Her hair is wet and stringy with amniogel and the tips of her fingers are wrinkled. She is thrashing around as much as the restraints will let her, choking and vomiting the pink nutrient liquid. This one is well-preserved. The centuries have left her untouched.
Her small breasts are quivering with each gasp and tears are leaving clear trails across her goo-covered cheeks. The choking turns to sobbing and screaming, but the rebirth chamber is soundproofed for privacy. Down the hallway, dozens of people are waking just like her, thrown violently against the wall of the present. I chose this one, Jennifer six three nine, because she was the most beautiful. They pay well for the pretty ones.
Her neurons are finding their ancient paths and she is remembering who she is. I can tell by the shrieks, which are beginning to separate into syllables. I readjust the microphone to better catch the terror in her voice. They pay well for the terror.
During my training as a technician, I was required to undergo rebirth. I remember the feel of the chamber’s metal grate against my naked back, and the slow stickiness of the gel rising to meet me. My wrists and ankles were bound with foam restraints to keep me from hurting myself during the shock, but I didn’t think I’d fight it. I was wrong. I closed my mouth against the liquid but it leaked through my nose and trickled down the back of my throat. I couldn’t swallow it all. When I coughed it up my lungs replenished themselves with a mixture of air and soupy pink, and though my brain understood it my body knew, beyond logic, that I was drowning. My back arched and my arms fought against the unyielding restraints. I choked with such force that I could feel the muscles in my chest strain under the tension until something clicked in my mind. Something went quiet. The last air bubbles drifted lazily through the goo and I understood that I was powerless, that no amount of fighting could save me. I inhaled as deeply as I could. My lungs filled with endless warmth.
For an unknown amount of time I drifted through a space between sleep and awareness. The low current of energy through the chamber stimulates REM sleep, but I wouldn’t remain there long enough to go under. The rebirth started with an electric hum and the feeling of suction through the grate at my back. It was worse than drowning. It was drowning in reverse.
When my lungs had rid themselves of the last of the amniogel, the restraints released with a metallic click and I sat up, my arms wrapped around the burning muscles in my stomach. Everything was so cold. I was impossibly naked and impossibly cold.
“It’s not so bad, is it?” my technician asked. It took him hours to offer me a robe, and I buried my face in the towel as I struggled to fight off the tears. “Don’t forget what it feels like,” he continued. “They’re not coming up from six minutes ago. They’re coming up from centuries.”
When I opened my eyes, I saw him leaning against the control panel, his arms folded across his broad chest. There was a bulge in the crotch of his jumpsuit. I pulled the robe tighter around my shoulders and focused on the feeling of air in my lungs.
“Get dressed,” he said, and left for the bathroom.
I didn’t forget. You don’t forget something like that.
Her back is against the grate of the chamber and Jennifer six three nine is almost done fighting. Her breathing is soft but ragged. I throw the switch for the clinical lamp over the chamber and she recoils, eyes clenching shut and arms straining against the restraints as she tries to protect her face from the light. I put away my equipment and the foam bars over her wrists and ankles retract with a click.
She draws her hands across her eyes to wipe away the tears and goo. When she opens them, they’re blue. I wish I had kept the camera going. No one has blue eyes anymore.
After a long pause, I hand her a terrycloth robe. “Welcome to the twenty fourth century, Jennifer,” I say with practiced warmth. She smiles weakly and pulls the white fabric tightly around her naked form.