by William Maltese
"…inform you it is imperative you change course immediately, rendezvousing with Starship 12B as quickly as possible. Your time for rendezvous has been approximated at three years and eight months. Your coordinates for such rendezvousing are: 002-4.3 21464-5 WSWTV2. You will reactivate freezing units to allow the trip’s completion without defrost of any member of the crew. You will defrost only Captain Peterson at the present, informing him of the situation, leaving the remaining members of the crew in freeze. You will hand Captain Peterson this directive with orders that he comply immediately. While he may attempt radioing us for verification, he is to change the ship’s course whether verification is received from this headquarters or not. I repeat: Captain Peterson is to proceed to rendezvous with Starship 12B whether or not verification for him to proceed is received from us. Starship 12B has been given proper coordinates for rendezvousing with you in Galaxy 4-5-21, Interstellar Chart 4. You will meet and join, utilizing Code Name Polar. In no instance shall this code name be made known to anyone else besides you, as radio operator, and Captain Peterson. You are warned — REPEAT: WARNED — that you may have on board one or more of the species of aliens mentioned in the first portion of this critique. The situation, as it has played out thus far leads us to believe they might well have had agents aboard all interstellar experiment ships leaving our ports after year 1978. Reports of destroyed and/or lost ships tend to verify this suspicion. Your rendezvous with Starship 12B has been programmed and analyzed as the only possible locking up of experimental ships in your segment of the galaxy. Three other spaceships have been scheduled for mid-space docking elsewhere, their coordinates to follow for your future reference. It is with the greatest possible regret that we here at Control inform you of such catastrophic interference by other beings, and we only hope that you will be able to carry on and survive where we have failed.
"Rendezvous scheduling of:
V-AcH-200 and P-DTU-4…"
The communicator module went silent. Lieutenant Margaret Masters adjusted her headpiece, switched dials, and attempted to clear the headphones of the galactic static that was suddenly rumbling in her ears. She eyed the decoded ciphers on the radio tape with a degree of horror and disbelief.
The ship seemed suddenly tomb-still.
She kept focused on the instrument panels. Everything seemed in working order. She re-inspected the series of messages which had been received by Charles Wilcox: Lieutenant Wilcox had been the radio communications man who had been defrosted to accept the last recorded message on file. All had been in order during his shift. He’d scribbled out a handwritten message to Margaret on the margins of that last decoded cipher sheet:
"Remember me in another three years, Margaret, baby. By then, this boy is going to be ready for a hot and sweaty fuck."
She had smiled when she’d remembered their last night on Earth together. Foolishly, he had screwed her without protection. Foolishly, she had let him. They’d both known what the results of that could have been, but the very danger of an unacceptable outcome had somehow added to the pleasure of the moment. She only thanked God that she hadn’t become pregnant. God knows what would’ve happened had she come out of deep-freeze and found an unborn baby in her suspended-animation cell. She discarded the horror of that particular scenario and, then, went back to dealing with the horror at hand.
She had defrosted right on schedule. At the time, the ship’s dials, coded forms, computerized data had given all indications that the experiment ship was progressing on course according to schedule. She’d made all the necessary routine checks before putting on the earphones. She’d checked the time, the date, and the other instruments which would assure that the message beamed from Earth would be picked up as scheduled. Her routine check of the ship’s operative components had taken her longer than she’d expected, and she’d taken her seat at the communications panel one minute prior to the moment of proposed interception of broadcast. She’d sunk back into the comfortable foam of the chair, wondering at how two years in deep-freeze had left so little tiredness within her bones. She’d engaged all necessary radio equipment and had waited. When the vacuum waves had still hummed nothing but static a minute later, Margaret had hastily re-checked her equipment. Everything had been operative. Everything had been in working order. Still there had been nothing incoming. She had again checked the time dials, running info through the computer to find any clue as to some undetected time lapse — a precaution she’d already taken earlier. Again the lights had blinked green, yellow, red; again the machine vomited out its tape.
Time: 2:15 p.m.
Date checked, re-checked,
REPEAT: ACCURATE. Replay
Margaret had pressed panel 5C2, and again the same information had rolled forth. The day had been right. The month had been right. The year had been right. The time had been right. All equipment had been operative. Yet, there had been no message received.
Automatically she had turned to the recorder. She should’ve checked it before, but priority on awakening had stressed that she first assure that the ship was in operative condition. By the time she’d finished with that, it’d been time for the message to come in.
