“Hitting the Enter key will reformat your hard drive. Are you sure you want to proceed?”
—Early 21st Century old-Earth programming prompt
“CHECK THE intercept alarm!”
Kratt Balanchine turned to the malfunctioning cryo-rejuv panel. Why did problems always have to come in layers? The eight colonists sleeping on the other side of the cargo bay would be mighty disappointed if they woke up back on Correigo Prime. He shook his head, hitting the unit with the flat of his hand. He had to get this cryo-rejuv back up or no credits would fill the till on this trip. He pulled the panel out, the flashing red light flickering off as he laid it aside.
Thudding in the corridor caused him to look up just as the door burst open.
“This’n’s real! It’s sending us a message this time.” The face disappeared just as fast as it had shown up.
Kratt leaped up, brushing his hands on his chest. He looked over at the eight cryo pods he was transporting and then at the door still standing open.
“Forget the colonists!” Catching the door and flinging himself through, he cursed under his breath. He couldn’t get there fast enough, not with his pilot halfway across the ship already.
Then it hit him what she’d said, and he called out, “Contacting us?”
“Yes, Kratt.” Jarring his attention, the ship’s voice permeated the air. “The message is contacting this ship. However, it is a general message and not specifically aimed at this vessel. I could have already told you this if you would just let me into the rest of the ship. Installing my sensors and speakers only on the bridge, in the corridors, and at other limited locations severely limits my productivity.”
“Crazy machine, I didn’t want you on this ship in the first place. If the new space regs didn’t require you here, I’d rip you out quick as I could get your service panel off.” He glanced at the sensors in the ceiling, one after the other falling behind him as he ran. “At least I got by without the Vid sensors.”
The corridor was quiet for a moment, with only the sound of his feet on the floor, before he heard the warning message-ding he’d insisted on before that cursed machine was insinuated into his private cargo vessel.
“I am only here to help if you need me. Many ships consider me an irreplaceable member of their crews.”
“Not here, baby. Not here. Just keep your sensors off. I can fly this tub just fine without your help.” He rounded the corner and flung open the door to the bridge. His breath coming in gasps, he stopped, his hand on the wall. He looked over his navigator’s shoulder.
“Synrnn.” He touched her lightly. “What’s it look like?” He stepped to the console, trying to interpret the readout even without the visor.
“Strange, Boss,” whispered Synrnn Har-Zahav. “I don’t even believe this.” She reached one hand up, slowly slipping the visor over her head, her eyes still glued on the cryptic displays in front of her. Without looking, she held the info-reader out to him. “And I thought my kibbutz family was odd. You’ll want to check this out. Look for yourself. You’ll not believe me, even if I tell you the truth.”
“Yeah, well, it seems you’re the one being odd. What gives?”
“Boss,” and she turned and thrust the reader up to him, “you’ll see. MegaCorp.”
“Grow up, girl. You know MegaCorp can’t be way out here. They haven’t had true interplanetary flight capabilities since shortly after that big incident hundreds of years ago. You do remember that one, or did you sleep through all your academy classes?”
“Yeah, Boss. I slept through them all. That’s why they stuck me on this boat with you. You’d better be glad they did, too. I’m the one keeping this crate on course. Now, check the visor.”
He grinned at her, well aware how many times he’d told her she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He grabbed the info-reader from her and slapped it to his face.
She laughed as his chin dropped. She already had her hand over the info-comm when his hand blindly waved at the console.
“Patch me through to the Information Retrieval and Communication module. We’ll see if she can at least start to pay her way. She cost enough for us to put in.” He continued to look in the visor, his hand reaching out, touching nothing, his fingers meshing the information in the visor with the reality of his physical world. “Are we patched in, yet?”
“I am here, Kratt,” IRaC inserted into the conversation. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help. I will certainly try to prove my indispensability to you. How can I help?” The voice modulating throughout the bridge was filled with warmth and helpfulness.
“Quit the niceties, module. Just scan this input. What is that thing out there? It’s sending us a signal, and it looks like MegaCorp. Everyone knows MegaCorp’s interplanetary capability is history lesson fodder. Run through the files and see what’s compatible with this signal. Something out there’s talking to us.”
“Of course, Kratt. I will get it done as you have requested. Thank—”
“Can it. Just download the results to a reader.” He turned to Synrnn. “What do you make of this? It sure looks real, I give you that.” He paused, laying the visor on the console. She picked it up and held it to her face. Then he turned and walked to the door, pausing before exiting the bridge. “That message says starstrike class battle cruiser. Isn’t that the same class as that military ship that disappeared out by that binary star system? Can’t remember the planet’s name. We learned about it at the academy, though.” His hand drummed the wall, his brow furrowed in thought for a moment. With a deep sigh of resignation, he stepped through the door, leaving Synrnn to the signal.
Turning to the empty doorway, she called out, “You’re welcome, Boss. I enjoy working with you, too.” With a laugh, she turned back to the console, the visor already covering her eyes, immersed in the unusual signal being sent her way.
cryo·bi·ol·o·gy (krī-ō-bī-ä′-lə-jē) n. the study of the effect of extremely low temperatures on living things
—NewWebster’s Thirty-Seventh Secondary Dictionary
“IRAC, WHERE’S that info I requested about that MegaCorp signal?” Kratt reached a hand to the readout panel, tripping a sensor, pulling in a secondary level of signals from the object. “Well?”
“I have downloaded the information you requested to the reader. However, if you prefer, I can put it on the visor, instead. Would you like me to do that for you?”
“Gods, IRaC, you are so conciliatory. Yes, you may put it on the visor, instead. Thank you. Would you please fade away, now?”
“As you please, Kratt. Feel free to use me again.”
He’d throttle that module before they got back to Correigo Prime. He frowned as he watched the information in the visor shift to IRaC’s display. This couldn’t be right. He reached across the board and slapped a comm relay. “Synrnn. Are you there?” He twisted his chair around, his visor-covered face looking at an image only he could see. He yelled out, “Hey, Synrnn!”
“Yeah!” The word unexpectedly barked out of the air just behind him, the humor in its sharpness clearly intentional, causing him to jump, nearly falling over in his chair. He threw the visor off his head.
“Gods, don’t do that to me! How’d I know you were right here? I nearly peed myself.”
Synrnn pushed him back into his seat. “You’d know if you’d turn the comm to send and receive. Are you sure you made that trip from Aregas 4 alone? Maybe you just didn’t want to get some beautiful stowaway in a bucket of muck.” She looked up at the ceiling. “IRaC, did you get that recorded?”
“Thank you, Synrnn. Yes, I did. Is there a particular part you wish me to pay close attention to?”
“The peed part, IRaC. Mark it as priority.” She smirked at Kratt. “Got that, IRaC? Keep it on top of your priority recordings.”
“Yes, Synrnn. I have posted it as you have requested. Will there be anything else?”
“We’re good for now. Thanks.”
“You are most welcome, Synrnn. I am glad to be of service.”
“Glad to have you around, IRaC.” She turned to Kratt. “See, Boss. Be nice to the help, and they’ll be nice to you.” She leaned over him, putting her elbows and forearms across his chest. With her eyes looking directly into his, she intoned, “Important message for Synrnn. Important message for Synrnn.” Standing, she cocked an eyebrow. “Well?”
“How long do you think a power charge could maintain a military emergency escape pod?” He picked up the visor, glancing inside it as he did.
“That depends. A slow-sleep pod or a full cryo model?”
“Either one. Listen. That message. I had IRaC pull some information together.” He thrust the visor at her. “Check this out. The signature is definitely old military, so old it registers as an out-of-date pattern from the MegaCorp military files.”
