Message From Home
The specimen lay suspended in blood temperature gel, primitive but fascinating in its simplicity.
Energy flowed through the gel, seeping into the organism, probing, stimulating the specimen.
Responses and results recorded, analysed, logged.
The System welcomed the new data and adjusted the energy flow, prompting new responses, yet more data.
Basic auditory cortex was identified. Impulses adjusted to achieve the required responses. Data reviewed.
Sparks flew in the specimen's prefrontal cortex, meanings and emotions solidified.
Energy sought the medial temporal lobe pathways, scenes and short-term memories planted.
Deep in the limbic system, episodic and semantic LTM successfully triggered.
Experiment completed. Transplant successful.
The energy withdrew, the gel warmed, and the specimen slept on, unaware of the alterations, feeding fresh, exciting data into the System.
Chang worked his way meticulously through the vast cargo hold, checking each bank of information, verifying the displays with the AI reports from the ship.
All fifteen thousand pods.
Surrounded by so many, Chang still felt hopelessly alone.
Four years. The initial thrill of the mission long since faded into memory.
Still, at each waking, he dutifully patrolled the ship, checking and confirming data, but never, ever, adjusting.
Merely a caretaker for the cargo, a redundant janitor for the immaculate ship as it hurtled through dead space.
Six more years, twelve awakenings and they would be there. Hopefully.
Chang paused, as he always did, between three pods.
12876, 12877 and 12878.
Wife, son, daughter.
Hands on the chill covers, Chang tried to visualise faces, smiles, voices.
His kids should be running around the yard, complaining about school, getting muddied and bruised, not suspended, dreamless and immobile in caskets.
His wife should be at work, at home, with him. He tried to remember her touch, her warmth.
In three weeks, he'd be alongside them at least. 12875, sleeping his way through the flash of the next hundred years, waking for a few mind-numbingly slow months, he'd be tormented by nightmares, but, with the nightly medication, he'd be up early the next day, checking, performing his caretaker duties.
His mind reeled whenever he tried to calculate the time that had passed at home, the millennia he'd skipped. The changes he was blissfully unaware of on a dying planet.
Still, he'd be there when they woke, they'd be unchanged, unaware that even a day had passed since they entered the facility at Jiuquan.
He'd be there, older and thinner, but so very happy to see them again.
Chang gently patted each pod, smiling as he turned back to his duties.
The holo-nurse beamed a fake smile. (Why did they bother trying to give these things human characteristics?)
"Visitors, Lee, how nice they've travelled all this way to see you, in this horrid weather too?"
The rain seemed to beat at the reinforced window, as if on cue to support the lie.
"Come on, Lee, don't keep them waiting!" The holo-nurse moved away from the heavy door, hand hovering over its alarm, even though it really didn't need one.
Lee turned over on the seemingly narrow bed, pulling the covers over his head, shutting out the deception.
"Leave me alone," he closed his eyes, longing to open them again to reality.
The holo-nurse shook its head, seemingly saddened.
"I'll tell them you're not up to a visit just now, maybe next time you could try, Lee?"
"I said, 'LEAVE.ME.ALONE!'
"Ok, ok, but I'll pop back later with your PRN, might help take the edge off?"
He dismissed the fake sighs before he heard the apparently heavy door give a believable electronic click as it closed on Room 12875.
Off the ward, in the pleasantly homely visiting room, the middle-aged woman looked up in hope as the doors opened.
Face dropping as she registered the young nurse was alone. Again.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs Chang...."
"It's ok, maybe next month?"
Tears mixed with the pouring rain as she left the main doors of the mental hospital.
The System adjusted minute quantities. Energy sought out pathways, altering perceptions, supressing behaviours, eliminating clashes in the programming.
The subject slept on, as deep within the primitive mind, the System probed, experimenting within the hippocampus, stimulating receptors, closing associations.
Data flowed. Parameters met, the experiment resumed, outcomes monitored against prediction.
Heat enveloped the subject, muscles tensed and relaxed as the programme began.
Chang checked the readouts, brain still foggy from the drugs.
As consciousness returned he was aware of the red glow and the faint warning tones coming from the ship.
He panicked as he automatically checked the integrity of the cargo bays. All A.OK, relieved, his eyes skipped down the screen's diagnostics.
What were the chances of that? In the deep dark emptiness of space, the ship had managed to collide with an infinitesimal piece of hard matter. Travelling at such a velocity, the impact had torn a panel from the ship.
Although the thrusters would not be required for years yet, the ship had judged it necessary to wake him and allow EVA to re-secure the panel and protect the thruster from another impact, no matter how very, very, unlikely.
Blue running lights guided him to the lower aft airlock.
Chang carefully recalled his training at Jiuquan and donned his suit, breathing deeply as he hit the airlock release, he prepared to step into the unknown.
To be continued….