Monday, September 08, 2014

Science Fiction: Awake in a clean world again, Part II

"2169..." Jack blew a long whistle and in that moment he realized that, technically, he was 200 years old, yet he was too young to be a Baby Boomer. Right away, he figured that everyone he ever knew was dead. Parents gone. Kids gone. Even grand kids, gone. But he had kids, and they had kids and they had kids. Maybe someone is still around.  Nah.

His head started to reel so he laid back down in bed, staring at the ceiling. Everyone and everything that he ever knew and loved is gone. Then he began to wonder what happened to the world and wanted to know more, but before he could do any more searching on the tablet, the doctor walked in.

"Good morning, Jack. I'm doctor Josephson." The doctor was a tall, thin man with short graying sideburns. He had a warm smile and friendly demeanor. "How do you feel today?"

Jack took a moment to check in with his body. No pain, no difficulty. Just taking in a new environment and a new encounter with a stranger. "I feel quite alright, really. I guess I feel a bit awkward about time at the moment."

"Yes, as expected. You've been asleep since about 2020, that's as near as we can figure from the records we found on you." The doctor sighed, "You're lucky we found you, too."

As Jack considered where and when he was, the doctor began to look over the charts and studied Jack briefly. Dr. Josephson was quite curious about this man who has slept for 150 years. He could find no anomalies for such a long, deep sleep. "We found your medical records within a week after we found you. Looks like you have pancreatic cancer. You won't have to worry about that now. With a few weeks of gene therapy, we'll knock that out. We'll get that started in a few days."

"What about insurance? Who is going to pay for it?" Jack said. He figured he would be on the hook for something. Who is going to pay for 150 years of sleep?

"Don't worry, Jack. We got that covered. We have universal insurance now. Everyone is covered." The doctor seemed happy to tell Jack the good news. He could also see that Jack needed some orientation. "Just know that we found that the cause of every disease you know of in the 20th century to be from industrial pollutants. Around 2050, class action lawsuits threatened the existence of every manufacturing industry worldwide. So it was decided - agreed - by all concerned, that every industry would pay a tax into a universal health insurance fund. Either that, or be sued out of existence. They paid the tax and it's been that way ever since."

"So what next?" said Jack, with eyebrows up and a weak smile.

Dr. Josephson said, "We need a few days of observation. A team of scientists are coming to review your records, and get first hand impressions. You're one of the oldest sleepers we've found and we expect to learn a thing or two from you. Then we'll get started on gene therapy. So, are you hungry?"

The hunger pangs hit harder this time and Jack was more than ready. "Oh, yes. You bet I'm hungry."

"Great," said the good doctor. "It's time for an early lunch so you can place your order from the tablet any time you're ready. The kitchen responds pretty quick, so don't be surprised to see your food in less than ten minutes. "I'll be back in the afternoon with a few members of our team. Figure on us returning around 3 pm. Will that work for you?"

"That would give me time to read some more, take a look outside and take a nap." thought Jack. "Sure, 3 pm is fine with me," he told the doctor.

In a few minutes he found himself flipping through pages in the tablet, but could not find the menu or the kitchen. "Hey, this is the 22nd century. I should be able to talk to the tablet," Jack thought, as he began to wonder what the gadgets in the world could do. "Show me a menu," he said the tablet.

"Menu from where?' responded the tablet, in a warm feminine voice. Jack looked at the tablet but could not see any speakers, yet somehow, there was sound. No matter. Hunger was taking supremacy.

"Show me the menu for the kitchen in this hospital." Sure enough, modern semantics and sound recognition could figure out what Jack was saying and he was presented with a menu. As he had hoped, he found some familiar items, but the screen showed a notice indicating that the selections had been filtered to allow only the softest, most edible foods. After 150 years of sleep, what can you expect?

"OK, I'll go with the cream of wheat," Jack said with some resignation.

Having placed his order, he continued with his reading. A few minutes later, his food had arrived, by robot. It didn't really have a face or anything like that. Just a platform that rolled around the floor in a seemingly intelligent way. The robot raised the tray to his bed height and placed it on his lap as the head of the bed ascended to position Jack for eating - without Jack's prodding. He didn't have to press any buttons to raise the bed. It was like the bed knew what he wanted to do and took the initiative.

The little robot scooted away after completing the delivery and Jack contented himself with reading and eating. He flipped through the news, aimlessly, without any idea of what he wanted to see. Without his fingers. "Hey, wait a minute," he thought. The pages stopped flipping. "You mean I can just think about flipping pages and the pages turn?", he though to himself, quietly.

"Yes," responded the tablet through the speakers. "You don't even have to use your fingers or your voice." Jack was a bit startled by the response and splashed some cereal onto the tray. He took a few breaths and began to settle into search mode. He started to search for any surviving relatives of his family. Anything at all, any clues, even a great grandson or daughter would be fine with him.

As he finished his cereal, his searching continued, just by thinking. Interacting with the tablet by thinking was taking a toll on his mind. Using thought to control a computer requires discipline that Jack was not entirely prepared for, and before he knew it, he was asleep again.
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