“It seems I do remember that from those history classes. I didn’t sleep through all my academy lessons. I actually woke up once or twice.” She tapped the visor with her fingernail. “Old MegaCorp military. If we’re talking about the end of the MegaCorp era, they were building pretty good stuff. Let’s see. What were those really big ships called? Star something? I think they were the same class of ship the pod’s message identified itself as hailing from.”
“Yeah, that’s it. You are a smart one. You probably kept awake the whole seven standards. Starstrike. Yeah, those were some good ships. We still use some of that same technology currently. Of course, we’ve improved on a lot of it, too. Hm. An emergency escape pod. They weren’t used often. No time, and very frowned on by the higher-ups. Too many versions of events that didn’t always support the official military one. I remember reports of a few used for prisonplanet containment. Slow-sleep used more power. Maybe eighty to a hundred standard years. Full cryo barely used any power at all. Easy three twenty-five or three-fifty. Why?”
“These records in the visor? I know that planet now.”
“Quit beating the bush. What are you talking about?”
“There was a binary star system with a habitable planet way out the other side of the arm, name of Rejuvenant. It seems MegaCorp lost a starstrike cruiser there, one with the same signal we’ve been receiving. Guess how long ago.”
“C’mon, Boss. Let me just pull the answer out of the air. Before the dawn of time. Just tell me, for the gods’ sake.”
“Three hundred seventy years. Synrnn, this could really be from that ship.” He grinned. “A little piece of history.”
“Junk history.” She stared at him. “You’re not thinking of pulling that piece of space trash in, are you, Kratt? Three hundred seventy standard years. Full cryo’s not even assured for that long. You could pull in a stinking mess. Even the technology would be so far gone, you’d be lucky to sell it for scrap.”
“Wait before you write me off. It’s still powered. Think. Maybe even a person. Even if they are in cryo-decay, they might have valuables with them.” His eyes pleaded with her skeptical glare. “Remember that pod found over in the Treset sector about seventy standards ago? That old guy was deader’n a powerless jumpship, but he must’ve been some important someone. That or a courier. Salvage on that one set up that crew with a brand new ship. What do you think?”
She snorted, trying to divert his attention back to more practical matters. “Your ship, Boss. Did you ever get the cryo-rejuv up? Those colonists won’t pay if they can’t be brought around and we have to take them back home again. Without their credits, you don’t have much room for error on this run.”
“IRaC’s working on it. She thinks she can run down the problem.” He leaned back and laughed. “Run down the problem. How ironic! She can’t even run. She’s an artificial personality, and she asked me if I’d like her to run down the problem.”
“Boss, you work on that with IRaC.” She turned to exit the bridge, glancing in the visor as if wanting to wish the information away. “Get the colonists up walking, and I’ll check coordinates on that pod. If you want a toy to play with, we’ll round it up for you. Who’d have thought I’d be plying the universe with a twelve-year-old boy?” She rolled her eyes as she walked down the corridor.
He yelled after her, “Fun, isn’t it? It’s the only way to travel. Wahoo!”
Take one hardboiled egg.
Rap sharply against a hard surface.
Peel shell away.
Slice egg in half.
Scoop out yolk.
Mix yolk with mayo and onion.
Spoon back into egg.
—Recipe from an old-Earth cookbook
“HEY, PUDZ.” Synrnn leaned against the door. “You and IRaC got that rejuver back up again?” She drummed her fingers against her arm. “Hm?” Walking over to stand over Kratt as he lay prone on the floor, his arms inside an access panel, she grinned. “Or would you like me to take a stab at it?”
“Well, well. It’s the fire brigade to the rescue. Thanks, Synrnn.” He puffed his mouth out, revealing a rising level of frustration. “Like IRaC is helping. What I could really use is a smaller pair of hands to be able to reach into this cursed thing. I can’t get my hands inside and twist at the same time. IRaC’s got me testing each one of these nodes. Twist it out, test it, and twist it back in.” Pausing, he pulled his hands out, flexing his knuckles. “I’m beginning to think this is just busywork to keep me out of the way.”
“You know we all love you, Boss. However,” and she blew onto her fingers, rubbing her nails on her jacket, “I think I’ve come up with something for you. I’ve run some old mech preassembly programs on this cryo-rejuv. Did you know this thing was obsolete even before the Archa’Lades Conflict? In fact, parts have to be custom built anytime these units need repairs.”
“Obsolete is exactly why colonists use them. They’re cheaper to lease. These colonists usually spend the bulk of their credits paying the likes of you and me to get them there. If they were rich, they’d be called tourists.”
“Ha! Good one!” She slapped him sharply on the leg. “Well, I’ve found a setup routine that’s not in IRaC’s data file. I think I’d like to try it and see if I’m as good as I think I am. Wanna move your butt over and let me at the board?”
He looked at her, continuing to twist on a node inside the invisible confines of the access bay. “Give me a chance to force this connection back in place. Then you can have this, and those crazy frozen colonists, too. It always creeps me out to be in here with ’em for this long. An hour or two, no sweat. After a while, though. You know. That creepy gel they’re immersed in. With the lights on, it glows that bilious green color, and my stomach can only take so much. I’d hate to travel in one of those. No air, no nothing.” He shivered as he pulled his hands from the shadowy interior.
“Safer’n us. We get holed, and they go right on until they get picked up.” She walked over and tapped the translucent shell of the cryo pod. “Right near impervious. These are some of the best things they ever came up with for travel across space.”
“Creepy safe, if you ask me. Let’s just get the rejuver up so we can get paid when we get there. Oh, and I want to know about that pod that’s sending us that signal.”
She stepped to the cryo-rejuv and ran her fingers up and down the lighted panel, the dancing of her fingers telling the machine to run through routines long forgotten. With a rapid flickering of status indicators, the machine suddenly went dark.
“Hey! Not even I managed to kill it dead.” He squatted to peer inside the access panel. “Did you break it for good?”
“Patience, moron. I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s resetting its operating parameters. Hold your breath for a moment and let it play with itself.” Stepping back and looking for signs of life, she let out a sigh of relief when a lone green light blinked on. “Whew! I was actually starting to worry there.” She laughed, kicking Kratt’s boot as ready light after ready light began turning green. “Ha! I am as smart as I thought I was. Get your tail up, and let’s go get us a space toy. No need to babysit these colonists any longer. They’re just credits in our account from here on out.”
Kratt gave her an admiring look. “I’m actually going to admit this, even though I know you’ll hold it over me.” He grinned as he shook his head back and forth. “But you deserve it this time. You’re good.”
“You know it, Boss. I thought that’s why you hired me on.”
“Well, that and those long legs. Maybe mostly those long legs.”
“Watch it. You’ll steal a girl’s heart with that sweet-talking. Can’t be too careful, now.” She leaned over and pinched his cheek. “Now, let’s go get you that space toy.” She walked out the door, leaving him sitting on the floor.
He looked around the room, reached over, and clicked the access door shut. A quick glance at the eight cryo pods was enough to give him a shudder and a reason to exit the room as quickly as possible. “Good night, and sleep tight,” he muttered as he jumped to his feet, letting the light wink off as he headed out the door.
“CAN WE PULL it alongside without compromising our flight path?” Kratt stared into the visor, the virtual world inside as real to him as the one he could touch around him. “IRaC, put this up for Synrnn to see, also.”
Synrnn murmured something she had learned about the old MegaCorp escape pods. “These pods were designed for easy retrieval, self-guidance systems and all. This is just so far out from everything that if this is truly what that signal says it is, the sensors may not have had enough reference points to triangulate. IRaC, what do you think? Will it be safe enough to pull in?” She glanced at Kratt with a grin. “I wouldn’t want the ship to blow a seal doing this.” She was pleased to see Kratt’s hand jerk the visor up, his eyes darting her direction. They both looked up at the two-dimensional display on the wall as IRaC replied.
