The rest of Sam’s third day in the less confined space of the pod’s walkway had proven to very different from the first two. Tims taught Sam things at a rate that would have probably taken Isaac and Ali a decade. The more Tims talk to Sam, the more interested an involved he became in learning whatever he needed to. It was on more than just an educational level. Sam, without even really noticing it, was picking up on even fainter memories through Tims likeness. These memories, on top of what Isaac had taught him, were bringing Sam back to normal, like from before.
Although there were still three days to go, Sam was starting to look forward to venturing outside again. Isaac’s warning remained exactly that. It was just a simple warning, even though, if only at first, Sam had felt that it was more of an omen.
Sam still wanted to know about the past world, but Tims, unlike Dr. Isaac and Ali, gave him answers that settled on his mind a little easier. Tims common response for questions about memories was that they would come back in due time, and if Sam asked about something specific, Tims would tell him that he needed more training before he could reach that top-shelf stuff. It was in Sam’s head a little later that anything top-shelf was something that either tasted very good or was extremely expensive, both of which, Tims had explained whenever talking about human nature, needed to be earned.
By midday, Sam had already completed the necessary requirements to leave the pod, with help from his newest pod compadré as Tims called himself to Sam once, but when Tims asked him if he’d like to stay and get better prepared for the outside world, Sam agreed.
Although Tims seemed a bit odd at times, perhaps because he was a robot, Sam was convinced that he had really left a part of himself engraved into Tims A-I. The way Tims carried himself and spoke, even if it was through a layered electronic voice, felt like an example Sam could follow, even if only in the slightest of ways. Sam had deduced in his mind that if he wanted to be back to his old self, he should start to ‘train’ in his own way, if only it meant picking up on the little things Tims did.
After all the learning, Tims told Sam that to have a proper meal.
“You humans need your grub. Sadly, you won’t have the exact meal you had two-hundred years ago, but before you went under stasis you told me you wanted to have a good breakfast platter. I’ve only made this once, but I’ll do my best to bring it again,” Tims said.
Tims continued by opening several compartments, grabbing bowls, plates and a pan that all sat neatly on a small kitchenette behind the first of many panels he had opened.
“Do you know where everything is in here,” Sam asked. Tims was now ripping open brown packages that contained chunky powder. He began mixing in some water with it.
“I’ve only been around this cabin a hundred times. Before you went into stasis, we stayed in here for about three months. You told me that you needed to get some other things ready beforehand. Some more of that top-shelf stuff,” he said, smiling at Sam as he said it.
“Speaking of top shelf stuff,” he said, opening one of the top panels and pulling down a black case with one had while still stirring with the other. “Don’t forget to put these on for the trip outside. The air may not be as toxic as expected, but after some of the readings your pod’s had over the past few months, I wouldn’t doubt if we end up seeing some of the more ‘undesirable’ wildlife.”
“How do you know what the pod’s been doing the past few months,” Sam asked. Tims was finishing up what looked like the first batch of a visceral, yet pleasant-smelling pudding.
He looked over at Sam, tapping on his transparent head, “When I took a peek into the system I snagged some of the more recent data that your Larhp has been monitoring. This pod isn’t just designed to house you. It’s here to serve as a base of operations while you figure out how the new world operates. Think of it like that story where the guy builds the ark in order to save the animals, only this boat,” he said while popping one of his hands on a panel, “came with all the bells and whistles. You’ll see what I’m talking about once we leave.”
Sam was curious about the reference. He knew what the ark was. The guy Tims was talking about was a man named Noah, and he built it to survive a flood. Sam wondered if the tides of fire he had seen were of any relation. Either way, he stowed in the back of his mind, like most of the interesting things that happened lately, and began wondering about the things Tims had mentioned earlier. He had called them ‘wildlife’.
“Tims, what’s a—a wildlife?”
“For one, it’s a group of creatures from a particular area, and I can’t be sure of what was seen until I can scan one up close, but what I can tell you is that there’s been a much higher survival rate among both the normal and abnormal creatures from before in this area. I’m not sure if they migrated over the past few years or what, but it means more things could have survived in the rest of the world as well. But, there’ve also been a few things detected that the system couldn’t properly identify. This means the event has, as many of the people from your time had feared, changed some of them creatures,” he said.
