Ignatius Bergmann was astonished at being awakened by what he thought were space aliens. He was in a hospital bed of sorts, connected seemingly everywhere to tubes of one kind or another, then there were these hovering beings around him. They were humanoid, certainly, but human? He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure.
Time passed. Iggy didn’t know how much time passed. One minute he was awake, then he’d lapse into unconsciousness, he’d come back awake for a short while, back to sleep, awake, asleep – he didn’t know how long that process went on. Was it a few hours? A few days? Weeks? He didn’t know.
At last he was being attended by just one being at a time. He was still connected to feeding and evacuating tubes of all sorts, monitoring devices blinked and graphed around him. His attendant was speaking to him, he knew that much, but he had no idea what the attendant was saying or asking. He also didn’t know if he could speak. He tried. “Nuhhhheh,” he said, and gave up, exhausted by the effort. The attendant smiled and called others over to his bedside. They were clearly urging him to speak as best he could. He did better the second time. “Naaaym – Igg Ber…” but then he trailed off again into unconsciousness, tired from the effort of speaking part of his name.
His eyes closed, his mind drifted, but his ears still heard. Mostly, he heard gibberish, but he did hear one of them say, “Eggbert, maybe Engleburt.” Then another said, “No! Igg, not egg. His name is Ignatius Bergmann. It says so right here on the manifest.” It was English! They were speaking English! The aliens had learned to speak English! Iggy’s eyes blinked open again. He was determined to stay awake as long as he could.
“Ig – natius – Berg – mann,” he exhaled with pauses inserted. “Iggy….. if…. you like.”
The attendants all smiled beneath their sanitary masks.
So began Iggy’s reintroduction to the world of the living after he had been murdered by lethal injection more than twenty years prior to his reawakening.
Eventually, it would all be explained to Iggy. The world had been in terrible social and military upheaval. Starvation and disease were rampant. All human societies were in chaos. He had been a victim of a certain political movement that called themselves the “Cleaning Squad.” They made it their business to kill what they referred to as “non-contributors.” Disabled people, old people, anyone who resisted taking murderous action and anyone not generally liked by the “Cleaning Squad,” were executed. Lethal injection was the preferred method of execution because it was quick and clean. Just stop the heart, and walk away, that was all there was to it.
Iggy was lucky in that another group that detested the work of the Cleaning Squad found Iggy and froze him before too much decay had rendered him unrecoverable. Now, he was what was called a “reclaimant.” He was a person who had been literally brought back from the dead. He was also lucky because his reclamation had been triggered by a fluke.
He was judged to be too old to use resources right away for reclamation so he’d been kept on ice until the use of reclamation resources justified reviving such an old guy. In the meantime, reclamations of younger people had become so commonplace that they’d become almost ordinary procedures. The reclamation success rate had become superb, the procedures now typically happened without complication.
The fluke that put Iggy on the short-list for reclamation, despite Iggy’s advanced age, was that some gay lab prankster, in a fit of silliness or in a flash of brilliance, decided to try to see if sexual response might be triggered among the stiffs. It wasn’t like the guy was expecting erections to happen or anything quite that sordid, but he knew how fundamental this hard-wired response was, and he developed a quick and easy way to test galvanic skin response as he stimulated the cryo-patients. The only thing that really responded was the lad’s meter, but when he reluctantly reported the results of his non-approved foray, he found himself lauded as a genius in some quarters and reviled as a pervert in other quarters.
Iggy asked what had happened to the prankster/brilliant student. There would have been reasons to condemn him for performing indignities to the dead and there would have been reasons to praise him because he developed a quick, simple, non-invasive test to prove the relative viability of reclaimants. Iggy wanted to know what had happened to his saviour but no one he spoke with could or would tell him about that particular outcome. Even by promoting Iggy on the reclamation list, it had still been many months before he had been brought in for the procedure, and by then the fellow who had shown Iggy’s viability seemed not to be around anymore. Had he been promoted or banished? No one seemed to know.
