I don’t think I was meant to go this far forwards.
They’ve changed the years again, which means I’ve gone far enough that the old ‘common era’ contrivance had obviously gotten too unwieldy for them or they had just lost track. I found this out much later, I might add—when they woke me up I had more pressing questions than whatever the year was, contrary to what the movies might have you believe. When they first woke me, my thoughts were a singular question mark, everything else a shapeless mercury sea around its peculiar form, floating and quizzical. It took a while for the words to coalesce before it, this curious portent of mystification that remained as my only mind long after the mercury sea parted and I blinked out into their new world, only droplets and puddles remaining as the scars of sudden light on my retinas.
They didn’t mince words about it, in their pocketless white cloaks in their windowless white room as they helped me sit up on my white bed—clinical—barely offering me a greeting before trying to explain what was happening.
“Ree-sue-rect-eon,” one of them cried, a little too loudly into my humming head.
“Ree-sue-rect-eon tea-ch-noo-lo-gee,” they tried again, as though more incomprehensible nonsense would help matters.
“Wee,” they began, with a broad hand gesture, “Ha-vee brr-oou-g-hta yoo-u froe-m yoo-uu-r tea-me to o-uu-rs, ba-ck froe-m dee-a-th”. Seeing my puzzled face, from the side of my bed they pulled this century’s elaborate equivalent of a clipboard, glanced down at it briefly, and shook their head in despair. They reached over to me in their gentle doctorly way, signalling that they meant no harm when I flinched backwards, checking my vitals and looking deep in my eyes for some sense of understanding that I could not seem to grant them. It was as though this doctor had trekked their entire life to find an answer to something, and now, presented with the treasure chest at the end of the quest, had forgotten the key somewhere back along the way.
Dear reader, I must confess, I knew exactly what they were trying to say to me, reading out phrases of my language with the same phonetic confusion Caesar would have had should I have accosted him in my schoolboy Latin. But I was so indignant at the time at the notion of being resurrected to some unknown place, so far removed for my native tongue to have died, that I refused to cooperate. That, and the fact that at the moment the scales on which I weighed up my options fell in favour of working with the doctors, my stomach fell with them and I twisted my torso in a sudden jerk to vomit a thick grey liquid onto the floor. This response, surprisingly, drew acclaim, a happy announcement to them all that I was most certainly resurrected and most certainly, joyously, alive.
Bringing back to life popular figures in my original lifetime would have probably been a little too much of an ethical quandary to bother with in our day-to-day existence. Not so here, although they endeavoured to tell me that I was the first human subject successfully brought back in this manner. Animal testing had had some success, I later learnt, with space dogs, war horses, and racing pigeons brought back to live as celebrities within the menagerie of extinct and vanished creatures. But I was the first man, the first voyager from the distant past to breathe new air and marvel at their new morality. This future was a foreign country, doing things differently.
After letting me know in more uncertain terms of this situation, the first doctor gingerly stepped over my ablutions, placing their hand under my back and helping me to sit upright. The others—two or three of them, I can barely remember—split their attention between this spectacle and the holographic screens I now noticed just abreast of the walls, the displays for them obviously just as much of a triumph as the freak of science that sat in my body. They gestured to my feet and I swung round, trying to keep hold of my stomach and senses as I stood, taking my second set of first steps with the classical grace of a newborn deer. My doctor raised their grip to my shoulders to steady me, throwing out some phrase in their language as a door opened out of nowhere. I don’t know why, but it reassured me far more than anything they could have said in their broken approximation of mine.
A corridor, then another; I wish I could add more mystery, say they all blurred into one windowless enigma, but no, there were two corridors punctuated with portholes that looked out into the night. Obviously this resurrection was a process that took most of the day. I was guided into a comfortable living space, spacious and airy, replete with a kitchenette, large sofas and a double bedroom through to the right. There were gadgets I could barely recognise, and some I could: a radio set, for instance, drew my surprise that it still existed.
On the far wall from the door the windows sat tall and airy, one slightly ajar letting a light breeze through that almost escorted my eyes down to a battered old upright piano, weathered by the years. The sight of it struck me where I was standing, and frozen in my place I was overcome with waves of memories, a madeleine moment over millennia. Sixty years of a not-quite-full lifetime, a tenuous stream of consciousness interrupted by aeons and now continuing on as though it was a brief snooze in the mid-afternoon. My doctor certainly seemed to think so, explaining that they would explain more in the coming days but for now telling me to make myself at home and rest. I paid them little notice as they stopped at the door to tell me it was an honour to meet me, then left, closing it softly behind them.
