Chapter 0:

Prologue

Letting Go Of The Sky


“Are you scared?” Maiya asked with uncharacteristic seriousness.Bookmark here

“Of the cryo? Not really. It’s safer than the alternative anyway.” I gestured to the glassy structure that encased my right arm. “Besides, both my parents contracted Medusa so I always knew this might happen.”Bookmark here

“I just wish we had more time, you know…” She said softly, her eyes fixed on the ground.Bookmark here

“Yeah, me too. But hey, you’ll see me at Reunion Week next year, same as your dad.” Bookmark here

Maiya nodded slightly but wouldn’t meet my gaze or smile.Bookmark here

I steered the conversation back towards cheerier topics as we walked through the city: mostly what Maiya had been up to in her Trekker training. The sun rose whilst we chatted, casting blinding arcs of refracted light across the whole Dome for a few brief moments before the illuminated panels darkened to capture the light. Around us, the air began to resonate with the low hum of air scrubbers starting up. We took a route that skirted as close to the edge of the Dome as possible - mostly to stay out of the way of the busy workers who’d soon be spilling into the streets. It had the added advantage of letting us peer through the reinforced glass at the wilderness on the other side. There were a few walled fields and orchards for the crops that grew better in the higher carbon dioxide atmosphere outside the Dome but most of our food was grown inside the city’s bot-controlled greenhouses. Everything else was dense woodland, filled with shadows and morning mist. Maiya pointed out anything she recognised from her recent expeditions: herbs that would repel insects and trees that smaller birds preferred to nest in. I felt a pang of jealousy at her freedom. Less than a year ago, I was training with her too. More importantly though, I was glad to see her cheering up again, unable to suppress her excitement. Bookmark here

The walk took longer than it should have, the partial petrification of my legs making each step a struggle. I was out of breath by the time we reached the cryo centre but Maiya graciously pretended not to notice.Bookmark here

“Well, I guess this is it.” I shrugged.Bookmark here

“You’re sure you can’t stay a bit longer?” We’d had this conversation before but that didn’t make it any easier.Bookmark here

“The doctors said I don’t have long before the petrification reaches my stomach or lungs so yeah, I have to go in now or it’ll be too late for cryo.” Bookmark here

Maiya sighed shakily before pulling me into a tight hug.Bookmark here

”Ren, once I’m a fully-fledged Trekker, I’ll find a cure. Then we can explore the world together, just like we promised.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about me, just stay safe out there. I’ll be waiting for you.”Bookmark here

“You better be!” She chuckled, her shoulders bouncing just a bit too long for a laugh. When she let go, she turned to leave before I could see if she’d started to cry.Bookmark here


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The inside of the cryo centre was much like the rest of the buildings in our city: clean but cramped. Every visible surface was covered with stacked papers or pieces of Old Tech, instantly recognisable from its glossy metal or plastic sheen. There were bookcases on both sides of the room too, filled with more books than I’d seen anywhere outside the archive hall. Most of them looked hand-bound but there were definitely some rare Old Earth printed books too. Bookmark here

A dark-skinned woman with short frizzy hair popped up from behind one of the many teetering piles of documents. ”Hey! You must be Ren. I’m Dr Gates but you can call me Melissa.” Bookmark here

A screen behind her lit up and flickered, the pixels flat at first, then gradually appearing in the empty space a short distance in front of the display. I had to blink a few times to bring the image into focus but soon realised I was staring at a vaguely human face, floating in mid-air.Bookmark here

“And this is W.A.T.S.O.N.”Bookmark here

“**Greetings Ren**” The lips of the projection moved but the voice seemed to echo around the whole room.Bookmark here

“Is that a HAILO?? Wow, I didn’t know our Dome had one of those!”Bookmark here

“**Affirmative. I am a 3rd-Gen Holographic Artificially Intelligent Local Observer.**”Bookmark here

“Do you run on a crystalline processor?”Bookmark here

“**Affirmative.**”Bookmark here

I was ready to ask the AI a ton of questions, but Dr Gates slapped my shoulder and ushered me through to a second room. Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to chat with W.A.T.S.O.N. whilst we run the pre-cryo tests but we’re already behind schedule.”Bookmark here

Despite being roughly the same size, this room felt a lot larger than the previous one. Taking up most of the floor was a large pool, illuminated from within by blue and white lights, giving the bizarre impression that the sky was down instead of up. Dr Gates handed me a clean towel and folded gown. Bookmark here

“Take a nice long soak in the pool. It’s a special fluid that will help soften your skin before the cryo process. Prevents ice burns and surface cracks. I’ll be waiting in the next room so ask W.A.T.S.O.N. if you need anything. He’ll tell you when to head through. There’s even some Old Earth music in his files, if that’s your thing.” Dr Gates skirted the edge of the liquid and left through the opposite door.Bookmark here

I started to undress awkwardly, working around the parts of my body that no longer moved properly. The shoes weren’t too bad; I just had to lean against the wall whilst wiggling my feet around until they slipped off. Similarly, my trousers were loose and only held up by the tight belt, falling off easily once I undid the knot. I couldn’t bend over to pick them up so I left them where they lay in a corner of the room. The shirt was the hardest part. I couldn’t lift my right arm more than a few degrees and the area from my elbow down was completely locked up. I managed to twist the shirt up and over my head using just my left arm but the process was much clumsier than I wanted to admit. It made me appreciate how valuable my aunt’s assistance had been these last few months. Eventually, I hobbled into the pool, thankful for the shallow steps and handrail.Bookmark here

