Relic of a Dead Era, Part 2
"Relic of a Dead Era", Part 2
Laying down in suspended animation had felt like lying down in a coffin. That wasn’t too far from the truth, given the infection I had and the mere hope of a cure. Only time would tell.
Because I’d been in suspended animation for so long, I knew that a long time had passed. I couldn’t trust aging protective suits and locks too much, but I still tried them because I couldn’t trust the atmospheric sensors, either. The trees that had sprouted in the ruins were decades old. The aged concrete structures and rusted beams that were supposed to last centuries proved that much time had gone past. I wondered how long these systems were made to last, though likely long dead engineers were responsible for these systems lasting decades (or more) when things built when I’d been a child wouldn’t have last 10 years without maintenance. I thank the long dead engineers who built something made to last at least a decade that clearly lasted so much longer.
And I had to assume there was no maintenance. My memories of the last hours before suspended animation were fuzzy. That was partially due to illness and chemical exposure. It was partially due to the chemicals dumped into my body to slow the passage of time and fight the infection. And, in part, it was because of the deep sleep alternated with artificially induced dreams that warped how my mind processed the memories. What was clear was that no one who may have come back came back to awaken and treat me. All I know is that my body had been fighting its war and won, or else I’d be just as sick or worse.
I wonder if lingering illness or faulty sensors is why no one came back for me. There are half a dozen empty units, though one continues to care for its patient. I don’t know who he is, what he has, why he, too, was left behind. Maybe he, like me, was presumed a leper and left behind.
I feel like an archeologist left behind without adequate tools, knowledge or support. I can’t explore much of the outside world because of my physical limits, though I’m feeling better. I can’t verify the air, water, plants or soil are safe. I am not sure the airlocks and sterilization routines work at all. I just know I’m feeling well enough to try to find out something of the outside world.
And that’s nearly nothing.
So I started searching for the user manuals, the logs, any physical records. The computers are nothing but mockeries of the world that used to be.
Relic of a Dead Era, Part 1
- Relic of a Dead Era, Part 1
Some days you wake up to are truly worse than others. A science fiction short story by Tamara Wilhite.
I am grateful for the techs that set aside printed manuals despite growing up in a world where everything was available digitally. It had seemed a useless redundancy in case primary power, backup power and mobile devices powered by all sorts of other means were dead. There’s only a backup power system powering the facility as is.
It took two weeks to be comfortable with the instruction set. Then I triggered the raw mechanical control for reawakening the man.
I sat back and waited. And waited. Hours stretched into the night, and I went to sleep. I woke in the morning to find his still form unchanged. How long had it taken to wake up personally? Or was the system failing to engage?
I tracked time and remained nearby just in case. I tried to prepare water, nutrients and other supplies whose quality I questioned. But it had worked for in some degree, so surely it would work for him.
I woke early one morning to sounds that are difficult to describe. I watched the man’s body slowly convulse. I wondered if his body was fighting the drugs that kept him sedated, since it had been so long. I wondered if the drug release procedure was working right, if something wasn’t working right, if something critical had run out. His body started shaking and writhing in a manner I knew instinctively was wrong. I’d come out groggy as if awakening from a coma. There were no bruises of a body beating against the tank, muscle aches and pains except like having had a bad case of the flu. I tried to trigger a release of the unit’s door, but that failed. Then everything failed.
The silence was matched by a shift to red lights on the console. The body stopped moving. I couldn’t bring myself to move. Then there was motion. The body was released from the connecting wires and tubes. Then it was tipped back into a disposal unit I knew had been there but dared not access. The empty unit was restored to the original position as a sterilization routine mostly completed.
A hard lump of cold fear formed in my stomach. What if no one had ever come back to awaken anyone here? What if the empty units were simply those who died in the interim and disposed of? I’d assumed the best … not the worst. Those deaths might have saved by life by reducing the demand on nutrients, waste processing, power, allowing a half-functional system to maintain half as many souls and then even fewer.
I might have killed him by trying to awaken him. And he might have died because my awakening drew power and resources that would only save one. And he might have died any way, even if I’d died first … And I’d never have answers now unless I found answers … or others.
I took more care in securing the outer lock as I explored, testing my own endurance and strength. I found myself wishing I hadn’t laughed at those survivalist reality shows and spent more time learning from them. I knew trees from bushes from grass, but I had no idea what was edible or not. I wasn’t sure I saw wildlife, and I had the barest notion how to catch them. The existence of birds and rodents simply told me life went on though I’d been in a twilight afterlife myself.
I finally made a decision. It had been a month, and there was no obvious sign of human habitation. I was alone.
The next question was how I’d live myself. I could walk a few miles, I think, but that was slowed down by the suit. Nor was wearing it long term an option, since it would slow me down.
I had to know if I could live here or not without the suit or I could never even think of making contact with survivors, assuming they existed.
So I walked outside without a suit and watched the sun rise. I didn’t dare watch a sunset, though I had once loved 3D astronomy stars. I couldn’t be sure what predators hunted the small animals, much less if they’d find me an attractive meal.
Digging around in the ruins could only be called a hobby. I vainly hoped for pieces of newspaper, dated items, books that provided information of use. I looked for tools but found mostly burned everything while being unable to identify anything.
The red, irritated hands were something I initially dismissed as the consequence of hard work. The sore throat and red veins rising in my arms, though, couldn’t be.
Was this something I’d contracted outside? Was it the infection I’d fought coming to life after the drugs dumped into my system in suspended animation wore off? Really, the answers don’t matter.
I’d been put here to give me a chance at life. I’d been left here to protect others from the infection inside me. I agreed with it, too, because I wouldn’t risk my family or others’ with the infection until it could be cured. That hadn’t changed. Not even if there was no one left.
I briefly considered digging a grave and dying in it. I decided against it. If the point was not to spread the infection, putting the pathogens in a human host to spread to the soil was to risk leaving behind a ticking time bomb.
To try to search out others knowing I carried this was insane. It didn’t matter if it was a new strain to which they may be immune, the old one I might carry or a mutation that arose in this weird quarantine. The point was that it was wrong to risk spreading it, even if I just caused a mass murder of vermin rats … yeah, just what the world needs, me as the Patient Zero of a new Black Death.
That leaves me here in quarantine. I can’t dismiss the possibility others may come here to awaken the remnants of a dead generation and find my body. I can’t risk that they’d come into contact with what I’ve left behind in a dozen different ways from living here. I won’t.
I tried to breathe deep as the flames rose up around me, the fire suppression system deactivated though the alarms yet blared. If this place would do nothing else, it would prevent the pathogen from spreading as designed. Part of me wondered if this let me die with the last connections I had to the past. At least I knew I wouldn’t take anyone or anything else with me. And that was the only peace I could have as the fever’s ice cold grip on my chest warred with the flames around me.
© 2018 Tamara Wilhite