Better than Starbucks Fiction
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“Of course, that’s just the brand name; it’s not really permanent,” the salesman said to me. “But at the durations we’re talking, if you don’t feel sufficiently rested, we do not consider that a reflection on our parts.”
We both laughed.
"Actually, I suppose you could sleep forever if you wanted," he added. "Just keep adding time. The best part is, due to our cellular-suspension process, you will not have aged a day no matter how long you choose to sleep.”
“This is like The Time Machine,” I said.
“Exactly, except you don’t have to stay awake at the switch.”
“I get to sleep at the wheel!”
“Well, that sounds great. As you know, I’m tired of this version of Earth.”
“And who can blame you? It stinks.” He smiled. “Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot to love. I’m staying for my job, my family. But when I retire, I think I’ll retire a few thousand years from now. How bad could it be, right?” He laughed again.
“All right,” he continued. “We have all your papers: psychological profile, payment received. Is there anything else you’d like to do or know before we turn you off?”
I walked to the window and looked out onto the New York sunset.
“No.” I reconsidered my chosen “nap” time of a thousand years. Should I choose merely five hundred? What if things don’t iron themselves out by then? Better to give Humanity more time, I still felt.
“What happens if I don’t like it?”
“You can always sleep longer, add more time. We call it ‘Snooze Mode’. You’ll find the controls inside the Sleeping Pod very self-explanatory. Say a thousand years don’t work out, just add another hundred or thousand years with the punch of a button.”
A part of me felt nervous at the prospect of getting farther and farther away from the familiar.
“And we can’t come back?”
“No, I’m afraid we haven’t mastered ‘reverse’ yet. Different technology entirely. We can preserve you, but we cannot make Time go backward.”
“I think I’ll try five hundred. As you said, I can always add more, but I can’t go back.”
“A wise choice.”
He led me to the Sleeping Pod. I looked at it trepidatiously, then back at him. He smiled patiently.
“I always like to say,” he said, “that when you wake up, I’ll be dead.”
“My condolences,” I said.
I stepped gingerly into the Pod and lay down. I wore loose clothes. The man attached electronic monitors to my head and torso. “In the event of anything wrong, the machine will automatically wake you so you can seek proper medical attention. If there is none available, you can just go back to sleep.”
“Won’t it just keep waking me?”
“Just press the ‘Override’ button, there.” He indicated it. “Thanks to Perma-Rest, you can always sleep.” I recognized his statement from the company’s commercials.
As the lid came down over me, I reflected that what I was experiencing used to be the stuff of stories, even nightmare scenarios. But I had researched this company for a long time before signing up for its service. Of course, I knew it could all be a scam and I could wake up dead, but I had at least fifty-one percent faith in Humanity; rather, at least fifty-one percent disgust with Humanity and a desire to see if it improved over time. Besides, if the machine killed me, at least I wouldn’t know.
The date, in red on the interior of the Pod, was November 22, 2254.
I woke. I felt groggy and couldn’t see. The date . . . was blurry. It came into focus: November 22, 2754! I opened the lid of the Pod. The air was close. I cautiously emerged. There was no light. I heard, or felt, a mechanical humming far away. I found my way through the darkness, my hands out, so I would not hit anything suddenly.
I did the same with my feet, slowly sliding them forward so as not to fall into any bottomless pits. Soon I found another Pod, then another. Then I found a wall. Moving along it, I found a door. There was no knob or handle by which to open it. I pounded on it as hard as I could, shouted for rescue.
I sank down to the floor, disoriented from the lack of light. I could barely tell which way was up.
A knock came on the door, waking me. I banged on the door. The door opened slowly.
“Oh, my goodness!” came the voice from the other side, the voice of a woman, before I could see her. “I can hardly believe it! We thought we would never see one of you!” She opened the door enough to allow me out and stood admiring me. I saw that she was old but thin and healthy.
“Where am I?”
“You are in New New York, my dear.”
“New New York?”
“Yes. I know you’ve been asleep for—how long?”
“Five hundred years.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh, then you don’t know about the—!”
“No, I don’t.” I was becoming annoyed with this woman. “And I need two things: I need to eat, and I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Of course, of course! Right this way.”
She led me through halls that looked nothing like those in the Perma-Rest building. “Where are we?” I asked.
“Oh, Perma-Rest went out of business centuries ago, after it was discovered that most of their Pods failed.”
“Yes. The ones in that room are the last ones remaining—the only ones that didn’t malfunction.”
“What happened to the people in the Pods that failed?”
“They died. Of course, they didn’t know, but the PR was terrible, once the word got out.”
I felt more lucky than ever, though I also felt a desire to choke that salesman. What was his name again? I couldn’t remember.
“What is the situation here these days?”
“Well, there’s a lot to tell, and I’m not sure I should just say things off the cuff in the hallway. Right this way.”
