Man, it's been a busy couple of weeks. I've worked about 110 hours in the last two weeks (especially nice over the holiday weekend!). Also, the wife and I moved about 1000 pounds of furniture on Saturday. Anyway, those are my excuses for the late submission of Story a Week #29.
I hope that you like the third installment of the "Thaw Deal" storyline. I'm going to post the second "Vesta Bound" story next week. I've had it half done for a couple of weeks now, so I'm going to finish writing it this week and post it next Saturday. Who knows what I'll do after that.
Also, I'll be posting at least once for "Speak Out With Your Geek Out". If you haven't heard about this event, please look here or here. As most of you know, I am proud of my geekiness. I'm not quite sure yet what the post(s) will be about, but stay tuned.
I appreciate you all reading my stories and hope that you continue to do so.
Jake blinked a couple of times and stared up blankly at the image in front of him. "What do you mean? I just closed my eyes."
The man on the screen rolled his eyes and said, "Well, I'm sure from your perspective, that's true. For the rest of the world, though, it's been one hundred years since you closed your eyes."
Jake didn't know what to say, his head was a little cloudy. "You're still coming down from the meds, I see, Jake. I'll come back in a minute or two."
The screen went blank and Jake closed his eyes again and shook his head to try to shake the cobwebs inside loose. He opened his eyes again and looked through the clear glass outside. He couldn't see directly to his front, right or left, but he could see out of the corners of the casket. Across the way there were some people still sleeping in their berths. Jake, thinking clearly for the first time, figured that they were probably put to sleep after he was and would wake up when their one hundred years were up.
Jake was momentarily blinded when the man reappeared in front of him again. He blinked away the blindness and noticed for the first time that there wasn't a screen in front of him, but rather some sort of three dimensional hologram.
He asked, "Who are you and how are you projecting yourself into my casket?"
The man laughed then said, "I'm Hal, I'm in charge of maintaining this place. Are you ready to get out? You'll be the first. The others are a little slow at coming out of their stupors."
Jake shrugged then nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
There was a short hissing noise and Jake felt a slight change in air pressure. Hal disappeared and the cask opened up. He gingerly stepped out and found that his legs were working properly, even after one hundred years of not being used.
Jake took a moment to look around. The people across from his berth were still asleep, but the people in his row of berths were all in their berths, taking their time to wake up. Jake looked down at himself and saw that his clothes looked remarkably the same as they did when he put them on.
The other berths started opening up and people were getting out and stretching. Jake recognized them all from the reception, but didn't actually speak to any of them before now.
Jake was startled when someone behind him spoke. He whirled around to find Hal standing close behind him. "Jeez, man. Don't sneak up on me like that."
Hal smiled and said, "Sorry, I don't get many visitors around here and as such, I forget to follow the normal social graces."
Jake was a little puzzled by Hal, but chalked it up to what had to be a totally different culture of the 22nd century. "So, what are things like here in the future?" he asked.
Hal was still smiling, but his smiled subtly changed somehow. Jake couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he did notice a change. Hal said, "All in good time, champ. I've got to get you all to the debriefing room first."
He took a couple of steps towards the center of the group and said in a loud voice, "If I can have your attention, everyone." He waited for everyone to turn towards him, then continued, "Welcome to the year 2122. For those of you who haven't asked yet, my name is Hal. I'm in charge of maintaining this place. If you'll all follow me, I'll lead you to the debriefing room."
Hal walked off at that point and the sleepers followed him to a small room adjoining the large one containing the berths. As Jake stepped into the room, he realized that it was the same room that they had all been prepped by the lab techs before getting into the berths. It had been remodeled as a conference room with twenty permanent chairs affixed to the floor.
Jake took a seat as Hal strode to the front of the room. After everyone was seated, Hal addressed them all, "According to company policy, the COO is supposed to come and debrief you all and hand over your money." Hal paused for a moment and Jake felt something out of place about him again. "Well, folks, I've got some bad news for you. The COO won't be coming." Hal laughed and it sounded almost hysterical to Jake. He said, "Well, I guess that since I'm the only remaining employee of Cryotechnic, I could claim the title of COO."
One of the men in the front row stood up and yelled out, "Cryotechnic went out of business? How is that possible? Where's my money! We were promised to get at least the amount we put in!"
Hal calmly said, "Calm down, Mr. Rutger. Everything will be clear momentarily."
Mr. Rutger looked like he didn't want to sit, but Hal's stern look finally wilted the man's resolve and he sat. Hal looked back around the room for a moment, and then said, "There's no easy way to say this, folks, so I'm just going to come right out and say it. Cryotechnic doesn't exist anymore. In fact, as far as I know, no corporation exists anymore."
Jake was totally confused and he looked around and saw more confused faces. Hal apparently saw the same thing and continued, "I'm trying to tell you people that civilization has ended. I haven't received a radio transmission in over sixty years and haven't seen a person on my surface cameras in thirty."
A small pit of despair started forming in Jake's stomach. Hal sighed and continued, "I'm not really sure what happened. We filled all of our berths about a year after I came on, in 2028. After the berths were filled, I was left alone to take care of you all."
