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Science Fiction

December 12, 2151, 8:57 A.M.

“So I decided to walk right into the Department and ask for Director Langton, like some clueless cadet, and they actually let me see him. I meant to ferret out answers like the board on examination day, but we were practically skating around each other. Neither of us admitting anything, and—James, are you even listening to me?”

I glanced up from reviewing the day’s dossiers. “Sure, David, sure. But we’ve got more patients to maintain than you’ve got stories to tell. Maybe later?”

David laughed. “Okay, you weren’t listening. The minute we’re off the clock, you’re getting the whole story.” He paused, glanced at the dossiers, and grinned. “You’ll take the top one, I assume?”

Just like that, my tongue refused to function. “Well, I thought—I thought—”

David kept grinning. “As you said, we’ve got patients to maintain.” He grabbed the rest of the dossiers, leaving me with the one labeled McRoy. “Have fun with your section of the antique shop, James.”

He was out the door and down the corridor before I could protest that our floor wasn’t actually an antique shop. Sure, our patients were much older than most, technically speaking, but I doubted that they would appreciate being referred to as antiques. If he hadn’t left me with the McRoy dossier, I would have chased him down and debated the point—but he had. I stared at the tablet in my hands until the heading pixelated.

“Come on, come on,” I muttered. “How hard can it be? You’ve done this every day for over a year now.”

Tucking the tablet under my arm, I paced down the corridor until I reached the room marked with the name on my dossier. The identification system collected my fingerprint and retinal scan before the door swung open.

“Anderson, James,” the computer intoned. “Medical, first class. Reporting for duty.”

“As always,” I said. As usual, no one responded. I glanced around the room, ensuring that all monitors were sounding a steady rhythm. “That must mean we’re all dandy, doesn’t it?”

The doctor I was relieving stared at me. “Do you always talk to them like that?” she asked, gathering her medical kit and stepping out of the monitoring station. “You know they can’t hear you.”

I shrugged. “Who else is there to talk to? Everyone’s allowed their quirks.”

She shook her head. “Well, you can have yours. I need coffee.”

I stepped into the monitoring station. “Enjoy your coffee—and have a wonderful day.”

She stopped on her way out the door to stare at me again. “I think the time with the antiques is affecting you. No one says that anymore, Anderson. And it’s too early in the morning for smiles.”

“You’ll feel better after coffee,” I said. “No matter the era, that stuff is constant.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Whatever you say. I’m clocking out now.”

The identification system beeped, the door swung open, and she left. For the next six hours, it would be just me and the antiques—the patients. I logged a cursory review of the monitoring system, then circled the room to check each pod individually. Under their glass domes, the faces of the McRoy family never changed—all part of a timeless peace that had lasted nearly a century and a half.

“I won’t actually talk to you all day,” I whispered, “but I could ask so many questions.”

I paused at Rob McRoy’s pod. I’d always wanted to know why he chose to put his family in suspended animation. Concern over the upheavals of the 21st century? Hope for a potentially brighter future? Desire for uncertain adventures? His choice was either incredibly brave, or incredibly foolish, or both.

I stopped to adjust the controls for Annette McRoy’s pod. I’d always liked to think that she and her husband came to a joint decision on suspended animation. I knew she had researched the science. She must have understood that her family’s chances were minimal, even under the assumption that science would advance far enough to sustain their lives indefinitely.

Jacob, Christopher, and Paul—each of the McRoy brothers kept a steady monitor. Jacob was only a few years older than I was when he entered suspension. Paul, only a few years younger, and Christopher, almost the same age. Did Christopher realize that science would have accelerated far beyond his knowledge, if he emerged to enter medical school? At least humans still enjoy music and stories. Jacob and Paul would find a place.

Loretta McRoy—I read the plaque over her pod silently. Unlike her parents and her brothers, she had been suspended with the smallest of smiles on her face, providing every doctor on the unit with a mystery. She was dressed differently, too, like a fashion plate taken several decades before her suspension. Maybe the historian took her job too seriously? That’s what most of us thought. But I thought—well, I thought she looked just dandy. Did they say ‘dandy’ in the mid-twentieth century? I honestly wasn’t sure.

December 13, 8:58 A.M.

“James, you won’t believe this! Remember the Langton fiasco? Turns out that data I had decoded was actually—”

I handed David all the dossiers except one. “David, you already told me that story, and we still have patients to monitor. Are you sure you’re not developing an obsession?”

He shook his head. “This information is relevant to our unit, I know that.” Then he read through the tablets in his hands. “Did you voluntarily take the McRoy dossier?”

I fought a rush of craniofacial erythema, but I could tell by my reflection in a nearby window that my face was turning red anyway. “Haven’t I taken it voluntarily before?”

David chuckled. “And you’re calling me obsessed? But about that data—”

“Later, all right? I’m about to go on the clock.” I started to walk down the corridor toward the McRoy room, but David followed me.