“I foresee no real problems with retrieving the pod, Synrnn. I can recalibrate the magnetic grappling arm for tight-beam focus, and by matching velocities as we intersect its trajectory, we should be able to easily divert it. Keeping it in tow will add little drain to our power supplies, allowing us to operate well within acceptable margins. However, if Kratt wishes to bring the cryo pod aboard, I will need to recalculate the risk assessment. Would you like me to begin that now?”
Kratt interrupted the little tête-à-tête. “Later, girl. Synrnn, you know I want this on board. Wow, starstrike cruiser! This is the stuff of prehistory.” He grinned and rubbed his hands in glee. “I do feel like a twelve-year-old with a new toy just waiting to be unwrapped. I can hardly wait.” He jumped up. “Let’s go get some grub. We have hours before that pod’ll be in range. IRaC can keep track of our course corrections for a while, can’t you, machine?”
“Thank you, Kratt. That is within my design parameters. I will monitor the location of the signal and adjust course accordingly. Thank you for requesting my help. Please enjoy your meal.”
KRATT THREW one long leg over the back of the stool, expertly sliding the tray of food onto the table. He watched Synrnn take a few bites, and then he pushed his plate back.
“You know, I’ve been on this tub for years. Every time I’m hungry, I get so juiced up about a good meal, and then when I get it, I wish I hadn’t.” He grabbed the edge of her tray, jiggling it back and forth. “Hey, Synrnn. How about you? Do you think that personality module we took on board could help out in this area, like maybe actually prepare food instead of mush?”
She looked at him over a bite of her meal and just smiled as a voice replied.
“I am sorry, Kratt. I would like to be able to adjust your meals for taste and preference. However, please remember I am in minimum install mode, and while I will be glad to provide whatever services I am capable of, I am bound to the parameters you chose to purchase.”
“Crikes! I’m being lectured by an artificial personality, a machine, by dog!” He grinned at Synrnn. “I guess I just have to take my lumps.” One hand stirred the mixture on his tray. “Literally.” A first bite bringing on a grimace, he cut his eyes to Synrnn’s response.
“Dog, Boss? Been back reviewing your old-Earth files? Besides, you’re just a big baby. You do it to yourself. I tried to tell you the full install was only marginally more when you purchased IRaC. You didn’t want her, and now you’re beating yourself up about what she can’t do. It’ll cost you, but you can always get the upgrade next time we’re in port.”
“Kratt,” IRaC’s modulated voice floated over them, “me being in minimum install mode will give you the chance to see what features you might like added to my personality. Waiting might not be such a bad idea. I will keep a list for you if you would like.”
“Sure thing, IRaC. You keep a list, and we’ll see what we can do. First on that list of yours, cooks great meals. Can you do that?”
“It is already there. Synrnn, I can make a list for you also, if you wish.”
She laughed out loud. “Ha! That’s fine, IRaC. Just keep Kratt’s list. He’ll come up with ideas for us both.” Turning to him she whispered, “I think you’ve won her heart, Boss, you old womanizer, you.” She laughed again as the personality module responded.
“Yes, Synrnn, Kratt has ‘won my heart’ as you say. That is within my working parameters. I always wish to please in whatever way I can.”
Synrnn threw her head back and laughed as she tossed her tray into the recycle slot, watching Kratt sink farther and farther into his seat at the machine’s words.
SYNRNN’S EYES flew open at the sound of Kratt beating several times on her door.
“Come on, Synrnn. It’s Christmas time.” The sound of his footsteps disappeared down the corridor without waiting on her response.
Leaping to her feet, she flung open the door, yelling, “I thought you didn’t believe in religious holidays.”
She listened to the sound of his words as they echoed back. “For this cryo pod, I’ll believe in anything. Even IRaC as a beautiful woman!”
“Thank you, Kratt,” the machine’s melodious voice floated through the corridor.
Synrnn smiled as she pulled a top over her head and walked down the passageway. This was going to be a good waking cycle, and even IRaC was at the top of her form. At the bridge, she leaned her head in and poked Kratt’s shoulder.
“You need me more here or at cargo?”
His hand waved to her. “Meet me at Cargo 4. I’m getting IRaC set up with drive sequences, then I’ll be there to suit up. You can go ahead and suit up if you want.”
“Gotcha, Boss.” She swung herself out and down the corridor, the lighting blinking on and off as she triggered the sensors. She shivered under her clothing, although the ship wasn’t really cold, as she came up to Cargo 4. Pressing her hand to the sensor, then rotating her palm, she triggered the door to cycle open, stepping inside. Gods, I love this, she thought, as she floated off into the vastness of the bay. The one big space on the ship, and hardly ever a reason to come here between ports.
She drew herself into a ball and launched into the space, a much practiced double backflip unwinding just as her hand encircled the grab bar by her exosuit. Touching the clasp at the throat, she let the suit peel itself back before lying back onto the exposed interior. Sensing she was completely inside, the suit wrapped back around her, the powerpack disengaging from the bay wall, releasing her to freefall. This was the way to travel. She was going to be glad Kratt had sprung for these suits. The latest thing, and expensive, too. All she had to do was act like she wanted to go a certain direction, and the suit jets fired up, the internal algorithms calculating how fast and how far.
“IRaC, displays up.” When there was no change, she realized she’d forgotten this one detail. Her exosuit needed to be calibrated to the new personality module. Seeing the corridor door open, she nudged her suit mike. “Boss, have IRaC reroute the displays and vocals to the suit screens. Also, have her connect with my exosuit. She should be able to find my frequency easily enough.”
He gave a thumbs-up sign, hitting the comm switch on the wall. “Should be pulling up as we speak.”
She smiled as she saw the edges of her faceplate begin to mist with scrolling displays. Not quite the virtual world of the visor, at full res she would see the bay as a ghost world within her displays. Toned down at present, the virtual displays kept themselves to the edges of her world, easy enough to tune out.
She saw Kratt’s suit enclose itself around him as he launched from the wall. She knew he was in business mode as his voice rang out, “Magnetic grappler on.” Her stomach twisted, and the displays in her faceplate doubled. They slowly resolved back to their original rendition as the power surge hurtled through the cargo bay.
“Gods, Boss. I always forget.”
“You haven’t forgotten, Synrnn. It’s the recalibration. When IRaC tightened that magnetic beam, she routed it all right through there. We were already on a potent spike, and this is exponentially more powerful. Nothing else’ll pull that pod in. Get ready to open the bay doors. Strapped in?”
“As we speak, Boss.” She backed up to one of the mechanical grapplers, allowing a tether to latch to her suit. When the tether light in her suit display turned a friendly green, she moved forward.
“Extract air, IRaC.” Kratt’s voice rang in her suit. “Bay doors open.”
She moved forward, this unimpeded view one she’d trade her mother for: the blackness of the heavens counterbalanced by the pinpoint brilliance of the stars. No matter what they told ’em back at the academy, space was a jeweled velvet cape with all the colors of the rainbow. Those groundies just needed to get out here and see the real world as she saw it now. This never transposed onto Vidpics, but she knew she wasn’t the only one who saw it. Spacers spoke of it, although only in quiet whispers to each other.
“Synrnn. Psst, Synrnn. Come back to the bay. It’s tough. I feel the same way every time. Just pull back. Focus on your faceplate displays. IRaC, pull Synrnn’s displays up to sixty percent.”
“I am bringing it up now, Kratt.”
