Enslaved Chapter One
Cosette awoke, like she had a thousand times before, to a voice infused with calm indifference. Most mornings the computer’s calm tone fit the message. This wasn’t one of those mornings.
“Emergency protocols initiated.”
She snapped her eyelids open and struggled to take in her surroundings. A dark space, barely the size of a closet, surrounded her. Something soft and furry was wedged between her and the wall of her enclosure. Faint blue light filtered through a small round window in front of her. It was too frosted over to see through. A red light flashed somewhere inside the enclosure with her, casting bizarre shadows all around. The sharp smell of antiseptic burned her nostrils. Tubes curled around her arms and legs like the cold tentacles of some deep-sea creature straining to drag her into the depths. Cosette’s heart raced, but she forced herself calm. Think. Where am I?
A voice, deep in the recesses of her mind, screamed in panic, and a primal urge to be free drowned out any rational thought. Her body seemed to act on its own accord, clawing at the tubes protruding from her arms. Warm liquid spurted over her, and the smell—a mixture of alcohol and the coppery scent of blood—grew stronger.
“Emergency protocols initiated. Please prepare to exit your chamber and move to your predesignated rendezvous point.”
She struggled to shake the confusion that enveloped her mind. She almost felt intoxicated, but she hadn’t had too much to drink since college. Well, except for that one time with Dr. Bransford…. She shied away from the thought, keeping the memory forgotten.
How had she ended up here? She couldn’t recall. She was pregnant. The Orion Project neared completion. But no memory came to her of how she came to be in a dark box, all alone. She didn’t need complete understanding of the situation, however, to know something was wrong. Every nerve in her body screamed it.
A sudden terror at being alone filled her, and a scream again built within her, but this time it escaped, a high-pitched wail trembling against the walls of the small space. Her body shook and tears poured from her eyes. She needed to feel her mother’s embrace. To hear her say everything would be okay. Why had she abandoned her?
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No, that’s not right. Her mother had never abandoned her, and even now Cosette carried a piece of her inside her mind. Through her mother’s memories, Cosette had always felt the immense love her mother had for her. The same love Cosette had for her own daughter, Elena, and her—
“Emergency protocols initiated. Your chamber will open in thirty seconds.”
Cosette took a breath to clear her mind of the fear that threatened to cripple her. She lifted her hand to wipe the frost from the window. Her hand appeared swollen against the light—stubby fingers brushed clumsily against the glass.
“Chamber door opening now. Please gently remove any life support systems and move immediately to your predesignated rendezvous point.”
Gas hissed and the window swung away. Cool air enveloped her as straps around her legs and torso released and she tumbled forward. Cosette landed in a snaking pile of tubes. The furry object that had been wedged next to her—a rather large teddy bear—fell with her.
Disentangling herself, she pushed to her feet. Her body felt awkward—out of proportion—and she almost lost her balance, but steadied herself. One tube still stuck from her arm, and though she’d never been afraid of needles before, she heard a shriek of pain in her head as she yanked it out. She clenched her teeth, keeping control.
A faint blue line ran off in either direction on the floor, providing the only illumination. Giant steel pods lined a long hallway. They reminded her of the renderings she’d seen of the stasis pods aboard Humanity’s Hope. That didn’t make any sense, though. She had no memory of boarding the ship, and Humanity’s Hope wasn’t scheduled to launch for months.
She staggered over to the pod next to her own. A round window hung two meters above her head. She couldn’t see inside. Were there other people, tucked away in these metal pods? But why did the engineers put the windows so high? More importantly, why was she the only one awake?
“Please proceed to your predesignated rendezvous point. If you are experiencing disorientation, remain where you are. Someone will assist you shortly.”
Cosette did indeed feel disoriented. She tried desperately to remember what had happened. It was as if she’d awakened from a dream, and the details skittered away like cockroaches when a light turned on.
One thing she knew for certain, she couldn’t remain there in the dark. Almost in answer, the hallway brightened with a warm light. Cosette turned to find it spilling out from beneath a door at the end of the hall. She glanced at the teddy bear at her feet. Reaching down, she picked it up and held it to her chest. Something about the bear comforted her, and even though she was an adult, she could use a bit of comforting at the moment. She staggered toward the door, fighting her uncooperative legs.
The door was much larger than she had expected. The activation plate on the wall was far out of reach, but when she stood before the door, it opened upward with a whoosh. Light blazed forth, blinding her for a moment.
After blinking away the spots in her eyes, she shuffled into a room filled with tables and chairs. A ball of fire blazed through a great curved window that took up most of one wall. It looked like the sun, but maybe smaller and against a black sky. She moved toward the window, keeping within the glow of the sun’s light as it slid—too fast—along the floor.
The burning orb moved out of view, and the room around her darkened in the pallid light of distant stars. She pressed her face against the cold glass, the wonder of her surroundings pushing her anxiety aside for a moment.
A memory came to her of a trip with her parents, in her early teens, to a small island in the South Pacific. She’d lain on the beach through the whole night, unwilling to sleep because of the immense sky above her. She had felt so small under that great expanse, but at the same time part of something bigger.
As she had taken in the Milky Way, she picked out a single star and imagined some alien girl lying back and looking at the sky, just as she did. But that star was thousands of light years away, so the alien had been dead for untold generations. Then she had imagined a descendant of her alien friend, thousands of years in the future, looking up at the night sky and seeing Earth’s sun. The very same sun she would see the next morning. She felt a connection that spanned time to both of those aliens. It made her realize how short life was, but also how everyone was part of a grand story that began eons ago, and extended into a distant, shadowy future.
She also connected with her mother in a way she never had before that night. For the first time, she knew why her mother loved being an astronomer. And Cosette decided that she, too, would dedicate her life to the study of worlds beyond her own.
Thinking of her mother, Cosette reached for her memories, wanting to feel her love, but heard only silence. Where was her mother?
She breathed deeply. For the first time in a long time, she really was alone. No one would come rescue her. She had to do it herself.
If this was indeed Humanity’s Hope—which she was now quite certain it was—then why didn’t she have any memory of boarding the ship? And most importantly, where was the rest of her family?
With the sun out of sight, lights in the ceiling flickered to life, bathing the tables and chairs in an artificial glow. She caught a gleam of her own eyes reflected in the now-dark glass of the window and sucked in a breath. Staggering back, she took in her full reflection—a child, hardly older than a toddler, stared back at her. She had never met him—how could she have? As far as she knew, he hadn’t been born yet. But, there could be no doubt. He looked exactly like Elena had at his age.
She reached up and touched her face... his face. “Chaim!” Her voice echoed throughout the room in the wail of a one-year-old.
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