Exodus Stories

The Guide and the Sleeper

With a discharge of stale air, the cover of the hypersleep chamber slid open. Two broad-shouldered nurses wearing rubber gloves covering their arms reached into the viscus blue liquid and lifted a slime soaked person from within. Once the sleeper was in a sitting position, they removed the straps of the oxygen mask and it peeled away with a suction sound. With a choked cough, she gasped a panicked breath and writhed, sloshing the thick fluid, but the nurses held her steady. Vira sat back by the wall observing the scene, taking note of the similarities and differences of the sleeper’s reaction to emergence. She kept her hair pulled back tightly in a chignon, but she still kept her distance as the cryogel was notoriously difficult to wash out of one’s hair. All guides maintained a professional appearance, Vira more than most, but the previous night she had pressed her uniform twice and carefully inspected herself in the mirror for stray hairs or lent. She had even applied foundation under her eyes to cover up the insomnia she had been experiencing leading up to this assignment.

The sleeper tried to speak, but only managed a croaking sound. They never could speak immediately upon emerging as the intrinsic muscles of the larynx had likely begun to atrophy. Not to mention the severe dryness that came with years of receiving all of one’s water and nutrients intravenously. She managed to open her eyes, squinting in the low light of the small room. She looked up at the two nurses like a freighted child lost amongst strangers.

“Calm down Cadden,” said Vira, “there’s no reason to be frightened. We are here to take care of you.” Cadden tried to track the sound of Vira’s voice but clearly could not make her out even at such a short distance. Presbyopia was a side-effect of hypersleep that could persist for hours or even days post-emergence. She rolled her chair over to the edge of the hypersleep chamber and let Cadden examine her face. Guides and nurses were trained to remain calm to de-escalate the tension that sleeper’s experienced upon emergence. Not a difficult feat, given that they would perform this same ritual thousands of times with different sleepers over the course of the voyage.

“Can you hear me, Cadden? Can you understand what I’m saying?”

The Neroxin would still be affecting her central nervous system, but she was calming more quickly than most. She examined Vira’s face with unsettlingly dull eyes, as if she wasn’t sure if she recognized her. No, this is the first time we have met. The nurses visibly relaxed, but continued supporting her up by the arms. At this early stage she would be too weak to hold herself upright and would slide back into the cryogel.

“My name is Vira, and I am your guide. You are aboard the interstellar space ark known as Herja. We left our home planet of Ohm over six years ago. This is your first scheduled awakening from hypersleep.”

Cadden said nothing, expressionless.

“When you’re ready, we can help you out of the chamber. We can get you some dry clothes and you can rest. How does that sound?” Cadden nodded, lightly.

“You’re ready now?” Cadden nodded again, more vigorously.

The nurses gently lifted her from the cryogel which stuck to her like egg yolk. Just as they had her supported in a standing position she began to convulse. The nurses tilted her over the side and she vomited into the waste reciprocal they had positioned. Not everyone vomited during emergence, but it was a common enough occurrence that they knew to be prepared. She silently thanked the nurses, Elis and Powell, for their professionalism. They both displayed an impressive ability to intuit the needs of the sleepers.

It had been weeks since Vira had heard the news that Elis and his wife were expecting their second child. They were all surprised that the couple’s second registration for pregnancy application had been approved so early in the voyage. She had prepared a small gift basket with confections and soap scented with artificial eucalyptus to congratulate the young couple, but as she walked towards their home a sickening ache spread from her heart into her veins like a poison. As she stepped into the neighborhood district, she froze, looking down at the basket in her hand.

A cliché and hollow gesture, she decided. After chucking the basket into a nearby trash chute she slowly made her way home, confused about what she was feeling. She still had not been able to bring herself to say a word to Elis about it.

Cadden finished retching the meager contents of her stomach and Powell wiped the residue from her mouth with a towel slung over his shoulder.

“Very normal. No harm done,” said Vira, stroking her back, then wiping her hand with a small cloth handkerchief.

The nurses held an arm each around their shoulders and lifted her legs out of the chamber. Her feet touched the floor for the first time in over six years. Her skin was the hallmark ghostly pale-blue of the awakened during emergence. But she looked better than most.

