awoke with a start and started to panic.
Though the cocoon was already open, the first sensation he had was that
of the smell of freon and it made him gasp.
He coughed a few times and thrashed around, lashing out at unseen and terrible
dangers before he gained some awareness.
Then he heard her voice.
“Taminir, my love, you’ve had me waiting for almost three days. How do you feel?”
He looked to his left and saw his wife, Jhaenella; he didn’t know how long it had been since he saw her last. She was wearing that mischievous half-smile on her face and she looked perfect. Too perfect.
Taminir climbed out of the cocoon and attempted to stand but stumbled and fell right back down. Jhaenella didn’t move, she stood in place a few feet away like a sentry.
“Easy Tam, easy, take a few moments to gather yourself.”
“Hww,” he choked out, his throat dry and raw from inactivity, “Hwow, l’long?”
Her expression didn’t change, Jhaenella still half-smiled as she responded.
“Five years, two months, two weeks, three days, nine hours, twenty minutes, and four seconds.”
He was stunned. It wasn’t far off from what they had predicted together; still the reality of it was jarring. More so because their calculations were that close.
“An the d’ta, you logged it? Wth coordinates?”
“Yes. Everything is here, I have it,” She paused then, curiously, before continuing, “It’s inside. Just reach for me.”
He nodded. This was good, very good! The fact that they woke up at all was beyond encouraging. It gave Taminir strength.
Propping himself first n his elbows, he pushed off and crawled over to her feet. He looked up one more time to behold her, in all her nude eden-esque beauty, and then he touched her right big toe.
Nothing happened immediately so it gave Taminir time to position comfortably onto his side and he waited. After a few more seconds he saw cracks in his perfect wife, then he heard the low hum of a motor. The cracks started to widen and he saw he saw her layers begin to peel away. It took thirty five seconds as he watched her wither away. As the decomposition ended, the last bit of her, where her womb would be, exploded with a soft pop akin to the sputter of an egg being fried. All that was left was the tablet. It hovered in place, held constant by the anti-grav field, then fell to the ground perfectly within reach.
For a man who had just witnessed an accelerated decay of that magnitude, Taminir was remarkably fine. Jhaenella had done her part; the data was all that mattered.
Before he moved to pick up the tablet, Taminir thought back to five years ago when he, Jhaenella, and a few other top world geo-scientists discovered the onset of the planetary decay. They’d been studying planetary decline for years, some of them decades. The work is how he and Jhaenella had met. Two young hot-shot geo-scientists, not looking to make much of a name for themselves, just genuinely concerned with what the maxicorporations weren’t.
And why would they be concerned. The mars terraforming agenda, cooked up by an alliance of earth’s remaining maxicorps, was an unequivocal success. For those who could afford the migration. Taminir, Jhaenella and their brain trust argued vociferously against their plans, argued that earth could, in fact, still be a viable option. They had developed the lifeseed after all. And even while the maxicorps plundered earth’s sub-surfaces, literally copying and pasting bits of the earth onto Mars, Taminir and his team had introduced the lifeseed into earth’s core as well as throughout what remained of earths’s nozone layer. But the two sides, competing for opposite interests, created an untenable situation. Thus came the day of disaster.
Taminir broke into a cold sweat then, he always did when he remembered the panic, the screaming, the hysteria; as sinkholes, storms, earthquakes – everything at once – shook the earth for hours. The world was falling apart. Within three days, after things had abated enough to allow it, the maxicorps, taking those who could afford to go with them, left for Mars. Taminir and the brain trust could have gone too but most of them agreed that with the section-drilling and terra-compacting done, the lifeseed could do its work unfettered. Besides, the one billion or so survivors left on earth would need it to work. It took them three months of seed-feeding, in the worst possible circumstances, through another onset of unnatural planetary disasters as earth death-throed the the last of its decay, to stabilize (they hoped) the planet. But in that time the earth’s population fell to, near as they could tell, four hundred and something million. There were days when he saw Jhaenella bawl like a baby for hours on end, he did too. But there were also the days he saw her steel herself like the grimmest warrior to see the unnatural disasters through to their end.
