Jackson Lynch bolted upright, his ears filling instantly with a wretched animalistic wheezing noise that emanated from his own body as he gasped furiously for air. As he panted, struggling to rid himself of suffocating feeling he'd awoken to, he looked around, glancing left, right, up and down in an effort to ascertain exactly where he was, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't focus his vision, seeing only an endless sea of shapeless whites and greys.
He moaned as a tingling sensation flooded his body, rubbing his hands, his arms, his legs, his torso, massaging his flesh in an effort to stop the feeling that thousands of pins were pricking him from beneath his skin. Though he felt hot, almost feverish, his flesh was cold to the touch, moist, coated in a thick, sticky gelatinous substance. He gagged at the feel of it, bile rising in his throat as he brushed the mucal fluid from his skin, jolting his hands to cast it from his body, spraying it onto the floor below.
His heart pounding in his chest, his mind disoriented, he swung his legs off the metal table on which he'd woken, dropping them over the side, lowering himself until he felt the cold, tiled floor beneath his feet. Pushing himself off the table he tumbled forwards, his legs failing him, grunting as his body slumped onto the floor.
He lay there for a moment, desperately trying to work out where he was, to remember what had happened to him, but those memories he could access offered him little clue. He knew his name, his age, his profession, the names of his parents, his wife, his children, where he was born. He could remember being at work that day, stuck in endless meetings, tedious discussions about financial planning, marketing, a potential merger with a rival company. He could remember feeling exhausted as his working day came to an end, wanting nothing more than to go home, pour himself a large drink and crawl into bed.
But he hadn't gone home. He'd had an appointment. There was somewhere he had to go, a place he needed to be. He could remember contemplating putting it off, calling and postponing, but he recalled deciding against it, opting to get it out of the way. He could remember all of that, but where he'd been going was a mystery. He felt his head begin to throb as he probed his mind, searching for answers, a clue as to where he'd been headed, what he'd been doing, what had happened to him once he got there.
As the tingling sensation in his body began to subside, he decided again to try and stand. Reaching up he felt for the metal table, grasping the side of it, pulling himself upwards. It was a struggle. His body felt weak, as though he'd been drugged, but after a couple of attempts he managed it, pressing his hands against the frigid steel surface to support his weight, holding himself upright.
He closed his eyes, taking a long deep breath, fighting the nausea that was building within him, the dizziness that threatened to send him crashing back to the floor. It was only his own stubbornness, his rigid determination that kept him on his feet. He felt weak, his body trembling, his arms and legs pleading with him to sit, or better still to lie, but he wouldn't. He refused to give in, refused to surrender to whatever vile drug had been pumped into his system to make him so...fragile.
He cringed at the word. Anyone who'd ever met him knew that he was not a weak man. He had built his company from the ground up, investing the meagre inheritance left to him by his father into the business, increasing the sum tenfold within the space of a year. He was known for his no-nonsense attitude, had a reputation for being firm but fair, was respected by his peers and employees alike, feared by his rivals.
Jackson opened his eyes, sighing with relief as the world around him slowly drifted into focus, though what he saw gave him little clue as to where he was. The walls of the room were white, glossy, sterile, the floor and ceiling covered by plain white tiles, broken only by a fluorescent strip light above him. The table upon which he was leaning was silver in colour, a single large pedestal raising it four feet from the ground. Beyond that the room was empty.
Glancing around he spotted a door set into the wall behind him, but before he could even move towards it he paused, a frown creasing his brow. He stared down at his arms, his legs, his breath catching in his throat as he gazed at them. They were different. It was the hair. He was used to the thick layer of black hair that coated his limbs, his chest too, but his skin was hairless, bald. As he reached to his scalp he glanced down at his genitals, finding both smooth, entirely devoid of hair.
But there was something else. His skin. Somehow it seemed younger, firmer. His fifty-three year old hands had been wrinkled, blue veins running across their surface, but now they were soft, uncreased, as though someone had taken an iron to his flesh. His torso was different too. His work afforded him little time to exercise, and as such he had grown used to his full belly, his sagging breasts, but now his stomach was tight, his pectoral muscles prominent.
Reaching up he ran his hands over his face, his eyes widening as he found not the face of a man in his late-middle age, but that of a youth. His skin was tender, flawless, his double chin gone, even the wart on the side of his nose, a blemish he had thrice tried to remove, was absent.
