Chapter 1: Resurrection
My first impression when I awoke was the scent of lilac followed by warmth and silence, apart from the sound of pattering rain. Except for the chrome metal furniture, the rectilinear sterile room – complete with ceramic tile walls, marble floor, and linens – was completely white. One-drawer nightstands, with nothing on their tops, stood on either side of the bed. There were no lamps. Light emanated from everywhere and nowhere. The absence of color in the room even extended to my person. Someone had dressed me in white cotton surgical scrubs with a V-necked short sleeve pullover top, baggy pants, and disposable elastic booties. A bank of windows, none of which looked like they could be opened, ran the length of the room down the long portside wall. Rainwater pounded against the glass, limiting visibility. Next to the windows were two arm chairs separated by a third one-drawer stand. Opposite the windows was a centered door.
I didn’t know where I was or how long I had been in this place. A quick self-inventory revealed nothing out of the ordinary for a man of forty. Other than a mild headache, everything else actually seemed sharper. Colors were more vivid, my hearing was more acute, and my vision was so precise that I actually identified the reflection in the window as a flyspeck on the backside of a drawstring hanging from a Venetian blind on the other side of the room. I had only a minute or two to reflect on the surreal before I detected an ever-so-slight breathing pattern and what I guessed to be small feet ambulating in cotton socks before there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” I said, propping myself up on my elbows. A beautiful woman of about thirty-five entered, closed the door behind her, and glided toward me. In stark contrast to the whiteness of my surroundings, she was dressed in a turquoise blue shirt, much like my own but with collar and cuffs. On each side of her collar was a row of three diamonds. She wore her jet-black hair in a French braid. Her eyes were dark, cheekbones high, complexion Mediterranean, and teeth perfect. To my surprise, her slightly blunted fingernails seemed to be diamond-veneered to match her collar.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Renatta Messina,” she said, smiling as she extended her hand. “Do you remember your name, sir?”
“Charles Dawes,” I murmured, placing all my weight on one elbow, accepting her hand. She had fine matching dimples and spoke with an ever-so-slight East Indian accent. I could detect and, to my surprise, even define the elements of the various scents she brought into the room: hand lotion, perfume, deodorant, shampoo, and some of the foods she had eaten in the past few hours. It was a bit much.
“Good,” she said. “I expected no less. Your recovery is progressing as anticipated, perfectly, actually. In a few days…”
I interrupted. “Where am I and why am I here, Doctor?” I could tell from the landscape that it was summertime and I was in a temperate zone, but something wasn’t familiar about a few of the deciduous trees. They were enormous, perhaps five feet in girth. And the room was too, I don’t know what it was, maybe it was too high tech. I had been stationed TDY in Kansas on more than one occasion; I wasn’t in Kansas. That I knew for sure.
“You are at our recovery facility in Charlottesville, Virginia.” I welcomed the idea I was in my hometown, even though it didn’t seem familiar somehow. “No doubt you have many questions. I can provide answers, but first, how do you feel?” She motioned us to the chairs next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. With a grunt I maneuvered to my feet.
“Well, except for a mild headache, I seem to be in pretty good shape. There’s no mirror in this room, so I can’t imagine how I must look, but from what I can tell, everything seems to be in working condition. And I notice that my birthmark is gone.”
She removed a small silver-colored gadget from her side pocket, poked it with a diamond stylus four or five times, and looked up. “Yes, the birthmark had served its purpose. New shells are absent old defects.” That bit of information went right over my head. She fiddled again with her gadget. “There, I’ve made an adjustment that should relieve your headache.”
I felt almost instant relief. “What? You adjusted my meds just like that, with that thing?”
“Something like that, yes,” she smiled, putting her device away.
I forgot about the inquiry about my birth defect. “What could you have done from over there that had such an immediate effect?”
“You’ve been injected with custom-made nanite compounds that respond to adjustments using this medical device,” she informed me. “All of your vitals are normal, by the way, and you are responding well to treatment. For a period of time, however, you will experience various sensations, and perhaps even some discomfort. But as time passes, you will begin to feel considerably stronger than before the accident, and your senses will improve significantly. Have you noticed?”
