Matthew gasped at what he saw. As far as he could make out, glistening, metallic spirals reached up like thousands of twisted needles into the heavens. Even the shortest of the city’s towers rose miles above the hospital window. This was his first sign that the world had changed.
Soon the doctor came in and held out his hand in greeting. Matthew looked the man over and ignored his hand. The doctor was good looking, almost too good looking. His wave of styled, blonde hair looked permanently molded, not a hair out of place. His skin was deeply tanned, but unwrinkled and showing no signs of age. Plastic looking, Matthew thought. The doctor’s smile revealed a straight row of perfect teeth that were blindingly white, even whiter than his medical coat.
The doctor sat in a chair by the window and spoke at length. The bright hospital lights flashed off of his teeth. Much of what he said, Matthew had already guessed. A significant amount of time had passed since Matthew had been put into stasis. He was now cured.
"Well, where are they?" Matthew asked.
The doctor’s left eyebrow rose in puzzlement. "Where are who? The nurses?"
"No, my family…my Andrea. Where are they? Where is she?" Matthew saw that at his questions the doctor lowered his head and a solemn look shrouded the man’s face, a look that said it all. "They…they’re dead?"
The doctor nodded his head in affirmation. Tears welled up in Matthew’s eyes, and the doctor looked away. The physicians that had recommended cryo-freeze had told Matthew their research was only a few years from finding an antidote; they told him that Andrea would be waiting for him when he awoke. But now he was alone.
"Unfortunately there was a change in governmental leadership after you were put under. Money was funneled from important medical research into developing machines of destruction." The doctor still kept his head turned, obviously uncomfortable with his patient’s showing of emotion. "War eventually covered the earth. The majority of mankind was killed; only a few survived the holocaust. Those survivors slowly rebuilt, and the new culture outlawed violence and focused upon curing disease and death. We eventually reached those goals."
The doctor turned his head back towards Matthew at the question. The man’s eyes sparkled with sudden ardor. "Yes, modern science has solved the problem of cellular decay. I myself am several hundred years old…I think. One loses track of the years after the first two hundred."
Matthew’s mind reeled from the doctor’s revelations. He asked the man how it was possible. He asked him how science could stop death.
"Simple really, it’s a matter of molecular reconstruction. At an atomic level certain micro-mechanized…" The doctor suddenly paused in mid-sentence and cleared his throat. He realized the perplexed look upon his patient’s face. "I’m sorry. Perhaps I have been rude in revealing everything so suddenly. The last one…the last one like you that our archeologists found didn’t respond well to his new environment." Archeologists found? The pain in Matthew’s mind was becoming overshadowed by simple befuddlement.
"I wasn’t being kept here in the hospital?"
"No…a dig team discovered you a dozen miles underground. Your stasis chamber was buried in the remains of the old world." Here the man paused and put a finger to his chin while contemplating what to say. "Listen, it’s important for you to realize that everything you knew is long gone. The world as you knew it no longer exists. People as you knew them no longer exist. I can’t stress the importance of getting this through your mind. Take it in slowly if you have to. Perhaps you should stay in the hospital for a while before venturing out."
Matthew was now silent, deep in thought. The doctor rose from the chair and waived a beeping, wand-like device over Matthew’s body and smiled.
"Physically you are in excellent shape. It’s your mind I’m worried about. A few more days of rest and maybe we’ll find a guide to take you out into the megalopolis. It’s important that you are strong…that you are ready to move on."
The man left, turning out the lights and shutting the door behind him. Matthew pulled the curtains open wider so he could look out from his bed. Somewhere above the alien-looking, helical towers the sun had gone down. A myriad of pulsating, neon lights illuminated the city night. The sight was a wonder to behold, but Matthew could only think of Andrea.
They had only been married a few years when he was diagnosed with the disease. He had been devastated, but she had been strong for him. She was there through his treatments and was there by his side during his last moments before the freezing. Now she was gone…forever. Though his body was whole and healthy, Matthew felt a gut-wrenching void within. It was a dark pit that only Andrea could fill. Suddenly he was overcome with remorse, not for the fact that his wife was long dead, but for the scientific advancements that had found his cure. They should’ve put an end to his frozen slumber and let him die. They should have let him meet his Andrea in death. But now it was all too late. Turning his back to the window, he cried himself to sleep. His slumber was black and dreamless.