“I don’t understand every detail,” he said, “but that data was the key to waking up our antiques.”

I stopped walking, so suddenly that David ran up against me. Tablets scattered across the hallway, and I realized my tongue was barely functioning again.

“Out of suspension?” I managed. “How?”

“The data showed that the asteroids from Titan’s mission contained a novel metallic-magnetic compound,” David said, collecting his tablets and pushing me down the hall to the McRoy room. “The team thinks it might be the key to opening the pods.”

I almost jammed my thumb against the fingerprint pad, and I couldn’t hold still for the retinal scan. After the system finally acknowledged me, I held the door open and looked back at David. “If you have details, I’ll be here,” I said.

David grinned. “Sure, James, sure.”

Ignoring the drone of the computer and the confusion of my on-duty colleague, I dropped my dossier in the monitoring station and made a cursory circle of the room. “Hear that, everybody?” I asked. “You might actually be waking up.”

“You know they can’t—” My colleague started to object, but I interrupted.

“Hear me, I know. But that’s what I would say, if they could. Ask Lancaster. He’s the one who told me. There’s new data, and—”

“Have you had too much coffee, Anderson?” He gave me a thorough once-over before gathering up his kit. “Or maybe I need the coffee. Clocking out.”

“Have a fantastic day,” I called after him, but I don’t think he heard.

After double-checking the monitoring station, I paced between Rob and Annette. She would have read the journals. She would know that the pods’ designers had effectively provided a lock without a key. Or maybe there had been a key, lost somewhere in the chaos, and this compound could be another—the start to Rob’s adventure.

“You wouldn’t understand,” I said to Paul, “but we need a way to release the pods gradually. The right metal would interact correctly with the pod, and the metallic element could effect a gentle release. I’m not sure it would make a very interesting story, though.”

“And if the release is gentle enough,” I told Christopher, “we should be able to stabilize you with all systems intact. Your monitors are hardly ever irregular, in any case.”

“And then,” I announced to Jacob, “you can keep writing your music. It probably won’t be that popular—Mozart’s style is practically ancient now—but you’ll have at least one listener.”

I paused by Loretta’s pod. “Make that two,” I said, “because it’s going to count as historical either way, and she’ll study it. I’ll just listen to it because I like it.”

Then the intercom on the monitoring station buzzed. “James? Can you hear me?”

I almost tripped over Loretta’s monitor on my way to the station. “Yes, it’s James.”

David laughed. “I wasn’t expecting Rob McRoy to answer. Are you sitting down?”

I dropped into a chair. “Now I am. Any news?”

“Turns out the team was much further along on this project than I thought,” he said. “They didn’t tell everyone, in case of utter failure, but they’ll be ready to reverse suspension tomorrow.”

“Oh, just dandy,” I said, wondering why I couldn’t come up with something else. “That’s fantastic, David. Are they—are they—”

“Starting with the McRoy room?” David laughed again. “Affirmative, Anderson.”

After David closed the intercom circuit, I wandered around the room until I reached Loretta’s pod. I knew I was imagining it, because subjects under suspension don’t alter, but I thought her smile had changed.

“Loretta,” I whispered, “I don’t know if you’re going to like the 22nd century. We’re full to the brim with science and technology and space travel—all wonderful stuff—but there’s not really a market for antiques.”

She kept smiling, and I grinned. “You know, it doesn’t matter. You’ll do just fine anywhere, and you won’t care if there are no other antique collectors. You’ll be the one lovely Loretta.”

My last words echoed in the inevitable silence, and I realized I was blushing again. She couldn’t hear me, or see me, and I was still blushing.

I sighed. “Never mind. I’ll come up with something better—for all of you—by tomorrow.”

December 14, 8:59 A.M.

“James—I wouldn’t go in yet, if I were you.”

David took me by the shoulder and started to turn me around, but I shrugged away his hand. “Why shouldn’t I? I’ve been monitoring the McRoy room, and we’re going to get results today.”

He stepped in front of the door. “Most of the team are already in there, and they don’t want to be overcrowded.”

I stared at him. “They initiated the procedure already? Why wasn’t I informed?”

David took the McRoy dossier from my hands and handed it to a colleague who was exiting the room. “Yes, five hours ago. They knew it would take time, and they didn’t want the rest of us complicating the process.”

“Why didn’t this project involve the whole team?” David started to answer, but I held up my hand. “Don’t tell me it’s because I’m a junior member.”

He shrugged. “It’s the department’s business. Can’t you be satisfied that they planned something beneficial for once?”

I forced my voice down to reasonable levels. “David, I don’t care about the Department of Extraplanetary Exploration. The McRoy family is coming out of suspension, and I want to be there.”

