Science Fiction Horror Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Just listen, don’t talk. You need time to wake up, for your eyesight to return. Everything will be a little hazy and you might not remember how you got here, but you need to focus on my voice. My name is Dr Yadav."

I tried to lean forward, but my body felt as if it weighed 100 tonnes. I barely moved an inch before I slumped back into the bed.

“This is going to be a lot to hear at once, but it’s important that you know these things right away. In 2043, your body was suspended in an experimental bio-amber, freezing your body until woken. You participated in this trial because you had been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and given six months to live. At the time of your diagnosis, researchers estimated that they were less than five years from finalising a cure.

“How long?” I coughed, a thin film of bio-amber, tasting like burnt paracetamol, covering every receptor inside my mouth, nose, and throat.

“You can talk! That’s excellent. Much quicker than the others. Excellent. Superb.” He said, pausing to make a note. “Well, I don’t mean to use too much of an old cliché – but there’s bad news, and there’s good news. The good news is, a cure has been found, and it was administered before you woke up. Congratulations! You’re free of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The bad news is that it didn’t come as quickly as researchers had expected.”

“Tell me,” I sputtered. My eyelids flickered as I tried to force them open.

The agreement that you signed stipulated that you were only to be woken up after a cure had been found. The year is now 2351. You didn’t know that it would take 308 years when you signed that document, and for that, I am truly sorry. There should have been a clause in the agreement that prevented this scenario from coming to fruition. There was much debate within the scientific community as to whether or not you should be woken up, and I hope that you feel we made the right choice. Mr Jones, welcome to the 24th century.”

“This isn’t funny” I snapped. But I already knew that he was telling the truth. I could feel it in the tone of his voice, the way the air felt as I breathed it in, the unfamiliar ambient noise trickling into the room. But I couldn’t admit it. Not yet. “Did Angela put you up to this? What the hell is going on?”

“Hmm,” said the doctor, tapping away at a device. After a short pause, he told me that: “It appears your sister was buried in July 2089. I’m so sorry for your loss. Once you’ve fully recovered, we can take you to where she was buried, if you’d like.”

My vision was returning, each second bringing a small increase in light. I could now make out the silhouette of the doctor, his sympathetic stance over my bed.


This was all I could say. What else could I say to him? I already believed him. It was starting to come back to me in pieces – Angela, the disease, hospital. I can remember her face screwed up like a pillow, crying and asking me if I was sure. I told her I’d be back before she knew it.

“I’m afraid so. As far as we can tell, you have no living family beyond distant cousins. I can imagine that this must be a lonely experience for you but believe me when I say that we’re all here for you.”

I tried to swing my legs off of the side of the bed, but could only muster a twitch.

“Mr Jones - it may be some time until you’re back on your feet again. You’ll need a few days to adjust.” He said, watching my face as I winced at my immobile legs.

The man’s voice was kind. He really wanted the best for me, I felt.

“You’re going to need some rest. You’re suffering from what we can only describe as severe jetlag. Your body-clock was expecting it to be three centuries ago when you woke up.”

“Is that how jetlag works?”

“We don’t know. Nobody has been in amber for nearly as long as you, and it’s been decades since anyone has been woken up. We won’t know what the effects on your body have been yet, but we’ll keep a close eye on it.”

When he returned the next day, after I’d slept for what felt like weeks, his tone had begun to shift. It was almost imperceptible, but I could feel the change innately.

“Good morning, Mr Jones. How are we feeling this morning?”

“Good” I nodded. “I’m starving, though. I feel like I haven’t eaten in centuries. Do you have anything?”

Dr Yadav smiled, pointing toward the tubes that connected my forearm to a machine next to the bed. I inspected it closely, only now aware of my vision having completely returned. “All the nutrients that you’ll be needing for now” he said.

I sat up in the bed, feeling a world better than the day before, but still weak and unable to completely support my body weight. “So, doc, what’s the world like out there? What’s changed? Don’t tell me - flying cars. Right?”

The doctor exhaled, looking up, shaking his head. “Imagine… imagine trying to explain the world as you knew it to someone from 1743. Almost impossible, isn’t it? Telephones, the internet, airplanes – it would all be so far removed from his reality that it would be impossible to explain in a way that he would really understand. His lack of understanding might even lead him to believe that people from your time live in a hellish place.”

I paused and reflected. Could it really be that different? I looked around: the one small window on the other side of the room was frosted, the bed like any other I’d seen, and the rest of the room almost entirely featureless.

“You’re wondering if it’s really that different, huh?” he said. “The room has been specifically designed to not overwhelm you. A lot of preparation has gone into waking you; we’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We just don’t know what to expect, so we’re taking things slowly. I hope you understand.”

“I’ll be fine, doc, honestly. I’m actually quite excited to go out and see the world, see what’s come of it. And by the way, where am I?”