Dawn brought a diaphanous haze of watery pastels filtering down through the endless sea of whirling and intertwining structures. Matthew yawned and stretched and once again stood in awe at the sight. He decided that this morning he would leave the hospital.
In the closet he found gray pants, a white shirt, and black boots. Looking into the closet mirror he saw that it all fit him perfectly. Then he saw his face. But it wasn’t his face. His hazel eyes were the same, but where was that reminder of a childhood biking accident, the small, scythe-shaped scar on his left temple? Why was the small chip on his bottom, middle tooth gone? Where were the gray hairs that in his late twenties had begun to pepper his sideburns? He had always wanted plastic-surgery to remove the scar, but his was odd. This was more than odd. Why would they fix his teeth and dye out his gray?
Pushing the questions aside, he stepped into the long hallway outside his door and squinted against the fluorescent brilliance. He was surprised to find it empty. He made his way down the hall, attempting to be as quiet as possible, but saw no other patients, doctors, or nurses. At the end of the hall he came to an elevator that opened as he approached. When he stepped inside he found no buttons to push, but noticed what appeared to be a speaker box.
"First floor", he spoke into the box, and the doors closed. He didn’t feel the elevator moving, but when the doors opened he was standing in a massive, sterile lobby area. Large, glass doors led outside, and he walked towards them, not noticing the figure in the white medical coat sitting behind a desk in the corner.
"Please, wait!" It was the doctor’s voice, but Matthew ignored the plea as he continued towards the doors.
"Please...there are things you should know! You should get stronger!"
Things I need to know? Matthew chuckled, but it was mirthless and hollow. All I need to know is that everything I ever loved is gone. Nothing else matters.
What the doctor had referred to as the "megalopolis" was even grander in view from the outside. The doors from the hospital led directly onto a highway that hung seemingly suspended in mid-air. Looking over the edge Matthew saw hundreds of similar roads below him, snaking around and through the ever-rising, silver towers. A sudden panic seized him as he saw there appeared to be no bottom to the towers and he grabbed the sides of the highway to steady himself. Where those clouds floating miles below?
Looking up he saw that is was much the same; the twisting structures of the city seemed to reach past the azure of the atmosphere into the dark blue of space itself. The sunlight, from somewhere distant, reflected in a kaleidoscope of color that danced and sparkled from building to building. Matthew stood for some time, soaking in the surreal scene and then looked ahead and started out down the highway.
As he walked he couldn’t help thinking of his wife. He couldn’t help starting to cry again. He remembered how he had first seen her at a college function and had been stricken by her vivid, blue eyes…eyes that flashed with life, mystery, and passion. He had asked her out and the evening ended with her shoving him down on his back and making love to him on the plush, grassy banks of a local lake. He remembered the soft, round curves of her breasts as they swayed above him, the flutter of her long eyelashes, her gentle moans of pleasure, and her hair hanging down and brushing lightly against his naked chest. He remembered her holding his hand as the doctors injected the drugs into his body that would render him unconscious for the cryo-freeze.
After walking fifty or so yards, he turned to look behind. The building there was no longer a hospital. Confused, he turned about and looked both ways and then back again to where the hospital should have been. It was now the same smooth, metallic structure as the tower in front of him. The same as all the other pinnacles. No glass doors, no hospital sign, no windows…they were all gone. He considered the possibility that he was going insane, or perhaps he was still dreaming in stasis-coma. He reached out and felt the metal railing of the road and it was cold and moist to the touch. He certainly wasn’t dreaming. With a shrug he continued on his path.
As the road he was on rounded another building, he saw that the city was truly endless. An ocean of towers rose in pinpoints forever and ever. The roads intertwined amongst them forever and ever. But he saw no other people. Trudging on, he followed the road as it took on a steep ascension, and now the sun was directly ahead, glaring down with a yellow-orange brilliance. It was as if he climbed Jacob’s ladder into the light of heaven, but here there were no angels to guide him.
Eventually he tired of the climb and sat by the side of the road. From a distance he made out a tiny, black speck growing on the horizon. It turned out to be a vehicle of some sort, a cylindrical tube that moved without wheels, seeming to hover just above the road’s surface. He watched as it grew closer and closer and then slowed to a stop just before reaching him. A hatch opened on the vehicle’s side and a woman stepped out. She approached him cautiously, but then seemed to recognize him and flashed a flawless, bright smile.
"Where is everyone?" Matthew asked, not smiling back.
