Compared to my coworkers, I didn’t get many death threats. Storage, my department, was usually overlooked by fanatics and politicians.
They saved their anger for the people up front who made the Frozen Generation — the doctors and administrators who met the clients, did the scans, fed in the waldos, extracted the mingled cells, vitrified them in cryofluid. My crew in Storage were just the ones who tended them forever after.
They had their reasons for overlooking us. The Frozen were an easy demographic to advocate for, and an easier population to have when it came time to allocate votes and funds. But most people in this state would still tell you that extraction destined for cryostasis was just abortion with less guilt. Those people had gotten their way tonight, expanded the definition of abortion to include any extraction not destined for immediate gestation. And banned it.
Their new laws were going to close the clinic, maybe for a long time. But that wasn’t my main concern. They’d also upped the charges for embryonic deaths in an extraction clinic and, tonight of all nights, I’d received notice of a blackout across the entire facility.
That’s why I was in my truck, racing back to work as fast as I could drive after only two hours of sleep and despite the crowds celebrating in the streets.
We had backups. We were a priority repair site by law. We were seriously overbuilt for the two-hour limit the power company had to have us fixed by. But my team would be scared, and I wasn’t going to let them deal with this alone. After all, they knew as well as I did that technically, under the new laws, any failure onsite could cost us our lives.
I made some calls as I got on the freeway. The front office didn’t answer. No one on my crew knew what had happened yet, except that the power was definitely out and only for us.
The protestors had probably just shot out a transformer. They did that sometimes when they were celebrating. Tonight, that was really the best-case scenario.
The scattered fireworks popping low over the rooftops, the crowds in the streets around the churches, and the 3 a.m. rush hour traffic were enough to tell me tonight wasn’t a night for best-case anything. But I wasn’t thinking clearly.
Cars were already filling up vacant lots in the industrial park we called home. Armed silhouettes with posterboard signs grouped together in the early-morning dark and chill. The usuals claiming their spots early, maybe. Either way they’d have a big crowd today — some of our neighbors even rented their lots to them.
I was scanning the parking lots as I went — more from habit than because of the news tonight. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at watching my surroundings, even when I’m tired and stressed. After a protestor follows you home, you find your motivation.
The crowd got thicker once I was close enough to see the place. The clinic had already been pretty ugly, sort of a warehouse trying to turn into a bunker, but it was folks like these who had put the finishing touches on it, decorated the outside with scorch marks and bullet-pocks.
Speaking of bullets: one of them took a shot at me.
I honestly hadn’t been expecting that. The crowd at the gate didn’t have the usual rage tonight, though they threw some rocks when I pulled through, just to keep up tradition. I figured they were there more to celebrate and maybe burn our building down later if the police seemed amicable. They’d won, after all; no more need for self-martyrdom.
But once I made the last turn toward the garage, my back windshield exploded.
I hit the gas and slammed down the ramp and out of view before I’d fully processed the gunshot. And then it was over and I was sitting there in the red emergency light of the employee garage with more adrenalin than I needed for work problems and nothing to use it on.
I ran my fingers over tufts of foam in the new hole in my roof while I called the shooter in to our security team. Though God knew what they could do about him. After that was done, it all started to feel real, and I had to pause and get my breathing under control. I knew from experience that if I stayed focused, I could save the real freakout for after I got home and felt safe. And I had a lot of work to do.
The bullet hole was barely in arm’s reach. Not a very near miss. Had he been trying to kill me or just scare me and make me run? That pissed me off worse than attempted murder. I could picture them laughing and cheering while I fled out of sight.
If they’d known what department I worked for, would it have made any difference?
I got out, slammed the door, and climbed upstairs in the dark, checking my phone for updates to the alerts that had woken me.
Power failures were the last thing we needed now. Every other supplier we relied on had been flaking for weeks, including our cryofluid producer, now fifteen days late on our delivery. I think they saw which way things were going, knew nobody was going to enforce our protections any longer. Even when a company’s official faith didn’t oppose extraction, there were always employees who felt that helping us endangered their immortal souls.
No updates on the power alerts. My feed was full of articles on the new laws, but I ignored them.
Don’t get me wrong, things were bad, but this back and forth had been happening for my entire life. Hell, this mess of shortcuts and simple solutions was the reason I even existed. As far as I was concerned, this was just a temporary interruption of service until the law got challenged or interrupted somehow.
