Owen blinked his new eyes as the lights came on. They adapted quicker than he expected and he found himself facing a display screen with a friendly face smiling at him.
“Good morning, Owen Phillips,” the voice that came out had a modulated edge. “Your orientation will soon begin. Please report to the company liaison once your physical evaluation has completed. Scans of the communication array has identified seven local languages. They have been added to your training. You have seven hundred and fifty-three unread messages.”
The hatch to his pod popped open with a hiss. Owen sat up and looked around. This was his first trip across a galaxy, but he was pretty sure that this wasn’t the docking bay. Red baked earth dotted with thorny underbrush and orange cacti. His pod was lodged in a sun bleached boulder and as far as he could see, he was the only one around.
It was then that Owen realized that he was entirely naked. A panel slid open on the opened hatch to display a thin robe and slipper. Owen put on the robe, tied it shut as best as he could, and put on the provided shoes. He stood up in the pod and found that the slippers were about as thin as the robe.
The sound of an engine growled as a vehicle trundled into sight. It kind of looked like a truck, but the cab was a roll-cage with glass panels attached to a flatbed. The vehicle bounced along the terrain toward him. Owen watched as the truck pulled to a stop near the pod. A thin, ragged man in dusty worn coveralls with one missing sleeve. The guy wiped his forehead with his bare arm and limped over to the pod.
He gave the slightest of nod to Owen as he walked to the back of the truck. The ragged man unhooked a set of chains that ended in hooks and attached them to the pod.
“What are you doing?” Owen asked.
“What?” The thin guy looked up at him.
“What are you doing?” His brain switched to match the language.
“Taking the pod,” the guy attached one of the hooks and moved on.
The guy looked at him, then at the pod. “what year did you launch?”
“Twenty-two eighty-six,” Owen said as he walked along the truck to get a better look at it.
“They freeze you or CCT?”
“Clone Consciousness Transfer.”
“Yeah,” Owen said. He nodded and looked down at his new hands. “Cloned.”
“Brain should be working fine,” the guy went back to work. “Lots of problems with the frozen ones.”
“That’s,” Owen held the word as he looked back at the guy. “Good?”
The thin guy shrugged as he attached the second hook, “good. Bad. Don’t matter.”
“You’re not with the company are you?” Owen didn’t see any company logos or patches on the coveralls.
“Nope,” the guy looked up and gave a gapped smile. “Independent salvage.”
Owen blinked and looked from the truck to the pod, “you’re taking the pod for salvage.”
“Yep,” the guy hooked the last connection up and walked back to the truck. “What company were you with?”
“Never heard of them.”
Owen blinked again, “what year is it?”
The thin guy tapped his left temple lightly. “June fifth, Thirty-two twelve, Galactic Standard.”
Owen suddenly found it hard to breath.
“You alright?” The ragged guy flipped open a box on the side of the flatbed.
“That’s nearly a thousand years.”
“Yep,” the guy pulled a lever.
The chains began to slowly tighten. Moment by agonizing moment the pod slid from its rocky casing. Owen wobbled as his brain tried to process the news. The new gray matter worked even better as the mush he had been born with. A flood of emotion and memories were eased away into the sound of rain. Owen found his breathing and pulse returning to normal.
“The trip was supposed to take two hundred and fifty years,” Owen said as he watched the pod move. It jolted from the stone and kicked up a cloud of red dust as it clunked onto the ground.
“That’s sub light drives for you,” the guy didn’t bother to look up from his panel.
“Did the ship crash?” Owen looked up at the sky around them. He didn’t seen any streaks through the atmosphere or massive plumes of smoke.
“No,” the guy laughed. “We’d all be dead.”
“What do I do?” Owen held the back of his robe closed as he sat down on a nearby rock. “Is there a company rep I can talk to?”
“I don’t know, kid,” the guy shrugged. “I’m just here for the pod.”
“It’s my pod,” Owen yelled as he stood up.
The guy pulled a wallet-sized block of plastic from his pocket, “by right of professional salvage I claim this pod and its contents, living, dead, or otherwise. You’re out of the pod. You ain’t my problem.”
A rectangular holographic display projected from the box. A long block of text scrolled along. Owens’ new eyes were able to read the words even from about ten feet away. It was a long winded legal version of what the guy had just said. The final sub clause stated that anything outside of the original discovery would require an additional declaration. An addendum stated that living humans, cloned or otherwise, were not eligible for salvage as they fell under the jurisdiction of the slavers guilds.
“Slavers?” Owen yelled.
“No,” the guy huffed, but Owen couldn’t tell if it was out of insult or disappointment. “I just do mechanics and non-humans.”
The thin guy turned to look at the horizon as the pod made it to the edge of the flatbed. He held up a hand and squinted into the distance. The guy casually strolled over to the panel before he spoke.
“Those are slavers,” he pointed to a trio dust trails.
Owen looked to the where the guy was pointing. His new eyes zoomed in to see three roll-cage type vehicles more akin to the bastard spawn of a dune buggy and a minivan heading their way. Instead of clear panels they were blacked out completely. Judging by their speed and the terrain the three buggies would be there within five minutes.
The pod settled into position on the flatbed. Owen watched as the thin man hopped up next to the salvage and closed the hatch. The thin man did a quick check of the chains before he dropped back to the ground. He opened the cab of the truck.
“Take me with you,” Owen blurted out.
“Why would I do that?”
“It’s better than slavery.”
“They aren’t coming for me,” the guy patted the pocket where the plastic devise was. “I’m legit.”
“Yeah, but they’re after me.”
“What’s the big deal?” The guy settled into his seat and closed the door. “They’ll give you a job, a place to sleep, and clothes.”
“I’ll be a slave.”
“What’s you’re training?” The guy sighed and fired up his engine.
“Efficiency Specialist.” Owen replied. “I can fill in wherever they needed me.”
“What makes you think being on your own would be any better?” The guy patted his truck. “I know I make it look good, but you’d be surprised how many people sell themselves into slavery within the first year of hatching. They’re an official guild, it’s on the level.”
“Section two, paragraph three, and subsection ‘a’ states that a human with functional mental facilities in proximity of salvage with a claim on said salvage has the right to a dispute,” Owen recited the words from memory. “I bet those slavers would back my claim on this pod as witnesses.”
“You’d still be a slave.”
“You’d be out of your salvage,” Owen crossed his arms and squared his shoulders.
The guy glared down at Owen, “fine. Get in.”