Chapter 5 - Emergence
And then the universe blinked again.
The hum began to fade and the euphoria dissolved as Dee's head exploded in pain. She thought something must have gone wrong. She felt as if she was suffocating. She pushed against the dome, which emitted a small gasp of vacuum as it released. The throbbing in her head diminished and she tried to sit up.
"Take it easy. Don't try to sit up." The voice was unfamiliar - certainly not Laura's. The reason for the cautionary warning became evident as the room blackened and whirled around her. Swift hands caught her and cushion her head as they gently lowered her back onto the slab. She felt the comforting warmth of a blanket covering her nakedness. She could tell that at least two people were ministering to her - applying a cuff to check her blood pressure and probing her chest with a stethoscope.
"What's wrong with her?" This was a voice Dee recognized. Emma appeared at her feet.
"Hey," Dee sighed in breathy relief, happy for a familiar anchor to secure her spinning world. "Where's Linda?"
"They're taking care of her."
"What do you mean 'taking care of her?' What's wrong?" A space opened between the attendants. There were a dozen giant serving dishes like her own with hazy human figures inside, but the one next to her, the one Linda had occupied, was empty. "Where's Linda?!"
Laura appeared at Emma's shoulder. "She's going to be fine," Laura reassured as she pushed something into Dee's hand. It was a pair of glasses, as promised. "Linda experienced some unusual stress coming out of stasis. She's unconscious right now, but she'll come around soon."
Dee slid the glasses on. Laura's face came into focus. She had changed. Her hair sported a few wisps of white at the temples and fine lines accented the reassuring expression in her eyes. "Are you sure Linda will be OK?"
"You have my personal guarantee. You want to try sitting up again?"
Dee nodded and was able to climb off the table and into a wheelchair, with some assistance. The contraction of her muscle and the sensation of weight settling on her foot felt strange but not painful. There was a mental lag between the impulse to move and the feedback that indicated the movement had been accomplished. It was as if her body existed in one time frame and her mind in another.
She was wheeled from the room and down a hallway. Doors passed her on either side like oncoming vehicles on a freeway. The only stable point in her world was the reassuring touch of her Emma's hand in hers.
"What's wrong with me?" Dee slurred.
Emma gave Laura a worried glance.
"Does everything feel a little out of whack?" Laura asked.
"Would that be the technical term?" Emma interjected.
"No, no, that's exactly how I feel," Dee insisted.
Laura patted her shoulder. "It's a kind of time displacement. Many people experience it after a long stasis. The feeling should wear off in a couple of hours or a couple of days at most."
"A couple of days," Dee moaned, trying to imagine performing even the simplest of daily functions.
"I could give you a sedative," Laura offered.
"Thanks, but I'd rather take my chances with the twirlies than be knocked unconscious again. Gods! I feel like we're both talking through bull horns - the disembodiment, not the volume."
"A little like an echo?" Laura had only been through short periods of stasis, but she had heard the symptoms described by other. She wheeled Dee into a room with two beds. One was empty. Linda lay on the other looking pale and vulnerable. As the wheelchair was rolled into position between the two beds, Dee reached out and touched Linda's arm. The reassuring sensation of warmth eventually found it's way to the center of Dee's foggy consciousness. She was helped into bed. The absence of motion and the unchanging landscape of the ceiling were a welcome relief.
Emma sat on the bed next to Dee and continued to hold her hand. "I've missed you," said Emma. "Welcome back and welcome to the new millennium."
For a moment Dee couldn't figure out what she was talking about. Then she remembered what year it was. "Did I miss much?"
"You know, the new millennium won't begin until 2001." Laura corrected, then blushed at her own pedantic comment and buried her nose in a chart.
"Toward the end of 1999," Emma continued, "there were predictions of everything from catastrophic computer failures to the fall of civilization, but for the most part 2000 arrived uneventfully."
"Still, Linda won’t be happy when she realizes she missed the party of the century."
"Don't you know it's rude to talk about a person when she's in the same room?" Linda sat on the edge of her bed, running a hand through her hair, looking as if she had just awoken from a nap. Her bleary expression changed to ire when she noticed Dee and Emma's linked hands. Linda hopped to the floor and fell on Dee with hugs and kisses.
"How are you, Honey?" Linda crooned, smoothing her fingertips over Dee's brow.
"I've been better. Seems that stasis doesn't entirely agree with me. You seem to be just fine, now."
"All the right parts in all the right places."
"You could both use some rest," Laura interjected.
"I feel like I could run a marathon," Linda rebuked.
"You go ahead," Dee yawned. "I know it sounds strange, but I am so sleepy."
Linda climbed into bed and snuggled next to Dee. "Then you sleep. I'll be here when you wake up." Laura and Emma, feeling like intruders, edged toward the door.
"Maria will be here later this afternoon," said Emma. She gave Linda a sad, thoughtful look.
"What is it?" Linda asked, alerted by Emma's expression.
"It can wait until Maria gets here. She can tell you."
"Just spit it out, Emma."
Emma swallowed hard and forced the words. "It's your grandmother. She passed away last year."
Linda's brow convulsed with some unreadable emotion before she buried it in Dee's shoulder. The two visitors slipped out. Dee stroked Linda's hair until she succumbed to exhaustion.
Linda took the stilled hand and pressed the palm silently to her lips. "I guess Gran didn't get to celebrate the millennium either," said Linda, speaking to no one in particular. "Gods, I need a cigarette."
