In Silo 1, Hal discovers secrets about his past. Carlton's role in W.O.O.L. is revealed.
“The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessary solving of an existing one.”
~Albert Einstein, November 1945
RYT Medical Center * Boston * December 17th, 2025
“Good afternoon, and welcome to RYT.” Doctor Carlton Ryan clapped his hands together and scanned the auditorium. Out of two hundred students, seven bothered to glance up from their phones. “I’m here to speak about our current projects. First off, I’d like to introduce you to our friend Charlie.”
He ran backstage and then reappeared holding a blue-tinged rat encased in dry ice.
“Charlie is a two-year-old white rat that we—” In the rush, Carlton stumbled. The rat slipped from his gloves and shattered into fragments across the stage. Several people gasped and screamed, and the first few rows got to their feet. Carlton regained his balance and took a deep breath. “As I said, I’d like to start by introducing you to our friend Dave,” he said with the same level of enthusiasm. “Sit tight. It might be a minute.”
He dashed behind the red curtains again and slowed to a stop. Confused murmuring and laughter began to build, and he grinned.
“Takes a lot to gain their attention these days, doesn’t it?” a man asked. Startled, Carlton turned to face him. “Rubber mouse?”
“Yeah,” Carlton replied, deciding based on the man’s suit not to correct him on a fake animal. “Are you with the university? You look familiar.”
The gray-haired man shook his head and held out his hand. His grip hurt, even through Carlton’s gloves. “Paul Thurman.”
“As in the Thurmans who put the ‘T’ in RYT,” Carlton replied in an uneasy tone. Thurman resembled his grandfather, whose photo was displayed in the main lobby along with a dozen other co-founders. “Am I fired?”
“Not today, son.” Thurman laughed and slapped his back. “What are your plans after this? There’s a project I’d like to discuss with you.”
Carlton hesitated and looked at his phone. It was almost one-thirty. “I need to pick up my kids from daycare.” He gestured toward the exit. “My wife and her team will finish around six. She works in the bionanotech division across the street. If this isn’t extremely urgent, I can clear my whole schedule tomorrow. We can—”
“I understand.” Thurman held up one hand. “My wife and I have a ten-year-old daughter, and I know things are hectic when they’re young. Do you have anyone who can watch them tonight? I’d like to take you and your wife out to dinner. It would make things easier than you having to repeat the details.”
“I guess that could work.” At that point, Carlton’s lab assistant James was gesturing to the stage. Carlton had lost track on how long he’d been gone. “Give me twenty minutes to finish this, and I’ll make some calls.”
In trying to buy time, James had already wheeled a cart with Dave’s cryopod onto the stage. The pod’s outer shell was made of stainless steel and roughly the size of a watermelon. Carlton unlatched its hinges, and the inner seal opened with a hiss.
“Just so there’s no confusion, Dave is real,” Carlton said, and he was gentle in moving the rat to a modified incubator. The room went quiet, and a handheld camera operator approached and zoomed in for the stage monitors. Within minutes, the rat began to shiver and twitch. Carlton removed his gloves and placed his bare hand into the clear container. With its eyes still shut, the rat gripped two of his fingers and tried to curl into his palm. A few people let out an aww, and Carlton smiled. “My wife and I met while developing this experiment. For several rounds, her experimental groups had the best survival rates despite all other factors. We figured out it was because she did this. Now these guys never wake up alone.”
“But what happens once your little experiment is over?” a brunette woman asked in a sharp tone. “Are they euthanized?”
“No,” he replied, but she still glared at him. “We’re also studying the long-term impacts of cryopreservation, so most of our subjects live out full lives of about one to three years after they’re revived. They’re not pets, but I’d like to think we go above the minimum standards for lab animal treatment. Any other questions?”
“How long before you’re able to do this with humans?” a young man shouted from the back. James ran to him with a microphone. “My father is being held in a cryonics facility in Alaska. I’m just curious on how a human clinical trial would work with this—who to contact to get on a waiting list.”
This question came up several times a year, and it was never easy to answer. “We’re partnered with thirty-two cryonics companies around the world, but I can’t give you a time frame,” Carlton replied. “With rats, we have full control over the process. We take multiple scans of their bodies in a healthy state, something to give the nanobots a reference. We’re also allowed to place them into stasis alive, which is decades away for humans from a legal standpoint. Once they’re revived, the cellular damage is minimal. The NBs repair what’s needed and then deactivate.”
This reminded Carlton to pull his hand out of the container before Dave released his bladder. The charcoal-colored streams and puddles could be washed out of clothing, but hospital protocols had meant incinerating several of his favorite shirts.
“So you’re saying that because my father was put into stasis after he was pronounced dead, this process could never work?” The young man was too far away for Carlton to see his face, but the pain in his voice was heart-wrenching. “I know it was what he wanted, and I don’t want to give up. It’s just…I don’t know what to do from here.”
