He dozed pleasantly, comfortable and warm in his bed. It had been ages since he’d needed to schedule his awakenings in order to fulfill his obligations, but he still appreciated the relief of knowing he could snooze as long as he needed.
Eventually, though, he began to realize that something wasn’t right. This internal nagging had nothing to do with a vestigial need to wake up on time. It was born from the knowledge that he shouldn’t be able to feel anything at all.
When a person lies down to die, they don’t expect to wake up. Still, Lieder’s return to consciousness felt as natural as it ever had. Perhaps it was the lack of the chronic aches and pains that plagued his senior years, or maybe it was how soft the bedding felt against his skin; he had many guesses, but Lieder would never know why it had taken him so long to realize he was supposed to be incapable of this.
He opened his eyes and frowned at the ceiling. Why? He’d never married or had children, and he had been an only child. His parents had died long before him, as had all of his friends, save Alex and Krystal. He’d never been close to anyone else, and he’d already relinquished ownership of everything that could be considered an asset. What possible reason could anyone have for reviving him?
The contract with his digitization provider had even been modified to make it illegal to revive him; at least, it was valid when he was put to sleep. Why had it been ignored?
An unpleasant thought sent a shudder along his spine: there was no way it had anything to do with Abramian, was there?
He sighed, noting a peculiar quality to its sound. He supposed he couldn’t disqualify Alex or Krystal yet, no matter how implausible their involvement felt. He had no idea what had transpired since he had been put to sleep, nor could he tell how much time had passed. There could still be reasons that he hadn’t imagined.
He glanced to either side of him in turn, hoping to discover where he was. He couldn't recognize any of the specific instruments, but he was certain they belonged in a hospital. It didn’t match the feel of the corporate clinic where he’d been put down.
A solitary chair was tucked neatly into the space between one counter and the wall. If Krystal or Alex were among its recent occupants, he couldn’t blame them for not waiting bedside forever. This awakening process had been impossible when he was put to sleep, so there was no telling how long it took to complete it. Whoever ordered his revival had to eat and sleep sometime. He only hoped they brought some food back for him…
It struck him then; something else had been tugging at his attention ever since he’d woken up. He’d been too distracted to pay it any heed, but when the concept of food had entered his mind, it finally surfaced: he was hungry.
Old age had rendered him incapable of feeling hunger. It was the final sign that indicated he had gotten too old, the symptom that convinced him he’d lived long enough.
The doctors offered various theories for the phenomenon. Still, none of them had ever treated a patient like Lieder before, and he didn’t fit the profile of anyone known to suffer from this symptom. Though they agreed its onset was unusual, the scientists that studied him had all diagnosed him with one form of anorexia or another. They assured him that it could be treated.
Lieder tended to accept scientific explanations of strange situations, but this incident had inspired him to side with the spiritual. He found it much easier to believe what Krystal would think, had it happened to her: his body had become tired, and nature was telling him that it was his turn to die.
He considered this for a moment, overwhelmed by how good he felt. He could run again, could lift and bend and strain if he wanted. People had always been obsessed with eternal youth, or even having a second chance at it. Somehow, he’d acquired that second chance.
Lieder sneered. He had been sure this wouldn’t happen, and yet it had. He hated being wrong. Whoever did this would need to give him a profoundly good reason for it.
An abrupt movement broke him from his daze, and his eyes focused on the woman that walked towards a counter opposite the doorway. She wore a baggy one-piece uniform with an intriguing absence of buttons, zippers, or even seams.
“Yes, yes, I know he’s awake and I’m sure he does too,” she chided as she reached for a specific device on the countertop. With a brush of her fingertips, she silenced the soft music it emitted, a sound Lieder could only identify by its absence.
She turned to him and smiled. “Welcome back, I hope you had a good sleep. How are you feeling?”
“Wonderful,” Lieder admitted, reluctant.
“That’s great to hear! All the same, is there anything you need? Ah, looks like you could use some food.”