After handing her notes to a currier-bot, Vira was only able to take a few steps towards her quarters before she was summoned through her com. Her schedule had been unusually sparse for the day, leaving her to assume that a meeting with her superior was likely. Still, she had hoped that he would give her at least a few minutes to decompress. She sighed, turning in the opposite direction.

After entering Giovinco’s office, he held up one finger while holding his gaze on something he was reading at his desk. His office was surprisingly cluttered for a guide of his station, as if he was too busy to be bothered tidying up. Any time they spoke he seemed to be juggling multiple considerations in his mind at once, only offering a fragment of his attention. Whether or not he was under particular strain from the Union or if he simply had poor time management, Vira could not say. Many of the other guides she spoke with had described some of the quirks of their Medians, but none seemed as peculiar as her own.

He closed the screen in front of him and removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes.

“Sit,” he said curtly, without looking at her. “So, tell me what happened.”

She knew he had been watching Cadden’s emergence through surveillance, and he would have ready access to her notes, but she often was asked to give a verbal account of the proceedings. Especially, if the sleeper was an especially important asset to the voyage.

“No abnormalities,” she replied, “I predict a smooth rehabilitation.” He let a silence open between them. Is that tiredness in his eyes?

“There’s a lot of attention on you with this one, Vira,” he said, leaning forward in his chair, “and even more on me.” She doubted that was true, but he had the tendency for self-aggrandizement.

“I understand that sir, and I appreciate the extra time you have given me to prepare for this assignment.”

“Tell me you’ve changed your mind.”

“I have not.”

“But…” Giovinco took a deep breath and calmed himself from his growing frustration. “We have agreed that telling her of her parents murder is either meaningless, or worse, it could lead to a distressed state making her further prone to hyper-nightmares.” They had been clashing about this for weeks leading up to this assignment.

“The Union is aware that I take full responsibility for all potential outcomes.”

“Bullshit! I am responsible for the actions of my guides. You will put me and the success of this mission at risk for nothing!” She recognized the veins that bulged from his neck and forehead.

She looked down at her hands. It was not entirely true that he would be held responsible for her decisions. Though negative consequences were possible, any repercussions would likely be her’s alone to bear. Guides were instructed to heed the advice of their Medians, but ultimately, any decisions made during the rehabilitation process were their own. Videos of the interviews and notes were reviewed, and an approach plan was established between guides and Medians before highly valuable or potentially difficult rehabilitations. But the pre-established plan was never meant to override a guide’s intuition while in the room with a sleeper.

She met his gaze. “I have stated my intention.”

“Tell me why,” he said, almost as if he were pitying her, “you know she won’t even remember. And she already said goodbye to them! She knew they would be long dead by the time…”

“I know, I know.” Like throwing away her gift basket, she grasped for an emotion that she couldn’t seem to understand. “I would want to know. If it were me in there, I would want to know. That’s it.”

Giovinco sat back in his chair, resigned. She continued.

“I’ve tried Gio, I really have. I know it doesn’t make sense. But when I close my eyes at night, I can’t stop thinking of her not knowing.”

He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “You’re sure this has nothing to do with your… predilections? This could be clouding your judgement.” She was taken aback by the accusation. “I have made my vows. Are you questioning my resolve?”

“Never, you are far too sincere.” He smirked, “Very well. But you know how much this assignment means. I just hope you don’t screw this up for the both of us.”

“That we agree on.”

After years of experimentation on Ohm, as well as a wealth of data transmitted from the first interstellar voyages, evidence suggested that focusing primarily on nutrition and physical therapy led to the most consistently positive outcomes for sleepers. Reports had shown that natural sleep could elude the awakened for up to six days post-emergence. Without rebuilding a natural sleep cycle, redeveloping balance and proprioception; as well as working up to a first meal with solid foods, there was little that Vira could do for the mind. It was true that in the first week dream-narratives could become further entrenched, but attempts to intervene during that period had not proven fruitful.

After being awakened for nine days, Cadden decided that she would try the walk through the garden deck without the extra support of the walker she had been using. She only occasionally wavered, and Vira stood close by in case she began to topple. Strange, to see her youthful frame moving as if it were elderly. It was important for the sleepers to develop a sense of independence. To rediscover how their bodies felt and how they moved.

