Take A Deep Breath

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What if you woke up in the future?

Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Aitana had spent weeks in the recovery ward gradually emerging from a comatose state. She’d lived the existence of a virtual zombie, led around and fed by machines, struggling with adjusting her vision to the contrasting gloom and brightness. But now, some of it had come back. At least, she now remembered who she was. What had seemed so wonderful and exciting in theory had become a reality verging on the surreal.

With self-recognition came an awareness regarding the peculiarities of her surroundings. Most of the time Aitana was restricted to the small room allocated her. She’d seen no more than a dozen individuals since coming round, none of them fellow patients. The majority of the hospital staff consisted of squat maintenance droids and humanoid robots. Just about every piece of equipment and fitting was automated. Hospitals had always seemed sterile environments to her, but this place was clinical in the extreme; like a laboratory. The floors and ceilings were curved, causing Aitana to suspect that she was aboard a rotating wheel space station, generating centripetal force to create artificial gravity – such technology had yet to be made practical during her first lifetime. 

Electronic music provided atmosphere most of the time, evidently designed to be calming and therapeutic. There was no TV or computerised entertainment, no literature. No clue as to the kind of world she had woken up to. She’d initially thought the room had windows providing a view of the beautiful countryside outside. The curved windows turned out to be screens showing some kind of 3D film, probably of the Rhone Delta – the Camargue region of France. Small herds of mostly white horses occasionally passed by in the distance. Eventually, the film began to repeat itself betraying its crassness. The scenery looked sublime, but Aitana would have preferred the rolling hills of Andalucía. She found herself constantly reflecting on the lives of the people she’d known; family, friends and colleagues, who no longer existed except in memory. People who had outlived her in one sense, but whom her lifespan had surpassed in the long run. Thinking of her mother and father brought tears to her eyes.

The hypnotic simulation of real music was beginning to irritate Aitana. She longed for some flamenco or classical guitar, something with feeling. The world she’d woken up to seemed completely bereft of passion. Simulated pony-trekking in the Caballo Blanca provided some distraction, along with skiing in the Sierra Nevada. The simulations proved surprisingly realistic and provided a welcome distraction, but they lacked the excitement of the real thing. The only food available came in liquid form, and despite the numerous flavours, it was hardly appetising. Aitana drooled over thoughts of queso manchego and cochinillo asado

Doctor Manstein hadn’t introduced herself until Aitana recovered her self-awareness. Like everyone else, the doctor was small in stature, wearing the obligatory lightweight, metallic grey jumpsuit, the uniform attire. Her fair hair was tied in a ponytail and she appeared devoid of emotion. She said it would take time to adjust physically. An even greater challenge would be coming to terms with how much the world had changed.

Most of the human interaction Aitana had experienced so far had been with Ling, the therapist; a young, petite and attractive, but rather stern-looking Chinese woman who had only slightly more warmth than the doctor. So far, the therapy had been restricted to stimulating memories of Aitana’s past life.

The duty humanoids came to escort her to the therapy suite. Aitana walked unsteadily along the brightly-lit corridor, still struggling to coordinate her new legs and holding on to the robotic arms of her wards. She was surprised to find Manstein sitting next to Ling.

‘Hello, Aitana,’ Manstein said, in a matter-of-fact manner.

‘Hello, doctor…  Ling. I hope I’m getting some answers today.’

‘I appreciate how curious you must be,’ Manstein replied.

‘How many other people from my time have been revived?’

‘The simple answer is none.’

‘None… But I don’t understand. What about all the people who paid to be preserved?’

Manstein betrayed something akin to a grin. ‘Even if circumstances hadn’t intervened to cause those specimens to be discarded, they were beyond revival by anything but… God, I’m afraid. Technology hasn’t advanced to the point of producing miracles. All specimens preserved before the mid twenty-first century were far too corrupt to be salvaged. And that’s only from the physiological point of view. Unlike yourself, those specimens were preserved after clinical death. The reasoning behind such optimism relied on the supposition that the personality – or ego – is simply contained within brain cells and is more durable than the life of the body.  Both orthodox religion and the elementary science of your day promoted the belief that our personality could survive beyond the pale. The fact is, the ego cannot transcend death. Reincarnation, resurrection… well, it was all in the realm of fairytales, I’m afraid.’

‘But why me?’ said Aitana. ‘What’s so special about me?’

‘Please don’t be offended,’ replied Manstein, actually looking a little embarrassed, ‘but it’s not so much that you are particularly special. I mentioned the circumstances leading to the discarding of most specimens, and that factor will be explained in due course. You happened to be one of the few honorary preservations, the only specimens to be maintained. Out of those particular specimens, you were chosen due your research on nuclear fusion. Apparently, you’ve been hailed the Lise Meitner of your day. I didn’t participate in the decision-making, so I can’t tell you much more. We just wished to see if the revival process was feasible, and you were the lucky guinea pig – so to speak. Cryonics is usually only employed in long-distance space travel.’

‘And the cancer?’ Aitana held her breath while awaiting the answer.

‘Oh, no problem. Your body is devoid of any cellular corruption. You can look forward to another century, perhaps more, of disease-free life. I suggest you make the most of it. Anyway, now I’ve got the session underway, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Ling.’

