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A bit of silliness at first glance.  It is an essay in story form on the difficulties that cryogenic sleep may bring in long space voyages.

Too Soon

Death hadn’t been the problem; Mark knew that was coming, knew what to expect.

He had lain down in the cryo-chamber and felt the base fluid start to fill in around him.  After twenty-five centimeters of the 1.8 density fluid had settled, he was floating comfortably on top.  The spray was next, a fine mist that settled over his exposed flesh and the top of the base fluid.  It hardened slightly but kept its flexibility.  Then the lighter 0.7 fluid covered him.  There was a slight bit of panic at first, but with a deep breath through the nasal tubes, he relaxed.  He felt the temperature slowly begin to drop from his normal 37 degrees in slow steps toward the final temperature of –20.  He felt the air changing in the tubes to the sweet smell of the trank.  Somewhere around 34 degrees, he felt a tight bracelet of fire at his wrist where the intravenous needle had been inserted.  He felt the bracelet slowly move up his arm, and before it touched his shoulder, he lapsed into nothingness only to awake again and, after minutes of disorientation, he watched the lid of the chamber lower and seal.

The realization hit Mark; he was in the .02% of the population that could have a real out-of-the-body experience.

A century ago researchers established that among the many who claimed to have had out-of-the-body experiences, only a few actually did.  It was a curious point for religious and psychological debates but of no greater significance until the advent of cryo-sleep for long space voyages.  In the initial steps of preparing a person for cryo, they actually die, and those who have an OBE are stuck for the duration of the trip to wander as a disembodied spirit, alone and without external interaction.  Most did not survive at all, failing to rejoin their revived body, leaving an empty and mindless husk to die.  The few that did live, were usually quite insane.

Since it was only two out of ten thousand, several decades passed before the nature of the problem was fully recognized.  Even after that, there was nothing that could be done about it since after even a short time in cryo, the body took several months to recuperate, and the percentage of deaths due to the cryo itself was .05%.  So pre-testing for OBE tendency was more dangerous than just doing it.

Some experiments had tried to select the OBE’s out by medically inducing death and then initiating resuscitation, but the death rate of that was even higher.  They declared OBE just another risk factor for space travelers.

Mark went through all of that many times in his non-corporeal mind, but it didn’t make sense.  It wasn’t .02% to him; it was 100% and something had to be done.

He tried desperately to make his body move; maybe someone will notice.  It was no use; his body was deep under now.  It would take 12 hours to resurrect a sleeper, and even then, his body would be weak, too weak to move.  Mark, or what he thought of as Mark, kept moving along the interior of the ship, watching, trying to communicate with the Med Techs as they checked out the sleepers and moved the individual chambers into storage.  His body was now buried deep in the hold.  He couldn’t see it, go to it, or feel it in his mind.  All he could do was watch, helplessly.

Two days later, the MT’s left and sealed the hold.  Mark watched it all, trying every second to make someone, anyone notice him.  He tried to work the comm systems, but that effort failed.  He had failed.

The computers!  Mark willed his way to the central computer core and moved his thoughts over the consoles.  There was no way he could interface.  Nothing he tried worked.

He was there for a long time, alone in his thoughts.  But, time did not really mean anything.  Was it an hour?  A day?

He didn’t exactly hear; it was more like he felt the roar of the thrusters.  He braced for the gravity, but there was no way to brace, no way to save himself from being crushed!

Yet he felt nothing but his own panic.

He didn’t know how long he was caught in the self sustaining spiral of dying.  Suddenly, he saw floating in the core, a small slip of paper someone had left.  There had been no thrust for Mark.

Again he started to panic; there would be no life support!  The ship was completely automated for the 83.7 year flight.  This time he caught himself before he started down that endless spiral; he didn’t need life support.  He was dead, lying somewhere in a stack of twelve hundred and fifty-nine other dead husks.  Were there any more like him?

At first, Mark spent his time in the core, trying not to think.  That didn’t work.

Next, he tried to reason out how to pass the time.  The ones that lived were insane because the years of loneliness had worn them down.

Mark tried to figure a way not to be alone, to keep his mind working.  Finally, it came to him; he would relive his life over again, and again.  Three times would do it.  Mark checked the seconds since lift off on the counter, seventeen million and some change: a little over half a year had passed.

Mark was born, at least in his mind he was.  He tried to remember every day, every word spoken by him, to him, every thought he ever had.

He had graduated high school, had lived the great summer of Molly, had walked the halls of pre-med, had drunk every drink, had every hangover.  Med school was still scary, instructors like gods, or god-like instructors.  Was there a difference?

He counted the number of bullets he removed from soldiers in the third revolt in New Zealand.

He restarted his specialty in space medicine.  He said good-bye to his parents, friends and lovers.

Less than forty million seconds, fifteen months out, nine months to relive his life, he had skipped too much.  He would do better the next time.

Or, the next.

Somewhere near 250 million seconds out, over 8 years, Mark was deep into a lecture in med school on anesthetics, when a sudden memory jolted him, his appendectomy.  He relived vividly how the ring of fire had passed through his shoulder before he had gone under for the surgery.  The religious and psychological arguments were all wrong; OBE was nothing but fear-flight.  Mark had left his body before he died, in fear of dying.

In cryo the anesthesia only puts you under; then your blood is replaced with a fluid that keeps the cell walls pliable at minus 20 degrees.  Death doesn’t actually happen until two or three minutes after the anesthesia.

Early in the cryo development, brain wave functions had been recorded only to show that the activity had stopped.  There had been no correlation in the timing of the anesthesia and the time of death .  A simple single track recorder could confirm activity until the moment of actual death.  If there was no activity for any period prior to death, indicating a fear-flight reaction of the conscious mind, the sleeper could be resurrected before mental damage.

Mark reviewed every aspect, every angle.  He knew he was right.  He could fill the remaining time bt writing a doctoral thesis.  He could imagine the sensation he would make, writing a paper while in cryo-sleep that would save lives.

Only, sixty years to go.

 * * *

Epsilon Delta Med Center could resurrect 54 sleepers on an around-the-clock-schedule.  Well into the twentieth day, people were tired, overworked.  The Post-Res Specialist keyed the intercom, “Doc, we’ve got an OBE.”

“Be right there.”

In three minutes, the Physician in charge arrived.  He leaned down on the console and peered through the window.  Mark lay there.

The Doctor asked, “Dead?”

“No, alive.”  The Post-Res didn’t try to hide her disappointment.  “That’s one wasted space trip.  They could at least die so we wouldn’t have to take care of them.  We don’t have that much extra of anything to waste on useless morons.”

“That makes three in the last 10,000 sent out.  Just slightly over average.  Who was this?”

“Mark Jones, a surgeon.”

“Damn, we could have used him.  Send all the stats back.  Maybe some day they can figure a way to stop it.”

“Okay.  Let’s see: Mediterranean background, Italian actually, 39 years, 16% body fat, blood gases...”

The Doctor tapped on the window, “What’s he saying?  He seems to be repeating the same thing.”

“He is.  Listen.” The Post-Res flipped a switch.

Mark’s voice said softly, “I died too soon...I died too soon...”

 © June, 2004, Fred (Woody) Hendrick



I always thought that using cryogenic sleep in science fiction was approached a little too easily.

Let me know what you think and don't worry, I have a thick hide.  Woody