Hypersleep degraded the body in a variety of ways. The most obvious were muscle and bone atrophy. Sleepers were given small electrical stimulation to generate muscle contractions, but it did not replicate natural movement in gravity. They also received a spectrum of drugs through their nutritional feed which slowed the onset of osteoporosis. Another problem Sleepers faced was the degradation of the immune system. The hypersleep chambers were purposefully kept in a non-sterile state, and carefully controlled germ cultures were added to the cryogel to force the immune system to function. Regardless, with enough time the helper T-cells and the memory T-cells would degrade, and the immune system would lose its ability to recognize pathogens. Harkening back to a terrestrial evolution, research had shown that walking through green spaces with vegetation would help the body generate new T-cells.

Though these excursions through the garden deck and arboretum were a required activity for all of the awakened, Vira always enjoyed walking with someone like Cadden who took great pleasure in the activity. The small trees, shrubs, and forbs contributed at least some of the oxygen for the ark (most of the oxygen was generated by phytoplankton farms elsewhere), but this was their secondary purpose to maintaining human mental and physical health. The hydroponic hosing and walls visible at the edges tended to break the illusion of being in a terrestrial forest. Yet, the rustle of leaves in the artificial breeze, the crunch of the soil beneath their feet, and the buzzing of pollinating insects (also mostly artificial) could momentarily lead one to forget where they actually were. Certain plants were even allowed to be touched and Cadden never missed an opportunity to run her fingers over their surfaces. Vira especially cherished the feeling of moisture and movement in the air. It reminded her of home.

The young woman in front of her was no ordinary sleeper (though none of the sleepers could be considered ordinary) but a preeminent expert in the field of ecological engineering and quite possibly one of the most important minds on the ship. At sixteen she had been accepted to one of the most prestigious universities on Ohm, and at nineteen she was already working on a PhD. She had spent much of her early academic career studying palynology before shifting focus to her groundbreaking research on cation exchange capacity (CEC) which had made her a rising star in her field. CEC had something to do with a soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions, which affects the structure, pH, and nutrient availability. Vira had fallen down a rabbithole reading about the topic while going over Cadden’s file, but most of it went over her head.

Most recently, she had virtually invented her own subfield of ecological engineering, dubbed Precision Ecosystem Design. The name seemed to be a misnomer as the goal was to reverse the historical trend of attempting to bend ecosystems to human needs, which had consistently led to disastrous consequences, but instead to shape human civilizations to fit within ecosystems to minimize anthropic disturbance. It was understandable why she was considered so valuable to the mission; their primary goal being to not immediately destroy the biosphere they were to inhabit in the same ways they had on Ohm.

Cadden was clearly brilliant, but she was also beautiful. Elegant in her movements, and soft with her touch. Watching her as she moved through the garden, Vira felt a stirring that forced her to reconsider Giovinco’s accusation of her clouded judgement. As a guide, she had vowed to abstain from romantic love, and to abstain from giving birth to her own children. Soon, she would have fertilized eggs placed in her womb from the gamete bank while she could carry a child. The egg and sperm would be selected for certain genetic markers that would increase the probability of the child having characteristics that were desirable in a guide, like high empathy and mild intelligence. Though the child would not be her blood, she knew she would take great pleasure in raising her daughters (she secretly hoped she would have daughters) to follow in her footsteps as a guide. It was estimated that the sixth generation of guides would be the ones to step from the Herja onto their new world.

As she watched Cadden, she tried to pull her mind away from imagining raising children together. Instead, she tried to focus on the sounds of water running in the small creek nearby.

The final, and possibly most significant way that the body degraded in hypersleep was in the mind. The original researchers were baffled when the first sleepers emerged and seemed to believe they were someone else entirely. Not in name, but in life experience, occupation, and relationships. Brain wave monitoring conducted on those in hypersleep showed significant brain activity, which was necessary to prevent atrophy of grey matter, but initially it was unclear what sort of experiences the sleepers were having. When the first interviews were conducted it was clear that they had been dreaming. For all subjects, the dreams were so powerful that they had begun to lose grasp of their true identity, which was being replaced or entangled with their dream-identity. The longer they spent in hypersleep the more likely they were to have their dream-identity completely overwhelm and eliminate their real identity, irrevocably.

