His eyes blinked open.
The dream world fizzled to nothing around him as the real roared into his senses. The beach was gone; the crashing waves and yelling children were replaced with an unnerving silence and a low, deep, penetrating hum of some distant, omnipresent machinery. A sharp CLANG somewhere off beyond the metallic walls enclosing him jolted him up from the chair and onto his feet. The noise was accompanied by a short, violent vibration that shot through the walls to the floor and up through his legs to permeate his entire being.
The room was dim but for the occasional bright flash of an instrument’s indicator light. The air was recycled and stale, its taste on his tongue was tangy and almost acidic. CLANG!
The sound jarred him again, and he glanced around searching for a source. CLANG.
It was getting faster, and his heartbeat along with it. Is the door unlocked? Am I trapped in here? Why isn’t there anyone to meet me here on the other end? Did I make it through? Am I even alive right now? The questions rushed in and out of his head before he had a chance to form responses to any of them. He had to find a way out of this cell. In the best-case scenario I’m 140 million miles from home right now. In the worst case… I’ve died and this is my own personal Hell.
He strode towards the door, feet pounding the floor in time with the station’s distant, pervasive heartbeat. A few strides and he was at the door, staring blankly at the touchpad. He was pretty sure he was looking at English text, but there was no comprehension.
He’d heard about this issue before… other travelers had experienced such incredible disorientation following reentry that they found themselves speaking gibberish for minutes, sometimes hours after. Some people even claimed to have fluently spoken foreign languages they’d never learned during the reacclimatization process. He let loose a nervous laugh as his heart pounded violently in his chest.
There were only a few buttons on the interface. The loopy scrawls above each gave him no indication of their functions… so he pressed one at random.
WHOOOOOOOSH – the wall to his left slid abruptly upwards revealing a desolate, reddish-hue, rocky landscape stretching far to the horizon. He held his breath, waiting for the room’s oxygen to rush outside, for himself to fly out into oblivion, pulled apart by low pressure, but the room continued to be still and stale. There were 4 inches of glass separating him from the harsh Martian environment outside. Exhaling then again deeply breathing in the CO2-rich air of Mars Colony I, his heart finally began to slow, falling out of synchrony with the pulsing CLANG of the station surrounding, protecting, and enveloping him.
I've made it alive.