"I…I’m sorry, what do you mean, sir?" She was tall and willowy, wearing a gossamer robe hinting of shades of emerald that left little about her body to the imagination. Like the doctor, her skin was smooth and tan, without wrinkles. Her raven hair hung long and straight and swayed with her hips as she walked towards him.
"The people…where are all the people?"
"We are here, but the megalopolis is immense. Have you walked all this way from the hospital? There is no need to travel by foot. The tubes will take you anywhere you desire." Any other man would have been entranced by such a beauty, but the ghost of Andrea still haunted Matthew’s mind. Though the woman before him was pleasant and smiling, he spoke coldly and with indifference.
"How can you tell where you are going? It’s all a maze."
"What do you mean?"
"All the buildings, if that is what you call them, they look the same. How can you tell which is which?"
She let out a soft, musical laugh. "I suppose if one weren’t used to the megalopolis, the buildings would all look the same. But there are differences. After living here so long it’s easy to tell which is which. By the way, my name is Melissa. If there’s someplace you wish to visit I could take you." Matthew thought about it and then realized that his stomach was growling with hunger.
"I need something to eat. Can you take me to a restaurant or something?"
Melissa took his hand and led him to the cylindrical vehicle. She motioned for him to climb in the hatch and then she followed him. There was just enough room for two inside and the seating appeared to be soft, brown leather, but when Matthew ran his hand along the material he realized it was imitation leather, most likely a polymer of some type. There were no controls that he could make out, other than a voice box similar to the one in the hospital’s elevator. She closed the hatch and spoke a low command he didn’t catch. Then the vehicle made a u-turn on the road and took a left onto a ramp that led even higher into the megalopolis.
She said nothing as they traveled, but occasionally looked over, giving him curious glances. This close up he noticed that her skin was immaculate, not a wrinkle or blemish to be seen. He wanted to reach out and touch the side of her face, just to feel if it was real. Eventually she noticed him staring.
"Is something wrong? Do I have something on my face?"
"No, it’s just that…you’re…you’re so perfect." A light, rosy blush covered her cheeks and she looked away.
"Well, I’m only three hundred and fifty years old. I guess some women get better with age."
Three hundred and fifty years old! Matthew hadn’t fully believed the doctor, but now someone else was claiming to be a ridiculously old age. And then there was the part about science solving the riddle to death. Could it all be true?
"If everyone lives so long, why is the city so sparsely populated?"
"Our city has outgrown its inhabitants. You could travel for days in one direction and you’d be lucky to meet one or two people. That was why our society was so pleased when the archeologists found you. Your reconstruction brought a new member to our great megalopolis." There was that word again, reconstruction, what did she mean?
"You mean my awakening. They awoke me from stasis-slumber."
Once again Melissa smiled, a smile of amusement bordering on condescension, the smirk of an adult listening to the ramblings of a child.
"What exactly did the doctor reveal to you before you left the hospital?"
"He told me things had changed. I wasn’t really in the mood to listen to a detailed lecture on modern medical science."
"Let me ask you something. Do you really think that the cryogenic freeze you were placed in could survive multiple nuclear bombardments? The last war reduced most of the world’s cities into molten liquid. Only a few areas were lucky enough to be leveled to twisted, burnt steel and ashes. Mankind was put back into the dark ages. It took thousands of years for us rebuild civilization. And that was just the beginning. It took another thousand years before the technology was developed that built the city, the same technology that gave you a new life."
Before he could ask more about the technology she had referenced, the vehicle came to a sudden stop. She opened the hatch and stepped out. The towers in this part of the city were close together, creating a spiraling, alien forest and they rose so high they blocked out any sunlight. Matthew stepped out after her and was surprised to find the shadows of this area lit up by what appeared to be gas street-lamps from the 1800’s.
"I see you’ve noticed the lamps. I requested them myself." Melissa walked over to one and dimmed the light by turning a knob at the base. "In fact I decorated this entire park. I must point out the cobblestone that paves the sidewalks in the park. You’ll love the detail."
She led him to a long, bridging walkway led to a small park that was suspended on a great platform between two of the immense buildings. Matthew stepped ahead of her onto the walkway and gripped the side-rails with white knuckles while trying not to look down. He moved slowly, looking straight ahead. He heard her giggling from behind as she followed.
"I suppose you think this is a safe height? What if a sudden gust of wind toppled you over the railing? Then you wouldn’t be laughing." Her giggling stopped. At first she didn’t answer, but when they were in the middle of the walkway she spoke up.
