Sunday, April 2, 2017

As It Was In The Beginning

He awoke, startled, soaked in sweat. His last thoughts had been of regret. Now, his first were of fear. Around him the walls were white. The room, brightly lit, had the sterilized look of a hospital. Soon enough men and women in white coats appeared to confirm his assumption.

"Whe-where am I?" he stammered.

A man with a plastic smile, ash blonde hair, and sparkling blue eyes, sat on the bed beside him.

"Mr. Mitchell? Mr. Thomas Mitchell?" he responded in calming tones.

"Yes," Thomas replied. "What's going on?"

A titter of laughter from the other four in the doctor quintet. The lead doctor whose badge read: John Redding, M.D., quieted the others with his hand.

"I'm Doctor Redding. Forgive my colleagues' manners, we're all a little excited to talk with you."

"I don't understand."

"That's to be expected. The fact is Mr. Mitchell, you died, and we --all of us-- have worked very hard to bring you back."

"I died?" Thomas squeaked. His throat felt like it was closing off on him. A sudden rush of memories were coming back to him. Blood. Blood everywhere, then fading to black.

"I died," he repeated to himself, this time as a fact.

"Yes, but the good news is, you're back," Dr. Redding said dripping with reassurance.

"Where's my mom and sister?"

"They're both dead--for now, I should stress."

Tears filled Thomas's eyes. "What? How can they be dead? I just left them. They were both fine."

"Mr. Mitchell, that was over 100 years ago." He quickly put up a hand to quiet Thomas. "I'm not doing too well so far, but this is my first time, so bear with me, okay?"

"Okay," Thomas reluctantly agreed.

"For you, it's the future. To us, present day. Here and now, we've cured every sickness and disease. People don't die anymore, unless they want to. With that frontier conquered we turned our sights on the past. Many have loved ones they'd like to see again, or famous actors and scientists who could bring fresh life to academia. With that in mind we began experimenting.

"Then a couple years back, a discovery was made. Hidden within DNA, laid memories of the deceased. It's just a matter of knowing how and where to look. You are the first representation of our hard work. 100 years you've been dead, but now here you are, fully revived, with memories hopefully all in tact, right up to the point of death."

"Bullshit," Thomas responded.

Dr. Redding looked to a young woman who stood smiling in the corner. Her hair and face were all perfect. In fact everyone in the room looked like supermodels.

She recognizing something in his look, spoke up. "An outdated expletive used to express an extreme disbelief."

"Ah," Dr. Redding said, nodding. "Perfectly reasoned response. Please, don't take my word for it. I invite you to step to the window. I think you'll find things look a little different."

Thomas swung his legs out from under the blanket. The back of his hospital gown was open, but they'd mercifully put underwear on him. He tottered towards the window, oblivious to the furious note taking the gaggle of doctors were engaged in,

The window was almost as large as the wall itself. Large blackout curtains hung in front of them. There didn't appear to be any drawstrings so Thomas ripped them open himself at the center. Outside, the light flooded in, causing him to flinch. As his eyes slowly adjusted, he began to make out the future.

It was exactly like every science fiction movie and show had ever painted. Tall, monolithic structures jutted out like stalagmites across the horizon. Some metal, some stone; some amazingly enough, looked like crystal. Down in the streets, people drove in cars with no wheels, hovering inches above the ground. Every so often a shimmer of light would run over the length of them, revealing a protective field.

It was too much for Thomas to take in. Back turned against the window, he slumped down to the floor. The doctors rushed to his side but he waved them off. He put his head between his knees and tried to focus on breathing. A trick his high school counselor had taught him to deal with panic attacks.

"World without end," Thomas muttered.

"How's that?" asked Dr. Redding.

"Gloria Patri. Something I learned when I was young. When I was..."

"I know this must be quite a shock to you," said Dr. Redding.

"I just need to lay down for awhile, so I can think," Thomas responded.

A short, square man with long hair and a smile as wide as his face spoke up. "If you're feeling tired, we have a shot we can give you that will fix your body so you only have to sleep every 10 days."

"No--thank you. I want to sleep. I think it'll help me to process everything."

"Of course." Dr. Redding nodded. "We have a room set up outside of the lab for you. You should feel right at home."

They led Thomas through a maze of hallways and doors. Outside of the lab, the place looked more like an office building he'd worked in as a temp in his early 20's. Eventually they came to a stop in front of a door that had a gold plaque proclaiming: Thomas Mitchell, Home 101.

