O'Brien's body felt heavy and his head light at the time he woke up. He was imbued with a deep sense of disorientation. His environment was medical and industrial, but his mind had not caught up with the situation he found himself in. He had opened his eyes with a quick flutter. To O'Brien, it was not as if he had woken up from sleep; it was more like he had been teleported. Between his memories of sitting back with his eyes trained on a white ceiling counting backwards from ten and his present experience there was no gap. It was as if he had simply blinked his eyes and wound up in this place; there were no memories between the two events. His eyes couldn't immediately focus on any of the objects in front of him, so he took his environment in gradually as he regained consciousness. Initially he felt no sense of alarm, only confusion. Emmet O'Brien subconsciously thought to himself that he was surely in a location that he was somehow familiar with and that within a few minutes when his thoughts were gathered he would remember it. It was not until he slipped himself upright and fully observed the cold, inhuman feeling of his surroundings and realized that he had no idea where he was nor any recollection of how he had arrived there that he felt a sudden terror seize him. Emmet had been unconscious for 124 years and remembered his daily routines from his home back on Earth, but his memory had not caught up to the date he had consented to enter the Odyssey as a passenger preserved for a later date. Emmet sat for several minutes staring in shock at the unfamiliar equipment surrounding him. He was uncomfortable, unclothed, and without the slightest idea of what to do in the situation he found himself faced with. He set to what he knew, and cautiously began testing the feeble strength of his arms and legs until he believed he felt confident enough to stand.
Emmet had arisen from cryogenic sleep alone. The Odyssey was an acutely organized ship with strict schedules, but the programmed instructions from 124 years ago had at some point failed to make their way on to the current agenda. No onboard personnel were aware that a passenger who had been in cryogenic sleep was to be resurrected on that day. However, this is not to say that there were not people present in the same medical wing as the dormant passengers. Although unbeknownst to Emmet, a custodian, medical student, and the ship's head botanical researcher were all present in the same wing as he. The custodian, who called himself "Marx," was tinkering with a problematic wall panel only fifteen meters away. Marx worked diligently as he tried to calculate the cause of the panel's recurring difficulties. Giving his task his utmost attention, Marx muttered to himself as he worked and alternated between periods of soft whistling and low cursing. Marx was a man who didn't mind fixing things; he was only ever upset that he couldn't seem to do enough. He wasn't an engineer, and every repair he made seemed to be only a temporary solution. He often found himself up at night trying to complete the studies necessary to get new technology certifications that would qualify him to do more elaborate tasks and operate more complex machinery, but he had always been ill suited to studying and seldom felt that he was making much progress by independently examining textbooks and diagrams.
Marx' focus suddenly shifted as he heard a clamor from across the way to his left. Just out of his sight, Emmet had tripped over his unsteady feet and collapsed, knocking over a piece of equipment in the process. Marx hauled himself up to a standing position and began to trudge toward the source of the noise. Here was surely some other thing that needed fixing. Some days Marx could swear that the whole damn ship was falling apart at the hinges.
O'Brien shuffled back, still on the ground, as he caught a frightful glimpse of someone approaching. He had no way of knowing whether the right decision in his situation was to catch this stranger's attention or to hide. Stuck in a state of indecision and hounded by a renewed sense of humiliation at his weakness and nakedness, he retreated back towards a corner and adopted a closed body posture from which he thought he might be able to defend himself- in truth, it resembled the fetal position and struck Marx as pitiable when he turned the corner and discovered the man with surprise.
"I God! How'd you get there, und who are you?" Marx questioned, genuinely perplexed.
"I, I'm just-" O'Brien couldn't manage words. His own voice felt unusual and somehow foreign to him, and adrenaline from his shock seconds earlier had hit his system and addled his thoughts. He made a confused gesture with a wave of his arm about himself and put his hand to his forehead, rubbing his temples and trying to relax. He was calming down now and was attempting to grasp the situation. However, he didn't know how to regard the man who had approached him. The stranger had a thick voice that to O'Brien's ears was difficult to understand.
Marx crouched down and put a hand on the shoulder of the man before him. "Ваше имя?" Although Marx had a dubious feeling about this man- who was as pale and plain as a manila folder that had been left in the sun, he could read the figure's body language as that of a spooked and confused individual and felt that it was best to remain calm and try to be comforting.
O'Brien looked up. He wasn't sure he'd caught what this man was trying to say. "Sorry, what was that?" O'Brien croaked the words with moderate success. His throat didn't quite feel sore, but it did seem dry and possessed a hoarse quality.
"Your name?" Marx inquired in a husky voice, correctly interpreting O'Brien's response to signify that he was most comfortable with English phrases.
