This story was written over the weekend of 8th/9th April 2017 for the @scifilondon #SFL48hrFlash Fiction challenge (as announced in the NewScientist magazine), with (in my case) a specified title, “Several Days”, including dialogue, “Five minutes, that’s all it takes”, and up to 2K words.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Well, more of a dark paisley going wah wah.
Feel a bit sick. Feels odd though, high up in the chest, not from the stomach.
And depths. No, not depths. Different word. Kind of yawning, moving depth.
Twanging coming through me from all over. Bits of me pinging.
A muddy ssssh noise. Hissing.
Is this a new kind of hangover that happens to old people?
A click punctures the hiss.
A voice asks, pin sharp and loud, “Er, hello?”.
Can’t speak. Jaw won’t move. Hang on, can’t move anything.
The voice again, “Hello?”
Voice goes muffled, but still audible. Weird accent. “I’m not picking up any speech. Are they on? … Fully on? … How can we tell? … We only have, what? … Five minutes, that’s all it takes … What, less than that? Sure, it’s the budget package, but they were promised at least five minutes each time.”
Same voice, louder, accent less weird, but still weird, “Hello? Can you tell me your name?”. Muffled. Turns away? “Seems conscious but …”.
Loud and slow, “You need to let us know you are awake.” Quieter, muffled, “What?”. More voice, but too low to hear.
Loud again, insistent, “And you must tell us your name.”
Voice goes muffled, “Is this their first? Do they know how? … Ah.”
Louder, “Ok, sorry, my bad. We’ve wasted one of your minutes. I thought you’d done this before. You need to just speak as you normally would, and ignore that this is not normal. It’s like when you are drowning”.
Voice goes muffled, “What? Come on, don’t interrupt! This will work, I heard this way gets them speaking quickest of all the techniques. Yeah, it’s not nice, but this client’s only got just over three minutes left before they’re committed to waking, so we can’t afford to dick about. Imagine the grief if we don’t get this one’s consent. Four more clients today with a cycle time of at least an hour each”.
Louder, “Sorry about that. And sorry about this, but it’s like drowning, when you are fighting not to breathe, and then you do and you breathe the water into your lungs and then you drown. Speaking, for you, right now, is like breathing in the water. You just have to do it. You won’t die. Well, you sort of pretty much are already, if you see what I mean, but it won’t hurt you. Your nerves are giving you confusing messages. Just inhale the water. There is no water. And speak.”
Loud, encouraging tones, “Come on. Do it. You can do it. What is your name?”
Name. I know what one is, and a word seems familiar. Just pops forward, demanding to be said. But, inhale the water? What is this idiot on about? Swallow. Nothing happens. I can’t swallow. This is not nice.
The vertigo has changed direction. Am I on a roller coaster? Everything still pinging. What is that? Elbow twanged big time. Ow. And again. I did that. And again. Ah, that hurts.
Voice goes muffled, “Did you see those spikes? Someone’s in there. If we get their consent, do we need their name? … You have their name? … His name? … How can you know that? … It’s on his cabinet? The whole point of the double blind thing is that we can’t fake that. … Ok, so we can fake that.”
Voice goes loud, “Hi, again. Let’s go for consent and leave your name for another time. That thing you did, can you do it once more?”
Elbow twang. Ow.
Voice triumphant, “And there’s the spike. Smashing. Can you do that twice more?”
This is not nice. Elbow twang. Ow. And ah not happy about this, Elbow twang. Ah. Ow.
Voice pleased, “Ok, that is superb. A nice clear signal. We might just get a result here. I’m going to read you three options. Listen to them carefully. Then I’ll read them again, and wait for your signal after each option. One spike for No, two spikes for Yes. I’m going to need two clear Nos and one clear Yes. Ok. We have just over two minutes, here goes.”
Voice goes loud and slow, “Option one is return to stasis.”
Loud and slow, “Option two is to be awoken fully, though I can’t see why you’d want this since it’s only been ten years”.
Voice goes muffled, “What? That’s not leading the witness. He was meant to have had time to ask questions about the world as it is now in order to make his decision, but there’s no time. He wakes now, he’s broke, and you know the other issues.”
Voice goes loud and fast, “Option three is euthanasia. Again, this is more of a formality. You insisted on your form that this be an option.”
Loud, “Here they are again. I’ll pause after each one. I need one spike for No, or two spikes for Yes.”
Loud, slow, “Option one, return to stasis.”
Breathe. Nope. No breathing. No water either.
Louder, slower, “Option one, return to stasis. Come on man, we really need to move along here.”
Elbow twang. Owwwww. That’s the worst so far.
Loud, excited, “Ok, I’ve got one spike. Do I get another?”
Bits randomly twanging faster and louder. Pain now is everywhere. Wasn’t there. Now it’s there, coming through in waves.
Loud, worried, “Really, no? Ok. Option two is ”.
Elbow twang. Damn. Why can’t I scream?
Loud, confused, “A spike! Was that for option one? Let’s go on. Option two is to be awoken fully.”
Scream of rage.
Voice goes muffled, “what, you are picking up speech activity? Now? We’ve got less than thirty seconds, no time for that.”
Voice goes loud and fast, “Option two is to be awoken fully.”
Loud and fast, “ok, quickly now, Option three is euthanasia.”
Swallow. Almost. Breathe, he said. My name is.
Elbow twang, Scream. My name is. Body twanging all over now. Pain surging.
Loud and relieved, “Ok, great, that’s ”.
Elbow twang. Elbow twang. Elbow twang. Not me doing that. My name is.
Voice goes panicky, “Four spikes? Never mind. I, um, I’ll record that as yes to Option one, remain in stasis, no to Option two, be awoken fully, and no to Option three, euthanasia. With some random neural activity as we reached the end of the window.”
Voice goes relieved, “Thanks for your cooperation, er”, muffled, “what’s his name?”
Voice goes confident, “Thanks for your cooperation, Dave. We’ll return your mind to stasis, along with your body, for the next instalment. You should be able to get going faster each time. This was your first, so kind of tough on you. Give the breathing thing another try. Good luck. …”
Muffled, just audible, “… not his first? … Well how many? … His record … corrupted? So what is his situation? … Can we leave a note? … You are reading the note? What note? … He’s been brain-checked for a … of several days? …”
Pain dims. Twanging retreats. Rapidly.
My name is.