Shiver

Reef thawed out in a rubbery basin. The chemicals prevented his body from shivering, but not from feeling the cold. It was a biting, terrifying cold. He felt like icicles were pinning down his limbs so he could be cleanly dissected. He was glad he was alone; no one else had to endure his screaming.

Long-term cryosleep was the quickest route to the future, but it wasn’t for the weak-spirited. As he endured his agony, Reef hallucinated that the past manifested itself into a jealous god with a dozen arms. In place of hands, each limb terminated with a round, howling maw with rows upon rows of ragged pointed teeth. As he awoke in his own deep future, the past tried to hold him back, ripping his bones from his flesh. Luckily, the vision did eventually pass, and sometime later the pain and paralysis passed too, and he rose from the basin not a new man, but the exact same man, long beyond his natural expiration date. This was his second reawakening.

It had been 100 years getting to 109 Piscium—give or take—when he’d endured his first cryothaw. Then he worked for about two years scouting and setting up the various automatons. While he slept away the next three centuries, the machines mined resources, managed the necessary terraforming, printed a city, and most important of all built the slipgate. All Reef had to do now was flip it on and let the colonists start pouring in.

Only in wasn’t there.

The air outside was thin, and cold, and mildly toxic. He had to put on an EV suit to leave the small structure that housed the cryotank. When he did, he nervously chewed hard on his tongue in hopes that it might wake him. He prayed this was a terrible, lucid, cryosleep nightmare. But it wasn’t. There was no city. No buildings. No slipgate. There were no automatons. Something had gone critically wrong, and he had no way off this planet; his ship was made for a one way journey.

Maybe Reef could wait it out. Maybe they would send a second jumpstarter. But how long could he go on—mentally—cycling between cryosleep and hellish thawing? A century more? Ten? A lifetime of frozen pain smeared over millennia. The chemicals in his body must have finally run their course and gone inert, because the thought made him shiver.

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