Chapter 1: Roused
During training, the military had told him that waking up from cryogenic sleep was a little painful but they had lied to him. The procedure was unbearably torturous.
He opened his eyes and tried to breathe but couldn't. Something was choking him. His panic sent him into a flailing fit as he gulped for air. The cold was all around him and it was painfully penetrating. He wheezed and writhed. He was freezing and choking. So much pain. The hoses and wires connected to his body flopped as he struggled. His legs were kicking into open air. Was he floating? Was he underwater? Even more pain wracked him as his blood circulation increased throughout his body. A cold icy glass window was the first thing he could see in the dim light. He was in a small personal chamber. It was too coffin-like. Claustrophobia didn't bother him but he still desperately wanted to get out. He still couldn't feel the floor beneath his feet. Still couldn't breathe either. He groped for his face and felt the mask. Pulled the mask off his face... better. He took in some deep hurting breaths. The pain was so intense. He was trembling and coughing violently.
Memories fluttered into his mind like a fast moving train, barreling toward him then zooming right by and out of reach. He recalled some of the testing and his military training about cryogenic sleep. He reached behind for the harness that held him suspended within the cryopod. He was shaking from the cold and the pain, his arms were numb. His cold fingers were faulty. He clumsily felt the clasp release and snapped it open sending himself falling a few inches. It might as well have been a ten foot fall because as his feet made contact with the floor, it hurt even worse than suspension had. His legs failed to support his weight and he dropped to his knees. His legs were on fire with the burning needles of returning blood circulation. He felt the nausea and took in more breaths, willing away the gags.
He couldn't remember his name or why he was there. Strangely, he could remember the training of how to open the cryopod from the inside and how to disconnect himself from the lifeline surgically implanted deep within his brachial artery. He knew that he was in deep space on a transport ship. He could not, however, recall what he was doing in cryogenic sleep, where he was going or what he was supposed to be doing once he got there.
Absentmindedly, he peeled some of the clear protective membrane from his body. It was as tight as a second layer of skin. The peeling process was painless, the covering pulled away smoothly with only a slight adherence to his body hair.
Hazy memories of a lovely blond with whom he was involved flickered in and out of his thoughts but he didn't know who she was or when he had known her. He had a heavy feeling in his chest as though she had hurt him or perhaps he had hurt her. Either way, there was a sinking sense of loss.
Only one flickering ceiling light in the large room illuminated his surroundings. There were six other pods next to his. The name J. Cooper was printed on the glass of the pod nearest to his. Cooper's pod was empty. The next pod was 1st Lieutenant C. Payton of Flight Crew Detachment Five. Payton looked like a frozen fish in a freezer.
Jesus, what a way to travel.
The other three pods were empty. That didn't seem right to him.
The pain in his body was starting to subside but he was still trembling from the cold.
During training, he had been put through several simulated cryogenic procedures. The thin membrane that he had partially peeled off was designed to protect his surface skin from the intense cold. All of the leads and tubing kept him feed, hydrated him and monitored his vitals during cryogenic hibernation.
He removed all of the stiff connections still trying to recall anything besides his training but nothing was coming to mind. It was as though his memories were sentient, purposely eluding him, hiding deep within the recesses of his mind, just out of the reach of recovery.
The name in bold letters on the pod he had emerged from was Corporal R. Bower of Flight Crew Detachment Five. "Bower?" he asked aloud. His voice was pathetically weak and hoarse. It hurt to swallow.
Well, at least my name's not Corporal Butkiss or Lipshitz.
There was a loud roaring and the entire ship shuddered violently. The reactor maintenance computer was offline and trying to reboot. The reactor timing was offset in the core. It was trying to reconnect but wouldn't be able to until it was manually reset. Time intervals between the quaking would give him an idea of how much time he had before the ship when bye-bye in a giant nuclear blast.
How in the hell do I know all this? Bower wondered.
As the last of the violently tremors subsided, the lone fluorescent light blinked twice then went out, enveloping him in complete darkness. The room was as lost to him as his memories were.
