Ten years of sleep will make you cold. The liquid nitrogen sees to that. It cools your bones, muscles, and mind. It was clear to her that there was a connection between heat and memory. She lay on the aluminum table trying to understand the questions the doctors asked her, but she was too cold, her memories hadn’t yet thawed.
“Mrs. Trudell, do you remember anything from your time before?” a doctor asked, his face still blurry to her.
“It’s Miss Trudell,” she responded, struggling to push the words through her dry throat.
She struggled to remember anything past that. Her name, year of birth, color of her hair - nothing. But she remembered signing divorce papers. She remembered a weight lifted from her gut. She remembered seeing her black eye heal for the final time - black, violet, green, then yellow.
“My apologies Miss Trudell. I’ll make sure that gets fixed. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Doctor Reynolds. I’ll be assisting you through your recovery process.”
“You were put into a state of cryonic preservation to keep you alive. An induced coma,” the doctor said.
“Was I sick?” she asked.
“You were hit by a car ten years ago. Your condition was severe enough that we needed to keep you under.”
“What’s my name?” she asked, struggling to speak.
“Corinna. Everything will come back to you. It’s common to have difficulty at first. Almost no one remembers much upon waking up. It usually takes months of rehabilitation and therapy. It’s a process. Your family will be visiting today - it helps the process.”
Corinna inspected the room once her eyes had regained enough clarity to distinguish objects. Bundles of cords and cables were snaked into her arms and legs. A large tube was jammed into her stomach like an umbilical cord.
“We’re going to start unplugging you. It’s going to hurt - I won’t lie. And don't get your hopes up about speaking too much. You haven’t used your vocal cords in ten years. We’ve kept them healthy - lubricated them - stimulated them with a high frequency electromagnetic current - but don’t speak too much, trust me. You’ll end up regretting it tomorrow.”
A group of doctors and nurses entered the room, all of them greeting her with ‘welcome back’ or ‘how are you feeling?’ and a few of the younger staff members welcomed her with ‘good morning sunshine’ and ‘welcome to the future!’
They positioned themselves around her and went to work unlatching, unplugging, and removing her cords and tubes.
“When will my family be here?” she asked.
“They’re in the waiting room right now, actually. We can bring them in whenever you’re ready,” the doctor said.
“I don’t remember anyone.”
“That’s normal,” said doctor Reynolds. “They don’t expect you to remember them. They’re here to help you remember. They’ve brought photos, heirlooms, and stories. But no pressure - you probably won’t remember much of anything, but if you’d like we can try a restorative memory treatment before letting them in. It’s been known to help restore some memory function but it’s a bit random in what it brings back. Don’t stress it at all - it was approved by the GMC years ago. I can almost guarantee that it’ll give you some memory but I can’t tell you what you’ll get.”
“Ah yes. You’ve been asleep for a while. The Global Medical Council. Not the car brand!” Doctor Reynolds laughed. “That went under a while ago. A lot of things have changed since 2033. I don’t want to overwhelm you with that but you’ll see.”
“Let’s do it,” Corinna responded.
“You want the treatment?”
Corinna agreed with a nod.
“Miss Trudell, I’m obligated to inform you of the possible side effects that can occur. As I’ve said it’s been approved by the GMC but it remains a fairly new treatment. The side effects have never proven to delay recovery or cause permanent damage in any way but you should be aware of them nevertheless.”
“Just do it,” Corinna said, shooting the doctor a stern look.
Doctor Reynolds shook his head and motioned to one of the nurses as she packed up some of the cords and tubes. A moment later she returned pushing a car, atop it a large box with wires spiralling around it like a head of hair. She placed the cart next to Corinna’s bed and from within a metal drawer in the car she grabbed a syringe.
“First we need to inject you with a nano mnemonic. The electromagnetic current will react with that. Think of it like sourcing out the brain’s responsibility to the rest of your body,” Doctor Reynolds said.
“I don’t care how it works. You realize that none of this stuff existed before.”
“Even if it did you wouldn’t remember it - now would you?”
“Do it already.”
The nurse approached her bedside with the syringe as the doctor and another nurse held her legs.
