Most people have the luxury of a lifetime of memories, but I'm not most people. I can't exactly say that I'm your typical amnesiac, since, in a way, I never had those memories to begin with. No one would expect a one-month-old to recall much, yet the doctors still tell me to try to remember my life from before I died.
This isn't reincarnation, but it's the next best thing, made possible by the latest in twenty-second century technology. In theory, (and quite a few times in practice,) scientists and doctors can copy a person's personality and memories and 'upload' them into a clone blank. So far, the procedure's only failed once. Apparently no one knew that being in a coma really screws with the downloading process; this is where I come in.
I was supposed to be the new Ethan Bulloch, a seventeen-year-old recent high school graduate. From what I'd heard, he was a promising young athlete with a video game scholarship and a 2.8 GPA. His parents were rich, and gave him a fast, expensive car for his eighteenth birthday. After he'd managed to wrap the car around a tree and ended up on life support, they used their wealth to give their son a second chance at life. Going through all the paperwork and growing a new body in a vat takes a while, so by now Ethan's been dead for nearly a year, and everyone's understandably eager to see him back again. So far, though, I've only managed to disappoint them.
Imagine waking up from a stupor and seeing a small crowd of faces hovering right above you, and then wondering why everyone looks so sad and teary-eyed when you ask them who they are. That's my earliest memory so far. Ever since, my life's been physical therapy and psych evaluations and "recollection recovery," which no one really knows how to do because I'm the only one who's ever needed it.
Today hasn't been any different from the past twenty or thirty, except that I'm slightly stronger and have half an inch of hair now. I've spent most of the day in my hospital bed, snug and warm under a heavy blue blanket. Except for the physical therapy in the afternoons, most of my exercise comes from surfing the 'Net on the little console they keep in all the recovery rooms. The research center put blocks on all the good sites, but I've found a few ways around them. Luckily the device isn't one of those old-fashioned holo displays, so I actually have a little privacy – the staff probably wouldn't approve of the things I look for on the 'Net.
I'd spent maybe ten minutes browsing my usual places and reading about the outside world when I heard the door hiss open and one of the regular nurses, a girl named Beth, walked in. I closed the monitor and set it on the bedside table, and by then Beth was at my side, a tray with little paper cups of pills in her hands. She smiled at me and set it down on the other table.
"How're you feeling today, Ethan?"
"Not too bad, considering. Weak, achy."
She made a girly, sympathetic noise and handed me the first of the paper cups and a glass of water. "You poor thing. The first few months are always the toughest, but you'll be feeling better in no time." As I downed the contents of the cup, I noticed Beth brushing back her hair again. She kept it a little shorter than shoulder-length so it was always falling in her face. It was a pretty brown color, almost the same shade as her eyes. She was on the short side and a little plump, but she had a friendly, round sort of face that made her look like she should work in a library instead of a hospital. Beth didn't wear glasses, but I thought she'd probably look good in them.
I finished all my vitamins and hormones and whatever else and handed her back the empty cups, which she placed neatly on the now-empty tray. She started walking around to check the monitors, which seemed to be saying good things about me.
Beth made her way to the end of my bed and started inputting medical data into the digital plaque by my feet. "Have you started to remember anything lately?"
I thought about it for a moment. I could tell you all sorts of things, like who won the 2103 World Series or that an alpaca is some sort of furry animal, but that was knowledge, not memory. I couldn't remember who Ethan dated in high school, or what he did on any of the vacations he'd probably taken at some point in his life. I couldn't even recognize his – my – own parents.
"Not really," I said with a half-hearted shrug from my bony shoulders. "Sometimes I think I get déjà vu, though, or flashes of things here and there." Maybe I was overstating a little, but it wasn't really a lie, either.
"That's great!" Beth said, sounding honestly happy. Any "progress" was good news, I guess, in the quest to make me "better." I saw her type some notes on the plaque before she walked back over to my bedside and picked up the tray. "Make sure you tell Doctor Ashanthi about that when she checks up on you in a few minutes, okay? She'll want to hear about any improvements you make, even small ones."