Even the people who had passed it didn’t seem to expect this to last forever. They’d already tried gestating every unwanted embryo and that led to the government hives they then spent decades tearing down, and generations of Unwanted like me who didn’t even vote for them. Doing it again with even less planning would be a horrible mess, but banning extraction with no solutions at all would be even worse.
The new laws would make things difficult, but I was trying to focus on what I could control. And for us in Storage, it would be business as usual, more or less.
From here on out it was our job to keep the clinic operational until we could reopen. And new admissions would be on pause, which would give us some time to catch up on maintenance, build some new racks, maybe even upgrade our cryofluid production capabilities if I could mooch some budget while the rest of the work was on hold.
We’d get through this.
Inside, the place was in chaos. Half the lights were off and there were way too many staff here for this time of night. The lobby was locked down, galvanized drop-barricades reflecting the lights back through the glass doors up front.
Ester was cleaning out her desk, taking everything with her name on it. She’d actually grown up in the same hive I did, though she was a later generation, so she was a bit more normal. I was in a hurry, but she looked so freaked out I stopped when we made eye contact.
“Moses, did you hear Dr. Quarzi quit?” she asked. She had her fake-calm, air traffic control voice going.
“Yeah, he called in and did it over the phone right after the hearing, from London. He said this will be a huge mess and we should all get out before it starts if we know what’s good for us. He’d already cleaned out his files and everything.”
I blinked, tired eyes bleary in the bright light, and looked down at her desk. “Taking his advice?”
“Yeah. How about you?”
“I just came in to fix the power. If this place doesn’t stay cold, we’re all in a lot of trouble.”
She gave me this look. “We’re in a lot of trouble either way. My boyfriend has family in Canada — we’re heading up there. You should get out too.”
“Uh, best of luck,” I said. “Look, you’ll be okay, you just do inprocessing.”
Still that flat look, like I didn’t get it. I guess I didn’t. “Yeah. Good luck yourself.”
Man, I just kept everything cold.
I hustled through the office, looking for the Operations Director. If the power loss was upstream, then getting it back was her problem. The rest of us just had to keep the outage from harming the patients.
Most everyone I saw was hurrying and worried. Some were unpacking reserve Herz-Stanton exowombs, and the rest looked like they were leaving. I didn’t recognize half of them. Sure, most of my work is back in Storage, but I come up once a day to check the tanks in the clinic, write up my maintenance reports, and order parts. I like to think I’m sociable, for a hive boy anyways.
I stopped outside the Ops Director’s office. Charlotte was standing over her desk, shouting into the phone, gestures and everything.
She didn’t show any sign of slowing down, and with everything else going on, I couldn’t wait for answers. Whatever had caused this blackout, I had to check our status.
I headed for Storage, my department. There was a reason that the only clinics left in this state stored their patients on-site: Storage facilities got guarantees. With the nation’s most vulnerable citizens in our vaults, reliant on their services, the power and telecom companies couldn’t drag their feet for weeks when we got disconnected. More than that, we were allowed to hire armed security, and even got an exemption to the Religious Freedom Act so parts suppliers had to sell to us as long as we could pay. They accused us of a lot; I suppose hostage-taking was fair.
Storage took up most of our site. It was the big, bulky, warehouse-looking part of the facility with the legally-mandated symbols outside, to protect clinic bombers from killing any of the Frozen. Inside, there were thousands and thousands of silver cryo flasks linked with tubes and wires resting on rows of metal shelves, elevated flood-safe, suspended and stabilized against earthquakes and guarded by the most paranoid fire suppression system in the county. Each had an individual battery backup for its sensors and pumps and a small reserve tank of cryofluid.
The manifest for each flask listed the occupants by social security number. No names or assigned sex yet. For the vast majority it was far too early to identify more than the number of cells, and you could usually count those on both hands.
In the back, rising up over it all, was the in-house cryo distillation rig. The patients’ storage tanks didn’t take power to stay cold; they were just fancy vacuum flasks with sensors. But their cryogenic fluid evaporated in an endless slow boil, and we needed power to monitor the levels and to run the pumps that kept them topped off. The in-house ‘still was elevated so we could rely on gravity feeds if we had to.