Lieder had wanted to request something of her, but forgot what it was as he puzzled over how knew that he was hungry. Wondering if he appeared gaunt or malnourished, he looked down to be greeted by the solution to his bewilderment: an animated graphic that decorated his hospital gown.
A childish cartoon was looping on his chest. The way that the image conformed to the garment’s wrinkles excluded the possibility of it being projected from an external device. The cloth was displaying this image just like a television screen would.
A generic human male carved at some nondescript substance with a knife and fork before putting the resultant chunk in his mouth.
Lieder was amazed. It had technically been possible to make clothing display this kind of graphic as long ago as the century before his digitization, though it was too pricey for the general public. He couldn’t fathom how fiber optic technology had come to be cheap enough to be incorporated into hospital gowns, nor how this garment seemed capable of knowing that he was hungry.
Amused for a moment, he wondered how it might try to portray a patient’s sexual arousal or the need to use the restroom without offending any onlookers. His amusement gave way under a disturbing thought, however: could this technology be used to wrest thoughts, memories, or even simple emotions from a person that wasn’t willing to share them?
Lieder realized that he’d left her question unanswered for several moments.
“Food can wait for a little while. Could you tell me who my benefactor is?”
“Ah, the man who requested the procedure? I’m sorry, but his name escapes me right now. He’s been alerted to your awakening, however, and I’m sure he’s on his way.”
Lieder pondered this revelation for a moment. Being male disqualified Krystal as a possibility, so his only remaining suspect was Alex. Had he somehow recovered enough sanity to also request digitization? Had Krystal found a reason to order the operation for him? Even if either scenario had been realized, Krystal and Alex had been childless. Without descendants, what reason would anyone have for awakening them?
It seemed more likely that this incident was being perpetrated by a complete stranger. Lieder couldn’t imagine a reason for that; at least not one that he wouldn’t come to resent.
“Well, if you’re not in dire need of food…” the nurse began as she reached for a small square object that lay on the counter.
Upon her touch, the device expanded from its center. Each corner of the square shot outward, connected by a paper-thin, translucent material that was already alight with a computer’s user interface. She lifted the device off the counter, holding it by one corner of the open shell and thereby revealing that the screen was sturdy enough to support its own square shape.
The screen couldn’t have been that solid in the device’s retracted state. Perhaps it was a fabric that became rigid when exposed to electricity?
She tapped a specific portion of this tablet’s screen, its display transforming to resemble a survey paper.
“…I’d like to get this out of the way. May I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Sure.” Lieder shrugged.
“What is your name?”
Lieder furrowed his brow, confused by the suggestion that they would resurrect him without even knowing his name. Still, he answered.
“Leader?” the nurse asked, her brow crinkling in confusion. Her eyes widened in sudden epiphany. “Oh, I thought it was pronounced ‘lie’ like in ‘lie down’. Sorry, I’ll try to remember that it sounds the same as ‘leader’. Anyway, what’s your middle name?”
This question was asked in the same manner that a teacher queries a student, or how a game show host quizzes a contestant: she already knew the answer. Lieder understood what she was doing now, and supposed it was logical.
“Orionne,” he responded, rolling his eyes. He hated his middle name.
She tapped on the tablet, and a check mark appeared next to a line of text that had already been present. “Birth date?”
“Is that in one-thousand nine-hundred and eighty-six?”
Lieder had to pause for a moment before realizing she was asking if that was the year he was born in. He was amazed that the conventions for measuring years might have changed since he’d been digitized.
She smiled and nodded. “Very good. Where was your birth certificate issued?”
Lieder relayed the answers to each question, assuming that the storage had corrupted clients’ memories in the past. Knowing some fundamentals of programming and data storage, these tests could be little more than a gesture of caution. He understood that memory integrity couldn’t be verified so easily.
“Alright, looks like there was no problem with the transfer,” she said cheerily, setting the tablet back on the counter. When she released it, the corners shot back inward, snapping closed like a coil of measuring tape. “That’s all I need from you at the moment, would you like some food now?”
