Where am I? Fuzzy. Everything is fuzzy, foggy. The lights are harsh, but someone’s voice is telling me to go slow. Why? Whose voice is it? She – I think it’s a she – is telling me something about keeping the lights low, but they are nearly blinding me. Me. Who am I? Reston. Am I Reston? So fuzzy, so hard to remember – what? Things? Time? I am so weak, my head feels so heavy, my arms, I can hardly lift them.
Reston. Matthew Reston. Where am I? She has returned. She is wearing some kind of blue shirt, tunic, what’s it called? She tells me her name is Min Hwa, tells me she is my Awakening nurse. Awakening? From…? I feel like I am supposed to know about this, about me, about Awakening. So fuzzy. I try to make the sound. “Mibwhagh.” Then, “Whomy?”
“Min Hwa,” she says, pronouncing it very slowly. “And you are Matthew Reston, and you are just waking from a long sleep. We don’t want you to be worried, no hurry. This will take some time, Matthew.”
“Mahureson.” No, that didn’t sound right. Why won’t my mouth work right?
“Matthew, it’s going to take a few days for you to get fully back to normal, so try to stay calm. Everything is going very well. I’m going to give you an injection that will help you get a little stronger, and then I’m going to start feeding you through your IV. This will sting a little bit, but you should start feeling a little stronger in about an hour, OK? I’ll come back then and we can start getting some strength back into your body.” He felt a sharp sensation, but could not tell where it came from. He heard the nurse move something around, then heard a sound he could not identify. Then, he felt a burning all over, and felt very far away.
The light was back. He heard a low, steady beep, and then, the nurse was back. He saw a moving shape, towering over him, blue, shimmering. “Minwha?” He felt his mouth moving, heard the sounds come from his own chest.
“Yes, Matthew, Min Hwa. Two words, just like your name, Matthew Reston. How are you feeling right now?” He felt someone touching something he thought of as an arm.
“Ihamfiln futhy, futhzy. Wharmi?”
“Matthew, I am going to raise the bed a bit, so you can start working your abdominal muscles. We need to get you ready for some real food, OK?” The nurse pressed the button that caused the head of the bed to rise to a forty-five degree angle. She took Matthew’s pulse again, then his blood pressure. “You are definitely getting stronger. I am going to raise the lights just a bit, so you should close your eyes for just a moment, then open them slowly.” He did what she asked, and when he opened his eyes again, realized he could see her face, still fuzzy, but now he knew it was a face, her face.
“I am Mahew. I awake now? How sleep, how many?” Things were becoming less fuzzy.
“Yes, you are Matthew, and you are slowly waking up. You have been sleeping a long time, so that is why you are fuzzy, and why you are having trouble remembering things, like how to talk, or move your muscles. When someone wakes from stasis it takes a few days for their memory to return, and a few weeks for all their strength to return. But there is nothing to worry about. We have a very good staff here to help you get back to your former glory.” Min Hwa chuckled, and smoothed Matthews hair back from his face. Matthew tried to imitate her chuckle, but it sounded more like grinding gears.
The next day, Matthew woke to an odor he could not at first identify. He looked around the small room his bed was in, and took in clearer shapes than yesterday. He found he could move his head with a bit less effort, and his arms seemed more responsive as well. Now, memory began to erupt, a cascade of images, sounds, smells. He was Matthew Reston, and he was aboard a starship. He was awakening from stasis, yes, that’s what it was, stasis. He remembered boarding the ship, with many others, all of them going into stasis at the same time. He remembered his mission, though it was still somewhat shaky. Reston was a doctor, and he was also a writer, a poet and story teller. He was a doctor. But what kind of doctor?
As Reston was mulling over these still-incomplete memories, the door opened, and Min Hwa entered, accompanied by a man. Both wore the same kind of blue tunic and matching pants. He saw now that Min Hwa was from Asia, and the man with her was from Africa. Min Hwa introduced Reston to this new face. “Matthew, this is John Ngima. He is another Awakening nurse, and he’s going to start working your limbs, to help your muscles remember how to work.“ She paused to check his pulse and blood pressure again while John changed Matthew’s nutrition pouch. “Are you feeling more awake today?”
