*All works of fiction published on this blog are written by and are the property of Morgan Chandler*
The first thing I noticed was a sting in my nostrils and an ache in my lungs. I kept my eyes shut but I could tell that a fluorescent light was buzzing above me from the bright yellow colour of my eyelids. There was a sharp ringing in my ears and I wondered if I would have tinnitus after all this. I let out a dry cough, the kind that makes your lungs wheeze and your bones rattle. I became aware that something was taped to the crook of my left arm and on my right pointer finger a clamp clung to its end. A highly strung mechanical beeping rang out in time with my pulse. I lay there on my back, slanted slightly upright with two pillows stuffed behind my head.
My neck felt stiff and I tried to roll onto my side, but my muscles erupted in waves of vibration and cramps rippled up my abdomen. So I abandoned my ambition of movement and lay still. My cramps slowly began to subside when a feminine flowery voice cooed “Mr. Tate, you’ve been through quite the journey”.
It spoke to me in a way you would expect someone to speak to a newborn infant: soft, melodic, reassuring. I opened my eyes to look at them. Groggy and bleary eyed I started into her face. She was thin and sat perched on a stainless steel stool next to my bed. Her orange-squash hued hair was pulled tightly into a neat bun. Her eyes looked like a mossy lake positioned in the midst of porcelain skin sitting above an immaculate heart shaped mouth. She was perfect. No scars, no freckles, no wrinkles (apart from faint smiling lines in the corners of her eyes). She looked like a doll.
It suddenly occurred to me that she must be a designer baby. A puzzle of genetic traits selected by her parents and fused through the process of in-vitro fertilization to produce a vice free, imperfection free individual. It had become incredibly popular in the mid 21st century as DNA customization became cheaper and more readily available. It got to the point where almost every middle class mother trying for a baby was popping into her local hospital for a consultation and starting the process of creating her cookie cutter family. Or maybe the lady was just incredibly genetically gifted. But I suspected the former was more likely.
I looked beyond where Ms. Designer Baby was seated and saw the machine that was emanating, what had now become an irritating, beeping sound. It was small, no larger than a tablet screen and floated mid-air. It displayed five things: my heart rate (a slightly high 102), name (Timothy William Tate), blood type (O), age at freezing (39) and current age (172).
I had been frozen for 133. Amazing. Horrifying.
To be completely honest, when I volunteered back in 2046 to be cryogenically frozen as part of a government lead experiment I really had no expectation to ever wake up. There seemed to be too many variables, too much that could go wrong. But, I was 39 and single with no children of my own and the only child to come of my parents marriage. They had passed away in my early 30’s and, I wasn’t depressed, but there really was nothing for me to live for. So, I decided to give back to a world that had given me so much and contribute to the advancement of medical science through the CFP (Cryogenic Freezing Program).
Designer Baby piped up again, “now that you’re awake I’m going to fetch Doctor Khan. He’s the doctor that’s been assigned to your case and has overseen your waking. He’ll let you know what will happen from here and will answer and questions you might have. Someone will also be in shortly to bring you some food”.
She got up off her stool and walked swiftly as though she was urgently needed elsewhere out a metal door near the foot of my bed.
Doctor Khan came in about 15 minutes after her departure. A nice, but obviously over-worked and tired man. He told me I would stay in hospital until I had been fully rehabilitated and was deemed fit to re-enter the world as a functional member of society. This could take anywhere from six to twelve months. He said I should expect journalists to want to come and interview me. And he also told me that there were five others who had woken successfully in the hospital within a few days of me and that I would meet them in due course.
As Designer Baby had said, a man came in about half an hour after Doctor Khan and delivered a small bowl of soup. He placed it on a floating tray that hovered above my thighs while I sat up in bed. It was a watery red concoction with floating chunks of what appeared to be celery and carrot. I felt absolutely famished, but as soon as I gulped my first spoonful my stomach lurched and writhed and let out terrible growling sounds. I burped and residue of acidic soup mingling with stomach bile burned its way up by esophagus and into my mouth.
I guess it had been close to a hundred years since I last ate. I probably shouldn’t have expected the whole thing to be a pleasant affair. I resolved to try and eat small spoonful’s at a time over the next hour and see how much I could get through.
