As always, it took several of us a few minutes to move the massive door. We hadn’t even had a chance to catch our breath when Dr. Fulford took charge. “Alright,” she said crisply. “We have four today. You boys know what I need.”
I raised my head.
“Sorry, Melanie. You people know what I need. I’ll prep the patients. You get the supplies.”
Dr. Fulford ushered our guests into the operating room, while we went down the main hallway, into the storage chamber.
I’d been here dozens of times before, but it still had the power to impress me. Tens of thousands of perfectly preserved human beings, stacked twelve to a case in thousands of makeshift cryo-shelves, buried under a tall mountain in a remote part of the Rockies. They were waiting peacefully to be revived, to be told that the danger had passed and they weren’t needed for repopulation…or else for the timers to go off a hundred years from now, setting them free to venture forth and restore humanity to a radiation-free Earth.
The use we had in mind for them was somewhat different.
“Okay,” Stanley said. He pulled a small scrap of paper from his oversized rucksack and consulted it. “Kearney needs a transfusion. We got any B-positives in here?”
I spoke up quickly. “I think I saw a bunch over in P sector.”
“That’s on the other side of the facility. There’s got to be something closer.”
“You mean, someone,” muttered Escobar.
Everyone looked at Stanley, then away…too quickly.
“No,” Stanley said. “I meant something. These bodies in here, they ain’t people until we say so. We all agreed on that. You did too.”
I saw my chance. “So yeah. I’m just going to run over to P sector real fast, see what I can find.”
A few people acknowledged me, but most kept their attention focused on Escobar. “I said I’d go along with what we’re doing,” I heard him say as I walked away. “I never said they weren’t people. We may need to kill, but let’s not lose sight of the wrong we do.”
It was hard to argue with either perspective, I reflected as I hurried through the stacks. We were just a few hundred in number, having straggled here from all over North America. As far as we knew, we were the last survivors anywhere in the world. We came, each one of us, because we took the same gamble. In the high part of the mountains that had once been sparsely populated, perhaps we could find a shield from the radiation.
Stumbling on the facility was what you’d call luck. None of us knew it was there, though we of course knew that the government had made such a place and had selected citizens by lottery to be saved in it. I suppose they kept it a secret because they knew what survivors would do if we came across it. Raid the supplies, siphon the electricity, maybe scavenge the sleepers themselves.
We’d done all of that, and more.
“I’m done arguing!” Stanley’s voice echoed through the chamber. “We’ve got a job to do, let’s do it! Where’s Melanie?”
Damn. I only had a few minutes to do what I came here to do.
P sector was still relatively untouched, I suppose on the theory that you might as well take the nearest stuff first. Anyway, I’d looked everywhere else. She had to be back here. I quickly walked up and down the rows, scanning each set of names on every caseplate.
And then suddenly, there it was. Moyer, Amber. And the second coffin from the bottom on the left held a little girl, maybe four years old.
I set to work. The manual revival sequence was written down next to each keypad. Still, I checked and double-checked everything as I went. I had to hurry, but I also couldn’t afford to mess up.
Unbidden, the whole scene of several months ago leapt to my mind. Being cornered in an alley between two makeshift shacks by a desperate mother. Valuables pressed into my hand, which I wanted to keep but knew I couldn’t. A plea to recover her daughter, who was somewhere among the sleepers. “I wish I could leave here there safely,” the mother cried. “But sooner or later, they’ll take her too. Please save my little girl.”
So many trips back, so many covert shakes of the head at a waiting figure who nodded in silent despair, and slipped away. This time—
“Melanie? Did you find any of those B-positives back here?”
Stanley! I cringed. Why couldn’t he have sent Escobar?
“Hey, there you—”
Stanley stopped as he saw me, bent over a keypad with a look on my face that I could feel was guilty. He looked back at me. “Is she really the only one you could find? Gotta be an adult with the right blood type somewhere around here.”
“That’s not why I’m pulling her out, Stanley,” I said quietly.
He processed that for a minute, then frowned. “Horseshit.”
“As if we don’t have enough mouths to feed. And what the hell are you thinking, bringing a little girl back to life? You know how rough we have it out there.”
“Out there, she won’t have her body scavenged,” I said evenly. “Besides, her mother’s waiting for her in camp.” I swallowed. “Have a heart. If you knew your kids were in here, wouldn’t you want them back?”
For the first time since I’d known him, Stanley actually seemed to reminisce. Then he sighed. “How’d you plan to get her out?”
Stanley’s idea was better than mine; I had never been sure the “coffin just malfunctioned” story would sell. We pulled Amber out of the coffin, and then drugged her almost immediately. She slept soundly in Stanley’s oversized rucksack all the way back to the camp. If anyone noticed, they didn’t say anything.
We got into this mess because we were human, I thought to myself as Amber woke up for the first time in four years to a hellish world – and to the loving arms of her mother. But this is part of being human too. The best part. Maybe this time, things could be different.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.