The Long Winter's Nap by Admiral2 8290 words At first, there was no sound but the howl of storm winds blowing snow across the icy surface of the glacier. Then came the trilling sound of a molecular transporter, along with the shimmering glow of transit. When both subsided, six figures were left standing knee deep in snow wearing heavy arctic gear. They looked down in confusion, but only for a moment. The area near their destination was supposed to be cleared, but the weather conditions on a planet in the middle of an ice age meant cleared areas rarely stayed clear. The party trudged through the snow to an artificial structure about a meter away. Ship’s engineers had constructed a closed entrance over the mouth of the cave where science teams were working. The entrance was sheltered in a way that was supposed to keep snow from piling up too high in front of the door, yet it was still half buried when the party reached it. Fortunately, the snow level hadn’t reached the controls yet and the door slid open and closed, so entry was relatively easy. More of the engineers’ handiwork was evident just inside the entrance. Structural supports had been added to the sides and the top of the cave, while temporary flooring had been set down to provide a level work space and devices had been attached to the supports that provided light and a minimal amount of heat. Once they were inside and warming up, the landing party shook the snow off their clothes and took off their hoods and face coverings. “That’s better,” Lt. Commander Van Jensen said with a lopsided grin. “Brother, can we pick the best places to do our jobs! Couldn’t anybody find a garden spot on this snowball?” Captain Martin Rourke chuckled. “Bad news, pal,” he said, “according to our weather people this is the garden spot on this snowball!” The others laughed as they removed gloves and scarves and head gear. They only unzipped their coats without removing them. The heating elements only dispelled enough of the cold to make it bearable. This was by design. As she pulled off her ski hat and combed her fingers through her raven hair, Nurse Abigail Knightley said, “Gosh, I can’t wait to see how much progress they’ve made. Is it true that the ship is almost completely uncovered?” “According to the latest report,” Jensen said. “That actually turned out to be the easy part.” “The real chore was getting down to the thing,” Rourke added. “Let’s get down there and see for ourselves.” With that, the captain led the party deeper into the cavern. Casia Prime, a small class-M world, was deep in the throes of an ice age, with most of the surface covered in glacial ice and ocean-deep snow. When USS Concord reached the Casia Star Group the crew had expected to only make a cursory survey of the planet, assuming any surviving lifeforms would be in hibernation. They had been stunned to detect signs of technology, and the only hibernating lifeform they could detect was humanoid. All the signs were faint, and they soon discovered the cause: the technology and lifeform were buried nearly a quarter-mile deep in one of the glaciers. Unable to transport directly to the target or transport it out - the fear was the crystalline ice scattering the transport beams - the first landing parties were teams of engineers who used lasers to bore a tunnel in the ice and set up the internal structures. After days of this, and a few more of clearing working space for science teams, the crew’s efforts were about to bear fruit. The captain’s party reached the work area after a decent hike. They found a hive of activity. The engineers were still working, now using their lasers to clear the last of the ice away from the manta ray-shaped craft they had found. As they worked, Chief Engineer Joachim Levi and Science Officer Dr. Amelie Sarkozy were using portable scanning instruments to monitor the ship’s still-active systems as it was being freed. Standing by and observing everything with bated breath was Dr. Anne Rourke, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. She was anxious for a chance to examine the being they now knew was inside the craft. She turned when she heard the Captain and the others approach and offered her husband a big smile. “Darling! You’re just in time!” “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Martin Rourke said with a smile of his own as he put an arm around his wife. They traded a brief kiss, then Martin jerked a thumb behind him as he added, “I also brought reinforcements.” Anne turned and immediately locked eyes on Nurse Knightley. “Abby! Good! Did you bring it?” “Yes, Doctor,” Abigail said. She opened her coat a little to show Anne the small satchel she was carrying. “I’ve got a whole revival kit, including a full stimulant hypospray.” “Oh, that’s fine. Thank you.” She turned back to Martin. “It’s just in case. I’m optimistic that the occupant will revive naturally once