I traced back the fragments of myself, running through the synapses in the newly regrown brain, trying to figure out why it was me that they brought back first. Why was it, that River Courtland, the moderately successful keyboardist for the moderately successful band Nexus, had the honour of being the first out of anyone—artist, academic, activist—that they returned to this semi-mortal coil? My life flashed before my eyes, birthdays, weddings, deaths; nothing seemed anywhere above the pay grade of mid-21st century mediocrity. All those little moments, restored in time, but for what? For me to stand still in an alien room, staring at an old piano?
A second life, a supposed blessing, no time to waste standing still. I made my way to the piano, lifted what looked to be a walnut lid, and tapped a few keys to see if they’d play a melody. The notes filled the room with a glorious, sonorous cacophony—all completely out of tune as though someone had mixed up all the years on the chronological arrangement of pitches. I gave up playing it immediately and retreated to the bed in the other room.
Over the next few days I slowly came round to my newfound existence, as the doctor visited frequently to both run tests and help me adjust. With the help of some resources I began to understand their language, simple and refined as it was. The food I ate was uncomplicated and filling, no protein pills or freeze-dried supplements, whilst the music I could find on the radio seemed harmonious, if not oddly familiar. The view from my windows in the daylight was remarkable in how unremarkable it was; the sky filled with impossible vehicles that glinted in the cooler hue of an aged sun, but below sat architectural stylings that bore a direct lineage to ones I knew well. The designs of history looped round and back on each other, overlaying again and again into a seemingly endless medley of concrete and stone. Why build skyscrapers, I suppose, when there was something deep inside human nature that loved a good column, whether it was original or neo-neo-neo-classical.
I digress. In this subdued natural light, I got my first real look at my doctor, my saviour who had pulled me from the eternal void. They were still human, undeniably so, yet they weren’t quite the same as I. Their voice fluctuated naturally from a low drone up to birdsong, their nose much smaller, pressed further within their head, and their hands webbed up to the middle of their fingers. Perhaps this was why they took such an interest in my relationship with the discordant wooden beast left below my windows. The first time they took me over to it, I bashed a few notes out and shrugged in indifference to the noise before moving to sit back on the sofa.
“No tune,” I said. They were insistent, however, and took me by the hand back to it. I repeated my exasperation, but then seeing their face on the verge of tears, felt my way around the keyboard more fully, finding in the mess of notes any that had any relation to each other, until I could improvise a little melody on a pentatonic scale. Not since I was an infant have I seen another’s face brighten so fully at such a quaint tune as my doctor did to this. Once I felt I had satisfied their need, I lifted the back and tried to explain the need to tune and replace the various strings, though to little avail. Strange to me, how they could reverse-engineer from my entombed bones the unyielding process of death and decay, but could not reverse-engineer a basic instrument to make it play well.
My doctor came frequently, usually as the sun began to set, in order to hear me play just a few notes at a time. They would pull up a chair to sit across from me, pulling the blinds down slightly to disperse the orange hue in thick stripes across their face. I too would let the warm light wash over me, finding new harmonies of the future in the discordant sounds. Eventually I was able to explain to them what I needed to do to the piano in order to make it work properly, as they came in one day laughing whilst I attempted to tune the strings with some bent kitchen utensils.
We spent about a week restoring the instrument, all the while running tests and trying to help me adjust to the new world. Once it was complete I was able to awe them with some old pieces of my band, and some old favourites from the masters of my time. I would frequently have the staff and other residents of the facility come in to listen to me play as they made their way around their days. I didn’t understand any of their requests, though they never seemed offended when I played something I thought fit them better. This was apart from my doctor, who after a while started asking for the ‘Code Piece’, something I could not understand in either their language or mine. They shook their head in the despondent fashion I was growing sadly accustomed to as our weeks of interplay stretched into months and I began to go out and about integrating into my adoptive society.
