The morning of January 8th at 0900 hours Ulysses finished mopping the concrete floors of the facility. The water was gray with dirt as it swirled down the floor drains. Tonight he was expecting company and, for the first time since he took over maintenance of the facility over four and a half months ago, he had a reason to clean.
After directing the last standing pool of water down the drain with a long-handled floor squeegee he took the lift to the sub-level and scrubbed the rows of stainless steel tanks until they shone. He paid special attention to the four-inch diameter thick acrylic windows riveted to the far ends of the tanks cleaning them with a gentle spray detergent and then buffing them to a shine with a soft chamois.
Returning to the main level he checked on the brace of wild rabbits simmering in a tall cook pot with canned onions, carrots, and freeze-dried blueberries. He tasted the broth and, after adding a pinch of salt, turned the burner down to low and replaced the lid.
After wiping his hands on a dish rag, he took the lift up to his quarters and cranked the hot water in the shower. The pipes rattled and groaned and the nozzle sputtered and steamed before a stream of hot water poured out. While the bathroom filled with steam he shaved six months of accumulated bristle off his face trimming his beard close with grooming scissors before attacking it with a straight razor.
After taking a shower and changing into a clean uniform, a collared gray cotton jumpsuit, Ulysses returned to the main level to set the table. He couldn’t remember if the fork should go on the right with the knife or on the left on its own and in frustration placed it at the top of the plate. The long cafeteria-style table looked bare set with a place setting on each end so he filled in the empty spaces.
Once that was done he took the lift back down to the sub-level and walked past the row of stainless steel tanks towards the control room on the opposite end. He paused for a moment at the 22nd container on his left to look through the circular view port and run his fingers across the embossed marking plate: “EV4-TH1”.
A persistent chirping alarm from the control room interrupted him; a motion sensor had been tripped, a red light flashed on the control panel. Ulysses flipped through camera feeds to see a small group of men, drifters, trying to cut a hole in the chain-link fence on the west side of the facility. The electronic security-measures had already been automatically triggered. The drifters never saw the cable mounted minigun as it zipped into position overhead.
It was getting too dangerous, tonight couldn’t come soon enough.
Outside of the examination room I stop Dr. Onishi.
“I want a space at the facility.”
Dr. Onishi nods curtly.
“We are almost done here, a space is yours if you want it.”
I am a ghost watching myself. I am the short, slight woman with cropped black hair. I am wearing blue scrubs. I follow Dr. Onishi into the examination room.
“Doctor, will I dream?”
The girl asking the question is eleven, maybe twelve, with a shoulder-length wave of auburn hair, large brown eyes, and a freckled button nose.
Dr. Onishi helps her onto the edge of the examination table and shines a penlight into each eye before answering. The girl has freckles on her knees above the hem of the surgical gown.
“Once you enter stasis you will be in a very deep sleep. It is very unlikely you will experience any vivid dreams.”
I smile reassuringly at the girl.
He’s telling her what she wants to hear.
It’s a time of war and strife, people are scared, they want to enter a dreamless sleep and wake up in happier times. Dr. Onishi is offering these people this chance. He’s offering them a time machine into the future.
I shouldn’t be dreaming. Something is wrong.
A sensation of drowning, a great weight on my eyelids, reaching, clawing for the surface, and finally, light. I sit up. Someone takes me by the shoulders and I lean against them. I smell damp, recently soaped, skin and feel the prickle of stubble against my forehead.
“You’re okay, you’re alright.”
The voice is deep and quiet, but unfamiliar. It sounds like it is traveling through a deep pool of water to reach me.
The stranger helps me to my feet. Waves of sensation sweep up my legs as the blood starts to recirculate through my extremities. Pins and needles with each step
I see only patches of dark and light in a sea of gray.
“This way, it’s not far.”
“I can’t see.”
“The blindness is from the stasis process, the awakening, it’s only temporary. Here.”
He offers me an arm. I let the voice guide me.
She is even more beautiful in person.
Ulysses admired his guest across the length of the gray laminate tabletop.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Try the broth. Your body is probably craving solid food but it is best to start slow.”
“I’m starving. I can make out shapes now.”
“Are you expecting more guests?” Evelyn gestured towards the place settings along each side of the table.
“Is the war over?”
Ulysses chewed and swallowed a bite of rabbit meat and rinsed it down with a drink of water.
“Yes, the war is over.”
“When can we go home?”
“Not quite yet.”
They ate in silence for a moment while Ulysses tried to work out an answer for Evelyn’s unanswered questions.
Evelyn broke the silence, “You aren’t a lab tech, are you?”
“No, how could you tell.”
“You just don’t seem the type.”
“Where’s the doctor?”
“I don’t know.”
“You weren’t suppose to awaken me were you?”
“No—I don’t know—maybe.”
“It isn’t time, you need to put me back.”
“I—I can’t. I don’t know how.”
“Why me, why did you awaken me?”
Ulysses’ throat was dry, he took another drink of water.
“Did you kill the doctor?”
“No! The facility was abandoned when I arrived.”
“He wouldn’t have just left us here.”
“Your doctor probably fled when we were overrun.”
“You said the war was over.”
“It is—we lost.”
Evelyn stood up.
“What about the others? If we are to escape they need to be freed.”
“No, we can’t. They—”
Evelyn stood up and turned to return to the lift. Ulysses put himself in her way, pleading.
“Get out of my way.”
The elevator doors slide open with an electronic chime. Ulysses stands quietly to my left and slightly behind. The stasis chamber is dark and quiet.
His voice sounds strange, strained. I ignore him and move to inspect the closest stasis chamber. It is dark, the lights on the control panel have gone dead. Breathless I run to the next chamber, the next.
“Their life support systems, there is no power. What did you do!”
“The chambers were magnetically sealed. I didn’t have the passwords, nobody does. This was the only way. I rescued you—I chose you.”
“You cut the power? You murdered these people.”
My head spins as I look around at row after row of shiny steel caskets, hundreds of them, coffins all. Somewhere in this crypt lies a 12 year old girl with freckles on her nose who merely wanted to sleep without dreams.
“It was the only way.” Ulysses repeats.
He puts a hand on my shoulder.
“I love you.”
I spin angrily and push him away. He trips and falls backwards banging his head on the corner of a cask. I turn and run.
Ulysses awoke, his head throbbing. Somewhere, an alarm was chirping.
He stood and steadied himself on the edge of a cask. Once the room stopped spinning he stumbled across to the control room. A red light flashed on the control panel. Ulysses’ stomach turned and he quickly flipped through the camera feeds. Evelyn was racing towards the North gate. Ulysses grabbed the control monitor and shook it angrily, sobbing.
The minigun silently slid into position.