Tom Christiansen woke up.
His eyes opened to a lit room that at first registered no meaning to him. A soft thrum was steady in his ears. The lit room, a thrum - neither leaving any impression on him, until finally, self awareness slowly rose to the surface – I am Tom Christiansen. I am in the Betty. She has woken me up.
He blinked, but still he did not rise, responding to an overwhelming inclination to lay still while his mind cleared and he felt out his surroundings. Untracked moments gathered and passed, and though he listened, he saw no movement, heard no other sound on the ship. He surmised that he was alone, and this could only mean that the first two judges had done their work before him. How much time had passed?
He tried to wiggle his fingers, then his toes. Bend his legs some. He took a deeper breath. Physical inventory checks out. He seemed to be ok.
Rising consciousness began filling in some of the unknowns, but not all of them. He was planter number 3 of 11. 2 were intended to rise before him, Belken and Roiker. The fact that he was now awake and alone meant that both Belken and Roiker were gone, probably long gone. It also meant that Betty had found and placed herself near another potential planetary system. Once close enough and sure of its stability, she had awoken him to make the judgment, and to decide whether to drop down or not. If the ship was still holding to plan, they should be circling a type 3 just about now, and his time had come. This was his moment, and the thought of it filled him immediately with excitement and a distant anxiety that was quickly alleviated by his training. Drop down through the checklist of what needs to be done. Perform the checklist tasks well, and everything else will take care of itself.
But first he had to find out where and when he was.
He pressed the release button on his preservation unit, and it opened with a slight hiss. He uncoupled the life lines from his wrists and then got up slowly. His body was stiff, but that was to be expected. His wrists, arms and legs all felt like they were made of stone. His head felt too heavy to lift, but finally his feet were on the ground, and he was sitting up. As expected, there were liquid nutrient packets next to his unit, and he managed to reach over and open the first one. He tilted it into his mouth and the liquid spilled down his dry throat. Within minutes he began to feel better, so he reached for the second and downed that one as well. Then he grabbed the hand rail and tried to stand up. Whoa. Not so fast. He sat down again.
After awhile, he tried again, and this time managed to stand. Then he took a step. Then another. The nutrient packets were working. He seemed to be ok. Might as well let Betty know he was awake.
“Christiansen checking in” he said.
“Hello Tom” Betty replied.
“What year is it Betty?” he asked.
Holy shit. “Belken and Roiker before me”?
“That is correct. Belkin was awoken in 2873. Roiker in 3752". Both Type III found planets were fertilized with DNA activants."
"How far out are we?"
"We are Approximately 1.2 parsecs from our Source. 2,456.25 solar years into mission."
Wow. “Do you have a planet for me”?
“Yes. Type IIIa, surface gravitation quotient 1.3, atmosphere nitrogen-oxygen content, with potential survivability quotient of 86. Partial ambient temperatures. It looks good. Profile fits within awakening parameters. We have been in orbit for 120 solar years without any significant geological or nearby solar disturbance, so is estimated as a safe seeding haven”.
“Thanks Betty. Good work. I'll get going on it. You don't mind if I clear my head a bit first, though, do you?"
"No problem. There will be a meal waiting for you in the galley"
Whoop De Doo, he thought. My first meal in 2400 years. Not that he was looking forward to it. Back at Source, in their training for the mission, they had been told that getting their bodies used to orally ingested food again would be somewhat challenging. Still, it was what it was. Gotta get through the hard parts to get to the easy parts. Steak and potatoes could wait for another day...
He still needed to clear his head. He got up and first shook his head, then his shoulders, then his hands, then each leg. An old habit of waking up from long ago, under a different sun.
He walked unsteadily down to the galley, and sat down and ate the small bowl of warm mush that Betty had prepared for him. Each spoonful felt like sandpaper down his throat, and evem though he took his time at it, after 3 bites his stomach was in revolt. He quickly got up and made it to the latrine before throwing it up into the bowl. He dutifully flushed the stuff away, and then went back and tried to eat again. This time the 3 spoonfuls went down without coming back up. Good. Might as well put that into the success column.
