A Pause of Breath

Alarms rang throughout the metal hallways. Boots clanked down stairs as everyone made their way further beneath the earth. The time had come. Brian grabbed Sola from her makeshift crib. Their “room” was a mere two foot by six foot coffin with barely enough room to stand. Not enough for Brian at least since he stood over six feet tall. Seventy-two square feet in all. Before Moira died, they shared a space twice as big, but space is a rare commodity in Formicary and they had to give it up. The remainder of the Earth’s population was shoved into one, underground container. A mere six thousand beyond the hope of rescue. No resources remained to make another ship. Everyone else had left for the colonies. Six thousand remained behind. The next available time a ship could return would be 32 years, and that was only if there was enough fuel. Or enough people to return for.

A calm, recorded voice repeated over the public address system as Brian exited the closet-room with Sola held tightly to his chest. This is not a drill. Formicary was a self contained system. It had to be since the outside atmosphere was no longer suitable for human life, but it wasn’t the thriving terrarium everyone had first believed it would be. About six months after the outside doors were sealed it was discovered, despite the impressive machinery used to keep everyone alive, that the air filtration system was incapable of sustaining the needed oxygen for the population. Groups of volunteers underwent stasis as the cryo-pods became available. The bare minimum of work in Formicary was to upkeep the life support systems and food supplies (potatoes can still grow in LED light with enough moisture and the right soil compound). The rest of the work was devoted to finishing the cryo-pods with the hope that everyone could wait in hibernation until Earth replenished itself to a more forgiving atmosphere or a colony ship came back for them. The alarms resounding through the halls indicated that the oxygen levels had fallen below acceptable levels. The time was now. Get to a cryo-pod or let the eventual increase of carbon dioxide put you to sleep and poison you until you died. Either way, no one was waking up.

Sola’s cries were lost in the noise of the sirens. Brian joined the crowds as they filed down the stairs to the cryo chambers. When Formicary was designed, they hadn’t thought any part of the system would fail. Their only real concern was maintaining food rations. Especially the air system. At least, not in the way it had. The cryo chambers were at the deepest level so everyone would have time to access them in case a breach in the surface door occurred. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide was heavier than air which meant the further down they went, the less oxygen they would have access too. Therefore, the emergency system was changed to alert everyone once the carbon dioxide levels rose above dangerous levels on the bottom-most floor. The alarms that woke Brian from his dead sleep were telling everyone they had to go into stasis within the next three hours. Everyone had drilled for this occasion every week since the flaw in the air system was found six years ago, and everyone filed down to the pods as if it were just that, a drill. If anyone stayed behind, They would they succumb to the eventually fatal levels of carbon dioxide.

Brian made it to the infant chambers after two hours. Their new room had been only three floors below the surface and they were the last group to the basement level. He placed Sola in the last available pod and entered her information. Name: Sola Ellis. Parents: Brian & Moira Ellis. Blood type: A-. Age: 4 months. He paused before closing the lid and looked at her. The alarms still blared outside the door, but inside there was a muffled quiet. She had calmed as he had entered the information.

He kissed her forehead and she wrapped her hand around his finger. He paused a moment longer, not knowing with any certainty if he would ever see her again. She had her mother’s beautiful blue eyes. He closed the lid and began the cycle. He stayed to watch as the air inside the pod flooded with a mixture of Argon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen and the temperature dropped exponentially. Sola stared at him until her eyes drifted closed as if falling asleep. Her chest rose and fell…rose and fell…rose…and fell….then stopped. She was successfully in stasis. Brian lingered a moment longer before darting down the stairs to his own pod. She would be safe until he awoke. There were no automatic releases on the infant pods.

He raced down the metal corridor to the last available cryo chamber. He must have been the last to make it down as all the pods were filled. He ran down row after row searching for an empty pod and finally found one in the farthest corner. He entered his own information and checked that the automatic release was set to 200 years. The release mechanism couldn’t be altered, but he wanted to make sure it was working. The thought of 200 years going by scared him. It was a long time for something to go wrong, and possibly not enough time for the Earth to heal itself for humans to once again tread on its surface.

But he didn’t really have a choice. He stepped in the chamber and began the cycle. The pod filled with the mixture of gas and he felt the energy leave his body and an extreme weariness take over. The small tinge of claustrophobia left him. He felt helpless. All he could do was wait and hope that everything turned out well. He had felt the same loss of control four months ago. When Moira went into labor. He felt a ping of adrenaline as a panic rose in his chest, but it disappeared as his consciousness left him.

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