Zenith tried to understand the motivations for sending her onto the planet. She knew why she was selected. Her mother was Pithani and her father Nykler, she was a hybrid and stronger immunologically because of it. She had varied skills and she was young enough to be expendable.
She knew there was better candidates though. It was always in the plan that they would send Reissnik soldiers down to prospects to be the guinea pigs. Not people like her. She had never signed up to put her life on the line. Then again, the council decided all of their fates. She knew she should have been more sincere in her façade of obedience. But there was only so much boot-licking she could take.
In Pithani, her mother reigned queen and she had grown up a princess surrounded by servants in surgical scrubs. Her mother still reigned there, head of Pithani station and holder of a thousand lives at any given moment. Her mother had wanted her to stay there, become a surgeon and continue the legacy. The matriarchal, powerful, brilliant legacy that the Mishras had held for fifty years.
Zenith had never liked doing what was expected of her. She was after all, not a baby that had come into existence expectedly. Her mother, when she was a child, had tried to sugarcoat it and told her she was the result of kismet. Zenith knew she was the result of failed contraception, because people from different stations did not mix. The truth sounded far less romantic than her mother’s story, but she got used to the truth as children in her school whispered it within earshot and giggled.
She never resented her existence, her Indian body with her English blue eyes. But she was as notorious for what she was more than she was famous for what she did. She was the youngest researcher in Nykler. She toiled over research and inventions, hydroponics and aeration units until her fingers were numb from holding her screwdriver in cryo-cooled server rooms. Yet she was still called the ‘mutt’, the mix-breed.
Now they were condemning her to dying young. Join her father in the realm of interstellar dust. They disposed of the dead by cremation, spreading their dust into “the heavens”, as they called it. No one had the heart to say they got rid of the trash in much the same way. Cremation was a prettier word for incineration.
She headed into Nykler’s central command room, where her Superior Officer was waiting for. The Superior Officer was the head of Nykler. She was her father’s wife, the one that should have been her mother in an ideal universe without infidelity. And despite Superior Officer Garland’s overwhelming kindness, perhaps because of it, Zenith could never forget.
“Good morning, Researcher Mishra,” Garland greeted her. “I hear that you have been considered for a great honor.”
The thing that she liked least about Superior Officer Garland was her cautiousness. It was true that the Reissnik insisted on surveillance throughout the entire station. They did understand the concept of privacy or differing opinions. However, they rarely checked the system they insisted upon. Random accusations and punishments were more their cup of tea. She supposed it did miracles for crushing thoughts of rebellion.
“I would rather stay in the safety of the station,” she answered. She knew that others had been shown mercy because they had family units, they had dependents, children or elderly parents. Her mother had the entirety of Pithani station to take care of her if she so much as hiccupped.
“It is for the best of our race, Zenith.”
She hated that term. Our race. She didn’t want to be associated with the kind of people that were capable of killing an entire planet. She didn’t want people that had used science to create disease instead of a cure for it. And in the end, instead of showing loyalty to the Earth, they had fled it after stripping it bare of all the resources they could pack into their hundred ships.
They were scavengers, they were parasites. She wanted sustenance, she wanted the most economical way to travel through the cosmos, only to be directed to use more fuel, more manpower. Her mother believed in kismet, and all things happening in their own time. Reissnik definitely did not.
“I never asked to be the sacrificial virgin on this particular endeavor,” she answered. “But I’ll try to remember our race after you guys leave us behind on a planet that might become my final resting place.”
“Would you like to pray with me today?” the Superior Officer asked.
In a world where practically every mystery was solved and every mystical thing was found out as a scientific phenomenon, most people on the ship still clung to their religion. It was the desperation. They were in the heavens, literally, but they were in hell for all intents and purposes.
Most of those in Pithani, Reissnik, Smith, Song, and all the other stations thought their lives were secure. But those in Nykler, and a select few from Reissnik did. Their fuels were almost depleted, their stores of food running out. They kept up full-rations to prevent pandemonium. The engines were wearing down from centuries of use, and she knew that the people themselves were changing. Artificial gravity could never replace the actual thing. If they landed on a planet with gravity heavier than the Earths, some of them might not make it. The senior citizens, the young children, they wouldn’t be able to acclimatize. They survived on an atmosphere of fifteen-percent oxygen.
She went back to her lab, her little bedroom of the few things she actually felt close to. Her father’s compass, which was a thing that was practically useless on a spaceship. But it was an heirloom, an ornate thing of carved wood on a silk ribbon she stole from her mother. A bit of each of her parents. She knew she would be supplied with superior lab equipment. If the planet was a success, she would be given a meagre amount of respect. Most of it would be taken by the Reissnik, for their amazing decision.
Who was she kidding? She would die.