Story by Geoff Tuffli
++++ DATE 28.2.2464
++++ TIME 12:31 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Onboard the station The Ark, 3561 km matching velocity to Martian Trojan Asteroid 5261 Eureka
First, there was only a vague sensation of warmth.
It built slowly, a growing thing that his mind struggled to shape into a word. There. Warmth he thought. I am warm. More thoughts followed. Nausea. Vertigo. Oxygen. Oxygen. Oh god I need to breath...
He opened his eyes.
An older man, clean-shaven and ebony so dark he seemed almost to glow in the bright station light. Leaning over where he lay on his back gasping and choking was a blonde woman with a too-even complexion and a look of stock consideration in eyes that were similarly too clear, too unblinking.
"Mr. Rivera? Isaac Rivera?" the older man was asking him.
Isaac waved him off, still coughing as he pushed himself to a seating position. The blonde woman held a square bowl in front of him. He spit into it, coughed, spat some more. "Madre de Dios, how I fucking hate cryo," he said hoarsely.
The older man relaxed almost imperceptibly. "Mr. Rivera, I am Station Administrator John Mokwena. Welcome to the Ark. We're glad to have you here."
"I'm not," Isaac said. "But the money was too good to pass up, even with the glorious promise of months in cryo."
John shook his head. "I apologize for the necessity, but for reasons of corporate security we needed to bring you here in a rather roundabout manner. The rest of us did as well."
Isaac looked at the blonde woman. "She was never in cryo."
"Well, no. Forgive me, I have been remiss in my courtesies. This is Erinna-CIT-59-M. Currently, at least."
The blonde woman smiled. "How do you do, Mr. Rivera? This is not actually my specialty, but I am versed in cryogenic complications, not that any such are in evidence."
Isaac accepted a cup of something hot that might have even been coffee from John with a nod of thanks. He looked quizzically at her. "CIT?"
Erinna nodded. "Yes. My sisters and I remain under contract, but have our provisional citizen classifications, legally recognized in both the Southern Bloc and on Mars. And the Hildas Triangle, of course." She smiled, flashing dimples.
"That's a hell of a chassis you have there. I almost thought you were human."
"It is," she agreed. "Carlisle Pharmaceuticals was most eager to obtain both our cooperation and our discretion, therefore we thought it a reasonable condition of our indentured service. Among other conditions, of course. It wouldn't pass any kind of real biometric scan, but short of that it is usually sufficient to pass for fully human."
Isaac grunted. "Well, I'm here. Shall we get started?"
John lifted an eyebrow. "You are quite certain you would not like to rest first? We have prepared quarters for you in A Ring."
"I am quite certain I would not. I have been resting for far too long, and no offense to anyone here, but I'd like to finish what I came here to do and get the fuck back home."
John nodded. "Very well, then. Once you are dressed join us outside, please."