All eleven of us stood near a window watching the only home we'd ever known slip further and further away. Then our view was blocked by a pale white cloud layer before brilliant sunlight pierced into our eyes. Only a few had tears left to cry as we entered the next sequence in a nightmare we'd never wake up from.
“How much time do I have left?” I asked the doctor trying to sound composed.
“I hate to tell you this,” Dr. Isman said reluctantly, “But if you started feeling symptoms in February, then you've already seen your last Christmas.”
The other ten on board heard similar things from their doctors and specialists.
Vinton's Disease isn't something you keep from a fiance. Only a week after proposing to my sweet Stephanie I had to tell her I probably wouldn't be around for our late fall wedding. She didn't take the news well. I never saw her again after that.
Something else we eleven had in common was receiving a letter from Orion-Luxor Industries. An invitation to an alternate ending of our lives. Instead of dying slowly and painfully on earth while racking up unimaginable medical expenses, we could be part of a space exploration team on another planet. Our controlled environment would be adjusted to keep us as comfortable as possible and could actually extend our lives by weeks if not months. It was a theory of course, but it seemed to be the lessor of two very terrible evils.
Thick darkness surrounded the windows when we entered our individual cryogenic-sleep chambers. But we awoke to turquoise blue six days later. I forced my way through a sleep hangover to the window to get my first look at Rantheon-1.
Our new home was a wide open desert with sand and sparse vegetation as far as the eye could see. I was expecting something more dreary, actually.
I was caught off guard by what I saw next. I knew I'd met everyone on board but hadn't really seen Wendie before. Maybe I was seeing her without the veil of grief she wore after a heart wrenching good bye to her husband and young daughter.
She searched through the window like a curious child then glanced to me. We exchanged fractured smiles then prepared to suit up and unload the transport.
Our new surroundings were made by machines for machines with a customized oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere to aid our condition. Uninfected humans would need a breathing mask, but we lived mask free.
What Orion-Luxor needed wasn't just the human touch, but the non-liner, creative problem solving mankind has to offer. Rantheon-1 was rich with subterranean mineral ore, but the machines would regularly breakdown. With the hologram video conferencing technology, the techs back on earth could teach a monkey to fix almost anything with tweezers and duct tape. Transports were scheduled to arrive monthly with new supplies of food and tools, along with almost anything we asked for personally to keep us as content as possible.
Wendie and I seemed to eat together frequently. She was warm and kind company and I hoped I somehow brightened her life as well.
On our ninth or tenth day she asked, “How are you feeling? Do you still feel sick?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Not really. I'd have to say I'm feeling more normal than I have in a long time.”
“Me too,” she said before changing the subject. “We should ask for plants and pictures for the walls around here. It's so bare. We can get those things right?”
“Whatever we want,” I answered.
We held each other in our eyes a little longer each time we met. Every break or dinner together became a welcome escape. Since being diagnosed all I thought about were my days remaining. Wendie changed that. Now I looked forward to each new day.
Our base on Rantheon-1 was located where we had constant light coming from two distant suns. No matter the time, it was always appeared to be late afternoon with no changing of seasons.
Sometime later, I was reviewing the supply list with an online tech one day when he asked, “Want anything special for Christmas?”
“Yep,” he said putting on a Santa Clause hat. “This supply run will get to you bright and early on December 25th buddy. What do you want?”
No one expected this, least of all me.
“I know what I want, but I'm not sure if she's ready. Know what I mean?” I asked with a wrinkled brow.
“Depends on how you ask her.”
I turned around to see where the feminine voice was coming from. Wendie leaned lightly against the door frame with her arms folded.
“A bottle of red wine should do nicely,” she said.
The warmth of her smiled lingered with me long after she turned away.
All of us were alive and strong two years after our arrival. Now Orion-Luxor had a new mission on another planet for all but two of us. My wife and I waved to our co-workers and friends from the window.
They left Rantheon-1 on a Monday.