by Stephen Baxter.
will be published on November 4, 2014 by Roc.
2166I’m back on Earth.
That was Yuri’s very first thought, on waking in a bed: a hard bed, stiff mattress and lightweight sheets and blankets, but a bed nonetheless, not a barrack bunk stacked four high in a dome on Mars.
He opened his eyes to bright light, from fluorescent bars on the walls. A clean-looking ceiling. People moving around him wearing green shirts and hygiene caps and masks, a low murmur of competent voices, machines that bleeped and chimed. Other beds, other patients. A classic hospital setup. He saw all this in his peripheral vision; he hadn’t turned his head yet, he felt so heavy.
The last thing he remembered was the needle jabbed into his neck by that asshole Peacekeeper Tollemache. He had no idea how long he’d been out— months, if he’d been shipped back to Earth— and he remembered from his recovery after his decades in the cryo that it paid to take care on waking.
But he knew he was on Earth. He could feel it in his bones. Yuri had been born on Earth in the year 2067, nearly a hundred years ago, and, dozing in a cryo tank, had missed mankind’s heroic expansion out into the solar system. He had woken up in a colony on what he had learned, gradually, was Mars. But now, after another compulsory sleep, this was different again. He risked lifting his hand. The muscles in his arm ached, just doing that, and he felt tubes dragging at him as he moved, and the hand fell back with a satisfyingly heavy thump. Beautiful Earth gravity, not that neither-one-thing-nor-the-other floaty stuff on Mars. It could only be Earth, home.
He had a million questions. Such as, where
on Earth? Why had he been sent back instead of being left to rot on Mars? And what kind of institution was he in now, what kind of prison this time? But not having answers didn’t bother him. He’d had very few answers about anything since waking up on Mars, and besides he hadn’t cared enough to ask. The worst kind of cage on Earth, and no matter how much the place had changed since he’d gone into the cryo tank, was better than the finest luxury you could find on Mars. Because on Earth you could always just open the door and breathe the air, even if it was an overheated polluted soup, and just keep on walking, forever . . .
He closed his eyes.
“Rise and shine, sleepy head.”
There was a face looming over him, a woman, black, wearing a green shirt with a name tag he couldn’t read, her hair tucked into a green cloth cap. She wasn’t wearing a mask, and she smiled at him. She looked tired.
He tried to speak. His mouth was dry, and his tongue stuck painfully to the roof of his mouth. “I . . . I . . .”
“Here. Have a sip of water.” She held a nippled bottle, like a baby’s, for him. The water was warm and stale. She seemed to be having trouble holding up the bottle, like she was weak herself. “Do you know your name?” She glanced at the foot of the bed. “Yuri Eden. That’s all we have for you. No recorded next of kin. Is that right?”
He just shrugged, a tentative movement, flat on his back.
She looked him over, peered into his eyes, checked some kind of monitor beside the bed. “My name is Dr. Poinar. I’m ISF, I have a crew rank but you can call me Doctor. You’ve taken your time coming out of the induced coma the Peacekeepers put you into. Still, it was easier to ship you through the launch that way. More than half the crew dreamed it all away, in fact. I’m going to see if I can sit you up. OK?” She pressed a button.
With a whir of servos the back of his bed began to tip up, lifting him, bending him at the waist. He felt weak, and his head was like a tub of sloshing liquid. The ward grayed around him. He felt a crawling sensation in his right arm, some kind of fluid being pumped into him.
Dr. Poinar watched him carefully. “You OK? All right. Here’s the five-second briefing— you’ll be put through a proper induction process later, everybody’s going through that in stages, classroom stuff and data access first while you get your strength back, then physical work later, including your share of maintenance chores.” She glanced at his notes.
“More of that if you end up on a punishment detail, and looking at your record that seems more than likely. But the priority for you is reconditioning. Your body needs to relearn how to handle full gravity. The nerve receptors that handle your posture, positioning and movement are all baffled right now. Your inner ear doesn’t know what the hell’s going on. Your fluid balance is all wrong, and you’re going to have low blood pressure symptoms for a while. Here, drink this.”
She handed him another flask, and this time he took it for himself. It was a briny fluid that made him splutter.
“You’ll get courses of injections to rectify your bone calcium loss, and such. And physio to build up your muscle strength and bone mass. Do not skip
those. Oh, and your immune system will be hit. Every virus everybody brought into this hull has been running around like crazy; you’ll have a few weeks of fun with that. Later on there will be further medical programs, pre-adaptation for Prox, preventive surgery of various kinds.” She grinned, faintly cruelly. “How are your teeth? But that won’t be for another year or more.” Prox?
A baby started to cry, not far away.
Dr. Poinar asked, “Any questions? Oh, I’m sure there are masses. Just use your common sense. For now just sit there and let the dizziness pass. Don’t
lie down again. I’ll come by later and see if you can take some solid food. And watch out for the catheter, the nurse will remove that later. Take it easy, Yuri Eden.” She walked out of his view.