The woman led me to a restroom with a toilet I did not understand. First I relieved myself, thinking I would find the controls afterward. Then the waste was fried, somehow, and disappeared.
“What was that?” I asked in the hallway again.
“What? Oh, the toilet! Of course. We break the waste down into molecules and reshape it into . . . whatever we wish, really.”
“You get used to it.”
She chuckled and brought me to a room filled with comfortable, cushioned seats. “Sit right here, dear. I’ll get our director. I know he’d want to be notified of your awakening. And I’ll bring some food. Just stay here.”
I stayed there. I wasn’t even ready to walk about. I rubbed my forehead. I could hardly believe it. My body shook a bit, but I assumed that to be a side effect of the sleep. I rubbed my face. I realized that everyone I had ever known was dead. I felt like Buck Rogers, except that I signed up for this five-hundred year jaunt. His was accidental—and fictional.
Soon the woman and another man came into the room.
I had just wanted to get away from things, but everything since I woke had made me think I would not be resting any time soon. Maybe I should have just bought a cabin in the mountains.
“A real, live five-hundred-year-old woman!” the man said, approaching me. “I’m Ron Devereaux, the director of this facility, but most people call me ‘the Mayor’.”
“Leah Adair,” I said.
“Wow.” He put his fists on his hips. “What can we do for you? What can you tell us? You are very lucky—most Sleeping Pods didn’t hold up.”
“That is what this lady said.”
“Oh, Ofek? Yes, that’s true. You are the second one ever to wake.”
“Yes, the first woke about eighty years ago. He decided to go back to sleep. At last report, his Pod was still functioning—in the room where you were.”
“When did he go to sleep?”
“Oh, only about twenty years after you, I think.” Mr. Devereaux looked at Ofek for confirmation. She nodded. “What else?” he asked.
“Well, what’s the situation on Earth these days?”
Mr. Devereaux looked at Ofek again. “I think I’d better just show you,” he said. “Come with us.”
Mr. Devereaux led the way through the door, through some corridors, into a large, windowed room. I was on the bridge of a space ship. I gasped.
“This is New New York,” Mr. Devereaux said. He led me to the windows. “If you look down there, you will see Earth.”
I stepped toward the window, afraid of what I might see.
We were in Space, orbiting what Mr. Devereaux had just called the Earth, but it was dark, purple and grey. “What happened to it?” I asked.
“Pollution. We all had to come up here.” He pointed straight ahead of us, to the right and left at our own orbiting level. “All the humans—well, except a few brave scientists and others—evacuated. This is New New York. We operate on solar power, easily obtained above the atmosphere.”
I felt ill.
“What is the prognosis for Earth?” I asked.
“Just about everything is dead. The breathable oxygen isn’t coming back. No trees or other plants to restore it. We make it up here, thanks to modern science. This is life now.”
“I’m going back to sleep.”
“At least try some of our food!”
I set the Pod for another five hundred years, deciding that since my Pod had lasted as long as it had, it could be counted on to last longer. Above all, I could not waste away above a wasted Earth. I went back to sleep, hoping for something better later.
I woke again. 3254. The lid opened into another room. I started to get up and banged my head on the lid—the gravity! I weighed less, much less! I spent several minutes trying to negotiate the room. I saw there were two other Pods and a door, but it took effort to make it to the door without continually hitting the ceiling or the walls, my movements had so much force. Then I knew how John Carter had felt.
While nursing my head, I wondered if the man who came after me was in one of the other two Pods, then realized both persons inside them could have gone to sleep after I did. Fortunately, when I did reach the door, touching it was enough to cause it to open. Holding the door frame, I looked out and saw another corridor, lit sparsely, going in one direction. Now I would have to learn how to walk.
I shuffled my feat and fell flat on my face, then bounced up and smashed my back into the ceiling. “Ahh!” I cried out then fell to the floor again, trying not to bounce again.
A short distance away, at an intersection of corridors, a person rounded a corner, saw me, and called out in surprise. She ran toward me.
“I’m sorry!” I said, lying on the floor. “If I move, I’ll fly around in this gravity!”
“Here, take my hand,” she said.
I took it.
“Where am I?” I asked. “Why am I bouncing?”
“You must be from . . . down there?” She indicated the Pod room with her eyes while holding my arm.
“Yes. And I know it’s 3254.”
“It would have been. Now it’s One Twenty-Four.”
“Yes, since the founding of Mars Final.”
“Oh. And here I thought myself clever.”
“I think living as long as you must have is clever.”
We stood there awkwardly.
“But you are bouncing, because your muscles are not yet used to Mars. Give it time.”
“Time? Yes, I’ll do that.” I put out my hand. “I’m Leah,” I said.
“That’s a pretty name.”
“So . . . can you show me where I’m supposed to be?”
“I can take you to our leadership. They will be pleased to meet you. But be careful, walk slowly, and hold my arm.” She led the way.
