Volume 1.2: 'True Love'
I fell forwards through Time with true love as my destination: at least, that's what the brochure had promised. I'd expected a swirling portal and accelerating clock hands, but there was just a penetrating cold and a feeling of dislocation like I'd dozed off on a train and arrived somewhere unexpectedly.
A year had passed while I was frozen. One of the medical technicians had resigned, another had grown their hair long, but that was everything that had changed. They clucked around me until they were convinced that my health hadn't suffered, then left. I sat on the lip of the pod glumly, gazing up and down the ranks of humming cylinders. The staff's lack of urgency clearly meant that they hadn't found my true love yet.
A woman with cropped brown hair and a clipboard walked up after a few minutes. She'd clearly had to deal with people with my downcast expression before.
“Sorry we've had no luck yet, but you always knew this would be the likely result for such a short hop.”
I curled my lip petulantly; loneliness still sat heavily in my guts like I'd swallowed a rock.
“Look...” she tried again, changing tack. “We scanned the global database of every living person every Sunday and came up with no matches, but you've only been frozen for a year. The only way we'd find a positive match is if your true love was only a year younger than your optimal age bracket. For all you know, they've not even been born yet!”
They'd been clear about all this when I signed up, but it still wasn't very comforting.
“Maybe you should try for a longer hop,” she suggested. “Let's try five years this time. Don't worry, though – we'll wake you just as soon as we find your match in the Sunday scan.”
After I'd agreed, I lay down in the pod again. Of course, I agreed. I'm a hopeless romantic who wants candle-lit dinners and walks by the ocean, but above all, I believe that there's one person who's perfect for each of us. It's just my misfortune that they're not alive at the same time as me.
The lid clicked down and there was another frozen dislocation: I gasped awake like a swimmer surfacing for air. The lid of the pod levered back and I saw that in the intervening years, the hall of cryopods had expanded, forming an entire second row above my own.
The woman was there again, with more grey in her hair.
“Still nothing from the Sunday scans, I'm afraid,” she said, patting my arm. “Don't despair. There's someone for everyone. They might just not be around yet.”
“What've I missed?” I asked as I lay back down again. “Six years frozen is a long time. Has anything interesting happened?”
“How much do you know about mushrooms or deep space radar?” she asked, glancing nervously at the hall's exit.
I admitted that I knew nothing; she closed the lid on me with a sad smile.
We'd agreed ten years for my next hop but to me, it passed in a single second. The lid popped open again straight away but this time, there was no-one to meet me. I swung my legs over the edge of the pod and dabbed my bare toes again the cold metal floor. The hall of cryopods was even bigger than before, but the air smelled of mildew rather than the normal disinfectant.
After I yelled for help, the technician came into sight and limped down the corridor, trailing a thick cable behind her. When she got closer, I noticed that her eyes were now surrounded by crow's feet now and a rope of fungal hyphae plugged into her skull behind her right ear. It dripped mucus as it pulsated rhythmically.
“I'm not going to lie,” she slurred. “This is probably not the best time to be looking for your soul mate.”
“Does that mean still no positive match?” I asked, already guessing her answer from the glowing red panel on my pod.
The technician struggled to find the words to reply.
“I'd skip ahead again if...” she started.
The glistening fungal rope twitched and pulsated; the lady's eyes rolled back in her head and her mouth dropped slackly open.
“Of course, if you'd like to rejoin society again, we'd be glad to absorb you,” she concluded, tongue writhing wetly over her teeth.
“That's kind, but no thank you,” I said, laying down again. “I'm very eager to meet my true love.”
I had to pull my lid down myself and set my own hop duration: the technician had been dragged back to the exit by the strange rope. I selected a hop of twenty years duration: surely that would be long enough.
I told her so when the lid sprang open again.
“I'm afraid not,” said the elderly technician. “There aren't that many people left these days and obviously, none of them match you.”
She'd aged badly and removing that ridiculous affectation from the back of her head had scarred her badly. I didn't have much sympathy: I'd seen friends go through the same thing with ill-considered tattoos.
“Death to the Fungal Overlords!” came a massed roar from outside and I realised that she was gripping a machine gun.
I started objecting, but she shoved me roughly back into the tube with her free hand.