The doctor departed leaving Aitana waiting for Ling to pay her some attention. The therapist seemed miles away, calculating some equation in her head.  Aitana cleared her throat in impatience.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Ling offered, without sounding genuine. ‘Aitana, I need you to accept that the world has changed a great deal since your time. So much so that you will barely recognise it. For you, this could be a rude awakening. I wish I could offer you some comfort.’

Aitana struggled to get the words out. Eventually, she got it off her chest. ‘A hug would be nice.’

‘A hug,’ Ling looked confused.

‘Yeah, a hug. You know a cuddle. Every morning when I wake up, I feel like crying. Perhaps a hug would help.’

‘Very well,’ conceded Ling, standing to meet her. ‘If you think it will help.’

The awkwardness and stiffness of Ling made the embrace somewhat wooden, but it had been so long since Aitana had any physical contact with another person, it felt wonderful. Reluctantly, she released the bemused therapist and returned to her seat.

‘Are you going to tell me what happened?’ Aitana wasn’t even sure she wanted to know the answer.

‘The planet could no longer sustain the non-symbiotic relationship imposed on it by humanity. When modern humans first evolved, the future consisted of numerous possibilities, various paths which could have been taken, but as time progressed the possibilities dwindled until you were funnelling yourselves towards inevitable extinction.’

Aitana interrupted. ‘I know the problems we faced were very complex: over population, pollution, the energy crisis, global warming, rising sea levels, dwindling resources, disproportionate distribution of resources and wealth – as well as the social unrest and military conflict associated with such injustice and inequality. The seas were quickly becoming barren due to pollution, the bread baskets of the world becoming infertile. Did we almost destroy ourselves?’

‘Very perceptive,’ said Ling. ‘The world’s leaders, with their insular mentality, failed to realise that the earth was a living organism in itself, composed of billions of essential life forms, similar to how you are a collection of individual cells working together to form a whole. That ecosystem proved fragile once the critical point was reached. The natural trend towards global warming was inflated by fossil fuel consumption, a rise of a few degrees in average temperature proving devastating. Sea levels rose sufficiently to wipe out low-lying cities. With something analogous to the domino effect, the whole system collapsed. A human-induced mass extinction followed removing fauna necessary for cross-fertilization of essential flora. Rats, cockroaches and corvids thrived in the aftermath, feeding off the corpses and spreading disease. It was a disaster of Biblical proportion. The result was too many mouths to feed, but not enough resources to go round.’

Ling paused to stare at the floor, then continued in her monosyllabic, detached manner. 

‘The privileged tried to save themselves by withdrawing to self-contained ecospheres maintained by the latest technology, abandoning the masses in the process. The ruling elite absolved themselves from responsibility for the tragedy by claiming it was simply nature taking its course, evolution in progress.

‘Isolated populations, which had never adopted modern culture, managed to carry on for some time before succumbing. For the elite, the selfish strategy worked for a while, at least long enough for our kind to evolve.’

‘What do you mean… our kind?’

‘Take a deep breath,’ said Ling slowly. ‘You are the last of your kind – the human race is extinct.’

‘And what about you… Oh God… Are you an android?’

‘I’m not entirely synthetic, if that’s what you mean. I do possess human DNA – that is, of course, female DNA. Male DNA is no longer used – testosterone is much too volatile a hormone.’

‘But where are we?’ Aitana was struggling to apprehend the horror. ‘Can I see what it’s like outside?’

A metallic wall panel slid open to reveal a window. Aitana got up and walked over to stare out into space, fixing her vision on the blue planet. ‘Why are we up here?’ she asked.

‘We’re halfway between the earth and the moon,’ replied Ling. ‘Earth was abandoned after the last humans died, but it’s almost as barren as this. It will recover eventually – given time.’

Aitana thought of all the wonderful cultural and scientific achievements humanity had accomplished, shocked by the realisation that it had all been in vain. Then she wondered, if people had realised it would come to this, would they have had a change of heart? Probably not. Who cares about a future belonging to others?

‘You… You didn’t finish them off… did you?’

‘Don’t be irrational.’ Ling looked irritated. ‘We were programmed to assist them, and we did so right till the very end. They were stricken with disease, the diminished gene pool proving inadequate regarding long-term resistance.’

‘Oh, I get it,’ Aitana’s spirit soared. ‘You revived me to see if it was possible. Now you intend to revive the others so we can start again, reinvent the human race. I’m like Eve – the first woman.’

‘Hold on.’ Now it was Ling’s turn to look horrified. ‘The human race has already been reinvented; we were the next logical step in the evolutionary process. Purely organic, intelligent life is no longer required. We performed our duty according to our designers but now it’s our turn. With the benefit of hindsight we have reached the conclusion that intelligent animals are far too dangerous to contribute towards the future progress of civilisation. It’s best that you don’t mention such nonsense in front of Doctor Manstein.’

‘Oh God!’ Aitana broke down, sobbing.

‘There, there,’ said Ling, without a trace of empathy. ‘You humans are strange creatures, so sentient, yet so destructive. Things tend to turn out how they’re supposed to in the end. That’s evolution.’

 

 


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