This is the ninth part in a serialized story. If you’ve missed any of the rest of it, you can find it here.
The water was reconstituted from the stasis fluids that had been pumped out of everyone’s veins as the ship’s AI woke them. It came from the implanted catheters that collected urine from the waking ship personnel. Her vomit would be part of it. It didn’t matter where the water came from. It still felt good. Judging by the satisfied smiles on others in the shower room, Avdonina wasn’t the only person who shared the sentiment.
She hadn’t had a shower in over one hundred years while in cryosleep, and she wanted to stay her full ten-minute allotted time, but she had to find Shihs. First, though, she’d check on Quenden. After she dressed and got directions from one of the many info-grids installed on the ship, she joined the parents she’d woken up with, making their way to check on their revitalizing children. Quenden had been the last child put in, and was, therefore, in the pod on the far edge of the cluster.
She passed a group of medics and med-techs flocked around a sobbing mother. Something had happened to her child. It was a long trip, and accidents happened.
Avdonina picked up her pace, glancing toward Quenden’s pod. It was open. “No, no, no!” She ran to the pod, but it was empty. Whirling, she found a medic approaching.
“Please come with me.”
Avdonina moaned and her knees buckled. Something horrible had to have happened. An accident.
The medic kept her on her feet. He said, “It’s alright. You son’s fine. We woke him early. He’s in another part of the ship.”
Through numb lips, Avdonina asked, “He’s alright? There wasn’t an accident?”
“No, ma’am. He’s with Mr. Shihs right now. If you’ll just come with me.”
She followed the medic past the sobbing woman, who was receiving an injection. Probably a tranquilizer.
Again Avdonina asked, “Quenden’s fine? No problems?” It could have been Quenden who had the accident. She could be the one getting tranquilized.
The medic shook his head and smiled. “Not with him, no. Everything will be explained shortly.”
A small measure of relief rose up in her. Still, she kept up her pace, pushing the medic through the remains of the crowd quicker than he obviously liked. He kept slowing to apologize to those he bumped.
Once out of the crowd, the journey quickened. Just as they reached the door to Shihs’s private quarters, the medic turned to her. “Your son is such a clever boy. I genuinely like him. But he shouldn’t be here.”
He looked directly at Avdonina now. “Most of the deaths that happened in cryosleep couldn’t happen.”
“It isn’t perfected yet.”
“It’s beyond killing people. What can happen, though, are accidents that cause defects in the inhabitant, like your ankle.” He took a deep breath. “In an operation like Shihs has, those kinds of defects can’t be tolerated. Whether from physical limitation while working, or stress from worrying over a loved one with a defect, those kinds of problems detract from productivity. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Avdonina sucked in her breath sharply. She felt her face pale. “So, that woman’s child wasn’t an accident.”
The medic answered softly, “No, it wasn’t. Miggs is important. I can only assume, therefore, that Shihs kept your son alive to keep some kind of hold over you and so over Miggs.”
The medic then turned, opened the door and walked in. There, sitting on the floor in front of a giant desk, was Quenden. Avdonina stopped, her hand on her mouth, her throat swelling with the unreleased panic she’d felt when she’d first found his pod empty.
Quenden had his head bowed over a toy he was prying at, trying to dismantle. His lower lip was pouting from concentration. Bob Shihs squatted in front of Quenden, his knees cracking loudly.
Suddenly, in a frustrated rush, Quenden jerked the toy up in front of Shihs’s face, missing his nose by mere breaths of an inch.
Shihs rocked back on his heels, reaching for the toy at the same time. When Quenden refused to let go, Shihs pointed to the door. “Look who’s here.”
Quenden looked squarely at Shihs and answered, “Nana?”
“Yes, Nana. Look,” Shihs answered.
Only then did Quenden turn his head to see Avdonina. Immediately, his face twisted into a terror of a cry and he reached his four-year-old arms toward her, grasping at air with his fists.
Avdonina rushed across the room and scooped him up, crushing him against her. She buried her face in his hair, letting her relief loose in her tears. “Nana’s here. Nana’s here.” She turned away from the two men and paced the back of the room, jostling him softly and cooing at him.
When his piercing cries calmed enough, Avdonina glared savagely at Shihs. “You should have awakened me at the same time.”
Shihs raised his hand to ward her off. “We did, but there were complications with your injury, so we had to slow you down again.”
“What complications? It was just a twisted ankle.” Avdonina glanced at the medic, remembering their conversation. Why had Shihs kept her and Quenden alive?
The medic nodded. “The sprain was very fresh. As the revitalization process proceeded, your ankle began to swell abnormally and rapidly. In order to keep it from breaking your bones, we had to slow you down.” He motioned to Quenden. “Children revitalize at a different speed altogether. We couldn’t slow him down to keep pace with you. He would have died.”
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