Light Sleeper | Starborne

Light Sleeper

Fri Oct 09 2020 (Updated: Mon Dec 14 2020) - 5 min read


“Fire renews the forest, revolution the people.” 

— May Herrera Ngo.

The berth she has occupied for the better part of two Solar years is barely larger than her body, and when she lies on her back the cabin’s ceiling rests less than five centimeters from the tip of her nose. Staring into that featureless gray expanse of nanoplastic, she attempts to clear her mind. Just beneath her, in a berth just as cramped as her own, Collins mumbles in his sleep. The two of them have spent so much time together, in such tight quarters, that his sleep talking no longer bothers her. She knows he’ll be ready when the time comes. Unlike her, he can sleep through anything, waking up with a clear head and a ready smile. She focuses on her breath, and does her best not to think about what’s coming.

She grew up in a mega complex outside Lima. Like everything else, her building was managed by a subsidiary of one of the Lunar consortiums. She lived with her mother and younger brother in a two bedroom apartment along with another family of five. As a child, she did well enough on the standard tests to be accepted into a maintenance apprenticeship. Her brother was less able, and like 90% of the people in the building he wound up on basic assistance. It wasn’t a comfortable life, but it was stable; she had a place to sleep and a paying job and a family who loved her. Then the Directorate decided to go to war with Mars. 

Her brother was reallocated first. The family received word of his death after the ship he was on was destroyed near Ganymede. They received the equivalent of a year’s ‘basic’ in recognition for his service.

All over the barren Earth it was the same; the only resource left to the planet was its people. Reallocation had become a fact of life, and she was ordered to report for training less than a month after her brother’s death. Soon, she found herself fighting a war she didn’t believe in for people she’d never met. Her brother’s face is already fading from memory. To the Directorate, he had been no more than a tool. 

As the ship’s alarm begins to blare, the soft light in the cabin blinks red. Rolling from the berth, she finds Collins lying with his head propped on his hand, grinning at her. 

“You been up all night huh?”

“Listening to you mutter again.”

Collins laughs. His grin widens, sharpening his crow’s feet. In the ruby glare of the emergency lights, his look is almost feral. 

“Then I did you a favour,” he says, crawling from the berth. “No sense sleeping through history.” 

The door signal chimes and she moves to depress the lock. Outside, Nguyen is standing in the corridor, flanked by a pair of armored marines. 

“Lopes,” Nguyen says, nodding to her. “Collins.”

“Good morning sergeant,” Collins replies. “Any problems at the armory?” 

“Nothing we couldn’t handle. You’re ready?”

“Hate to keep them waiting,” Lopes says. Nguyen hands her a pulse rifle and tosses a second towards Collins. Lopes tests the weight of the gun. She hasn’t handled one since basic training, and all at once it hits her, the enormity of what they’re doing. 

The logistics of the operation are staggering: the greatest revolution in history, carried out in total secrecy, not within a nation, but across the entire solar system. All leading to today, to her standing with a gun in her hands and the weight of history on her shoulders. She pictures the others like herself in the fleet, the comms personnel and deck hands, the mess staff and software engineers, all of them armed, wading into a fight with no certain outcome. She hefts the rifle, slipping her finger around the trigger. Nguyen and the marines are already making their way along the corridor. Collins claps her on the shoulder.

“No time like the present right?” he asks. 

“All there ever is,” she answers. 

Now that it’s started, there is no turning back, not for any of them. Today, the galaxy’s elites learn what it means to live in fear. For generations, Earth’s people have been oppressed by the technocrats of Luna and the despots and madmen on Mars. Millions have been torn from their homes and sent off to live like slaves and to die. Lopes knows there’s no bringing her brother back. In all likelihood she will not survive the next few minutes, but her own life is meaningless. All that matters is the cause. A world reborn, in which everyone, no matter their class or background can live with dignity. A world in which everyone has a say. 

A searing burst of light followed by a curdled scream pulls her from her reverie. One of the marines is down. Nguyen is kneeling at the man’s side, pressing his gloved hand against the blood spurting out from a hole in his side. A rapid succession of pulsefire follows. At the far end of the corridor is a uniformed officer with a pistol gripped in one hand – Vaughan, she realizes with a start, Lt. Vaughan. Only yesterday she’d briefed him on the status of the containment field. Eyes wide with terror, the man swings his gun in her direction. She pulls the trigger: instantly, the left side of Vaughan’s face is vaporized. The resulting silence is too sudden, too wide to comprehend. Lopes shudders. She feels a touch on her arm.  

“Come on,” Collins tells her. “We still need to secure the bridge.” 

She forces herself to swallow the hard lump that has risen in her throat. Carefully, she makes her way past the body of the fallen officer. Thick blood squelches beneath her boot. She releases a ragged breath, preceding Nguyen and Collins and the other marine into the elevator at the head of the corridor. As the door slips shut, she stands quietly, almost afraid to breathe. No one speaks. She has a powerful urge to clear her throat. At length the door opens. 

There is a flash of light followed by a wet gurgle and a fine red mist spraying her face; there is shouting, and a burst of pulsefire. Before her, the ship’s command center is bathed in the eerie glow of the emergency lights. A man, maybe the ship’s captain, is firing at them. Nguyen rushes from the elevator, along with the other marine. There are several sizzling whines as their rifle shots are absorbed by the nanoplastic in the opposite wall, until one makes contact with the man’s chest. He falls in a heap to the deck. At her side, Nguyen is saying something to her. She looks at him. His thin face is like a red-toned mask. His thin lips are moving. 


She blinks. With a trembling hand she pulls a few loose strands of hair from her face. The tips of her fingers come away dark with blood. The other marine is standing over the body of the captain, working at the comm panel. She should be helping him to override the command codes and signal the fleet. After all, that’s why she was brought along. And Collins, where is he?

“Lopes,” Nguyen says again. “It’s alright. The ship is ours.”

Ours, she thinks. As if in a dream, she turns her head. Collins is lying on the floor of the elevator. The automated door stops and stutters next to his inert frame. He looks as if he’s sleeping. 

She nearly choked on the words: “He talked in his sleep.”