Monday, August 25, 2014

Fiction: Awake in a clean world again, Part 1

Jack wakes up to a bright, clean room. Soft white light fills the room as sunlight bounces from wall to wall. The scene is eerie, almost as if Jack is in heaven, but he's not really sure.

As he squints from the bright sunlight, Jack scans the room for anything familiar. Although he has memories of his home in Carmel, California, he doesn't see any sign of his comfortable abode off Pacific Coast Highway. The sheets, the blanket, the walls, even the bed frame are all white. Jack is the only color in the room save for a screen showing what appears to be his pulse. He smells what seems to be iodine wafting into the room. That smells like a hospital and another memory stirs in his mind.

He has a faint memory of cancer. It was advanced and during his last waking hours, before the big sleep, he had a conversation.

"What do you mean I have cancer?" he asks, hardly containing his shock, his grief, as all of the ramifications that come with the diagnosis filled his mind. He ate well, he exercised, no drinking no smoking, nothing, really. Except maybe some aging.

"Jack, we've gone over everything 3 times just to be sure. We caught it early, but it's aggressive and at this point in time, there is no cure." Dr. Klugman was firm in his resolve to help Jack recover from the shock of the diagnosis, but unable to do more than play messenger. Another day, another diagnosis, and it was wearing thin on him. "We'll do what we can to extend your life, but I'm sorry, Jack. There isn't much we can do."

Jack had the means and the determination to beat this. He had spent months doing his own research to see if there was a way out. There was none. Except time.

Jack had heard about cryogenics and searched for weeks to find the right outfit to do the job. He just wanted to stay alive long enough to find a cure. He had seen his friends go through the same trial. Diagnosis, surgery, chemo. They all lived seemingly happy lives thereafter with no recurrence, no complications. But when his turn came up, well, it just wasn't that simple.

He met with his family and put all of his affairs in order. His wife Theresa cried and knew that this was the end, at least for him. She begged him not to do it, not to go in the deep freeze, but he was undeterred. They were still fairly young and Jack figured that cryogenics would slow the cancer long enough for someone to find a cure.

What he had depended on was odds, long odds, with a fervent hope that he wouldn't be waiting that long to find a cure. He remembered going under, but after being awake for awhile, still unsure how long he had been under. There were no calendars in the room, only clocks. It was 9:30 in the morning and the day felt young. His eyes had adjusted to the light and looked out the window. No landscape, but there, the sky...it was bluer than he could remember. So where is everybody....?

The door to his room was ajar, he began to notice that he could hear activity outside, voices, footsteps, clattering of hardware and bottles, doors sliding open and shut. The scope of his attention was starting to expand as he sized up his surroundings again with better vision. Suddenly, a sharp pang hit his gut. He was hungry. Surely someone must have noticed that he's awake with all this gear taped to him.

He could now clearly see the tiny screens showing his heartbeat, his breathing, his blood pressure. It was all green and he was glad. There was water in a glass on the table nearby. He reached for it, grasped it and failed to retrieve it as it tumbled to the floor in a crash.

A nurse stepped in. "Good morning, Jack. Are you OK?"

"I'm fine, thanks. Just a bit groggy. Hungry. Thirsty. Can I have a glass of water?"

The nurse was attentive and reviewed the screens as she poured another glass of water for Jack. She handed it to Jack and this time, Jack got a firm grip on the glass and started with sips. Then glugs and in a few swigs, finished the glass off with a sigh. "This water tastes almost sweet. It's like I haven't had water in a long, long time. What's in it?"

"Just water, but you really didn't need it. You've been on an IV since we revived you." The nurse had a curious expression. Jack knew he was under observation, but was not entirely sure what she was looking for. She was slim from walking room to room every day, but she looked a bit tired. Jack thought that maybe she was burdened with the fatigue of seeing so many people die in these rooms.

"Your charts look good, Jack. How do you feel?"

"Oh, I'm OK, I guess. I just feel a little weird in this room. Kind of like I don't really belong here. Where am I?"

The nurse drew a breath through her lips and looked at him carefully. "You're in Missoula, Montana."

Missoula, Missoula, Missoula, he wondered to himself. Now just how did he get here again? He tried to scavenge his memory but all he remembered was talking about cryogenics.

A lot has changed since he went to sleep that fateful day. As the nurse disconnects the IV, she notes his vital signs and smiles at him. "We've notified a doctor that you're awake. He should be here in about 20 minutes. Would you like something to read, or maybe to watch TV?"

Jack considered the options for a moment and settled on something to read. "Sure, if you have a few magazines, I'd like to browse while I'm waiting."

The nurse left the room and came back with a tablet. Now Jack was curious because this was no ordinary tablet, to him, anyway. It was thin and flexible, like a sheet of mylar. But sure enough it had a display and responded to his touch. The nurse slipped away as Jack absorbed himself in the tablet.

The tablet was intuitive and responded well to his touch. He had used tablets before and was comfortable using his fingers to navigate. "The date. What's the date today?" That's what he wanted to know.

He found that he could browse the web. He looked for a familiar news source. "Where the hell is Google!?! I can't find Google!" But he did manage to find Time Magazine. He found a story, the byline and the date. It was...
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