“Got any juice?” I asked Stewart when he pulled up.
“Hello to you too,” he said, as his helmet collapsed into his collar. He pulled a charge off his vest and tossed it to me.
“How long she been up there?” he asked, shielding his eyes against the hazy, setting sun as he looked to the top of the bridge.
“Don’t know, for sure. Maybe thirty minutes? I was just a couple clicks away when the call came.” I held the charge up against my hover quad. It flashed two bars. Only a quarter full.
“Really?” I asked.
Stewart flashed his trademarked, wise-ass smirk then rubbed his fist under his eyes to fake a crying face.
“Awe, boo, hoo, hoo. Little Seth gonna have to head back to the station?”
I gave him the middle finger as I shut down my quad to save the power. He smiled again, genuinely amused with himself, and then put one finger to his nose to blow snot out of his left nostril.
“How long you give her?” he asked, wiping his top lip with the back of a gloved hand.
“No idea. I’m guessing though, she doesn’t know it won’t work.”
“You tell her that yet?” he asked.
I just shook my head. Stewart knew we were not supposed to talk to the cryos. We had refresher training again the week prior after that attempted drowning across the district in New Taipei. Wait for the intervention team. That was the instructor’s answer to almost every question that was asked. Stewart leaned up against the bridge railing, crossed his arms and shook his head, dramatically.
“I just don’t get it,” he said. “It has gotta be like a trillion times better than before they stuck them in the freezer. I mean, right?” He looked over to me for affirmation.
I shrugged as I crouched down on all fours to check for probably the twelfth time that my portable e-shield was set to auto-deploy.
“Hey, while you’re down there,” he chuckled, rubbing his hand on his crotch.
I ignored him and twisted around to look up, trying to gauge again that it was still positioned correctly if she indeed went ahead and jumped. I could not see her face because her head was bowed. It looked like her arms were still wrapped tightly around the cable behind her though and her bare feet set firmly on the girder. The bright, turquoise housecoat she wore billowed in the wind. She had to have been cold.
If I am being honest, I think I understood. I didn’t believe the cryos were all crazy. Go to sleep and wake up one hundred and thirteen years later? Terrifying. And, lonely as hell too with everybody you ever knew being dead so long ago. Maybe it just felt like a huge, horrifying mistake. A light flashed in the corner of my eye when Stewart pulled the alert package up. The cryo’s image floated above the handlebars of his quad.
“Huh,” he said, leaning in a little. “She’s pretty for a cryobaby, right?”
I stood and looked over. He wasn’t wrong. Most of the woken cryos were way older than her. She was likely sick when they froze her but her alert package image looked healthy. And young or youngish at least. Maybe about my age. Green eyes, smooth skin, shoulder length blond hair. A nose that brought together her features in a way my mother would have called distinctive. And, her name was fittingly old-fashioned – Heather Higgins.
Suddenly the package disappeared and Stewart started to board his vehicle. “Getting some coffee. Looks like we are probably gonna be here awhile. Want anything?”
Before I could answer, the hair on my head and arms stood up as the e-shield deployed. I was forced back down to my knees and I saw Stewart’s eyes go wide as he stumbled off the back of his quad. “Oh, shit,” he yelled, landing with an audible thud on the mag lev tracks.
I twisted around into a sitting position and forced my head back to look up. Heather Higgins dangled ten feet above me. The turquoise housecoat had been yanked humiliatingly above her waist and off of her left shoulder showing her mismatched underwear and bra. Her green eyes were bloodshot and her nose was red and running. Her hair stuck out in a thousand spikes and her mouth was open like she was trying to scream but she only could wheeze and sob. After a few moments, she caught her breath and the sobs melted together into a low moan. She had closed her eyes again. I heard Stewart talking to the station operator and then the faint, plaintive, far away bleat of the ambulance.
“I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry,” I whispered and blinked back stinging tears.
2 thoughts on “Cryobaby by Sean Burke”
This has been a week of stories that have required me to think a bit more actively than I usually do, Which is a good thing, indeed. The image of the victim just hanging there, so to speak, is hard to forget. The attitude of the Techs is spot on. Wonderful.
I’m never a fan of Science Fiction but I have to tip my hat to you as you have given us a lot of information without it reading like the usual manual / history of the time lesson.
That is a huge plus for me.
I’m not sure why the character got upset at the end, but I reckon in our times, there are always folks who effect those who work, even for a short time, with them, so I’m happy to accept that without any more information.
I do reckon you could expand this into novel length but as is, it stands alone as a very accomplished short.
In fact that is an understatement. For just over eight hundred words, you gave us more than an idea of the future you created. This can take some writers many pages to explain.
This will never be my favourite genre but I am impressed the skill you have shown in getting this time across,