Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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Back In The Saddle Again

by Dan L. Hollifield

A Tom Darby Story

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you..." Tom Darby.
Pain, thought the old man. Darby, you really screwed up this time. Must be in the local hospital. Got burned pretty bad. Lungs feel like they're still on fire. I saved the little girl, though! I SAVED THE LITTLE GIRL!

Through dried, tear-less eyes, the old man stared at the ceiling of the hospital room.

Nothing hurts worse than a burn, he thought. He moaned slightly, unable to draw in enough breath for a louder sound. Whatever painkillers they've got me on, ain't working any too well. Had a good long run this time, though. Guess I'm gonna die. Oh well, won't be the first time. Wonder if the fire damaged that microchip in my head? Well, if it did, I won't wake up again. I had a good run. Made a difference. Married a couple of good women. Raised some kids, and grandkids. Getting dark. I can't see none too well. What did the Old Guy tell me? "This is the end, but the moment has been prepared for..."

In agony, Tom Darby drew his last breath—for the second time...

Moments passed. Or were they centuries? A light irritated his eyes as he slowly awoke, against all odds. The smell of a hospital room permeated his nose as he drew his first waking breath—for the third time...

Slowly, carefully, he tried a small movement with his new body. There was no pain. His eyes flickered open. Rapidly glancing around at the room, he saw medical equipment that Earth had never seen, a small robot, the size and shape of a basketball painted white hovered in the air next to his bed. It hummed slightly as it floated there.

"You gave us a bit of a fright, young man. For a few moments, I wasn't sure there was a good enough copy of you to be able to bring back."

Tom looked to the right of his bed. A gray-haired man dressed in an odd gray suit stood there. Beside him stood a small woman with long dark hair.

"Don't do that again," she said gently.

"It worked," Tom asked. "I'm alive?"

"Obviously," said the man in gray. "But you certainly gave the system a pretty puzzle. The implant made an up to date recording of you when the adrenaline kicked into your bloodstream as you ran to the door of that burning house. But you were rather an elderly man, for your species, by that point in your life. We had to splice your brain scan into a body scan of your younger self from the last time you were in the Museum. You're now in your thirty year-old body once again, yet you should have every memory of your mature self at seventy seven. The implant you had was slightly damaged—somehow. It seems that you've led a rather interesting life, young man. I've never seen anything that could damage one of my resurrection transponder chips. So, we have no way of knowing if there was something missing from your memory recordings. That's never happened before. Not in all the centuries since I created the resurrection process. What I'm saying is that we had to rewrite you slightly."

"So I might not be all here?" Tom asked. "Mentally, I mean."

"Everything checks out, medically speaking. Your new body is a perfect copy of your original one. But if the scan of your memory was actually damaged, you may experience a few gaps in your recollections. I have no reason to believe this is the case. Merely a possibility. However, if you have any difficulty with your memories at all, you should tell us immediately."

"But you are back in the Museum now, Tom. Welcome home," said Sara K, the dark-haired woman.

"Welcome back, Tom. We'll try and catch you up on what you've missed while you were back on Earth," said the Collector—the man in gray. "Whenever you're ready to leave the sickbay, your friends here are waiting to see you again."

"No time like the present," Tom said as he sat up and threw his legs over the side of the bed.

"We have so much to show you," said Sarah. She smiled, and offered her hand as Tom got off the bed and took his first steps of his third life.

The Collector put his arm around his Beloved's waist. "You will, however, be required to wear trousers." He smiled as if he'd just repeated one of his favorite jokes for the millionth time.

"I assume that one of the machines can whip me up some clothes," Tom said. "This hospital gown is just a tad drafty—" And he laughed.

To Be Continued…

2019 Dan L Hollifield

Bio: Dan L. Hollifield has been the Senior Editor and Publisher of Aphelion Webzine since its inception in 1997. His short story collection "Tales From The Mare Inebrium" was nominated for the J.W. Campbell Award upon its release in 2014. His early online work has appeared in several, now defunct, websites such as Dragon's Lair, Steel Caves, Titanzine, and The Writer's Workshop. One of his steampunk short stories, "Her Magesty's Gift" appears in the POD collection "Flash Of Aphelion," and "The Dark Side of Diablo Canyon" appears in Horrified Press' collection "Steam-Powered Dream Engines." He regularly attends the Chattanooga TN convention LibertyCon and recently became the Literary Track Director for the Atlanta GA convention AnachroCon. He is currently 62 years old, married to his beloved Lindsey Burt-Hollifield, and lives in the howling wastelands of Northeast Georgia, USA, outside of Athens GA. They have seven children between their serial marriages and more grandchildren and great-grandchildren than modern mathematics is able to enumerate. They also are owned by a multitude of cats, and one very spoiled dog...

E-mail: Dan L. Hollifield

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