Linda closed her eyes and imagined her lungs filling with tobacco fumes. She heard a flicking sound, like someone trying to start the flame on a stubborn lighter. Linda knew that couldn't be it. The interval was too regular. It had to be something mechanical. It was ticking. The face of a clock loomed before her. The ticking stopped. The world exploded with a thunderous crack.
Linda opened her eyes and found Maria bent over an upturned tray and a pitcher of spilled water.
"Damn!" Linda spat through gritted teeth, the remnants of her dream fading slowly.
Maria looked up. "I didn't mean to wake you. I thought I'd catch up on a little paperwork while I waited for you to come 'round, but I got thirsty. The pitcher was heavier than I thought and it slipped."
"How long have you been here?" Linda noticed the horizontal briefcase Maria had been using as a makeshift desktop.
"Forty-five minutes. Maybe an hour."
"What happened?" Linda kept her voice low and moved gently out of Dee's slumbering embrace.
"I told you, the pitcher slipped."
"To Gran," Linda clarified, crossing the gap to the edge of her own bed.
"Rosario went in to wake her one morning and she was just gone. She died in her sleep. Natural causes."
"And the will?"
"There were a few charitable trusts, minor bequests to some of the servants and a substantial one to Rosario. The bulk of the estate has passed to you."
"I always figured her final act of vengeance would be to cut me out, maybe leave everything to Rosario." She laughed bitterly.
Maria ignored the outburst and continued. "Whether you believe it or not, your Grandmother loved you."
"She loved me with all the resources money could buy."
"Maybe it was the only way she knew."
"Why does everyone defend that old woman?"
"Maybe because she the kind of dignity that most people respect. Maybe because she was kind when she could just as easily have been cruel."
"And maybe I saw a side of her that others didn't."
"I don't have to be your agent. Would you like to find another firm to represent your business interests or at least another manager?"
"Jeeziz, Maria, don't be so damn sensitive. She's gone, OK? May she rest in peace. So, did you look after my best interest or are Dee and I paupers?"
Dee stirred at the mention of her name. She cracked an eye and stretched. Seeing Maria reminded her of Emma's news. "Is she really gone?"
"Gran is dead," Linda confirmed, stifling a perverse urge to giggle. "And she left it all to me, well, most of it. You are officially living with a wealthy woman."
"You weren't exactly poor before."
"But everything is different now. You are looking at the last surviving Cahalo. When I'm gone there will be no other." Linda took a ragged breath. "There will be no more. I have no one to leave the family fortune to. The Cahalo legacy will pass out of our hands unless I can find a way to take it with me or maybe I could live forever." Linda yawned and curled into herself on the bed.
"Linda?" Dee whispered as she propped herself up on a shaky elbow. The rhythmic rise and fall of Linda's chest was accompanied by gentle snoring.
"She's OK," Maria explained. "Laura said you'd both be drifting in and out for a couple of days. Laura said you were also experiencing a some time dissociation."
Dee gave Maria a puzzled look and then remembered. "Oh yeah, I'm a little out of whack."
"Is it any better now that you've had some sleep?"
"No, I still feel like I'm dragging everything around on a big rubber band and I have to stop all the time to let the world catch up with me."
"I'm sure it will clear up in a day or two."
"I hope so, I'd hate to feel like this for very long." Dee pushed her glasses back up her nose. "I need to get my contacts."
"You know they can fix that now," said Maria. "There's laser surgery that can correct myopia."
"I heard about that, but I was afraid to have it done."
"Everyone is doing it now. I did. It's great."
"What's great?" Linda asked, half asleep.
"Maria had laser surgery done on her eyes. Now she doesn't have to wear contacts."
"Will the marvels of the 21st century never cease?" Linda commented with a sarcastic bite. "I knew there was something different about you, Maria."
"Before one of you falls asleep again, there is something I promised Laura I'd bring up with you at the earliest convenience. It's about the contract you signed with Timeless, Inc. There was an 'immortality' clause written into it. Basically, it states that you have one year from the date that you are revived to return to stasis. You weren't planning to do this again, were you?"
"NO!!!" The ferocity of Dee's response startled Maria and clear the sleep out of Linda’s head.
"What happens after a year? I'm just curious," said Linda, deflecting the arrows Dee was shooting in her direction.
"Well, you lose your priority status as the next in line for an available chamber and if you want to take another stab at stasis your name goes on the bottom of the waiting list just like everyone else."
"There's a waiting list?"
"Timeless Inc. has quite a few customers these days. They haven't exactly gone public yet, but the word is on the grapevine."
Between the discussion and the time dissociation, Dee's stress levels were approaching critical. She started to tremble and began to scream, "We are not doing this again! We are not doing this again!"
"Honey, it can't hurt to keep our options open." Linda's voice was soft and reassuring. It only infuriated Dee further.
"You promised me!"
"YOU PROMISED ME!!!"
In all of their years together, Linda had never seen Dee this upset. She was at her side in a heartbeat.
"Yes, I promised." Linda had both of Dee's hands in hers. "Calm down. I'll do whatever you want." Dee's whole body relaxed and her breathing began to return to normal. Linda pushed her back onto the bed and hovered over her until she was asleep again.
"So I guess I can tell Laura to move the next person to the top of the list," Maria stated.
Linda slid up next to Maria and in a low voice responded, "She's a little confused. There's no need to do anything about it right now."
Maria sighed and thought back fondly on the five years of tranquillity that were now behind her.