On The Closure, approaching Redemption5S77…
After eighteen months on ice Hanno Vasaliev’s muscles were still sore from atrophy. This was after three days of lying in a vat full of yellow-green liquid that looked like runny snot meant to build up those muscles after a long period of nonuse. Still, despite the burn in his thighs each step brought him, he couldn’t help but feel the same level of excitement a child going to an amusement park might feel.
He came to the end of the long, dark chrome-colored corridor, deftly dodging hissing vents as if it were second nature. The next room beyond was blocked off by a thick door. Only certain personnel were allowed beyond the door, providing they had an individual four digit access code for entry. Once the hatch opened with a hydraulic hiss Hanno set his shoulders and took on an air of self importance he often wore like an old T-shirt (even though he was nothing more than an overpaid babysitter).
The room beyond the threshold was a circular room with white walls and flooring; the air smelled sterile, like a hospital. Bostra, the woman on shift, sat at a computer console with a tablet in her hand. Her long, sharp features were drawn in a look of boredom. She looked up slowly as if what she was reading was far more entertaining. When she saw it was Hanno she immediately looked relieved. Hanno’s presence meant a shift change.
“Thank God,” she said in a sharp Icelandic accent. She brushed her fingers through her short-cropped blonde hair. “I thought I was going to die from boredom. How can you stand this job? I know the pay is great and all but it...I don’t know, gives me the creeps.” As if to emphasize this she hugged herself and shivered. She glanced at the prisoner in the CryoSleep chamber, the one prisoner. Vapor folded and twisted from the glass tube like something with a mind of its own. “I know he’s not really, but he looks dead. Is that what we look like when they put us to sleep?”
Hanno didn’t know how to answer the question, so he simply shrugged. I don’t see what you see.
“I feel like I’m in a morgue for eight hours, I tell you.” Bostra turned her head slightly to the side. “How can you stand it in here?”
“Because to me he doesn’t look like he’s dead.” Hanno craned his head towards the CryoSleep chamber, his expression one of longing. “Look at his face. He has such a beautiful face. Quite handsome, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think of terrorists as beautiful,” said Bostra, and took a step back, looking at Hanno as if he too were a terrorist. “You know what he did, right?”
“Of course,” Hanno said impatiently. He didn’t want to be standing here having this conversation. He wanted to be alone with the prisoner. “He’s Danni Aamodt the Fifth.”
“He tried to kill his father and bring down the Aamodt Corporation,” Bostra answered when Hanno didn’t give her the answer she wanted.
Hanno managed to keep from rolling his eyes. He already knew the story, everyone on earth did. It was all anyone on the news had talked about for months.
Still, Bostra continued in that condescending voice Hanno hated so much. “Yes, he and a group of terrorists. And there are people back home who think he was right to try. Some of them say he’s psychic too. And apparently so was his mother. If you ask me he belongs on that frozen hell of a planet. If it wasn’t for the fact the pay and benefits are so good I never would have taken this job. Anyway, do you think it’s true what they say about him?”
Hanno said nothing, just continued to look at the CryoSleep chamber as if the answer to all life’s great mysteries were sealed away inside. Bostra let out a sigh, throwing her hands up in exasperation, and left without saying another word. Soon, he was surrounded by sweet silence. Eight hours to be able to fill his eyes for the last time. He went over to the CryoSleep chamber and watched the sleeping man inside.
He kissed the cold glass, pressed his tongue against it, left a smear of his spit on it as if doing so marked the cryo chamber as hid. If only he could get his hands on the real thing, on the prisoner’s flesh. What would that be like? Would it be as exquisite as he imagined?
Hanno sat down in the seat Bostra had previously occupied; it still felt warm. He pulled out his tablet and pulled up the list of files saved on the drive: photos of Danni, many of them with his face pasted on naked bodies, an interview he’d given live after being apprehended, and a digital copy of Danni’s memoir, Hole in the Earth, which had been banned.
With the pad of his thumb, Hanno pulled up the file of a news video he’d saved of Danni Aamodt the Fifth being escorted by a squadron of armed soldiers. Danni wore a white jumpsuit, his arms and legs shackled, his eyes staring resolutely ahead. With the video on mute, Hanno looked up at the real life version sleeping in the CryoSleep Chamber before him.
“Oh Danni,” Hanno whispered, eyes clenched shut, sinking into fantasy.
The outline of his erection pressed up against his pants. He unbuckled his pants, hand plunging beneath the waistband. What he hadn’t told Bostra was that for Hanno, his shift always seemed to flash by in the blink of an eye.
This was Sigbjørn Salvesen’s twelfth trip to Redemption5S77. Each trip he told himself it would be his last; he was too old to still be making these long expeditions through space. The rejuvenation period after coming out of the CryoSleep chamber was hell on his aging body and no technology had been invented by Aamodt Corporation to take away his arthritis just yet. And yet every time he accepted the trip when given the opportunity, without hesitation.
