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by Ryan McSwain, © 2017
Orbital Platform AC-201
Directly above Los Angeles
February 22, 1987
The intercom clicked to life. “Two minutes until launch.”
Evelyn tightened her seatbelt. “I can’t believe these new Gernsbeck rockets don’t use gravity restraints. I hate chasing things around in zero-G.”
Her handsome companion returned his tray table to the full upright position. It made a difference, considering the cramped nature of their accommodations, but her elbow still poked into his forearm. “True, but at least the time compressor has four-star reviews. I don’t mind a tight squeeze if I get back to Earth before everyone I know is dead.”
In a mundane timeline, the windowless pod would look like the worst parts of a public bus crammed into a half-bathroom. The pods, outfitted with dual Sawyer engines, functioned like the escape pods on larger vessels. Small talk was notoriously awkward in these two-person pods, but Evelyn continued the attempt. “So why are you headed to Gliese?”
“Taxonomy studies. Still plenty of exospecies to work through, catalog, copyright. You?”
“Testing produce. My company wants to find the next exotic fruit import. So far every plant on Gliese with a good flavor causes severe priapism.”
“Wish I’d packed a lunch,” he said. “Remind me not to drink the water.”
The intercom crackled. “One minute to launch.”
“First time off planet?” she asked.
“No, but first time out of the system. I’ve spent most of my career on Titan.”
“Really? I did graduate work in Concordia. I loved living on Titan. Everything was so beautiful, especially the—”
“The sunsets,” he finished, meeting her gaze. “They say it takes a poet to appreciate them.”
“I think I’ll enjoy your company on this trip, Mister…?” She checked her itinerary. “Mister Eugene Taylor.”
“Me too. But please, call me Adam.”
“Of course—wait a minute, did you say Adam?”
“Right. I go by my middle name. My mother hates it, but come on. I mean, Eugene?”
Evelyn slammed her palm against the call button. “Stop the launch!”
“Ten seconds to launch,” the synthesized voice said.
“What’s wrong?” Adam asked.
“Stop the countdown! Open the door! Get me off this thing!”
“Calm down!” Adam said.
“You calm down, Eugene.” She slaps the call button like it owes her money. “We have to get out of here. Now!”
“Seven.” The rocket’s Sawyer drives hum to life.
Evelyn unfastened her seatbelt and flew toward the hatch. Frantically untangling himself, Adam grabbed her hands before she could turn the latch.
“Don’t!” he yelled. “If that hatch is open at launch, we’ll be blown apart!”
“Don’t you see what you’ve done!” she cried. “You’re a good looking guy and all, but I don’t want to repopulate a damn world with you!”
“What are you talking about?”
But she ignored him, pounding on the door. “Stop it! His name is Adam! You have to stop the launch!”
“For Christ’s sake, you can call me Eugene.”
“It’s not about what I want to call you, you stupid bastard!”
Evelyn sighed. “For the love of—”
The pulse threw them back against the wall, banging Adam’s funny bone on the way. In an older ship, the impact would have killed them. As it was, it knocked the breath out of them like two whoopee cushions.
“Great!” Evelyn curled up in a ball and hugged her knees against her. “Now we’re stuck.”
Adam sucked air in through his teeth as he nursed his tender elbow. “Lady, please tell me what’s going on.”
“The Accords, you idiot.”
“The Aldiss Accords. Don’t you remember? The rule stating you have to disclose your full name before any sort of space travel.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Think about it. You go by Adam. My name is Evelyn.”
She groaned. “So we should have never been on this ship together. Anyone named Adam, or called Adam in any conceivable way, will never board a space-faring vessel with anyone named Eve.”
“Because every time it happens, those two people become the only survivors, stranded on a planet without intelligent life. A new Adam and Eve, stranded with the sole purpose of repopulating that isolated globe. It happened dozens of times in the forties and fifties before they passed the Accords. It’s how we discovered most of the habitable planets within range.”
“Oh, right, the Genesis thing. I thought that was just a creation myth.”
“That’s the Bible story, you bozo, not the proven synchronistic effect! Between the Sawyer engines and the time compression, we’ll reach a planet any minute, probably crashing into it. We already knows the intercom doesn’t work, which means the radio probably doesn’t work. So we better hope we’re on a major spacelane and someone cares enough to come looking for us.”
“That can’t be true.”
“I’d tell you to look it up, but good luck getting wi-fi reception on Bumfuck 10-42.” She took a deep breath and flattened her shirt. “Look, we’ll make the most of it. What are your thoughts on being a parent?”
Adam forgot about his funny bone. “Whoa, now wait a minute.”
“You’re right. We should at least wait a few cycles before giving into our carnal urges.”
Ignoring the fact it wouldn’t work during time compression, Adam started pounding on the intercom button.
“Don’t waste your time,” she said. “We’d better strap in before we crash.”
The two of them climbed back into their seats. They awaited their landing in silence. As the engines changed their tone from a pleasant B-flat to a piercing G-sharp, Adam reached out for Evelyn’s hand. She gripped it as hard as she could.
The engines stopped. “Thank you for flying AC,” the intercom said.
They undid their seatbelts and stood at the hatch. Adam gave her hand a squeeze. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“I bet you don’t look half-bad in a fig leaf,” she said.
The door swung open, revealing not Eden, but a crowded spaceport. Human in every conceivable form of dress rushed by, uniformly late for their connecting flights. “Welcome to Gliese,” the intercom said. “Please exit the pod.”
Adam’s head slowly turned toward Evelyn. He turned a unique shade of crimson.
“My bad,” Evelyn said. She threw her carry-on bag over her shoulder. “Enjoy your exospecies!”
She ran through the airlock and into the crowd, leaving Adam standing in the pod. He stood motionless for several seconds before sprinting after her.
“Evelyn, wait a minute!” he yelled. “At least give me your number!”