Foweles in the frith,
The fishes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wod;
Mulch sore I walked with
For the best of bon and blood.
They say retirement is the world’s longest coffee break. Some day when you stop living at work and start working at living. But Jamie “Fritz” Walker didn’t know that coffee was a euphemism for binge drinking. Not that he’s kicking himself for it, the circumstances he was put through were such. But such was his state of mind that two bottles were not enough to extinguish his thoughts. So, he remained, too drunk to fetch any more rum, not drunk enough to forget his past. He waved at the bartender to bill him and while he did that, he discerned the aesthetics of the place. It was a modest inn, with a wooden exterior, and two floors. Round tables and simple chairs are made of rowan wood; log walls are made of the same. Latex-stuffed pillows along the walls in case there wasn’t enough room at the tables to sit. He presumably picked this location because it might be the only one in town which didn’t make him feel out of place. But those aesthetics were the only things that he could relate to. The rest vastly differed from his day and time. Hybrid menus offer drinks in alcoholic and non-alcoholic variants, plant-based drinks for vegans, vapourised drinks only to be inhaled, and sex ratio displayed in each and every tavern, probably giving him a cover reason to come over here. After settling the score, as he got up ready to leave within earshot, he overheard two chavs ranting about how the world is full of warring nations and how nobody can settle their differences. “Kids these days…..” he thought to himself. Nevertheless, these “kids” were also around during his day, a century ago. Now Jamie usually hates confrontation, but he lets the drink speak for itself this time. Just before he prepares himself to leave, he turns towards them and interjects,
“Wouldn’t it be much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power; plotting over the brandy? You had to cling to this sort of image. If you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed their dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. But it wasn’t them, was it? Always, it was us. A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
And he leaves.
Hyperloop or self-driving shuttle? He asked himself. On foot, replied every inch of his body. Given that no one is willing to walk anymore, he would have all the solitude he could ask for. Jamie’s two-story house is located in Barnaby Woods of DC, a small two-story house metamorphosed from ship containers. A beautiful wooden front door leads into a deceptively large living room with one wall consisting entirely of glass doors that looked over Kingman Lake. A wood burner glowed quietly in the corner. The mood of the room was tasteful, and peaceful—a Scandinavian bachelor pad. He doesn’t have much to complain honestly, real estate within walking distance of a big city became far too valuable to waste on a flat plane and modest homes. Closer to the city were these sprawling hives of discoloured shoeboxes of prefabricated tin cans, which the realtor enthusiastically called, the “high-density housing of the future”. Which felt more like a euphemism for being a neatly stacked chicken flock. While these brutalist architecture nightmares rusted on the shores of the city, he wanted to rust the rest of his life on the shores of this lake without having to constantly ponder over the inevitable heartburn and now, an added pocket burn too.
Too exhausted to take off his shoes, and his jacket, or perform any of those niceties, he collapses onto his bed and stares at the ceiling above. The pitch-black tone of the ceiling transfigured into an endless dark abyss that consumed him in his entirety.
“Aaaand it was all a dream. Wait, what was?
Shit. This place?! Here we go again!
Jamie Walker awoke, but he did not remember. He was not even sure of his name. He was in a hospital room: even though his eyes were still closed, the most primitive, and redolent, of his senses told him that. Each breath brought a faint and quaint tang of antiseptics to his nose. It brought back memories of when he collapsed inadvertently as a careless young teenager after binging on flicks that the kids his age weren’t supposed to, for 36 hours straight without eating or sleeping. The embarrassment that followed through made him chuckle wheezily.
“Wait. Just hold on a second! What’s going on here?”
The last thing Jamie remembered was blacking out on his bed, in his bedroom. He could not make sense of who or where he was in those sparse moments through the endless haze of his memories.
“Is this again another of those flashbacks? Damn! All those therapy sessions with posh psychiatrists and pricey settings clearly didn’t do a thing”
But something about this doesn’t feel like a lucid recurrence, something feels very real about this head trip.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out….Go with the flow.” He thought to himself.
Now it was all beginning to come back. He was Captain Jamie “Fritz” Walker, EOD officer, of the United States Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal. He reckoned that he was touring Iraq when he was conscious the last time.
It seemed as if his heart was beating in a fast-forward playback as he recollected, in slow-motion playback, that the kid, Iqbal scurried towards him with a bowl of haleem. Then what followed was a silent impact and then not-so-silent hiss of air wheezing out of his chest as he lay there, trying to make sense of how unforeseeable this has been.
