hares-recovery

Awakening, Part 1

“We’ve gone over this. It’s just a short, dreamless nap. You probably won’t even remember going to sleep. If the Spirits are gracious… You’ll at least remember last night.”

Kaler grimaced, easing himself back into the chilly environment of a cryopod. Nearly all the other pods around already held someone. “I just don’t like the numbers - if they’re right, at least half of us aren’t going to wake up from this ‘dreamless nap.’ I would like a dream or two if it’s the last thing I’ll see before the After. Is that too much to ask?”

“What’s a probability but a guess? They don’t know what’s going to happen. We all signed on for this mission knowing that we don’t know, either. Unless you’d rather stay awake for the next fifty years, all alone? Even Tier is going take long naps when she’s not needed.” The vixen leaned into the pod, giving Kaler a lick on the nose. “Don’t you worry for a second, love. You are going to beat the numbers and wake up on the other side. So am I, so is Isol, and so is Cait.”

“But -“

“No! I won’t hear any more of it. We are going to start our family when we arrive at our home away from home, with or without you.” She bit down on his ear, nibbling playfully before giving him one last whisper. “It’ll be far more fun with you. Sleep well, my mate.”

“Oi…” Kaler sighed as the pod’s door closed. Chilly vapors filled his lungs as the sleep cycle ramped up. The last thing he saw before his eyelids grew heavy was Alecha’s smiling face as she waved goodnight.

He found himself wondering, as he drifted off, why in the Goddess’s name he’d volunteered for such a suicidal posting straight out of the academy. The whole concept behind it was suspicious - setting up a purely Val’Traxan colony so far away from the homeworld? Why not start a little closer? Put the first one maybe a dozen lightyears out. Expand from there if there was still interest.

Why the sudden fascination with finally establishing a colony in the first place? Sure, he felt a touch of wanderlust every time he looked at the night sky. He’d enrolled in the Galactic Fleet Academy for that very reason, to get out there on a starship and see what was hiding behind the next moon, or planetoid, or whatever else. When the notice quietly arrived in his inbox, offering him a chance to travel far beyond the Galactic Fleet’s borders, he’d set aside his initial concerns. Once he found out that it wasn’t merely a long-term survey but a colonization effort, he’d almost convinced himself to drop out. By the time he found himself with serious reservations, Cait, Isol, and Alecha had grown fond of him. And, really, he liked them too.

Two thousand ultimately remained after the final tests, males making up only a single quarter of the whole. A structured reproduction program mapped out partners for the first generation, setting up the best possible genetic diversity even with the expected death toll. Females were far more important for that part of the project - the fact any males were even aboard felt more like a courtesy than necessity, despite claims that it was to ensure all children had a father figure. Frozen samples from both genders lay in waiting, just in case someone failed to make it to the other side. Even more existed in the ship’s database, ready to recreate in a lab to further widen the gene pool.

If the program suddenly had to replace him, the whole map would require adjustment. The girls might simply wind up together with a new mate. More likely, they’d be separated and paired with other restructured groups. The mess would compound from there as the map was rebuilt. The three really had good synergy with each other. He couldn’t bring himself to break that up.

And so here he was, lying in a cryopod, waiting for the unknown. Not to further knowledge and science, or even to satiate wanderlust. No, he was doing it because he didn’t want to disappoint three females. The only thing he could think of as he fell into the dark, quiet, dreamless slumber of cold sleep, was to wonder what in the Void he’d been thinking.

Except… it wasn’t so quiet.

“Kahdmo! Drao’ja paah ihtan y muhk desa.”

The sound of voices in an unfamiliar language lifted him from the first sense of drifting off. Fingers ever so lightly touched on his neck - checking for his pulse? Kaler opened his eyes, finding the world nothing but a bright blur.

“Fryd dra…? Rao? E drehg ra’c yfyga.”

“I’ll be… So he is! Hello there… I’m a medic. Please don’t try to move.”

