I awoke this morning in such a strange place as cannot be described without resorting it hyperbole and legend. My eyes opened to a ceiling that could only be described as mottled and lifeless. Words I have never seen before, “cloud unavailable,” were pulsing pink then red in the space typically occupied by my IOD feed.
As my senses sharpened, I found myself prone, nude but for my symbiote, my back upon a surface one could consider to be both rigid and elastic at the same time. Steam was rising from the surface of my body.
Despite the ambitiously odd circumstances in which I found myself at that moment, I recall no sense of surprise. I was devoid of curiosity.
I tensed my muscles to sit and found them unresponsive to my commands. I signaled my arm to rise so I could check my sym, but nary a twitch occurred.
In time, I was able to shift my vision to survey the room in which I was seemingly confined. The walls were equally lifeless and coated in what appeared to be an opaque lacquer with a jaundiced tint. Opposite my position, a large mirrored surface hung over a chest of drawers that appeared to be made of wood.
For some reason, this fact sparked an incredulity in my mind that even my lack of motor control could not.
Almost instinctively, I felt my head jerking forward to focus my retinal on the all-too-realistically wooden chest, and for the first time, there was the mildest of inclination.
It was, sadly, not enough angular momentum to trigger my retinal, and my head quickly fell back — “cloud unavailable” softly pulsing in the air.
Time passed slowly.
My IOD was malfunctioning and although I could not see my left wrist to check my sym, I suspected it was experiencing a similar problem.
It beckoned me subtly, a faint request at the threshold of consciousness, but soothing, nearly maternal.
Again, I initiated bodily motion. Had my attempt been successful, I would have appeared to an observer as a man grabbing for the end of a dangling rope as he fell into an abyss. My only achievement, however, was to raise my wrists and ankles a few centimeters from the spongy slab that had somehow ensnared me.
I detected neither hot nor cold. The temperature of the room seemed to be at such perfect equilibrium with my senses as to be perfectly neutral. And yet, steam continued to rise from my bare skin.
I rolled my eyes as far back as I was able, and I saw above my head a pair of wrinkled cloth panels covering what seemed to be a window. At the edge of my possible vision, I saw movement. A color that at first seemed to be the same pale ochre as the walls shifted, lightening and darkening almost imperceptibly.
Thick clouds sliding past a weak sun.
I discovered that in my effort to see out the window behind my head, I had managed to arch my back slightly.
My sym asked if it could feed me. It had a small cache of neurals for both confidence and resolve. It signaled to me that the opios would soon be depleted and asked again to feed me resolve.
I accepted and immediately my retinals attenuated. The formerly indistinct ceiling became a collection of patterns through which I could distinguish its composition, dimension and the signatures three distinct crafters. Had my IOD been functioning appropriately, those makers’ avatars would have immediately appeared, along with the provenance of the laminated gypsum panels that comprised the ceiling and walls. I could have also checked the last recorded instance of wood.
Instead of laminating this blindness, the resolve neural from my sym took hold and I again looked toward the mirror, undistracted by the impossible furniture.
Straining every last sinew, I was able to raise my head enough to see the short nape of hair on my head and a small glare from what I assumed to be my forehead — barely visible at the bottom of the mirror, but confirming, somewhat unnecessarily, that I was me.
Again, I made for a sitting position to no avail. I tried to twist my torso and was able to turn my right thigh about three degrees clockwise. Another torque and my left thigh matched. I turned my eyes slightly to my right and my retinal picked up a subtle shadow on the wall, cast by faint light through the window, and executed a rarely used function.
The “cloud unavailable” message quickly dissolved and was replaced by “TUES 09 JAN 1979 15:13 (-5 GMT).”
Perhaps it was the resolve or simply the exertion, but for the first time, some small amount of alarm antagonized the edges of my consciousness. Just 72 hours previously, I had upgraded my intraocular display and passed both the phys- and pysch-diagnostics.
The resolve kept me moving despite the incongruence. A few millimeters at a time, I drug my right arm tightly to my side and continued twisting my hips until my left leg was nearly on top of my right. Craning my neck and pointing my chin as best I could, I eventually found myself at nearly a forty-five degree rotational angle from my original position.
The sundial subroutine showed that nearly four hours had passed.