Bower's mind clutched at flashes of his broken recollections. He got a basic idea of the room and even in the darkness, he managed to feel his way to a storage bin. From inside, he grabbed a few chem lights, which were around four times the size of civilian versions, snapped one and shook the light blue liquid until it glowed so that he could see again. It was surprisingly bright.
Bower knew from memory that his locker was in this room too. He found the locker that read "Bower" and opened it. No memories rushed forth when he saw the name labeled uniforms or his personal items. A small mirror was built on the inside panel of the locker door. There was a familiar photo stuck in the edge of it. The blond... that lovely face and wonderful smile. Again, he felt that strange hollow feeling in his stomach as he gazed at her. Nothing was written on the back of the picture.
Pocketing the photo, Bower studied himself. Unsurprisingly, no memories stirred in the soup of his mind. His sandy hair was overgrown, his beard shaggy and matted. His skin was mottled red and blotches of the cryogenic membrane still clung to him in patches. Bloodshot, tortured and exhausted eyes stared back at him. He looked beat down and he did not recognized the face staring back at him. What he was able to ascertain was he that he desperately needed to shower, shave and trim his hair so that he was once again compliant with Military Regulations.
He noticed a small yellow warning label posted between the lockers. It said that extended cryogenic sleep could result in temporary memory loss.
The hot shower seemed to sluice the cold from his bones. The soap cleansed him, not only physically, by mentally as well. More memories of the ship and his training came rushing back to him as he bathed. After he trimmed his hair and shaved, Bower checked each of the computer stations in the cryopod room. None of them were functional. The gauges were dark, the touch screen displays were cold and the switches were dead. He pressed every single button, flipped every switch and turned every dial. Nothing.
Bower made his way to the exit door of the locker room and found it locked. This passage should have lead him to the Security Center and beyond that the Bridge. Was he the only one awake? What if something went wrong? What if he couldn't get the reactor to reset it?
He walked to the other side of the room holding the chem light high so that he could see, feeling like an explorer navigating a massive cave system by torchlight.
The other door to the main hall was also locked. What in the hell was going on? From what he could remember, Flight Team Four should have been there to wake his entire team up before they reentered cryogenic sleep. Where could they be? What had gone wrong? Why did Team Four skip the sleep rotation?
Bower clicked open the electric door control panel to make sure all the wiring was correct and it looked pristine. There was a lot of dust but the wires all had good contact. The power must have been switched off.
The doors weren't locked, they were stuck. Without power, the doors had become useless barriers.
The reactor was still operational but most of the energy was probably being vented or wasted, only powering essential turbines. The main computer could be alternating the power throughout the ship for efficiency, subsequently shutting down areas of less priority. The idea made sense except that this area was where the ship was operated. It was top priority, so this entire section and the surrounding doors should have power even in times of emergency.
Bower suddenly felt as though something in the room was watching him. It was a fleeting fear, but it was enough to cause him to look around nervously. With the blue glow stick, he slowly walked the perimeter of the room to made sure he was completely alone. Only Lieutenant Payton in his frozen coffin was there with him. Where did that strange feeling come from?
Too many scary movies I guess.
He had a lot of questions and no answers. He paced for a bit vainly attempting to form some sort of plan. It was as though he had lost some of his brain cells while frozen in the cryopod.
Was that possible?
Shaking his head, he convinced himself that pondering about the effects of cryogenics on the brain was the last thing he needed to be worrying about at the moment.
There had to be a way out.
The dark recesses of the room were dominated by shadows. It seemed to Bower that the shadows were creeping up on him, reluctantly retreating when he turned toward them. The darkness seemed hungry, wanting to devour the light source and plunge him into eternal shadow.
He jumped in fear as he heard a sudden loud noise. His cryopod was done thawing. The door had automatically slid shut and resealed. Bower chuckled at himself for being so jumpy.
The shadows loomed around him.
His military training kicked in. When in doubt, he should report the emergency to a superior officer. That was the SOP: Standard Operating Procedure. It was time to wake up Lieutenant Payton.