Sulily sleeps suspended inside a transparent, cylindrical womb filled with luminous blue fluid. Her suit sticks to her body like a second skin. Knobby nodes run up the length of her spine and end at the soft helmet’s base at the back of her neck.
From the center of the helmet, wires fan outward and upward, gathering at the control center at the top of the container. Her mouth and nose are covered by a breathing apparatus with a serpentine root that coils and stretches down to the base of the cylinder.
From time to time, her eyelids flicker and her fingers and toes twitch. Otherwise, she simply floats in suspended animation, unaware of even the small, robotic jellyfish that swim around her, monitoring her vitals and the state of the life-preserving fluid.
Her unconscious body has already been floating inside the cylinder for three years. She will sleep like this for two more years, awaken for three then sleep again for two more years. When she awakens for the second time, this space-age mermaid and her companions will be orbiting a whole new world. At least, that’s the plan.
Sulily dreams in hypersleep.
She doesn’t dream of the friends and family she left behind on Ceres or of the vast distances between stars. The dauntless pioneer doesn’t dream of the new life she will begin on a new planet or of the many adventures and hardships to come.
She doesn’t dream of the starship’s photon sails, fluttering on cosmic currents like the wings of a butterfly as it breaches the solar system’s heliopause. She doesn’t dream of Barnard’s Star or of their target planet’s seven mysterious sisters.
She doesn’t dream of the unknown continents waiting to be discovered or the icy moon Gog, circling the planet Magog - an ominous pair of names to which Sulily had stridently objected but was outvoted. She doesn’t dream of the past, the future, or even the present.
Sulily dreams of water, Big Water, abundant enough to swallow their massive spaceship whole. She dreams, with longing, of Earth’s mighty ocean, that vast liquid body thrashing and throwing its weight around with abandon. She dreams of the gentle shushing of froth against the shorelines, of rip-roaring, thunderous waves cresting on the high seas and crashing against jagged cliffs.
She dreams of awkward sea cows, humpty-dumpty sunfish, snaky oarfish, and the sightless monstrosities living below the photic zone. She dreams of shoals of mackerel twisting and folding into dense bait balls and ruthless sharks culling the frenetic herds.
She dreams of dark, green forests of sargasso, the baby seahorses, and leafy seadragons taking shelter within their hairy embrace. She dreams of the many-tentacled octopuses, caught up in their furtive mating rituals and jittery war dances deeper down.
In her dream, Sulily hears the shrieks of hungry seabirds, the boisterous chatter of dolphins, and the sad, beautiful singing of whales. In her dream, the jellyfish swimming around her are puffy giants with long, curly tendrils trailing along the ocean floor.
Surrounded by the bio-luminescent denizens of the great Deep, she is Captain Nemo ensconced within her rusty submarine, delving deep down into the starlit trenches of an Earth to which Sulily has never been.
Sulily doesn’t dream of jolly Roger Hartman, slumped at the pilot controls, all skeletonized and bone white. She doesn’t dream of Lady Diana Bergman - Sulily has secretly nicknamed her Princess of Mars - inside her fractured shell, all desiccated and deathly dark.
She doesn’t dream of Torey Brown, the taciturn medical technician who died, plunging face-first into a plate of scrambled egg whites; beside him on the counter, a worn paperback copy of The Integral Trees, earmarked at page three hundred and eighty-six.
Sulily doesn’t dream of Miko Takano, the mechanical engineer with a penchant for reciting poetry aloud, curled up in her bunk, in the throes of a nightmare from which she will never awaken. She doesn’t even dream of Mike Tully in the hydroponics bay, done in alongside his crop, dirt still clinging to the tips of his fingernails.
Sulily doesn’t know.
She doesn’t know that one year ago, along came a wayward piece of cosmic debris, punching a hole into the spaceship’s hull and ripping through the quarters where she and her crewmates sleep. She doesn’t know that three of the seven watery wombs have cracked open like eggs, fluid spewing out, leaving inside only the devastated bodies of their unfortunate occupants.
She doesn’t know that the pilot and the rest of the on-duty shift are dead. She sleeps, unaware of the flickering lights and shrill alarms going off all over the ship. She doesn’t hear the intermittent crackle of the radio or the repetitive pleas for a response to mission control. She doesn’t know that the program designed to awaken her at the appointed time or in the event of an emergency has become corrupt and ceased to function.
Lost in her endless dreaming, Sulily will keep sleeping for another seven years.
The phantasmal Nautilus will continue plumbing the depths of the watery abyss for wonders and riches untold, and Sulily will continue to float, suspended inside her high-tech tomb.
Solar winds will continue to bluster against the bow of the great ship. Barnard’s star will continue to lie in wait, expelling fairy dust and fire. Gog will continue to circle Magog - fourteen hundred and thirty-two more times.
The ship’s engines will keep humming. The alarms will keep blaring. The desperate voices on the radio will keep calling. The bodies that haven’t rotted down to bone will become eternally mummified. Sole survivor oblivious, the corpse-laden spaceship will sail unerringly to her destined cosmic shore.
At the end of Sulily’s ten-year journey, the hole in the hull will have widened into a gaping maw. The doomed ship will wobble, spin, and burn up as it is sucked into Magog’s magnetic embrace. As if to sleep the inevitable away, Sulily will still be dreaming inside her watery grave.
Sulily will never have an inkling of her gruesome fate.