Inside was a small apartment. A tiny kitchenette to his right. A bathroom and bedroom to his left. And directly in front of him, a living room with a couch and chairs. There was even a window on the wall opposite the door, pouring in sunlight.

"Do you still have TV?" asked Thomas.

"Of course," Dr. Redding responded, "and every backdated show you can think of. Only now, the television is wired inside your head. Don't worry, we've already installed it for you. Your world browser has access to any media, as well as the internet. Just feel the side of your head by your left eye."

Thomas felt slowly with his hand till he found a small, hard recess. He pressed in and suddenly the room in front of him vanished, replaced with a web browser asking him what he'd like to do. He pressed it again quickly to get rid of it.

The group chuckled.

"It can take some getting used to," said Dr. Redding.

Thomas nodded and walked over to the couch. It was the most comfortable sofa he'd ever sat on.
He looked towards the doctors who were smiling at him like adults watching a child learn to walk.

"Smart couch," offered the woman doctor. "designed to adjust the pressure and softness based on your bone structure and weight."

"Makes sense," Thomas mumbled.

"I think we should clear out now," Dr. Redding said to the group before turning back to Thomas. "There's food in the fridge, and clothes in your room. We have some sensors on your chest and back. Please don't remove those as it's collecting important data for us."

"Also," spoke the square, "if they're removed we'll think you're dead and come running."

"Not that there's any risk of that," Dr. Redding quickly added. "If you need anything, simply press your world browser and ask for me. It'll connect us right away. Otherwise I'll see you in a couple hours when I bring you a dose of medicine."

The group waved and bumbled out and he suddenly found himself alone. Alone and alive; with only his thoughts to comfort and betray him. He entered the bathroom first. The mirror above the sink bore an image that was all at once familiar and strange. He had died when he was thirty-two, yet the reflection was easily ten years younger. He was also leaner. Not that he'd ever really been fat, but he hadn't really lived a healthy life either. Yet now he was toned and fit. It was like looking at the perfected form of himself he could never have been before.

He splashed some cold water on his face and exited to the bedroom. An undoubtedly "smart" bed with dark blue comforter sat beckoning. Laid out was a set of clothes. Fresh underwear, a sweatshirt, blue jeans, and socks. Thomas slipped off the gown and looked at the two glowing sensors that seemed attached to his chest. They were diamond shaped with flashing blue lights. He ran his hand over them wondering what purpose they actually served. Not willing to see if the doctor's threat would come true, he let them be and quietly got dressed before laying down. The bed was even more comfortable than the couch.

He tried to sleep, but he couldn't shut down his mind. Eventually he gave in and turned on his world browser. The question again prompting him what he'd like to do. He was about to say watch TV when a listing of channels came up.

"Of course, it would be thought controlled," he muttered to himself.

After a few minutes he got the hang of it. Thomas scrolled through the channels looking for anything that sounded appealing. Half an hour later he gave up trying to find anything and shut it off.

A million channels in my head and nothing to watch, he thought to himself.

Thomas lay there for sometime, pondering everything, till sleep finally found him. He dreamed. His first in a hundred years. It was him and his sister on a beach. He wasn't an ocean person, but he loved lakes. In the dream he was 12 again, his sister 9. The shoreline was made up of smooth stones of varying size. There was no sand to build a castle so his sister and he tried stacking rocks into one. Every time they'd get too high, it would collapse. They'd laugh and start all over again.

Then he was awake again and staring up at Dr. Redding. He was sitting in a chair with a pill bottle and glass of water. The bedside lamp was on, giving just enough light to make it seem eerie. Thomas sat bolt upright.

"I didn't mean to startle you, Thomas," he spoke.

"I guess I was sleeping deeper than I thought."

"I've got some pills for you to take. These are going to strengthen your immune system. No one has had a cold or disease in 20 years, and we'd like to keep it that way."

No reason not to trust him, Thomas swallowed them down quickly.

"Doctor Redding, what am I?" he asked after all the pills were gone.

"I'm afraid I don't understand the question."

"I'm not me. I mean, I'm not the same man who died. Am I a clone?"

"We don't care for that term. A clone is a genetic copy. There'll be variations and the thoughts will all be new. You're the same man. Same thoughts, same memories. Back in your time they had organ transplants didn't they?"

"This is hardly someone giving me a kidney."

"No, Thomas, it's not. Because your own genetic makeup is what's brought you back. Think of it as taking a long nap."