“Better wait until society has rebuilt itself,” she explained, punching a century duration hop into my pod's controls. Before I could get her to explain the joke, the lid clicked down and the discontinuity was on me again.
The thought of giving up never crossed my mind, I realised as I struggled back to consciousness once more. Now that I'd left friends, family and career behind, all I had was the pursuit of love. Maybe this hadn't been the full century, I hoped drowsily. If the Sunday scan had identified my soul mate living amongst the population, I would be woken up earlier. Perhaps it had only been another week.
The technician was made of glowing bees now. Clearly, more than a week had passed.
“Don't be alarmed,” she explained through her bee-mouth, raising her bee-eyebrows. “My consciousness was uploaded into a swarm-form upon my first body's death.”
I nodded like that made any sense to me. The cryopod hallway extended into the extreme distance in every direction, including vertical. Clearly finding true love had once been very popular, but no longer: nearly all of the pods gaped empty. In fact, the only active ones I could see were a few near my own.
The bee-eyes followed my gaze.
“Since the Fungoid Wars, people live more in the present than in the expectation that the future holds any promise. Many of your peers have defrosted voluntarily and gone on to lead relatively happy lives here.”
I held up a hand to silence her. Relatively happy? A man in pursuit of true love doesn't settle for relatively happy.
“Set the pod for two hundred years please.”
The bee-lips gaped, revealing a deep purple glow within.
“No-one's ever gone that far in one hop!”
“As soon as the Sunday scan detects my true love, it'll wake me up. It can't be more than another decade or so: they must've been born by now!”
When I woke up two centuries later, gloom began to overtake me. There was no technician now: no flesh or weird energy-bees. The hallway was dark and cobwebbed; only three pods of the thousands there were still lit. The display on my own still glowed red.
I padded out of the hallway and found a large window looking out over the world outside. Everywhere was smothered in lush growth: flowers as tall as I was, blades of grass as broad and gigantic trees that towered over a mile high. All along their branches, pairs of golden bubbles grew slowly before being gently carried away by the wind.
Eventually, I found someone to explain: a cow-sized frog answering to 'Kevin'. In exchange for having his back scratched, Kevin explained that the bubbles were actually humans – at least, what humanity had finally chosen to evolve into – and that, rather than waste time finding a soul mate, they were now ready born in pairs.
“What should I do Kevin?” I asked as we sat together and watched more bubbles float away on the breeze.
“You could try to get a romance going with a pair of bubbleheads,” he rumbled. “Or you could wait for the human race to devolve back down to your level again.”
This time, I didn't set an interrupt: the pod would keep me frozen for however long it took. Kevin waved goodbye to me with a webbed hand as the lid clicked down.
When my forever-sleep was interrupted, many centuries had passed. When I climbed out of the pod and looked around, I saw that the cryopod building was totally ruined. The wall that my pod was attached to was still standing, but that was it. Tall grasslands had swallowed everything else; the only sign of any civilisation was these few square meters.
The display for my pod read 'ERROR' in large red letters.
That took some understanding but as soon as I saw that the day was a Sunday, I realised. The ongoing Sunday scan couldn't find my true love because there were no people left. The human race was extinct: the search was over. In the whole of human history, there was no-one for me to love and to love me in return. My blind faith had not been rewarded.
There was a click behind me. Another pod had opened.
“Wendy from the coffee shop!” I exclaimed happily as she climbed out. “What're you doing at the end of the world?”
She shrugged and squinted in the strong sunlight. Her presence was instantly comforting to me. We'd only exchanged a few sentences as she'd served me a cappuccino one time, but it was wonderful to see a familar face.
“Looking for the one Peter, just like you. I didn't know you'd gotten frozen – when did you do it?”
“The Monday after that poetry reading at your shop,” I admitted sheepishly. “It inspired me to do something rash. What about you?”
“A few days more. I guess I'm less sentimental than you!”
The wind blew gently through the tall grass, rippling it rhythmically in the golden sunlight. We watched it together peacefully for a while. It was nice here.
“Did you like the poetry then?” I asked conversationally.
Wendy smiled at me and flicked her hair out of her eye. It was cute.
Behind me, my pod's display changed to green.