Ness wandered through her apartment trying to find the source of the infernal electronic jingle. She was sure it was the rice cooker letting her know it was done, but she just couldn’t find the kitchen. This was odd because she lived in what had been generously termed as a compact one bedroom apartment that only had two other rooms – the bathroom and the combined living/dining/kitchen. No matter how many doors she opened, Ness just kept on entering either the bedroom or the bathroom. Slowly it dawned on her that she was maybe dreaming, dreaming a reoccurring dream at that, and that she knew what to do.

She closed the door to the bathroom, and then reopened it, the missing kitchen now just through the doorway. The rice cooker was there, happily singing its jaunty “I’m done!” song. Ness wandered over and hit the off button, everything going a frosty white as clicks and whirs sounded around her head. The frosty whiteness sprung away from her and slid down, revealing a dim and blurry greyness beyond, lights blinking to mark off progress of some sort or another. The jingle continued until the lid of her stasis pod finished opening with a click, the jingle quietly echoing off to nothingness. One of these days, Ness was going to find out why the snooze pod contract managed to be fulfilled by a rice cooker company. Today was probably not going to be that day though.

Ness lay still as the the blurriness sharpened into something that resembled a home. A grey one with exposed pipework and yellow warning signs and arrows indicating which way was nominally up, but a home anyways. Taking a deep breath, Ness sat up, wincing as her joints popped and cracked as she moved for the first time in months, the braces that had held her in position all that time releasing automatically as she moved against them. Reaching down, she disengaged the support umbilical from her black sleep suit, once again ever so thankful the the feeding tube removed itself while she was out to it. She waited a moment while her brain orientated itself and then very slowly pushed herself out of the pod towards what everything was indicating as the ceiling.

Ness reached out her hand and stopped herself gently, her head just brushing against the ceiling as her hair billowed out around and above her. With their other hand she brushed it back behind her, enjoying five years of uninterrupted hair growth. It was going to get hacked off, it wouldn’t take long before it shat her to tears, but for the next few days she was going to pretend with a degree of earnestness that she was going to keep it somehow. For now, what she wanted to do more than anything was to get this fucking sleep suit off — five years now she’d been wearing it — and wash. What she needed to do first was a system check, make sure that everything had behaved while she was otherwise occupied. A few more minutes in the suit wouldn’t make too much difference.

Ness pushed off the wall and manoeuvred her way up to the flight deck. She glided over the top of the pilot’s chair and dropped down into it with a gentle push off the ceiling, the control panels lighting up as she did so. Ness buckled in and cast her eyes over the panels, trying to spot anything not nominal.

“Hey Sys.”

A small amber light lit up on the panel and blinked as the ship’s system replied.

“Hello, Commander Instance. Welcome back.”

“Not sure I went anywhere, Sys. Would be so kind to open the shutters, please.”

“Certainly Commander. However, before you re-take control, I must ask that you verify your identity.”

“Seriously? Who else could I be, Sys?”

“People have been known to change irrevocably during extended hibernation. I need to ensure you still know who you are, Commander. Please, your full name and birthdate.”

“Commander Ness Instance. 14 May, 2042.”

“Your full name please, Commander.”

Ness sighed. On a scale of one to ten, her hatred for her full name hovered around a seventy-three on a good day, pinging up to a good eighty-one on a day when self-loathing got the better of her. Yes, her parents were born just before the first pestilence, and yes, they lived through the next two. And yes, like a lot of people, they did get religion in a big way not long before they had her, but Ness’ little sister got Marigold as a name, whereas Ness, well, she got her name.

“Commander Cleanliness-is-next-to-Godliness Sanitation Instance.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

“Now, Sys, about those shutters.”

“Certainly, Commander.”

A clunk sounded as the the shutters unlocked, followed by a quiet whirr as the drive motors folded the shutters back. As they did, Ness watched as the massive silvery sail came into view, obscuring most of the galaxy beyond.

“Distance to destination, Sys?”

“Approximately one eight AU, commander.”

“Time until we furl the sail?”

“Five hours, 13 minutes, Commander.”

Ness tapped out a quick beat on the arm of the chair, then unbuckled and pushed themselves up and over the chair.

“Off to wash, Sys.”

“Aye, Commander.”

Five hours, 13 minutes. Ness figured that after five years spent immobile in this suit, she was going to need every moment of those five hours to clean up.