Cryofluid is pretty complicated stuff. It’s mostly liquid nitrogen, but nitro on its own can be a vector for viruses and bacteria between tissue samples. Cryofluid has a mix of additives so we could transfer it safely and to assist with vitrification and devitrification. It was actually overkill for our purposes, as most of our patients were kept in hermetically sealed straws, but our state legislature said nothing was too good for the Frozen Generation (except hives of their own), especially if it made running this place difficult.
As I looked for my crew, I automatically checked the dashboard for each rack of tanks I passed, eyeing the levels and power requirements.
All the levels were lower than I expected.
Some of my techs were shouting over by the loading dock. Zeke saw me and waved me over, calling across the warehouse:
“Mose!” He looked worried, and that worried me.
“Zeke, what’s going on?” I asked. “Someone cut the lines?”
“Yeah! The fuckin’ power company!”
“What, on purpose?” That cold dread started working its way down my back. They wouldn’t. They fucking couldn’t.
“Yeah. Told Charlotte on the phone. Can’t legally provide services.”
“What, because of the abortion definition thing? We’re not taking patients and even then it’d only apply to the front office, not Storage.” Not us. But the whole place was linked together – that was how the clinic benefited from Storage, after all.
“Yeah. Closed the loophole.”
“Loophole, hell. This was their goddamn solution in the first place.”
Exowombs were supposed to solve abortion. Then when the flood of Unwanted got too deep, and government-commissioned hives had to raise the kids, cryostasis was their solution for that.
I ran my hands over my face. This was bad. Without power, our reserves and battery backups weren’t overkill — they were woefully, criminally inadequate. We weren’t an island. Weren’t supposed to be. State laws enshrined us as a priority recovery site. Hell, they’d send the national guard if there were a flood or hurricane. Send ‘em right past people trapped on their roofs or buried in rubble. Anything for the Frozen Generation.
But that had changed, hadn’t it?
“Charlotte’s been screaming at the power company,” Zeke said. “The state police, the governor, even. Nothing’s got us online. Been running on our solar reserves and gas gennys ever since. I had Jimmy making runs to the charge station for extra fuel, but once they figured it was for here, they refused to sell to him. I sent him to Pembrook since they’re the next closest with liquid, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t just quit.”
“If the main circuit’s off, we’re not generating new cryo. Hell, half the tanks are already low.” We had solar rigs, but like everything else, they weren’t enough to make us completely independent.
“I know that, Mose!”
These guys were looking to me because I had always been the quick one, the first with a solution when things went bad. Some people are wired for crisis situations, and I kind of loved them. And now I was flat-footed, slow. Tired. They needed me to be better. I shook my head to clear it.
“Okay, we need to cut everything we can, try to make the reserves last. Mike, hit the breakers, cut the whole front office. Keep the clinic for half an hour and warn the docs up front — I think they’ve got a couple active exowombs, and they’ll need time to transfer back to cryo. We can move ‘em back here on the battery backups if we have to.
“Zeke, Sol, get the pumps running. Top up all the flasks and shelf reserves first, and pump whatever we got left into the reserve tanks on the ‘still.”
“It won’t last as long once it’s distributed.”
“Yeah but it won’t do us any good in the main tanks. Sounds like we could end up running without any power for a while, so we need to get the patients as self-sufficient as we can. Same for power, make sure the tank batteries are all fresh. Pull some from the vehicles if you have to.”
It was the same protocol we were supposed to use if the ocean came in around us, or the building collapsed. Get all the cryotanks ready for travel and wait for the national guard to come collect us. We’d lose auto-refill when the generators stopped. Internal regulation and monitoring too, once the local batteries dried up. We could top off tanks manually, if we had any cryo left, and if we knew the tank was low. We’d have to make visual inspections.
If the outage lasted long enough, we’d have to start consolidating fluid.
After tonight, any embryonic deaths in an extraction clinic were to be charged as murder two. We could get first degree if it was the result of a deliberate action. That was starting to seem more possible than it had yesterday.
“I’ll go talk to Charlotte and see about getting us some backup. Someone has to care.” I tapped on a cryoflask. “They only just made a bunch of laws about these guys.”
Everyone started moving, so that part of the job was done. We’d get this place set up as best we could and hope society at large would help.
I backtracked through the clinic, head down, through everyone’s rush to prepare for whatever came next. Every now and then, security would call someone’s name. Took me a bit to realize they were escorting people off-site.
I passed a couple of clinic techs opening up one of the equipment storage rooms. One had on the scrubs they all wear up front, the other just had jeans and a t-shirt. I thought I recognized them both from the day shift.