“Hrrk,” he managed. He couldn’t so much as twitch a finger if his very life depended on it. His arms and legs felt like solid neutronium. Every breath hurt, blisteringly dry air tearing at the ravaged lining of his throat.

“Don’t speak, either. You’ve just been brought out of cryo, in case you aren’t aware. Try to nod once if you understand me? Uh, blink one eye, maybe… Left. Now, the right. Good, good.” He felt a mask settle around his muzzle, a moist and odorless vapor coursing through his sinuses and down into his lungs. “Slow, even breaths. Give it time to coat your throat and repair the cryo damage. Eyedrops here should help clear your vision. Blink a few times, please.”

Welcome moisture landed in his eyes; he followed the medic’s orders, finding the room quickly coming into focus. A female mefiritan with the strangest head of rainbow-colored hair towered over him, occasionally referring back to a medical scanner. On the opposite side of the bed stood -

A blue-furred fox? In Guild robes? Wouldn’t that be -

“Kaler Untormu, is it?” the skunk asked. “Congratulations are in order. You are the second Val’Traxan we’ve successfully woken from cryo.”

Kaler’s heart suddenly sank. How many failed to revive before him? Were the girls among the number of the lost? What if he was only one of two survivors among all two thousand sleepers?


several days earlier

“What do we do now?” Tari questioned, looking out over the bay of active pods from just inside the door’s balcony. “It’s going to take forever to thaw them one at a time. If my slowly failing memory still serves, you can’t do a mass-thaw without the main computer fully up to speed to monitor it.”

“We’re also short several cryogenic technicians trained on proper procedures for this particular equipment. Anolis has a passing familiarity with the hardware, and I appreciate his offer to help, but I want a properly trained tech to oversee the rest. More than anything, though, we really need to get a handle on what they think they’re doing here.”

“By waking a few.”

“Ideally, just one. That way, the next ones we wake we’re better prepared to deal with. We talk to ten, each of those ten talk to ten more, once more beyond that and we’re halfway done.”

“Pyramid schemes are illegal.”

“Maybe so. The only real question is, which one do we wake first?” Jadyn smirked, sitting down on the edge of the balcony, his legs dangling down into the bay. “I hate to say this, but it’s very likely that someone in one of the pods has a legitimate claim to the command of this ship.”

“I won’t fight that if it happens.” Tari sighed. “I’m totally not qualified to captain a crewed ship, as much as I’d love to keep it.”

“With a little training, and some experience… I think you could do it.”

“I don’t know. What about you? Why spend your days in the Serin when you could command a ship like this? Sentimental value aside.”

“You’re not the first to ask that.” Jadyn’s smile faded. He gestured to the sleepers below them. “The reason’s right here. There’s no doubt in my mind that all these people were told of the risk they were taking, going into any sort of long-term cryo. I can’t begin to guess the exact probability of revival they were quoted but I bet it was under fifty-fifty.”

“Seriously? I assumed you guys could do better than that.”

“Cryo’s the low-maintenance alternative to temporary metabolic stasis. It’s great for long-term storage, but the potential for cumulative cellular damage borders on extreme. Some people are more tolerant to the effects than others - most sleeper candidates are pulled from the ‘resistant’ pool in the first place. In any case, it’s still going to shave a number of years off your life expectancy. Complex living things just aren’t meant to be frozen and thawed.”

Jadyn shook his head, his gaze retreating to the ceiling lighting. “And then there’s me. They put their lives on the line with the hopes that at least a few would make it to the other side. Me? It doesn’t matter what I do to myself, I’ll apparently live so long as I don’t get my core essence ripped out again. Commanding people like them, sending them into dangerous places when I should be the one on the front line taking the risky chances… How do I tell their families when they don’t come back? ‘Hi, your son or daughter is dead because of an order I gave, but if it’d been me in their place, that kid and I could have had a good laugh about it hours later’? No thank you. The only life I intend to put in harm’s way is my own.”

“Coward.”

His eyebrow hitched up as he turned to stare at her. Expecting a coy smile or at least a laugh in her eye, he found only deadly serious ire staring him down. “Come again?”