Then his first sip of coffee. Milk, no sugar. Damn, and double damn. That woke him up. He sat at the small galley table and closed his eyes and felt pleasure in the savory experience of it. Feeling better, he walked over to the bay window, cup in hand, and looked down for the first time on the planet that was to be his home.
"Betty, I get to name this thing, don't I?", he asked.
"If you'd like", she replied.
Did Belkin and Roiker name theirs?"
"Yes. Belkin named hers 'Eve', and Roiker named his 'Thunderbird'"
He immediately snorted at that, then coughed, and said "Effing Idiot Roiker, naming his after his car. Just like him". Still, he wondered if Roiker did that just so that some 1,000 years later the joke would be appreciated by another human. Thanks for making me laugh, Roiker, he said to himself in his mind. He lifted his cup toward the bay window. I owe you one, buddy.
He took another sip, and stared more out at the planet. A small thing, with greenish hues. Immediately the word came to him. Short and simple. Eco.
"'Eco', Betty. I would like to call this planet 'Eco' if you don't mind."
"Eco it is, then Tom. Search and replace completed on all documentation compiled to date. It has now all been uploaded into your home unit."
Ah, the unit. He should go check it out and get ready to do his job.
"On my way" he said, and grabbed a couple of energy biscuits that Betty had laid out for him, and made his way down through the ship's hallways and up to an air lock marked above it with the single word "Christiansen". He opened the air lock, then stepped into what was to become his home for what the mission team back home called the 'duration', if by 'duration' means 'For the rest of your life'. Way back in his memory, he remembered stocking this home with books, movies, and close personal items, a summation of his life at the time. A life way back when, a life that existed on the other side of his big sleep. Strange to think that everybody he knew back then was dead now. As was their great great grandchildren. He had Pictures of them even. Pictures on the walls of the unit. Ones that he was not quite ready yet to look at.
Time enough for that, he thought, and went immediately to the work at hand. His job was to take the unit down to Eco, and in low level flight, dropseed the planet with the 10,000 or so source DNA capsules that dotted the underside of the unit. The way the unit was designed, there would not be enough raw fuel propulsion to get back to Betty. Most everything was built for his time on the planet. He did not know if it had been planned that way, or if that was just the way it was. Not his job to think about it. His job was to seed the planet, while Betty moved off to other planets and star systems with the eight remaining planters. Maybe in another 1,000 years or so, she would wake up another, the fourth planter. La Fonte, if he remembered correctly. The one with the pretty face.
"Betty, I guess I'm ready whenever you are" he said. Then, as an afterthought "Thanks for watching over me all of these years".
She replied immediately. "Its been a pleasure Tom. You were a sound sleeper. Good luck with Eco."
"Thanks." Back to business. "Christiansen Descent in 5-4,3-2-1. Code Activation Now". He pushed in his personal code on the console, and then pressed his palm against the plate for identification. While the jets fired up around him, he strapped himself in watched the dials closely.
"All Go. Disconnecting in 3-2-1, Now.". And with a brief jolt, the home unit slowly detached from the mother ship. He looked above and saw Betty slowly moving away and pulling out of orbit of the planet already.
His last chance for conversation. "Good Bye Betty, and good luck. Give em Hell".
"Good Bye Tom. You too. Betty out." and he could see her jets initiate a slow burst and then grow dark again. He watched as the ship drifted slowly away. He continued to watch it a long while, watched it recede until it was just a flicker of light. He watched it until she was gone and then maybe a little bit after.
Then again, training kicked in. He turned back to the controls. "Ok Homey. I guess its just you and me now" he said. Then, as he reached down to the controls to move the unit down to the planet below, he saw a sticker on top of it with the word "Asshole" written on it in felt pen.
He laughed again to himself, and said "Fucking Roiker. Now I owe you two." He pushed the controls forward and began his descent down towards a small green world that he knew would only ever have one set of human footprints on its surface.
If the DNA seeding ever worked, and the DNA figured out how to make a go of it on this world, he could not imagine what sort of creatures would eventually evolve and roam its environs. He himself would be long gone, and it would probably be more than a few millennia before those risen up creatures would ever look up upon the stars, and wonder, and question whether there was a distant home that lay beyond their gaze. As he dropped down the markers across Eco's surface, he realized that - by that time - he would long be dust.
He was ok with that.