“Yes, a little. I am Matthew Reston, and I am a doctor?” He cleared his throat. Making words was still an effort, but he could tell his shaping of the words was better. His vocabulary, however, was still weak.
“Yes, very good, Matthew. Much better than yesterday. John will help you with your speech, as well, and later today, we are going to start you on some semi-solid food, just a small amount. We want to start waking up your digestive system, but not too fast, OK?” Matthew nodded, and cleared his throat again. He felt as though it was not yet his throat, but one he had borrowed from someone else.
By the fifth day, Matthew was starting to fill in many of the blanks. He had been put into stasis before the Argos had even left orbit. And this morning Min Hwa had told him he’d been in stasis for twenty-one years. He was having a difficult time making sense of this, though he was certain she wasn’t lying to him. Twenty-one years? The more he tried to understand it, the more he had trouble with the entire idea. He realized it wasn’t the time aspect that he was having difficulty with. It was something else entirely – he had never had the chance to say goodbye. His parents, his friends. His planet. He found himself crying off and on throughout the day. Several times, Min Hwa had entered the room while he was sobbing, and didn’t seem at all upset by his behavior. In fact, she simply went over to him and held his head against her shoulder for a while, until he calmed. This will happen for a while, she told him. It happens to everyone. Just let it out, she told him. We’ve all done it, and many of us still do it from time to time, she told him.
Reston was a psychologist. That’s why he’d been one of the first sleepers, because the colony needed to have a small team of psychologists awake at any time, but not all of them. He knew that someone else from the psych team would be entering stasis now that he was waking up, but not until he was able to assume his duty station.
By the third week, Reston’s body was nearly at its full strength. His memory felt fully restored, especially after the rather exhaustive battery of tests he’d been required to undergo as part of the Awakening process. There remained some concern that not everyone Awakening from stasis would make a complete recovery, at least not their memory, and possibly, some level of cognitive function. But to date, all the long sleepers had recovered pretty much intact. They would be monitored for their first year back among the colony, and if all was still going well by then, they would regain their full place in the colony’s embrace.
For Reston, this was supposed to be a time of rediscovery, as his memory slowly returned to its normal state. He wouldn’t be required to resume any duties as a doctor for at least three months, and then only on a reduced basis, until he was declared fully fit. But somewhere in his third month awake, Reston did something no one had anticipated any member of the crew doing. As he walked around the ship one day, spending time getting reacquainted with its layout, with various other members of the crew, and with the events that transpired before he’d been awakened, especially the close encounter with a possible alien race, he decided he wanted to take a look back at the world they’d left behind. He made his way out-ship, that is, toward the outer sections where most of the colony spent their working and sleeping hours, and found the ship’s archive. He sat down to one of the sens-wrap compads and placed the thin silver headpiece over his head. Then, Reston called up the images and communications the colony had recorded during it’s last month in orbit. There was no one else in the room with him, so there were no witnesses to what happened to Matthew Reston that fateful day. There was only the history of the images and sounds he had been immersed in, before he made his decision.
Reston left the archive about sixteen-fifty hours, ship time. No one saw where he went next, but some twenty minutes later, ship sensors recorded Reston entering a portal that opened onto the maintenance section of the fusion power generator. Some three minutes later, Reston opened an access panel, entered a tubeway and crawled nearly fifty meters to an emergency hatch. He toggled the hatch, stepped inside, and closed the hatch behind him. Without any apparent hesitation, Reston overrode the safety and triggered the exterior hatch. He died before the hatch had completed its opening. His body was never recovered.
The news went through the ship like an electrical storm. Not everyone knew Reston personally, but everyone knew he was a psychologist, and everyone knew there were too few of these human beings left to lose even one. It would take nearly six months before some aboard would be able to let go of their pain.
This tragic event caused a reassessment of the Awakening process. Now, each sleeper would be assigned a companion, either another newly Awakened, or a member of the crew whose duties were light enough to take on the additional task. And they did one other thing. The archives set restrictions on all data related to the last two years of Planet Earth. One day, they understood their children, and their grand-children, would want to know about those terrible times. But for colony members born and raised on Earth, it was deemed better to leave that door closed, perhaps until all of the first generation had passed away.