November 12, 2018

 

Orientation Day

 
 
 

I woke up terribly groggy. All I remember the first fifteen minutes or so was stumbling through doorways and following signs with large red arrows. I remember coming across a doctor shaking his head and saying "Perhaps we should delay things." Pausing, and then softly pushing me into another corridor.

"You're going the wrong way," a janitor called out. "Probably missed a sign." Then he pointed me in the other direction. Eventually this led to a small dining area, looking much like the old automats I remember from my childhood. A lighted sign listed the choices; a variety of coffees and teas, carbonated beverages, tablets and capsules of various sorts, and then more esoteric choices like "coca-infused soda" and "Arctic Water." I chose coffee, double cream and stood by a small, semi-circular table waiting, as instructed by a large sign bearing the words, "PLEASE WAIT."

A tall man wearing a navy blue jacket and matching trousers approached. His outfit resembled that of an old English constable, lacking only the helmet. He also carried a clipboard bearing a multiple-page report.

"Mister Peter Manning," he coughed, speaking in an appropriately English accent.

"Yes?" I replied.

"I'm Sorting Officer Davis. I just have a few questions for you to help with your determination. You're listed as a "Boomer," that referring to those born during the post-World War Two baby boom. Do you consider yourself to be of that generation?"

"Yes, I was born in the 1950s, so I guess that fits."

"Which generation do you remember as being the most recent?" he asked. "The Millenials, I suppose. Early 2020s; the incorrectly-named 'Decade of Perfect Vision.'"

"So you have memories of the Crisis?"

"For some time, it seemed things were going very wrong, it seemed as if society was going backwards, becoming more Puritanical, more regressive."

He jotted done a long note on the margin of his report.

"I see," he said, lifting his pen. "You have some catching up to do. The year is 2749 and you've spent the past seven centuries in cryogenic stasis."

"Then everyone I know is dead," I said, feeling my spirits crushed.

"Unlikely," he replied, a hint of cheerfulness in his voice. "We can do a search later on to track friends and family members. There are undoubtably plenty of people you knew mucking about."

"That's a relief," I replied, not thinking the number could be that high.

"Also, I wouldn't get my hopes up too much, but there is a chance deceased loved one or two might have been brought back. Refurbishing old cadavers is still something of an art form. But I'm living proof that it can be done. Born 1852, died 1895, brought back when this program was started eight years ago."

"You were dead?" I asked. "What was that like."

He shrugged his shoulders, "Uneventful. But I think I have all the information I need, follow me."

He led me through a vaulted hallway to a tall, glass escalator that took us up to a domed lobby with a couple dozen rows of wooden pews stretching from one wall to the other, an aisle running down the middle.

"Find a comfy spot," he said, turning away, "and listen for your name."

While not crowded, there were probably 200-300 people in this chamber. Many were apparently there in the clothes they were buried in. Dress uniforms from the various twentieth and twenty-first century wars. There was both business attire and casual wear. And occasionally I'd spot somewhere there naked, expressing the same casual attitude I often did while sipping coffee after a shower.

What surprised me was what good shape everyone was in -- most noticeable with the nudes. Even I was in better shape than I remembered. Weight about optimal, some age-related pains gone, no sign of the anxiety disorder that had been with me most of my adult life.

I overheard two women talking about the Cryogenic Integrity Act of 2111, saying that it was mandatory to add restorative compounds to the chambers once every 15 years. Whatever that was, I guess it worked.

"Peter Manning," a female voice said, "to the orange office area, Peter Manning to the orange office area."

I stood up and looked around. On the sides were offices of various colors. Orange, right between yellow and red. I quickly worked out the path to a grilled counter, like a teller's station at a bank.

"I'm Peter Manning," I said to the clerk, a pudgy blonde in a yellow jacket and matching miniskirt.

She was on the phone, a late 1960s style office phone, a familiar touch, I wondered. "Just a sec, Mom," she said, into the phone, "another freeze-pop to process. Yeah, lucky bastard, filled with restoratives, optimal weight and health. Bye, Mom," she said, hanging up the phone.

"This way," she said, picking up my file and walking over to the left side, by a swinging gate.

She led me into a grid of desks and dropped the file on a desk in the middle. "Please be seated."

As I sat, I nodded to the woman sitting there, a short but trim woman with dark brown hair, layered at several lengths. She wore a plain, rose-colored sweatshirt and dark blue jeans.

"Mmmhmm," she said, reading my file. "This says you're single. Would you like to be married?"

"What?" I asked, surprised by the question.

"Married, cohabiting, male or female. Other arrangements are possible but take a little more paperwork."

"Other?"

"Yes, but seriously, you don't look the sort who could handle two women. Fantasy, perhaps, but reality?"

"Ms. Fleming," I said, noticing the nameplate, "Isn't that a personal matter?"