They lost so much. They lost three quarters of their team. Who didn’t die in some freak accident or event, went insane and took their own lives. All that were left were Taminir, Jhaenella, Artemia, James and the cocoons. Cocoons that could withstand the decay and the unexpected radiation fallout that threatened to kill off the four hundred and falling million others. Cocoons that were too few in number.
The four of them managed to send out a few hundred cocoons between them via the drone network, but they knew the hope of the cocoons finding their intended targets was the hope of keeping a candle lit during an oxyvacuum implosion. Artemia convinced them that they did all that they could and it was time for their cryosis. So they had last meals, said their farewells, he and Jhaenella made love, much too briefly, one last time and four of the earth’s best, last hopes for survival shut the door on their cocoons.
Five years, two months, two weeks, three days, nine hours, twenty two minutes and fifty seven seconds later Taminir realized that for him, cocoon-life was not entirely over. It was time to move.
Taminir reached for the tablet and, with it clamped under his arm-pit, hauled himself back to the cocoon. Using the facsimile process worked just as they’d hoped. By mimicking the mannerisms of his wife and programming them into a basic artificial intelligence, with record transmission capabilities, uploaded into a temporary android body, it gave Taminir the emotional boost he needed to find the strength to make it out of the cocoon and access the transmissions he would need to find Jhaenella.
They thought of everything, as only the most connected of lovers and scientists could for each other. They knew that the first step, once either had awoke, if they awoke, was to ensure that the shared resources of their twin cocoons would allow and immediate protein rush to the inhabitant of the cocoon that opened first. This would give that person enough of a jolt of energy to allow their body to acclimatize to the environment the cocoon opened into; air quality, temperature etc. That person’s job was to catalog all the data they could, via scanners and first-hand exploration of their area within a one mile radius. That person became the beacon. That person waited.
When the next person awoke, in this case Taminir, all accumulated data would be transferred to the facsimile. The facsimile’s job was to coax that person out of the cocoon, since they wouldn’t have access to the protein rush, and get them to overcome the disorientation and system shock that could overwhelm them without it. It was a lot to take in, waking up after who knows how long; they couldn’t risk the madness they’d seen overtake so many of their peers before cryosis much less after it. They would need each partner to be strong, psychologically, in order to have any hope of reuniting. The mutual survival theorem.
Using principles of the lifeseed, they outfitted each cocoon with protein replicators that would synthesize protein using their shared lifeseed’s energy and elements of the immediate atmosphere. The split between Jhaenella and Taminir was 60-40 now, as she had received the protein rush. Taminir had to work with the capsules that were synthesized from his 40% of the life seed’s energy. The capsules had been produced and stored inside his cocoon following Jhaenella’s remote activation of the facsimile, which itself had broken off from the cocoon to construct itself and await Taminir’s awakening.
As Taminir clambored back into the cocoon, slowly, with great effort, het let out a short snort of a laugh as he pondered the complexity of their plan. They were mad! They were genius! But they were both alive!
Finally easing himself into the cocoon’s seat Taminir reached one shaky hand into the cabinet that held the protein capsules and placed one in his mouth. He leaned his head back as the capsule dissolved on his tongue and the nano-delivery system permeated his body with misted protein. He gripped as tightly as he could onto the tablet while he drifted into a re-energy nap.
Ten minutes later Taminir’s eyes flickered open. He felt immediately that his body’s strength had returned, at the very least, to a level that would allow him enough motor control and cognition to access the tablet and view Jhaenella’s findings. He took it up in both hands and traced a finger in a circular pattern along its surface turning it on.