"Maybe I have been toppled over the railing. Three hundred and fifty years is a long time. One tends to get depressed." Her voice had taken a somber tone, so Matthew let the subject die. It only took a moment to make it the rest of the way across and then he followed Melissa into the park.
There were a variety of small trees and shrubbery lining the sidewalks, some he recognized and some he’d never seen before. She led him to an area in the middle of the park that had candle-lit dining tables and soft, plush-backed chairs. The tables were already set with silverware and plates.
"So what are you hungry for?" She asked.
He wondered what people ate in the future and decided to suggest something basic, something that would most likely be timeless.
"Steak and salad?"
A dinner cart rolled their way, seemingly guided by some phantom means of propulsion. It stopped by the table and she spoke their order as if an invisible waiter stood by ready to serve. The doors on the cart opened and she took out two steaming hot plates of food and handed him one. Then she reached inside and took out their salads and wine.
The steak was tender and juicy, cooked thoroughly but with a slightly pink center, but it wasn’t steak. The taste was right, the color was right, but the texture of the meat was too smooth, not stringy like real meat. But Matthew was too hungry to care. Between mouthfuls he watched Melissa eat and glanced around the park. The trees and shrubs were billowing softly in a multitude of green hues, the shadows whispering as the breeze danced playfully amongst them, but the more he watched the more he realized something. There were no brown or yellow leaves. Even in springtime there should be dead leaves lying somewhere around, but these plants were vibrant. They were immaculate.
"Are the trees fake?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"They seem so…impeccable. I don’t see any dead leaves."
"Well, it is springtime."
"I’ve seen trees in springtime and they don’t look that green." She didn’t respond but kept eating the steak and when finished moved on to the salad. After several glasses of wine that tasted like wine and smelled like wine, but had a thicker consistency, he sat back and thought about it all.
Why was everything so counterfeit? From the two people he had seen to the very trees, the whole place seemed an imitation. This new world seemed to be perfect, to have everything a person could want, but could he live in such a solitary environment, occasionally running into the same plastic-faced people? Could he live without Andrea?
He knew the answers before he thought the questions. He was a man out of place. He wasn’t strong enough to handle it, to handle life without her. It was all unnatural and he had only one choice. The question was how to go about it.
"Did anything survive the old world?" Matthew asked. Melissa put her fork down and looked into his eyes.
"Yes, some things. In the area where you were found we came across whole city blocks reduced to rubble, but certain artifacts survived."
"What kind of artifacts?" She raised her eyebrow in a curious gesture at the question.
"The museum holds relics from daily living and recreation, everything from tools of construction to tools of destruction." Matthew paused for a moment, carefully thinking about how he would phrase the request without drawing suspicion.
"Listen, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m having some trouble adjusting to all this…to this new life I’ve been given. Truthfully, I need some sort of closure. Could you take me to that museum?" She was silent for some time, watching him to see if he was serious. Then she consented.
"I will. But let’s go before your doctor starts looking for you. He is a bit overly protective, as he hasn’t had much luck the past few times we reconstructed. He’s worried you’re not strong enough to handle the adjustment into this new life."
There’s that word again…reconstruct. Instead of asking her what she meant by it he rose and followed her back to the vehicle. The drive to the museum was long and would have been uneventful save one incident.
As they were descending deep into the bowels of the megalopolis, a large, blazing object crashed into a building they had just passed. The impact shook the highway and Melissa ordered the tube to a stop. They got out and watched the fiery aftermath.
"What the hell was that? I thought the doctor said war and violence had been outlawed?"
"War? That was a meteorite. Our system pulls them in for raw material, and they go wayward, but it’s inconsequential. Watch." The smoke from the explosion eventually cleared, and to Matthew’s astonishment the tower that had been hit started rebuilding itself. The meteorite had taken the top half of the pinnacle down, but slowly, the silver substance of the building started flowing upwards and reforming the great structure. Like water, Matthew thought. The building is pouring upwards like water!
"How? I mean…how can it do that?"
"That is what the doctor was trying to tell you. What you are seeing is the whole basis of our society. In your time they would have called it nanotechnology. But that is like comparing a Neanderthal to the genius of Einstein."
They watched long enough for the tower to complete itself. Though it was impressive, what he had seen only confirmed his earlier resolutions. He was out of place in this bizarre utopia, and he no longer wanted to be a part of it. The only thing he desired was to once again feel his wife’s arms around him, to smell the scent of her auburn hair, to feel her body pressed against his. When he played his final gambit, perhaps he would greet her in white brilliance at the end of that fabled tunnel, or perhaps his consciousness would fade away into an existential, black nothingness. Regardless, the alternative was better than this.
