Excerpt from Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel novella to the Gabriel Trilogy. GZP is FREE (as in beer) for Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. Free, so what’s the harm in trying it on for size?
The plastic was unnaturally cold against his skin as he stretched out in the capsule. It felt more metal than plastic. The glass lid perched above his head, still hinged open, blurring the designs on the ceiling panels, probably leftover from the original luxury suites. He wriggled to find a comfortable position.
“All set, Lieutenant?”
Knowles’s face appeared above him, looking down into the capsule.
“The underwear itches,” he replied. “Other than that, yeah, I suppose so.”
She smiled. “Itchy underwear will be the least of your annoyances. I forgot to tell you. The oxy fluid is ice cold. And the scout nanites will be injected prior to sedation, so you may feel some… discomfort the first few minutes.”
“They pave the way for the rest of the machines. Scouting pathways, blood vessels, arteries, and the like. Just making it easier for the others. But some patients have complained of some initial pain. No worries, Lieutenant. You’ll be under sedation in a matter of moments after the process begins.”
“This gets better and better,” he growled.
Knowles’s face disappeared for a few seconds, then returned. “Tank is online. Relax, take a few deep breaths. Like I said, the fluid is ice cold and will startle your body when it enters your lungs. Go with it. In the womb, we all breathed like this. It’s natural.” She smiled. “Sort of.”
Her face disappeared and reappeared again. “The process has started,” she said as the glass lid began to slowly descend. “I’ll see you on the other side, Lieutenant Gabriel.” Just before she pulled her head back, he saw the same flicker of emotion on her face he had seen a few minutes ago. Sadness? Worry? Before he could say anything, her face was gone.
He closed his eyes as the lid connected with the capsule with a thunk. He heard air hissing, then from under him came the freezing cold fluid. His body tensed and he clenched his teeth, trying desperately to push the thought of drowning aside. The liquid poured in and cascaded over the tops of his legs, then stomach and chest. His skin puckered at the cold and he took short, sharp breaths. His fingers curled, nails pressing into his palms.
The liquid reached his mouth and he squeezed it shut, involuntarily holding his breath. He knew the process; it was the same as long-range high-acceleration ships used for inertial dampening for crewmembers in stasis. But to a human body, it was completely unnatural, regardless of what Knowles said about the womb.
He was now completely submerged and shivering uncontrollably. His lungs burned for air. He opened his eyes, and the freezing liquid stabbed at his eyeballs. It was as if looking through pale blue gelatin.
His lungs could take no more, and he gasped for breath. Spasms racked his body as the fluid poured down his throat and into his airway. He spasmed several more times, and the image of being pushed under by an ocean wave flashed across his mind. He willed his body to relax, and finally the fluid filled his lungs and his body settled. One last gasp and spasm, and Gabriel was breathing liquid.
Through the rushing waterfall sound of the liquid in his ears, he heard a mechanical whirring. He felt a pinprick on his right thigh, then a matching one on his left. Six more pinpricks: one in each arm, one each on either side of his rib cage, one in the bottom of each foot. The scout injections, he thought. He imagined them like cartoon robots, running down red corridors to their jobs, leaving bread crumbs behind for others to follow. He started to smile, when he felt a burning sensation in both feet. The image of the fire ants came back to him as the same burning crept over his legs, then sides, then arms. Suddenly the burning was coursing throughout his body, and he began to panic. This wasn’t the discomfort Knowles alluded to.
The burning intensified, like miniature plasma torches being placed against his skin in a thousand places. He struggled to move, but the paralytic chemicals in the fluid had taken effect. He was immobilized, the nanites started their work on him, and he was still awake.
He grunted as the burning continued. He couldn’t even grit his teeth, and his eyes were still open, staring at blue-tinged ceiling panels. Then the sedation kicked in. His vision began to gray, but the burning increased to an unbearable level.
Gabriel screamed in silence.