“You heard me. Sure, these kids here may have taken a risk, but they chose that risk. If they want to be out here with the stars they’re going to do it regardless of who commands their ship. Someone is going to be in that chair. That someone will lack your years of experience in dealing with everything out here. They will also lack your apparent cowardice as they do the things you’re clearly afraid to to do.”

Jadyn stared at her, his mouth hanging briefly slack. “I am not afraid! I just -“

“You don’t want to be the one who might order them into a situation where they could get hurt, knowing they don’t bounce back as easy as you do.”

“Exactly!”

Tari nodded, getting to her feet. “Then you’re afraid of what could happen on your watch.”

“I -“

Coward,” she declared, storming out of the bay and down the corridor.

“Where the Void did that come from?” Jadyn shook his head, peering at the pods below. “I’m not… No, I’m not. I am not!” he yelled out the door.

Tubor to Tzeki.

“You going to freak out on me too?”

… What?” Pakar questioned.

“Never mind. What may I do for you today, Your Excellency?”

Don’t ever call me that again. Would you please report to the Speaker’s office on Terac Lun?

“On my way.”


Nice. What prompted that?”

“I really don’t know. The overwhelming urge to throttle him suddenly washed over me.”

“I get that all the time,” T’bia replied with a dismissing wave, pouring over dumps of the J’Ruhn’s computer core. “I personally blow off steam using a variety of enjoyable distractions that probably would kill you if you tried to mimic them.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Low flight over a star’s surface comes to mind.”

“Toasty. I think I’ll stay safely inside a shield perimeter while that’s going down and just stick with yelling at him.”

“Your loss.” The skunk pressed a scanner into her hand. “Here.”

“What’s this for?”

“You’re slowly losing access to everything you gained from that melding, right? I’m betting that new memories making use of the melded knowledge might help you hold onto important stuff. Consider yourself a test subject.”

“Great. Next thing you know, you’ll have a paper published about me.”

“Not a bad idea. I can see the overly wordy title now: ‘The etiology of purloined knowledge loss and methodology for retention.’”

“Best of luck with that.” Tari held up the scanner. “What am I doing with this?”

“Nursing 101. Gather your own readings. Also, a small bit of Nursing 102: determine if you are dead or alive.”

“Ugh. All right.” Turning the probe on herself, she made a once-over of her torso and head while watching the display. “I could be mistaken, but I seem to be alive. Heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, everything’s in the normal range - or, not. Isn’t 39.2 a little high for my core temperature?”

“Val’Traxan average is 38.8, so that’s just a touch on the warm side. It’s actually below normal if you’re - Well, wait.” T’bia tapped her fingers together, peering over Tari’s shoulder at the readouts. “Tell you what. I’d like to grab a blood sample to run, just to make sure everything is all right. Can check your ‘purloined’ regeneration at the same time.”

“Can’t we just skip that for a day?”

“Don’t worry!” she exclaimed, pulling a laser scalpel out from behind her back. “I’m a professional. Now, hold still so I don’t lop your arm off.”


Jadyn stared out the window in the Speaker’s office, his eyes locked on the silhouette of the J’Ruhn. Nearby, Pakar gnawed on the tip of her thumb. She knew full well what his opinion would be on what he’d just been asked to allow, well before she’d even called him in. Luckily, the office they stood within was not her own - someone else would have to clean up the mess. It was only the sheer mass of paperwork she’d have to fill out that made him hesitate - he’d have to help sign forms and give a statement, and that was never a sign of a good time.

“Captain Tzeki -“

“I heard you the first time, Doctor Harpahl.”

“Then -“

“I’m attempting to decide whether a long stint in prison is worth killing you where you’re standing.”

The young feldaran laughed nervously; when no one else shared in, he immediately fell silent.

“I do not threaten my superiors’ subordinates lightly, sir, so before I further my waltz into potential court-martial territory, allow me to be certain of what I just heard come out of your mouth.” Jadyn spun around on his toes, staring the cat down. “You want to dissect the last survivors of my race to see what’s happened to them in the years they’ve been frozen, in the name of furthering cryogenic science?

