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Cold Sleep

Waking up from hibernation felt like my innards had been scrubbed out with bleach and sandpaper. That’s not too far from the truth, with the icy blue blood they inject into us instead of our blood. The scratchy feeling is from that all being drained out and my real blood squeezed back into those chill veins and arteries. It’s a terrible end to a voyage, and an awful beginning of a new adventure. After ten years locked in a dreamless sleep, emerging into life is a real shock.

The last thing I’d done before hibernation was to climb into a nice soft coffin in the cryo lounge. That’s how it’s all done, down planet-side. It’s much easier to ship all the passengers into orbit that way – we become a convenient cargo, easily stacked and hefted – needing none of the disruption, or infrastructure to handle hundreds of people bumbling around and gawping at each other on board the ship. I’d nodded politely to the woman sitting next to me as I responded to my name being called out. I was grateful at the time – she’d spent the last hour alternating between reading a garish magazine on her screen and complaining about how thirsty she was. No point taking on fluids when they’re about to freeze you. We’d all spent the last twenty-four hours going nil by mouth in preparation for the journey. Inconvenient, of course, but not as inconvenient as spending nine hundred years in slow transit. Everyone loves to complain though. I’m complaining about her complaining and her annoying chattering magazine. Hell, I’m enjoying complaining about complaining. People, eh. Everyone had the low-level headache they can only partly abate with well humidified air and a polite refusal to give us painkillers. There’s really only so much additional chemical crap you want to take into hibernation with you, and honestly there’s a vaguely ascetic pleasure to the fasting. Like a preparation for a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. No one’s come up with a good answer to what happens to your soul while your body and mind are frozen in place. Apparently there’s still some flickering in the hemispheres, but not enough to count as dreaming while asleep, certainly not close to consciousness; just barely enough to keep the lights on, or at least one dim LED way in the back.

Hibernation is a straightforward procedure, rather lacking in drama and the sheer excitement of its early days as a technology. There’s almost no chance that you’ll wake up dead, for example. Although the risks to increase with the length of hibernation, for a ten year hop the chances of serious damage are not very different to the likelihood of falling out of bed and cracking your skull on the bedside table. Perhaps it should be more concerning that braining yourself while asleep is more likely than I’d ever imagined. In hibernation’s development some people simply exploded after being frozen, every cell in their body ruptured. These are the things they don’t put in the travel ads. Yet, there’s something reassuring in knowing that a shocking number of terrible things have happened to other people. It’s down to a bad human grasp of probability, but it definitely feels like they’re less likely to happen to me if some other sucker’s taken the hit already. I relayed none of this to the lady I’d been waiting with, though I was tempted. I didn’t want my last memories of Earth to be of someone sweating beside me.

The check-in process begins with verifying that you are who you say you are: “Mr Greffle?” because you don’t want someone else’s mix. It’s all very personally tailored, as you’d expect since we’re all different inside and out. For my part, I really wanted to wake up again in ten years’ time. There’s a quick health check assessment, only so that you match their records – you don’t have to be in perfect condition or anything. Plenty of people with hideous disease states hitch a ride to somewhere that there might be a cure; health hibernation has been a real thing for a long time – at least since they stopped decapitating dead people in hopes we’d one day be able to fix them (alas no, but a lucrative scam, as long as no one checked up to see if the facilities really were maintaining the proper temperatures and so on. Spoiler: they weren’t). Technically they’re extending their lives just by getting into the cryo crypt, not that they’d know it. Time is a thing for other people to experience. Once they knock me out, in my subjective time (but not really subjective because I won’t be aware of time at all) I’ve lived another ten years, but for the place I’ve just left, I’ve been gone a century. Best not to think about it. Time, that is. Slippery decades of change in the places we leave and go to. Not really knowing whether the life we’re heading for will still be there when we arrive; the life we leave slipping away without us in it. Knowing that we’re leaving everyone behind for dead. Unless some of them hop on another ship within the next year or two, we’ll never meet again. It’s an awesomely freeing thought, escaping the past.

I’d drifted into contemplation of time, the thing they tell us most often not to fret about, and the nice technician has to drag me back to the present, so I can get ready for the future. There’s some prodding to come, basic tests to confirm I’m both who I say I am and that my current bio readings are within my personal range of normal. For convenience, I’m already wearing a disposable paper suit since everything else I own is either in the cargo hold of the hibship in orbit, or in boxes on the street outside my apartment waiting to be collected, ransacked or destroyed. All that done, and a few pleasantries later, the technician (who will be dead before I reach my destination) pulls back a curtain to reveal my coffin. They like to call them pods, because the morbid terminology sucks from a marketing perspective, but everyone thinks of them as coffins because they obviously are. At best it’s a box with a narrow transparent slit you can see a face through. While a nice glass canopy is aesthetically pleasing, it’s not very efficient and the user doesn’t need. The pod (I’m trying) has no lid, so it’s just an open box. Screwing the lid down with someone awake inside provoked spectacular mental breakdowns, so I’ll never actually see the inside of the box at all. I just climb in and lie down while the technician guides my hands into a pair of chunky gauntlets. The gauntlets tighten around my wrists, a series of needles sliding into my body, injecting first a sedative, soon to be followed by the dialysis-style swap out of my blood. As the sedative begins to take hold, the technician leans over me with a smile and says, “Sleep well Mr Greffle, enjoy it while you can.” My heart suddenly races, but it’s too late for me to do anything except fall into darkness, unnerved yet unaware.

And now I’m back, and those final words are still ringing in my ears and I wonder just what they meant. Then, even as I sit up in my open coffin (its lid already removed so it feels less like I’m crawling back out of my grave), there’s a huge man, hauling me upright and jerking me out of the box. My legs don’t work properly yet; I’m not properly warmed up. I stagger and fall, held up only by the fist of the man beside me. He looms over me, grins, and says, “No more sleep for you.”

Daily Stories

Daily Stories Project

A new series of very short stories, written very first thing in the morning with no planning or preparation, as an exercise in daily creativity. Unedited and unproofed (sorry!) Enjoy at your peril…

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