The first screen that popped up was the atmospheric data but he had no patience for that at the moment and skipped past that, and the coordinates, to the video recordings he knew Jhaenella would have made. His heart started to pump faster and his breathing accelerated – there were ninety seven recordings! Taminir took a deep breath and placed the tablet in his lap and took out another protein capsule; he needed to steady himself. As the capsule dissolved, faster this time, a more liquid form of the protein mist made its way toward the back of his throat and he was able to swallow. As protein continued to rejuvenate his system he made some calculations in his head. Per the facsimile, it had waited on him for three days, but with the ninety seven recordings Jhaenella had uploaded, this would mean that she herself was awake for longer than that. The absorption cycle from the protein rush alone would take a minimum of twenty four hours and he didn’t see her setting up camp, doing a recon sweep, collecting all that data and have time to make that many recordings in just under two days.
Taminir took up the tablet again and scrolled down the listing of recordings. He switched the mode to gallery view and scanned the thumbnail of images. The scientist in him told him to start with the first recording but the husband in him was more concerned with recency so Taminir pressed play on the latest recording.
Immediately there was the image of Jhaenella speaking directly into the camera and he started to tear up. She looked even more beautiful than the facsimile, more natural yes, with slight crowsfeet encroaching the corner of her eyes, but still beautiful to him. He turned the volume all the way up.
“Tam! You’re not going to believe this! One of the primordials that found me, he learned English in just three hours, with magic Tam, magic! He says it’s the old way, before science! Tam, I’ve learned so much! There was something before us, before our earth as we know it, that the lifeseed helped to revive. He’s found other survivors Tam, other humans, and they’re helping them to adapt.”
She stopped then, grinning like a child with a secret, and reached for the camera turning it around. Taminir saw a flash of the surroundings as she did this, she was outside. Her voice continued.
“Here, I’ll let him tell you.”
The camera settled on the most unusual person Taminir had ever seen. The background of white-leafed trees against the backdrop of a smoldering blue hill could not compare to the intricacies of the being that took up the frame. Taminir hurried to hit pause so he could process what he was seeing.
It was all in the face. Frozen digitally was a face that was dark green above the nose, a nose upturned like a bat’s, and cool-mint green from the nose down. There were no discernible eyes or ears; instead there were a series of deep creases taking up the entire forehead in the shape of a motorcycle helmet’s visor. From the topmost crease protruded two antennae, centered, inches between them. They rose to the height of a black mohawk that started from a widow’s peak between them. Where the cheeks on his face would end, two more antennae were present, one for each side, sloping down and diagonally from the sides of his face. The lips, thin, cool-mint green, parted to reveal a row of perfect, human looking teeth, except they were the color of asphalt. Underneath the bottom lip was a goatee, black like the hair of the mohawk.
This strange, jarring, fascinating face was attached to a pair of sturdy shoulders, the shape visible beneath what looked like the top of a v-neck shirt, cream-colored, that resembled silk from its sheen.
Taminir could hardly wait to hear what he had to say and hit play twice, as his first attempt started and stopped the recording again due to his excited fingers.
“Taminir.” His name came out of the primordial’s mouth along with what appeared to be sparks. Sparks!
“I am Rohnjonjimm. I and my people found your people and your mate, Jhaenella. We have found many survivors. People like you. I want you to stay where you are, using your mate’s lifeseed energy, we can track to you. Save your strength, rest, we will come to you.”
With that Rohnjonjimm smiled and the camera shifted back to Jhaenella. The smile she gave him was so bright and hopeful that Taminir imagines a spark or two was emitted when she spoke.
“We’ll be there soon, my love, just stay put. Stay safe. I love you.”
The recording ended.
Taminir was at a loss; for words, for thoughts to comprehend what he had just seen. He leaned back in the cocoon’s seat and let his hands relax causing the tablet to slip down his lap. He closed his eyes and took a series of deep, sweet breaths. After a few moments a soft chuckle climbed up his throat and built pitch as it made its way out of his mouth. His lips parted and Taminir laughed. Loudly. Happily. Madly.
Surely the primordials and Jhaenella had heard him.