“Not all of them - Just, you know, the ones that don’t wake up.”

“I think what our dear Captain is trying to say, Doctor… is ‘no.’ And as the sole representative of his species in any way associated with the Council, his decision stands.” Pakar forced a smile. “Anything more?”

“Uh… No, Speaker. Thank you both for your time.” The young man stopped at the door of the office, turning around. “Captain -“

“The dead will be given proper rites. There will be no elective procedures on the living without their due consent, which by Aligned law cannot be given until they have fully recovered from the reanimation procedure and are capable of making informed decisions. Family members of the deceased have the right to honor their lost mates in whatever manner they choose - if that means donating their bodies for research, that is their option. Until they make that decision, my own decision stands for them.”

“Yes, but - I’d just like to volunteer our assistance. If there’s anything at all we can do -“

“I will have all data regarding the revival of our initial subject forwarded to the Aligned Life Sciences division when we complete the process. If your techs are willing to assist with further revivals after reviewing the data, I will happily invite them aboard to help, but they work by my terms.” Jadyn glared at him. “I may eventually change my mind given a passionate recommendation by someone you have never signed paychecks for, but at this moment you are not among the invited.”

“Uh… Thank you. Sir. Ma’am.”

Pakar let out a sigh as the door slid shut. “He’s not the first from the scientific community to show an interest. Word got out quick about the popsicles over there.”

“I was a little rough on him, wasn’t I?”

“Just a little.”

“Hmph,” the fox grunted, gazing upon the ship once more. “They deserve the chance to live again. Waking up two thousand people who have no idea when and where they are… I don’t even know how many actually will wake up. I’m dreaming if I think they’ll all see the light of day again. And what happens once they are awake?”

“They could settle on Veloria. The ruling council would almost certainly welcome them with open arms.”

“Maybe. I’ve been trying to put myself in their place, though. If I’d just woken up, tens of thousands of light years from what I knew as home, not knowing all that I know about this quadrant… Veloria is similar enough at a glance and it’d do in a pinch, but they won’t be entirely comfortable down there. Velorians at least look a bit like us, so that’s a little reassuring for a bunch of displaced refugees… Feldarans like our good friend just now are pretty close in form to the Tigranii… A little larger, actually. Toy’s closer to the average they’d be used to. But Drekirans? There’s absolutely nothing like you.”

“Aw, how sweet of you to say.”

Jadyn smirked, leaning back against her borrowed desk. “What do you think? I can’t just leave them over there as freeze-pops forever.”

“No. And that ship, as big as it is, isn’t ready to act as a long-term home.”

“Even fixed up, it’s not good for more than a thousand. It’d be cramped even pushing eight hundred.” He shook his head. “I’m getting way ahead of myself. Help one cope, then work on the remaining thousands. Bee.”

Yo.

“We’re going ahead with a single revival for now, heavily logged for the local cryogenics geeks.”

Excellent. If you’ve got about half an hour, I’d like to pop open the rest of the accessible deadlocked doors before we pick a victim. Oh, and there’s one minor issue you need to attend to, afterward.

“What’s that?”

It’s so minor it isn’t worth mentioning over a channel. Halio out.

Pakar settled down in the Speaker’s chair, spinning it to face out the window. “You were absolutely giddy when you cracked that first room open. Have the warm fuzzies faded yet?”

“I’ve had a little too much time to think about it. I’m seeing all the worst case scenarios popping into my mind. Our first revival attempt is either going to be a very disturbed individual once all the facts are in play, or we’re going to pull out a well-preserved corpse.”

“That’s a depressing way to think.”

“I’m praying I’m wrong, but I’m gradually steeling myself for the moment I have to set up a morgue with room for at least a thousand. Explaining myself to the survivors is going to be fun, too…”

“You could just tell them the truth.”

“Yeah, that’ll go over well.”


