Chapter 1:

A Lost Child, Part 1


A decaying city sat in the middle of a desolate wasteland, its buildings and landmarks eroding after countless years of neglect. A long time ago, this place was home to thousands of people, but now not a single soul stirred within its crumbling streets. Only vermin and scavengers hunting for any sort of sustenance remained in the darkest corners of this abandoned relic of human civilization. Among the streets of this ruined city walked a man and a woman, both outfitted with durable clothes and large packs filled to the brim with necessities and supplies.

“Looks like this is the location the report was talking about,” said the man as he lightly scanned the area. “This place looks worse off than I imagined. One bad earthquake and it'll probably crumble into dust.”

“Shall we forego the investigation then, Kyle?” asked the woman as she tapped her shoulder with the pickaxe she was holding in her left hand. “If we claim that it was too dangerous to survey properly, Computer'll probably let us off the hook.”

“Don't be like that, Ella,” Kyle replied as he examined a large hole in the middle of the main road. “Let's do our job properly. We don't have anything better to do, right?”

Ella sighed, but she didn't argue any further. The two set down their packs and climbed down into the hole, which opened up into a large underground cavern. Kyle took a flashlight from his waist-belt and used it to illuminate the area, taking careful stock of whatever he found there.

“Interesting,” he hummed as he continued to scan the area. “I'd assumed this underground cavern just happened to form naturally, but I think it might have been a manmade creation.”

“This wasn't a major population center, was it?” Ella asked blithely. “I can't imagine what they'd need with so much extra space.”

“That's what we're here to find out,” Kyle replied as he stepped deeper into the underground cavern. The place showed no signs of falling apart, and at the very least it seemed like it wouldn't crumble from one or two people walking around inside of it. As the two walked deeper in, Kyle noticed the ground under him change from dirt and rock to cold metal.

“Seems like there's something down here,” he muttered in a low voice. “Maybe some kind of storage facility?”

The two followed the metal floors to a staircase leading down. The area below was much larger than the cavern above, and it was clearly dug out to serve as some sort of bay. As the two touched down on the bottom floor, they quickly waved their flashlights around to get a sense of where they were.

Kyle suddenly heard Ella let out a gasp of shock. “Kyle! Look at this!”

Kyle turned around to see what Ella was looking at, and could just barely manage to keep himself from gasping in surprise as well. In front of him was a massive cylindrical container, standing at nearly three times his height. It was a cryogenic pod chamber, and it was not supposed to be here.

Kyle immediately ran towards the chamber to get a better look at it, taking care to avoid tripping over himself in the darkness. It had been a long time since any of these were around on Earth, but Kyle couldn't forget what they looked like if he tried. They were the hope of humanity, after all. What was left of it, in any case.

“It's been hundreds of years since that expeditionary ship left Earth, right?” Ella asked as she followed after Kyle. “If that's the case, then...”

“Let's not jump to conclusions right away. This might have been a defective unit they decided not to use, or an extra chamber built in case of emergency.” Of course, Kyle doubted either was actually the case. The cryogenic pod chambers were too important to be discarded so easily and too expensive for extras to just be lying around. As giant pods in which up to five hundred humans could be held in cryostasis for thousands of years, these chambers were the only way in which humanity could sustainably travel the sea of stars for an extended length of time. If there was any reason for one of those to be left on Earth, there could only be one: it was forgotten, left behind by a careless engineer or overlooked by a stressed-out supervisor.

Kyle flashed his light on the chamber's underside and located a small panel meant for maintenance. He flicked it open and tried pressing some of the buttons. No response. He wasn't surprised; even the nuclear batteries they had made specifically to keep the chambers powered in times of emergency couldn't last hundreds of years without upkeep and maintenance. He looked up at the door to the chamber, which was still connected to a set of movable staircases.

“Can you get in there?” Kyle asked Ella as he shined his light on the door. “Without any energy, I won't be able to open it from the maintenance panel.”

“You're seriously going to look around inside of this thing?” Ella asked incredulously. “There's no way anyone's still alive in there. We'd be damaging a priceless artifact for nothing if all we find is frozen corpses.”

“We have to try,” Kyle insisted. “Even if the chances are dismal, if there's even one person still alive in there, we have to save them.”

Ella sighed, but once again, she didn't argue any further. The two climbed up the steps to the door, and Ella immediately began pulling and tugging on the door. Despite surely centuries of neglect, the door did not budge; it was built with state-of-the-art materials and technology, after all. Ella groaned in exasperation, then swung her pickaxe, embedding it deeply into the door's edge. She then began to pull firmly on the pickaxe, and after letting out an anguished shout, wrenched open the door with a single swing. Kyle stepped back as Ella's pickaxe came flying back from the recoil.

“Good work,” Kyle said as he patted an exhausted Ella on the shoulder. “Come on, let's check inside.”

The two headed on in to find rows and rows of cryogenic pods arranged and stacked on top of each other in order to maximize efficient use of space. Ladders had been placed along the walls to make it easier to access the pods placed higher up, but otherwise this pod lacked any kind of furnishing.

“Well?” Ella asked reluctantly. “I suppose we're going to have to check every single one of these cryogenic pods for survivors, are we?”