“Are they—dangerous,” Sam asked, standing up from his bed and pacing a line down the thin walkway.
Tims stopped stirring the mixture for a moment and turned his head, seeming more like a human now than ever, “I expect they aren’t going to be as docile as most of the animals from before. The event would have created a very hostile environment, an environment that would pit most of them against each other; like I said thought, I can’t be certain until we get out there.”
The bot that Sam had rescued so many years ago had a bit of a sullen look on his face. Sam thought it was a bit odd how lifelike he had been that morning, even through imitation skin that looked even more artificial than Ali’s. Tims tossed the black box to Sam, who paced right in front of the shower.
“If you’re starting to get worried, don’t,” Tims said. “Isaac made those for you. It’s a bit more advance than the ones from back in the day. They won’t make you invincible, but they’ll soften the blow if you ever get tagged and keep you alive.”
Sam opened the box and pulled out ordinary-looking clothes. A pair of distressed brown cargo pants that looked like they’d be a snug but comfortable fit, a plain white t-shirt and a long-sleeve blue over shirt with three buttons at the top.
“Thank you,” Sam said with a smile.
“Don’t thank me, you told me to give those to you. All those years ago you said, ‘Oh, and don’t forget the outfit. Gotta protect yourself at all times’, you said. I gotta be honest, I’ve never seen you scramble around as much as you did those last few months. You finally had to talk yourself down just to go under.”
“Why was I scrambling,” Sam asked.
Tims continued stirring the second batch while turning his head so Sam could hear him. “You said you needed to be as prepared as possible. Now, go shower up. I’ll have this done by then.”
Sam’s time being alone again only brought more questions. More than he had the ability to turn away and send back down to the confines of his mind. Either that or he was running on a shortened supply of good locks to keep the old ones away.
He was listening to one of the songs Isaac had showed him, a title from a man named Buffalo, when he began running through some of the creatures he could recall from before. Most of them were either very exotic or a bland common.
‘There are dogs, cats, elephants are the ones with ivory tusks, and tigers, too. Bears are supposed to be scary, or maybe it was a fish that’s supposed to cause you more harm. Sam couldn’t remember. Still resonating in a blurring mass were those same twisted and spiny contortions that he simply could not shake from his mind. ‘Are they animals or are they the creatures Tims keeps talking about? Maybe they’re why Isaac warned me about the dangers outside.’
His thoughts passed over many of the animals that you’d find in what was known as a ‘pet store’. This was another vague memory from before the event, a thing that Sam still didn’t understand but desperately wanted to.
All the other animals that came clear in his mind could be found in something called a zoo. Apparently, places like this housed all kinds of reptiles, mammals, amphibious life from the ocean, and other oddities. The term avian kept recurring in Sam’s mind, but he couldn’t connect it to with any creature other than something called a raven or a sparrow.
“Why can’t I remember what I want to remember,” he asked himself. An odd sense of realization had swept over him after this. It was only his third day, and although he hadn’t spoken much past asking the other three normal questions, he couldn’t remember trying to carry a conversation with any of them. He didn’t think it was a bad thing not being outspoken, but he didn’t think it was a very good good thing to ask himself questions.
Sam was beginning to feel his mind drift into a shimmer of thought when a muffled voice came through the wall. “Hey man, don’t fall asleep in there. If you drown, you won’t get to eat this.” It was Tims.
“Be right out,” Sam bellowed. He started wondering what else he would begin to remember once he left the pod but quickly withdrew the thought. He was getting hungry and Tims was nice enough to make him something. He decided it’d be rude to slip into another muse. A word that, Sam had thought anyways, meant to wonder.
After stepping out and getting toweled off, Sam got dressed and saw himself in the mirror, looked much different than he had expected.
With the hair left on his face and the clothes sitting a bit loose on his body, he felt a different kind of resonance. It went beyond the haze of the small memories he had regained.
If his mind was an ocean he had been fishing those memories from for the past few days, what surfaced its face when he looked in that mirror was something from the darkest abyss within those waters. His initial thought was that he’d ever be equipped enough to catch something like this for keeps.
The memory was quite beautiful for the moment it stayed. It shimmered like a mirage, but something didn’t feel right about it. Sam, for a moment, remembered where he was and what he was doing in the first place.