She had pushed the rewind button, noticing that there had been, in fact, a fairly long length of used tape. Nervously, she had waited for it to rewind. It had finished with a click; a red light had gone on to indicate readiness of replay. She had hesitated nervously, had checked one more time to assure that there was no message in over the other equipment, and had pressed the replay switch. The dire message had begun:
"When you hear this, we shall be dead, destroyed, murdered. It will be up to you to carry on the human race. There will be no more Earth, no more of its men, no more of its women, and no more of its children.
We therefore must…"
In discussion of the "freezing" process induced by pulseometer
A state of consciousness will return by degrees, as the subject is merely awakening from a deep sleep, or from the deeper realm sometimes induced by hypnosis. In fact, the subject has been under a sleep of sorts, one induced electronically, through utilization of the pulseometer, and the conduits of electroregulators as applied to both the duodenilenta segments of the brain cell pilota. And as electronically as the sleep was induced, likewise, electronically the sleep will be removed. During periods of "sleep" the subject’s body functions will be slowed down as in archaic "freezing" techniques utilized in the operating theatres of the twentieth century. Slowed to the proper level, the subject will still exist but at a level wherein what would ordinarily take place in seconds can be programmed to take place in years… —SECURITY: CRYTO-TOP SECRET.
Charles Wilcox returned to consciousness by degrees. It was, indeed, rather like awakening from a deep sleep but not a lengthy one.
One always had a tendency to regret such awakenings, thinking momentarily that one hadn’t really been given the rest actually needed. This phenomenon, labeled scientifically Brotumulla by the medical staff at Experiment Headquarters, was sure to appear whether the subject had been asleep minutes (as in initial experimentation), hours (as in intermediate experimentation), months (as during final experimentation), or years (as in actual flights into deep space).
The darkness in Charles’ brain lifted, giving way to a light gray, which faded into white, which turned opaque as he opened his eyes to let the reality roll over him.
The body was never cold, because, though the archaic terminology "freezing" and "defrosting" held over from the early beginnings of experimentation in suspended animation, freezing was never actually what occurred. There was no lowering of the body temperature whatsoever.
If anything, Charles was a bit warm, a resultant effect of his blood’s suddenly increased circulation throughout this body.
He lay there in his tube quietly, trying desperately to gather his senses (a process termed Bilotmea by the staff, and Muddle by the crew), and felt that something was desperately wrong.
He’d felt this very same way the time he’d had to fight his way back through the black, the gray, the white, the opaque, to actual consciousness to learn there’d been a machinery malfunction and he’d almost died. Two other subjects had died.
He sat up in his animation tube, glancing about the cabin. Everything seemed in working order. The right lights seemed to be blinking; the right noises seemed to be coming from the computers. But something still felt wrong.
He had defrosted: that was what was wrong! Either he’d defrosted prematurely or the others hadn’t defrosted per schedule. He’d been scheduled for revival only once during the course of the mission, and that time was over and done. When it had occurred, he’d received standard information on the communiqué beamed from Earth right on schedule. He’d activated one minor change in the ship’s course, according to received instructions, and had then gone back to his tube. His next revival was to be upon their arrival at Omego D, along with the whole crew. Presently, he sensed no re-awakenings in any of the pods grouped around him. In the tube immediately next to him, Corporal Kelly still slept on in his dream world; the dials of his pod set for revival mode in nine months.
"What in the hell is going on?" Charles asked aloud.
Suddenly, he heard muted sobbing.
He surveyed the room, more carefully this time, and noted each and every pod, its instrumentation, and its occupant, until he finally found one empty.
"Charles?" Her voice was weak and came from somewhere in the adjoining compartment. "Oh, God, Charles, help me."
She sounded so damned pathetic, so shook up, that he felt compelled to get to her as quickly as possible.
His legs were weak but operable.
"There will be a certain degree of physical weakness," the instructors had told them, "but that’s to be expected. Initial care should be taken that unused muscles are not strained, despite artificial stimulus, via biolatent froxexins, administered periodically during freeze state.
He found her huddled in a corner. Her eyes watered, and her face was screwed up in a grimace indicative of pain, fear, or a combination of the two.
End of Part Five -- taken from one of William's Greenleaf Classic pulps, long out of print, available only from collectors who demand big $$$, but serialized here as a free read by courtesy of the author.