The Journey Ch. 02
Lights…Camera…Action… Angela opened her eyes, and realized that there was little of any of these. Flickering lights, blinking all around her still. But the room was still dark except for the soft glow from the various tiny lights. Where were the lights? Where were the doctors? She blinked, and sat up, glancing around, seeing other opened coffins nearby. She bent over the edge of hers, and gasped in pain…a needle below her left shoulder was pulled out painfully. Where the hell was everybody? Carefully, she began pulling needles out, one by one, then she began on the electrodes attached to her. As she pulled the ones from her chest, a loud beeping startled her…a red light flashed along with it, stating over and over "Cardiac Arrest". That's when she heard movement…distant movement, but loud. A scraping metal noise, and the thump of heavy footprints which for some reason scared her to death. She peeked once again over her coffin, and blinked, she was at least 20 feet off the floor, thirteen rows of coffins lay below her, approximately twenty across. Several were open, and empty, and several more were open, but occupied. If the dried, dead remains could be called occupants. Her mouth went dry with fear. She had never quite realized how apt the term "coffins" could be for these cryo-stasis chambers.
Groggy, with a great deal of effort, she pulled herself over the side of her coffin, little more than a large metal drawer suspended a few dozen feet up. Now it was spilling it's contents. And it was nearly a spill, a bad one. There were no doctors, nor any attendants. Never had any brochure she'd read ever mentioned this. Something was dreadfully wrong here, that was for certain.And it was dark. Why was it dark? Sure, small lights flickered on some of the other rows of coffins, but most of the ones that were open were dark. Indeed the will-o-the-wisp quality of the shifting lights and competing glows was perhaps more disconcerting than simple, complete darkness would have been. For one thing, she would not feel as certain that the blank holes in the wall of metal drawers contained corpses, if she hadn't crawled out of a lit container.
Climbing down the coffins to the floor she assumed to be below her (if this wasn't just a nightmare), she shivered. It wasn't that she was cold (indeed, the coffin had been far chillier than this outer room, though she was as naked as the day she was born), but that she felt completely isolated. The sound she had heard earlier had vanished. There was no cell-phone to call for help, no data terminal with which to email someone, or request a transfer of funds to her card...there was no card either...There was no way of getting out of this establishment for better accomodations, that was for sure. No recommendations for this hotel, that was for sure. She grimaced at her own pseudo-humor, looking down, and regretting it immediately. Her foot was less than an inch away from a desiccated corpse. To make matters worse, she was still a great deal higher than she felt comfortable with, which gave her two reasons for nausea and dizziness: vertigo, and fearful disgust. Where the hell was the ladder? They had to retrieve people from these things somehow. They certainly had not levitated her up here, either. Angela growled to herself, trying to keep the bile inside her stomach, knowing that once she released it, she might not stop. The ladder was far to the other end of the coffins, she saw after a moment of peering through the soft glows of panels and buttons. However, it was on rails, and she could see no way to activate it from here to call it to her. The attendants probably would have done that, had they been here. Or maybe the kindly nurse from the commercials? "Green Mile Cryogenics...Care for your lifetime...and beyond." What a crock of shit, thought Angela, trying to hold on to her footing 30 feet up from the floor, in a warehouse of corpses on ice.
The more disturbing part of it was that far too many were not on ice. Like the one at her feet, a dried out husk. How long had it been since anyone had checked on them? She shuddered. They had told her she would wake up in a nice apartment suite, with a kitchenette and all the amenities. She would be receiving visits from trained nurses that would explain to her what had been missed, and fill her in on Michael's recovery. She had done this for him. Her brother had been in a steady decline, since the car accident, his mental faculties seemingly dwindling despite doctor's best efforts. It was a condition very similar to autism, though it had been triggered, rather than having always been there. Michael had always been a shy kid, but after the accident, he had been almost unable to tolerate physical contact, and had been less and less communicative as the efforts to treat him wore on.
The doctors were baffled, and she had been growing increasingly distressed at the sight of her brother slipping away before her eyes. He had never been an athletic fellow, but as he fought to keep his mind intact, his body had become nearly a scarecrow by comparison. When Green Mile Cryogenics had been suggested, she had almost jumped at the chance. Michael had been less keen, unable to fully understand the concept. He had cried, telling her she was trying to "put him to sleep, like Kane." Kane had been their dog, when they were both younger. He had gotten ill, and their father had been unwilling to pay for rather expensive vet bills. But he'd been persuaded when he realized that his sister had been planning on joining him. His biggest fear had been waking up alone. "Hush...I'm going under with you." she had told him. "I'll be at your side 20, 30, even 100 years from now..." And now here she was, with her foot beside a gray and grinning corpse, and she couldn't help but wonder if Michael had been right. Maybe she had put him to sleep, despite her best intentions. Her shaking grew worse, and she almost lost her grip. Just the thought of falling, embracing that grinning corpse for even a moment shocked her to some semblance of sense. She continued to climb down, suppressing her quivers, one level at a time.
Zeke blinked. The metal here was familiar to him, even though the end had been snapped, and the wires running along inside were frayed and rusted. This was an old-tech satellite dish, a design that had changed very little over the centuries, save to shrink in size. Even this change in size had less to do with improved materials or reception, but that in space, larger dishes presented larger targets. Spacial debris, whether from orbit or from without, often knocked out satellite dishes. It was far more effective to link many small dishes into arrays so that if one should be knocked out, the rest could compensate.