“As I said - this is going to hurt.”
The nurse turned Corinna onto her side and opened her hospital gown. She groped at Corinna’s spine searching for the right spot and once she found it she plunged the needle into her spinal cord with a strong thrust. Pain surged down her back and to her legs like a fire jumping from house to house. It climbed up her back and through her neck. Corinna had never felt such a sensation. It was as if the pores in her skin were opening to swallow the hot air and with each second that passed the air grew hotter. She began to convulse. The nurses turned her onto her back and strapped her to the bed with leather straps. She struggled to tear herself free of their grasp but they were too strong.
Reynolds pushed a button on the box on the cart and from the ceiling descended a metallic square the size of the mattress filled with coils that pointed down at her.
“We’re almost done,” he reassured her.
The ceiling began to turn above her.
“You got her?” Reynolds asked one of the nurses. She confirmed with a nod. The coiled metal mattress stopped a foot from Corinna. It began to buzz. As the buzzing grew louder the pain started to dim. It felt as if it was lifting the toxin from her skin, extracting it through the open pores. As the pain faded, so did her vision. The coils above her faded into obscurity. The light from the room that snuck in from beneath the coiled metal block dimmed until everything was completely dark. The feeling of the straps on her ankles and wrists was alleviated. The sounds of the buzzing machines and the doctors and nurses - gone. Everything became cold to her just like it had after being woken from her coma.
She lay still on her bed for a moment worried that making noise or moving would compromise the procedure. Besides, what good would moving do? She was strapped down at the wrists and ankles and even if she could move she would just smash her arm or leg off the coils above her. She didn’t want to risk the pain. She closed her eyes, relaxed her body, and relished the dull nothing that she felt.
A dull whisper echoed in her mind loud enough to hear but soft enough to not understand. She opened her eyes. All was black except a pinprick of white directly above her. She clenched her eyes shut and reopened them, hoping the white dot would disappear but instead it grew to twice the size. She shot her hands to her eyes and rubbed them as hard as she could. I’m not strapped down, she thought. She opened her eyes again to find the white dot opening wider and wider until it filled her vision. All was white. Her eyes burned. She closed them again and covered her face with her hands.
Corinna, said a voice. Everything is fine. Corinna.
Corinna pulled her hands from her face, opened her eyes again, and saw a man standing above her rubbing his hand. On the palms of her hands she saw streaks of blood. She touched her face again and felt for the source. Her nose was leaking down her lip and into her mouth.
We need to figure this out, Corinna. You need to stop, the man said. He was a large man, both fat and muscular, with brown hair and a reddish beard. He inspected his white shirt that was covered with blood stains and clenched his teeth in anger realizing that he’d need to clean himself up, or angry at himself for hitting her again.
Why did you do that? Corinna asked.
You’ve got to be kidding me? I told you what would happen if you saw him again.
Saw who? Corinna shook her head to clear the cobwebs. She looked around her for the first time since waking up. She was in a kitchen. Her kitchen. The kitchen of her house. She was lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling fan, watching it spin.
That little fucking prick you work with! Jesus Christ how hard did I hit you? You forgot that you’ve been cheating on me with that little fancy bitch? The man stormed away from her, opened the refrigerator, and grabbed a bottle of wine. Figures you don’t keep beer in the house anymore. Mr. Fancy pants turn you on to Pinot Noir? The man uncorked the half drunk bottle, took a swig, and grimaced at the taste.
Corinna grasped at the counter next to her and used it to climb to her feet. Her legs wobbled. You’re Harold, she said, unsure of herself.
Jesus fucking Christ I need to learn my strength, don’t I? Harold approached her and grabbed her by the shoulders so as to keep her from falling back to the linoleum floor. Yes dear, I’m Harold. Your ‘one and only.’ Your partner in crime. In sickness and in health - Till death do us part - all that shit. Harold grabbed her by the hair and kissed her on the mouth.
You’re insane, she said, pulling herself away from him. He shot her a twisted grin, his top teeth covered in her blood.