"You're to be processed and shipped off to wherever your particular skill-set is needed. Courtship is a nice idea but fairly impractical. Besides, you're how old and still single? Doesn't look like being the shy, quiet type's done you any favors."

"Shipped off? Where?"

She turned back to my file. "A Boomer," then she turned to me. "Think of science fiction of your time. We're there. All eight planets, several minor planets, and several moons have been made fit for the flora and fauna of Earth. But such projects take a lot of manpower. A quarter of the labor force are involved with environmental systems. And as we expand, more are needed."

"So there was some major progress lately."

"The gas giants were a major effort. We're now emptying the cryogenic vaults, up to the Plague Generation and the Imperial Generation when interplanetary travel was perfected."

"What were those generations like?"

"Plague babies are usually rather quiet; 'Cry You Die' was a popular slogan, messed up a lot of kids. Then came the post-plague boom, even more idealistic and rebellious than yours. They will provide several years of workers. But eventually, we'll be digging up the cemeteries. I'm not looking forward to interviewing former cadavers. The cosmetic surgery is wonderful, but somehow, you can still tell you're talking to a corpse."

"What are you," I asked. "Your generation?"

"27A is the technical term. Romantic, huh?"

"So if I do want to be involved with someone?"

She took a form out of her desk drawer. "One hundred questions, dealing with all aspects of your psyche -- in particular how your experiences and world-view form your social and sexual nature. True, the odds of finding Ms. Right are one in a million. But we have over ten million of these in the database."

"So will they be of my generation, my age?"

"Some, but wouldn't you really prefer a 30-year-old regenerated Progressive Era woman to a 70-year-old Boomer?

"Or a 20-year-old Victorian?" I mused.

"Aren't they usually sexually suppressed?"

"Doesn't sexual suppression usually mean sexual obsession?

"True, but there were as many potential Jill the Rippers as there was a Jack." Her muscles seemed to tense up. "I was new on the job when a 1990s version of Jack became obsessed with me."

"I'm sorry," I said, noticing the little annotations on the personal reports. "I mostly saw the paranoia of that time, the 90s, and didn't think too much of it."

"No surprise you're still single, then. But you are right about the paranoia. Parents afraid to let their kids play outside. The computer becoming babysitter. I suppose things were different for you growing up."

"During the summer, my brother and I were outside from morning 'til after dark. But that was a different time. News reports talking about the Pill, nudist activists."

"That all ended right before the crisis. As genetically-modified organisms mutated due to pollution there was a covert movement to make the nudists, the hippies, and the Pagans feel ashamed for their lifestyle. The funny thing is the plague might not evolved had people become so afraid of their own bodies."

"I was bothered by what I saw as a return to prudishness," Examining her small, well-formed breast and their pleasant bounce. "But I thought people would return to their senses."

"They didn't. Sunlight is a great disinfectant and walking around nude for a few days a year could have been the cure. Sixty percent of the human race died off because people were too modest to take that prescribed course."

"If I knew it would save my life, I would have," I said, my voice unnecessarily defensive. "I was something of a closet nudist, as is."

"Your report suggests that," she stated. "Possibly the reason you were frozen so quickly."

"Was I cured of the plague?"

"It was yet to fully develop in you. Which means you'd probably be sent to one of those colonies where cures are being researched, Europa most likely."

"A lot of sunlight and open air?"

She smiled and nodded her head.

"I suppose it's against the rules for employees and clients ..." I could well imagine me getting along well with a quick-witted woman not overly-fond of clothing.

"Actually, it's encouraged. The system does work, you know, albeit for its own perverse reasons." She held up the file. "This contains a lot of information that you probably would not want a stranger to know." She opened the file and scanned the information. "Let's compare notes, shall we? 13? I was 12. A weekend crush? How about a 2 year affair? You ... because you were bored one night? Fairly standard today -- as it was for a while in your time before the moralists took control. You wanted to but were too shy? I was never that shy."

Something about these admissions that seemed to push a button within my psyche. Several buttons at the same time, actually. "Ms Fleming," I said, in a way-too casual voice, "will you marry me?"

"You're the sixth person who's asked me that this morning," she replied, giggling.

"I see," I said, a bit depressed.

"But why do you think I was assigned your case? The computer found us compatible, and this interview is to see if there's any chemistry. I think there is."

"Honestly?"

"Well, I am more than a little jealous of your probable relocation. Jovian Moon Europa: engineered to be warm year round, culture better suited for those with non-standard Circadian rhythms, clothing optional. And if working on Europa means marrying you ..."

Then she wrote something down on a slip of paper. "Tell me the first word that comes to mind when I say the word 'nudity.'"

"Freedom," I said.

She smiled and showed me the slip of paper. It matched.

"Freedom."

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-07-01
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.


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