Swallowing hard, Jackson twisted his arm around, staring hard at his elbow. As a child he'd fallen while climbing a tree with his brother, breaking his arm, leaving him with a small white scar, but now it was missing, taken from him along with his hair, his strength, his most recent memories. As he stood there he tried to work out whether he should be angry or happy, angry that someone had taken him, done something to him, changed him, happy that his youth and vitality had been restored.
Opting for a generous mixture of the two emotions, Jackson turned, walking as fast as his weakened legs could carry him, moving clumsily towards the door. Reaching it he pushed, pulled, struggled to open it, but the door wouldn't budge. Feeling the rage building within him, Jackson pounded his fists against the door, hammering against its harsh metal surface. He opened his mouth, intending to shout, to demand that someone come, tell him what was going on, but all he could muster was a feeble yelp, a moan, his tongue incapable of forming words.
Panic gripping him, Jackson threw himself against the door, pounding it with his shoulder, using all of the little strength he had to try and shift it, but to no avail. He turned, frantically searching the room for anything he could use to pry the door open with, anything that would aid him in his quest for freedom, anything...
“Please calm down, Mr Lynch.” The room was filled by the sound of her tinny voice, her words spoken softly, in a manner Jackson presumed was intended to be soothing, but her words only served to agitate him further.
“Wha...ya...don...tah...muh?” he shouted, doing his best to form words, hoping she could understand him.
“I understand this is confusing,” the voice stated, “but please calm down and I will try to explain what has happened to you.”
“Wheh...am...ah?” Jackson demanded, stepping away from the door, his eyes scouring the ceiling in search of the source of the voice.
“Mr Lynch,” the voice said, her words even softer than before, “you are in the two-point-zero facility in New York City. Do you remember what we do here?”
Jackson frowned. He'd heard that name before, could recall the company logo, a simply rhombus-shaped icon in pale green, underlined in a deep blue, the words written as numbers - “2.0” - in white lettering within the green section, but he couldn't remember anything about them.
“Mr Lynch,” the voice stated, “you came to us ten years ago, when we first opened, to employ our services. The two-point-zero facility offers those with the money to pay for it a unique service – the chance to live on after death.”
“Desh!” Jackson gasped.
“That's right, Mr Lynch,” the woman said, “you died. You won't recall the circumstances of your death as it happened twenty-two days after the last time you came to us. You suffered a heart attack in your office, Mr Lynch. You were taken to hospital, but I'm afraid you didn't survive.”
“I don ungerskang?” Jackson frowned, moving slowly back towards the table.
“Please, Mr Lynch, try not to talk,” the woman said. “The body you are in is new. It is a clone of your former body, grown to approximately eighteen years of age then frozen until such time as you would need it. Every month you came to us for a process we call 'mind-mapping'. Your brain was scanned, your memories, your knowledge, everything that makes you who you are stored in our computers to be downloaded into your clone in the event of your death.
“You have all of your memories up to the point of your last visit to us, though it may take a few days for everything to come back to you. However, your body is entirely new. It has never walked before. Never spoken. Never seen. Never heard. Some of the basic functions you are used to will take time to relearn, but you are alive.”
“Your wife and children are waiting for you outside, Mr Lynch,” the woman told him. “An attendant will be with you shortly with some clothes. He will help you to dress. I have spoken to your wife. I know you are a proud man, used to doing things for yourself, but please allow him to help you. It will take several weeks for you to develop the fine motor control required to dress yourself. I understand it's an inconvenience, but as we say here at two-point-zero, it's far less inconvenient than death.”
Jackson nodded, pulling himself back onto the table, sitting on its cold surface as he waited for the attendant to arrive. It was slowly coming back to him, the visits to the facility, the promises they'd made, the discomfort he'd felt every time they'd scanned his mind, the roaring headaches he'd been left with for hours afterwards. He'd never truly believed it would work. He'd only agreed to pay them the extortionate amount of money they'd asked for because they'd offered him a guarantee, a promise that if they failed to bring him back they would not only refund the money he'd paid them to his estate, but would also pay his family one hundred million dollars in compensation.
But it had worked.
He smiled, glancing down at his body, his new, youthful body. He was alive. Again. Not only returned from the dead, but given the chance to live his life all over again, to be with his wife, his children, to continue running his company.
By the time the attendant arrived, Jackson was almost ecstatic. He didn't even object as the young man dressed him. He felt none of the humiliation he'd expected to feel being aided with such a basic task. In fact, he almost enjoyed the experience, the sensations, the feel of the man's touch, the fabric against his skin, the warmth as his flesh was covered.
