Caught Somewhere In Time – Untitled
Location: Private Spaceport, Portland, Oregon, Earth
Earth Date: February 12, 2210
The chill in the night air dug its way into her hands, conducted to her skin by the wire fence as she climbed down into the restricted area. The escapee released her grip on the icy metal and dropped to her feet. She ran across the tarmac remaining as low to the ground as possible. Without any supplies to carry and still a small body, she easily escaped notice as she slipped beneath the shuttle. The baggage door hung open, like she knew it would, although nobody staffed the compartment right now. She climbed up inside, slithering her way to the back.
In her research for this escape, she found out everything she could about this ship, and this private spaceport. She knew the ship belonged to a captain in the military, and that it’s bound for LunaBase in just a few minutes. The schematics for the shuttle showed her that there would be an access panel in the back of the luggage compartment leading into a storage area directly beneath the passenger area. That’s where she would hide until the ship arrived on the moon, and once there, felt confident that no one would ever find her again.
Feeling around the back of the compartment for the access panel’s latch, she sensed someone approaching. Probably the baggage clerk again to close up the ship, since he seemed to emit a sort of boredom. Quickly, she brought her knees up to her chest, pulled on a large piece of luggage to hide behind, and shallowed her breathing. Hiding was her specialty after all, and an essential part of any escape. With no further luggage to bring aboard, the crew member snapped the door shut, and the escapee, now also a stowaway, could hear the airlock pressurize the compartment to seal in the atmosphere.
Now encased in complete blackness, she began feeling around for the latch once more. When her small fingers found it, she gave it a hard tug. With a loud snapping sound, the door disengaged from its strike plate, and a dim light shone through the opening. She held as still as she could will herself, waiting to see if anyone had heard the noise. Closing her eyes to the darkness, she tried to determine if anyone nearby felt curiosity, but felt nothing. No one was around. She sighed with relief and slid the door open enough that she could climb through, leaving the luggage behind.
She needed to brace her shoulder and feet against the interior of the storage area, wedging her body so she wouldn’t fall when she slid the access panel shut beneath her. Carefully, she closed it almost completely, but not so much that it would need to snap loudly open again. As she turned over to lay her back on the door, she realized her hair had gotten caught in it. She gently tugged at the blonde pony-tail to see if it would dislodge itself, but the door resisted. Eventually however, after much effort and a few lost hairs, she coaxed it free. At last, she rested in the small space, feeling free despite the enclosed space she lay in.
The young lady, as she waited for the shuttle to depart, took inventory of her situation. The orphanage from which she fled would certainly begin looking for her, but not until the morning when she didn’t appear for breakfast. Even then, she had attempted escape so many times now that it seemed unlikely that they would even look very hard. The orphanage wasn’t a difficult place to live in, but the escapee always felt as though she didn’t belong there. Something more important waited for her, and she always felt it calling to her.
There had been families who tried to foster her, but that always ended up the same way. The people were usually nice, but too restrictive, even more restrictive than the orphanage. They all considered her a troubled youngster, someone who needed help adapting to life in the real world. Those people couldn’t have been any more wrong if they tried. She understood very well what they expected of her, and all about responsibility. She could adapt to life in a family very easily if she wanted to, but that nagging urgency inside her begged her to get off the planet. The families, the orphanage, everything that she knew just felt wrong to her. This was not supposed to be her life, so she ran away. Over and over again
She ran from the orphanage, and from the families they tried to give her to. She’d been locked in bedrooms, basements, and even closets when they thought she might try to run away. Of course, as soon as they released her the authorities came knocking, asking questions about what had happened, and she told the truth. They all considered her a hard case, but only hard on the people who thought they could control her. There were a few people who just let her do whatever she wanted, and those people never got into any legal trouble.
She sensed the people approaching before they actually boarded the ship. The stowaway always felt whatever the people around her were feeling, and had a keen insight into other people. It allowed her to avoid many unpleasant situations, because she had a good idea about when to leave and when to stay. She also could tell when people were lying to her, making her wiser to the ways of the world than anyone had ever given her credit. To others, she came across as bright, clever, and uncannily aware for her age. Nobody really expected a nine-year-old to be as quick-witted as this girl. She had a pretty good grasp on how the world worked, because she felt other people struggling with the various things that affected them. She knew, better than any other kid she had ever met, how difficult life really could be.