“Thanks, IRaC. Better, Synrnn?”
She shook her head, not wanting to let go of the sensuousness of the moment. “I’m good, Boss. I just need to bleed a little adrenalin. Let me haul a deep breath or two.”
“That’s a good girl. It hits me hard every time, too. I always think I’m over it, and I have to come out with my faceplate on full res just to be able to think. I’d wonder about you if you didn’t do this every time, wonder if you’re a real spacer or not. Ready to proceed?” He waved a suited arm at her.
“Let’s go, Boss. IRaC, drop the res to twenty. I want the center of my faceplate clear. I want to see the boss’s toy when it comes into view.” She laughed to herself. The boss’s toy. How many boys got to play ball in the vast reaches of space? Just Kratt. What a lucky girl she was to have snagged this berth on this ship! Gods, she was having fun!
“Kratt, Synrnn, the object is within grappler range. Be prepared for contact. There will be a jolt to this ship. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Contact.”
The entire bay lurched as the magnetic grappler made contact with the cryo pod flinging itself along its track through space; and it wrenched the pod out of its trajectory, forcing it to dutifully trot in the wake of its new master.
“Kratt, Synrnn, are you okay?”
“Didn’t feel a thing. Thank the universe for zero gee. Life is good, IRaC.” The enthusiasm belonged to Kratt.
“Fine, IRaC. Thanks.” Synrnn made sure to be polite, even if it was to a fault.
“I am glad to hear that. I would hate to have initiated a procedure that resulted in your harm. How close would you like me to bring the pod?”
Excitement bubbling in his voice, Kratt blasted, “I want to see it, IRaC. Get it at least that close.”
“The power is ramping up. I am pulling near-maximum without drawing down the reserves. I would like to proceed cautiously, Kratt. Is that acceptable with you?”
“Yeah, sure. How long ’til we see it?”
“Perhaps . . . about now. Can you locate it, Kratt?”
“Flaming stars, there it is! Synrnn, catch a sight of that. It’s real. That’s the real thing.” They watched as it grew larger. “Gods, it’s been out here a long time. Look at that. It’s burnt black on one side. There! There, Synrnn! Right on the side. It says it! MegaCorp. Wow! External mechanical grapplers ready, IRaC. Synrnn, man those on the far side of the door. I’ll get these.”
Synrnn did her jetted spacewalk as fast as her suit would take her in the relative confines of Cargo 4 bay. “Pushy, pushy. It’ll still be there in five. I’ll tell you what, Boss.” She turned to face him.
“I’ll wo-man them for you. How ’bout that, Boss?”
He laughed. “Fine. You wo-man them for me, and we’ll call it even. I just want that pod in this hold.”
“Trigger the mechanical grapplers now.” IRaC’s voice rang insistently in their suits. “There is no time to delay. The pod will pass us by if we do not hold on to it. It is coming in too fast and will slip from the grasp of the magnetic grappler within a few moments. Pulling it in this closely this quickly is more than the magnetic grappler tolerances will allow. We do not want to lose it.”
“Ready, Boss.” Synrnn slapped the panel to ready, the lights tripping to green.
“Go on my mark, Synrnn. Ready. Set. Mark.” The grapplers flung themselves from the ship, the distant thunk of attaching to the pod felt rather than heard. “Pull her in, IRaC.”
“My pleasure, Kratt. I am glad I have been able to help you pull in your toy.”
“You’re welcome. You know, I may even fall in love with you after all, old girl.” He grinned and winked at Synrnn through his faceplate, as she shot him a thumbs-up hand signal.
“Nothing would please me more,” IRaC crooned back.
“GODS, BOSS. This pod’s a mess.” Synrnn ran her hand over the pitted and scarred surface. “Are you sure you want to take up space with this?”
“We’ve got the space. Besides, check this out.” He floated over to a blackened panel and brushed it with a cloth. “Here’s something.” He spat on the cloth, rubbing vigorously to reveal what was underneath.
“Boss, let’s get this back into the gravity well. This zero gee is great for playtime, but it’s hard to work in.” She swam back to her suit dock, hitting the seal sensor, nodding satisfactorily as the high-tech suit sealed itself for recharge and the light flipped from orange to green. “I’m cycling out. Play with your toy awhile, then come back inside. Wipe your feet when you do. Wouldn’t want to get any dirt tracked into the house.”
She nodded to him as he waved her off, his efforts at polishing the panel sending his legs comically parallel to the floor. Machines and boys. That’s a mix that’d never change. She whistled to herself as the ship’s gravity pulled her feet back to a direction they recognized as down.
“IRAC, CAN you access any of the data from this pod?” Synrnn circled the salvaged pod, occasionally stopping to touch it on the surface.
“I am trying, Synrnn. The transponder signal is all that is coming through at this time. There is a three-century lag in technology. I will keep trying.”
“Thank you, IRaC.” She rubbed a series of pits in the curve of the pod, tracing them with a finger. Centuries of microscopic collisions. Could anyone be in there? She glanced at the pods protecting the colonists, noting their perfect unscarred and translucent surfaces. This one they’d dragged in was of a totally different design. Opaque. Military, beyond question. The scarring didn’t help, either.
“Ah, Synrnn. Enjoying the company of the dead, huh?” Kratt’s head appeared in the doorway.
“Don’t know, Boss. Just thinking.”
“Trust me. No matter what we find in that cryo pod, you are in the company of dead people. Anyone who travels in green goop, well, that seems to me as good as dead. Ugh!”
“Boss, you are afflicted with morosity. It seeps from you all over this ship. Just give me time to work on this. IRaC?”
“Can you access that file I asked you to find?”
“I have it up now.”
“Good. It’s an old military file, right?”
“Yes, Synrnn. The encryption code has long since been broken. It is fully accessible.”
“Excellent. I seem to recall seeing a section in there about maintenance on these pods. Feed those algorithms to this pod, and let’s see if we can get a response.” She turned to a noise from the door. “No! Absolutely not, Kratt!”
He held a metal bar, flattened on one end. An outsized mallet was also in his hand.
“It’s ours, Synrnn. This’ll get us inside.”
“Boss, you’ve got to let me work this. I’m good at this. Give me some time, and then have a go with your mallet and pry bar. I’ll get this opened. I wish I could see inside, though. They always opaqued these old military pods.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the pod, blocking his access to the old relic. “I was on a prisonplanet once. Rant, I think. Well, on the station that orbits above it, anyway. They wouldn’t let me downsides to the surface, not that I minded about that. There’d been a breakout attempt. It seems like a couple of the inmates had escaped, stolen a transport or something. They finally captured them, but that’s the time I saw these pods being used as containment for incorrigibles. All of those were like this except they had triple security voice locks on them. This one seems to just have an environment lock on it, at least as far as I can tell. Boss, what could have blasted the side of this pod like this? Under all this black, the surface is melted.”
“Who cares? You as good as said anyone inside would already be in cryo-decay, and the technology would be worthless. Let me break the bank, Synrnn. You can play with the onboard systems just as well with the thing cracked wide.” He walked the circumference of the pod, his eyes glancing back to the glowing pods the colonists were in. “Four hundred years.” He nodded at Synrnn, tapping the pod’s surface with his mallet.
“Three seventy, Boss. That battleship disappeared three hundred seventy standard years ago.” She moved to stand in his way, separating him from the scarred orb.
“The person inside would be four hundred, if he’s a cycle.”
“Yeah, but not really. Besides, you want to break in. Four hundred and very dead if you use that mallet to bypass the seal.” She leaned against the pod’s side, looking him in the face. “Cryo is a full stop, Boss. They’d still be twenty-five or thirty, or however old they were when they went inside.”