I was a bit confused. What was that? Nano device, huh? I thought to myself. After a pause I managed an intelligent response: “Yeah, I’ve noticed plenty of weirdness. I can zero in on the hairs of a gnat’s …uh… abdomen in flight over by that fountain.” I nodded toward the window through which one could see putti spewing water fifty or so meters away. As personal property appraiser and consultant for high net-value clients with collections of antiques and art, I was more than familiar with this particular piece, an exact replica of the La Fontana dei putti in Pisa.
“Excellent,” she replied. “The nanobots have amalgamated. You should be able to smell accurately, as well.”
“Yes, too well. How do I ratchet it back a notch?” I sniffed the air.
“You could say that. I can actually define the ingredients in the pasta dish you had last night.”
“Oh, sorry about that.” She stepped back a pace and pulled out her device once again. “Let me make an adjustment to mitigate the acute ability you will eventually enjoy. There. That should do it. Better?”
I sniffed the air again and noticed the intensity had diminished. “I think so,” I answered.
“Mr. Dawes, once you learn to self-adjust the nanites, you’ll be able to fine-tune your senses by merely thinking the adjustment.”
“How long will that take?”
“Oh, a few days or so, but I promise you the bots are there to serve and protect you. You’re going to like the way they make you look, feel, and allow you to perform.”
“Yes, the nanites are autonomic, like your heartbeat. They make adjustments when your body’s sensors require enhancement.”
“Well, for instance, you’ll not only be able to hold your breath under water, but you’ll also be able to work tirelessly for at least fifteen minutes while you’re down there because the nanites can shuttle oxygen around the body.”
“That will come in handy. I like to free dive.”
“Indeed, I know you hold a past world Tuna record of 655 pounds. You’ll notice a big difference. The nanites will also expel nitrogen and lactic acid, and if you are injured, they will self-replenish and make significant repairs to all non-neuro systems of your biomass.”
“Jesus.” I had a lot to think about. “I won’t get tired?”
“Correct…well, sort of. You’re still going to require additional augmentation, which I will address later.”
‘Additional augmentation’ sounded like the upgrades every good salesman offers ‘for a small additional fee.’ At this point everything was amazing enough as it was; even if I couldn’t afford her offered upgrade, I’d be plenty happy with what I already had. But I had to ask, “You remade my body. Why?”
“Back in your early timeline you were in a fatal car accident, Mr. Dawes. Fortunately your body was recovered in time to be held in cryogenic stasis. When the time was right, we removed your stasis capsule here to UVA recovery where it’s been for the last six months.
“The revival process was complex. The short story is that we reanimated your original body, extracted your soul – your sentience as it were – from its neural network, and inserted it into an improved body we call a shell, which we cloned from your original. Next we made in-process general repairs and a multitude of enhancements to the clone DNA at the molecular level and then injected the shell – the new cloned body that you’re presently wearing – with a slurry of programmable nanites that accept remote input. That’s how I made you feel better, by applying my stylus to this device.” She held up the two objects with one hand, as a reminder. “In fact, I made the most recent adjustment on purpose, the one you witnessed, so you could understand the nano concept more easily. I could just as easily have ordered the central computer to make the adjustment, either verbally or by thought, using a heads-up screen visible only to me. I’ll explain more about that in due course.”
My mind wandered as she described what she’d done to me. I must have looked befuddled. I was dumbfounded to say the least. The doctor gently prodded me with questions I only half heard through the haze. As she spoke, I took an inventory of all my body parts. Two arms? Check. Two legs? Yeah. I also discovered I had what looked like a healthy tan George Hamilton would be proud of. And I was glad that my birthmark was gone because it often throbbed with pain.
I began stringing vague flashes of memory together to form a thought that might lead to a multiple-syllable intelligent sentence, but all I could mutter was, “What?”
“What’s the last thing you remember doing or seeing before awakening here?” she asked, gently pressing the conversation onward. But too many feelings were crowding my mind, so I couldn’t formulate an intelligent question.
I closed my eyes. After a few moments I began, “I still remember my early life as a child in Coventry…. That’s what I was dreaming about just before I came fully awake.”
“Good. I know of your past life from reading Dr. Stevenson’s profile on you. What can you tell me about just before the last moments before the crash?”