“It won't take that long,” Kyle remarked as he activated the biological sensors in his eyes. “No need to be so impatient.”

Kyle's eyes quickly scanned the entire inside of the pod. It was highly unlikely that he was going to find any signs of life, but if there was someone still alive in here, it would be better to find them sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the initial results of the search disheartened him; he had found no survivors so far, and seeing so many bodies ruined by decay and cryogenic freezing disturbed him quite a bit.

Kyle continued to scan the chamber diligently, slowly walking from row to row and scanning as much as he did. As he continued to scan through rows and rows of dead bodies, he suddenly noticed something that stood out from the others: a dim red shape that symbolized a faint life signal. He quickly ran to the source of the signal and pulled open the pod, which was easy to do since the electronic locks had been disengaged for quite a while.

As the cold mist burst out from inside the pod and melted away, Kyle confirmed what he could only suspect: there was someone still alive in there. He was a young boy who could not have been older than ten, clad only in the regulating bodysuit given to everyone entering cryostasis. Kyle pulled the boy out of the pod and quickly checked for a heartbeat as an astonished Ella watched in awe.

“I can't believe there's someone still alive in here,” she stammered out. “Even if the pod was still active all this time, once it ran out of power...”

“It must have only run out recently,” Kyle suggested as he took off his jacket and wrapped it around the boy in an attempt to warm him up. “Of course, considering the situation, the fact that there was even one survivor left in this pod is a miracle in of itself.”

“How's he doing? Is he going to make it?”

“I don't know. Even if he does, I don't know if there will be any side effects after being in cryostasis for so long without maintenance. In any case, we need to get him out of here.”

Kyle handed the boy to Ella, then did a quick scan on the chamber again, just to make sure he hadn't missed anyone else. Unfortunately, there were to be no more miracles. As Kyle turned to exit the chamber, he made a silent apology to the four hundred and ninety-nine people who died inside the chamber. Had things gone as planned, they would have been sleeping on the great expeditionary ship, searching out a new home for humanity. At the very least, they were granted the mercy of dying in their sleep.

Kyle and Ella slowly climbed their way out of the cavern back up to the surface, taking great care to not disturb or injure the boy as they did. They laid him on the ground as Kyle checked his vitals once again.

“Is he going to be all right?” Ella asked. “We didn't exactly follow protocol when we took him out of cryostasis.”

“It's not a situation where protocol is going to help anyway,” Kyle replied as he continued to examine the boy. “Right now, I'm concerned with keeping him alive, period.”

“Shouldn't we take him to a base? We're hardly equipped for life support here.”

“The nearest base is more than a mile away. We'll have to make do with what we have on hand.”

Ella was right in that the two of them were not equipped to provide that kind of aid. They weren't doctors, after all, and it wasn't as if rescuing people locked in cryostasis was something they had to worry about on a regular basis. Having said that, it wasn't so much of an ordeal that trying was futile either. Cryogenic technology had already been perfected to the point that patients undergoing the process hardly suffered any aftereffects in normal situations. Furthermore, despite the years of neglect, the conditions the chamber was placed in were stable enough to avoid adversely affecting the ones inside the pods even without much maintenance.

As Kyle wrapped a towel around the boy's body to wipe off the melted frost and keep him warm, he suddenly heard him start to cough. The boy had suddenly came to, and Kyle and Ella both stepped back as they allowed him to sit up and slowly regain his bearings. The boy looked around for a bit, then glanced up at the two adults standing above him.

“Where am I?” he asked warily, concern clear on his face.

Kyle knelt down so that he was eye level with the boy. “How are you doing? You were asleep for a very long time.”

The boy looked down, and his face scrunched up as if he was trying hard to remember something. “I was sleeping? Out here?”

“You were in cryostasis,” Ella explained. “Er, did they explain cryostasis to you at all?”

“Cryo... huh?” The boy was confused. “What is that? What do you mean?”

“Do you remember being visited by the government one day?” Kyle asked worriedly. “Maybe your parents might have talked to you about it too.”

“My parents?” The boy grimaced in pain as he suddenly clutched his head. “I can't... remember anything. I don't... know who my parents are... or who I am...”

Kyle looked up to Ella with concern. “Looks like memory loss. A side effect of the cryostasis?”

“I'd believe it. Considering the state we found him in, there's no way he was getting away without some kind of side effect.”

Kyle turned back to the young boy. “It looks like you're experiencing some amnesia. It might be temporary, but only time will tell. Can you stand?”

The boy pushed himself up and managed to stand on his feet, though he was somewhat wobbly. He seemed a bit unstable, but it looked like walking wouldn't be an issue as long as they took it slowly.

“Alright, looks good. We're gonna start walking, okay... Um, sorry, I don't really know your name. Guess you don't either, huh?”

“It's Caleb,” Ella suddenly interjected.

“What?” Kyle looked surprised. “How do you know that?”

“It was next to the pod. Didn't you see the placard next to the terminal?”

“Guess I missed it.” Kyle looked down at the boy. “Looks like your name is Caleb. Does that bring back any memories?”

“Caleb...” the boy furrowed his brow. “No, I don't think so.”

“Well, that's fine,” Kyle sighed. “In all honesty, you might be better off not remembering.”



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