At this angle, however, I could now finally focus my retinal on the chest of drawers and it confirmed that it was real wood and that the mirror was in fact made of a material even more rare. Without the cloud, it took several seconds to determine that it was, without any doubt, glass.
For the first time since opening my eyes, a small sound escaped my lips. It was a thin, but certainly audible sigh of the type typically reserved for moments when one is momentarily interrupted while reading. It would be considered a slightly questioning “huh” except lacking the fricatives.
Over the course of the next 32 hours, I remained largely motionless and prone, taking in every last detail of the room around me as it darkened, alit, and darkened again. It was 27 cubic meters in volume. Its walls and ceiling were covered in compressed composite sheets of paper and gypsum, then coated with an acrylic polymer emulsion.
My sym contributed a skeletal structure it projected onto the room that extended into the distance in front and to my left. Although no door was visible, the projection clearly showed a portal framed in the left wall.
My retinal determined that I was lying on a “bed.” The “curtains” above my head were a polyester weave and contained four species of fungal bodies as well as residual elements of aerial tars. Although the three craftsmen who finished the room lacked avatars, the retinal determined two men of roughly equal height and weight had installed the panels, and a left-handed female had applied the wall lacquer.
It remained quite surprising that both the chest and the frontispiece of the “bed” were made of pine, a material that was last seen in the mid-21st century. That piece of data was something I actually knew organically — without need for my IOD as reference.
Thinking that my retinal might still be malfunctioning, I had it analyze the mirror once again.
It took another 48 hours to sit upright and swing my legs over the right edge of the “bed”. During this time, I was able to turn my head both to the left and right and discovered a matching pine panel at the top of the bed, underneath the edge of the window. My sym collected nearly all the remaining water vapor from my cube to sustain me during this operation.
All of its neural caches were empty and even the subconscious stims were unable to mask my overwhelming hunger.
It only took me another 82 minutes to stand and look at my feet. The floor was covered in a different woven polyester than the window panels and which had a pleasantly soft resistance — evidence of yet another type of foam than that of the “bed.”
My retinal informed me, however, that this covering was a haven for a wide variety of mite species, fecal matter, and trace pathogens. Nothing above the threshold, but enough to make me turn away.
At that point, a shudder passed through my body that sent me to my hands and knees.
My retinal, ever vigilant, reported to my IOD that there were more than 322 detectable species of microscopic insectoids and a rendering of each flashed by in a blur of globular shapes that were somehow still sharp and spiky. I turned it off and my vision blurred just enough that all I saw were my pale hands on top of a brown expanse of what seemed to be thick cloth.
My body heaved and my mouth opened, but there was nothing to eject.
I swallowed heavily and it took me just 15 minutes to stand up again. My muscles were beginning to respond. The electrical signals traveling my nerves had nearly returned to standard speed.
TUES 16 JAN 1979 00:17 (-5 GMT) read my IOD. From eyes open to standing upright steadily in just under one week.
In retrospect, my lack of astonishment was fairly astonishing.
Steps came a bit faster, yet it was dawn when I reached the pine chest.
The first drawer I opened contained clothing of a type I had only seen in old motions. “Jeans and a tee shirt” they called them.
The second drawer contained a number of intriguing items. I recall that moment as the first time in the weeklong ordeal that a palpable emotion finally surfaced in my conscious mind. My retinal at first had difficulty identifying some of the items using only its onboard database, but eventually I learned the complete contents.
Arranged neatly in a grid were a silver packet labeled in tall, gothic letters, “MRE,” a small box marked “transistor radio,” a 40cm knife with an exceptionally sharp edge and a textured resin grip, a small cylinder that resembled a stylus, and two large stacks of paper items, bound by circular strips of rubber. My retinal found evidence of edible organics inside the silver packets.
The transistor radio was labeled “Realistic” with letterforms meant to resemble lightning bolts and had what appeared to be three control points on its sieve-like faceplate. The knife had no markings and one of the stacks of paper was various denominations of money like the kind passed out to children on Independence Day.
This money, however, seemed very old and had a far more complex and sophisticated composition. The markings totaled 48,000.
The other stack of paper items I found in the drawer were these cards on which I’m documenting the last month of my previously very structured and parameterized life.
I still don’t know what happened, but it has become clear that I have, somehow, been transposed 175 years into the past.