From his bed, Iggy began asking what else had happened during the intervening years. He found that even language had changed so much that he had great difficulty just hearing and distinguishing between spoken words. Speech had fallen into a kind of abbreviated short-hand uttered in rapid gushes of words or word-sounds. He had seen some of it coming twenty years ago when he was trying to marshal resources to resist the Cleaning Squad that he knew would come for him one day. Introductory phrases such as “Did you want to…” had become “Jwanna…”. But now, speech had become even more short-form and he found himself simply trying to hear familiar nouns within the rapid-fire utterances.
It was tiring. It was all so very tiring that he sometimes just let well-meaning attendants babble at him in their youth-speak. He knew that they were asking him questions, but he had become so disconnected from their language and the touchstones of their reality that just making an effort to understand was quickly exhausting for him.
Here he was, alive again after a twenty-year, consciousness hiatus and all he wanted to do was to sleep! More time passed. Hours? Days? Weeks? He didn’t know. He’d had several awakenings. He’d noticed some pretty nurses among his attendants. The attendants all remarked how his interest in the nurses reflected his interest in living again, but Iggy wasn’t sure that he had the requisite energy for living again.
He had several very calming talks with a nurse who spoke more slowly than the rest. She told him that he could call her “Mort” or if he preferred the old style, he could call her by her full name, “Morticianna.” She seemed to be on a different agenda than the other nurses and attendants. They all moved quickly. Mort moved slowly, with calm grace and gentle deliberation. She’d sometimes hold his hand as if doing so was a kind of therapeutic treatment. No data-gathering, just touch and a calm, clear-eyed observation of him, as if that was all she needed to gather the data she sought.
While Mort was with him, other nurses and attendants seemed to move into the room and perform their duties heedless of her presence. Iggy did his best to engage Mort by “chatting her up” in the old style of flirtation. She responded with gentle smiles and demure grace, as he expected she might. He also knew that his flirting with her was essentially pointless because he was too old and she was no doubt committed to someone, but he enjoyed the flirtation interaction regardless of how futile it was.
At one point, Mort asked Iggy, “How do you feel about life?” Iggy heaved a sigh that came from the depths of his soul. The question was at once simple and immeasurably complex. Iggy replied, “I can’t answer that question, Mort. I’m just so very tired, I’m going to have to sleep again now.”
Iggy was closing his eyes but Mort came close as she held his hand and said, “Before you sleep, Iggy, look closely into my eyes and tell me if you see anything interesting in them.”
“They’re beautiful, blue eyes,” Iggy replied with a smile but without looking too closely.
“Look right into the pupils in the middle,” Mort directed Iggy as she bent toward him into an intimate distance from his face.
Iggy looked closely, even though he was slightly miffed at being prevented from sleeping like he’d wanted to do. He saw tiny black spots, shining with surface moisture.
“Deeper!” Mort commanded as she gently gripped his hand and closed her distance yet again.
As Iggy looked deeply into Mort’s eyes, he felt as if he was being physically pulled into them by some inexplicable force. He focussed on just one of her eyes, thinking of it as a kind of portal. It felt as if he was entering her, not sexually, but spiritually. He was being transported beyond the threshold of the rim of her pupils. Suddenly, everything he could see was black! It was not an empty black, nor was it a kind of inner organ, medical black. It was more like deep space! Yes, yes indeed, there were stars and he was hurtling at great speed out among the stars! He felt rested. He felt re-energized. He felt free!
There were nagging beeping sounds coming from behind him, on the other side of the portal. People were shouting with urgency and insistence. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. He looked back briefly and saw them trying to revive some poor old man. Iggy thought to himself, “Just leave him alone! Let the poor man go!” Then Iggy realized that the poor old man was him. It was his body they were working on so frantically.
All Iggy could do was to smile knowingly and turn toward the beautiful cosmos that awaited him, leaving all that strife behind as he flew effortlessly into eternity.