The liquid was comfortably warm and had a faint floral scent that I couldn’t place. It was the first warm bath I’d ever taken. The water in the district showers was always room temperature at best. I relaxed and let my body float on the surface, transfixed by the rippling patterns of light on the white ceiling.Bookmark here

“Hey W.A.T.S.O.N., what was Old Earth like?” Bookmark here

The hologram appeared on the wall next to me. “**Please supply additional parameters, such as date, location and file format.**”Bookmark here

“Do you have any photographs?”Bookmark here

“**Affirmative. 1683 files match that description.**”Bookmark here

“Can you show them to me?”Bookmark here

“**Preparing image reel. How should I sort the images?**”Bookmark here

“Random is fine, I just want to see how it looked before the ‘Lite Storms.”Bookmark here

W.A.T.S.O.N.’s face faded away to be replaced with a series of pictures. Some of the photos were familiar - ones I’d seen in the archive hall. Things like the sprawling cities of Old Earth and ancient monuments, huge metal towers pointing skyward. The tallest buildings in our Dome only had 3 floors so I could hardly fathom the scale of those things. There were also new scenes: children holding bizarrely coloured animals, huge crowds waving flags, Old Tech industrial facilities filled with shining components and machines, decadent rooms and outfits that seemed surreal in their beauty... But sometimes the pictures were chilling instead. Many depicted violence and suffering, piles of rubble and injured people strewn between them. War was one Old Earth thing I was glad we’d left behind.Bookmark here

My favourite image was one of the ancient colony ships - a colossal feat of Old Tech engineering, standing out against a backdrop of tiny stars. I asked W.A.T.S.O.N. to pause on the picture so I could admire all the details and imagine what purpose they might serve. Bookmark here

“Do you think they’ll ever come back?” The question slipped out, even though I wasn’t expecting a response.Bookmark here

“**Equation contains too many parameters. The probability of that outcome cannot be calculated.**”Bookmark here

I wasn’t a huge fan of Old Earth music like Maiya but I figured I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I asked W.A.T.S.O.N. to play some songs to pass the rest of the time. Bookmark here


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“Before we start the tests, I need to explain a few things.” Dr Gates began as I entered the next room. This one contained a central medical examination table, next to a desk and many more unusual machines on shelves around the room. “First up, cryo is completely safe but you may experience side effects when you wake up. Common ones include dizziness, trouble sleeping and dissociation for the first few days. Also, the cryo won’t hold off Medusa forever - eventually, when it’s too risky to put you back under, we’ll have to keep you out and let the petrification run its course. Lastly, you still have a choice, right up till you enter the pod. Option 1: enter cryo and wake up once a year for as many years as you can endure the petrification. Option 2 is receiving sedatives until the petrification process takes over your whole body. We still don’t know if there’s any way to reverse it, but some people take this option to conserve pods or because the petrification is causing too much pain. Either way, the choice is yours.”Bookmark here

I didn’t hesitate for a second. “I’ll go into cryo. There’s someone waiting to see me again and I can’t let her down.” Bookmark here

“Got it. Let’s get started then!”Bookmark here

The pre-cryo tests were both fascinating and dreadfully boring. Almost everything Dr Gates used was an Old Tech artefact I’d never seen but the monotony soon set in and they lost their novelty. At least Dr Gates tried to keep the conversation interesting.Bookmark here

“You were training to be a Trekker, weren’t you?” she eventually asked.Bookmark here

“How did you guess?”Bookmark here

“Not many 15-year-olds know that much about Old Tech - just cryo trainees, archivists and Trekkers. I’d recognise you if you were doing cryo and the archivists are too stuck up to ask as many questions as you. Plus, your bone density is pretty good, so you’ve clearly trained a lot. Ergo, Trekker.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I haven’t trained in months though.”Bookmark here

“Don’t get down on yourself about it - I’m impressed you held off cryo this long. Most people come in before losing motion in one limb, let alone almost three.”Bookmark here

“It doesn’t bother you? Being around so many Medusas, I mean…”Bookmark here

“What, getting infected? Kid, if I was going to catch it, that would have happened years ago. Besides, there’s no proof that it’s transmissible anyway. My bet is on it being genetic but even I don’t have the kit to check that.”Bookmark here

Her confidence flooded me with relief. Maiya had been stubbornly saying the same thing ever since I developed symptoms but there’d always been a part of me that worried I was putting her at risk.Bookmark here

Eventually, the conversation fizzled out and we settled into a silence punctuated only by W.A.T.S.O.N.’s occasional reports and the scribbling of Dr Gates’ pen.Bookmark here

“**Upload compatibility 94%**”Bookmark here

Dr Gates wrote down the stat with the same impartial efficiency as the last dozen. Then, suddenly, her brow creased in contemplation. “Wait, what was that last stat?”Bookmark here

“**Upload compatibility 94%**”Bookmark here

“Can you run the calculations and give me the probability of success.”Bookmark here

“**Affirmative. Calculating.**”Bookmark here

Several minutes passed in further silence, this time tinged with a tension that hadn’t been present before.Bookmark here

“**Probability of success: 31%.**” W.A.T.S.O.N. eventually announced.Bookmark here

Dr Gates’ eyes burned with a new determination as she turned to me. ”Kid, remember what I said about having 2 choices? Turns out there’s an Option 3...”Bookmark here

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