By the time they reached the museum the sun had dropped low and was lost behind the horizon of the megalopolis. Matthew was surprised to see a tall, dark-skinned man dressed in a black suit and tie greet them at the door. Like the others, he flashed a pearly smile. Like the others he was apparently perfect.
"Greetings guests! Dear Melissa, it has been a long time since you’ve come this way! Is this Matthew?"
"Hello, Nicolai. Indeed, this is Matthew, freshly recon…awoken from stasis." The man frowned at her choice of words. Matthew knew the change in her phraseology had been for him. Nicolai then offered his hand in greeting, but Matthew ignored it and walked past him into the building. He could see in the reflection of a glass door that Melissa had grabbed Nicolai by the shoulder to keep him back and was whispering something into his ear. All the better, Matthew thought.
The inside of the museum was much like the inside of the hospital. His footsteps echoed on the white, marble floors of empty hallways shining with bright, glaring lights. In glass cases every ten feet or so was a display of archeological artifacts. He immediately noticed that the displays were simply marked in alphabetical order. The "A’s" held an empty, glass jar of applesauce, a toy, plastic astronaut that had one leg missing, and a bent, rusty automobile radio-antenna.
He walked slowly, inspecting each case with a slight smile creasing his face. Never did he imagine that such simple, mundane items would be housed in a museum. When he came to the case marked "F" he stopped. There was a framed photograph of a family.
The picture was of a dark-haired man, a woman with long, auburn locks, and a young blonde boy. And they were real. No fake, tanned skin. They had wrinkles around their laughs and the man had a bit of gray on both sides of his head. The woman had small wrinkles beginning in the corners of her bright, blue eyes and she was the most beautiful thing he had seen in this future world. She reminded him of Andrea.
An emotional dam broke and the tears began to rage down his face. Moving on to the next case he saw what he wanted. Taking his shirt off and wrapping it around his fist he bashed the glass in and took the item out. He inspected it to see if it was functional. It was a much modern version of what there had been available in his own time, and was made from an alloy that appeared unaffected by accretion. But everything appeared to be in place that would make it work.
Somewhere an alarm was going off and he heard Melissa and Nicolai shouting. He ran with the artifact to the end of the hall and stepped into the open elevator again.
"Take me to the top…all the way."
The ride was much longer than he expected. When the doors opened he thought he must have come to the top of the world. Pellucid, white clouds billowed lazily by, and through them he could see all of the megalopolis, the towers stretching on as far as the horizon reached. He stepped onto the rooftop and sat down. His tears had stopped flowing, and now he felt a strange peace settle over him. He was almost finished, and this bizarre dream would finally end. After placing the gun barrel into his mouth he pulled the trigger.
There was thunder and the red flower of death began to blossom in his brain. And for a brief moment he lost consciousness. Then he was back. Fire and pain like nothing he could’ve ever imagined coursed through every nerve down to the ends of his toes. Something had gone wrong. The caliber gun he had chosen was large enough to blow the top of his head off, but he was still sitting there, he was still alive.
He reached his hand up and felt the sticky, shredded mess that was his head. Fireworks exploded when his fingertips touched the vibrant nerve endings. Then his head began to reconstruct. The crimson that had splattered all around began to flow upwards. The bits of gray matter and white skull splinters moved upwards. The blood-matted hair and skin moved upwards. When his eyes reconstructed he looked at his hand and saw that the gun barrel was still smoking. He was too shocked to scream.
The elevator opened behind him and Melissa and Nicolai stepped out. Nicolai took the gun from him, and Melissa sat by his side. She looked at him knowingly and took his hand in hers. Matthew wanted to cry, but it seemed there were no tears left to let out. There was only emptiness and a longing for that which he couldn’t have. He sat in silence and looked out over the cityscape as the darkness of night fell and the neon lights of the city began their pulsating orchestra.
"I attend Oklahoma State University, where I am a Creative Writing major, and I spend most of my free time hanging out at the Gypsy Coffee house in downtown Tulsa, where I read poetry on Tuesday nights. I am one of the newest members of the paranormal investigation team of Tulsa, whose mission is to research and document through scientific method, various paranormal activity in Tulsa and the surrounding area."
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