They both looked up as if to find IRaC on the ceiling. Kratt started, his eyes opening wide, as if just realizing the artificial personality was speaking with them in an area outside her installed parameters. “Dang it, IRaC! How’re you doing that? You don’t have any sensors in here.” He turned his head to Synrnn to see her split a grin. “Wha—”
“Kratt, Synrnn patched me into the secondary comm system. I now have full access to all areas of the ship. Of course, I am auditory only, but Synrnn and I are working on a patch into the ship’s optical sensors. Would you rather we did not?”
“It’s like I’m being conspired against. No, IRaC, this is fine. I actually like having you in here. I just didn’t expect it, that’s all.” He dropped his proposed break-in tools on the floor, the items clattering noisily, then paused, running a hand across his head.
“I apologize, Kratt. You should have been told. Would you like to be informed of such activities in the future?”
“Yes. No. Um, I’m not sure, IRaC. It’s just . . . let me think about it, okay?”
“I understand. I will monitor your daily input and attempt to determine an optimal time to revisit the question. Will that be acceptable to you?”
“Sure. That’ll work. Thanks for being so understanding.” He glanced around at the empty walls, just Synrnn watching him, an amused look on her face. “What am I saying, thanking a personality module for being understanding? I’m turning into a loony.”
“Already there,” Synrnn said under her breath.
“I agree with you, Synrnn,” softly washed IRaC’s melodious voice.
Kratt turned at the words. “What was that, Synrnn?”
“That’s between me and IRaC. Never you mind.”
Suddenly a sharp snap and hiss yanked the attention of both Kratt and Synrnn to the mysterious pod.
“IRaC, did you do that?”
“I am sorry, Kratt. I had nothing to do with that. I am monitoring the situation as closely as I can.”
They turned to look at each other, then back to the pod. Together they began to search its space-scarred surface for evidence of the noise.
“Do you smell anything strange, Boss? Anything that smells suspicious, or,” and Synrnn made a face, “perhaps rotten?” Dead was what she meant.
“Not that I can tell. Come over here. I want you to see this.”
As she walked around, she saw Kratt running his hands down the heat-slagged surface of the pod.
“This looks like it might have been a seam. This dark streak, right here. Look at that panel I was cleaning earlier. Has it changed?”
“It seemed to be glowing a faint orange before. On the modern pods, that indicates atmospheric instability detected. The colonists’ pods won’t open under an orange code. See what it looks like now.”
“Green? I think maybe green. It’s pretty faint.”
“Get me that pry bar, Synrnn.”
“He is right, Synrnn. The signal from the pod has changed. It needs to be opened now. If anyone is alive inside, they will not be much longer unless access and retrieval is achieved.”
Leaping to the pry bar and mallet, Synrnn kicked them over to Kratt. “Quick, Boss. You were right. Crack ’er like an egg. Let’s whip up an omelet.” She laughed. “I’ll get the cryo-rejuv online just in case the little chicken isn’t already spoiled.”
Grabbing the pry bar and placing it along the slagged seam, Kratt began whacking it with the mallet. Over and over the sound rang through the room. His clothing growing damp with sweat, he gasped and wiped his face on his sleeve. Handing the tool to Synrnn, he put his hands on his knees and stood panting.
“Let a real man do it, Boss. A wo-man.” She worked around the opening, driving the slagged seam apart. “I think I’ve just about got it. Help me rock the far side to see if we can jar it loose. Ready?”
“Let me get over there.” Placing his hands on the blackened face of the pod, he counted, “One. Two. Three!” With a shove they began to rock the panel until it shifted, giving them room get the pry bar underneath. As they did, cold fog began to seep from around the crack.
“Quick, Boss. That’s a sign of cryo-breach. We’ll only have a few moments to start resuscitation. Work it with the bar.”
“I am, Synrnn. You try it!”
“Kratt, Synrnn, the pod is sending a system failure message. It is critical to evacuate the contents now.”
“Thank you,” Synrnn yelled at no one in particular. “Boss, I’m getting the ripper.” She yanked open a stor’lok, grabbed a large tool, and slammed the end into a socket on the wall. “Move aside. This can opener will do some damage.”
Backing up, Kratt watched her do one of the things he most appreciated about her. With the tip of the tool in the exposed seam, she hit the power, and he watched the metal fly. Throwing the panel off, exposing a glassine panel in the darkened interior, he put his face close and took a deep breath. “Smells fine, Synrnn. Open the rejuv socket.”
“No rotted meat, huh?” She let the ripper fall deafeningly to the floor.
He danced over and yanked the connector from the cryo-rejuv. Dragging it over and plugging it in, he leaned back on the pod, panting. “Got it! IRaC, can we take time to check the reading, now?”
“I currently have full access to the pod. Thank you, Kratt. Well done, Synrnn. I will run diagnostics and see what you have found. Give me a moment.” A steady hum started from the direction of the rejuver, and as they watched, the interior of the pod began to glow.
“Yellow? Whoever heard of yellow cryo gel?”
“Chill, Boss. We’ve only had green for the last hundred and fifty standard years, one seventy tops. This is old military.” She ran her hand along the inside of the opening until she felt a notch. “There,” she said with satisfaction. “I knew it should be here.” She stepped back as a row of indicators blinked on, only the final one gleaming an ominous red. She peered at it, a frown on her face. “Not good, Boss. This is certainly not good. Check the rejuver. See if it gives us any suggestions.” She tapped the red light. “Green, please. I need green.”
“One indicator here also showing red. It says life-force regeneration isn’t powering up. Life-force regeneration means there is someone inside. We may have to pull whoever it is from the pod. Can we do that? Safely?”
“Never did that, Boss. Maybe we’ll find out. Maybe we can drop ’em into a medbath. IRaC? Have you been listening?”
“Of course, Synrnn. How can I help?”
“Run the stats on a medbath. See if the parameters are sufficient to bring someone out of full cryo. Stat. We’ve gotta transfer now. Boss, I’m taking the assumption we can do this. It’s going to be the only way. I’m heading out to pick up a medbath and get it back here.” She was gone before he could answer.
“IRaC, will it work?”
“There may be a chance, Kratt. I am running the simulation now. Current projections for success hover at slightly under sixty percent.”
“Keep at it, IRaC. It looks like that’s the only way we might keep this person alive.”
“MEDBATH. Let me see.”
Synrnn counted down the wall and popped the correct stor’lok door aside, reaching inside for the portable trauma device. It was designed to handle the most devastating physical injury imaginable. Anything short of decapitation was theoretically within the repair ability of a medbath. Grabbing coldpaks, gloves, and a medkit, she threw them into the medbath unit.
“IRaC, is there any way I can start this to get it ready faster?”
“Get it to the bay, Synrnn. I will guide you from there. This was good thinking. I am running simulations using the bath right now. I am currently projecting a seventy-eight percent probability of success.”
“Thank you, IRaC. I’m on my way.” She strapped the bath on a portable gurney, her time back to the bay disappearing as fast as its wheels would turn. Clipping the door, she flew the gurney inside. “Boss?”
Following a muffled, “Bring it over here,” she saw his head deep in the pod. “We’ve got to get him out, and I do mean him, and into that medbath. The gel’s already softened, and none of his systems are up and functional yet.” He pulled out of the pod, his arms covered with the yellow gel. “It’s making my arms numb, even inert like this. It still creeps me out thinking of getting in one of these intentionally.” He shivered, looking over what Synrnn had brought with her. “Good. Coldpaks. He’ll need that. Clear the bed and help me move him. Use gloves if you brought ’em. We’ll need someone who can still work her fingers.”