Jadyn removed his hands from the door, breathing heavily as it rolled open. His tongue lolled slightly from his muzzle as he panted. “Never expected they’d all be sealed so tight… Wardings haven’t faded a bit over the years. Wonder who the Void set them… Tell me that was the last one?”

“That was the last one… For now. The final two will be accessible by morning.”

“Great.” Jadyn stepped into the bay, leaning on the balcony’s handrail as he caught his breath in the chilly air. “Another tail-ribbon tied to a door.”

“Gold instead of green this time.”

“Three green and a gold… Ah, that’s one of the cryotechs. She’s our revival target.”

“What, pray tell, leads you to that string of conclusions at this distance? You can’t know for a fact there’s a female in there, or that it’s a tech.”

“Out of the fifteen hundred pods we’ve glanced at so far, four have been marked with ribbons, which means either they’ve been specifically tagged to wake first or a tech wanted a fast way to find certain ones among the crowd. The other three ribboned pods were one male and two females. I’m assuming they went three-to-one for first generation genome planning, based on the average sex ratio you’ve catalogued so far, and that leaves a female in the last ribbon - a mate of the male, likely co-mates with the other two females. Since this one’s a different color than the rest, it’s a sign that the individual inside is different than the rest - our first tech.”

“Now you’re just making things up.”

“Care to put a wager on that?”

“Loser cleans the plasma manifolds next maintenance cycle.” T’bia leapt off the balcony, landing on the distant floor as if she’d only taken a single step down a flight of stairs. Jadyn watched as she walked to the marked pod and rubbed frost off the glass. “Damn it. The deal’s off, cheater.”

“What?” he called.

“You know exactly what! You can sense her aura from there, can’t you?”

“Cryosleepers don’t have an aura. To my senses they may as well all be dead already…” Jadyn frowned, jogging down the stairway. “Is it someone I know?”

“It’s Alecha Rutemin.”

“No way.” T’bia stepped out of his way as he leaned over the pod, peering at the vixen inside. “Dad said she moved onto a long-term project.”

“This would qualify, I expect. There’s a Health Ministry Cryo Division insignia on her bracelet, senior grade. That doesn’t prove the mating bonds, though.” T’bia poked at the controls, commanding the pod into revival mode. “She’s not wearing her ring.”

“There’s a lot of reasons she might have taken it off. I don’t think they allow anything but an ID bracelet before you go under. She’s definitely going to recognize me.”

“I could stuff you under the bed and claim you don’t exist. Works for the rest of the junk you lose down there.”

He snorted, staring at the face frozen in slumber mere inches under the glass. “I can’t hide from them all. Most anyone who had any dealings in our province knew my name just because of who I am. How long until she’s awake?”

“Tomorrow morning, I expect. It’ll take on the inside of an hour for stage one revival. When the cycle completes I’ll take her to the local medbay for stage two. If everything goes according to plan she should be conscious inside of fourteen hours. Can’t vouch for how alert she’ll be after this long… Might take a while to shake off the hangover.”

“So you’re saying I have time to sneak in a nap first.”

“Sorry, no. There’s something else on your schedule, remember?” T’bia waved good-bye; he felt the all-too-familiar sensation of a transporter confinement lock a heartbeat before the haze enveloped him.

The next thing he knew, he was standing on the porch of his home on Veloria, faint firelight flickering through the darkened windows. Quietly pushing the door open, he smiled at the sight of dinner places laid out, a pair of candles casting their delicate glow over the plates as the hearth crackled on the far side of the room. Tari shot him a smile as she padded to his side, giving him a nuzzle on the cheek.

“Welcome home.”

“Did I miss someone’s birthday?” he questioned.

“You’ve got a few weeks yet. We haven’t had a nice meal together since I got back and you woke up… I thought it was time.” The vixen led him to the table, pressing him gently into a chair. A green steelsilk gown billowed about her, the fabric shimmering in the flickers of light as she disappeared through the kitchen door. “I wasn’t sure what to make, so I improvised and went with something I’m familiar with.”