It’s not like I have anyone waiting for me back home, he thought, rubbing his snowy-white beard with the tips of his thick fingers - an unconscious nervous habit. Just three angry ex-wives and a daughter who wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire. At least The Closure was his ship (his home) and the people on it followed his orders without argument. And no one paid better than Aamodt Corporation.
He stood in the center of the main deck in a slate grey uniform. Four decades ago he had been a fit man who could make a woman blush with a single look. Unfortunately, life in space was a hard life and it hadn’t done him justice. No amount of exercise could keep his belly from drooping over his belt buckle or the slow decline of his health. Still, he did his job as he’d always done it and would continue to do so until he couldn’t do it anymore.
Though the ship didn’t look like it was moving much, they were traveling 60,000 miles per second. Redemption5S77, the Omega Lyrae system’s only habitable planet, was slowly growing larger on the video feeds, showing a giant blue marble dominated by white glaciers and mountains. The windows at the front of the ship had dimmed to protect those on deck from the blinding rays of the system’s sun. Somewhere on the other side of the giant revolving marble was the planet’s three moons - Lukas, Wuxia, and Mureen were their names.
Even though he was seeing the ice planet for the twelfth time its beauty was not lost on Sigbjørn. Desolate, harsh, yet beautiful. Still, no matter how curious he was sometimes, there was nothing that would persuade Sigbjørn to step off his ship.
I wouldn’t want to spend one second down there, he thought. It’s hell frozen over.
He tried to imagine what it was like living on the ice planet and felt a shiver run up his spine. Below-zero temperatures every day. No trees, no beach, or tropical warm weather. Just winter every day. Like Antarctica. Hell frozen over.
It was perfect for the savages who lived down there.
The deck was mostly quiet in anticipation. There were twelve people working at their stations, tapping computer screens and typing on keyboards. Was it just Sigbjørn’s imagination or did he sense tension, a quiet sort of dread that no one dared point out, on the deck? Or perhaps it was just eagerness to drop off the payload and start heading back home. Most of the people were here not out of the need to see justice meted out but because they would have a fat paycheck waiting for them when they got home.
“It’s beautiful,” said Preston Stamets, Sigbjørn’s second-in-command. It was his first time making this trip. He stood straight with his arms clasped behind his back. Sigbjørn didn’t like him much, not for any particular reason other than Stamets was just a complete kiss-ass. And yet Sigbjørn couldn’t help but remember his own reaction when he’d first seen the planet; he’d said the exact same thing.
“From here, yes,” Sigbjørn said. “But when you step out into the cold and your blood feels like it’s turned into ice you’ll regret saying those words. And if the cold doesn’t kill you then you can bet the people will. Mass murderers. Rapists. Terrorists. The worst men and women you could imagine. Considered so awful they had to be put on a separate planet.”
“Is it true there’s children down there, too?” Stamets asked. His eyes were wide with excitement. Sigbjørn hated the childish look of curiosity on that young, smug face.
“Yes. Their offspring are considered just as guilty. Treated like the filthy inbreds they are.” Sigbjørn pretended not to hear the disgust in his own voice.
“Hard to believe we came all this way just for the one prisoner.” Stamets shook his head. “I can’t imagine. Danni Aamodt’s IV own son. That has to hurt.”
“A waste of a generation,” said Sigbjørn, scratching at his beard again. “Don’t worry he’ll get what’s coming to him. I hear most newcomers don’t survive past their first week.”
“Sir,” a woman said, glancing up from her monitor, “we will be breaching the atmosphere within the hour.”
Sigbjørn nodded his approval. “Very good, Vydale. Make the announcement. I want the prisoner prepped and ready for delivery.”
The prisoner's CryoSleep chamber was prepped. Clasps at the bottom of the chamber allowed it to be set down on foldable wheels with which it was pushed down the narrow corridors, into the airlock. It felt only right that Hanno was the one who got to do the send-off.
The Closure breached Redemption5S77’s atmosphere, its sleek form engulfed in a brilliant ring of flame. Sigbjørn, who hated this part of the journey, buckled himself into his crash couch and gripped the arms as if his life depended on it. Gravity had become a crushing weight on his chest. His jaws were clenched so tight he wondered if they would break.
It felt as if The Closure was in freefall.
The amusement park ride from hell, Sigbjørn thought.
If he'd glanced at the video screen feeds he would have seen that the clouds had given way to the sight of snow capped mountains and glaciers. Tiny buildings dotted the white icescape, metal contraptions that had a primal, hastily put-together look to it. There were three colonies spread throughout a fraction Redemption5S77’s barren landscape. Smaller yet was a low wall, not unlike the wall of China. It was meant for nothing more than to mark which territory was which. The colonies were declared clans by the prisoners named after the planet’s three moons. The line was not meant to be crossed by a person from an opposing clan. Every time Sigbjørn saw the wall he was reminded of the Scottish, back in the days when they were nothing more than barbarians.
The prisoner would be dropped off just in front of the pavilion, the one place where the leaders of the clans could supposedly meet safely. From there what happened to the prisoner was not of Sigbjørn’s concern. Good riddance, he thought. The sooner we get away from this frozen piece-of-shit place the better.