This proved to be a significant predicament for researchers. The sleep initiation and waking processes were the most dangerous aspects for the physical body during hypersleep, so shorter sessions increased the chances of physical harm. Statistical analysis had concluded that a period of five to ten years was optimal. Guides and nurses were then selected to assist the awakened through their two week rehabilitation, before being put back under.

What sleepers dreamed about seemed to be entirely dependent on their own unconscious mind, and at this point it was still unclear if they remained in the same dream for their entire time in hypersleep. Analysis of brain waves suggested that, in fact, they did. Though results were still inconclusive; some argued that it was unknowable.

Almost all sleepers had either positive, benign, or sometimes even euphoric dreams. But a small subset of sleepers, about 1:250, appeared to experience what had come to be known as hyper-nightmares. The distress was visible in the brain waves, and would remain stable throughout hypersleep. The ethical assumption was that it was best to immediately awaken those sleepers, but it appeared that the experience did not have deleterious effects beyond normal rehabilitation. If anything, it appeared that those who experienced hyper-nightmares were quicker to recover their own ego after emerging. Because the waking process and sleep initiation were the most dangerous phases, it was decided that the ethical assumption of immediate awakening was wrong, and those sleepers should be treated no differently. However, there were rumors that reports had been doctored and that there were subjects who had suffered complete mental collapse due to hyper-nightmares.

Vira did not know what to believe, but she shivered at the thought of being trapped in a perpetual nightmare. She had not caught one yet herself, but whenever one of these sleepers emerged there were always whispers among the guides. For the sake of experimental integrity, guides were forbidden to share notes with each other of their experiences with sleepers, but coded messages still managed to spread.

Sleepers who had hyper-nightmares did not always have them, but certain individuals did appear to be more prone than others. The evidence was unclear at this point whether or not it was a genetic predisposition or if it was due to traumatic experiences. According to Cadden’s file, she had several markers that made her susceptible to hyper-nightmares. All the more reason why it felt wrong to have pulled her from the positive experience she seemed to have been having while under.

Vira could not worry about that though, the only thing that she could do was her job, which was about to truly begin.

“Interview Echo-26F. Passenger XC6862, Cadden Riley. Do you need anything before we begin?”

The processing rooms were dull and gray by design, intending to minimize stimulation so that the subject’s internal experience could emerge with minimal distortion. Vira hated these rooms. They reminded her of a hospital.

“No, I’m good.”

“Okay, so tell me how you’re feeling.”

“Fine. I feel good. The first week was terrible, but I feel much healthier now.”

“Excellent.” Vira shifted forward slightly. “During your rehabilitation, you and I have rarely spoken of what you have been thinking. The little that we have spoken about was not recorded, so for the purposes of documentation, I will ask you to start from the beginning. What can you remember?”

“I can barely remember coming out of the chamber. All of my memories are hazy until the second or third day.”

“And before that?”


“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Barador.”

“And what is your occupation?”

“I’m a Mech-miner.”

“Tell me about that, what does that entail?”

“Well, we pilot mechs…”


“You’ve never seen one?” She seemed confused.

“For the purposes of this interview can you describe one, yours specifically.”

“Well, they are large, bi-pedal machines with a tread transition function for open spaces. The pilot sits near what we would think of as the head. Mine is green with a purple stripe down the side. Extra thin for nimbleness in tight crevices. Goose.”


“That’s his name. It’s what I call him.”

Vira wasn’t sure if it was a pet name, or if Cadden was implying the machine had some sort of consciousness that she could communicate with.

“What do you do with these machines?”

“Barador is built on the edge of the depths. At first bell we mount up and descend the drop cables until we reach our work sight where we mine for rare metals that are used in all of our technology. I bet some of this ship is built from metals mined at Barador. We are one of the largest…”

“The depths?”

“Oh yes, sorry. It’s a massive crater. Maybe a sinkhole or something. No one knows.”

“No one knows?”

“No one has ever made it to the bottom and back out again.”

“Best not to fall.”

The sleeper’s dreams often had elements that defied physics or linear progression. Infinite loops, like houses that you could never find a way out of or infinite hallways were common, but what Cadden was describing was unique. She had a fascinating mind. Serious and structured, while containing imaginative elements that were almost childlike.

Cadden sat for a moment looking off to the side. She seemed uncomfortable about something.

