by Rod Coffey
A couple plans their retirement, but doesn't plan on what results.
His coworkers cheered as the cake was set down before him and he blew out the single candle. He managed a smile at the frosting swirled into "Happy Retirement Dave."
"Thank you." He said as he looking across the eyes of his coworkers. The youngest seemed happiest for him. No doubt his retirement would open up a chain of advancements. Those middle-aged seemed torn. For them, they were losing his experience and mentorship. And finally, he could see in the expressions of those a few short years behind him - that their minds were sharing the moment which served as a reminder of their own upcoming choices. Indeed it was a happy-solemn moment. Fortunately, he was saved from lingering sentiments by a phone call.
"Yes, my love," he waved goodbye to those leaving his party. "I'm about to leave. I will be home shortly." He could feel the reassurance satisfied his wife at home. She would be sitting in her wheelchair looking out the back window and watching the birds at their feeder. "I love you," he reminded her.
"Have you decided?" asked his closest friend. John had two more years before his own state-mandated 70th year retirement. No longer able to work, he too would then choose his new life. He would have to decide to retire in "The Community" and live off his 401 (d) retirement account, or relinquish the entire account for a full care program off world. He would choose between one of the new settlement planets discovered only a hundred years earlier, or the orbiting community station. The planet resettlement would be a permanent one-way trip, whereas the station did offer the opportunity to visit earth - provided you had additional savings. Most two-earner households did have the extra funds, but David did not. His wife had been injured 30 years earlier in a wasteful auto accident. Consequently, they had to plan carefully.
"Almost," Dave said. "We know we won't be staying here, but we haven't made a decision between the other two choices."
Curious about the analysis, John pressed for the decision-making details. He too lacked certainty. "What's your cons and pros?" He asked.
"Well," Dave said as he placed his personal belongings into the banker's box," The station is nearby and doesn't use the cryro-sleep that the trip to New Earth requires. The station is 7 miles in diameter and rotates to provide a comfy .5g. Lucky for us, I suppose, since Donna can't walk, we qualify for an end apartment - that's why we decided against staying here."
"End apartment?" John asked.
"Yes, the station is a cylinder and of course, it has two ends. The cylinder rotates to simulate gravity. But, if you live on the end, you are living more toward the axis where the rotation provides less force - lower "g". We can live near the center where she can almost float if she likes.'
John grunted. "I can't imagine what it would be like to go from a wheelchair to being able to fly."
"Yes," said Dave, "she's been watching the birds at our feeder for years dreaming about it."
"Well, then," John said, "You need a hand with your things?"
"No, no." Dave said. "Thank you, my friend." They hugged. David held his friend's shoulders at arm's length for a moment. "I will let you know our decision. If we go to the station, we can keep in touch with normal comm. But, if we go to New-Earth, the only way to talk is if you show up two years from now. There are no long-range communications yet." He smiled.
John returned the smile. "Be well David."
David's car pulled along side his home. The car's voice thanked him as he stepped out, and drove off autonomously to find its next fare. He walked slowly up the path to their front door where Donna greeted him. "It's all gone David."
He looked around the room and saw that everything had been boxed up earlier and removed. All that was left was a tiny bag she had packed for the two of them and her wheelchair. He knelt to gaze into her eyes. "Any more thoughts?" he asked.
"Yes," she admitted. "If we go to New-Earth, it'll be just like here. If that's the case, we should just move to The Community in Nevada. The house would be the same but the view would change since its in the desert. So, if you agree, I say we go to the station."
"Good choice!" Her husband confirmed. "I'll be able to sit by the window and watch my love fly!"
She laughed out loud contemplating her freedom. "Oh, David, I can't imagine what that would be like! Is my choice the right choice?"
He held her hand. "Of course it is. We now simply give up our possessions and from here on out, all things are paid for by all those taxes I paid over the years. We will have no worries. Food, medical, utilities, shelter. What's not to like? We can concentrate on each other."
She squeezed his hand. In her heart, that's all that really mattered to her - that they shared the remainder of their lives together. (and, she would be able to fly!)
"It's settled then," David concluded. He looked at his wrist display. The car is coming down the street now. Are you ready?"
"Ready," she said.
The car ride was uneventful and offered one last look at their neighborhood of 40 years. They had no children as the accident took her ability to have them. They got out at the transfer station where a passenger drone took them to the SpaceX terminal. An hour later, provided by the most complete organization that technology could offer, they were onboard the ship and giddy with the changes in their lives and all the anticipation that such excitement brings.
The launch was harsh but uneventful as these ships had been successfully flying daily for the past 20 years. Sharing the ride with 40 other couples, the ship climbed upward to the TSS-1 Transfer Space Station. They would spend a week there gazing down at Earth some 500 miles below. A full week to look, think, enjoy and confirm their final decision.
As they boarded the shuttle intercoms were talking about the flight and stated that the mission would take about a day to reached the LaGrange L1 position where the Cylinder was parked, at about 1.5 million kilometers from their current position.
David looked around but was not surprised that he knew no one else. There was no first class in this shuttle - a forecast of their future in a classless society. They were offered food and drink from a small selection that showed up on a panel next to the hull-seat in each row. David adjusted the air flow over his wife and gently ripped open the packet of peanuts he had selected.
She was busy watching the video screen in front of her and he leaned over to see what had her attention. His fingers drew out a couple more peanuts and he laughed at her, touching his head to hers.
"What?" she said. "Yes, I'm watching the video of our new home for the umpteenth time. I can't help it. I'm excited!"
David removed the final two peanuts and placed the empty bag in the vacuum trash service. Once he slid the door shut, the bag was whisked away - no longer a bother. "Yes," he said, returning his attention to his wife. "You know, we should try to rest. It's a long ride, and we have much to do on the other end. Do you know that this cylinder is over 30 miles long? That's a lot of exploring!"
"32 miles long," Donna corrected. "There will be parks and streams, ponds, and anything we can want. It's a true utopia! I simply can't wait!" She squeezed his arm.
"Still," he said, "we should try to get some shut-eye."
With no sense of motion, the monotony overcame them. A lunch was served, and, once finished, they reclined and relaxed. David adjusted the air flow one last time. A quick look around the cabin - almost everyone had the same idea. The lights lowered and he eventually slid into a deep sleep.
The Flight Engineer looked at his panel. "They're all asleep," he announced.
The Captain made a quick communication over his radios, then looked over at the engineer. What's the setting?
"We're down to 90%," the engineer replied. "Oxygen reduction is automated now." He pressed a button confirming the turn over to the automated system.
"How long will this take?" asked the Captain.
"It'll take roughly 3 hours."
"What if somebody wakes up?"
"They can't. The algorithm is pushing them into unconsciousness now - unless of course, we have some old-timers who've been recently climbing Mt. Everest." He chuckled.
"Okay then," concluded the Captain. "On course and set for rendezvous in 6 hours. We'll need to unload quickly and head back for the next group tomorrow morning."
At five hours and fifty-five minutes, the remaining atmosphere was evacuated from the cabin. Interlocks open slowly, the passenger container dropped and separately docked with the cylinder. Passengers were sealed in plastic bags and moved to a final storage container slightly over 100 square feet. An automated system using locking robotic arms attached the containment unit and moved it along some 29 miles of wall and finally manipulated it to its final spot where it was secured and labeled. The system reported the unit secured and logged its location - near the center of the axis.
John got a text message an instant later.
"John, we've changed our minds and are heading to New Earth! I'm sure we'll be together again soon. Be well, my friend, and enjoy those last two years!"