O'Brien looked up and made full eye contact with the man before him for the first time, "Emmet O'Brien," he responded and after a brief swallow repeated himself in a somewhat clearer voice, "My name is Emmet O'Brien."
Marx put his right hand straight out in front of him, took Emmet's hand and gave it a single firm shake. Pointing back at himself, he stated his own identity, "Я Marx"
O'Brien nodded at this, hoping to indicate his comprehension. Although putting forth his best effort to act collected and cordial to his new acquaintance, he was still feeling flummoxed by his unfamiliar surroundings and was attempting to hide exactly how taken aback he was by Marx's appearance. The man before him had initially left him confounded. The man didn't dress in a particularly jarring fashion; his stark uniform was hardly anything that could offend, and the hair atop his head had been cleanly shaved. The features that had initially caught O'Brien's attention were Marx's intricate and seemingly luminous tattoos. Marx was adorned from head to toe with scintillating organic markings that shifted in the lighting from their deepest hue, something of a light tan, to their brightest seemingly white tones. The aesthetic impact of these was rather captivating. Although Marx himself was comely enough, the contrast between the light hues of his markings and the dark tones of his black skin led one to look at him not as if he was simply a moderately attractive man but rather as if he was some sort of breathing work of art. O'Brien, being reasonably unacquainted with Homerian practices of body modification, was both intrigued and taken aback by the display.
Marx reached out his hands and wove one of his arms underneath O'Brien's armpit. "I'm going to help you," Marx stated simply as he laced his arm under O'Brien's and began to lift him up. O'Brien's limbs were still weak like those of a newborn fawn, and he recognized that there was no point in objecting. He braced himself as best he could against Marx and allowed himself to be dragged across the room and raised onto the same table he had just recently dismounted. O'Brien felt discomfort and moved away unsteadily. Marx released him, turned to face him and spoke, taking on an authoritative tone, "I'm going to get you something warm. 動くないで." He started forward, but then abruptly pivoted back to O'Brien and pointed his index finger at him, "Don't move." O'Brien- who had been twitching uncomfortably and subconsciously withdrawing backward – forced himself to become still. He gave Marx a reassuring nod. Marx, receiving O'Brien's nod as evidence that he had been understood, relaxed his posture and swiftly exited the room.
Marx was quick to make his way back to the nearest storage closet and retrieve one of his own spare uniforms and a coat for O'Brien. It was a pity that he didn't have anything better to warm and comfort his new ward, but this was the best he could offer, and he didn't allow himself to linger a moment longer. He was furthermore hoping to find a med student he had confronted in the halls only an hour ago as he was just beginning to tinker with the problematic wall panel. He'd had a brief conversation with the kid- who called herself Machaon- and although she was only 16 and not a graduated doctor, she certainly seemed to be the best person Marx could consult to help the frail stranger in the other room. Marx moved efficiently and scanned the hallways with his keen eyes, opening doors as he went to see if any rooms were inhabited. Rounding another corner and opening the first door on his left, a figure jolted upright and stared at Marx as he stood by the door of the small room. It was not the girl, Machaon. This room contained temperature sensitive storage units holding seeds and preserved plant parts, and the figure standing across the room was Rosa Roja, the ship's foremost botanist.
Marx bowed to her and rose as she smiled sheepishly. In his most courteous fashion, Marx began to speak, "Friend, I must inquire if you might help me with recent problem or if you can direct me to student Machaon, who I believe to be in wing with us." Marx spoke clearly but had skipped a few of his planned connecting words as he spoke at pace- not that it mattered. Rosa Roja understood perfectly and appreciated the formality of English speech coming from a man whose first and second languages were Russian and Japanese.
Rosa Roja replied, "I have only a vague idea of where Machaon might be, but if it is within my ability, I will do my best to help you." She waved a hand over the desk she was standing behind, atop of which were the microscope, samples, and notes she had been taking, "What I am doing here can wait."
Marx heartily accepted her offer and temporarily forfeited his search for medical assistance. Holding the fingers of her hand lightly (so as to lead her but not disrespect her integrity as an officer), Marx swiftly started back towards O'Brien with his clean coat pressed to his chest and with Rosa Roja keeping pace.
O'Brien had been alone only a short time. All the while, he had been soaking in irrelevant details of his stark environment- through numerical values, as was his habit. 13 ceiling panels across the top of the left wall, each an estimated .4 meters square, extending across the rectangular room for a length of 20 panels- 260 total ceiling panels, an estimated 104 square meter surface area. A drop of his own perspiration creeping down along the side of the table, moving at an estimated rate of 2 centimeters every, ehhh, maybe 3 seconds- with the floor over a meter and a half away, and if the velocity of the drop was assumed constant…
-And so the mental calculations continued. Their accuracy was not particularly important; O'Brien did it just for the exercise. Since childhood, numbers had been a tool that helped him feel in control.
