A small part of me hoped I would die during the preservation process.
I could go on about the miraculous introduction of cryostasis technology in my time, or my many childhood escapades parading around the neighborhood wrapped in various materials, but I didn’t take the idea of prolonging life seriously until much later. The “preservation process,” as they called it, allowed individuals to sleep for decades in a supposedly seamless mechanism. Fresh out of university, and with a sizable inheritance awaiting me, I decided to begin the short process of clipping all relationships strong enough to dissuade me from my opportunity. I didn’t want it to be that way, but I made up my mind that I wasn’t meant to live in that time. My lack of connections attested to such. Start again, from the beginning. I was convinced there was no other way to live, if one must.
Due to my volunteer status and background as a biologist, the company that sponsored my preservation offered me a job once I came out of cryostasis. I suppose they expected they’d be around for longer than half a century. Now, I don’t doubt they wanted me as anything other than an experiment, but I didn’t care. I was more afraid of waking up with nothing than never waking at all.
I was meant to sleep for fifty years, but when I finally awoke and noticed that my clock had blown past the date by five hundred, my mind blanked. I struggled to comprehend why no one came to wake me up when they were supposed to. Before I could conceive of an answer, I realized the preservation room had been vandalized. I had the room filled with what belongings I figured would still have value half a century later, locked within my uncanny tomb. Memorabilia, test results, and the supposed financial security of gold. Much of it had gone missing.
I ignored the sudden vulnerability that came with knowing others were in this supposedly impenetrable room to notice that my physique had deteriorated. The protective film meant to help preserve my body had fused to my skin at certain sections, and I couldn’t find a way to remove it now that my skin and muscles had also been damaged by the faulty process. Despite these monstrous setbacks, I was still clinging to what hope I had to live a new life in a new century. I wandered through the dim, empty halls, for any trace of human existence. It didn’t take me long before finding one.
A human being, for sure, hunched over the ornate walls of the lab, furiously rummaging through one of the photo albums I left in the preservation room. He was draped with meager strips of cloth and sported a ravenous, savage expression as he grunted unintelligibly. Unthinking, I called out and approached him, wary of how much damage he’d inflicted on the item. I stepped closer and tried to communicate with my expressions, to see any bit of response from the man, but he suddenly struck me and immediately scurried away. I followed him outside and saw that the entire landscape had, unsurprisingly, changed beyond recognition. The arid, urban sprawl had been replaced with the lush greenery of a jungle. The sudden humidity buffeted my exposed skin and my eyes troubled to adjust. That’s the last I saw of the man or anyone else from that time, so there’s no use trying to remember more.
Awestruck, I returned to the stasis pod without inquiring further. I knew the life I’d dreamed of would no longer exist, but I wasn’t ready to abandon hope. If civilization rose once, it could do so again. I numbed the despair seeping into my mind for long enough to re-enter the pod and push myself far into the future. Start again, one more time, from the beginning, where I would be hailed as a miracle of science. Assuming I survived, of course, but there was nothing else to live for.
I awoke with no further damage to my person, though I hadn’t improved either. Foreshadowing another encounter, I brought with me a sheet of paper in case anyone could recognize my language through writing, if not speech. I entered the labyrinth once again and made my way outside to see what changes had transpired. As I reached the hallway to the exit, I came across another human, this one dressed in some sort of thermal with a light source clipped to his hat. I was amazed by how far technology had come since the last time I was awake and approached him. I gestured for him to stay calm and began writing my name on the paper, but he shrieked as his light fell upon me. With shaky hands, he aimed a sidearm at me. I considered stepping closer, but after a moment he turned and fled as quickly as he could. As he barreled out of the corridor, he dropped a load of gold that he’d apparently stolen from the preservation room. I followed him to the exit, by which time he was long gone, and saw that the landscape had changed once again into an enormous city engulfed in a shower of lights. A sprawling, hostile, foreign city. I picked up a nugget of gold dropped by the entrance and chucked it in the direction of the lights with whatever strength I still carried.
The disillusioning encounter with the explorer coupled with the sheer vigor of the city convinced me I had no place in this time. I nestled myself back in the safety of the pod and punched a new date into the clock. Start again, one more time, from the beginning.
This time I wandered around the labyrinth before heading outside. My muscles had finally begun to get stronger, though I had no idea what I looked like by this point. I only hoped that I could live some semblance of a normal life, even as a relic of the past. I came back to the preservation room to plan my quest outside when I noticed that a group of explorers had beaten me there.
My senses dulled as they whispered excitedly at each other, half panicked, half in awe. I took little note of their technology or their disposition toward me. I only saw that they were trying to disassemble the pod. Several of them drew blades and threatened me in a language I didn’t understand. I didn’t care why they were so desperate to understand the only refuge I still had. If they didn’t want me living at the same time as them, all they’d have to do is leave. And wait.
I outstretched my arms and groaned inhumanly as I slowly encroached on their formation. Their mob confidence disintegrated as I neared and they fumbled out of the room, leaving behind much of their own gear. Finally, my room didn’t seem so empty anymore. I sat among the abandoned items for a moment before redirecting my thoughts to the outside. Surprisingly, I didn’t even feel like checking. Instead, I locked the preservation room as best I could, barricading the door and implementing every safety measure that still functioned.
I still remember everything so vividly, even from my first life. I’ll be going back to sleep again, but this time I won’t set a date. I’m finding it unusually easy not to think about everything that’s happened, and of what never will. And now the preservation is sealed. Not even my words will follow me.
So for now, let’s start at the beginning.
One more time.
Christian Barragan is a recent graduate from California State University Northridge. Raised in Riverside, CA, he aims to become a novelist in the future. He currently reads submissions for Open Ceilings Magazine at UC Davis. His work has appeared in Pif Magazine, Moria Magazine, and Coffin Bell, among others.