When he looked back at himself however, hearing the drone of the pod and the music still playing, it all began to fade softly. That when he saw something. Something horrible, adjacent to the happiness he had regained, flash within the face of his reflection. A contortion of his reflection with the likes of something otherworldly.
He gasped stammering backward, and heard a crack.
After several slow blinks his eyes began to haze in and out, pulsating. His chest was thudding heavily. Breathing began to take it’s toll, breaths feeling more and more difficult to draw. The pain began to seep into the back of his head as his vision began to blur. Just like his memories from before, he began to fear his vision would never be focused again. His face came through in the mirror, clear for a moment. Red streaks of scarlet trickled their way from his nose as his vision finally blackened. Then, he collapsed like a stone, sinking far into the abyss.
“Sam—-Sam, wake up,” a voice called.
He wasn’t present, not entirely. He was swimming in thoughts of things more appealing at that moment, like going to sleep for a little while longer. ‘Maybe there’s a way I could stay asleep forever,’ he thought.
Soon after, a pain began to sting on his face. His bodied jolted for a moment. Shortly after, the voice became less distorted and his eyes opened. As the pulsation of light in and out of his eyes steadied, the split images he saw began to line up again.
“Sam, you’ve had an accident,” the shimmering voice said. It was the layered voice. The being was cradling Sam’s head, knelt by his side. It was Tims.
“Wh—what happ–,” Sam tried to say.
“Shut up for now and rest a minute. You hit your head pretty hard,” Tims said. He looked around, seeming to scan Sam’s face and neck for a moment. “Luckily,” he continued, “nothing’s broken. I think the worst might just be a mild concussion. You’ll need some rest for the next few days if you want to recover. I didn’t want to, but I had to smack you around a bit to get you to come to.”
“Tims,” Sam said in a wheezing voice. “I saw something—in the mirror.” Tims look away from Sam and into the bathroom. There was still a scarlet puddle on the bathroom floor. Tims picked Sam up and laid him on the bed. “I’ll go check it out,” he said.
A few minutes passed. Sam feeling of nausea passed after being overwhelmed with a sense of sluggishness. He drifted off into sleep. He didn’t dream at all when he rested this time.
When Sam woke up, Tims seemed to have been kneeling beside him the entire time. “Happy to see you decided to join the land of the living again, sleepin’ beauty. If you can, I want you to try and sit up for a moment and drink some water. I added some medicine that’ll help your headache for the time being.
Sam mustered up the strength, pushing himself form the laying position, and sat upright. Tims walked back over to the kitchenette area to fetch the water. Sam looked over into the bathroom and noticed it was spotless. That wasn’t the only thing he noticed.
When he had left the walkway to shower, the kitchenette had been covered with bowls and various utensils. Now it looked just as it had before Tims had opened a single compartment, but when was earlier on?
“Tims, how long was I out,” Sam asked.
“A few hours but you’ll be okay,” he said. “I should have told you earlier that some of the side-effects of being under stasis for so long range from minor headaches to suggestive thought patterns and mild hallucinations. What you saw was probably just that.”
‘Suggestive thoughts,’ Sam repeated in his head. The more he learned, the more Sam seemed to want to know. He was starting to think it was going to be a never-ending cycle. Another thought was forming in his head as the previous drifted by.
“Tims, how old am I,” he asked. Tims was crossing back over the walkway with a cup in his hand. He squatted beside Sam’s bed again, handed Sam the cup, and urged him to ‘drink up’.
“Hmm, Let’s see. You were in stasis one-hundred-ninety-nine years and three-hundred-sixty-two days. Speaking of, I have to commend you on the timing. You told me when you woke up that you wanted a birthday in the pod. According to records, your birthday is in about ten minutes. When it rolls around you’ll be two-hundred-twenty-two years old. Lookin’ spiffy for an old geezer” Tims said, grinning.
Sam started drinking from the glass, nearly spitting it out from the taste of chemicals. He shot a regretting look of disgust at Tims who simply replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I don’t feel very good, to be honest,” Sam said.
“You’ll get used to the feeling. After all, age is just a number,” he said winking. Sam looked at his gesture with curiosity and amusement. “Go on,” Tims said, winking again, “you try.”
