By Paige Wyatt
The most important rule in the Hermès V handbook is this: answer every alarm. Check every receiver. The Signal is the most vital mission on the space station, and everything else, even life support, is secondary.
I live and die by the alarm.
I jog the same corridor as my ancestors. Men and women who, for four hundred years, answered the same high tone. It pulls me from sleep, from meals, from all my joy, to check for the siren song of salvation.
The lights flash blue and green in time with my boots hitting the floor. My chest heaves and my heart pounds. I run to my station, the only thought I allow with me: this could be it. This could be the one. Finally. We could go home.
Only when I enter the retina scan do I acknowledge the other thought, the one I try to push away: please let it be another false alarm.
The blue laser scans my eye and the door slides open with a familiar metal snick. I step into the cool receiving room with the temperature regulated for optimal function and shiver. I always shiver. It could be the temperature, but I’ve only ever shivered in this room.
I focus on the task in front of me—mechanical, methodical. It helps to keep my hands busy. I check the radar first, then the receiver. Everything is working perfectly. Relief and dread commingle in my stomach. If it isn’t malfunctioning, then this could be real.
As I tap my wrist com and wait for the computer to sync with the receiver stats, I scan the readings on the main screen. My eyes rest, as they so often do, on the number 400 in the upper right hand corner. It looms behind my eyes when I close them and over my head while I work. We are in our four hundredth year of this mission. The first two hundred were about sending the signals, and the last two hundred have been about receiving them.
I shake my head to clear it of the invasive dread. If this signal is authentic, it means that help has arrived and our species is saved. It means an end to humanity trying to survive on a space station.
I force myself to breathe as I wait for the signal to process, certain it will be an old, errant radio signal like every time before it. While I am concerned about the longevity of this mission, I would rather pass the responsibility of receiving the communication to my grandchildren.
My com ticks and blue words flash. Signal authentication verification complete. Status: Authentic.
I drop the com in shock.
A sign of life.