"Doc, I was a religious man in my day. How do I reconcile this? Do I have a soul? Is it the same soul? Am I damned now?"

Dr. Redding raised his hands to calm him down.

"So many questions. There'll be plenty of time for them all. We as a society have disproved the existence of a God. Life exists as it is and that's it."

"Bullshit. No one can disprove the existence of something."

"Maybe not, though I'd say we've satisfied everyone's minds but the hardest of zealots. However if you like, you may continue your beliefs. The Christians spoke of a resurrection, maybe there was some truth to it."

He patted Thomas on the leg and stood up.

"I should let you finish getting your rest. Lots of work to do tomorrow including a start on your nanite injections"

He got as far as the doorway before Thomas stopped him.

"Why me?" he called after him. "Why not some famous person. Einstein, or Stephen Hawking; someone who was a genius?"

Dr. Redding smiled and sat back down.

"We'll get to them. We have a selection process for revival. As we branch further out into the stars, we'll eventually backup everyone's genes so that the human race will never risk extinction."

"That's all well and good, but why me?"

"Because of my grandfather."

"Did I know him or something?" Thomas asked.

"No," Dr. Redding laughed, "but he knew you."

"How's that?"

"Our species has always been obsessed with the past. With the internet, everyone putting their lives online, it led to a new profession: Online Anthropologists. Those who would dig through the 1's and 0's to examine life as it was. Then about 20 years ago, my grandfather, was walking through a cemetery, looking for his next subject, when he happened upon your gravestone. There, written on it, was a quote. Do you remember what you'd instructed to be written?"

Thomas' head was starting to spin again. Talking about his own life and death in the abstract was one thing. This was something else altogether. Not quite finding words, he shook his head no.

"On your headstone it read, 'Let me be forgotten.' That statement struck my Grandfather hard. He wanted to know why someone would write that. So, using his anthropological skill set, he began to dig you up online. A failed writer, you nonetheless left behind a large volume of work. He reprinted his findings for others to read and enjoy. You're quite well known now."

"People have read my works?" he asked in a daze. He grabbed the glass of water and downed it, wishing he had something harder.

"Oh yes," Dr. Redding continued. "Yet for all of his labors he never found a reason why you'd have that on your gravestone. He always used to tell me how much he wished he could sit down with you and ask you himself. That stuck with me. I began exploring a possible means to bring back the dead. As it was you who'd inspired this new direction in science, it seemed only fair that you'd be the first."

Thomas was laughing now. First small chuckles, then rollicking with tears streaming down.

"What's so funny?" Dr. Redding asked.

"It's all so random," he responded, through gasping breaths. "Everything. So random."

The doctor waited for him to calm down before he spoke again.

"Now can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," said Thomas.


Thomas sighed. "Outdated verb. Slang for: proceed."

"Ah, of course. Why did you choose that for your gravestone?"

"It was a misprint. Only half the message. I couldn't say why they didn't write the second half. Maybe the paper I wrote it on smudged or something. It should have read 'Don't let me be forgotten.'"

"That seems like an odd sentiment from someone who died the way you did."

"It fit the general tone of the note I left. Sorry to disappoint."

Dr. Redding flashed the smile one last time and stood to leave.

"I wouldn't say you've disappointed me or anyone. We're here today, having this conversation, because of those words. Now, I better get out of here and let you get back to sleep. We have a lot to do to get you in shape tomorrow so you can go outside."

With that he left. Thomas turned out the light and laid back in the dark. There was just enough light in the other room that he could see his hands if he held them close to his face. He used to do that as a kid, to judge how dark it was. Back when he got night terrors, and long before the darkness had become a comfort.

The hands were wrong though. Somehow this bothered him more than seeing his face. They were just wrong and he couldn't say quite why. He dropped his hands to his side and grabbed hold of a razor he'd removed from the bathroom. He chuckled again to himself as felt the cold blade in his hand.

"So fucking random," he said to the darkness. And then, for the second time, Thomas took his own life.

Thomas awoke, startled, in a cold sweat. Around him the lab was lit up as the doctors looked over him with painted expressions.

"Welcome back, Thomas," Dr Redding chortled happily. "Depression is only natural, and we thought this might happen given your history. But don't worry, we've fixed the part of your brain that feels suicidal impulses. We're confident you'll make a go of it this time."

Thomas laid back and smiled.

"World without end," he whispered.

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