Floran followed the attendant into the room. A familiar site greeted him. All of the equipment that he had been working on for so long was there. He couldn’t help but glance at the readings. 119 psi on the alescrontium, 128 psi for the glyfenerol. Good. A little on the low side, perhaps, but well within the established safety margins. He turned to check the ferrobule readings.
“Yeah, it can be a little intimidating, but don’t worry. You’re in good hands.”
“It’s perfectly normal. A lot of people get a little scared when they see all these canisters, wires, tubing, and monitors, but it’s a simple process, really.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid,” Floran said. He pointed toward the ferrobule tank. “I just wanted to see the ….” His voice trailed off as he noticed his hand was shaking.
The attendant chuckled, a good-natured, compassionate laugh that somehow put Floran at ease. “Nothing to be ashamed of. But rest assured, this is a simple procedure. No need to worry about anything.”
“I understand the process. I get in the coffin,” Floran said, using the nickname they had come up with for it at the institute. “Then you open both the valves, and I spend the next billion years with just one thought stuck in my mind: brrrr.”
The attendant laughed again, looking Floran up and down with his kind eyes. “We get all the experts in here. First off, we call it an Emigration Pod, and second, you’ll have two thoughts running through your head for the next billion years: I’m cold and I’m naked.” Another kind laugh. “Now take off your clothes.”
Floran grinned sheepishly. Of course. The chemical reaction that would lower his body temperature didn’t react well with synthetic material. He started fumbling with his shoes.
“I can give you a special apron if you’re more comfortable. It won’t survive the freezing process, but it’ll at least keep you covered up until then.”
“No, that’s all right.” Floran didn’t care if the attendant saw him without clothes, and he didn’t want pieces of anything else in the pod with him, even if it was supposed to dissolve harmlessly. He quickly undressed and stepped into the pod.
The attendant helped him get situated. “Now when I release the Elixir of Life, it’s going to get a bit cold. Try not to jump.” He closed the door.
Elixir of Life. He had almost forgotten the term the government had given to the gelatinous cryogenic liquid that resulted from the chemical reaction. “I know how it works. The body will cool to just 50 degrees above absolute freezing in about 2 seconds. Fast enough that no cellular damage occurs, but just slow enough for the brain to be aware of the cold.” He shivered, not sure if it was from being naked in the cool room, or from the anticipation of the process.
“Yep. We get all the experts.” He smiled at Floran, the wrinkles around his eyes becoming more pronounced. “Ready?”
“Ready.” The door closed. He watched from behind the glass as the attendant went to the control panel and pressed a sequence of keys. Floran watched the monitors. Everything looked good. Now just for a thumb print confirmation, and he’d be in permanent cold storage. Well, not permanent. Just very long. At least he hoped it wasn’t permanent.
The attendand pressed his thumb down, and Floran took a deep breath and closed his eyes, bracing for the spray. The valves opened, and the chemicals entered the pod. Yikes. That was cold, colder than he had expected. But oddly, the cold didn’t last long. His body quickly warmed up again.
Something was wrong. He should have been frozen solid. Why didn’t it work? He tried to open his eyes, but couldn’t see anything for all the goopy gel. He fumbled around the inside of the pod, searching for the release mechanism. He couldn’t find it. Didn’t they use the same design that he and his team had approved? His heart pounded, and his lungs screamed out for air. He could only hold his breath for so long before he would drown. Killed by the Elixir of Life, wasn’t that poetic justice?
But then he realized that the liquid was slowly dripping from his face. There must have been a leak in the seal in the bottom of the pod. That would explain why the reaction wouldn’t work. If the pressure hadn’t been maintained for long enough, the reaction would fail. He searched for the release lever again. He was sure that the attendant would have noticed by now that the chemicals were leaking out of the pod. He’d certainly learn after this why it was so important to perform a proper pressure check.
“Floran, are you okay?” He could barely make out the words from the elixir clogging his ears. Amazing what 120 pounds of force will do, even with slow-moving liquid.
He reached up and wiped the elixir from his face, realizing as he did so that the pod door must already be open. He wouldn’t have been able to reach his face otherwise. He blinked his eyes a few times, his vision gradually coming back. A man was peering at him. A very blurry man, but it clearly wasn’t the attendant. Probably his supervisor. He must have been monitoring the freeze and came running as soon as he saw there was trouble.
Floran tried to speak, but found he couldn’t. His jaw moved slowly and his tongue felt rubbery. Only an odd slow sound escaped his lips.
The man laughed at him. Floran was furious. How dare he laugh when this was so obviously the fault of the attendant? Sure, the attendant was nice, but manners are one thing and incompetence something else altogether.
“Relax, Floran,” the man said again. “It takes a few minutes to wear off.” He reached out a hand and placed it firmly on Floran’s shoulder. “Don’t try to walk yet.”
Floran looked for the attendant. Where was he? Why wasn’t he over here helping? That was when he noticed. The monitors and other equipment in the room had disappeared. In fact, the room itself was different now. The ceiling hadn’t been this low before, had it? No, the chemical cylinders needed at least a meter of clearance, and they were easily two meters tall.
He looked more closely at the man in front of him. He bore a striking resemblence to Eloa. He had the same basic jawline, the same nose shape, the same pearl green eyes, but his hair was gray and his face was much more gaunt than Eloa’s. Perhaps his father.
“Wuh… wha… whud…” Floran said, his mouth still not working correctly.
The man laughed again. “Relax, my friend. You’ve only been frozen for 4 billion years. Give it a few minutes.”