“Do tell. It smells wonderful.”

Tari emerged from the other room a minute later, two lidded dinner plates in hand. Placing one down before him, she sat down on the opposite side of the table with her own and peered at him.

“Well?” she questioned. “Go ahead, open it up.”

“I’m trying to decide what I’m going to find. Will it be an honest meal, or will it be alive and crawling off the plate?”

Disappointment touched her face as her ears drooped. “I can’t believe that you’d even think that.”

“It’s just that - YIEE!” Jadyn snapped the lid back down on his plate, quickly trapping the angry and venomous snake that mere seconds before had arched up and hissed at him. It was only then he noticed her grin and the faint tickling of her powers under the lid. “Tari -“

“I’m listening.”

“I apologize. I shouldn’t have questioned the motives behind a meal you clearly went out of your way to prepare.”

“Apology accepted.” She waved her hand dismissingly; the sensation faded, and he removed the lid again. Laid out on his plate was a grilled salmon cutlet, garnished with a small side of roasted pumpkin cubes and a fruit salad. No sign a deadly serpent had ever been present.

“I actually did want a nice, quiet meal,” she observed, removing the lid from her own plate. “But you had to go and get suspicious. If nothing happened now, during dinner, you’d be waiting for something all night long. So, got it over with and behind us. I can’t entirely blame you, since… Well, it is me.

“You’re right, though. I would assume some sort of ulterior motive was underway the rest of the night as you quietly whittled down my guard with some very delicious fish - what is this sauce?”

“Dill, yogurt, lemon zest. Well… It tasted and smelled like dill, at least. Weird color. Turned the yogurt that neon purple, but Bee said it was still safe.”

“It’s absolutely wonderful.”

“Thank you. So… Did you two pick someone to wake?”

“Mm-hm. Ropiakuen Alecha Rutemin, a High Master of Nature… And a senior-grade cryotech to boot.”

“Someone you knew from the Guild?”

“Sort of. She left her position as dad’s aide when I was still fairly young to the programs there. I couldn’t have been more than… Oh, fourteen, I guess. I don’t know her as well as dad did, but she always greeted me in the Hall when we crossed paths. It’s really incredible how something that small can really brighten someone’s day.”

“Or how a random angry outburst can ruin it.” Tari exhaled. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier.”

“It’s all right. I wasn’t going to bring it up. Figured this was the apology.”

“It was, but… I’m still not sure why I snapped. Something about the way you said things made me want to cause you a great deal of bodily harm.”

“I have a thought,” T’bia announced, appearing at her side and quickly whispering in her ear. Tari’s ears flattened back as the skunk stood upright again.

“You’re kidding.”

“No. The timing’s not too terrible - it almost always seems to happen right in the middle of something. At least this time we actually don’t need you for a few days.”

“Ugh. All right. What… Ah, what’s the appropriate protocol here…?” she queried, pointing between herself and Jadyn.

“If you don’t tell him, he’ll figure it out on his own.” T’bia gave them a wave, vanishing with a pop. “If he doesn’t figure it out, he’s most likely clinically dead. Check for a pulse, but be creative in how. Nursing 103.

Tari fidgeted with her fork, finally laying it across her half-finished meal. “Jay… It’s a fact of life for you, but… I don’t really understand what I’m up against. I haven’t given it much thought at all since the trip here on the spaceliner.”

“What’d she tell you?”

“She says I snapped at you because I saw a sign of weakness during a time I’m seeking strength in my chosen mate.” Looking up from her plate, Tari met his eyes across the table. “Blood workup indicates I’m coming into heat.”


One Response

  1. Dimensional says:

    Nice start for part one. Man, if I could write half as good as you, I’d be able to write, period. Instead, I’m stuck with idea in my head, that could only be extracted through a neural interface.

    The way you started it was good. I didn’t see any errors, but then again, I don’t remember anything before the final paragraph I read. Still, this chapter, as well as the 2nd part, are two great works. I can actually imagine what it all looks like, and that’s a hard feat to pull off.