Naturally I attracted some strange looks in the labyrinthine streets, but human nature did not change much and few people gave me a second glance. My arrival into the future had not been well-publicised; the team of doctors told me that would come later, once I felt comfortable with the language and explaining the resurrection process. This strange insistence on me being completely happy about being plucked from the dark afterlife perplexed me, but I daren’t not voice it to those who were so excited by my very presence in their time. I grew lonely, in a peculiar way, taking my only solace in playing the relic I myself had resurrected.
One day, my doctor came bounding into my room excitedly, a sheet of paper in their hand. “The Code Piece!” they exclaimed, as they pushed the lid of the piano up before I’d even gotten up to move towards it. They stared at me again with the eyes of an expectant child, and I began to sight read the sheet music they had been so eager for me to play. The paper was a scan of a much older page, evidently degraded by time, but the notes were still legible. As I played it I felt a strange familiarity to the harmonies, rising and falling with it all and bursting out through me until I realised I had continued on much further than the end of the page. I recognised the piece then, an orchestral suite I composed in a haze following the break-up of the band and my diagnosis of a terminal illness.
I looked over to my doctor, and watched them choke back tears at the lingering harmonics. They revealed everything to me there and then. The code I had used to write live revision notes on the score had turned out to be the missing piece of the puzzle for the resurrection technology. My doctor knew that of course I had not intended this, but the myth of the scientist who sent their findings down through infinite time so they could come back some day had grown too strong in the hearts of the future. That was why I was chosen to be resurrected first. It was an honour of my own making.
Around a year had now past since my mercurial morning, and I was being made up to appear on some news discussion programme. I saw in the mirror the artists accentuate the features my new peers had evolved out of as I was dressed in a pastiche of my old clothing. The producers rushed me onto the set and I was sat next to my interviewers and two dogs. They were particularly diva-like, the dogs, but I suppose they had gone to space and I hadn’t. The interviewers, on the other hand, were grounded, the most earth-like and plain beings imaginable.
Pleasantries were conducted, and then question after question was reeled off, with my answer after answer aiming to be innocuous. It all seemed to be going well until they inquired about the code piece, and I answered truthfully:
“Well, I wasn’t trying to solve the puzzle of resurrection on that score, it just so happened to be contained within the shorthand I was using for revision notes.”
I could see the interviewers shuffle uncomfortably in their seats at this, trying to regain control of the conversation and asking me what I was enjoying most about the future.
“If I’m being completely honest, it was rather a shock to be suddenly alive again after so many countless years, and there’s been a lot to come to terms with. All my loved ones who outlived me—now I’ve somehow outlived them,” I confessed, knowing that this was not what they had expected to hear but feeling my train of composure drifting further from the tracks. Was all they wanted positivity? Had they grown so far into a paradise that they could not translate the pain of my time? And now they wanted to tell my story so they could begin to resurrect others like me? The year I had spent walking through the city in the colder sun, through streets that looked similar yet were not the same, with sensations that I recognised but were so foreign in feeling, darkly imagining myself in a dystopian cybernetic sunset because this world felt lifted a little too light—who was I here? Who was I anywhere?
“What scares me the most is that I don’t even know if I am the same consciousness as the River who lived originally, or whether I’m just so imbued with his memories I feel I must be.”
This final proposition went down worst of all. The interview was cut short whilst the hosts read off some damage control about my mistranslations and miscommunications that would undoubtedly be fixed in the post-edit. Unfortunately there were no words in any language I could think of that conveyed the sentiment I wanted:
‘I do appreciate being brought back to life and I don’t want to appear at all ungrateful but it’s still really thrown me for a loop and I don’t know if I’ll ever quite be able to adjust, even if it was my own work in the first place that made this all possible’.
Instead my doctor refused to acknowledge what I had said, apologising through their own hurt for making me feel this way. Solution after solution was thrown at me, from resurrecting anyone I desired for company, relocating me to the finest living conditions, genetically modifying myself in any way I wanted. They even offered to try and develop the technology to send me back to somewhere closer to my time, as though that would have helped with the culture shock of ageing. I turned them all down, content to live as who I was now in whatever time that may be. I wished them better luck with whoever they planned to resurrect next, and hoped we could still be friends in the future.
That night I went to see a Shakespeare play, and cackled at all the mispronunciations as I’m sure the bard would have watching it in my time.