Just ten days to go until Christmas and we are taking a trip into the sci-fi world of Michael Morgan today, as created by Steven M. Caddy. Unlike the other additions to our advent calendar, this is an extract from his debut novel, In Exchange, rather than a short story written in that world.
We hope that you enjoy it and if you’re curious about the world of Michael Morgan, you can find out more here!
In Exchange: An Extract
Michael had stared, unthinking, at his maths assignment for over an hour. The numbers and letters were not making any sense. His mind drifted into a daydream about seeing the underside of clouds, and how it felt to have rain falling onto his face.
The rain mingled with beads of sweat, the rhythm was pulsating, and the heat from the stage lights seared his forehead…
Michael woke with a start.
“What?” Max looked offended.
Michael gathered his thoughts.
“Nothing. You just woke me up again. I’d drifted off a bit.”
Michael came to his senses as he realised that he wasn’t anywhere near his computer. He’d drifted across to the other side of the lab.
“I’d noticed,” Max chuckled for a few seconds, “I thought you wouldn’t want to miss out on some lunch.”
“You’d be right there,” Michael agreed, as he re-arranged himself before heading towards the hatch.
“The maths going that well was it?” Max queried.
“Heh, yeah, I thought it’d take my mind off things for a while.”
“But not quite that way?”
“No. I’ll blame that on being woken up early and then exercising. Must have tired myself out a bit.”
“Whatever you say. Beef for lunch?”
Max offered Michael a bag that contained something brown. Michael was used to meals that didn’t look like anything in particular, and this portion of beef wasn’t any different.
“Is there much I need to learn for re-entry, or ‘entry’ as it’ll be for me?” Michael asked as he took a bite of his lunch.
“A bit. Most of it is on check lists, but I’ll take you through the finer details,” Max sucked on a water bag, and then looked up at Michael, “An email with a list of things you’ll need to bring with you has arrived.”
“Oh right. Is there much?”
“Not really. There’s not that much space in the capsule. Nor will you be able to bring much back with you when you return, so you’ll have to travel light.”
“Yeah, you said something about getting more clothing once I arrive, to suit the weather.”
Michael recalled their previous discussion.
“The main point is that you can fill two bags with any personal artefacts, by which I think they mean your mp3 player, small items of clothing such as a hat, and maybe some memory sticks, with any books or other work on them,” Max said.
“Right, and I presume that’s what I’ll be allowed to bring back?”
“More or less, just don’t forget anything essential, as getting it sent on later is rather time consuming. Remember the time I left my watch here?”
Max raised a knowing eyebrow.
Michael nodded, as he remembered looking after Max’s watch for several weeks until he was able to give it to someone else to take back to Earth.
“Departure is due next Thursday isn’t it?” Michael glanced at the calendar on the far wall.
“Yes, and re-entry is thirty-six hours after undocking. It takes about an hour after de-orbit burn to get to the surface. The worst bit is waiting for the rescue crew to pick us up after we’ve landed.”
“What’s so bad about it?”
“It’s tends to be freezing cold if you get an early morning landing, so dress in thick, warm clothes before de-orbit. Once you’re cold, it’s rather hard to warm up again.”
“Is re-entry scary?”
“Only if you think it is. I think the real question you’re trying to ask is ‘is it dangerous?’ to which the answer is yes.”
Max’s expression was not its usual light hearted smile, but a serious look.
“I don’t want you to be frightened of it. It’s quite unusual for things to go wrong, lots of people spend a lot of time making sure we get it right,” Max continued.
“That’s fair enough. I’ve just never done it before, and I don’t know what to expect.”
Michael decided to be honest about how he felt.
“Don’t worry. Look forward to all the things you’re going to experience. If I were you, I’d spend some more time with the bungee cords and treadmill to practise walking. You’re going to need that. Also practise jumps; because you’ll need to know how to land on your feet, otherwise, you’re going to end up on the floor quite a lot.”
“Don’t you think they’ll just wheel me around?”
“They might at first, but I think everyone would like to see you walking around, which is far better for you. You’ll be exercising and you’ll be mobile.”
Michael nodded in agreement, taking in Max’s advice.
“Is Commander Yvetts in her lab?” Michael asked.
“As far as I know,” Max said taking a glance behind him, trying to peer into the lab.
“I think I should talk to her. I’ve got a funny feeling she knew about the plans. I want to find out if she knows more than I’ve been told.”
Max shrugged, “She’s not said anything to me, but that’s not unusual. I wouldn’t worry that she knew in advance. It’s the kind of thing she might have even organised for you.”
“I want to know what she thinks about it.”
“She probably doesn’t think about much at all.”
Michael half choked, half snorted, “Maybe you should re-phrase that?”
Max shrugged again, and gave Michael a wink.
Michael finished eating, and disposed of the packaging. He decided that he should talk to Commander Yvetts while he was still excited about the prospect of leaving the space station. He made his way towards her lab.
Tuneless humming emanated from lab four. Michael peered through the hatch. Commander Yvetts was typing on a computer at the far end of the lab.
“Err, excuse me?” Michael uttered in a small voice.
Commander Yvetts looked up, and then smiled at Michael, “Oh, hello.”
“I wanted to talk to you about next week. Do you mind?”
“Oh, not at all. I’ve been expecting you to come and find me.”
Michael pulled himself into the lab. The walls were covered in pictures of very cute looking rabbits with floppy ears.
“I was wondering what you thought of my visit to Earth?” Michael asked.
“Oh, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to further your education.”
Commander Yvetts flitted her hands about as she talked, as if she was translating what she said into some sort of sign language.
“Of course,” she continued, “you can get any educational materials you like in electronic form here, but I think it’s somehow important that you get a bit more of a hands on grip of the subjects that interest you.”
“You don’t think this is an excuse to perform a load of medical tests on me?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. Of course, Dr. Kleets will want to do some tests. It’d be a wasted opportunity for him not to. When I discussed the matter, I made sure that the primary goals for your mission on Earth were for your benefit.”
Commander Yvetts gave Michael a broad smile that Michael returned, realising that she was on his side this time.
“My ‘primary goals’? Do you know what they are? Can you tell me?” Michael asked.
“Oh, I can tell you what I know, but I’m afraid I haven’t been told all the details. You’ll have some time to try to get used to having gravity pulling you down all the time. We’re not sure how it’s going to affect you. We’re hoping that since your body is designed to work in gravity, it’ll sort itself out, the same that we get used to micro-gravity when we’re sent into orbit.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. You’ve got to have time to adjust, and no one knows how long that will take in your case. But I think the plan is to get you to meet someone who is about your age, and let you discover things for yourself. Beyond that, I’m not sure what is planned. I suspect it isn’t planned.”
Michael realised that he’d let his mouth drop open, and closed it. He’d never felt able to talk to a commander about the future before, nor had any plans he’d been told of inspired him in quite this way. He dared himself to ask another question.
“What’s re-entry like?”
“Oh, very exciting. Lots of plasma. Flashing fiery orange lights. As you’re slowed down, you begin to feel the effects of gravity. Then there’s a jolt as the parachutes open and the slow descent that feels different again. And then, bump, you hit the ground. Think of it as the start of a great adventure. That’s how I think of each visit to Daedalus.”
“I think I’m going to enjoy this.”
Michael grinned, as he imagined himself descending into the atmosphere.
“I’m sure you will,” Commander Yvetts agreed.
Michael nodded, and still grinning, he turned back to the hatch and pulled himself through. He headed back to his lab to try to finish his maths assignment, maybe without falling asleep this time.