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Resurrecting Renoir

by  stephanieE

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2003
Word Count: 865
Summary: This is either a short, short story, or it's the opening to a novel (I have some idea of how the novel develops, but it's not yet substantial enough). Be interested in any feedback




Ro B'Hearn paused before the eighth airlock, fingers poised over the entry keypad, head cocked slightly to one side as though listening for some tiny recognisable sound. Ro was disturbed by the noise. Or, to be more accurate, Ro was disturbed by the absence of noise. Accustomed to the perpetual hum of an inhabited city, electricity coursing through its veins at 50Hz; the Commnet vibrating with its multitude of messages; humans, machines and essums living together in a strangely harmonious cacophony, the only sound here was the faintest of murmurs, right on the threshold of hearing. Ro had decided that it was caused by the seepage of air out of the ancient ventgrilles. The only movement in the corridor was the slight swaying of the sleek matt tools that hung in intricate profusion from the black webbing waistband. The other seven airlocks had posed few problems, but now Ro stopped, arrested in the very act of disabling this, the last barrier, and reaching the enticing and elusive mystery that lay concealed beyond.

Could this be a trap? A frown drew the dark brows together. No, there was too much convincing evidence to suggest that this place had lain undisturbed for years, for centuries maybe. The very straightness of the corridor, its direction unswerving and unbroken by any feature or curve, was reminiscent of an older architecture, its surfaces smooth but slightly rough to the touch. The floor was grainy underfoot causing a bizarre sensation of floating down the passage, rolling across the gathered dust of passed generations. The air that trickled in through the antiquated linear vents was dry and faintly stale not the staleness of things old, but the staleness of things ancient, things that had rotted so long ago, that even the stench of decay was nothing but a remembered weight in the recycled atmosphere. And the first two airlocks had been positively archaic it had been almost too simple to overcome the crude security mechanisms. The next four had been electronic, but still old-fashioned, and had caused no more than a brief interruption to forward progress. The last one though, had been more of a challenge, with its palm reader. Basic, to be sure, but nevertheless, surprisingly difficult to override. And now the final one, if the instruments were to be believed. Ro turned once more to the task in hand, spending several minutes using sensitive fingertips to explore the delicacies of the keypad, before succumbing to a tight smile, and precisely applying a finger laser to the vulnerable spot. A little more deft work with the fingers, and the lock began to open with a crackle of broken seals, as it finally began to yield its secrets.

The space revealed was a large hemispherical chamber, although its vaulted height and receding perimeter were mere impressions in the dim light cast from a single source towards the centre of the space. Cautiously Ro moved forward, identifying the light as glowing figures on a simple medscreen. A dark mass sat solidly beneath the medscreen, a curved black slab, maybe two meters long, with a dull sheen in the eerie half-light, and the ominous appearance of a tomb. Unexpectedly, the screen began to animate, lights flickering as they ignited, bringing the unmistakable odour of scorched dust, and a series of electronic tones indicated that something, at least, was being brought to life. The black mass began to move, and Ro froze, superstitious dread momentarily overcoming natural curiosity. The black casing was shed, revealing an ice-encased figure of human proportions, linked by a series of tubes and cables to a gently steaming unit that, on inspection, proved to be a basic cryogenic module. Clicks and buzzes continued to emanate from the various electronic boxes, as the scene unfolded with a majestic inevitability. The indicator on the medscreen rose reluctantly, reading a slowly rising body temperature, and the cryounit continued to hiss and tick as the nitrogenous ice melted into vapour.

Ro circled the figure once, warily, determining that the thawing body was indeed the sole occupant of the chamber. Puzzled by the lack of artefacts, by the lack of any clues as to the identity of the sleeping form, Ro settled down to wait, hand loosely resting on the knurled head of a laser scalpel.

Perhaps ten minutes passed.

Eventually, the figure was freed of its refrigerating sheath and could be seen to be an adult male, with a solid torso and thick dark hair that appeared starkly black against the pale veined skin. Ro stretched to catch sight of the face: a face that had seen something of life, etched with lines from both laughter and sorrow. The mass of tubes shrivelled and withdrew with a final slithering hiss, leaving the perfect body still and silent. The medscreen bleeped an instruction in a dull, mechanical tone. "Apply passkey"

Ro was puzzled. Apply passkey? What passkey? The screen bleeped again, insistent.

"Apply passkey."

A story was echoing in Ro's subconscious, some deeply buried memory, or perhaps just an atavistic sense of purpose, of correctness, and, driven by a sense as old as human folklore, she leant forward, and gently kissed the colourless lips.