Do popsicles dream?
In any other scenario that would be a ridiculous question, but my situation warrants the consideration. I’m shivering like a leaf in the wind on the stool near the stasis chamber, the only thing keeping my ass from freezing off is a small towel that is draped over the cold metal seat.
When I arrived at this procedure, I disrobed before being given one final physical. My uniform has been stuffed into a small box by the door with my name on the lid. I keep glancing over at it, I hope they at least fold my duds before chucking them into storage. The last thing I want to deal with a century-old wrinkle if I survive this stupid ordeal.
The perky lab tech getting my machine prepped says that most people prefer to wait inside the pod instead of next to it, but I find that hard to believe. We’re going to be those godforsaken pods for over one hundred years, I don’t see the appeal to getting a head start on the process.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve prepared for this moment. Alongside the other kids in my unit, I have fought, scraped and struggled to master the information and techniques required to give our longshot mission any hope for success. It's been a taxing ordeal, both physically and mentally, but I managed it.
So why do I keep feeling like an imposter? Once the trials were deemed completed and the fanfare finally died down, I felt like the High Council had to have made a mistake selecting me for the mission. Self-doubt is running rampant in every quiet corner of my mind, destroying the fragile framework of confidence I’d managed to construct over the decades. Will I even have the chance to try?
In order for Project Reclamation to succeed, we have to be ready to overcome a lot of obstacles, including halting the very hands of time itself so that we can make the trip at all. I’m all for kicking a little cosmic ass to take back our homeworld, but I’m really not looking forward to being stuffed into that fucking freezer.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve grew up during the refining of the process that I’m having such reservations about the idea. I still remember the horrified looks on the faces of those poor dead bastards during some of the earlier trials-- well, the faces that were still in one piece. There were quite a few who were little more than a pile of crystalized dust by the end of their trial run-- but that fate is still far preferable when compared to that one group that ended up as several puddles of human soup. Context is key, I suppose.
The lab tech has scuttled under the central pod of my stasis chamber, presumably giving the egg-looking machine some final adjustments before he stuffs me inside of it. I lean forward a little and can see only his scuffed, yet polished loafers jutting out as the sounds of furious ratcheting echo throughout the large room. I’d been trying to avoid looking at the pods of my fellow brethren that have already undergone the process. It’s been difficult, as their chambers are all around me. I finally give into my curiosity and glance around.
The rows of pods are ten long and twenty more deep. There is a nameplate affixed to the side of each pod above a built-in vital sign monitor, but that’s all that serves to distinguish one pod from another. There is a frosty circular window port located on the front of the chamber above the nameplate that allows you to sneak a peek at the face of the person encased within it, but only if you are really looking, otherwise they’re just another dark silhouette.
I stand up and take a gander at my neighbor for the next century, and of course it’s fucking Mark. I’d been seeing him for the past few years, but we broke up about a month ago, right before he went into his deep freeze. We weren’t sure we’d ever see each other again, and figured it would make things easier in case we were sent with a different group, or one of us didn’t survive the process. The logic was sound, but neither one of us was thrilled by the decision.
Mark wanted me to name my kid after him if he didn’t make it, however, I told him that I didn’t think my future husband would appreciate me naming our baby, “Dumbass” very much. I was acting all tough, like the idea of a future without him didn’t bother me, but in all honesty, I’m relieved he’s here. I observe his vital signs for a while, which are displayed just under the nameplate and smile a little as I see good numbers and a steady rhythm on the monitor.
“Ms. Azul,” the lab tech says, startling me slightly.
I turn to face him, and stifle a laugh when I see his boyish face and bleach white coat covered in grease from the machine.
“Yes, sir?” I say.
“It’s time, Ms. Azul.” he says,
“So it is,” I reply as I pat Mark’s pod goodbye, I feel the cold of the metal against my palm and I shiver a little more. “Let’s get this show on the road, then. I’m bored of the cold.” I say.
“Yes, mam.” he says, leading me over to a small table covered in an assortment of various medical gadgets.
I’m then covered from head to toe in a series of electrode-sized stickers in order to transmit my temperature, vital signs and O2 levels to the outside world from my ice cube. Once he's satisfied with the placement, the lab tech leads me back to my own pod and presses a hidden switch that causes the pod door to activate and lower open so that I can enter.
For a fleeting moment, I wonder what the tech’s name is. His badge is obscured by his crinkly white body suit, but I decline to ask him. I’ll never see him again anyway after this, so what’s the point of learning it? The next time I’m conscious, he’ll likely be dead anyway. I climb up the small set of stairs that have been built into the upper-inside portion of the chamber door, then use the frame of the pod itself to hoist myself inside.
The inside of the stasis pod is covered in various wires, but underneath the bundle is mostly smooth and metallic, save for the rivets lining the walls throughout. It is reminiscent of one of those old battleships I’d seen in a stack of feelies my ancestors had smuggled with them.
The ship we’re inside of now is seamless and elegant, but this thing is anything but. The bottom of the pod is strangely warm, which is a welcome change. I can’t tell what I’m standing in though.