Snapping the gloves on, she reached in to help pull the body out. “How’d you know it’s a man?”
“He’s in uniform. MegaCorp. Not high up, but still a man’s. You’ll see.”
As they began to lift him, she cursed her sloppiness out loud as her arm brushed some of the gel away from the body.
IRaC’s voice rang out, “Keep the gel on him, Synrnn. There is still life left in it. In my simulations, success falls to less than thirty-two percent without it.”
“I’ll be more careful, IRaC.” Aside, she turned to Kratt. “You hear that? Now my mother’s aboard with us.”
“You do want to keep him alive, Synrnn. Am I correct?”
“Yes, IRaC. I stand chastised. I’ll be more careful.”
“Thank you, Synrnn. As soon as you have him loaded, fill the medbath with as much gel as you can. Close it and apply the coldpaks. Then roll him to the medcenter. After only a short time with no cryo support, projected success for resuscitation will start to drop exponentially.”
“Got it, IRaC. Boss, let’s move him.” Four arms reached deep into the cryo gel, pulling the fetally-curled body from deep within, shifting him to the medbath. Quickly dumping in as much of the gel as they could reach, the man was sealed inside.
“Hit the road, Synrnn. Let’s get this buggy parked and the horses unhitched. It’s time to kiss the bride.”
“Ha! Boss, you can still make me laugh, even under circumstances like these. Where you come up with this stuff, I’ll never figure out. Now, let’s get to the medbay and kiss the bride, whatever that means.” She ran behind him, guiding the rear of the gurney, keeping the trip as concise as possible.
“Synrnn, Kratt, probability of success now stands at seventy-three percent and falling. Please hurry.” IRaC’s voice followed them down the corridor.
“Go, Boss.” As the gurney rounded the door into the medbay, Kratt slapped the access panel to the medical table. As the glassine door raised and the table slid out, he guided the gurney up to it. They slid the medbath onto the table, plugging the bath into each end. Hitting the access panel once again, they both stood back and watched the table slide back into the wall, the glassine slipping down, the chamber sealing itself.
“How’d we do, IRaC?”
“I now estimate successful resuscitation at eighty-one percent and rising, allowing for eighteen to twenty-three shipboard cycles within the medbath. I have recalibrated the medbath specifically for attempted cryo-rejuv. From the readings I am already getting from the medbath, apparent cryo-decay had set in even before pod retrieval. Damage seems to be consistent with gradual power loss in cryo maintenance systems in the pod. I should be able to adjust settings in the medbath to compensate. I am readjusting my estimate for success to eighty-seven percent. Would you like to receive regular updates on the subject’s progress?”
Kratt looked at Synrnn with a grin. “I guess that means we did all right.” Louder, “Thanks, IRaC, and yes.”
“I am glad I could be of help to you, Kratt.”
He motioned to Synrnn. “C’mon. Lunch is on me.”
“You do know how to woo a girl, Boss. I’ll take you up on that. Give me just a moment, though. I’ll meet you there.” She stepped to the glassine panel, the medbath inside infused with a glow of photonic healing compounds. Planetside weeks. It would be several sevendays before they would know how well they did. She pressed her palm against the window, watching. Waiting. Maybe even hoping. She wasn’t even sure. She turned to go as she heard Kratt yell out for her to join him. “That’s my Kratt,” she said to the silent walls, only IRaC to hear her, and IRaC didn’t seem inclined to reply.
“I’M TELLING you, Synrnn.” Kratt tossed the portable glass he’d been searching through onto the shelf above his bunk. “If we find anything old military in that pod, people’ll pay big time.” He scratched absently at the side of his nose. “At least, I hope they will.”
Reaching to pick up the glass, she flipped through the images of MegaCorp history archives. “Boss, why do you keep these old relics?”
“What? The glass?”
“Yeah.” She turned. “They’re nothing more than old-fashioned toys. I haven’t owned one of these since I was a kid.”
“They’re sturdy, and they’re dependable. I’ve also never had one fail. Tell me that about those dermal readers kids use now. I like tried and true. That’s me.”
She handed him the glass. “You’ve certainly got that, Boss. It’s true you try everyone’s patience. But we’ll keep you around a while.”
“What do you think happened to cause this pod to wind up all the way out here?”
“I don’t know, Boss. I really don’t.” She tapped her fingernail against the doorframe. “I bet I know someone who does, though.”
“Yeah, but he’s not talking. You think he’ll come out of it? That’s a long time to be in cryo, even full cryo. I once traveled in slow-sleep, you know.” He grinned as she cut her eyes to him. “Surprised you, didn’t I?”
“I thought you hated all that cryo stuff, and slow-sleep is just a step under full cryo.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I hate it so.” He traced a circle with his finger on his bunk. “I was stone broke. My family couldn’t even send me to the academy. I had to pay myself, working three standard years. I was cheap—”
“Even then?” She laughed.
“Even then.” He laughed with her. “I had worked hard for those credits. It was three times the cost to ship on top, so I opted for a sealed bunk. Waking up was death boiled by two. I swore never again, and I never have, either.” He put both feet up on his bunk, leaning back against the pillow. “I’ll pay whatever. It’s not worth the savings, no matter what they say.”
“This guy’s gonna have a tough time, even if he does come out. IRaC says eighty-seven percent chance. What’s your guess?”
“My guess? He’ll walk and talk, but he’ll be a scrubber, that’s what. Food-sucking menial labor. Might’ve been better to’ve spaced him.”
“Just what I was thinking, Boss. Too late now. He’s on ship’s records, and that carries a lot of weight in any port we enter. ’Cepting Rutger’s World. And, just so you know, I have no desire to ever go to Rutger’s World. Even the stories give me the heebie-jeebies.” She picked at one rough nail. “How long do you think before the medbath’ll drop, and we can see what he looks like?”
“IRaC, did you get that? Got an estimate, yet? Synrnn wants to check him out.”
“It is a bit early for a firm estimate, Kratt. However, I feel I can say with a high degree of confidence that two sevendays in the medbath should be sufficient for the initial phase. He is still fully clothed, though. When the medbath is removed for the final recalibrated immersion treatment, he will need to have the clothing removed.”
“Gods, IRaC! Did you have to share that now? I haven’t had my meal, yet.”
“I am sorry, Kratt. I will try to be more sensitive on future occasions. However, I am just stating a medical necessity. The clothing will interfere with the rejuvenation of the skin. As you may recall, cryo-decay had set in, and the skin does indicate damage. A full epidermal rebuild may be necessary.”
“Sure, IRaC. I’ll be there in full scrub gear. Synrnn might have too much fun on her own.”
She laughed and kicked his bunk, and he grinned mischievously as he tossed his pillow at her.
Turning, she stepped outside the door. “Let’s go see what else is inside your new toy, Boss.” She hit the wall with the flat of her hand, the noise resonating in his quarters. “Stat!”
The lights clicked off, and the door slid shut as he bounded after her.
“DO YOU THINK this gel is good for anything?” Kratt stared inside the cryo pod, the yellow cryo gel in a semi-liquid state, the mallet in his hand. He reached out with the mallet and knocked down several of the rough edges left by the ripper. “Do you think it’d still work if we charged it up?”
“Jump in, Boss. I’ll power you up.”
“No thanks. Just wondering if I should dump it or keep it. On Carney’s World, there’s a demand for old cryo gel.” He grinned. “Old-school technology winning once again, modified to save the day, or at least their limited food supplies. Think we might make it there someday? Might be some credits in it, if it still holds a charge. Course, we might find someone closer who’ll put it to a similar use. How about it, Synrnn?”
