13 September 2011


Part I:   Into the Teeth of Infinity

The light blinks red, once every three seconds. My first attempt to distract myself was to count the blinks, one…two…three…four…I gave up at 6,500,322. The blinking red light came from across the chamber, from Alyssa’s cryobed. The light on mine was yellow. Green is for go, all systems ready, normal function. Yellow means something is amiss, but the system is functioning. Red means stop, malfunction, system failure.

We had been part of the Exodus, humanity’s flight from the dying Earth. Our starhopper was called The Icarus, we boarded her, strapped in, pushed all the right buttons, felt the low deep rumble and were pushed against the chairs for liftoff. We navigated her manually out past the moon, half-way to Mars, then we programmed her nav system to follow the homing beacon that would bring us to The Ark, the colony station near the Horsehead Nebula. We prepped the cryobeds, stripped out of our jumpsuits. Alyssa had spread a blanket on the floor, a downy soft green square. I laid her down slowly and we made love languorously there on the floor with the cryobeds perching on either side of us, mummy-shaped clear glass sarcophagi with snow white interiors.

I can still hear echoing off the featureless pristine walls her sighs and gasps, I can see reflecting semi-distorted from the silver bed bases her graceful curves and tan skin.

We collapsed and slept, rose eventually, left the blanket rumpled on the floor. We rinsed and scrubbed and toweled each other, kissed, climbed into the cryobeds. I watched her lay down, close the lid, push the button to engage the nanomachines that would send her into the long dreamless slumber to pass the years. She lay down, blew me a kiss. She pushed the button and fell asleep. The light flashed red yellow green, red yellow green as the systems cycled on, turned green and glowed steady. She slept, peacefully.

I lay down in mine, the lid was closed, the button pushed. I felt a cold creeping crawling numbness spread from toes and fingers to biceps and thighs, stomach, chest, neck…

I heard a crash, deafening and jarring, the lights flickered, the room tilted…another crash, a third and fourth. The lights went out and stayed off for several minutes and the room was black, pitch dark. Emergency systems engaged, light returned to the chamber.

Cryobeds shut down the human body limb by limb, organ by organ, starting at the extremities, keeping the heart beating just enough to supply blood to the brain and retain the very minimal essential functions. Cryosleep is, basically, controlled death.

I couldn’t move. My bed had begun to put me into cryosleep, I realized, then just before sending me into unconsciousness something--asteroids or meteors most likely --had hit the ship and damaged it. My body was dead, my brain alive. I could see, I could think. I couldn’t move. And the ship, almost certainly, was dead and spinning, knocked off course and unpowered and rocketing at an unthinkable speed toward nothing at all, nothing but infinity or a distant star’s gravity well…

Then I looked over at Alyssa, I could just barely see the shape of her cryobed out of the corner of my eye, I could see the profile of her face, her breasts…and the light blinking red, once every three seconds. Her bed had shut down with the rest of the ship’s systems, and when it powered down the invisible nanomachines that kept her brain and heart nominally alive were powered down as well, and her system never rebooted. Alyssa was four and a half feet away, forever beautiful, forever just barely visible from the corner of my eye. Forever just out of reach.

It took a few more minutes before I understood the implications of my own predicament. Paralyzed in a cryobed, awake. My body wouldn’t age, wouldn’t atrophy, but I would never leave this bed.

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