This scrap of a scene was cut from my current WIP, but I’m too fond of these characters to really let it go. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂
Leaving Ponder (An Excerpt)
Leaving Ponder actually gave me a stomach ache. As we exited Earth’s orbit, my insides twisted and my face felt hot. I stared at the small porthole across from my seat until the swirling blue sphere dipped out of sight. My liquid breakfast threatened to make an encore appearance.
The first moments after the turbulence were surreal. Silence rippled down the narrow, seat-lined hall, followed by a symphony of notification chimes. Light pink, orange, purple, green, and yellow icons appeared over the seats. A parade of pastel request bots zipped down the aisles, answering the calls for water bottles, blankets, answers, and anything else that might bring comfort to the passengers. The intelligent orbs responded with patience that only a computer program could maintain. The buzz died down as the bots fulfilled the initial flurry of passenger requests.
Passenger seatbelts remained locked for the next eighteen hours. The family diagonal from me had their hands connected. I counted the twined fingers until I forgot about my queasy stomach. One hundred interlocked fingers, with twenty extra digits dangling at the ends. Six people, all silent and still, eyes closed and hands joined.
Several groups mirrored the action, illuminated by the soft day lights overhead. Confused and angry babies shrieked at each other up and down the travel bay. Exhausted parents made futile shh-shhhh-ing sounds. Teenagers squirmed in their padded seats, exuding boredom and invincibility. My eyes drifted back up to the porthole above the seat across from me, searching for a last glimpse of the only home I’ve ever known. Inky black filled the small circle.
My vision blurred and my stomach gurgled loudly, causing the woman to my left to shift away from my chair. I pressed the small button on the inside of my armrest.
A pink circle appeared over my head, summoning a matching hoverbot.
How may I assist you, Prudence Cook?” The floating pink orb bobbed into view at eye-level, just below my modest view of infinite space. I turned my attention to the attendant.
“I need something to make me… not puke, I guess? Can you do that?” The bot pulsed blue for a moment as it processed my request.
“I’m sorry, I do not understand your request,” it responded, “Please ask a different question.”
I huffed. “Give me anti-nausea drugs?” I could never quite get the hang of these things. The bot pulsed blue again then flared red.
“I’m sorry, you lack the proper clearance to complete this request. Please ask a different question.” The red faded back to its default soothing pastel pink. I sighed.
Well, it was worth a shot, I thought. Out loud I responded, “Okay, fine. I need something to puke in.” The woman next to me shifted again.
“The requested hazardous waste receptacle will arrive in twenty seconds. To dispose of the bag, please seal the top and place it back in the tray located underneath your seat. How else may I assist you, Prudence Cook?”
“Nothing else.” I wasn’t even sure if I needed the puke bag, but I needed to do something and I was still kind of queasy. Stupid drug restrictions.
The orb turned and bobbed down the aisle to the next passenger marked by a pink icon. Another small ding marked the arrival of my ‘hazardous waste receptacle’. I reached under my seat to retrieve it and my alarmed neighbor leaned farther away.
“Try some deep breaths, Prudence Cook,” came a low, quiet voice from across the aisle. I looked up, puke bag in hand, and made contact with the man parallel to my seat. He smiled, the right corner of his mouth tugging at the expression. “You know – suck all the air out of the bag, then fill it back up again. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in… rinse and repeat.” I didn’t say anything, but my cheeks heated. My focus was on my grumbling stomach, but my eyes fixed on the man’s lopsided smile.
Queasy and embarrassed, I inflated and deflated the small bag. As I breathed, my eyes drifted up to the porthole above the man’s head. The impossible blackness seemed to pull me in. Unable to stave it off any longer, I emptied the contents of my stomach into the bag. Similar retching sounds echoed down the hall.
At least I’m not the only one.
The overhead lights transitioned from bright white to a deep sunset orange. As the simulated twilight hours passed, orange gave way to reds and pinks, then a dim purple. Small reading lights dotted the rows of cushioned armchairs, dimming as passengers attempted to sleep outside of Earth’s orbit for the first time. Baby cries and vomiting sounds faded with the hours, mine included.
I wanted to summon the bot again to get some water, and maybe a breath mint, but didn’t want to risk the wrath of my persnickety neighbor again. She had finally fallen asleep. I felt bad for causing a scene when we were all dealing with the same conditions.
“Need some water?” the man across from me whispered. I nodded. “Can you catch?”
“You’ll do fine. Catch!”
Before I could protest, a clear plastic bottle flew at my face. I instinctively threw my hands up. The bottle bounced off my palm and rolled down the aisle between us, coming to a halt five chairs away.
“How could you not catch that?” The man’s eyebrows were raised, a slight crease forming above them. I was temporarily speechless.
“What- me? Are you serious? Why would you throw something at a stranger without warning? You don’t even know me!”
“Oh, c’mon. I warned you, it was an easy toss, and it hit your hand.”
“If you knew me, you’d know that was a terrible idea.” My whisper was a bit loud, compensating for my embarrassment. First the puking, now the obvious lack of coordination. My neighbor grunted and rustled in her sleep.
“Well. I guess now I know.” The man’s voice was still soft. I could make out his crooked smile in the dim light.
A round green icon appeared above his head, the circle almost centered in the porthole behind him. A mint green bot bobbed toward the chair. It emitted a faint hum, audible in the now-quiet metal chamber.
“How may I assist you, Owen Samwell?” the bot asked, its volume lower to accommodate the sleeping passengers.
“Prudence Cook needs water and…” he tilted his head, making eye contact with me around the green orb.
“Um, a breath mint would be great,” I whispered.
“… and a breath mint.” He straightened up in his seat.
“The requested items will arrive in thirty seconds. How else may I assist you, Own Samwell?”
“I could use some water as well. That’s all.” My cheeks warmed again as I remembered where his other water bottle ended up.
“The requested water bottle will arrive in twenty seconds.” The assistant hummed back to its station. I reached under my seat and found an ice cold bottle waiting, along with a cellophane-wrapped mint.
We both drank in silence. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but he seemed to be scrutinizing me. It occurred to me that I was doing the same thing.
“Thanks, Owen Samwell.”
“You’re welcome, Prudence. I think I’m gonna try to get some shut-eye. Try not to puke on anyone.”
Before I could come up with a response, his chair reclined and he pulled a downy blanket from underneath the seat cushion. I scowled and followed suit.
It was going to be a long journey.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this little snapshot. Although the scene didn’t make the cut, the silly little hoverbots and passenger shuttle are very much a part of my WIP’s world. The characters are also in it, but they meet in a different way…