The approaching group consisted of only three people. One, presumably the shuttle’s pilot, she guessed, wrapped up in his own insecurities, and hoping that he wouldn’t disappoint in his duties. The other two were talking, she could hear. One looked forward to something, while the other felt reluctant to accept that same something. Their voices were muffled at first, but their emotions were not. Then they grew silent as they settled in for their flight. The escapee continued to lay there, using her empathic gift to try to determine what was going on with them, a common exercise for her.
A relatively short time later, the shuttle took off into the atmosphere, and the two men had begun talking again. Her attempts to figure the two out proved fruitless, until this point. This began to change as they discussed their situations in earnest. “Robert,” an older man said in his frail voice. “You must not let your feelings get in the way of the experiment. If all goes well, then you shall be able to discuss the outcome with me soon enough.”
“Still,” the younger man named Robert replied, “if the experiment were to fail, you will die.”
“I will die, and that is a given fact, son. My end is approaching quicker than you will admit.”
Robert’s sadness filled the young woman’s heart, taking over her own feelings due to the intensity. She tried to block it out and focus on the older man’s emotions, but tears streamed from the corners of her eyes anyway. Robert answered, “You are like a father to me, Elias. I refuse to accept that you are leaving this world, and will continue to refuse as long as you are breathing.”
“When we get to the laboratory, and I am connected to the equipment, you will witness my last breath. You will not, however, watch me die.”
A long silence ensued, as Robert contemplated what Elias told him. The stowaway, eavesdropping from beneath their feet, put her hand to her mouth to stifle a cry. This was all too much for her, and she always struggled with the sadness of others more than any other emotions she felt. Wise as she may be in her young age, the tragic nature of these two people’s conversation weighed heavily on her. Involuntarily, she inhaled a little too loudly, gasping for a breath beneath her otherwise silent tears. She felt the surprise of both men.
“Who is there?” Robert called out, but the girl held her breath. She heard a beep, and knew she’d been scanned. “There you are… Audrey, is it? Come out from under there.” There was a stern sound to his voice, but he didn’t seem particularly angry. Mostly, he seemed curious about her.
Hiding any longer was out of the question; the scanner found her. Audrey sighed with resignation to her fate and pushed up on the floor panel over her. It slid up and out of the way very easily. A middle-aged man in a military uniform stood above her, looking past his feet at the young stowaway lying below the floor. She sat up, and the tan-colored man with almond eyes and black hair reached down to help her.
“I can do it,” Audrey said, annoyed. “I got in here myself, and I can get out just as well.”
Elias chimed in, “Young lady, you should show a little respect to your elders.”
Looking at the older man for the first time, she was taken aback by how ancient he seemed to be. What white hair he had left consisted of only a handful of wispy strands spread sparsely across his age-spotted scalp. His yellowing face seemed saggy, as if it only barely clung to the skull beneath. His raspy voice fit his appearance well, as he was very likely the oldest living person Audrey had ever seen. She felt unnerved by his gaze, as if being stared down by a dead man.
Audrey remembered how he told Robert only moments ago about his pending demise, and answered, “I’m sorry sir.” The reprimand struck her deeply, coming from such a strange creature as this elder. She stepped out of the storage area onto the proper floor, this time accepting Robert’s hand for assistance.
“How did you get aboard my shuttle, young lady?” he asked, while helping her up.
She looked at the floor, running her mind through the excuses she previously used with any amount of success. None seemed to fit besides the truth. Slowly, she turned her gaze up to meet his, and answered, “I climbed the fence, and snuck into the luggage compartment while the handler was checking for any last additions.”
“And what made you think that you would not be discovered?”
She thought this a rather silly question to ask. Why didn’t he just yell at her, or tell the pilot to turn them around to land again? “Well sir,” she started, noticing both of the men’s interest in her answer, “the baggage handler who works at that port always leaves the compartment open while he checks for any missed items. He misses things a lot, and I heard him get reprimanded one time about it. Anyway, I researched about this model of ship and knew there was an access panel from the luggage compartment into that storage area, so that’s why I thought I wouldn’t get caught.”
Old Elias laughed heartily, but then the laugh faded into a sort of coughing. It seemed to Audrey as though even being happy was taxing to his body.
Robert, on the other hand, held his eyes on her, just as sternly as before. “And do you know where we are going as well?” he asked.
Audrey couldn’t determine the point of this line of questioning. “I know you are going to LunaBase, probably for the experiment you don’t want Elias to do.”
“And what do you know of this experiment?” the ancient one asked.
“I know that Robert doesn’t think you can cheat death. And that he’s very scared for you, more than he lets on.”
Elias seemed to consider this a moment before saying, “You seem to have quite an insight into matters well beyond your age, my dear.”
“I’ve been told that before, sir,” she answered shyly.