Once dressed, he allowed the attendant to help him from the room, to guide him into a waiting wheelchair, laughter bubbling within him as he was wheeled down a long corridor. He smiled brightly at everyone he saw; the pretty bespectacled woman with curly blonde hair clad in a long white coat, the ageing bearded man in a black suit, a middle-aged couple stood chatting in the corridor. All looked at him strangely, curious as to why the stranger in the wheelchair was in such a good mood, but Jackson didn't care.
He was alive.
He was young again.
As the attendant wheeled him through a set of large double doors, Jackson was so happy he almost felt like singing, but his buoyant mood faded the moment he saw them. They were sat together in some comfortable chairs set back against the far wall. His wife, her hair greying, her face older than he remembered, withered, tired, almost repugnant to his eyes. His son, now seven years his senior, his chiselled jaw bobbing up and down as he spoke to his sister, a smile on her face as she brushed her long blonde hair over her shoulder.
They looked up as he was wheeled towards them, their faces brightening at the sight of him, smiles arching their lips, their eyes warm, welcoming, but Jackson felt nothing. He knew who they were, knew what they meant to him, knew what an important role they'd each played in his life, but he felt nothing for them. For any of them.
He could recall the day he met his wife, remember how he'd felt breathless the moment he laid eyes on her, how his tongue had become tied when they spoke. He could remember the way she'd looked on her wedding day, how he'd felt tears burning in his eyes as he watched her walking up the aisle towards him, how his heart had skipped a beat when she'd lifted back her veil and smiled at him.
When he closed his eyes he could vividly recall the day both of his children were born, how he'd felt when he held them in his arms, the pride, the love, the almost suffocating devotion he'd felt from the moment they drew their first breath. He could remember teaching his son to ride his bike, the Christmases they'd spent together, the birthdays, the way he'd wept after his daughter had left for her high school prom, the fierce admiration he'd felt for both his children the day they graduated from college.
With each memory he could recall exactly how he felt, but the memories themselves evoked no emotion within him. As his family rose to their feet, Jackson lifted his head, glancing at the attendant, intending to ask that he be taken back to his room, but before he could utter a single word they were on him. His wife's arms enveloped him, pulling him into a tight embrace he was powerless to resist. He felt his son take his hand, squeezing it firmly as he shook it, his daughter stroking the back of his head.
Jackson pulled away, shrinking from their touches, recoiling from them, watching as their happy smiles turned to frowns. He couldn't blame them. He didn't understand it himself. He couldn't understand why he could remember the love he felt for each of them, but not feel it in his heart, how he could recall so many emotions, but experience none of them. It was as though they were strangers to him, strangers with familiar faces, strangers with whom he shared a rich history, but strangers all the same.
“You're probably tired,” his wife said, forcing a smile as she backed away, wrapping her arms around their children's shoulders.
Jackson nodded, but didn't try to speak. It wasn't that he lacked confidence in his ability to form the words, but that he had no words to speak, nothing to say to the people in front of him, people he knew as well as he knew himself.
“I'll take him back to his room,” the attendant said to them, his words evoking a grateful nod from Jackson.
“We'll see you soon!” he heard his daughter call to him as he was wheeled away, her words evoking feelings of dread within Jackson.
He didn't want to see them again. He couldn't. How could he endure those feelings again, the contradictory sensations of familiarity and estrangement, knowledge of emotions he knew he should have felt alongside the emptiness that consumed him when he looked at them. He was alive, sure, but it was as though something was missing, a part of him lost, buried along with his aged corpse.
“You rich folk,” he heard the attendant mumble.
Looking up he frowned at the man, watching as he slowly shook his head. The man caught his eye, sighing heavily.
“I've seen this, you know,” he told Jackson. “I've seen it happen every damn time we bring one of you back. You think you can cheat death and go on with your lives as though nothing happened. It don't work like that.”
Jackson frowned up at him.
“Oh, these geniuses here can give you a shiny new body,” the attendant continued, “and all your memories, all your experiences, all of your knowledge, and they think that's all you are. A body and a mind. But there's one thing science will never be able to replicate.”
Jackson opened his mouth, intending to ask what it was, what part of him was missing, why he felt so empty inside, but he didn't need to speak the words. The attendant smiled at him, leaning close, his mouth just inches from Jackson's ear as he whispered to him, delivering the answer Jackson sought.
“Your soul,” he told him.
My only payment for this story is feedback
Show your appreciation and pay me well
Stories © 2009 The Original Authors
Site layout and design © 2009 Rob Hawes