The chamber lights—a single line of high-wattage bulbs that ran down the center of the long, narrow room—blinked on one by one in quick procession. The light was reflected off the frost-covered stasis pods, creating a nearly blinding glare. The automated resuscitation program ran through its cycles and, one by one, the pods opened. Compressed gas hissed out through the widening cracks, sending dust devils dancing through the chilly air. As the pods opened, their occupants—four men and a woman, all wearing charcoal-gray coverall uniforms—began to stir.
Eve was the first to open her eyes. She was an attractive woman—tall and thin with long blonde hair and deep blue eyes. She blinked in the agonizing light and stretched in her oblong pod. Her awakening was accompanied by familiar odors. She was assaulted by the pungent aroma of stale urine. Robert must have urinated in his pod again. He always did. Eve could also smell men—the indescribable yet undeniable aroma of masculinity—and it made her feel sick. She could smell Ryan’s familiar musty stink.
All around her, the other slumberers were beginning to awaken. She could hear muffled grumbles—a pitiful melody of half-sounds that fell well short of intelligent speech—coming from the pod on her left as Robert started to wake up. On her right, Ryan sat up and rubbed his neck. He was a tall man—quite handsome, with well-carved features and a head full of shaggy blonde hair. From the far side of the room, Eve heard the other two men begin talking—their voices full of barely-masked disdain for their current surroundings—amongst themselves.
“It reeks in here. Why do I always have to wake up to the same sick stink?” was the first thing out of Messer’s mouth. He was a large, muscular man. His dark brown hair was cut so short that he almost looked bald.
“Quit complaining,” was Hanes’ reply. “You know as well as the rest of us that the Professor always wets the bed.”
Hanes was the largest man among them, outweighing Messer by at least forty pounds, all of it in muscle. His features were square and hard, as though they had been cut from stone. His hair was short, sandy blonde, and cut into a flattop that accented the squareness of his features.
The ship’s heating system did not totally shut down while its crew was in hypersleep—the coldness of space would have frozen the layer of dust and condensation that had settled on the pods into an iron-hard sheet of ice, trapping their occupants inside. Instead, the computers kept the inside of the ship around 200 degrees Kelvin, far below the freezing point of water but well above absolute zero. The room temperature cycles were performed near the beginning of the reanimation program; but the room was still cold. The crew shivered in their pods. Ryan rubbed the goose-flesh on his arms as he looked into Eve’s bed.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” he said, trying his hardest to be charming. He had no idea how much she hated him. Ever since she had slept with him, he had been intolerably smug. She wanted to kill him—to slit his smug throat.
Coming out of hypersleep was like waking up after a night of binge drinking—the crew felt queasy, disoriented, and hung over. None of them wanted to get out of bed. Eve absentmindedly ran her fingers over the small of her back, where her collar device had been implanted, where the metal plate protruded from her spine. It was cold, like the chilly air in the corridor.
“So why did the computer wake us up this time?” came Messer’s voice from the other side of the room. “You don’t actually think the scanners found something do you?”
“Get up, get to the cockpit, and find out,” Hanes responded.
“Yes sir.” Messer slowly got to his feet. “Damn this floor is cold!” he exclaimed as his bare feet touched the metal surface of the floor. Hanes ignored him.
“Quit ignoring me, Princess. I know you’re awake.” Ryan was quickly growing irritated that the only woman on board was ignoring his tasteless come-ons. “I might as well go talk to the Professor over there. He might be better company.”
“He just might be,” she replied without looking at him.
More muffled mumbles came from the pod on Eve’s left. She sat up and looked into Robert’s bed. He was a short, slender man—with a messy head full of tangled black hair and a beak-like nose that looked two sizes too large for his face. He was curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth on his side, and apparently having a conversation with himself in his own undecipherable version of language. He wore a white lab coat over his char-gray uniform. It was stained from years of wear—dark circles of yellowish sweat stains radiated from the armpits, splashes of food and drool speckled the front, and the tails were stained bright yellow from rolling around in his own urine.
"Okay everybody, bed time is over. Debriefing in the hangar in ten minutes,” Hanes said with pronounced authority.
Ryan grumbled and made his way out of his frosty egg-shaped pod. Eve lifted herself out of her own pod. Her bare feet slapped against the cold metal floor as she dropped from her egg-bed. Robert didn’t respond in any way whatsoever—he was having much too good a conversation with himself to be bothered by the outside world.
“Get him cleaned up and get his gear on him,” Hanes commanded Eve. This time, the authority in his voice was tainted by barely-disguised disgust. Eve remembered the pleasure—the sheer sadistic delight—in his eyes when he had demonstrated to them, before they had shipped out, exactly what the collars were and exactly how they worked. He would undoubtedly enjoy zapping one of us, she thought, seeing us twist in pain as he held his thumb on the button. She did as she was told.
In less than ten minutes, she had Robert on his feet and in the hangar, where she hoped to find out why she had been brought out of stasis.