“What about the old Herz-Stanton Gen 20s?” the one in scrubs asked.
“Uh, they’re not on the APL anymore,” the other answered.
“But they still work fine, I mean, maybe keep them off the network but they’ll do the job.”
He wasn’t wrong. I was born to a Gen 3 and even those were so safe that there were actual arguments over whether to ban internal birth because it killed too many Unborn Americans. It was a public health crisis, after all: when an American’s life begins at conception, failure-to-implant becomes the country’s leading cause of death.
They don’t exactly cover that stuff in school but I guess I have an interest, since their last great idea led to me being born Unwanted, named by an algorithm, and raised in a hive, even if it wasn’t one of the bible-warrior training facilities/sweatshops you see in the documentaries.
“She said all the approved units. This is just CYA, right? They’re looking for ways to screw us, so I don’t think we’ll get bonus points for going above and beyond using illegal equipment.”
If they were starting up extra exowombs now, of all times, that would be a problem. But I’d deal with it once I knew when we’d get the power back.
I didn’t hear any shouting as I approached Charlotte’s office. That seemed like a good sign. This had to be some local fuckup. Some anti-extraction asshole at the power company giving us a hard time.
Charlotte was slumped forward on her desk, her tablet docked and playing some news feed. The smart wall to her left showed every angle of the perimeter and most rooms in the clinic. On the cameras, cars had filled the closest lots outside. Biggest crowd we’d seen in years.
I knocked on the door frame. “Hey boss, how’s it going?”
“Hey, Moses. I thought I told you to go home and get some sleep.” She gestured at the news. “‘Cease all extraction operations. Commence the immediate and safe transfer of all Embryonic-Americans to external wombs and begin gestation.’”
I gave her the baffled, disappointed look we’d shared through so many newsreels of hearings and debates.
“Yeah, we’ll get right on that.”
There weren’t enough approved exowombs on the planet for that. And even if they’d all been in the U.S., it’d take decades to get through the backlog.
We had twenty on site. We’d tried to order more over a year ago, after the election, but all the domestic manufacturing companies were swamped, and you couldn’t buy them from overseas for fear of foreign supply-chain sabotage. Sleeper-diseases, hard-coded loyalties, who knew what the Reds could cook into our most vulnerable citizens?
And hospitals got legal priority on exowombs, of course. Most wanted births were external these days, if only for the legal liability. A miscarriage was bad enough without the criminal investigation ripping your life apart just in case.
“All the hospitals in a hundred-mile radius are already swamped.” She said, “I’ve called every one of them. The other sites are dumping as many cases off on them as they can. I got St Mercy’s to agree to a hundred, a lousy hundred kids! And then some assholes parked ten freezer trucks in their emergency lane and took off on foot. Now it’s all, ‘sorry, now we have six hundred thousand to take care of, good luck with yours.’ It’s like that everywhere.”
“Any word on the power?”
She snorted. “All the words are bad. It’s not coming back.”
“Power and Light’s lawyers dusted off a couple of old state abortion laws from back around the fight over the amendment. Any organization or individual who provides aid or assistance of any kind to an abortion clinic will be held equally liable. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that we’re not taking clients anymore. Our lawyers think their interpretation is legit enough to stick until we’ve challenged it in court.”
And if things kept going like this we’d all be in jail for mass manslaughter or negligent genocide or something by then.
“The storage facility protections-” I started.
“One law says they have to provide power, the other says they can’t.” She paused just long enough to solidify her composure. When you do her job, you can’t ever risk it slipping — there’re always cameras on you looking for ammunition. “Our lawyers are still with us, and they’re raising hell best they can.” She said, “The ACLU and opposition legislators too. But by the time this mess gets sorted out, it’ll be too late.”
“They- they realize that if we shut down all the way, the embryos will thaw, right?” I asked. “And thawing would be bad for them?”
She shrugged again, like she didn’t want to give the lawmakers or God’s power company that much credit. These were the kind of people whose idea of compromise had forced generations of women who’d otherwise have taken a pill to risk surgery.
“Why are they doing this? They have to know it’ll blow back on them…”
She looked down at the tablet, head in her hands, and said the next part almost to herself. Like she was thinking aloud. “There’s a census coming up.”
“Boss?” I didn’t like this line of thought.