“I’ll try. How is Earth?”
Neila’s pace slowed involuntarily.
“Earth is . . . gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?”
“I mean it’s there but destroyed. We can never go back.”
“Five hundred years ago they were saying it might be habitable again someday.”
“So you took the orbiting ships to Mars?”
“Most of them. One went to the asteroid belt.”
“How many were there?”
“Twenty, each representing the twenty most populated cities on Earth.”
“But . . . that can’t have included all the people on Earth.”
“Most of the people on Earth died before the orbiting stations were completed, but yes, the competition for exit was fierce. The government eventually had to kill those who tried to force their ways on. The rest accepted their fates.”
“How were the survivors chosen?”
“Each country established its own criteria. But that was hundreds of years ago—I don’t know everything about it.”
I considered myself very fortunate, again, to be alive at all. “I wonder why the Pods were saved,” I said.
“You would not cause trouble, and you could provide a window to the primitive past.”
“The primitive past?”
“You caused the Earth’s destruction.”
“You were a part of it, surely.”
I said nothing. I knew she was right.
We arrived at the leadership’s council chamber.
“I have work to perform, but I will introduce you.”
We went through the open doorway to find a council of seven men and women seated at a long table. A small audience sat and listened to the proceedings. We sat and observed. Citizens came to address the council, to air grievances, to request assistance. The council struck me as fair. When an opening came, Neila stood and approached the place to speak. her voice was amplified for the entire chamber via means I could not determine.
“Greetings, all. One of the Three has awakened.”
The room burst into disturbed uproar and commotion. Neila turned and beckoned me to join her, so I did.
“Is this true?” one of the men at the long table said. “Are you one of the Three?”
“I awoke from my Pod just now,” I said. I am from New York City, Earth year 2254.”
“I do not know how I arrived on Mars, but I thank you for preserving my life at what I am sure must have been great cost to you.”
“We thank you for your kind words,” the man said. “I am Alan. We welcome you to our colony. We have been here one hundred and twenty-four Martian years, and things are good. I hope you will enjoy your new life, if you decide to stay with us.”
“It would seem rude to go back to sleep now.”
The audience chuckled.
“Neila can help you transition,” Alan said. “We will provide you with whatever you need to plan your new life.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well, I thought I had other work to do,” Neila cracked as we left the meeting.
Neila showed me the colony buildings. She got me a new jumpsuit, with magnetic boot soles, and food. She picked up a few other items I could not identify. At an airlock she began to open the door. “What are you doing?” I demanded, frightened.
“Oh, we have seeded the atmosphere with oxygen. It’s breathable now, if a little thin. We’re okay to walk to a different building.”
She opened the door to the Martian landscape. We stepped out. This time I allowed myself to jump. I flew into the air five stories, and went as far as a city block! “Woo hoo!” I cried.
“Be careful!” Neila cried out. “You’re not used to this!”
“And soon I won’t even be able to do it, so I’d better enjoy it now!” I called back.
After I experimented with a few different jumps, I made my way back to Neila at another building. “This is one of the apartment buildings. You will find all the floors magnetic to prevent you from floating away. One of the advantages of magnetic soles is they keep your muscles toned. You might not be able to jump so high, but you won’t atrophy, either.”
“What do you do here?” I asked.
“Nutritional science,” Neila said. “This is not just a colony of astronauts. We have millions of people living here on Mars. We will find a place for you.”
She brought me to a small room. “This is your room. You may come and go as you please. I really have work to do, but I will come by tomorrow to help you adjust. In the mean time, there is a cafeteria down the hall, and I can have some books sent to your computer. Here.” She handed me a tablet computer. “Alan made sure to have me give it to you.”
“He did? When?”
“Here.” Neila touched her ear. “We have communication implants, just a voluntary communication system we can switch on or off at will. I usually leave mine on.”
“Ah,” I said and nodded.
“Good night, Leah,” Neila said. “I think everyone is going to be excited about you.”
I thanked her. “Could you show me how to read about Earth history on this?” I asked, holding up the tablet.
“Certainly.” And she did.
I spent that night reading until I could stay awake no longer.
I decided to stay.
I liked the prospect of living on Mars. Who knows what would happen in another five hundred years? I could keep avoiding the march of time, or I could join it. I felt I had been out of it long enough.
That was three years ago. I am writing again because another Pod has opened, another sleeper has awakened. His name is Ethan. He comes from 2275—Ofek was right.
I am excited to meet him.
I am tired of resting.
Robert Peate is the author of The Recovery, a Jesus play that is not what you think; Sisyphus Shrugged, a sequel/rebuttal novel to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; the novelette The War (what if the war between the sexes were a real war?); and other works. If you liked "Perma-Rest", you might like Robert's latest collection of short stories, Mister Positive and Other Stories. His work may be found at robertpeate.com
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