“Chicago - the city of your birth, I’m told. It only seemed right that you were moved to this facility before we woke you. But you’re not ready to head outside just yet. There’s a lot of things that we’d need to explain to you before you went out there, otherwise it might all too overwhelming. I mean, just us telling you about the world is going to be overwhelming, but to see it – to see what’s out there – it’ll take some adjusting, that’s for sure.”

“I’m sure I can handle it, but I’ll take your word for it. When will I be better? Back on my feet?”

“Only a day or two. As I said, what’s happening to you isn’t something that’s ever really happened before, so there’s still a few unknowns.”

“Good, good. So, what next?”

A tenseness seemed to creep onto the doctor’s shoulders, and with a twitch in his eye he began to shift his weight from one foot to the other, as if suddenly disassociating and leaving the room entirely.


“Oh, yes,” he snapped out of his daze, “we’ll need to run some tests. You’re a man from the past – there’s a lot we can learn about you. But it’ll all be fine. Really, it will be.”

When he had told me that I had woken into a world 308 years beyond my own, his tone of voice told me that he was telling the truth. His tone of voice was now telling me that he was lying.

And I was right. That night whilst I was half asleep, three new doctors came in. “Is he awake?” one of them whispered to another. They tapped away at their pads, prompting a hiss from the machine beside me - which was the last thing that I heard before waking up in a new room, blinded by lights.

I was naked, lying flat on a slab, my wrists and ankles inexplicably bound to its corners. My head turned from side to side to look, but there were no straps holding me in place. As if by magic, I was restrained. I looked down towards my ankles to find that my abdomen had been opened like a fruit or a pair of double doors, my skin attached on the sides of my body but resting like blankets beside me. A machine hovered above me, metal instruments dangling towards the undulating yellow and pink of my innards. Immediately, I screamed, and the machine spun towards me before I passed out again.

I awoke back in my bed, slowly at first, before shifting into a panicked scramble up the bed. I lifted my shirt quickly but found nothing. No evidence a surgery. Panting, I began to realise that it was simply a dream. There was no other explanation. An awful dream – so vivid, so frightening, that if I hadn’t had woken I would have never known not to be reality.

The doctor came in. “Mr Jones. How are you feeling? You’re looking a little sweaty, I’ll get the heat turned down.” He tapped away at his device.

“Just a bad dream, I’m fine. I guess I’m just adjusting to being awake after all this time.”

“Yes, when we’re treading new biological waters, we’re bound to discover new effects on the human body and mind. That’s why it’s important for you to stay here, under observation for the time being. But listen, that’s not why I’m here.” He said, walking to the window, picking up a seat under it, and bringing it back to place beside the bed.

Sitting down, taking on a sombre expression, he explained: “there is a legal responsibility as your doctor to fully inform you of your options. All of them. Since you’re not from this time, you won’t know that euthanasia is a common practice now. We don’t force anyone to choose between life or a brutal, self-inflicted death. You should know that being a patient of ours, this is something we can provide to you for free. It’s designed to be quite pleasant. I just want you to know that this option will always be available.”

“Thanks, doc…” I chuckled. “Good to know.”

He nodded, tapped at his device again. Catching me completely off-guard, I was now falling asleep again. In the first few moments, I wondered if I had miscommunicated; perhaps this was euthanasia. Was I dying? Was I being sedated? I should have been clearer! I tried to protest but only managed a small murmur before slipping under.

When I awoke, I was back on that terrible slab, held captive again under the piercing lights of the operating table. I looked down to find that – whilst my abdomen was intact – there was something wrong with my leg. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but it didn’t look or feel as it should. I looked across to find that cruel machine again - this time it was facing away from me, inspecting something. I squinted, trying to shut out the operating lights and focus. It was holding something… a stick… something white, slightly yellowish… it spun around and zipped back to hover over me again, obscuring the view of my strange leg. It moved in such an impossible way, as if completely weightless, like a ghost. Just then, a piercing, white hot pain shot up my leg. My muscles ceased up, turning to stone as pain flooded and swelled into every fibre of tissue. Through the pain, I moved my head to get a better look. Two of its arachnid appendages were sliding my shin bone back into my body through a small opening below my knee. I cried out, wailed even, before fainting. The machine didn’t even need to sedate me.

Waking once more, back in my bed, I pulled up my linen trouser leg. Nothing. I sigh, adjusting myself back into bed, the image of the machine still bright in my mind. I felt almost embarrassed to have dreamt something so unrealistic, so childish. It was made of a black metal, the deepest black, whilst at the same time being as shiny as a serving spoon. Its body was spherical, with a number of appendages hanging down below it like the legs of a bug or an arachnid. At the end of each of them, some kind of tool or device; blades, rods, syringes. And when it had turned to me, I had seen that a part of its spherical surface was in fact a tinted glass, a glint of light revealing a large lens behind it. And the strangest thing – it glided around so quickly without making even the slightest sound. It was completely silent. I suppose my imagination couldn’t stretch as far as imagining a sound for it.

