The Awakening

The chamber lights—a single line of high-wattage bulbs that ran down the center of the long, narrow room—blinked on one by one in quick procession. The light was reflected off the dusty stasis pods, creating a nearly blinding glare. The automated resuscitation program ran through its cycles. One by one, the pods opened, hissing compressed gas out through the widening cracks. As the pods opened, their occupants—four men and a woman, all wearing charcoal-gray coverall uniforms—began to stir.

Legs was the first to open her eyes. She was a pretty woman—tall and skinny with long blonde hair and deep blue eyes. She blinked in the agonizing light and stretched in her oblong pod. Her awakening was accompanied by familiar smells. She could smell the pungent aroma of stale urine. The Professor must have urinated in his pod again. He always did. She could also smell men—the indescribable yet undeniable aroma of masculinity—and it made her sick. She could smell Rig's familiar and musty stink.

All around her, the other slumberers were beginning to awaken. She could hear muffled grumbles—a pitiful melody of half-sounds that fell well short of intelligent speech—coming from the pod to her left as the Professor started to wake up. On her right, Rig lay quietly. He was a tall man—quite handsome, with well-carved features and a head full of shaggy blonde hair. From the far side of the room she heard the other two men sit up and begin talking—their voices full of barely-masked disdain for their current surroundings—amongst themselves.

"It reeks in here. Why do I always have to wake up to the same sick stink?" was the first thing out of Messer's mouth. He was a large, muscular man. His dark brown hair was cut so short that he almost looked bald.

"Quit griping," was Hanes's reply. He knew as well as they all did that the Professor always wet the bed.

Hanes was the largest man among them, outweighing Messer by at least forty pounds, all of it in muscle. His features were square and hard, as if they had been cut from stone. His hair was short and sandy-blonde. The squareness of his features was accented by his flattop haircut.

The ship's heating system did not totally shut down while its crew was in hypersleep—the coldness of space would have frozen the layer of dust that had settled on the pods into an iron hard shield, and the pods would never open again. Instead, the computers kept the inside of the ship around 200 degrees Kelvin, far below the freezing point of water but well above absolute zero. The room temperature cycles were performed at the end of the reanimation program. The room was still cold; they were all shivering. Rig sat up in his pod and rubbed the goose-flesh of his arms as he looked over into Leg's bed.

"Good morning, sunshine," he said, trying his hardest to be charming. He had no idea how much she hated him. Ever since she had let him in bed with her he had been intolerably smug. She wanted to kill him—slit his smug throat.

Coming out of hypersleep was like waking up after a night of binge drinking—the crew felt queasy, disoriented, and hung over. In fact, they all felt worse after their long sleep than they had before it. The dreary, blank expressions on their faces made it clear that none of them wanted to get out of bed. They were working hard to shake off the remainder of their tiredness and disorientation. Legs was cold and didn't feel like moving. She absentmindedly rubbed her fingers over the small of her back, where her collar device had been implanted, where the metal plate protruded from her spine. It was cold, like the chilly air in the corridor.

"So why did the computer wake us up this time?" came from the other side of the room. "You don't actually think the scanners found something do you?"

"Get up, get to the cockpit, and find out," Hanes responded.

"Yes sir," Messer grumbled and slowly got to his feet. "Ouch, this floor is cold," he said when his bare feet touched the metal surface of the floor. Hanes ignored him.

"Quit ignoring me Legs. I know your awake." Rig was getting irritated that the only woman on board was ignoring all of his tasteless come-ons. "I might as well go talk to the Professor over there. He might be better company."

"He just might be," she replied.

More muffled mumbles came from the pod on her left. She sat up and looked over into the Professor's bed. He was a short, skinny man—with a messy head full of tangled black hair and a beakish nose that looked two sizes too big for his face. He was curled up into the fetal position, rocking back and forth on his side, and apparently having a conversation with himself in his own undecipherable version of language. He wore a white lab coat over his char-gray uniform. It was stained from years of wear—dark circles of yellowish sweat stains radiated from the armpits, splashes of food and drool speckled the front, and the tails were stained bright yellow from rolling around in his own urine. The prison proprietors had tried on numerous occasions to get rid of the nasty thing, but the Professor wouldn't tolerate it. He would sulk and cry until they finally gave it back to him. The best they could manage was to steal it away for a half-hour—just long enough to wash it and give it back to him wet.

Messer had already left the chamber heading for the pilot's chair—hurrying because he didn't want to irritate Hanes.

"Okay everybody, bed time is over. Debriefing in the hangar in ten minutes," Hanes said with pronounced authority.

Rig grumbled and made his way out of his dusty egg-shaped pod. Legs lifted herself out of her own. Her bare feet slapped against the cold metal floor as she dropped out of her egg. The Professor didn't respond in any way whatsoever—he was having much too good a conversation with himself to be bothered by the outside world.

"Get him cleaned up and get his gear on him," Hanes commanded Legs. This time, the authority in his voice was tainted slightly by disgust. Legs remembered the pleasure—the sheer sadistic delight—in his eyes as he had made it clear to them, before they shipped out, that he was in charge and that he wouldn't hesitate to use the collars. He would probably enjoy zapping one of us, she thought, seeing us twist in pain as he held his thumb on the button. She did as she was told.

In less than ten minutes, she had the Professor on his feet and in the hangar, where they hoped to find out why they had been brought out of stasis.