Flash: Join the Crew

Image from Jennifer Marquez on Unsplash

“Come forward, hermana.”

Anita walked forward to the gray-haired, stooped old man, her body trembling, her head bowed with her black hair streaming down against her white quinceaera gown, grateful for the gown still fitting a year later, though gaping wider at the chest and re-cinched at the waist. Her family was poor; the gown would be sold after this ceremony, her younger brother not needing it. She dropped to her knees on the first of galvanized diamond-etched steps making up the repurposed the spiral staircase. The metal used to connect the bridge to engineering, now it connected the passenger-congregational area of the community casa y iglesia to the Ship Logs.

“Rosita blessed, guiding light, she who brought us to Neuvo Mundo through Starfire and Voidcold. Before us this day is a child, our future. A daughter and a sister. You have guided and protected her four times four rounds of our home. Today, matching days to the ancient world, she has reached majority and is a child no more.” The priest of the Shipboard Faith paused. “Are her parents present?”

Her parents rose from the madera-nega bench they sat on and came forward. “Nosotros estamos aqui.”

“Do you have a marido for your hija?”

“No one has spoken to us or her. We present her to the Ship as an adult with no contracts for apprenticeship or procreation.”

Few men took on the title husband without a hefty dowry, and her small family were saving what little credit they had for their son. Fewer still of the skilled artisans and crafter took on apprentices outside their families. Her family’s small pasto y madera farm would go to her brother. Anita would need to find her own way in their colony.

“Rosita bless you for raising a child from birth to adulthood. Thank you for answering the calling, padre, madre. You are relieved of the onus you took on for us all.”

They sighed in relief behind her, her lifegivers, the ones who raised her, before retreating. Last year they celebrated her fifteenth birthday with all the love in them. Today, they willingly gave up obligations related to her. They had talked about it, her and her parents, but still, it hurt. Sixteen years was not enough; eighteen years and twenty-seven days by the Earth calendar, was not enough.

“Hermana Anita, welcome to the Shipboard. Do you join our vessel freely and of your own will?”

Not knowing any other options after being raised in the small Neuvo Mundo colony, forty-two light years from the ancient world, Anita answered, “I do.”

“Do you wish to serve the vessel as crew, or travel as a passenger?”

Anita inhaled deeply. What she was about to ask wasn’t asked often and granted even less, but without a husband and no skills, the procreation and school house was her only other option. “Officer on Duty, I wish to join the crew.”

“Daughter of passengers, the life of crew is hard. Are you sure you wish to take up this burden?”

“I do,” Anita’s voice was firm.

Officer Alfonso turned on the narrow spiral riser and walked up to where the Ship Logs were stored at the top of the fifty-foot spiral. Each step set the bells sewn along the outside edge tinkling, reminding the congregation of the sounds their ancestors used to hear as the ship heated and cooled on its long journey.

A second Officer, Hermano Sanchez, the one who normally covered Night Shift, came out of the audience and stepped around Anita to mount the steps. He carefully measured his stride against Alfonso’s, so the bells harmonized, traveling up to the first landing and stepping off onto the platform where the Console was suspended above the main floor.

The Officer on Duty walked down the steps carefully carrying a non-reflective metal black box. He stopped at the Console for the Calibration ceremony.

Relaxing her hands where they had gripped her skirts, Anita smoothed the wrinkles. No female had tried to join the crew as long as she had been alive. Last two who tried both died. According to what little times she spent with the copy of the logs available on the passenger level, women had never done well qualifying for crew. And fewer qualified among each of the three generations born under gravity.

Anita knees hurt against the repurposed metal while she waited hoping she would be an exception. She didn’t want to die. The planet hadn’t been kind, and she, like all females raised in the colony, knew her onus to replenish the ranks. The colony was struggling to survive. Food they had in plenty, but much of it became natural contraceptives to humans in the sun and soil of Neuvo Mundo. She would hate to deprive her community by dying, but she knew she wouldn’t survive as passenger procreator. Being a crew lifegiver and careraiser to the seven Officers that served as clergy, leadership, and security would be challenge enough.

At last, the priest of the Shipboard Faith returned to the passenger level and set the black box against the staircase handrail until it clicked into place. He then opened the box. From inside he raised out a golden crown of Roses ad Rays, each ray an antenna sparking with its own LED light.

“Blessed be Rosita, Captain of Us All,” said the Officer on Duty, holding the crown high for all to see.

“Blessed be Rosita, Engineer of La Libertad.” The congregation returned.

“Hermana Anita, I ask once again, do you wish to join the crew and take on all onus, duties, and responsibilities pertaining thereto?”

“I do.”

“Rise, hermana.”

Anita stood, carefully holding onto the handrail after so long on her knees. Between her short height as a third generation compared to the Officer’s first generation and him being on a step above her, he easily lowered the crown to her head.

“Hold it steady.” He instructed, his voice cracking with age as he reached under her chin to buckle some trailing wires. He took the step down and walked to first one side and then the other to connect additional strings around her ears. He then lifted his hand back to the crown. “Let go.”

Anita lowered her hands away from the slick feeling metal, waiting for whatever came next. The copies of the Ship’s Log said nothing about how the Rose testing worked. Some of the Diaries speculated the Crown came from the Captain Helmet which allowed her to communicate with the La Libertad before a meteoroid holed its second AI unit, destroying its personality.

Shadows grew sharper surrounding her, until the passenger-congregation gasp helped Anita figure out the Crown lights were growing brighter. Then, as the glow emulated from the gold metal crown, she felt the spike rays slip downward through her thick hair, etching into her scalp. First with a pinch, then a pressure. Anita bit her lip hard enough to bleed when the humming pain began. She fell forward, grabbing the handrail for support.

“Auh!” she screamed as the rays dug deep, the shorter ones completely imbedding in her head. Someone kept her from falling forward, guiding her down onto the hard textured steps. Iron and burnt hair taste and smell filled her mouth and nose. Abruptly the pain stopped, but so did all tastes and smells. The world turned black and soundless, except for a group of dots brightening and dimming one after the other in a circle.

(words 1,247; published 5/5/2024; created 11/19/2023)

2 thoughts to “Flash: Join the Crew”

    1. It was a fun setting to create; Hispanic settlers and the crew they hired to transport them for the multi-generational journey, created a mixed culture on arrival. I think this one has legs to be a longer story. I just need to learn how to write longer than a chapter.

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