Jason stared out through the cold glass porthole of his containment module, confused and disorientated, feeling as if he had just woken up from a nightmare.
“Where am I?” he wondered, his lethargic and foggy mind racing to make sense of his surroundings.
“Hello!” he tried to call out loudly hoping that someone would come to his aide, but the words refused to take form adding to his sensation of panic and fear.
“I can’t feel my body!” he suddenly realised with alarm while attempting to look around, the panic now giving way to sheer terror.
“Think Jason, think!”
He scolded himself for allowing his fear to cloud his rational mind. He was a scientist after all, one of the very best in his field who prided himself on his ability to reason things out.
He drew from his deep reserves of sheer willpower calming himself down, but he felt so tired and sleepy from the effort. Exhaustion set in and he felt himself slowly slipping away into blissful slumber, succumbing to the encroaching darkness.
The Equinox sailed along placidly in geostationary orbit precisely 35900 kilometres above the Earth’s equator, her position matching that of the Earth Space Agency’s headquarters far down below, her name proudly emblazoned in red letters on both sides of her reinforced hull.
She was a massive ship by any comparison, almost two kilometres in length and close to six hundred metres wide, and a real work of art from an engineering perspective.
This deep space exploration and mining vessel, the largest ever built, was the epitome of mankind’s progress and ingenuity when she first sailed out of space dock fifteen years ago, ready to explore the solar system and haul back a fortune in valuable metals, a commodity long exhausted on Earth from centuries of mining.
But that was fifteen years ago.
The Equinox was now a prison ship, home to those who were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against the tyrannical and all powerful United Earth Government. The hapless prisoners, many of whom had spoken out against the regime, were removed from society, suspended, frozen and locked away forever, never to be heard from again.
Jason eventually drifted back into consciousness from a dreamless sleep. He had no idea how much of time had passed since he was last awake but at least he was much calmer this time around and his mind was focussed. He was ready to deal with his situation rationally.
His vision was still quite distorted and hazy as if he had on very strong prescription spectacles, but it was enough for him to be able to see the row of modules directly across the room causing a glimmer of realisation to surface.
“Those are suspension modules!”
The realisation brought his memory flooding back in an instant. He was a prisoner, sentenced to life imprisonment aboard the Equinox!
The sensation of panic which he was starting to feel again quickly gave way to curiosity.
“I’m frozen, so logically, I shouldn’t even be conscious,” he marvelled. “How is this even possible?”
He focussed his attention on the view in front of him while trying to supplement his restricted visibility with his memory of the room from when he was first brought in and placed in his containment module.
The little square metallic room housed fifteen steel containers which resembled coffins standing upright. A multitude of pipes and cables emerged from them and snaked off towards the ceiling.
Cold, icy, frozen faces with sightless blank eyes stared out the glass portholes at the front of each module, some appearing calm with closed eyes while other faces held expressions of terror permanently etched onto them.
Directly below each glass porthole was a little touch screen indicating the health status of the occupant. The mostly red and green light emanating from the little screens illuminated the lifeless looking faces of the occupants with an eerie glow.
The steel containers were arranged against three of the four walls, five per wall, with the forth wall housing the door and various mounted controls and instruments showing off dials and flashing lights.
Thinking back to the day he was imprisoned, Jason remembered that his colleague and friend, Vince, occupied the module next to his.
“It’s all my fault that he’s in there,” thought Jason remorsefully as he drifted into blissful slumber once more.
Meanwhile, beyond the reinforced hull, far down below on the planet’s surface, a new dawn was breaking. The Earth appeared to be a serene mix of dark blue oceans and wispy white clouds contrasted with distinct land masses. The major cities and population centres were bright enough to be seen from this altitude, illuminated by millions of light bulbs. It was truly a breathtaking sight, if anyone had bothered to notice.
Jason woke up yet again from another dreamless sleep. His perception of time had improved somewhat since the first time he had awakened inside his module.
This was all still a rather strange and disconcerting experience for him, being fully aware yet completely paralysed. After three weeks of enduring this he doubted that he would ever get used to it. His moments of wakefulness had grown significantly longer now giving him plenty of time to marvel at the helplessness of his situation.
Today Jason thought about his parents back on Earth. Feelings of sadness and nostalgia overtook him. He thought about how devastated they had been when he and his friend Vince were arrested. They stood by him and had been supportive throughout the short and decisive criminal trial which followed even though the end result was a foregone conclusion. He had drawn on their strength to endure the process.
“I wonder if everyone else here is also experiencing consciousness during suspension?” he wondered to himself, his thoughts going off on a tangent, “Or am I an isolated case?”
“I hope mum and dad are ok.”
A movement in his field of vision interrupted his thoughts quickly bringing him back into the present. It was the guard on his rounds again, checking on the status of every module and its prisoner.
Jason watched as the guard walked towards his module and examined the little screen below his porthole. The guard was close enough for Jason to read the name imprinted on the tag which was neatly pinned onto the flap of his shirt pocket. It read Salves.
“Let me out of here!” screamed Jason in his mind.
It was a thought born out of the sheer frustration and the helplessness he felt from being immobile and fully conscious for so long.
The guard suddenly turned around startled, as if he had heard a sound. A look of surprise and shock crossed his face while his eyes fearfully searched the room for the source of the disturbance. Finding no rational explanation he hastily fled the room.