TROY STARTED AWAKE from a series of terrible dreams. The world was on fire, and the people who had been sent to extinguish it were all asleep. Asleep and frozen stiff, smoking matches still in their hands, wisps and grey curls of evil deeds.
He had been buried, was enveloped in darkness, could feel the tight walls of his small coffin hemming him in.
Dark shapes moved beyond the frosted glass, the men with their shovels trying to free him.
Troy’s eyelids seemed to rip and crack as he fought to open them fully. There was crust in the corners of his eyes, melting frost coursing down his cheeks. He tried to lift his arms to wipe it away, but they responded feebly. An IV tugged at his wrist as he managed to raise one hand. He was aware of his catheter. Every inch of his body tingled as he emerged from the numbness and into the cold.
The lid popped with a hiss of air. There was a crack of light to his side that grew as the shadows folded away.
A doctor and his assistant reached in to tend to him. Troy tried to speak but could only cough. They helped him up, brought him the bitter drink. Swallowing took effort. His hands were so weak, arms trembling, that they had to help him with the cup. The taste on his tongue was metallic. It tasted like death.
‘Easy,’ they said when he tried to drink too fast. Tubes and IVs were carefully removed by expert hands, pressure applied, gauze taped to frigid skin. There was a paper gown.
‘What year?’ he asked, his voice a dry rasp.
‘It’s early,’ the doctor said, a different doctor. Troy blinked against the harsh lights, didn’t recognise either man tending to him. The sea of coffins around him remained a hazy blur.
‘Take your time,’ the assistant said, tilting the cup.
Troy managed a few sips. He felt worse than last time. It had been longer. The cold was deep within his bones. He remembered that his name wasn’t Troy. He was supposed to be dead. Part of him regretted being disturbed. Another part hoped he had slept through the worst of it.
‘Sir, we’re sorry to wake you, but we need your help.’
Two men were talking at once.
‘Another silo is having problems, sir. Silo eighteen—’
Pills were produced. Troy waved them away. He no longer wished to take them.
The doctor hesitated; the two capsules rested in his palm. He turned to consult with someone else, a third man. Troy tried to blink the world into focus. Something was said. Fingers curled around the pills, filling him with relief.
They helped him up, had a wheelchair waiting. A man stood behind it, his hair as stark white as his overalls, his square jaw and iron frame familiar. Troy recognised him. This was the man who woke the freezing.
Another sip of water as he leaned against the pod, knees trembling from being weak and cold.
The doctor frowned and said nothing. The man behind the wheelchair studied him intently.
‘I know you,’ Troy said.
The man in white nodded. The wheelchair was waiting for Troy. Troy felt his stomach twist as dormant parts of him stirred.
‘You’re the Thaw Man,’ he said, even though this didn’t sound quite right.
The paper gown was warm. It rustled as his arms were guided through the sleeves. The men working on him were nervous. They chattered back and forth, one of them saying a silo was falling, the other that they needed his help. Troy cared only about the man in white. They helped him towards the wheelchair.
‘Is it over?’ he asked. He watched the colourless man, his vision clearing, his voice growing stronger. He dearly hoped that he had slept through it all.
The Thaw Man shook his head sadly as Troy was lowered into the chair.
‘I’m afraid, son,’ a familiar voice said, ‘that it’s only begun.’