Author : Andrew Bale

I see the truck drift across the median. In my mind, seconds become hours, but to my body, they flash by like lightning – I am paralyzed, watching my own doom in slow motion, unable to stop it. The impact is a blessing, a return to real time where the agony of my death passes like the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.

Somehow, I dream. I dream of something like a man, but not quite – he is too tall, too thin, and far, far too old. I see his life laid out before me, see his wives, his children, his vocation. It passes too fast for details, but I see joy turn into sorrow, see abject grief turn into steely resolve. Suddenly, his face is replaced by another, a real man, who ages from baby to senility in an instant. The unman appears again for the briefest moment, like a single frame inserted in a movie reel, before another baby takes his place. The cycle continues, a parade of lives interspersed with that one, sad, unchanging countenance.

And then I wake. Gasping, panicked, it takes my mind a little while to adjust, to relearn this body, to reconcile the old with the older. I am in something more than a bed, and sitting near my feet is another unman. He smiles at me, and I feel my heart slow, my mind calm.

“Welcome back. How do you feel?”

It isn’t English, it is a language I learned long before the idea of English existed. I cannot respond at first – awareness brings new sorrow, new joy. When I can, I tell him. Honesty is of the utmost importance.

“Sad, that they grieve. Happy, that someday they will wake.”

I glance around the room, picturing the profusion of waking rooms surrounding me, and behind, the great mass where the bodies of the dreamers lie dormant.

“Let me see it.”

He smiles again. Everyone asks. He waves a hand, and the wall before me clears.

I cannot help but cry at the beauty of Earth laid out before me, just six inches of transparent wall and half a million miles of empty space away. So small, so perfect. I glance up, wondering where Jack’s body lays sleeping, waiting for his return. I will probably never see him again – he was healthy, he will not wake until I am again gone.

“Are we close?” I ask the unman.

“Yes, and no.” He gestures toward the window. “The model is near the point where we broke. Nothing past that has meaning, so we will end in a few generations regardless. But the answer still eludes us.”

He leans close, full of quiet, desperate hope. “Do you have the answer?”

I think back on my life, on everything I learned, everyone I knew. It seemed then so full of worry, now it seems so full of hope. I shake my head.

“No. I will return and try again.”

He nods sadly as I rise, walk to the window on the world. I look at my reflection. So tall, so thin, so old, I barely recognize it.

“We will start the formal debrief soon. I will find you a new host. Any requests?”

I glance at my reflection again.

“Yes. I would like to be a woman again. I need that perspective some more, I think.”

“Just that? There are two and a half million returns a week now, requesting female is trivial.”

“It is enough. “

I glance at the window, at the Great Experiment. We lost something. We must get it back.


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