The ceiling must have been twenty feet high, and the square room had walls that were all about fifty feet in length. One wall was completely covered with computer equipment and medical monitors. On the opposite wall was a large steel door that resembled a giant airlock. There were no windows in the room, but there were twelve video cameras suspended from the ceiling that together covered every inch of the room.
Through the dim glow of red auxiliary lights, one could just make out the shapes of the dozen coffin-sized capsules lined up in four neat rows. The capsules were completely black, with their sides rounded and smooth. Topping the capsule were two transparent pieces, surrounded by a black frame, a lid assembly that fit perfectly on top of the capsules. It was almost impossible to see where the sides ended and the top began. Each capsule was numbered with a three-inch-high red adhesive label on the front. There were also several rows of indicator lights and LED displays on the end of each capsule.
At one end of each row was a console of complex-looking computer equipment. The capsules had several small monitor screens displaying what seemed to be an EKG readout. Anyone with any medical knowledge would have noticed and been concerned at the extremely slow heart rate that was showing. Ten of the capsules had multiple rows of green lights, some flashing and others on continuously. On the capsule numbered ten, were two lights that were not green. One was yellow, and the final one glowed an ominous red. On capsule three, there were no lights at all.
Through the transparent top of each capsule, the form of a nude human was visible. The people were a mix of males and females of several different races. They all looked to be in good physical condition and seemed to be between twenty and forty years old.
An unusual mask covered the mouth and nose of each person. It looked similar to a standard oxygen mask, but of heavier material and was off-white in color. The masks fastened behind the head and had two different tubes connecting to them. The ends of the tubes connected to ports attached to the wall of each capsule. The masks, along with an odd mix of tubes and wires running in and out of different orifices, made the occupants of each capsule look almost mechanical. In the available light, it was not possible to tell if the people were dead or alive.
Looking around, one would see that the capsules were all housed in a large cavernous chamber.
Without warning six banks of overhead fluorescent lights snapped on. Though the change in lighting was extreme, no apparent reaction came from the occupants of the capsules. Seconds later a bright yellow strobe light began flashing above the long-sealed door, and the activity on several of the computer panels increased.
Following a brief pause, a barely audible hissing sound was heard, and the eleven-hundred-pound door slowly started to open. Four people in fully encapsulated yellow biohazard suits came into the spacious chamber. They had been packed tight in the tiny space and almost had to struggle to get out of the airlock. Their movements were slow, and they looked from one side of the room to the other. From the way that they moved it was evident that there was a high level of uncertainty or anxiety present. As soon as they had walked into the room, the door behind them swung shut, and within thirty seconds, the yellow strobe briefly stopped flashing.
The four new arrivals each moved to one of the rows of capsules and began assessing the computer terminals. As they were starting their tasks, they looked up when the strobe light beginning its flashing again. Now, three similarly dressed members of the team joined them. These three went directly across the chamber to the wall of monitoring equipment and began inputting commands into the futuristic looking systems.
A curse was heard from one of the oddly dressed people at the end of the far right row of chambers. “Major system failure capsule three,” an agitated female voice said. There was a slightly mechanical sound in her voice. This mechanical sound, heard on the electronic headsets of all team members, was a result of the positive pressure breathing devices in the masks of each team member.
Another voice stated, “Capsule three, that would've been Miller.”
“Any idea when it occurred?” Asked a third voice. This voice was different. It came over the radio headset, but with no echo, as would be expected if the speaker was wearing one of the airtight facemasks.
The female had moved to the third capsule in her row and was looking in through the top. The skin had dried out, and the face was leathery and shrunken. The long blond hair indicated that it had been a woman. The mask was still in place.
“It looks like it was a long time ago, Sir.” There was a slight quiver in the technician's voice.
Before anyone could comment, another female voice, this one with a slight New England accent, called out “Sir, we also have a minor system failure in capsule ten.”
“How minor?” The natural sounding voice rapidly asked.
A male voice from near the wall-mounted systems called out, “All vital signs, core temp, and EKG are within normal limits. It seems the primary cooling system failed, but backup systems are at one hundred percent efficiency.”
“Ok,” growled the voice from the headset, “give me a report on the rest of the capsules.”
“Group A, no additional failures.”
“Group B, no failures.”
“Group C, no failures.”
“Group D, no additional failures.”
“Ok, activate the data link so you can get out of there. Then start the bio-contamination scanners. I want a full report in an hour.”
Within ten minutes, the room was again empty. Two minutes later the lights went out.