“All I’m saying is that we have a long way to go.” Carlton walked away from the incubator and sat down at the base of the stage. “When I was a kid, people died waiting for organ transplants. Now nearly every hospital in the world is within a hundred miles of a preservation bank. What we take for granted today would still be impossible if no one ever pursued it, and there’s always hope when people are passionate about solving a problem. I hope that helps. Anyone else?” Someone clapped, and it spread. “If you want to apply to our cryobiology or nanobiology internship programs, visit our site. Feel free to contact me or my wife Dr. Catherine Ryan through our profiles if you have any questions. Thanks.”
When Carlton returned backstage, Thurman had left. James handed him a business card.
“He said to meet him at Poseidon Oyster at eight and bring Catherine. He wouldn’t tell me anything else—other than we definitely want to be on this project.”
“Everyone says that.” Carlton looked at the card. Representative Paul Thurman of Georgia was contacting a cryobiology team from Boston instead of Atlanta. Even with the thin family connection to the hospital, this seemed strange. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”
Silo 1 * 2065
“Hey, Turkey Man.” Jones waved his hand in front of Hal’s face. “Are you in there?”
“Yeah.” Hal pinched the bridge of his nose. The sandpaper grip of fingers and the faint smell of grease bothered him, though he couldn’t place why. “Sorry, I haven’t been sleeping well. What were you saying?”
“The mid-thirties are having recurring power loss and connection problems, but Austin told me it seems to be local. If you’re not busy, I was wondering if you could help me narrow it down.”
“I’m caught up for now,” Hal replied. He walked with Jones to the elevators and pushed the non-express call button to go up. “Best approach would be to start with the floor reporting the worst issues—work our way through the access panels until we find the source of it. Last time, it was rats nesting in the wires. I couldn’t patch most of them and had to rerun everything for two floors.”
Jones sighed. “Fantastic…”
“Are you all right, kid?” Hal asked. Jones was twenty, barely older than the boys still in stasis. He seemed to alternate between eagerness and sulking whenever a problem occurred. “Operations floors have a back-up power supply, and I reckon we have enough spare wire and cable to last a few hundred years. Plus in another week, it won’t be your problem anyway.”
Jones frowned and looked down at his boots. “Merriman and Victor asked if I’d pull a double this rotation,” he said as the elevator doors opened. “They need someone to learn the power plant as well as Austin since he’s slowing down. All I can think about is walking out of this place an old man—no offense.”
“Hey, I’m younger than I look,” Hal replied. Jones raised an eyebrow. “Could an old man do this?”
He turned and danced backwards into the elevator. Jones shook his head and stepped inside. The elevator doors eased shut.
“That just proves you’re so old the fear of embarrassment has left you,” Jones said. Hal shrugged as if he agreed. “Can I ask you something? I know you said you don’t mind the nickname, but…”
“Is it about this?” Hal pinched the loose flap of skin at his neck. Jones nodded. “Someone accidentally bumped my pod, and my NBs settled—only repaired me from the shoulders down. I’ll ask Henson to freeze me upside-down next time to see if things will even out.”
“Seriously?” Jones asked, but then he glared as Hal chuckled. “Never mind. Forget I asked.”
“To be honest, I don’t remember much before orientation.” Hal stared at the elevator buttons until Jones selected the one for Level 34. “The pills have blocked everything.”
“I thought they were only supposed to block out the bad.” Jones shuddered. “Do you think maybe they got your dosage wrong or something? Maybe that’s why you can’t sleep.”
“Maybe.” Hal forced a smile. The elevator dinged, and the doors opened again. “Let’s get to work, kid.”
Poseidon Oyster Restaurant * Boston * December 17th, 2025
If Thurman was disappointed that Carlton showed up alone, he didn’t show it. He asked the waiter to remove a third chair from the table then ordered a bottle of wine Carlton was sure cost more than his car.
“To celebrate,” Thurman explained, though there was a sudden sadness in his tone.
“What if we don’t take your offer?” Carlton asked.
Thurman leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands on the table. “Then I was wrong about your idiocy being an act.” The Congressman’s southern accent had all but disappeared, and Carlton wondered if Thurman could turn it off and on at will. “How much does your wife know about Project Windmill?”
Carlton tensed and glanced around them. The majority of the room appeared to be there for dates and business meetings. Was this some sort of trap? He took a deep breath and tried to recall what he was supposed to say. “I was involved in a failed Mars mission just before Catherine and I met. I’m not legally allowed to discuss the details with anyone. Not even her. Not even you. I don’t—”
Thurman lifted his elbow and pushed a physical folder toward him, and Carlton opened it. Most of the text had been redacted, but the illustrations of the cryopods were still intact. Carlton fought the urge to crumple the entire thing and burn it in the restaurant’s fireplace.
“You didn’t design those pods, did you?” Thurman asked, sighing when Carlton wouldn’t answer. “Somebody like me brought you in once it had all gone to hell, but you still blame yourself for it.”