You want to see insane? He replied. Harold took the bottle of wine and shattered it over the countertop and approached her again with the broken bottle in hand. Corinna knew that this was her moment to escape. She had already forgotten herself in the hospital room, the treatment, her memory loss - all of it. All she knew at that moment was that she needed to escape or else he’d kill her. She grabbed a shard of broken wine bottle from the countertop and darted away from Harold using the countertops to steady herself. She stumbled into the living room toward the door but before she could reach it Harold had grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. Corinna used the moment to recoil her arm and slash at Harold’s face, opening a gaping wound across his cheek. He pushed her away and grabbed at his head in a panic. Corinna bolted from the house on wobbly legs. It was a dark night. She could hardly see through her teary eyes - the streetlights bled across the night sky. She rushed toward a porchlight in front of her, through the street, but then all was black.
She was in the hospital room on her bed, Doctor Reynolds and the nurses above her again - the strange coiled metal contraption nestled in the ceiling as it had been before.
“It’ll take a couple of hours for the serum to work its way out of your system but the IV should help flush it out. Hopefully the pain isn’t as severe as it was,” Doctor Reynolds said. “Remember anything?”
“Nothing worth remembering,” Corinna said.
“And how are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. Let’s just get this over with.”
A nurse left the room and returned with a handful of strangers, some of them looking hopeful to reminisce with a woman they had once known, some of them nervous or indifferent, all of them carrying something - a photo album, a latched box, a doll. Among them were an old tall man in his fifties and his children who appeared to be in their twenties or thirties. There were also two twin girls around ten years old. All of them wore hospital gowns and masks.
“We need to protect you from infection,” Doctor Reynolds said. “Ten years of new viruses, mutations, and variants. You don’t have the antibodies to protect yourself. We’ll start on vaccinations once you’re healthy enough. Anyway, I have some paperwork to do. I’ll leave you your privacy. I’ll be back in ten minutes if that’s alright?” The group nodded and with that Doctor Reynolds removed himself from the room to give the family privacy.
“How are you feeling mom?” asked the young woman. “I don’t imagine you remember me.”
“I’m trying,” Corinna replied.
“Kaitlin,” she said.
“Kaitlin. Kaitlin.” Corinna coughed a series of violent coughs, clearing her throat of ten years of gunk. “Kaitlin! You liked soccer, right?” Corinna smiled for a moment, relishing the flashes of memory that crept back to back.
“Yes!” Kaitlin began to cry behind her mask. The rest of the group stood silent.
“Have manners changed in the last ten years? Isn’t someone going to console the girl?” Corinna asked.
“She’s always crying,” said her husband.
“Some people have good reason to cry,” Corinna replied.
“Sometimes people are just weak,” said the older man, his voice rough and scratchy from years of smoking. The children sheepishly pulled out their phones and occupied themselves not wanting to interfere. The old man nudged the young man with his elbow and the young man conceded to offering Kaitlin a handkerchief that he kept in his back pocket. She removed her mask and wiped her eyes and nose.
“What’s that on your eye, Kaitlin?” Corinna asked.
“It’s nothing. It’s allergies, I think,” she said, sniffling. The skin around her eye was puffy and yellow. She dabbed at her face with the handkerchief but dabbed carefully around her eye, wincing each time she pressed too firmly.
“How much do you remember?” the older man asked.
“Almost nothing,” Corinna said.
“Things are coming back to me, bit by bit.”
“Well, try not to get overwhelmed by all of it,” he said laughing.
“Dad, stop it,” Kaitlin said.
“Har… Har…” Corinna couldn’t spit out the name through her violent coughs. She covered her mouth but not in time and sprayed blood at the group of visitors. Kaitlin alerted a nurse. Doctor Reynolds rushed back into the room as the nurses escorted her family out of the room. The hydraulic door sealed behind them.
“I told you not to speak too much. This is why,” Doctor Reynolds said. He scrambled to grab her oxygen mask that dangled beside her bed and strap it to her face, Corinna fighting him off with her bloody hands, coughing relentlessly. Through the glass window she saw Kaitlin pleading with a nurse, the rest of the family indifferently removing their gowns and masks. The old man with his hand on the younger man’s shoulder, joking about something, smiling ear to ear, a large pink scar on his cheek.