A dish this size, Zeke knew, was almost always attached to some sort of building, often a military or government installation. Either that or an old media corporation. Zeke hoped that the lack of other buildings to be seen indicated one of the former two. There was far more chance of finding a water stash, and rations. Not to mention some old relics. All in all, this was a promising find. He licked his cracked lips, grumbling as it did very little good, his tongue swollen and dry itself. He closed his eyes, and released his last flush of water wash through him, his extra stomach actually coming to use for the first time since he'd implanted it. Using oneself as a guinea pig occasionally had it's advantages.
For perhaps the hundredth time this morning alone, he looked up, and muttered a thick "Fuck you." to the sun as it beat down upon him. He began to dig, furiously. His clawed hands proved remarkably effective, as the sand began to pile up beside and behind him, almost re-covering the jagged metal pieces of the satellite dish. He was looking for the dish itself, or rather, what lay beneath. It didn't take long to find the metal of the dish, and then even less to work his way to the lip. He was soon crawling his way under, finding the sand had not filled the gap completely underneath. The immediate relief from the sun was incredible, but severely undercut by the constant exertion.
To her surprise, the floor was fairly warm to the touch, despite being concrete. It confused her, until she realized the efficiency of the system. The cryogenic units were kept cold by pumping the heat out through the rest of the room, heating the floor, which in turn heated the rest. She wondered idly how well this was regulated somehow, or if this room occasionally turned into the equivalent of a sauna, when the meat lockers had to work especially hard...she shuddered...how quick the vernacular came back to you, even when the connotations were abhorrent. It was amazing, in fact, that she could even think about the mechanics and function of the room at a time like this. The twists and turns a mind made when fending off shock were remarkable. Almost any thought, in fact, was welcome at the moment, save the niggling reminder "Hey, you're alone in the dark... With corpses."
It seemed that the further down she had gone, the darker it got. The open coffins above shading the ground from the lights of said coffins, empty or not. The few that she could see on the ground level were either closed, or if they were open, the occupants were no longer present, dead or alive. The lights were off throughout the lower rows. This darkness was both blessing and curse. It meant she didn't have to actually see the grinning faces of dehydrated or dead corpses, if they were present, but it also meant she couldn't see much else. There was a crack of dim light ahead, though, looking like it was most likely a door. Near it, what looked like a terminal of some sort glowed along a top panel.
Having little else to attempt, she decided to try the panel, in the hopes of getting more light, not trusting the door just yet, remembering the scream and the thud from earlier. Whatever happened, she hoped she found someone else, before someone else found her. She wanted to be prepared enough to run...preferrably clothed. The terminal seemed her best chance at this, perhaps providing access to a database or a map. She fumbled her way towards the terminal, hands outstretched, the outlines of which were barely visible against the faint glow of the door and terminal. It should have more brightly illuminated the area, of that she was certain. Fumbling, she tried several buttons, dismayed at the accumulation of dust and grime upon the console. How long had it taken for this much dust to settle, in such a large place, to accumulate such a film? It only took a few moments to realise that she should not have been touching random buttons. A light came on, but it was only the blue grow of the computer screen. The password screen came up, but oddly, it had already been filled in. This convenience frightened her. It reminded her that she was likely not alone. Hitting enter confirmed her fears. She saw the menu options and froze. She had only been trying to turn on the lights, she didn't want any of these.
:::::::::::::Please make a selection::::::::::::::
1. Reanimation Sequence: Please select client # and length of physical therapy required/requested.
2. Reanimation Sequence: Emergency resuscitation. Please have medical team on standby.
3. Cryo-stasis Chamber Purge: Please enter Administrator's code, client #, and report cause of death/ reason for purge to system computer for analysis.
4) Exit Menu.
She looked back in horror at the coffins behind her, some empty, some closed, very few that looked occupied or functional. Someone had been messing around with the system, and had shown little or no regard to the occupants. Someone had awakened her. Someone had made certain she would awaken functional as well. She had received the physio treatment, hence the many needles and trodes...It was all automated, but someone had flipped the switch...Had that same someone so callously killed the rest of these poor bastards? Those grinning corpses, had they awoken at all? What had they seen? Who had done this? She was suddenly glad that the room was dark behind the glow of the computer screen. She could well imagine a few dozen shambling corpses pointing at her accusingly, seeing the computer that had killed them being activated once more. She shrank back, slipping to her knees on the cement floor, shaking...Had she inadvertently purged anyone from the system? Had she hit one button too many? Was someone awakening now to the pain of atrophied muscles, helpless to cry out? A soft wail escaped her throat, soon becoming nearly a scream. The door beside her had opened. A shadow huddled against the wall, a ghostly face that glowed faint blue searched the darkness, turning to her scream. A hand reached out.
Val watched from his vantage point, a dune not far off. The dune was far closer than he would normally have approached, but this strange black man (not simply the rich chocolate brown he'd seen in some of his tribesmen and others, but jet black) was so oblivious to his surroundings that performing a counting coup would likely have been ridiculously easy. It almost made the man wonder if he was inviting observers, but if he was, then why would he have spun around so often in his meandering path, as if looking for pursuit? Right now, the stranger's concerns seemed to lay directly beneath his feet.
Having followed this strange, black apparition for two nights, he marvelled at both this man's resilience, and his seeming lack of sense. If the man could dig like he was now, (as well or better than any sand-lizard he had seen), then why had he not done so before, burying himself, and travelling at night? Val had certainly not remained under the sun, except when he had to. He had travelled at night, trusting his tracking ability to help him keep up with the black-skinned stranger, usually finding him huddled next to a small fire, or shivering on the ground, being without blankets. Though he admired the man's resilience, he knew that this odd creature was making things twice as difficult for himself as they needed to be. Then Val smirked. He had been as green as this fellow once. He had needed to be taught to survive out here, and had been lucky enough to have a teacher. This fellow could obviously use the same. It was time to approach.