“If six hundred thousand ‘people’ disappeared overnight, they could redraw the map. Eliminate this district, a progressive congressional seat, and who knows how many state-level positions. It’d change funding allocations and…” She looked up at me. “Or maybe they’re just a bunch of zealots who didn’t listen when we pointed out all the problems with the bill six months ago, including that this could technically happen, even if it seemed unlikely. Same results either way.”
She scrolled back through the news footage, picked out a segment, and spun the tablet. The Reverend Senator Callahan was walking out of the capitol building, a wide, closed-mouthed smile serene on his face.
“It’s about personal responsibility. To all those… facilities, I’d say you shouldn’t have done the procedures if you couldn’t take care of your obligations afterwards. The American people trusted you with their children, and if anything happens to any single one of them, we will hold you accountable. At long last.”
That was all I could think to say. I’d missed something Ester and Dr. Quarzi had seen coming.
I knew they’d been trying to kill our industry. What I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t about the Frozen Generation. They were after us.
Us, like as individuals, the people who worked at the clinics. Not just the politicians who supported us, or our CEO, or the other executives they dragged before congress, but all of us. Me.
Even after all these years in their crosshairs I’d still taken them at their word. Still internalized some gut, cultural-suffusion belief that they cared about the Frozen Generation enough not to sabotage them. No matter how much they hated extraction or us that enabled it, Storage should have been safe.
Oh. You damned idiot.
It wouldn’t matter if tonight’s ban got overturned if we were all in prison when it came time to reopen the clinic. Whether we were the victims of a conspiracy or yet another bit of collateral damage didn’t really matter. Dr Quarzi was right. Ester was right. For all the good it would probably do them, at least they were running.
“How long do we have?” Charlotte asked.
I shook out of the reprieve; the math was fresh in my mind. We were already so low.
“Without more juice? Maybe a day or two before we start losing ones near the top of the flasks to evaporation.”
With cryo, thawing isn’t like you’d imagine. Everything’s so cold, it’s actually skipped freezing to being this ice-free glass. If it thaws unregulated, you have two problems: ice crystals will form and slice all the cells apart, and the cryoprotectants that preserve the cells by replacing their water will go toxic as they warm. Warming the cells and diluting out the cryoprotectants is a whole process you just can’t manage when a few thousand flasks of enhanced nitrogen are going from liquid to gas and you have no electricity.
“I contacted our sister organizations and sent out an alert on all our social media. Described what they’re doing and begged for fuel and cryo,” Charlotte said. “We’ve got a good base of someday-parents who are organizing to help.”
“Not sure if our people can even get through that riot outside. The police are supposedly here to keep things under control, but they’re basically blockading us in.”
My eyes were still on the muted tablet, watching our representatives. I felt a bleak certainty that there would be plenty of investigations to determine all the ways we were at fault for this.
The power cut out. The wall of security monitors went dead. The only light in the room was the screen on the tablet.
I shook out of it. “Oh, yeah. I had Mike cut everything but Storage. We’ll move any clinic hardware we have to keep to the back, try to make it last.”
Charlotte nodded. “Good idea.”
“Could you double check the doors?” I asked. “Some of the emergencies are fail-open maglocks and we might need to barricade them.”
“Sure.” She grabbed a flashlight from her desk and the gun she kept holstered under the tabletop. She knew about the doors. She was probably relieved to have the distraction.
Mike caught me as I left Charlotte’s office.
“It’s Dr. Clarke. She won’t let me cut the clinic. Says she wants any surplus for the wombs.”
“What? Tell me she hasn’t started a new batch.”
Those things suck power and they still take almost nine months per kid. Regulations imposed on the manufacturer — anything else would be unnatural. And there were only twenty of them. We had over six hundred thousand embryos and fetuses in the back.
“Sorry, boss. She outranks me.”
“What, she’s gonna print half a million kids before the batteries run out?”
But she had to look like she’d tried. She was the doctor in charge of production. Someday they’d be asking her, ‘Why didn’t you try to save any of them?’
We were on a sinking ship, and we were all looking ahead, past the lifeboats to the historians, trying to dictate what they’d say about us in their accounts.
Or, more likely, in our atrocity trials.
All twenty Securus Platinum exowombs were humming away on their pedestal mounts, and ten old Herz-Stanton 25s were sitting on the counter. All were occupied and lit.
