It was the first day of the month, and that meant testing all of the pressure relief valves in the First Axiom‘s water systems. It was just routine maintenance, but Tyrone hated it. He always put off valve 12B-46 for last. It was in the engineering pod aft of the passenger cabin. The only way to get there was to float down 200 meters past all of those horrible faces.
Tyrone gave himself a little push and concentrated on keeping his eyes straight ahead.
The cabin was lined on all eight sides with passengers, resting dreamlessly in their cryopods. There were 1,600 of them in total. And each, to the last, held on their underlit face a look of absolute agony. It made his stomach do cartwheels—no small achievement against the fortified stomach of a seasoned space hauler such as himself.
He’d spent his fair share of time in cold storage—came with the trade—and knew from experience that they were all just fine. The snap freeze process felt comparable to taking a dive into ice water, but subjectively it only lasted a moment. Still, it was in that moment that your expression was locked for the duration. When it came time to test valve 12B-46, Tyrone felt like he was falling through the circles of hell. The homogeneous red low-power lighting didn’t do anything to dispel the illusion.
He felt a film of sweat in his palms and swallowed. His heart quickened as his mind shifted through visions of pain and made the space between his ears an echo chamber of phantom screams. The engineering pod was just ahead; he only needed to keep it together for another few—
He lost his train of thought when the pod door burst outward and a figure popped through the hatch. “Boo!”
Tyrone clutched his chest. “Shit, Santos; you scared the crap out of me!”
Santos howled with laughter. “Oh, I got you so good, man.” He wiped a tear from his eye. “I already checked the valve for you. C’mon, let’s get out of here. Place gives me the creeps.”