The tech keeps blabbing at me about my heart rate, but I wish he’d just get lost so I can panic in peace like a normal person. My heart feels as if it’s about to rip itself out of my chest so that it can make its great escape from the confines of this depth-charge looking prison, so I breathe in deeply and exhale until I feel my heart rate finally begin to lessen.
“110...100...95...and 80! Alright, it seems like we’re back within your normal range. Are you feeling okay, Ms. Azul?” The tech asks. Unlike most medical technicians, his concern feels genuine.
“I’ll be doing much better when I’m a freezer pop, sir. Can we move this along?”
The tech adjusts his glasses and nods. “I, uh, of course.”
He produces a translucent blue tablet from underneath his arm and started flying through the various menus and sub menu as if he were playing some kind of video game.
“Okay, all systems fully operational and standing by. Just give me the word when your-”
“The word is given,” I say, cutting him off. I don’t want to give myself the chance to back out.
“As you wish, best of luck on your mission.” the tech says with a smile.
I nod curtly and attempt to smile back, but it feels foreign on my face.
The tech presses a button on his tablet and the hatch begins its slow descent, sealing me inside. Viscous teal water begins pouring in from hidden spouts around my ankles and I feel my breath catch in my throat. Even though I haven’t eaten in over a week, my stomach feels like it’s going to shit a brick.
More calming breaths and I’m able to zone out my discomfort and instead focus on the rising water/jelly. At least it’s warm. I look up and see the respirator being lowered down on a pneumatic arm for me to grab, I snatch it by the headband and quickly shove it onto my face and adjust the strap so I don’t drown.
The liquid is past my navel now and rising fast. Before I know it, it’s over my head and I am completely enveloped by the goo. For the briefest of moments, I feel a freezing cold run over me, then there is nothing but darkness.
Suddenly, I am engulfed by a strange red light as the goo water drains down around me.
Something must have gone terribly wrong for me to be unthawed this soon after the process. Did we hit a meteor? Was the hull integrity compromised? Were we attacked? I’m hesitant to remove my mask in case there’s an issue with life support systems. I look around for the tech, but he’s nowhere in sight. I hope he’s okay. My door activates, dropping with a dull thud onto the smooth white tiles below. I position myself on the top step and take in my surroundings.
Besides the red lighting and the lack of a tech, everything looks the virtually the same. I cautiously lift up my mask and take a breath. As I do, the red tint disappears, I guess it was just on the mask. Weird. Everything smells sterile, like hand sanitizer, but it’s otherwise kosher. I toss the mask down behind me, causing it to whip back into the pod, then cautiously start down the steps. I almost trip, but catch myself before I fall.
Why are my legs so damn wobblily?
“Woah, woah, woah. Easy, Tiger!” Shouts a deep, familiar voice.
Only one person ever called me tiger.
I see Mark running up to me where tech-guy had been and I’m confused, but happy nonetheless. Mark unfurls a warm looking blanket he had tucked under his arm and quickly wrapped me up like a burrito before pulling me close to him.
“It’s been too long, babe,” he says, and I can tell he means it.
“Not that the sentiment isn’t mutual, but you’ve only been on ice a month, Mark.” I say.
“You have no idea, do you?”
My eyebrows furrow as I step back from him.
“No idea about what?” I say.
Mark grins and passes me a beat-up old cardboard box. The crumpled top is coated in a thick layer of dust. As I wipe it away, I see handwriting on it, but it’s so faded it is legible. After a second, I’m able to make out my name. I toss the lid to the side and withdraw a vacuum bag containing my neatly pressed uniform. At least I didn’t have to worry about wrinkles. Thanks, tech guy.
“Tiger, we made it. We’re here.”
I free my uniform from the confines of the vacuum bag and quickly get dressed before what Mark says really registers with me. I guess popsicles don’t need to dream after all.
“We’re here?” I say, looking at his face for any sign that he was lying, but there are none.
I follow Mark out of the confines of the stasis chamber and we quickly move through another section of sealed doorways before making it to the back deck of the ship. There are a few other people I recognize chatting with one another at a table in the corner, but I can’t think about them right now, I have to know if this is for real.
I feel the color drain from my face as I gaze out of the viewport and see it. It’s Planet Earth. For the first time in my life, I’m looking at Earth with my own two eyes. The continents look different than they had in the photos from the database. They are smaller and less green, but this is our ancestral home, without a doubt. The bright blue color of the expansive ocean is even more vivid in person.
It is absolutely gorgeous.
“Holy shit, we’re here,” I say quietly, stepping closer to the viewport. “We’re...home.”
Like the liquid from the pod, I feel the weight of the doubts and worries I’d been harboring all this time fall away from me as I bask in the presence of this magnificent fucking orb.
Yes, the odds are certainly stacked against the successful re-colonization of the planet. Humanity fled from the repercussions of their disastrous tenure on Earth over a thousand years ago, and what they left behind will certainly be difficult to undo, even after all this time—but we are not those people. We are better, not just because we have to be, but because we need to be in order for us to rebuild a world worth living in.
We have absorbed the lessons learned from humankind’s abrupt expulsion from this wounded paradise, and now, at long last we have the chance to prove it.