This is for a contest run by I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. He gave us the intro 2 paragraphs and we had to finish the scene in 500 words. Hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!
Conrad opened his eyes to a view of a massive blue globe. He jerked back and twisted around in the microgravity. He touched something solid in front of him. A window.
He pushed against the window and turned around. Conrad scanned the small room, no larger than a public bathroom stall, and empty except for an EV spacesuit and door. He studied the view through the window. Neptune, he thought. How did I get here?
Conrad pulled off the cryosleep nasal tubes and chest monitors, then slipped into the EV spacesuit and pushed off the wall with his feet. In microgravity, the push got him to the door quickly and he slapped his palm against the door’s scanner. A small hatch slid open on the wall and Conrad checked the cage inside: she was still in stasis.
Cage in hand, he opened the door to the hallway and hit the floor jogging. There were only a handful of other passengers in the hallway. The spacecraft had left Earth full to capacity but most passengers had had enough sense to get off before Neptune.
Conrad slowed as he approached the cockpit. The Captain was standing at the open door, his hands clasped behind his back. A sign on the right read “Shuttle line forms here”.
Behind the Captain, Conrad could see Neptune’s surface docking station on the cockpit’s large screen. It was crawling with officials carrying visa verifiers and contraband scanners. She would be considered contraband here.
“Captain, I was supposed to get off on Saturn.” Conrad could hear the rising panic in his voice and he took deep breaths of the thin air to calm himself.
“You programmed your own cryosleep computer,” said the Captain, shifting his feet slightly.
“But I know I programmed it for Saturn and Saturn is what it says on my ticket. Don’t you have a list of which passengers are getting off where?”
The Captain shrugged. “If you don’t want to get off on Neptune, you’re welcome to stay aboard until we reach Alpha Centauri, turn around, and pass back this way. Should only take a few months.”
Conrad studied the Captain’s expressionless face. Surely he knew Conrad couldn’t do that; the outer reaches of space made the Wild West look tame. There was no law, limited resources, and little food. Conrad was not a fighter, he was a history professor, and now he would be late starting his job at the University of Saturn.
“There’s a passenger craft coming through in a week or two that’s headed the right direction if you want to stay on Neptune,” said the Captain.
A soft mew came from the cage. Conrad poked a few of his fingers through the bars and his cat purred against them.
Neptune had a strict policy against bringing alien life to the planet. It was a world of benign plants and squishy animals that made it a popular tourist destination for those willing to travel the distance, but predatory animals such as cats were absolutely forbidden. If he brought her into the docking station, she would be put down immediately. He considered taking the Captain up on his Alpha Centauri detour. But there had been rumors – too many rumors to ignore completely – about the price of meat on Alpha Centauri. A cat would fetch a high price. A history professor would fetch a higher one.
The Captain arched one eyebrow. “Will you be staying aboard?”