her inky, almond-shaped eyes appear almost infinite. Only a little blush in the hollows beneath the high cheekbones, and a touch of lip gloss, disturbed the head-to-toe pattern of black uniform over porcelain skin.
If the prestige of the Explorer outfit and emblems didn’t do it, the fact her party belonged to the bloodline of the White’s settled the issue of who got priority staff attention. “We have transportation for your guests, Commander,” announced a young woman, pointing to an electric cart accompanied by a waiting driver.
“You guys ride. I’ll walk,” she said to her elderly relatives.
After situating the two fragile humans comfortably on the conveyance, the party took off. Cynthia led. Vigorous high-stepping strides pranced ahead, often calling to mind another Cynthia—her grandmother, The Fashion Model Known as Cynthia, who died in the Great Plague of 2026. Cynthia disliked the comparisons people made between them. To make one remained the fastest way to get on her wrong side, whether meant innocently or not.
Before emerging, her hybrid older brothers had ridiculed her without stop, planting her perception she was unattractive, one that still lingered, even after emergence. The long-term effect of the transformation created two views in her mind. Thinking logically about the matter, she knew she possessed the typical good looks of a lycan, but the habit engendered by older siblings remained powerful. She felt overshadowed by the specter of Gran Cynthia’s beauty, coupled with her heroic deeds; never allowing complete comfort with either her appearance or accomplishments. While she lived, Cynthia’s mother Karla provided perspective, soothing the hurt of comparisons. Since coming to Mars, efforts to address the problem were mixed.
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