She was almost to the door when she stopped and turned back around. "Is there anything you want me to bring you, next time I stop by?"
I couldn't think of anything I really needed, but since she was offering… "Uh, something to read would be nice, I guess." There was plenty of stuff on the 'Net, but nothing really recreational. In that way, at least.
That seemed to make Beth happy, for some reason. "You know," she said, "I think I know a book you might like. I'll see you later, Ethan." With that, she disappeared out the door.
I was in the middle of a quick nap when I heard Doctor Ashanthi walk briskly into my room. She always seemed to be a hurry, which, coupled with her height and no-nonsense demeanor, made a lot of people nervous when she was around. I was used to it by now, and let myself doze a little as she checked my chart and double-checked the machines. I opened my eyes once I sensed her looming over the side of my bed, though.
"You're awake, good," she said, nodding to no one in particular. "Your nurse said you're beginning to regain your memories?"
"Sorta," I said, not wanting to try and explain myself too much. "Some things come up every once in a while, but that's it."
She hummed in disapproval. "It's been four weeks. You should have had at least a partial recovery by now, but I suppose it's difficult to know how you'll progress since you're such a unique case." She crossed her narrow arms and glanced over me, as though expecting to discover that I'd suddenly grown a second pair of arms since the last time she'd seen me. "The memories are there, but the problem is how to unlock them."
I let that sink in for a bit. The past month, everyone's been telling me to remember things that happened to Ethan before the accident, but so far, nothing. I cleared my throat weakly.
"Hey, uh, Doctor, mind if I ask you something?"
"What happens if the memories don't come back?"
The Doctor's deep brown eyes locked with mine, and she began to speak, voice carefully neutral. "They will, Ethan; don't worry about it."
For some reason, I didn't feel reassured.
Beth came by again after lunch, this time carrying a little rectangle instead of the usual pills. She handed the object to me before taking a moment to drag a chair over to the side of my bed. I looked over the item, which had pictures and words on three sides, and felt pretty light. "What's this?"
"You've never seen a book before?"
"Is that what it is?" I discovered that the other three sides not covered by the pictures allowed the whole thing to open up, and it was made of a stack of thin, yellow-brown sheets of paper. "You mean this is one of those things made of mashed-up dead trees?"
Beth giggled at that last bit, and said, "Yeah, it's one of those."
"Not a huge fan of digital, then?"
"Nah," she said. "It's nice to be able to turn pages in a book – you can't do that on a plaque. Books have a nicer smell, too."
I flipped through the browned pages, and sure enough a dusty, friendly scent wafted up. It definitely wasn't a bad smell – it was actually really nice.
"What's it about?" Books usually had stories in them, I recalled from somewhere.
A dreamy look passed over the young nurse's eyes. "Oh, Dune's a classic science fiction novel. It's all about the future of humanity and controlling natural resources. There are a few more books after that – sequels – if you decide you like it." I opened the book to a random page, and realized that the words were smaller than I thought. My eyes started to feel strained after a few sentences, but I figured I'd give it a shot.
Beth must have seen the look on my face since she started to act apologetic. "It's a great book, but not everyone likes it, so, if you want, I could get you a different one next time I visit."
"That's okay, I'll read it. Just need to exercise my eyes…" I caught the look she gave me, and added, "If you say it's good, I'll probably like it. Don't worry about it – I'll start reading it tonight."
That seemed to placate her, but as she stood to leave, she gave me a few lines about not working my still-tender eyes too much. We both smiled and chatted for a minute or two longer, but she had to go back to her rounds, and left. In the silence of the almost-empty room, I laid back into my pillow and shut my eyes. I wasn't tired enough to go to sleep yet, though, and soon opened them back up. I started to reach for the 'Net console, but decided to pick up the old book again. I found the first page, and started to read.