Author : Ben Sixsmith
John Byrne woke up, a hundred and ten years after he had died. He had the vague impression that he had been sitting at his desk, but now he was suspended in the air. He tried to move his arms and legs but found they were immobile.
John found it hard enough to accept what he could see that there was no room in his brain for what he could have heard. Unable to move his head, he looked up at the ceiling, where lights blinked in colours even ecstacy had not exposed to him.
Two men appeared above him. They had smooth scalps, angular beards and pained expressions. One was tall and one was short but both were lean. Around their necks were stiff white collars and around their brows were strange devices that resembled scorpions.
“Yes – what – where…”
John was breathing hard and fast and rough. There was a hissing sound and a warm feeling spread up to his chest from his legs. John realised that the air bore the faint scent of vanilla. He began to feel embarrassed for being unwashed and unshaven in such clinical surroundings.
“It is 2026,” said the shorter man, “You have been resurrected by the Christie Group in accordance with LD4564. I must inform you that you have been injected with a mild shock suppressant.”
It occurred to John that he would have liked a more powerful shock suppressant. He remembered a hideous bolt of pain striking his chest but then everything was black.
“You have – you have cured death?”
“In a sense.”
“Look, Mr Byrne,” the tall man said, “This technique has been controversial. Its use is strictly limited and regulated.”
“We haven’t cured regulation yet, you see? We applied to resurrect you and for a good reason. You write novels?”
It had been a good way to earn a crust a hundred years before: cranking out doorstoppers about sex, drugs and serial killings.
“You were working on a novel when you died. The Third Betrayal.”
John remembered seeing his text blur on the screen in front of him.
“Your books are popular.”
“Really? Jesus. I was eating out of cans before I died.”
“Well, Mr Byrne, filth is always in fashion.”
“What we want, Mr Byrne,” said the short man, “Is the ending.”
“The ending, Mr Byrne! Your book was published incomplete and people want to know what happened.”
John realised that he could open and close his eyes and did it several times in quick succession.
“You have cured death! You have cured death! You never have to die! And people want to know if DI Frayn can catch the killer of the prostitute in the pond?”
The short man looked impatient.
“People want to know. Surely you can understand that, Mr Byrne? People always want to know.”
“But this is…I’m alive! I have another chance to…Can my wife come back? I feel like I could…”
“Look, Mr Byrne, if you will not cooperate we are under no obligation to keep you…”
“Okay!” John yelped, “Okay! It was DI Frayn. The divorce sent him mad and he killed her with…”
There was a click. John suddenly felt as if a whirlpool had materialised in his stomach. He disappeared before he had a change to scream.
“A bad ending,” frowned the tall man.
“Yes,” his colleague shrugged, “Well, let’s move on. I don’t want to be here all month.”
He pressed a button and a name appeared before his eyes. It was “Shakespeare”.