I wondered where Dr. Clarke had gotten the kids. Were they future orders? Had she picked them at random? The front office tried anonymizing the embryos once. Give them all an equal chance at adoption. Our client rate had plummeted. People out in the world talked a big game about the abandoned, forever-frozen masses and their right to life, but when it came time to grow their new kid, they only wanted the best.
“I knew you’d show up.” She looked tired and scared. She pointed her phone at me like it was a gun. Recording the conversation, proof she’d done all she could. Proof I was the bad guy here. Fine. Her jury would love us turning on each other.
“Doctor. You need to put the patients back into cryostasis.” It’s always ‘the patients’ when you talk about the Frozen, but especially when you know you’re on video.
Her chin came up and her face went hard. “This is my department, and these patients’ well-being is my responsibility. I have to do what’s best for them. I don’t answer to the cryotechs.”
“They cut our power, and these things are draining the reserve.” I spoke clear and slow for the court. “Without the exowombs running, we can get another day or so for all the patients in the back. Maybe they’ll turn the power back on by then. If we don’t, they’ll all start to thaw.” She didn’t react, so I kept going. “We’ll never have enough power for these machines either way. But running them could kill all the patients onsite.”
I half expected her to say I was just trying to save my own department at her expense, but she didn’t go there. She stuck to the script.
“The law says we need to transfer all Unborn Americans to exowombs immediately.”
She put herself between me and them, like she expected us to fight.
I realized I didn’t have to argue this out. I didn’t have to say anything. The breaker was in the basement.
Antisocial hive tendencies, I guess. We always caught flack for being ‘indirectly confrontational’ after being raised by a monolith we couldn’t affect in the slightest. As a nod to professionalism, I spoke up on my way out.
“Okay. You can put them back in cryo or you can take them someplace else. Either way, I’m cutting power to this room.” I headed for the stairwell. She followed me.
“They can’t leave these facilities! They’re not allowed to leave the clinic. We have to maintain custody of all-”
I stopped at the basement door while I found my light. “I can spare a truck. I can’t spare power.”
“You don’t ‘spare’ anything! That’s not your decision to make!” I was the last facilities person here with any rank, so I would contest that.
Luckily, I didn’t have to. Charlotte appeared from the darkness and stepped in. I guess we hadn’t exactly been arguing quietly.
“Rachel. Stop,” she said. There was an edge to her voice, but she kept it calm, authoritative. “We can’t support them here. Not anymore. If you want them to make it, you have to take them someplace else.”
“But they can’t leave…”
She took Dr. Clarke’s hand. “Listen, they, and you, will be safer someplace else. Take them to a hospital, take them to your church. Hell, take them to the governor’s mansion. Anywhere’ll be better.” She started guiding her toward the garage. “Come on, I’ll help you get a truck.”
“It’s okay. It’s okay. These are terrible times and you’ve done everything you could. If we had more than thirty exowombs, you would have saved even more. You’ve already gone above and beyond. They’ll understand. Hell, you’ll probably be a hero.”
I hit the staircase, flashlight searching for the clinic breaker. I’d probably be able to watch her single-handedly rescue those thirty innocent lives again someday in the based-on-a-true-story dramatization. From my prison cell.
I made a decision on my way back to Storage. Or maybe I realized that I’d made it a while ago.
Keeping the Frozen ‘alive’ had always been the goal, but the way I’d seen it, my real job was to keep everything perfect back here, exceeding every regulation, so nobody went to jail.
Most of the crew I had left seemed to feel the same way. If we quit, we’d be abandoning our teammates, and the rest of the clinic.
That made what came next easier. My plans might have changed since the drive in, but I’d still be doing my job.
Zeke was manually forcing the heavy door to the employee garage when I got back to Storage.
“Jimmy’s back, and he says he got fuel!” Sol told me.
Zeke grinned. “I love that kid.”
The sun was up now. I saw a sliver of it as the garage door rumbled back down. The truck rolled to a stop as we all hustled over.
Jimmy shoved the door open and stumbled out, looking beat and wild-eyed. “I’m sorry, boss.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t get- it’s bad out there.”
His knuckles were scraped bloody and he had a nice shiner forming on his left eye. He’d stopped somewhere and spray painted over the logo on the truck. I wondered if it was before or after his fight.
I went around the back and looked over the bed of gas cans. Most of them were empty.
Zeke was talking to him. “Hey, hey it’s okay. You’re okay.”
“No, it’s not. They’d only sell me eighty gallons. I couldn’t do more, I’m sorry. The first place, when I tried to fill everything, they figured it out and came out with a gun. I-”
Behind us, Sol swore and kicked the truck.
