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. Vertigo? Twanging coming through me from all over. Bits of me pinging. Is this a new kind of hangover that happens to old people?
Can’t speak. Jaw won’t move. Hang on, can’t move anything.
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.
Hello? Can you tell me your name?
Seems conscious but …
You need to let us know you are awake.
And you must tell us your name.
Is this their first? Do they know how? … Ah.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Option one is return to stasis.
Option two is to be awoken fully, though I can’t see why you’d want this since it’s only been ten years.
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.
Option three is euthanasia. Again, this is more of a formality. You insisted on your form that this be an option.
Ok, here they are again. I’ll pause after each one.
I need one spike for No, or two spikes for Yes.
Option one, return to stasis…
Breathe. Nope. No breathing. No water either.
return to stasis…
Come on man, we really need to move along here.
Elbow twang. Owwwww. That’s the worst so far.
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.
Ok. Option two is
Elbow twang. Damn. Why can’t I scream?
A spike! Was that for option one?
Let’s go on. Option two is to be awoken fully.
What, you are picking up speech activity? Now? We’ve got less than thirty seconds, no time for that.
Option two is to be awoken fully.
Elbow twaaaang. Aaaaaah.
Ok, quickly now, Option three is euthanasia.
Swallow. Almost. Breathe,
My name is.
Elbow twang, AAAAAAARGH.
My name is.
Body twanging all over now. Pain surging.
Ok, great, that’s
Elbow twang. Elbow twang. Elbow twang. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
Not me doing that.
My name is.
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.
Thanks for your cooperation, er
What’s his name?
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.
… 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? …
Twanging retreats. Rapidly.
My name is.
Not … Dave.
Several Days, as a radio script
(from Predicting the Present)
by Chris Gathercole
published: 07 March 2020
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
notes, draft-01, final, entry-for-2018, entry-for-2019, entry-for-2022-05
mashup (... er, what?)
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.