Harriet stormed for the front hatch.
“No,” said Sargent. He grabbed her wrist and halted her departure. “You can’t go, Harri.”
Wheeling on him, Harriet poured out all the aggravation swelling over the past hour. “What do you mean I can’t go?”
“You have to stay,” said Merry, “we have to do this.”
She smiled that sweet smile she used on their most difficult clients, the ones who didn’t understand why their cryofunds couldn’t be instantaneously transferred across the solar system.
“This way,” said Sargent.
Harriet scowled when he tugged her arm, crinkling her suit’s plastic sleeve. His unrelenting grip convinced her to traipse down the hall and into the sitting room before he decided to simply carry her back inside.
The circular arrangement of high backed stools remained unchanged from when she’d turned away from the threesome and sought the exit. Sargent led her to the hip-high glass table cleared of cups and dishes, digital readers and holographic resolvers accompanying a regular evening. Tonight, all such niceties had vanished, leaving room for their collective judgment.
“No.” Harriet tried wrenching her arm free, but Sargent wouldn’t slacken his grip.
“It’s for your own good,” said Benny.
He planted his massive hands on her shoulders, raised veins poking from his pallid skin and strengthening his gaunt fingers. When he pushed down and Sargent stepped forward, their combine efforts undermined her knees and Harriet stumbled against the table’s edge before plopped like a spattered bug upon the glass.
Curling her legs up and under her, Harriet clasped the vacuumed zippers threading the chest of her suit. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”
“It’s time for you to go,” said Merry.
“What do you think I was trying to do?” She swept an angry hand at hatch lost around the corner and the trio flinched as one.
“You can’t go that way,” said Sargent, “not again.”
“Lay down,” said Benny. He patted the glass like a pillow.
Harriet shook her head. “This is insane.”
“Then indulge us,” said Merry, “and it’ll be over that much faster.”
Shooting them each a glare, Harriet found the heat in her gaze no match for the coolness in the sky-blue eyes they each shared. Even their features seemed to copy the same ubiquitous white, something natural sunlight might have once countered; but then, she reasoned, there had to be a sun to shine. Their oval faces and the dark trim on Sargent and Benny’s hair along with Merry’s pixie bob complimented each other, like a set of dolls.
Shuddering from the eerie comparison, Harriet raised both her hands in defeat and stretched out on the glass.
“Try and relax,” said Benny.
With a snort, Harriet stared up at the curved ceiling, the ribs on the capsule vanishing into the bulkheads. A window filled the section overhead, revealing an array of stars whose names flitted from her memory. She saw, instead, her own dark haired form lying on the glass, stared into her robin’s egg eyes, and gaped in shock at the paleness of her skin. She touched her rigid cheek bones, the purpling rings beneath her eyes, and raked her dry tongue over her flat and lifeless lips.
Something, she realized, is wrong.
Merry laid a hand on her forehead, her touch cold, like metal. “Close your eyes.”
“This is crazy,” whispered Harriet, but staring at her reflection, her defiance wavered.
Merry’s smile returned but its lack of warmth, of depth, made Harriet’s stomach sink.
Harriet glanced at Sargent, his attention absorbed in a panel to her left and then Benny who scowled at monitor appearing in the wall. They tapped on screens, creating beeps and swirls of light. The sudden cacophony seemed to harmonize after a moment and then the bleeps mimicked her speeding heartbeat.
Seeking some kind of solidity, Harriet found Merry’s downcast gaze. “What’s going on?”
“You’re going home,” said Merry.
She slipped her hand down until her palm and long fingers covered Harriet’s eyes. In the unexpected darkness, Harriet lay still. Moments passed, one no different than the one following. She started counting. When she reached twenty, she tried raising her arm but discovered her hand too heavy to lift and shove away Merry’s blinding grasp. She attempted to twist her head, but her neck remained as rigid as the capsule’s bulkhead.
Instead of looking at the blackness of Merry’s palm, Harriet closed her eyes and fell into the rhythmic beat of whatever program Sargent and Benny had started, the one matching her heart’s quick drum. The pulse sank into her body, making every pore throb until she felt certain her skin would leap off her bones. One beat led to the next, and the one after that, creating an endless string of unbroken notes in a repetitive monotone. She tried tallying them, but soon lost track and simply gave into the dull tune and the encompassing black.
“…out of it,” said a voice beyond the darkness.
Meredith, reasoned Harriet.
Opening her eyes she found the woman’s plump face, mousy bangs and too-thick glasses hovering at her shoulder. Meredith’s brown eyes glistened with fresh tears, the first spilling over cheeks bunched in a beaming smile.
“I knew it.”
A hand touched Harriet’s arm, the skin fiery warm. “Welcome back.”
Swiveling to the other side, she found Barry. His half grin appeared between the lumberjack beard bloomed from his perpetual stubble.
“How are you feeling?” Shawn stepped into view and laid a hand on her leg, pressing the downy sheets onto her skin.
“Fine….” Staring down at her body, Harriet almost didn’t recognize the spindly frame hidden by peach-hued cotton. She lifted her hand and found tubes of fluid disappearing into her flesh, needles in her veins, and plastic stripes and gauze taped to her arms. “What happened?”
Meredith adjusted her glasses, her frown deepening with worry. “You don’t remember the accident?”
Harriet gulped. “Accident?”
The slick road, the pelting rain, the screech of tires and brakes, and the slamming crash flung to the forefront of her mind. She covered her eyes with her pierced and bandaged hand, finding some solace in the darkness and the galaxy swirling in her sights.