Wait—no one even knows what that means now—so...let’s just go back. It's about eighteen months ago. My birthday. I draw my first breath in of the stale air of a subterranean hell, falling forward, face smashing against the ground with my first step.
Hands in thick gloves grip my arms, hoist me up. I'm led on trembling legs to an improvised seating area, plastic benches crowded around a glowing cylinder that radiates warmth. I feel awful, my stomach a squirming mass of nausea despite its aching emptiness. Alone, I sit and stare, blearily rubbing my burning eyes, hoping that after the next blink the fact that I'm in a cave will make sense to me. I wrack my brain for any memory of where I was before. Nothing. So maybe a cave is okay.
It doesn't feel okay.
It feels like the mother of all hangovers...and waking up in a goddamn cave cannot be a good thing.
The man in the gloves returns and makes a sweeping gesture with one hand, indicating our surroundings-- the cavernous stone chamber is lined with frost covered doors, like some immense underground frozen food section. “Welcome to the future,” he says, deadpan but friendly. He offers me a large cup of water. I want to ask him what’s going on, where the hell I am-- but a mixture of morning-after embarrassment and pride keep me silent. I feel like I should at least act like I know what's going on. I take the cup from him, a raspy "thanks" rattling its way out of my throat.
"No problem." There's some commotion further down in the catacombs, and he rushes off.
I take a drink of my water, shifting position gingerly in an attempt to see what's going on. There are spotlights set up; big, blinding, horrible things, like they use during night time construction on the highway. The freezer doors shine under the glare. Cryobeds. The word is alien yet familiar. There are red lights on most of them. I know this is a bad sign.
Squinting, I turn away. Another sip of water. I realize how dehydrated I am, and end up gulping down the whole cup. I start to feel a little more lucid, a little less dense and dried out, and the first words spoken to me begin to sink in.
Before I can think much about them, my stomach rolls over, confounded by the sudden influx of liquid. I stagger to my feet, lunging for the nearest cover-- what looks to be some sort of portable generator. I crouch behind it, throwing up water, then throwing up nothing, stomach still contracting violently. The sickness finally passes. I spit one last time and stumble back to the benches to sit dow. I'm still the only one waiting.
Another worker approaches eventually; a bored technician who checks my pulse, blood pressure, reflexes. He’s young, and he carries out his duties with automated compassion. “You’re the best of the batch.” There are only three other survivors from this wing of the cryobanks, he explains: a man who won’t stop talking, a woman who won’t stop shaking, and a genderless, atrophied bundle of loosely connect bones whose muscle stimulus systems must have cut out sometime last century. “Looks like you made out okay, physically. How do you feel?”
“I don’t know. Glad to be out of there,” I glance warily back at the cryobed. My mind comprehends what it is, but I can’t for the life of me remember what compelled me to climb inside. It’s a cylinder about the size of a phone booth, embedded in the chamber’s wall. Surfaces that once shone with bright light of technological glory are now covered with a patina of age. The metal is tarnished and the window in the front is caked with frost and mold, aside from a section that had been scrubbed clean for the recovery crews to peek inside. From this angle, it’s shiny as a shop window.
“You know, it’s really a good thing that your mental link went down. Kept you insulated from a couple centuries of small talk and the eventual decent into madness. Honestly, your brain being almost totally shut off was probably for the best, given the circumstances.”
I’m not really listening. I understand his words but they don't interest me. I’m staring across the chamber at my reflection in the cryobed door. Abruptly, I get up to take a closer look.
It’s hard to identify the man staring back; he’s familiar, but I don’t feel any real connection to him. His face is gaunt, his cheekbones sharp. His watery, hazel eyes are sunken in bruise-colored wells of exhaustion. He’s someone I haven’t seen in years, someone I used to know quite well, and all I can think is, “Damn, what happened?”
The technician joins me. “Is everything all right?” There’s a note of concern in his voice. Undoubtedly he doesn’t want anything to go wrong with the “best of the batch.”
“Yeah…yeah.” A feeling of off-ness hits me as I take in my reflection. “Except-- I don’t think my hair used to be white.”
“Probably from stress. You’re lucky it didn’t just fall out.”
Story of my life from that moment on: you’re lucky...It could have been a lot worse.