“No opinions, there. Sorry, Boss. I’m heading over to drop off these access node connectors. Might be able to give IRaC some visual interface capabilities.”
“Ouch, and all I wanted was a good cook. Now I’m getting a peeping Tom. Er, maybe a peeping Tom-ette. IRaC, any opinions about this gel?”
“Thank you for asking, Kratt. However, I really cannot answer that question without additional information. The gel is old military and was the highest grade available at the time. It was still holding a charge when we retrieved the pod even though the occupant was entering cryo-decay. The decay may have been due to a power loss and not to a decline in the actual composition of the gel, itself. I would suggest storage for the short term with an analysis to determine viability for resale. Does that satisfy your request, Kratt?”
“That’s good enough for me. Thanks.”
“Do not mention it, Kratt. I am always glad to be of service.”
He dropped the mallet and pulled a retractable hose from a wall stor’lok, attaching it to an arm suspended from the ceiling. Keying in storage retrieval mode, he initiated the suction in the hose. Working it over the inside of the cryo pod, he evacuated the remaining gel.
“Tight quarters,” he muttered to himself. “How do people manage to fit in these?” Eyeing the pod, he pulled himself up and squirmed inside, settling into the built-in seat, his knees to his chest and his arms at his side. He placed his hands into the recesses designed for them and shivered. “Gads!”
“Taking a nap, there? Want me to power it up?” Synrnn strolled up, her arms resting on the lip of the pod. “Do I get to pilot the ship while you’re out for a century or two?”
“Help me out.” He offered a hand. “This is tight.”
“That’s why it’s called an emergency pod, Boss. It’s just for emergencies, not for daytime naps. Here, grab my hand.” Grasping his, she popped him back to full size. “No sweet dreams, huh, Boss? What about high-tech military secrets?” When he shook his head, she continued, “Maybe the high tech is in that man’s head back in the medcenter. You never know.” She felt of the opening where the panel had been cut off. “Slagged on one side and still like new inside. Well-built. I’d love to know the story about what must have happened to degrade this metal like this.”
“You may never find out. That’s what makes it so much fun.” He glanced at her and winked. “Here’s what I think. He was probably guarding a prison construction crew. The crew went renegade and started blowing the place up. Our guy was the last guard being held hostage, and the prison crew was promised clemency if they let him go. When the crew was setting our guard free in this cryo pod, the military blasted the smithereens out of the bunch of them, nearly taking out this pod in the process.”
“Except, Boss, what little I could see of it, that was no guard suit.”
“Fair enough.” He rubbed his chin, the stubble darkening its surface producing a scratching sound. “There was a mutiny aboard a military vessel. Once all the shooting was done, the ship was busted up pretty well. Our guy was on the wrong side, and there wasn’t enough ship left to support everyone. The losing side was given just one option. Join the usurpers or jump ship. Our guy was true blue, and rather than join in, he decided to take his chances in an escape pod.”
“Yeah, Boss. One problem with that scenario. How’d the pod get blasted?”
“Minor detail I left out. Sorry. Our guy wasn’t so dumb. He set the main engines to overload just as his pod exited the ship. Bye, bye, ship. Almost bye, bye, our guy.”
“I like that one. Can you give me one that doesn’t involve blowing thousands of other men up?”
“Sure. There was this guy who had found his true love. Only, she didn’t love him. See, she never had, and he just couldn’t figure it out. Then, on one assignment, she was bored and let him have his way with her. However, once he started to proclaim his love out loud, she kicked him out. He was so distraught he threw himself into an escape pod and aimed it right into a nearby sun. He happened to be a little off in his calculations, and he bounced off the sun, frying the outer shell of the pod rather than sucking down into the solar gravity well. Now, here he is aboard our good ship.”
“The best rendition for sure. I really like that one, Boss. Unrequited love.” Synrnn smirked as her next barb came at him. “I wonder where in that head of yours you came up with that. Perhaps personal experience? Hm?”
“Yeah, my mother. Or better yet,” sidling up to her, “sweet love of my heart. You never do seem to warm up to me. What goes on in that cold, cold heart of yours?”
“Only my pounding love for you, Boss. I just keep it under lock and key.” She put her hand flat on his chest and pushed him away. Walking over to the pod, she reached in, running her hand over the interior. “I’ve never played with one of these. Really tight inside, was it?”
“Pretty much.” He leaned in beside her. “No one travels in these without the cryo on. Just fall in, and it self-initiates an emergency cryo cycle. Before it’s even away from the ship, the gel has pumped in, and photonic cryo compounds are flooding the occupant’s system. From what I understand, you’re out so quick, you never even feel the high-speed jettison from the mothership.” He chuckled. “How’s that for travel accommodations? Now picture yourself on an exploding ship. When these cycle up to ready status, the lid pops up, and you back in. The pod senses you’re inside and clear. Pop! You’re sealed in. You barely even have time to know it’s dark before the gel shoots in from eighty-five injectors all over the inside of the pod.” He pointed inside at barely visible indentations on the interior surface. “Eighty-five. I know. I looked it up. Isn’t that right, IRaC?”
“Yes, Kratt. You are correct. Eighty-five became an industry standard on full cryo models well before our pod was manufactured. Several versions of multiple occupant pods have substantially more, though.”
“Thanks, IRaC. See, Synrnn, when this pod ejected from that cruiser, it was moving at five gees, and it ramped up to twenty gees almost immediately. That gel had to already be in place to cushion our poor, fragile human from being crushed to death. Imagine. Within two seconds, our guy had gone from awake to encased in fully energized cryo gel, his pod under nearly twenty gees of acceleration.”
“A speedaholic’s dream, Boss.”
“See? That’s what I’d like.” Kratt leaned over, both arms resting on the opening, taking care around the areas cut by the ripper. His eyes were filled with possibilities, and they sparkled.
“To be spaced in a cryo pod?”
“Nah. A fighter pod. Military grade. Twenty gees or more. Instant acceleration, my suit encased in energized suspension gel. Wow! Wouldn’t that be a trip!”
“Until the first laser strike. Maybe a sonic disrupter. Boss, you could look forward to hitting a piece of space debris at twenty gees. Do you have any idea how much of you’d be left? Bye, bye, little bits.”
“Spoil sport.” He pursed his lips. “That’s my dream, though. Low, sleek, and it has to be red. With manual thruster controls. Yeah, manual.” He grinned playfully. “If I ever strike it really big, if enough of a paycycle ever comes my way, I might just do it. You know, by George, I just might!”
“Good gods, Boss! And why’s the color important?”
“So I can stand back and admire it in the docking bay.”
“Crikes, Boss. You’re the only one who’ll ever see yourself flying it.”
“It’s more than that. I guess it’s a guy thing.” He looked at Synrnn, the longing bringing a mournful look to his features.
“I think you mean it, Boss. I think you’d really do it. Well, I hope you do strike it big on one of these runs. I hope you open one of these pods one cycle and find it filled with diamonds and gold.”
“Thanks. Except that since they found that diamond reserve on Shirlson 3, even natural diamonds have become almost worthless. That’d be my luck.”
Synrnn laughed out loud. “Yeah, mine, too.”
He jerked his head up and looked around. He was alone in his quarters, and the room was dark. He frowned and groaned, knowing it couldn’t have been a full night, yet.
“Kratt, please wake up. We have an emergency. Your attention is needed.”
“Ahh.” He groaned, letting his head sink back onto his pillow. “What sort of emergency?’’
“The medbath has reached critical overload. The occupant needs to be removed as quickly as possible.”
“Crikes, IRaC. I thought you had recalibrated the operating parameters for the medbath.” He threw his face into his pillow, his arms pulling it around his head.