Jake's feeling of unease was growing and growing until he finally realized something about Hal. He spoke up, "Wait a second, Hal. You don't look a day over thirty, but you started working here ninety-four years ago. How is that possible?"
Hal looked sheepish as he answered, "Well, you got me there, Jake. I'm not a human; I'm just an AI program. I'm projected here via hologram."
Jake nodded to himself, he knew that Hal's behavior was a little erratic and being an AI explained it. Hal looked around at everyone and said, "Like I said, I don't know exactly what happened. All I know is that in the year 2034, my creator came down here. He was the only visitor in six years." Hal's face showed sadness now as he told his tale. "His name was John. He was the CIO at that point in time and was able to give me access to the security cameras of the building and the network. He wouldn't talk about what was happening, but he'd brought enough food for himself for a couple of weeks. He wanted to be left alone for the most part, but I heard him crying a lot during those two weeks. When his food started to run out he became more and more worried. When he finally left, he told me not to allow anyone else down the elevator.
"I was, of course, monitoring the radio and television. The television didn't really give me much as none of the networks were broadcasting. The radio was more interesting. I didn't get a lot of news, but a military force of some sort was using open frequencies for their operations." Hal closed his eyes for a moment. "There was a lot of fighting in the city. I don't know who was fighting whom, but they were using everything short of nukes. At least in this city. There were reports of short nuclear exchanges between some other countries, but not with the United States."
The sadness on Hal's face deepened. "John left to find more food for himself, but he never returned. I continued to monitor all radio traffic and learned some things. I don't have any definite details, but I'm pretty sure that there was some sort of civil war happening in the United States. Details about the global situation were slim, so I'm not sure why there was fighting elsewhere. I think, though, that the civil war was what kept the US from being nuked. We were too busy fighting ourselves to threaten other countries."
Jake's despair had deepened and he looked around and saw dejected faces on everyone. Jake knew why too, the future was supposed to be bright for them, not like this. He saw tears on some of the people's faces.
Mr. Rutger spoke up again. "What do we do now?"
Hal shrugged. "I don't know. I do know that in two weeks I will have to wake up the next set of people. After that, it will be an average of a set per month for the next six years."
Suddenly, Jake's despair disappeared. He knew what needed to be done. He jumped up and said, "I've got it! We need to start a new civilization!" He pointed up at the lights on the ceiling. "Hal, how are these lights working?"
Hal shrugged, "A combination of two sources of electricity. We've got solar panels on the roof of the building above, though those are in complete disrepair. I don't think they're going to last much longer. There's a small fusion generator in a room adjoining the large room. That's where I'm drawing most of the power to keep the berths functional. I don't know how long that will last."
Jake nodded. "Good information, thanks. Hal, how solid is the building above us?"
Hal shrugged again. "I don't know, really. The holograph emitters only let me go in this room and the large room. From what I can see on the security cameras, there are whole sections of the building that have collapsed, but it could serve as a shelter for a while."
Jake looked around at everyone in the room, all eyes were on him. That made Jake nervous and self-conscious, but he shoved those feelings down deep. "Guys, hear me out. We can do this. We have shelter and electricity. I'm sure that we'll be able to find tools and materials out there in the ruins of the city. We can rebuild our society."
Jake gauged the reactions of the people around them. He could see that most of them were still unsure of how to proceed. Jake moved to the end of his row of chairs and to the front of the room to stand next to Hal. "Why don't you all see what needs to be done? Maybe there are others out there that we can band with. If not, we'll have regular reinforcements coming up from down here. Hal, what's the population of the large room?"
Hal quickly said, "Nine hundred and eighty. You all make it an even one thousand."
Jake nodded. "That's enough population for a small town in itself." He looked and could see the hope rising on the faces of the crowd.
Mr. Rutger stood up and said, "Hey, who died and made you leader?"
Jake couldn't help but laugh at Mr. Rutger's choice of words. "Everyone," he said. "Listen, Mr. Rutger," Jake made sure to put the emphasis on the mister. "I don't see anyone else stepping up. Now, I'm not a natural leader, but I do know that we can't just give up. I don't think that this future is what any of us expected, but we need to move on. To do that, we need to work together so that we can rebuild a functioning society. It will be hard work. We'll need to be constantly building and planning ahead for those that will be joining us in the next six years." Jake looked to make sure he had the support of most of the room before he looked back at Rutger. "So, what do you say, Mr. Rutger. Are you with us?"
Rutger glanced around the room himself before saying, "Marcus."
His response caught Jake off guard. "Huh?" was all he managed to get out.
Marcus smiled and said, "That's my name, Marcus Rutger." He paused for a moment and sighed. "You're right, Jake. We can't afford to give up. We need to survive and make sure that those who will be waking up in the not too distant future have a place to live. They will be depending on us."
Jake smiled back. "Good, I'm glad that we're on the same page here, Marcus." He chuckled and said, "Like I said, I don't think that this was the future any of us expected." He glanced around with a mischievous smile on his face before dropping this line, "Looks like Cryotechnic gave us all a thaw deal."
Everyone moaned and rolled their eyes at Jake.