Jess leads Lo and his family out of the medical bay. Lo sneaks a peek behind him; the two Ammt doctors wave to him from the doorway. They are the first non-humans from whom Lo has ever felt care. He will remember them.
Back on the elevator, Jess presses a button second from the top of the row. “We’re heading to the shuttle bay now. Have any of you been on a shuttle before?” she asks, smiling at them.
Lo’s family shake their heads, except for Fen, who raises his hand cautiously. “There was a repair to be done on the outside of the refinery. They told my work crew to help, gave us suits and sent us out in the shuttle, but there was an accident. We lost a few Rel and I was injured badly. That was when I came to live with my sister and her family.”
Jess’ expression became cloudy. “I’m sorry to hear of your injury. This shuttle ride will be uneventful. You’re being taken to an interstellar liner that will carry you most of the way to your new home.” She paused, looked at each of them. “You may see some things on this journey. I know how long you have lived here, and I’m sure this will be new for all of you.”
The elevator slows to a halt and the doors open onto a huge enclosed space. To Lo it resembles the slave decks without the slum; high ceilings but almost empty, except for a dozen of what he assumes are the shuttles. Six to a side, they sit low on the deck, dimpled boxy shapes with odd curves and protrusions for which Lo has no frame of reference. Jess gestures to the third shuttle on the left.
“This is your shuttle, the Vyhuti. It has an automatic pilot, so you will be by yourselves for this part of the journey.”
Ham looks at her quickly. “You’re not coming with us? You said there weren’t many of us left.”
Jess sighs slightly. “The Company will keep me on a bit longer as we process out all of our human staff. I will be joining you in a few years once my work is complete.” She looks down. “… this may sound odd given your lives here, but The Company invested in me and I feel I owe them the time to get this right. Although if I’m honest…”
Shay approaches Jess and puts a hand on her arm. “You can tell us.”
“I am excited to live with only humans. I have never done so. But I am also… nervous about leaving this life.”
“All changes cause stress,” says Fen. Jess nods, takes a deep breath and visibly pulls herself together.
“These are your important documents,” she says, handing them each a small plastic card with their face on it. “This will confirm your identity and destination, as well as some funds the Company has given you to make your voyage more comfortable. The Vyhuti will take you to the liner where another Company employee will assist you in getting settled.”
“Will they be human? Will they be journeying to our final destination with us?” Ham asks.
“No and no,” Jess replies. “But he will help you and make sure you have what you need to get to your new homes. His name is,” and here she spits on the deck, “but he will tell you to call him Bill, as he understands humans. I believe his destination is a few systems after this one, but you will be ready for the rest of your journey before he leaves you.”
“Thank you, Jess,” Shay says. She gathers up the children and they head towards the shuttle. “We will have a drink together when I get to our new home!” she calls after them.
Lo stops and runs back to Jess.
“What is the name of our new home?” he asks, looking up at her.
She smiles down at him. “Earth, Lo. But get to your shuttle, you don’t want to miss your ride.”