Before David could answer, the intercom in the corridor sounded, and one of our colleagues spoke. “Suspension unit to McRoy room, stat. Second subject is destabilizing. Suspension unit to McRoy room.”

I turned away from David and stared into the retinal scanner. He tried to pull me back when the door opened, but I kept moving.

“It’s Annette,” I said. “I know her data trend. Of the family, she would be the most likely to destabilize.” I pushed past colleagues to Annette’s pod, but they wouldn’t allow me to adjust her monitor. “Be careful,” I pleaded. “She only needs the smallest adjustments, and then—”

I felt David’s hand on my shoulder. “Come on, James,” he said. “Let them work.”

As the crowd of colleagues parted for me, I realized the rest of the pods were empty.

“What happened?” I whispered. “Rob? Jacob? Christopher? Paul?”

David shook his head. “Not in here, James. Come on.”

I didn’t need a monitor to tell me that my lungs weren’t functioning at normal capacity. I followed David out of the room and down several corridors without registering our direction.

“Just tell me, David,” I said. “We’ve lost patients before. It’s part of Medical.”

He pushed open a door without looking at me, and I stepped inside the room. Lying in regulation hospital beds and connected to steadily beeping monitors were the rest of the McRoy family.

David turned and smiled at me. “They came out just fine. Sleeping now.”

I studied the monitors. “Their breathing is better than mine,” I whispered to David. “Next time you try a joke like that, you’ll be in trouble.”

He held out his hands. “Sorry, sorry. I thought you’d be happy to see them.”

I took a deep breath. “I am, don’t worry. When they wake up, I’ll have plenty to say.”

“Of course,” David said, opening the door and stepping out. “I’ll leave the speeches to you.”

I looked at Rob. I would tell him that his adventure had succeeded, but that he might enter his new century without Annette. I would tell Christopher about our medical advances, Jacob about our music, Paul about all our new stories—but I would have to tell them that not even our world could guarantee Annette’s life.

Then I saw Loretta stir. I turned my back and scanned blindly through the nearest tablet, wishing that I could cure my persistent craniofacial erythema. For what felt like hours, I heard nothing except my irregular heartbeat and the steady rhythm of the monitors.

“Well,” I finally heard her say, “as far as I can tell, we’re awake.”

I turned so quickly that I almost stumbled over Rob’s monitor, but I didn’t speak.

“Is that right, doctor?” she asked. “Have we come out of suspension?”

I tried to open my mouth, but an inexplicable paralysis had set in.

She glanced at the other beds. “Mother’s running a little late. You’ll try your best to wake her? I know there’s some risk.”

I nodded, but my mind felt like a tablet suddenly cleared of all data.

She smiled, and I suddenly realized the meaning of that half-smile she’d kept under suspension. All symptoms pointed to a diagnosis of amusement.

“Do you have a name?” she asked. I glanced down at my identification badge, but she shook her head. “No, that only says Dr. Anderson. There’s another half, isn’t there?”

“Call me James,” I stammered, glad that David’s absence saved me from becoming an absolute embarrassment.

She was still smiling. “Because that’s your name?”

“I’m Anderson,” I finally managed. “James Anderson.”

“You’re certainly not James Bond, are you?” She pointed to the chair by her bed, and I sat down. “You’ll have to say much more if you’re going to give me my long-awaited history lesson.”

“History.” I took a deep breath and tried two words. “Of course.”

“Do doctors from the future still carry pen and paper?” she asked. “Or have you progressed to better tools?” She paused, and her smile disappeared. “Have you left books behind?”

“I collect books,” I said. “I could lend you some, if you like.”

She smiled again. “I think I’m going to like you, James.”

I wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t form. Everything I ever thought of saying to any member of the McRoy family, everything I had said during suspension, completely vanished. Finally, I heard myself say, “That’s—that’s just dandy.”

And Loretta laughed.

January 14, 2021 22:10

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5 comments

Maya W.
01:58 Jan 26, 2021

Hey Emilie! I enjoyed this just as much as I enjoyed the others - science fiction is a great genre for you. My only complaint is that you use dialogue a lot in this series - expertly, but a lot. I would maybe tone it down. But other than that, no critiques! Nice work. I have a new story out since you last were on my page, would you mind checking it out?

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17:05 Jan 26, 2021

Thanks, Maya! I just commented on your newest. You're absolutely right that my last few stories have been dialogue-heavy. Maybe I should try writing one without any! But I enjoy writing it so much, that would be hard...

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Emma Taylor
23:41 Jan 20, 2021

Great story, excellent us of dialogue. I will have to read part 1 and part 2. I always want applaud science fiction writers, it takes alot of creativity. Could you give my story 'Beautiful Marie' a read.

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13:24 Jan 21, 2021

Sure! Just read it

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22:18 Jan 14, 2021

Hello readers! This is the sequel to "Resolution," the end of a three-part series which began with "Mission 404." Hope you enjoy!

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