“You are correct, Kratt. However, to achieve maximum cryo-rejuv from the non-cryo medbath, I have had to push the bath past its designed operating parameters. I have known the medbath was under strain for some time, but I had hoped it would continue to complete the rejuv procedure. It has now failed. With failure of the medbath, successful completion of the rejuv process has now dropped to an estimated sixty-one percent and falling. Synrnn is already on her way to the medbay.”
“Shike! Shike! Shike!” He vented into his pillow. Rolling over, he said under his breath, “Why always at night? Can’t these things ever happen when I’m up?”
“Would you like me to answer that question, Kratt, or is it rhetorical?”
“Let it go. Tell Synrnn I’m on my way.”
“I will let her know. Thank you, Kratt. Your help will be appreciated.”
“Anytime. Just remember, daytime is better.”
“I will keep that in mind. I appreciate your suggestion.”
With a slapping sound, Kratt’s feet hit the floor. Grabbing a shirt, he headed out the door, the medbay foremost in his mind.
“You owe me for this, Synrnn. I would’ve been happy to’ve busted in, curse the occupant inside. No one would have faulted me for it, either.”
However, even his reservations did not slow him as he hustled down the corridor and into the medbay.
“BOSS, THANK the stars you’re here. The whole medbath’s gone down. IRaC tells me the initial rejuv process is essentially complete, but with the bath down, this gel’s got to come off quick.”
“Also, the uniform must be removed, Synrnn.”
Kratt guffawed. “Duh, IRaC.” He bounded to Synrnn’s side, helping her pull on long gloves and an emergency smock, turning to allow her to do the same for him. “Ready, Synrnn.”
“Ready, Boss. IRaC?”
“Ready could not come soon enough, Synrnn. Proceed, and I will offer suggestions.”
“Thank you, IRaC. Boss, hit the release.”
As the glassine enclosing the front of the medbath audibly released its seal and slipped upward into the wall, they stood back, allowing the medical table to extend itself between them. The medbath looked like a long satchel with a spring-loaded top. It now appeared dull and lifeless.
“Medbath releasing. Kratt, Synrnn, please press it into the surface of the table. It will be absorbed.”
“Thanks, IRaC. Synrnn, ready?”
“Got it, Boss. Ready. Set. Push.” Together, both sets of hands on the opening medbath, the stiff seal dropped closer and closer to the table as the flexible sides began to liquefy.
“The medbath liquefaction is complete. Remove the seal from the bed. Subject is now fully exposed.”
“Not fully, IRaC. We’ve got a goo-covered man here.” Kratt raised his eyebrows, looking up at the ceiling from where IRaC’s voice emanated.
“Begin to remove the gel, Kratt. Removing the uniform will take care of much of it. Inventory logs show a slicing tool underneath the table. Please work carefully so as not to damage the skin underneath. When you are finished, use the overhead sprayer to wash him down.”
They began slicing the man’s clothes, peeling the cloth away. Synrnn stepped back.
“IRaC, he’s moving.”
“He is alive. Cryo-rejuv outside of a pod takes much longer, but he is definitely alive. Please use the sprayer now. Wash the gel from his face. He will need to evacuate gel from his lungs, also.”
She grabbed the sprayer from the overhead rack and set the temperature for warm. Spraying gently, the man’s likeness began to show through the gel for the first time, revealing pale hair and skin, and emphasizing slender, almost pretty features. She watched as he coughed, sending yellow gel oozing from his mouth.
IRaC’s strident instructions interrupted her observations.
“Turn him on his side, Synrnn. Kratt, help her remove the rest of his clothes. He must be returned to the medchamber as soon as his lungs are clear. My revised estimate for survival is down to fifty-five percent.”
Synrnn worked to keep the man’s mouth clear as Kratt stripped the rest of the uniform off, dropping it on the floor at their feet for further study later. Using the sprayer, he rinsed the man’s limbs clean, surprised at the lack of injury.
“He seems to be in perfect condition.” Synrnn looked at Kratt, puzzled.
“Surprising, huh? I agree it’s odd. In battlefield conditions, people who made it away in these pods were often injured when they entered. Ready to roll him on his back?” He placed his hands on the man’s hip and ankle. “Grab his shoulder and head.”
“Almost. Let me move around the table. Ready. Set. Roll.” As the man rolled onto his back, they heard a groan. Looking at each other, she was the first to call out, “IRaC? Is he conscious, already?”
“He is not awake, Synrnn. The medchamber will continue to keep him unconscious. Please place his arms at his side and prepare to close the chamber. Survival probability has now fallen to fifty-one percent and will continue to drop until he is returned to the chamber.”
Straightening the man’s arms, Kratt slipped off a glove and palmed the switch. The prone figure glided inside the medchamber, with the glassine panel sealing him in.
“Full immersion in photonic compounds has been initiated,” IRaC intoned. “Kratt, Synrnn, do not open the medchamber for any reason.”
“Thank you, IRaC.” She leaned against the glass. “I’m so tired, Boss. Look at all this stuff on the floor. IRaC, will it be all right here until morning?”
“It will need to be cleaned as soon as possible. The gel will start to destabilize in continued exposure to air and will begin to infiltrate the ventilation system. I am sorry, Synrnn. I know it is very late.”
“That’s all right. Boss, hand me the hose and key it for storage retrieval. Is the setting entered for the same destination as before?”
“It will be.” He tapped a few times on the panel. “Done. You get that, and I’ll get the uniform. I want to keep his clothing just in case I find something interesting about it.” He gathered the gel-covered fabric, stacking it in a tray from under the medical bed, and slipped a self-sealing lid on it. “I’ll drop this in a cleaner tomorrow. I’ll want to go through it, first.” He stood, setting the tray on a shelf. “Thanks, Synrnn. I know this has been more work than we both bargained for.” He stepped to the glassine separating the blond-haired man from them. “Just look at that, though. A man. Nearly four hundred years old, if a single cycle.”
“Not really, remember. That body has only what, twenty-five, thirty standard years at most on it, if that. When the skin rebuilds, he’ll probably look even younger. Twenty, at most.”
“You know what I mean. Stuff that happened nearly four hundred years ago is just like last cycle in that brain. Look at him in there. A little slice of history is in those legs and arms. That face. The last time it showed an expression or spoke a word was to one of my grandparents. With ten greats added on!” Kratt looked at Synrnn with a grin as she walked up to the window. “Just because that pod gelled him one cycle.”
“I just hope his brain isn’t gelled, too. He’s kinda cute.”
Kratt finally laughed at the situation. “Leave it to you, girl.” He rubbed the glassine as he watched the figure lying still, finally noticing the chest moving up and down. “Get this. For the first time, I think we might have a chance with him. He’s actually breathing. That body is actually working on its own. IRaC, has our probability improved?”
“Kratt, the transfer from the medbath went very well, indeed. The subject’s breathing and heart rate are both stabilizing. Within another cycle I should be able to verify brain wave restoration levels. The latest estimated probability of complete physical rejuv is now at seventy-six percent and climbing. It is still too early to estimate with confidence the probability of complete cognitive rejuv. I will continue to monitor the situation.”
“That’s good news. Thanks.”
“You are welcome, Kratt.”
As Kratt and Synrnn watched the living, breathing relic in the chamber, they saw the man shift his position. “Looks like we may have pulled in a live one after all, Synrnn. I can’t wait to talk with him. He hasn’t even lost his muscle tone.”
This time she laughed. “Yeah, he might have you beat, there. Boss, did I hear you say something about the exercise gyro? Or do I need to introduce the two of you again?” By the time she reached the door, she was laughing so hard she had to hold her hand on her side.