“What are you thinking about?”

“I don’t know, it’s like there’s something else.”

“Like what?”

“It’s a door. A door with locks and chains all over it. I keep getting this sinking feeling and then I see it in my head.” Cadden seemed to be experiencing some of that fear now. Vira took a moment to pause before continuing.

“Do you know how you got here? Aboard the Herja, and into hypersleep?”

“Yes, I was selected. I suppose it is because of my experience piloting a mech.”

Vira sat back, attempting to exude as much calmness as possible, which was difficult knowing that she was certainly being observed and scrutinized by Giovinco, and possibly the Union as well. Likely, she would later have to justify her every word and action from this interview.

“Cadden, do you know what my job is?”

“You’re my guide.”

“Guide for what?”

“My rehabilitation.”

“Indeed, but you will notice that the physical aspects of your rehabilitation were almost entirely facilitated by the nurses. So, what do you think my role is?”

Cadden considered for a moment and then started slowly.

“Well, being in hypersleep makes everything fuzzy, my memories I mean. So you are helping me make sense of them.”

“Exactly. The nurses work on your body, I work on your mind. I’m here to help you feel like you again. The physical aspect of rehabilitation is essential, but the mental aspect is equally important.”

“I only have two more days, don’t I? Before I’m put back under?”

It was rare for a sleeper to be aware of the timeline of the rehabilitation process, and the guides were to keep it a secret because of the panic that it could induce. Vira preferred it this way.

“That is correct,” Cadden showed no signs of distress, “but let’s not focus on that right now.”

Vira tapped the folder on the table with her finger.

“I have your file right here and it could easily tell us who you were before, but we’ve been doing this a long time Cadden, and we have learned that it’s best for us not to simply tell you who you were. It’s best for you to rediscover it for yourself.”

“Well, I know most things. It just all feels so strange.”

“Tell me, where were you born?”

“I was born…” Her eyes shifted back and forth quickly, as if she was searching for the answer around the room. “I… I don’t know… I guess Barador… But I don’t know. How could I not know?” Surprisingly few sleepers could answer this question if they were still immersed in their dream identity.

“I will not tell you who you are, but I will tell you who you are not.” Vira leaned forward. “You were never a mech-miner, Cadden. And I’ll be honest with you right now, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

A flash of fear crossed her face.

“Don’t be afraid, this is perfectly normal.”

“I don’t understand what’s happening.”

“When in hypersleep, dreams can have a powerful effect on the mind.”

“But that’s my home, my parents are there. We can call my Dad.” Even if such a place did exist on Ohm the communication would take months, as they were hurtling away from the planet at 20% lightspeed.

“There is no such place on Ohm, Cadden. Barador does not exist.”

“This… this is crazy.”

“You really seemed to enjoy the garden deck, and you told me things about the plants there that I never knew. Why would a miner know so much about plants?”

Cadden seemed to be reaching for an explanation, but Vira wanted to prevent her from orientating.

“Can you tell me what this is?” Vira pulled a photograph from the folder. For the untrained eye it would appear to be merely red splotches, though some may be able to recognize cells viewed through a microscope.

“…Pyrococcus furiosus.”


Cadden locked eyes with Vira.

This particular moment had come to be known as drift. Sleepers would maintain direct eye contact for several seconds, as if it were the last thing anchoring them to their perceived reality. Guides were trained to maintain this eye contact as it was speculated to distract the prefrontal cortex, allowing cognitive rearrangement. It was never a comfortable moment for Vira, but Cadden’s piercing gaze made it all the more challenging.

“I was an ecological engineer.” She said, softly, as if to herself.

“You are an ecological engineer, Cadden. One of the preeminent minds in the field.”

Suddenly, her pupils dilated and her face became ashen. She jumped back from the table, knocking over her chair, until she was pressed against the far wall.

“The door!” She screamed.

Vira had administered hundreds of interviews, and seen further hundreds in training, but she had never seen anything close to this level of reactivity. For a panicked moment, she did not know what to do, and she worried that the nurses may rush in to restrain her subject. She had to act quickly, but calmly. She stood up from the table as slowly as she could, walked over and knelt so that she was at Cadden’s eye level. She was clearly terrified, and for a moment Vira wanted nothing more than to pull her into an embrace. She restrained herself, instead taking Cadden’s hand gently.