we open the stasis chamber.” “And you’re sure that he can be revived?” Martin asked. “Sure enough that we now know it’s a she, not a he,” Anne said. “We’ve been getting clearer life readings as we get closer to completely exposing the craft.” “And from those readings,” Dr. Sarkozy chimed in, “we can tell she’s in a state of perfect hibernation. Though slowed to an absolute minimum her respiration and pulse are steady, and there’s been almost no tissue or bone degradation.” “She’s got this thing’s technology to thank for that,” Engineer Levi said. “I’m reading more redundancies and built-in fail-safes than I would have thought possible, even with micro-circuitry.” “Bet you can’t wait to tear into it and see how it all works,” Jensen said. Not given to broad emotion, Levi smirked a tiny bit. “I admit I’m looking forward to that, but I can be patient.” “Well, I can’t,” Jensen said. He turned to the other crewmen in their party. “Get in there and lend a hand, fellas!” The others acknowledged and went to join the engineers already working to clear the ice. The work sped up considerably then. It still felt like ages for those just watching and not melting or monitoring, but it wasn’t long before most of the ice was melted away and everyone could get a good look at the small ship. Everyone was stunned at the sight. “It looks brand new!” Jensen said. The ship was about the length of a shuttlecraft and its “wingspan” was a little over twice that. It indeed had the general shape of a manta ray, but three things broke up the illusion. First was the color. The hull was a bright red, with a finish that shined as it reflected the lighting in the space. Next came the vertical plane mounted near the tail end, reminiscent of antique propeller airplanes. Finally, there was the bubble canopy at the front end. On another craft this might be the cockpit, but instead this canopy was the cover of the craft’s hibernation system. Everyone gathered around for a closer look. “Right off the assembly line,” Martin said, shaking his head in amazement. “It must be made of some fantastic alloy to have been buried under all that ice and not have a scratch,” Levi said. He actually grinned as he continued to examine the hull. A few others got close enough to see inside the canopy. Again, Jensen was the first to comment, this time on the sleeper. “Oh, she’s a doll.” The sleeper was at least superficially human, appearing to be a young woman of slim build and medium height, with fair skin and white-blond hair tied into a single braid. She was indeed attractive by human standards, with delicate facial features and a model figure highlighted by the skintight bodysuit she was wearing. The suit was dark green in color and sported an indicator panel at the collar, which probably meant it had something to do with the hibernation process. Dr. Sarkozy shook her head at Jensen’s comment. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you, Commander. She is, after all, a much older woman.” “You’re kidding!” Jensen said. “Why, she doesn’t look a day over twenty.” Anne Rourke laughed at that. “Try ten thousand years over twenty, Van!” “Ten thousand years,” Martin mused, “yet ship and passenger look like they just touched down this morning.” “But the figure is accurate,” Sarkozy said. “We know from our analysis of the surrounding ice. The vessel must have landed just as the glacier reached this point in its migration south. That was approximately ten thousand years ago.” As Sarkozy explained Anne took more readings of The Sleeper’s vital signs. She smiled at the results. “Okay...I think it’s safe to try this. Abby, stand by with the revival kit. Joachim, have you got the controls worked out yet?” “Just about,” Levi said. “As complex as the circuits are the controls seem to be laid out so that anyone can use them.” Levi approached the ship and slid open a small hatch near the canopy. Inside was a control panel with a few buttons. “Okay...ready here.” “Disengage the hibernation system.” Levi touched two of the controls. A moment later soft, tonal hums sounded from inside the canopy as lights blinked on The Sleeper’s collar. This went on for almost a minute, then the blinking and humming stopped at the same time. Then there was nothing. “Did it work?” Jensen asked. “Doctor,” Martin said, “are you sure she’s...I mean, could your instruments have missed a malfunction somewhere?” Nurse Knightley answered for Anne. “She’s still alive, sir. There’s just been no change to her vitals. Heart rate and respiration are still at hibernation levels.” “Actually, Captain,” Sarkozy said, “It’s more likely that the hibernation system is so thorough that simply turning it off wouldn’t immediately revive the sleeper.” Anne thought about that. “If that’s the case, then I guess we’ll need the revival kit after all.” She turned to Levi. “Can you open this thing?” “Simple enough,” Levi said. He