The waiter approached to get their orders, and Carlton picked the rib-eye at random. Thurman laughed and insisted he add lobster and scallops. The southern accent had returned. The sinking feeling in Carlton’s stomach made food the last thing he wanted.
“By the time I figured out the problem was in the seals, twelve people had died,” Carlton said once the waiter had left, half-expecting federal agents to burst into the restaurant at the admission. “Two more died on the return trip. We barely managed to save one out of crew of fifteen, and the general public can never know any of it happened.”
Thurman nodded as if this wasn’t new information to him. “Do you know anything about the man you saved? His photo is in there.”
Carlton turned the page. “I was never given names or any personal identifiers about the crew. It was supposed to help me be objective, but—”
“David Keene,” Thurman said as Carlton held the astronaut’s photo. “Now General David Keene. Married. Two kids—a boy a little older and a girl a little younger than my daughter. When this project came up, he said for me to do everything I could to find you. That’s why I’m here and not anywhere else on the planet. Do you understand?”
Carlton closed the folder. “What do you want from us?”
“Let’s start with a human-sized pod and revival system with a better survival rate than seven percent,” Thurman replied. Carlton relaxed, realizing this had to be a space-related contract. Maybe whoever was in charge wanted to do things right this time. “How long would it take you to create a functional prototype, something we can contract out for production?”
“How many do you need total?” Carlton asked. If it was less than twenty, he planned to say they could do it in-house and control the quality. He reached for his water. Thurman waited until he’d set the glass down.
“About five hundred thousand.”
Silo 1 * 2065
“I have two younger sisters.” Jones took a panel cover from Hal then placed it against the opposite wall. “My parents divorced when we were young. Mom is down below. Dad moved to California. Do you think there are other places like this?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Hal replied, but it felt like a lie when he said it out loud. This was how he got answers from himself. Yes, he’d been married. Yes, he’d been a father. He hadn’t brought himself to ask the harder questions yet, but it would need to happen eventually. “What did your mother do? Do you remember?”
“She worked for a grocery chain—helped track inventory and deliveries. One day, this British guy named Eric approached her with a better job offer. We were barely making it after Dad left, and she wanted me to have a chance to go to college. Just before all of this happened, we were doing great. Maybe that’s why I can still remember.”
Hal nodded and shined his flashlight into the open space behind the wall. There was no sign of damage to the electrical wires or data cables, so he gestured for the cover. Jones handed it back and then moved on to remove another about three spaces over. As Jones pulled it away, he brought his arm up and started coughing into his elbow. Hal stood and walked over beside him. Even several feet away, he had to fight a gag reflex.
“You found it, kid. You get to take it down to the farms. That’s the rules.”
“If that’s the case, how many other people have found it and then put the cover back?” Jones asked in a strained voice. “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.”
He looked at Hal, not just disgusted by the dead rat. The frustration and pain were deeper, a boy feeling sentenced to a life he didn’t understand. Hal couldn’t shake the idea it was somehow his fault.
“Look, I’ll take care of it,” Hal replied. Jones’s shoulders relaxed. “Find the breaker and shut it off for me—and remember this the next time anyone tries to talk you into a double shift. I go under in two weeks and won’t be around to help you if this happens again.”
Jones jogged away, and Hal noticed a faint hissing sound. He followed it to a narrow pipe about the diameter of a straw. The rat had knocked opened a valve before electrocuting itself, and Hal was able return it to its original position. The released vapor felt freezing through his gloves and appeared metallic, possibly some sort of mineral coolant for the servers. Hal made a mental note to tell Merriman in case IT needed to know.
“The breaker is shut off,” Jones said. “I shut off the neighboring ones, too—just in case.”
“Thanks,” Hal replied and adjusted his gloves. “We’ll need to set traps, too. If they find a food source, these things could breed until we’re overrun.”
Hal reached for the rat. To his surprise, he felt muscle flex and its head move. Startled, he dropped it and backed away several steps.
“Feel gross?” Jones asked and glanced around. “Maybe I can find a bag or something.”
“I don’t know how, but it’s still alive,” Hal replied. Jones smiled. “I swear I’m not joking this time. The thing moved in my hand.”
“If you don’t want to take it down, I think I can do it,” Jones said and hardened his expression. “I’m not afraid, Hal. I just hate the smell. Reminds me of when my sister Kelli burnt her hair with our mom’s curling iron. She was the book smart one but had no—”
“Jones, I wouldn’t touch—”
Jones picked up the rat then immediately dropped it and backed away. This time, they could see its tiny chest moving up and down.
The dead rat was breathing.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed this sample of THAW. If you are completely new to this universe, I recommend starting with the original trilogy by Hugh Howey--WOOL, SHIFT, and DUST.
THAW is available in Kindle format for $0.99 and is an off-shoot of characters featured in SHIFT.