“Okay, here’s our menu…” the nurse froze in sudden befuddlement. “Ah, that’s right, give me a second. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but just in case, there’s something I need to check.”
She picked the tablet back up and scrolled through its interface. Her eyes flickered when she found what she was looking for, and her expression went blank for a moment. Slowly, her face transitioned into a look of horror, and in a single, abrupt motion, she fell to one knee and bowed her head.
“My sincerest apologies, Lordship! I’ve failed to acknowledge you as a member of the Peerage. I accept full responsibility and your judgment.”
Lieder stared at her, his lips parted in utter confusion while he pondered his senses.
“What’s this all of a sudden?” he asked, struggling to keep the anger out of his voice. “Please, stand back up.”
She obediently shot upright, but her posture was rigid and her face pale. She quickly tapped a few icons on her tablet, then offered it to him.
“This is our premium menu, we’d be honored to make whatever you’d like to eat…”
“Please, please,” Lieder groaned, rubbing his forehead with one hand. He hated formalities. “I understand you’ve got your reasons for this, but please pretend you never saw whatever was written on that tablet.”
“But, I could be…”
“Wouldn’t I be the one to punish you for being informal with me?” Lieder asked. “If so, then please don’t worry. I don’t know what this Peerage is; you’re aware I haven’t been awake since before it existed, right? Please, I’d rather you treat me in the same manner as you did when you assumed I wasn’t a member. You have my word that I will never punish you for it.”
She stared back at him for several seconds, focused on the cartoon man on his gown. The character was looking at her with its hands clasped together, as though pleading with her.
“I don’t think anyone lived before the Peerage existed,” the nurse shrugged, but she relaxed. “Maybe you just called it something different.”
Lieder had heard the term somewhere before; he was fairly certain that the Peerage was a name for European nobility, and he even thought he could name the English hierarchy. Still, in his day, the system was considered antiquated and didn’t command the respect that this nurse was showing him. He suspected that this Peerage was the perverse reimagining of a custom that had died a long time ago.
“All the same: your desire, my imperative.”
Your wish is my command.
Lieder’s old habit reemerged; sometimes, when someone said something in obscure language, he simplified it into common speech. When the nurse claimed that Lieder’s desire was her imperative, part of Lieder’s mind equated the phrase to ‘your wish is my command,’ just in case he had to explain what she meant to someone else.
He’d been ‘dumbing-down’ language for the layman all his life, and was therefore compelled to have an alternate word set ready.
“That one is,” Lieder insisted, amused that the statement sounded like it came from some kind of Star Trek genie. “From now on, fulfilling my requests is entirely at your discretion. I’ll make it easy by not asking much.”
“I don’t understand, but I am grateful all the same,” the nurse rubbed the back of her head. “There’re some pretty scary rumors about custodians who tended to Peers in your situation. It’s rare, but that’s what makes it scary.”
“Sounds like odds are good that you won’t have to worry about that anymore, having come across it once already,” Lieder observed. “How very fortunate.”
“Would you like anything to eat?” The nurse asked, still holding the tablet out to him. He glanced at it, noting that none of the dishes were familiar.
“Any idea when my benefactor’s going to show up?” Lieder frowned as he considered his options.
“I should have just verified this to start. To my understanding, it’s always a Tombs,” she muttered. She swiveled the tablet back towards her body and began navigating its interface again. “Let’s see, projection, projection… ah, his name is Percius. Baron Percius Tombs. He’s projected to arrive in twenty minutes, happened to be much closer than they normally are.”
Lieder had a name now; unless this Percius Tombs was just a proxy, it was clear that Alex was also not responsible for his resurrection. The reason for his revival was beyond his scrutiny.
“If that’s the case, I’m more concerned about being presentable in public than I am about food,” Lieder said. “Is there anything I can swap this gown for?”
“Certainly,” the nurse confirmed. “Just follow me. Are you alright to walk?”
“Certainly,” Lieder mimicked, noting how much easier it was to climb out of bed.