I was surprised she knew about Stevenson but then I reminded myself of how well known he is. He had interviewed me because he was researching people with painful birthmarks. Apparently some people with birthmarks remember previous incarnations and they claim that their marks are from fatal wounds. Stevenson wanted to hypnotize me, but I was too busy to take the time. I had just found a diary which eventually led Emma and me to solve a murder mystery in Madison, Virginia, so I had let the birthmark issue drop until later. I’d have to look him up, let him know what happened, that the birthmark was gone or maybe this doctor had already told him.
I continued. “I was in the bay area of Northern California, I think. Well …ah… let’s see. I remember being in my black Mercedes, on a steep grade… the landscape was lush …going fast… blurred motion …noise… by a river …the Russian River …probably… I remember passing a road sign that read Monte Rio, and then another sign a moment later that read Bohemian Grove. The next thing I remember is waking up here.”
“That’s very good, Mr. Dawes.”
I noticed that for some reason she raised an eyebrow when I said ‘Bohemian Grove.’
“How severe were my injuries?”
“They were extensive, Mr. Dawes. You were airlifted to hospital and immediately placed on life-sustaining equipment where you remained for several months, whereupon your committee… Do you remember your committee?” I nodded yes. She continued. “They invoked the requirements stated in your living will and other preparatory instruments. At that point your legal team assumed responsibility for your care and disposition. Eventually a court decision allowed for stasis internment, and your team made a battery of decisions in accordance to your wishes since this was a fatal scenario. At that time your grave injuries were beyond the limits of existing technology and your projected revival interval was statistically impossible to estimate. Stasis internment was necessary. The alternative was unacceptable. Do you remember setting this plan in motion with your committee members?”
“Yes, I remember all the planning after my win.” I’d won the lottery and had been smart enough to immediately set myself up for every eventuality with long-range investments, including cryogenics, executed to the ridicule of many. Of all the mistakes I might have made in my life, at least I got that right, I thought. So now here I was, plopped a few years into the future, my plans suddenly, and truly, set in motion. “I am glad I didn’t have to experience the red tape that must have occurred after my …uh… demise,” I said with a grim smile, relieved. “I don’t doubt it must have been legal chaos.”
“Yes, it was. But the committee, which is now at your service in any capacity, took care of all your affairs. I am your medical and psychological officer as well as your trainer and one of your security team members. You also have administrative, legal, financial, and other security staff.”
“Yes, I remember now. My attorney and my financial advisor suggested a plan of action for me. I’d like to have a word with both of them if you can arrange that.” I raised my eyebrows in her direction.
Dr. Messina placed her hand on my forearm and said softly, “Your committee members are different individuals than they were before your accident, Mr. Dawes, because so much time has passed. It is now comprised of members succeeded by appointees designated by the initial members and their succeeding appointees, and so forth, all of which was necessary over the years.”
“Oh,” I swallowed and noticed yet another fly speck on the same cord a bit higher up. “Yes, of course. I understand. So how long has it been?” I looked past the window glass into the distance. The little nanites in my cranium were probably working overtime shoring up whatever mental state the textbooks defined me to be in as I tried to grapple with the possibilities, that is, if, in fact, I was even still me. But as I focused I saw evidence of the answer before the doctor had a chance to tell me because under the huge American chestnut trees were dried prickly burrs. And high up in the canopy there were hundreds more green prickly burrs hanging from the branches. The burrs were too small for anyone to see, at least not anyone in 2010, even anyone medically enhanced to our highest technology then. But the trees were the biggest clue: the American chestnut was extinct in 2010. Tears streamed down my cheeks in torrents as she told me the answer I already knew, that centuries had past.
“Mr. Dawes, the year is 2460.” Her lovely perfume wafted over me as she leaned forward slightly to study my reaction as the world revolved in slow motion. I could hear her carotid pulse and distinguish the cacophony of the individual raindrops that co-thumped with her aortic valve as I stared out the window at the lush, wet landscaped campus of the recovery facility. The rain had subsided except for the cascading drops from tree leaves and off the roof. My mind was numb. Everyone and everything I knew was gone – my wife Emma, my extended family, all of my friends, and everything recognizable. I was now a stranger in my own land. The only thing that sounded familiar so far was being back in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. I sighed and wondered how it had changed after so long as the sun moved from behind the clouds to stream through the forest of American chestnut trees.