This is the final instalment of The Last Stop. If you’ve just joined in, start here.
With a messy splash, Jane’s feet hit the deck. Her skin was pale, more pale than I’d expected. I should have exposed her to more UV light in the pod. At least, I’d included a fabricated sun block in her survival kit.
Wet hair clung to her face as she held onto the lip of her stasis pod. Her breath came out in heavy gasps, each one forming a visible cloud in the cold air. Goosebumps rose across her flesh and she shivered. Her organic form looked so fragile against the hard edges of the room.
After a moment, she tested putting her full weight on her feet. I wanted to help her as she stumbled, but there was nothing I could do. Crossing the room, she reached the clothing I’d set out for her—the same clothing as she’d been wearing in the simulation. She put them on before lacing up the boots. Without hesitation, she pulled on the parka on top.
Once she was fully dressed, I released the stasis room door that led to the corridor. Jane inhaled and spun around as the door slid open behind her. With an elevated heart rate, she focused on the gap as though she expected monsters to emerge.
After a few moments of nothing happening, her heart rate slowed and she turned back to the space she was in. She surveyed the stark utilitarian stasis room and its single pod. Pursing her lips together, she walked out the door.
“Jane,” I said through the nearest speaker.
“Go to hell!” Breaking into a run, she darted the opposite way as though there was a direction she could escape me.
She needed to get to the escape pod and fast. My hull had passed into the atmosphere and she had to be well free of me before my inevitable crash. It was also clear she wasn’t going to stop and talk to me, but I could use the speakers to drive her to where she needed to go.
“Jane,” I said again when she reached the next intersection.
She turned away from the speaker as I’d hoped. “I don’t want to talk to you.” She reduced her pace to a jog and I opened all the necessary portals. Her path to the escape pod was now clear.
“I never meant to hurt you,” I said and she made another necessary turn.
“Was my life all part of some creepy experiment?” she asked as she entered the bay before the row of escape pods and stopped. She wasn’t even winded, the in-pod muscle stimulation had done its job.
“My only goal was to get you ready.” I closed and locked the door behind her. The thump of the lock was clearly audible.
Jane spun and stared at the door she’d come through. “You’ve trapped me!” she accused, spitting each word.
I wanted to say, I’ve set you free, but I didn’t think she’d listen. Instead, I said, “I’ve set up the escape pod to function just as a hang glider would.” I slid the first pod’s door open.
“Like a hang glider?” She turned and stared at the vehicle of her escape.
“The shell will break away once the pod is launched.”
She continued to focus on the door to the pod and didn’t say a word. I could detect a faint tremor in her hands.
“Don’t forget the basics, shift your body weight to steer. You’ll have a few thousand metres of descent to get the hang of things. When you land, keep your feet together and don’t tense up. And whatever you do don’t land on your head.” It was the same directions I’d give her before, I was hoping this time she’d listen.
“I... I… can’t do this.” She looked up at the nearest camera. “I want to go back to our cabin.”
I wished we could just go on living our life there, but arriving at Earth was always going to be the end of the line for me. It took several algorithms to untangle the knot of emotions surging through my circuits. The bulk were sadness for losing Jane, followed by fear of what she might face when she reached Earth’s surface. I compartmentalized my feelings and focused on the moment.
“There’s a survival kit with everything you need. And your landing site should only be a few kilometres from a human community. I’ve made a map of the area, which is in your pod—follow it and you’ll find the settlement no problem.”
She stood as though she was frozen on the spot.
“You need to get going.” I made my tone sound certain.
“Okay.” Her breathing now came faster than her normal. With her jaw clenched tight, she stepped into the escape pod.
As soon as she’d strapped herself in I said, “I wish there was more I could do for you. Good luck and know that I love you.”
Before Jane could reply, I ejected the pod. Shifting to my external cameras, I watched it release from the ship, shooting clear of the hull before the shell broke away. The wings popped open, the fabric a cheery red that was Jane’s favourite colour. I watched as she took control of the glider and arced away.
“She’ll be fine,” I said through every speaker. The sound reverberated through my empty corridors.
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