“I need you to come sit back down.”

Cadden let herself be led back to the table, breathing heavily. After Vira righted her chair, Cadden sat down, and as she took her own seat opposite again, they released each other’s hands. Vira paused for a long moment, partially for Cadden, but also to give herself a chance to collect her thoughts. Cadden didn’t look at her at all anymore, instead she stared with unfocused eyes to the surface of the plain table.

“You said, ‘the door,’ was it the door with the locks?”

Cadden nodded and tears started to stream down her face.

“Where is that door?”

“It was my door.”

“Your door? The door to your house?”

She shook her head. “To my room.”

Vira felt a pit open in her stomach. “The locks… Were they on the inside or the outside?”

Cadden only cried, face downcast.

Sometimes helping someone rediscover who they were required that they re-experience negative emotions and even traumas. If it was part of their core identity, it was essential.

“Your studies, your research. You were a prodigy. But it wasn’t your choice was it? Your parents pushed you.”

Cadden wiped her nose with her sleeve. “My parents… in my dream. They said, ‘no matter what you do, we will be so proud.’”

Vira could not prevent her own eyes from filling with tears. Guides were trained to only show emotion when appropriate. She would simply have to argue later that this was such a moment.

Cadden’s dream had functioned as a fantasy, allowing her to experience the reassurance her real parents had never given her. No matter what you do, we will be so proud.

Vira wiped her eyes and looked up at the small black spot on the wall which housed the camera that would be watching her.

“Cadden, I regret to inform you that we received word that your parents were victims of a violent crime. They were murdered. I’m so sorry.”

Cadden wiped her eyes without reacting. “And… Do they know who did it?” Cadden said flatly.

A man named Mason was arrested several blocks away from the scene of the crime, covered in their blood. He apparently had maintained an unhealthy fixation with Cadden for years, who had rebuffed his advances by claiming that her parents would never approve. It was true, they certainly would not have, and it was theorized that this led him to the violent murder. However, something about the situation made no sense to Vira. Could he truly have expected her to accept him after murdering her parents? He had been unaware that Cadden was embarking with the Herja, and this was taken as evidence that he had also intended for her to be his third victim. But once he learned of her departure, he changed his story, stating that Cadden had put him up to it. No one believed him. Sitting across from the young woman, who was now calm, Vira realized that she wasn’t sure.

“No, they haven’t caught them yet.”

Cadden tried to hide it, but she was clearly relieved. She hadn’t wanted him to be caught. Vira realized in that moment that Mason had been telling the truth.

“It was a fucking video game.”

“What was?”

“The Mechs… Just a game I used to play.”

Vira said nothing.

“Are we done here?”

Whether or not this interview could be used to incriminate Cadden, she was not sure. Perhaps she was too valuable to the mission, and they would turn a blind eye. After all, whatever had happened occurred hundreds of millions of miles away.

“We can end it here.”

Because the interview had been a success on the first day, Cadden would have two full days for further physical therapy and whatever additional activities that she chose. Vira had spent the first half of the next day in a meeting with Giovinco and the Union who wanted an explanation for everything that was done or said over the course of the interview. Though they disapproved of her telling Cadden of her parents murder, no one mentioned Cadden’s potential role in the crime. They were prepared to let sleeping dogs lie, it seemed. She was too valuable to incarcerate.

After the meeting, she found Cadden on the garden deck as she had expected. She sat on a bench looking up wistfully into the low canopy, and she smiled when she noticed her approaching. She told Vira of her intention to go to the ark’s cinema after dinner, and asked if she wanted to join her. It was not uncommon for guides to spend time with the awakened, even after successfully completing their rehabilitation interview, but Vira felt her heart skip a beat as she agreed.

It was an adventure film, where a group of intrepid archeologists struggled to escape a temple protected by a curse. She paid little attention to it. Instead, she enjoyed watching Cadden who was completely engrossed by the character’s struggles, reacting as if they were her own. Her face aglow with the light of the screen. An hour in, Cadden’s hand found Vira’s in the dark, and she turned to meet her gaze. Vira felt as if she were melting. She knew that she should pull away, but could not bring herself to. Cadden leaned in close.

