MONTAG SHORT FICTION #010
MONTAG publishes curious short fiction, exploring our strange future and what it will feel like when we get there. They take the technology you're interested in as a starting point and show where it might take us. The stories are outré, evocative, and atypical; they're also closer to today than you think.
In this story: what would you feel if you were reanimated after death – and some of your key memories had vanished?
Once the needles were removed from my eyes, the pain of rebirth wasn’t all that bad. That’s because - those memory re-implantation needles aside – I could hardly remember the bulk of the many procedures.
Ironically, my main memory of the whole process was itself implanted, in a way, pieced together from media reports documenting my reanimation. A video showing my body slowly squirming under a mass of tubes as blood and fluids were reintroduced; some borderline-snuff “Documentary” footage of the spinal re-connective surgery; a few frankly embarrassing videos of slurred questions as my confused, morphine-drenched brain got to grips with my new reality.
The headlines ran the gamut from the mundane - “The last Frozen Man back from the dead” - to the hysterical - “More broken genes flooding into our society, warn Cryo-activists” - to the dreadful puns - “The Iceman No Longer Cometh.”
I’d assumed that Cryonics would become normal. “Everyone will be frozen and woken up again in the future,” I confidently explained to anyone who cared to listen when I first signed up. “Let me know when you change your mind - I can get you a discount!” (Not to mention the affiliate fee I would pocket.)
In fact, it turned out that I was a rarity: half celebrity and half living museum exhibit. Of the thousand or so of us who’d been frozen, only about 200 had fully survived the Reanimation and healing process to become almost fully-functioning humans again.
Cryonics became outlawed a few years after the first of the Reanimated, healed with the intervening century’s miracle cures, started enthusiastically mixing with society again.
The resulting babies had… problems. The kind of genetic weaknesses you can’t predict or solve when you start mixing old frost-burnt DNA with the modern version; the type that had been tweaked in the womb to ensure genetically protection against disease.
The government, realising that muddying the gene pool of 2097 was A Very Big Mistake, paid off the parents and set strict controls around the societal reintroduction of people like me.
“We couldn’t recover all of your memories from the backup,” the Cryocorp doctor told me, sheepishly. “Normally a percentage does get lost in the process, but it’s usually insignificant stuff you don’t need any more: bank account details, passwords, your children’s birthdays. But in your case we think that some of the core memory data was in poor condition to begin with. It’s as if it was being restricted – so it couldn’t be written to the database properly, and couldn’t be safely re-implanted. It’s for the best, you know.”
Weeks later, another tabloid revelation interrupted the endless therapy sessions to teach me to walk again. The Sun-Mail had tracked down the sole living family member who knew me from the first time around - my granddaughter Hana. She was now 97 and living in some remote Norwegian hills - the papers hinted that they’d bring her to my hospital bed, and I groaned at the thought of yet more microphones under my nose and more stilted on-camera conversations.
A parcel of old photos arrived from storage in advance of her visit, and I slowly rifled through the pile, finding one of a young Hana and I. The paper felt cold and dry from nearly a hundred years airtight storage, and I ran my cracked skin over the creases, picking at the curled corners with a thin thumbnail. My eyes - the fine focus muscles now less lethargic from the freeze - swooped through the faded, once saturated colours.
Something rekindled in my mind – a dull thump of a feeling, of having sat and looked at this object, that image, before – but the image itself was a mystery. I couldn’t remember.
When Hana arrived, it was with a familiar fanfare of photo opportunities, interviews, smiles and hugs for the masses. After an hour, with the gentle prodding of the journalists, we’d gone over our shared memories and filled in the intervening gap between now, and when I’d last seen her.
Finally, with a cheerful, “We’ll leave you two to have some time alone - you must be dying to catch up!”, the crowd left.
I beamed weakly at Hana, luxuriating in the forgotten joy of family. Her face, moments before old and tired, pulled into a shaking fury. “They told me your memory was incomplete. You… don’t… remember, do you? What you did? You ruined our lives. And yet you get to live again.”
My mind reeled.
I heard the sudden quiet as the journalists, in the corridor, fell silent in bemusement as she left, slowly, without looking back.
A month passed. I was still too weak to walk further than the bathroom, and still restrained by too many medical tubes draining this or that from my increasingly pink and plump body.
Hana died. It was of old age, the reports said. And then her will was read and her diaries were discovered and her story came out. Of what I had done, and when, and where, and how.
It was a Wednesday when the senior doctor arrived. Her chit-chat was perfunctory and her smiles thin-lipped as she distractedly meddled with the neuroscope around her neck.
Eventually she got to the point. “Look,” she said. “We simply must take extreme preventative measures against the possibility of your… historic genes mixing with today’s clean pool. It’s for the good of everyone. And it’s the law.”
I spotted her eyes almost imperceptibly, involuntarily, glance down the bedsheets and settle on my groin.
“The operation will be this afternoon. Don’t worry – it’s quick, and usually painless.”
Sensing that the silence wouldn’t be broken, she picked up her clipboard and left.
I tried to remember.
I gripped the old photo of me sitting with Hana until it concertinaed onto itself over and over, crumpling our faces into dozens of white paper-fibre streaks, and I strained and strained to remember. But it wasn't there any more.