At this time, Marx and Rosa Roja made their entrance, breaking O'Brien from his meditation. Marx released the fingers of Rosa and pulled his jacket out from where it was pinned between his forearm and chest. He stepped forward and offered it to O'Brien with what he hoped was a friendly smile. Marx was non-threatening enough, and O'Brien accepted the garment, but he was soon petrified by embarrassment as he became aware of the new presence of Rosa. At first glance, he'd missed the obvious fact that she was a woman; she had her head shaved just as Marx did and her clothes were gender neutral. However, it was plain to see that she was female from the curve of her hips to her high waist, speaking nothing of her chest. Furthermore, Rosa was not one to shun traditional symbols of femininity. She wore hoop earrings that dangled, and tattoos of red and pink roses befitting her name played at the corner of her temples and spread as vines along her neck, seemingly rooted at her thinly concealed collar bones. Being exposed to another man was something he could come to terms with, but O'Brien's head reeled at the thought of being indecent in front of a lady- and a stranger at that. He reflexively covered his genitals and was beside himself with shame. Rosa Roja furrowed her eyebrows, which hadn't been trimmed in a while and could nearly be described as a singular eyebrow. She interpreted Emmet's actions as a fear response, and she was moved by pity. She stepped to his side and held her right hand out to brush his shoulder, moving cautiously as if she was approaching a scared animal.
Emmet shrank away from her and immediately began to utter his apologies, trying to convey his feelings that his nakedness was disgrace enough for him but that it wouldn't have been his intent to offend her as well. Having heard this, Rosa was forced into the position of trying to explain that he had done nothing wrong and that she and Marx were only trying to help.
Marx was unfolding the clothes he had offered as Rosa attempted to assuage O'Brien's anxiety. He spoke simply, "These are too big for you, I think."
"The pants can be tied tighter at the waist, and we can just roll the cuffs back to an appropriate length." Rosa said, turning to O'Brien, "You must be feeling cold. Marx and I are only here to help you. I understand that clearly you are someone who," she paused, "-cares a lot about his personal space, and we don't mean to intrude, but it's better for you if you allow Marx and me to help you get dressed now." Rosa now stood, offering to support O'Brien and gesturing to Marx to follow her lead. Although O'Brien was outspoken about preferring to handle this issue himself, he was forced into compliance by Rosa's words and Marx's strong grip.
Once this issue was handled and O'Brien was seated on the table again, Marx, trusting Rosa's conversational abilities over his own, decided to leave Emmet in her care and promptly excused himself to make a phone call and report to a supervisor.
Alone, Emmet turned to Rosa and began to ask questions as they came to him. "Are you a doctor?"
"Mmm, I'm a doctor of sorts. I am not a medical doctor though, which I believe is what you're asking me." O'Brien noticed that Rosa spoke an accent he couldn't place.
O'Brien waited for a second and swallowed before speaking again. "Can you tell me where I am?"
Rosa's dark eyes caught a slight sparkle. "You're on the S. S. Odyssey of the Homerian Republic, humanity's cultural outpost among the stars." She gingerly touched her chest and waved her right hand in a deliberately melodramatic fashion that could have been interpreted as sarcastic. "The jewel of human advancement, a representative of peace built on the core tenants of utopia and striving for the preservation of equality and freedom for all-"
"-existing alongside its sisters for the liberation of mankind from a dying planet and in hope of discovering sanctuary and utopia in the spaces beyond." Speaking slowly, Emmet picked up the mission statement exactly where Rosa left off, dumbfounded that he actually remembered such a thing. Pieces began to come together in his mind, and he finally drew the connections between his memories and the present situation. His hands touching his face, he took a long breath and tipped his head back. "So all that actually happened," he spoke, facing the ceiling, "I'm actually here."
Rosa stared at him with patient silence.
"It feels unreal. I was never actually onboard any of the ships- I never knew what they looked like. I just went under a few months before they were supposed to launch. My last memories are set in the same place that served as the training facility. I don't know that I really thought this would work out. I was taking a risk. I didn't know if I'd wake up, and now it feels like I never went to sleep at all and I just wound up here through magic." He spoke in a soft, awestruck voice and couldn't think of anything else to say. "This feels unreal," he whispered one final time to himself.
Rosa continued to sit beside Emmet and monitor him but made no attempt to force conversation. The two simply sat in silence.