I went for the MRE first, ripping at the silver plastic. The acronym immediately brought to mind the mid-20th class I took in secondary school, sitting in the dark and watching old motions from that era. I didn’t need implants to equate MRE with FOOD.
My sym had been silent for nearly two days. My IOD, however, was already busy graphing my severely compromised vitals against the caloric contents of the packet.
I got limbic, real quick. I stumbled backward, tearing the packet open and sucking at the contents while squeezing it so hard, small curls of paste peeled away from the sides of my mouth and dropped to the floor.
The back of my legs hit the wooden front of the bed and I fell backward, the MRE never leaving my lips. The paste wasn’t entirely smooth in texture. There were small cubes of denser material that forced me to pause for chewing. My sym was awake, sequestering and redistributing all of the moisture from the incoming food.
As I chewed, the flavor finally registered. Pasta with a ragu of what tasted like beef. With the voluptuous display of wood, paper and glass on view in my cube, I felt slightly giddy to think that it might be actual beef.
My sym, sensing that I might need the emotional boost, confirmed it.
I cleaned every last drop from the MRE and dropped the husk back into the floor. At that point in my personal timeline, it was not just the best meal I ever had, but made me understand, for the first time, the reason why people in the past had spent great amounts of time and energy in the capture, preparation and communal sharing of food.
I remembered that MRE’s were used by the military and are not associated with positive sensual qualities. So with this MRE as my only example, I can only assume that food was fucking amazing back then.
I remember a particular motion from my mid-20th class. They called them “movies” then. In this movie, several male friends, each of whom represented a garishly distinct human archetype, gathered, with some regularity, in a brightly windowed and stylishly appointed room. They acted out common pathos of their time with crude interactions that seemed in contrast to their obvious friendship. I don’t remember much from the movie, except for that room.
The room shone with polished metal paneling pressed into a rhombic pattern. The friends shared oversized benches nearly bursting with foam and richly upholstered in red synleather. These benches faced a table covered in a white laminate that sparkled slightly. The tables were banded with the same metal as the paneling, but in a contrasting wave-like pattern.
The benches and table abutted the wall at one end and floating above the center, mounted to the wall, was a push-button machine that played music.
Tungsten light sources washed every surface in a mild yellow glow.
A woman visited the friends occasionally and although I never really understood their interactions, she often brought them elaborately prepared plates of food.
I remembered the red and yellow bottles. The fluid-shaped drinking glasses with silk-screened corporate logos. Cigarettes. Coffee in charming porcelain cups with small plates underneath.
The woman often had a writing utensil behind her ear.
In my calorie-induced reverie, I became very excited by the thought of finding such a room here in 1979. My hunger and thirst became a distant nag and my thoughts turned to leaving this particular room.
I remembered my name. Johann Elias Dunn. Jed. Looking back on it, I’m not sure if I had actually forgotten. I just remember that being the first moment since my arrival that my name occurred to me.
Then I passed out for a while.
As blackness eventually gave way to a half-waking state, my mind unleashed a terrifying dream. It was a dark night full of wild sounds. I was slathering myself in black mud to camouflage my body from the thing that crashed through a thick tropical jungle toward me. My mouth tasted metallic from fear.
Just as I covered the last of my white skin and shimmied backward into the vegetation, a bulbous man appeared dangling a long blade at his side and dripping sweat. He looked up and down the stream. My heart slammed in my chest and I held my breath as his eyes passed over my position.
My eyes snapped open and I sat up, breathing heavily, on the edge of complete panic. My empty sym could offer no respite. Of course I understood the concept of a nightmare, but it was my first. I was shaking. My head felt like a gyroscope on the edge of falling.
Eventually, I calmed myself and my IOD blinked into view.
THUR 18 JAN 1979 06:34 (-05 GMT)
The task floating in front of me helped to push the nightmare back and my breathing returned to normal. The panicked awakening had jump-started my muscles and for the first time, I felt like my full range of motion had been restored overnight.
To test my recovery, I attempted to channel the remaining energy to jump from a sitting to standing position. I didn’t quite get my feet under me for the landing, but I was far more successful than I had expected.
My IOD adjusted the time forward two seconds and winked out.
Being released from my slow-motion existence of the previous days quickly raised my sprits and the nightmare became a distant curiosity.
I put on the jeans and tee shirt, moved the cards and money each to a back pocket, clipped the stylus to my collar, and placed Realistic upright on the cabinet. My retinal was busy analyzing it as I was getting dressed. Within a few seconds, I understood this to be a device that captures electromagnetic waves and converts them to an electrical signal, and then to sound. It was used for mass communication device right up until Zero Year. It was most commonly called a “radio.”
The power supply was intact and the controls simplistic. I quickly started the machine and found a clear signal. A man was speaking about a treatment for a gastrointestinal disorder in strangely excited tones.
I turned the frequency dial until another signal became clear, then another and another, hearing snippets of music, talking, and sound effects. In the process, I learned that each signal had a fuzzy halo of frequency bleed surrounding its clear spot, which often corresponded to a prominent number on the display. Finding this clear point amidst the static was a uniquely engaging process. There was a brief thrill as I would scan through a clear spot, then dial back slowly. I found that I was pressing my tongue to the back of my lip, a novel sensation, as I found the clear spot again.
The display itself was a model of 20th century factory craft. A single piece of thin metal with embossed letter forms and frequency markers that were coated at their peaks with a contrasting acrylic lacquer. Turning the frequency dial moved a thin plastic arrow pointing at the numbers. Encasing the display was a clear plastic panel that was slightly domed and fitted precisely beneath a bright metal trim.
From the retinal data, I knew that the position of the telescoping metal antenna would affect signal clarity. It was attached to the device with a ball joint, which greatly limited its optimal placement and after spinning it around several times, I found that pointing it toward the window yielded some small improvement.
I paused to listen to some of the music. There were many different styles, although most held to the simplistic format that exists to some extent even in my time. One particularly enjoyable piece featured an all-male group singing a very infectious tune about an organization called YMCA.
I was a young man. I really wanted to have a good meal.
I powered off the radio and considered the 40cm knife.
It was most certainly time to leave this room.