The subsequent days went past much like this: waking for breakfast, check-up by the doctor, rehabilitation of various kinds to help me regain muscle strength, cognitive function and coordination, lunch, reading or watching a film in my room for the afternoon, evening check-up, dinner, sleep. Repeat.
I became well acquainted with the lunch man. He, apart from distant and exhausted Dr Khan, was the only staff member I had regular day-to-day contact with. His name was Jimmy, he had worked at the hospital for 22 years. He lived in an apartment outside of the city, but said that he was able to get to work each day efficiently because of the new ‘Middle Rail’. It was a railway that ran in the sky, just above the top of buildings thus aptly named the ‘middle rail’ as it seemed to operate mid-air. Jimmy only ever stayed about five minutes but he was cheery and pleasant and a good conversationalist and his anecdotal stories made me excited to venture out of the hospital and experience the new world for myself.
The first few weeks in hospital were almost dream-like. I marveled at the technological advancements in the hospital, the way everything floated and operated effortlessly. I could now identify which staff members were ‘designer babies’ and which ones were just the regular concoction of random genetic traits. When I watched a film in the afternoons it popped out of the television screen to become a 3-D hologram in front of my face and sprayed various perfumes into the room to match the scent of each scene. In one film a man was cutting grass which smelled heavenly, but in another a group of soldiers marched through a rancid wasteland. I didn’t watch that film again.
But, after a month things took a turn.
Medically I was perfect. I was progressing nicely with my rehabilitation and could even sit up for brief periods by myself! I could focus well and my cognitive function was good. Vitamins and blood pressure were great and everything appeared hunky dory. But I woke each morning with this distinct feeling of being alone. The only human interaction I had was with the staff in the hospital. Everything I did and said was recorded and my body was treated as a machine that needed repairing. My vitamin D levels were exactly where they should be but I missed the sun. The heat and tingling burn of a hot sun shining with its yellow rays on you in the warmth of a summers day. I felt in the world, but not of the world.
I remember incredibly clearly one particular afternoon. Jimmy had just left after bringing my lunch in. And I looked down at my plate to see a big splodge of beef goulash. The second the smell of the meaty, tomato-y dish reached my nose I was completely overcome by sadness and longing and loneliness and mourning and I started blubbering and heaving great big salty tears.
My mother had made me beef goulash as a child. I could recall with such clarity one specific afternoon she had whipped it up. It had been a blustery winters eve and I had come home from school tired and weather beaten. She was in the kitchen with pots bubbling and steaming, garlic and vegetables frying and a glass of red wine in one hand and the other clutching a wooden spoon. The whole house was filled with rich mingling aromas and as I entered the kitchen she put her glass of wine on the kitchen bench and squeezed me in a big cuddle. My head nestled at her chest and I could smell her perfume and feel the warmth radiating from her chest and into my cheek. We ate the goulash with my dad and we sat chatting about our day and all of the hilarious little incidents we had had.
It then occurred to me that in the whole time I had been ‘awake’ I had not had any skin to skin contact with another human. I had been probed and prodded with various medical instruments, my vital signs measured by nifty little pieces of technology that lit up and beeped and buzzed and the few times someone in the hospital had needed to touch me a thick rubber glove had kept us apart. It was as though I had reverted to infancy again and all I wanted was to be hugged once more by my mum and to cook and eat and talk and laugh with someone who loved me.
Two months into my stay I was told that I had regained enough upper body strength to start eating in the communal dining hall with the others who had ‘woken’. So, at 12 o’clock I was wheeled by a nurse into the hall. A great white and sterile expanse with five other people sitting at steel benches. They were all eating ham sandwiches and drinking cups of juice. I was wheeled over next to a man who I had previously been told ‘woke’ only two days before me. I was slotted into my space at the bench, given a tray of food and then left to eat.
I looked at the man next to me. He looked tired. Sad. Lonely. He looked like me. His tray of food sitting in front of him completely untouched. He sat with his hands bunched together in his lap and his head hanging. I began to wheel my chair a little closer to him, abandoning my designated position at the table. I got as close to him as I could then slowly reached my arms forward and wrapped them around his shoulders and pulled him in towards me. He leaned into my chest and began to sob. Tears rolled from my cheeks and I sighed a deep sigh. I tightened my grip and squeezed, taking in his warmth, the feel of another human. For the first time I wasn’t alone.