After a short while, an orderly entered the room. “From the doctor” he said as he handed me one of their devices. It was square, about half the size of a piece of paper, and was transparent but only from the side with the interface. On the screen was a short paragraph about euthanasia, with two options below it: ‘Accept’, ‘Decline’. I pressed ‘Decline’, and felt the sensation of pressing a physical button, suspended in three dimensions inside the device. The orderly, having waited patiently, took the device and turned to leave. As he was making his exit, he hesitated, pausing in his stride for a minute and beginning to turn, before recommitting to his path.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

He paused again, taking his time to think before he turned.

“I-I’m sorry.” He said, visibly nervous. He was small, child-like, no older than 20. “I’ve heard so much about you, and to see you here… I just… I can’t believe it. I studied about you… you’re really from the 2040s?”

I nodded, smiling like a wise old monk.

“So, what was it like, the past? Was it like they say?”

“Well, what do they say?”

“They say it was good. A… a simple way of living. The birth of technology, the information era. I can’t imagine what it was like.”

“Yeah, it was good. I miss it a lot.” If only I knew what this world was like, I would have some point of reference to describe my own time to him. “It sure didn’t feel simple at the time, but maybe stuff got even more complicated since then.”

His eye twitched as I said this, an indecipherable emotion sweeping across his face, just like the doctors had.

“Yeah,” he said, “yeah I guess.”

With that, he left the room without another word. I spent the remainder of the day thinking about the outside world: what could possibly be so overwhelming for me? Flying cars? A city in the sky? Or had they lied, to keep me here and stop me from leaving early? It annoyed me that they hadn’t even given me a clue. I’ll take a peek, I decided. Tonight. I’ll sneak out of the front door for a few moments, take in the sights of whatever is outside. At least then I’ll have a taste, without actually being thrust out to navigate a new world on my own. Dr Yadav said that they’d always look after me, of course.

I waited for hours, picturing all of the possibilities. I thought about the year 1700 compared it with the year 2000, the immense societal and technological shifts over the years. Could it really be the same degree of change? Life in 2000 was better than in 1700, I concluded, so life now must be better than in my own time.

In the dead of night, I left the room, moving carefully down the dim hallway. It was as featureless as my room. I didn’t need to walk for long before a spotted a sign above a door: ‘Emergency Exit’. Before entering, I instinctively checked the hall. I looked right, I looked left - I froze, swung my head right again. There it was! Gliding silently at the end of the hallway, that awful machine, at this distance a marauding silhouette. I shot down the stairs like a bullet. As I moved, my hands fumbled across my abdomen, looking for a scar. How could they! I lamented. They’re keeping me here for their experiments, to examine me… my bones… my flesh. I felt sick. They couldn’t lie to me anymore; I’d outsmarted them. I’ll leave, and never come back, I told myself.

Finally, I reached the bottom of the stairs and found a set of double doors. I listened out for the machine, knowing full well that if it were coming, I wouldn’t hear it. With a hand on the push-bar, I considered for a moment my predicament. No evidence that my nightmares were real. Could my mind, destroyed by disease and time travel have betrayed me? A flying, silent machine? I supposed that I would find out soon enough.

I was outside for 17 minutes. That’s all it took before I was back at the door, banging on the cold iron until my fists were bloody. “Let me in! God d-d-damn you all to hell, you bastards! I want euthanasia, I want it now, I want it now, let me back in - you made me a promise!

November 16, 2023 23:04

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Kailani B.
18:12 Nov 21, 2023

Do you have an idea of what this future hellscape looks like, or is it up to the reader's imagination? I'm guessing it's something along the lines of H. P. Lovecraft: some twisted, mutated landscape full of noxious smells, horrifying monsters, and corpses on full display. A future that doesn't resemble Star Trek or any other sci-fi story we've heard. A place no sane human would ever want.


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Mark Burns
16:00 Nov 21, 2023

Great story! Makes me want to read the next few thousand words for sure, find out what happened!


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Chris Waldron
22:34 Nov 20, 2023

Really good balance with the exposition; I felt there was just enough to hook you in but not too much to bore you. I was definitely left wanting to know exactly what had caused the protagonist to turn back! What dystopia had they witnessed? My one constructive criticism is that I felt the ending came about too quickly. It could have done with a couple of extra paragraphs IMO. But that doesn't detract massively from what is overall a satisfying read.


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Janet Severn
20:44 Nov 19, 2023

Very inventive with the prompt! Never considered "jetlag" across time instead of distance.


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19:42 Nov 19, 2023

Seems like the love child of Project Hail Mary, Futurama and Silo! Brilliant story, was gripped the whole way through. Very compelling narration. Good job, H!


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