touched another button. There was a clunk! and a hiss of pressurized air just before the canopy flipped up and back. Everyone cringed a little, subconciously worried what the sudden influx of outside air might do to The Sleeper, but again, there was nothing. “Now, Abby,” Anne said, “give me the stimulant and a noisemaker.” “Yes, Doctor.” The nurse opened the satchel and took out a hypospray and a small communicator’s earpiece. Anne took both of them and used controls on the instruments to set them. “All right,” she said, “first let’s give her a wake up call.” She activated the earpiece and inserted it gently into the woman’s ear. “Hope you’re not blasting wild music into her ear, Doc…” Jensen quipped. “Hardly,’ Anne said. “It’s nature sounds, mostly, at a sublingual level. It’s just to remind her of the outside world and entice her back to it. Then this” - she pressed the hypo to the woman’s neck and injected something - “will wake her body in conjunction with her conscious mind.” Everyone waited, wondering what would happen if these tricks didn’t work, then Abigail grinned. “That’s done it,” she said. “Heart rate and respiration are increasing slowly.” Anne looked at the readings. “Excellent! She should fully revive in a few hours.” Then she turned to Martin. “Captain!” “Doctor?” Martin said with a raised eyebrow. Anne was only formal with him when she was about to ask for something he’d be inclined to say “No” to. “I would like to take Miss Van Winkle here up to Sick Bay.” “What...you mean back to the ship? Isn’t that dangerous? What about contamination?” “It’s more of a risk for her than it is for us, Captain,” Sarkozy said. “The hibernation system has been reinforcing her immune system for more than ten millennia. It’s unlikely she’ll be carrying any diseases that would survive that.” “Besides,” Anne said, “in the event of any kind of outbreak I’d be much better equipped to deal with it in Sick Bay than I would in this cave. I also think it would help her acclimate better if she were in more advanced surroundings when she wakes up.” Martin took a moment to think about it. He locked eyes on his wife in the meantime. There was a slightly pleading look in hers, and eventually he realized he was going to cave in. “All right, let’s get her up there. It’ll take a while to get a stretcher down here, though…” “Oh, don’t worry,” Anne said with a triumphant grin, “we’ve got that covered.” She turned to the engineers who’d been in the cave with her. “All right, gentlemen! You can get that set up now.” “That’ turned out to be a collapsible stretcher complete with safety straps and thermal coverings. It had apparently been brought down during one of the latest equipment runs. As the engineers put it together, Martin crossed his arms and said to his wife, “Okay...am I really that predictable or are you that manipulative?” Anne gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Now, Darling, all I did was take into account your analytical skill and your sense of honor and I was confident you’d come to the right decision.” “Which just happened to be exactly what you wanted.” “Isn’t it wonderful how that worked out?” She continued to grin as Martin just shook his head in defeat and the engineers worked. Soon the stretcher was ready. “Oh, that’s fine,” Anne said, then she looked at Martin and Jensen. “Now then, if you kind gentlemen would help a lady into her carriage?” Jensen chuckled. “Duty calls, Skipper.” “I heard,” Martin said. “I’ll get the head.” With the Captain at her torso and the XO at her legs, The Sleeper was gently lifted from the hibernation chamber and rested on the stretcher. Once she was settled in Anne and Abigail tied her down with the straps and covered her to her neck with the thermal sheets. “Abby and I will go back with her,” Anne said. “We just need someone to transport our new friend.” “Van and I will take stretcher duty,” Martin said with a shrug. “We might as well give her full service.” Anne smiled at that, then asked, “Has the storm outside gotten any worse?” “No,” Jensen said, “but it hasn’t subsided any either. We better make sure the tranporter guys are on their toes, or the ‘young’ lady might have lived this long only to die of frostbite!” “We’ll get her through quickly enough,” Martin said confidently. He turned to Sarkozy and Levi. “I suppose you want to stay and start tearing in?” “I don’t know how much tearing we’ll be doing,” Levi said. “I don’t know that we have any tools that can crack that hull.” “But now that the occupant is clear, we can make a closer examination of the interior of the sleep chamber,” Sarkozy said. “All right. Take charge down here, Doctor. Call up when you need relief or resupply.” “Yes, Captain.” With that, Martin and Jensen picked up the stretcher and got ready to walk out. Martin turned to his wife. “Shall we?” “Surely,” Anne said, then she led the way back up the tunnel.