Sam contorted his face, trying with everything he could. Tims busted out in a fit of laughter, falling to the floors and holding what would be his stomach if he were a human. “You look like someone just stole your treasure, blackbeard,” he said through mechanical laughter. “Arrghh.”
Sam was insecure at this for a moment, but quickly joined in on the laughter.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” he said. Tims pushed himself off the floor from where he had fallen and walked over to something beside the kitchenette.
Isaac had ran through a lot of memory exercises on the first day to show Sam some easier things to remember. What Tims had taken out of the grated compartment looked like was what Isaac had called a cake. It filled the entirety of the pod with a warm and pleasant aroma.
“Happy birthday,” Tims said, handing Sam what he had been working on before the incident. Sam looked at it with large eyes. “Thank you,” he said. “but what exactly is in it,” he asked innocently. The cake was a very dark shade that didn’t look as appetizing as the one Isaac had showed him, after all.
“Well, there’s no way to get fresh ingredients when nothing but dehydrated and freeze -dried triple seals are worth anything past twenty-five years, you see, but you called this little number a breakfast platter cake. The bottom layer is a simple powdered Belgian waffle mix with two cubes of freeze-dried butter, the second, a soy by-product made to look and taste like sausage crumbles that baked into another mixture that tastes like toast, and on top we have a fruit spread that doubled as the icing. All I had to do was add water, toss into the oven and voila, you have your favorite meal in the form of a cake.
Sam was hesitant at first, but he pulled a piece off with his fingers and put it in his mouth. A smile began grow as he chewed. It was warm and gooey, unlike the drinks that Isaac and Ali had given him the first couple of days. He’d never be able to describe the taste, but it was still one of the more enjoyable experiences he had had in the pod.
After Sam had finished the cake, Tims asked if he’d like to listen to music for the rest of the evening and take it easy. Sam agreed. Where the pain and images had struck terror into his mind, Tims had made it better, if only for his kindness and company.
That night, Sam slept peacefully, without worry for what would happen. No vivid nightmares or dreams of any kind came to him. The bliss of nothingness filled his mind, but It wasn’t until he had awoken that the peace and quiet had been ripped up by the sound of alarm.
Sam felt hot and sweaty. He opened his eyes and lifted himself up to see Tims rushing along the walkway. There were no normal cabin lights illuminating the walkway anymore. Instead, red light had erected from a few of the compartments and were circling an evil-looking light back and forth. Most of the cabinets had been opened, and a black bag had been laid at the foot of Sam’s bed along with a pair of boots. Sounds of a bleating siren filled the cabin.
“SAM, GET READY,” Tims shouted.
“What’s going on?” Sam spoke just loud enough to be heard over the alarm. Tims was still rushing about. Sam believed he was trying to figure out what to keep and what not to. He was cradling things in his arms that kept falling, but he would catch every one of them before they actually hit the ground, stick them back in his arms, and carry on.
“The circulation system failed last night. I don’t breathe but you do. We have to leave the pod–NOW,” Tims explained. “The only problem is that the activity in this area increases as the night goes on. It dips drastically at first light. You’re not reallt prepared for something like this yet.”
“What time is it,” Sam asked.
Tims stopped, forming a look of reluctance. “Three minutes after one in the mornign. First light isn’t until six thirty-seven.”
“What do we do until then,” Sam asked.
Tims was hastily stuffing a second bag. He looked back up at Sam. “We’re going for an early morning jog,” he said smiling, “now throw your boots on and make sure they’re laced comfortably.” After another few minutes of hastened preparation, Sam shouldered his pack and looked back at Tims.
“Ready,” Tims asked.
Sam nodded his head, “Yeah—Ready.”
Tims grabbed one of the panels that didn’t seem to budge at all, and ripped it off the hinges. Through thick glass was a lever that read ‘emergency exit’ across it. Tims punched the glass several times before it cracked and several more before it gave way for his mechanical hand to slip in. He pulled the lever and a mechanized hum began to whine out.
As all the sounds ceased, the cabin went black. The paneled door at the far end of the pod, opposite of the stasis chamber, gave way. A ripping sound broken the silence as two hatch doors connecting to the surface parted, letting in a silvery moonlight that illuminated the stairs that led outside.
Air swooped in and filled Sam’s nostrils. It was unlike anything he had experienced thus far. Even for all the problems that may lie ahead, he was joyfully anxious.