Jesus Ramirez cupped the aged circular thermometer in his hand with a clawed fervor that bespoke of a feral rage slowly subsiding.  Tiny cuts along the lengths of his knobby fingers gave a rich red hue to the brushed silver of the thermometer’s worn case.  Droplets rained unnoticed from the underside of his hand as he continued to stare, disbelieving the gauge within the chunk of metal.  The glass face of the temperature meter had cracked in two places, long slivers symbolizing the fragile existence of the balance within the now defunct technology.

Moments before, the tiny red pointer had been clearly visible through the unmarred glass cover, dancing wickedly within the wedge of red numbers along the calibrated length of the thermometer.  That was before First Corpsman Maintenance Class Ramirez had shrieked in disbelieving rage and snapped the archaic dial clean off, tearing it from its decades old housing with a wrenching twist, ripping loose the thin colored wiring and splintering the glassy surface.    Now the little slice of metal hung limply against the setting pin at the extreme opposite end of the dial, well below where the numbers declined in an increasingly blue font.  Visually, that was definitely better for Corpsman Ramirez than watching the wicked little pointer continue to climb into that horrid red zone.  Yet, the victory was hollow.  He could still smell the heat, and the steam rising off of the stainless steel nearby was a clear indicator that he had won only the battle.

Jesus gave the thermometer a gentle shake, watching the pointer, which had consumed so many years of his life, jiggle stupidly before coming to rest on the steadfast pin at the cold end of the meter.  His left eyelid fluttered, twitching ominously at the myriad possibilities represented by the act of which he had just partaken.  His mind began to reel, his heartbeat leaping to fiery life with adrenalin, when the intercom located at shoulder height next to him squawked to life.

“Ramirez!  Say again!” the voice was edging toward frantic, “Unable to make out last temperature reading!  Say again!  Over!”

The electronic summons shattered the fugue that had descended over Jesus, but it did little to settle the chaotic firing of his synapses or the fraying of his nerves.  The small thermometer tumbled from his fingers and clanged onto the deck plating, and First Corpsman Ramirez suddenly lunged and hurled this morning’s breakfast immediately afterward with a hot splatter.

Wiping across his mouth with the back of one hand, Jesus left a trail of crimson streaks on his face that mingled with the acidic spittle, painting a demented clown on his now stricken face.  A moment of light-headedness, a veritable spin in the funhouse, passed through him, but his will held, and the dry heaves which begged to erupt, subsided into a dull ache just below his ribcage.  The convulsions had felt as if they had originated near the balls of his feet, and his testicles had withdrawn into his torso along a fierce line of interconnecting chi.

Jesus leaned a hand on the nearby wall to stabilize himself and finally took notice of the blood smeared prints he was finger painting on the polymer walls.  Fumbling through his maintenance kit nearby, he grabbed a fresh rag from his usual allotment and wrapped the faded cloth around his hand and in between his fingers.  The clown now wore a pained expression as the cold realities of the events unfolding, along with the exposed nerve endings in his hand, began to sink home.

If the coolant system had shut down, had finally breathed its last icy breath, then the preservation chamber directly in front of him, cube U7Delta, would thaw, and what was inside, what all the soldiers of First Corps had been stationed here to protect, would again–

“Ramirez!!!”  The voice of the on-call commander again sliced through his haze with technocratic efficiency, causing the soldier to resurface briefly.

Jesus rolled himself along the wall for seconds that felt like minutes.  At last he found himself between the small intercom and the tiny window that looked into the stasis cube nearby.  His eyes at first deceived him into telling his brain that everything was copacetic, nothing out of the ordinary here.  The brief moment of elation was shattered as his field of vision registered that the portal into cube U7Delta was clear.  The usual translucent rime was gone.  What he was seeing was the smoke, or fog considering the nature of the substance, that was forming inside the cube as the temperatures began to rise and the ice began to melt.  Jesus’ eyes were riveted to the glass although he had been briefed on the cube’s contents and had stared into the glass countless times before.  His morbid curiosity caused him to lean ever closer, seeking out signs or shadows that would confirm what was happening.  With his face only inches from the small window, Ramirez activated the intercom.

“Sir, we have a situation down here on U-block,” Jesus started with only the slightest tremor in his voice, “We need tech down here right away.”

A fleeting wisp of shadow danced across the interior of the glass, moving almost too quickly to be seen.  Jesus caught the furtive movement, but the shape was moving fast enough that the human mind could easily begin to rationalize it away.  A billow of fog.  A trick of the light.  Something in the sleep deprived eye of the viewer.

Then in a very clear and concise tone, Jesus updated his comrades.

“Temperature in U-Block holding unstable.  Defrost imminent.  Request aid.  Repeat.  Request aid,” then in a barely audible whisper, “Send backup.  And hurry.”

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