“Hey, it’s fine!” I waved a hand at him, then looked back to our driver. “You did more than we had any right to ask. It’s okay. We’ll figure something out.”
There was a half second of silence, and then: “I quit.” Jimmy was looking down at the painted-over logo, focus distant. “Look,” he said. “I just came to get my truck. Sorry.” He met my eyes for a second. “Sorry. I’m done. I got to go.”
And then he did.
We got as ready as we could with what we had left. We consolidated the fuel, shifted our resources around so we weren’t producing any more power than we could use or store, made sure we were running everything else on the minimums.
They worked hard, though they looked scared, kept checking their phones. Couldn’t hold that against them today. News updates, worried texts from families. Finally, I said, “Enough. Go home. We’re as ready for shutdown as we’re going to get.”
After all the hassle from the government inspections, the impossible hours from being badly understaffed, the slurs and attacks and violence from the protestors, the crew I had left were here because they were loyal and they cared. With their skills, they could have gotten jobs at any lab or factory floor for more pay and less work, less stress. I was grateful for them.
“Naw, you’ll need us here,” Sol said.
“I need you to go get some sleep. Go home, see your families. I’ll text you if we need anything else. There’ll be a lot to do when Charlotte and her lawyers get the power back. They’ll probably have inspectors out here before the next shipment of cryo.”
“What about you?”
I didn’t have kids, or anyone at home to worry about. Most of my forty-six surviving hive siblings could take care of themselves.
“I’ll take the first shift here. I’ll let you know as soon as anything changes, or if I need help with anything in the meanwhile.”
“If the power doesn’t come back…” Zeke started.
“I’ll watch the levels. I got reserve batteries, reserve tanks, and gravity feeds from the ‘still. If I need a bucket brigade, I’ll let you know.”
They laughed a little. Then they just looked tired. Finally, they took the out, headed for their trucks. Promised they’d look for gas, be back as soon as we needed them. But they weren’t coming back and we all knew it. I wasn’t going to text them, and they knew that, too.
Someone had to be responsible for what was going to happen next. Storage was my department. If I sent them away before the failures began, it kept responsibility for everything nice and tidy.
I waited till they were gone, then I climbed up on the pump station, set all the warning alarms to max volume, and took a nap.
I woke up when I started sweating through my clothes. The sun was cooking on the warehouse roof — good for our solar, not that it’d do more than pump our thin reserves around. The Frozen wouldn’t notice this heat though, not in their vacuum flasks of liquid nitrogen. Out here it was too hot, but in there it was impossibly cold.
The generator’s warning lights glowed amber on the dash. Nothing left to do about that.
I went for a walk around the clinic.
The place was empty, trashed in everyone’s haste to evacuate. I could hear someone clinking around in one of the labs and it made me think of rats or squatters. Just last night it had been business as usual, and now this. Muffled outside, I thought I could hear voices and pops, like fireworks or gunshots.
Amerinews was playing in Charlotte’s office.
“State militia units here in Godless California are mustering on the border for what they call a humanitarian mission, an invasion to kidnap and illegally transport the Frozen across state lines. It’s a logistical nightmare in clear violation of state autonomy. God only knows what will happen to these helpless babies.”
“Hey, Moses,” Charlotte said.
“Hey. Jimmy quit.”
We both looked at the tablet for a minute.
“How about you?” I asked.
“I’m going down with the ship. You?”
“I’ll keep things cold as long as I can. After that, I don’t know. Any luck on the power?”
She shook her head. Subject change. “There’s a mob outside.”
“Yeah? Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll set the place on fire. Take the credit.” I said.
That got a little smile. “If you need to get out, the side door by client parking still opens out. Plus your loading dock.”
“Thanks. Not sure there’s any running away from this.”
She sat there in the dark, lit by her dwindling tablet. “I’ll be here if you need anything,” she said.
I walked back to Storage and made my rounds again. Looked over all the racks and racks of flasks, batteries, reserve tanks, bundled wires and tubing. I’d configured most of these units. I’d loaded half of them. Tended them all for years, watched for even a single power or temperature failure. Soon there’d be thousands.
The last generator sputtered to a rest outside. The fans stopped. The pumps cut out. The beeps and squawks of the monitors went dead on standby. And in the silence, the Frozen Generation began to thaw.