Do you ever look out the window and wonder just what the hell is wrong with people? That’s what I spend most of my time doing – looking out the window and judging. There’s not a lot else to do. I’ve more or less accepted that for now this is my fate. Long haul space journeys are not a lot of fun, but since everything interesting is ridiculously far away we don’t have much choice. And the only way to cross a great distance is use a lot of time. The transit vessels might skate closer to light speed than anything humanity has ever built before, but it’s not close enough to reduce these journeys below decades in the darkness. Hibernation tech improved a lot though, so we can spend the trip in frozen, unconscious oblivion. You don’t even dream when you’re in hibernation – there isn’t enough brain activity, though there are plenty of reports of wild hallucinations which come very close to the edge of death stories you hear when people die and are brought back to life in hospitals. Lots of wild coronas, light-filled corridors and a freaky sense of floating above it all.
I wish I was hallucinating. I’ve been awake in my hib cocoon for about a week now. My body is still entirely frozen, but I’m awake and I can see through the narrow gap between my eyelids. It means everything looks kind of black and white, or striped like I’m peering through a slow-moving zoetrope. There’s nothing I can do to attract the attention of the maintenance crew who occasionally wander by. At first I was desperate for them to notice me, now I absolutely hate them. There must be some blinking light on the damn panel, something that would indicate my state to them. What if everyone in hibernation is like this? You just randomly wake up and can’t move or speak or do anything other than stare straight ahead. At least I didn’t go into hibernation with my head sideways I guess. Weeks staring at the creamy interior would probably be worse. Mind you, I wouldn’t have had to see the maintenance techs having sex right in front of me on one of the other hibernation cabinets. I’d never wondered what the poor bastards who stay awake for years at a time on these ships actually got up to. I suppose I’d vaguely imagined they carefully maintained stuff and maybe unicycled about the ship or something ridiculous, just to get a little light exercise and fun in. But no, of course they’re just ordinary people who get paid a lot to waste the years of their lives in deep space while those who are already wealthy get to enjoy the ride in ice sleep. I did not need to see them naked though. At least I can’t hear anything through the ice coffin I’m trapped in.
I’ve read stories about people imprisoned for decades in solitary confinement who compose music, write whole novels in their heads and create a rich imaginary world to occupy. I’m really not getting any of that going. I suppose our situation is somewhat similar. I’ve no idea how far through our journey we are, for all I know we could be just days away from arrival, or I’ve somehow woken up and we’ve barely left home system. I try not to let that second thought weigh on me. I don’t know how long someone (me) can survive partially awake in an ice box. Maybe I’m not using that much power because most of body isn’t doing anything. Maybe. It’s possible this is all a horribly mundane hallucination and I actually am still asleep as the ship floats on past a sun I’ve never heard of. I’m trying hard not to despair, but that’s tough when the highlight of your day is watching one of the maintenance techs trip over something. That shouldn’t be the highlight of anyone’s day, let alone mine.
I am aware that my wakefulness isn’t continuous. I wonder if I’m falling asleep without realising it, waking back up in the exact same state and failing to notice the gaps, or maybe my mind is wandering off, taking me with it. I hope we’re going somewhere better than this. The only reason I’ve noticed is that the lighting sometimes changes – some diurnal cycle to stop the maintenance techs going mad probably. Or at least, that’s what I thought until I did actually hear something. Like I may have mentioned, the ice box is too thick, insulated and sealed to hear proper sound, but I sure as hell felt the grinding clang that reverberated through the box from the floor. It sounded like someone trying to cut a hole in a metal door with a big pole, and then finally getting some purchase and tearing a gash in it. It was like that, but went on for minutes. It may have been the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard, and if I’d had an unfrozen body I’m sure it would have agreed, with unfortunate results. And then nothing. Nothing for an age. Fear can’t hang around that long, it’s an amping up of chemicals in your body and eventually it dissipated, leaving me feeling excited and exhausted at the same time.
Nothing happens for a long time. I drift in and out, but my attention’s caught by the flickering lights, and there’s something I can hear through the ice box – a rhythmic thumping with that grinding edge I heard before. The crazy lighting isn’t doing me any favours, because those noises are coming closer – big and loud enough to shake the casket. Then something slams into the casket, I feel it actually tip and slide across the floor until it strikes another casket. Something flies over my field of view – an arm? A body falls hard against the front of the ice box. I recognise the face of the tech from their frolicking earlier, but they’re not smiling now. Their jaw looks dislocated and he stares right into my eyes as he vomits blood and my vision turns red. Then there’s something else, all seen through this bloody haze. Shapes uncoil, thick leathery limbs scoop the tech off the floor and tear him apart. It draws level with my eyeline, it doesn’t have any visible eyes but I can feel it looking at me, that sudden burst of making contact. Its jaws expand, teeth ratchet up out of what might be gums, might be a tongue… I really, really wish I was still asleep.