“I know you think I’m a monster.” Her words were barely audible with the sound of the movie.

“I… I don’t.”

“You’re good at your job Vira, I know you can read me. But I can read you too.”

“They were terrible to you. They trapped you.”

“Sometimes. But they loved me in their own way.”

Vira found that her tongue was numb and she could find nothing more to say. Somehow, she was lost in the eyes of a murderer. Or at least a conspirator to commit murder.

“I can read you now. You’re thinking I could have let them live.”

“That wasn’t what I was thinking.”

“It’s hard to explain. But I just couldn’t. Mason… he. He will suffer in prison for the rest of his life because of me.”

“How did you…? You can read me.” Cadden smiled but tears filled her eyes once again.

“I remember reading that if a sleeper is under for long enough we can completely forget who we were. But we don’t become nothing. We become the person we dream. I want you to leave me in. As long as you can… I want to forget all of this.”

Vira had no power to make that decision. She wasn’t sure anybody did. However, these intermittent waking periods were always completely forgotten.

“Okay.” Vira said. It was a lie, but she could not bring herself to tell the truth.

When the time came the next day, they walked together to the hypersleep chamber and Cadden, unprompted, stepped into the cryogel, shivering against the cold. After she was in a sitting position she took Vira’s hand and pulled her close.

“Thank you. For everything. Now, I’m going to go see them again.”

A reoccurring dream had never been reported from hypersleep, the dreams were always new. Vira forced down the sinking feeling that she had set up the young woman for a hyper-nightmare.

“They’ll be waiting for you. Sweet dreams.” So many lies. Was this the true role of the guides?

Vira tried to take one last memory of her face before Cadden pulled the breathing mask on. The nurses administered the Neroxin. Her eyes rolled back, and she went under; the lid closed with the sound of pressurization. Vira was thankful that the nurses were occupied and did not notice her face.

As the years passed, Vira tried to return to the life she had known before Cadden. But when her mind became still, the young woman’s face, shining by the light of the screen, came to her again and again. She struggled to sleep, and had to obtain a prescription for a mild tranquilizer that left her feeling drowsy in the morning. She struggled to read, and her notes became increasingly disjointed and incomplete. She was called before the Union to answer for the drop in the quality of her work, and they gave her two weeks administrative leave to recuperate. This did little to help her, as she then had even less opportunity for distraction. She weaned herself from her tranquilizer habit and, upon reinstatement, she threw herself headlong into her work. This time she let Cadden’s energy pull her forward, but she stopped herself from counting down the days until her next emergence.

After six years, Cadden was scheduled to be awakened again. Vira tried not to think, tried not to feel, just kept working until she collapsed into bed at night. Two weeks before the awakening, she was called into Giovinco’s office, where he informed her that Cadden had been reassigned to another guide. This was not uncommon, but Vira could not hold in her anger and disappointment. Through angry tears, she demanded to know why.

“This is why.” He said, pointing to her face.

Vira retired on her 83rd birthday, celebrating with her children and grandchildren who now served as the guides aboard the Herja. Beyond her difficulties early in her career, she had proven to be distinguished and reliable in her duties. She enjoyed talking through the cases her descendants were considering, and they tolerated her meandering stories that sometimes ended with no point. Yet, she never mentioned Cadden, the woman who had forced her way into her heart and never left. Nor did she ever talk about the notebook where she did her best to calculate the days. She narrowed it down to a 60 day window. Each day she used her walker to make her way to the garden deck. She sat blissfully on the same bench that she had once seen Cadden, and looked up into the trees, wondering what the young woman had been seeing with her discriminating gaze.

After over a month, Vira began to lose hope that she had estimated Cadden’s awakening correctly, but when she sat there she felt a deeper connection to her than anywhere else.

When she finally appeared, Vira wondered if she had dozed off and wondered into a dream. Her body felt light, and the aches and discomforts that plagued her disappeared. She knew that Cadden would look exactly the same, but the effect still took her breath away. Even if Cadden could somehow remember that first awakening, she would never recognize the old woman who sat alone on the bench now. And yet, she smiled at her and asked if she would mind a little company. Vira could only nod, mute, like that night in the theater. For a few moments they enjoyed the sounds of the garden together. The young woman turned to her.

“It’s beautiful here, don’t you think?”