His confused train of thought was abruptly broken by the arrival of a Matron and two nurses, or at least that’s what he could make out of their interactions with one another, wearing hazmat suits. He could make out their faces from the transparent masks and something about their faces suggest they weren’t ready for this. They seemed a little surprised, Jamie felt that they weren’t expecting him this sooner…..or ever.
“Hello!” he said, after several attempts; his vocal cords appeared to be very rusty. “How am I doing?”
The Matron smiled back at him and gave an obvious “Don’t try to talk” command by putting a finger to her lips. Then the two nurses tended to him with flair, checking his pulse, temperature, and reflexes. When one of them struck his knee with a plexor,
“It’s real!” thought he.
Jamie could’ve sworn his knee-buckling felt real, as real as him at the moment. He cannot for the life of him comprehend what’s going on around him. How is this not just a dream? Did he wake up to the past? Many times before, he had dreamed of this excerpt of his life, but each time and was able to recognize it as a mere seven, which is why he is so certain that this time it isn’t.
He was about to ask the obvious question when the matron pressed something against the side of his neck, he felt a slight tingling sensation, and sank back into a dreamless sleep. Just before he became unconscious, he had time for one more puzzling thought.
“What will wake me up next?”
“Gina”, the word reverberated from the cockles of his heart.
When he woke again, he rubbed his eyes. Despite his surroundings being a mystery to him, his thought process remained quite clear, his sleep had benefited him.
“This was the following day”, thought Jamie. A bit disappointed that he wasn’t able to transcend himself to the day he could have Gina in his arms.
He was there-lying naked on a mattress. He shuffled out of that icy coffin, and suddenly, an enormous pressure weighed down upon him, and his legs collapsed underneath his own. When he recovered back to his feet and found Matron and nurses standing around his bed, Jamie felt strong enough to assert himself.
“Where am I? Surely you can tell me that!”
Before any of them could say anything, the opposite end of the room echoed with a voice,
“Took your own sweet time to wake up, huh?”
Dr. George Templeton, who was in his mid-thirties and stood at just over six feet tall and resembled a hunchback camel more than a doctor, was standing across the room.
“Relax, you are safe. You were brought hither straightaway from Iraq.”
Iraq?! All the memories came flooding back into Jamie’s mind. The kid-the screams-the chopper whirling above. But to his disbelief, these incidents appear to be a relic of the distant past though they ought to have happened in the recent past.
“You have been here some time…..sleeping, “ said the doctor, giving him a chlorophyll-colored fluid.
“Here, have this. You’ll need it.”
The drink tasted like a weird mix of meat and metal, but it assured him of the strength returning to his body.
“How long?” he asked in a raspy voice. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Some considerable time,” said George, glancing at the others.
“A very long time.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Jamie, now a bit testy. “But it isn’t exactly specific, is it? I need a number doc. Is it…it is….some days? Some weeks maybe? Many weeks?”
The ensuing silence between the two arose a budding premonition in Jamie’s heart.
“Oh! Very much more than that.”
“Then give me a figure, damnit!”
“You must be prepared to be surprised.”
“Approximately a centennial.”
“How long did you say?” asked Jamie, not familiar with that particular unit of decimal, giving his head a good ride of enervation.
Among a mixture of George’s unintelligible sentences, Jamie’s ear caught six words: “More than a couple of centuries.”
“What?” he cried.
“Yes,” said the man with the hunch back. “One-hundred-years.”
There was a pause. But it was more due to Jamie’s voice failing him.
“Mr. Walker,” said Templeton in conciliatory yet contrived voice “you know, of course, that you were disabled in a serious accident, while you were touring Iraq.”
Jamie nodded in agreement.
“I’m beginning to suspect,” he said dryly, “that ‘disabled’ is a slight understatement.”
“Your last chance of survival was to put you into a cryogenic sleep since you had quite a dance with death.”
“No more buts, Mr. Walker. Your brain has already taken a plethora of stress. Give it some time to recuperate. I’ll meet you tomorrow. Take some rest, you need it.”
Jamie laid there as he heard George tracking back to the door. This time, when he closed his eyes, it was impossible for him to sleep at all. Though his body was sore, his mind wasn’t, as it didn’t belong there…
Chapter 4: continuation
As Jamie once again blinked his eyes, he found that he was no longer in a bleak hospital room but in a luxurious suite with attractive and steadily changing images on the walls.
“Good morning! I’m tired. And I bet you’re tired. But we’re awake and alive and that’s enough. C’mon!” Standing at the door was the same guy he saw yesterday, Dr. George Templeton, with a renewed vigour that could make a newly joined intern size up with anxiety.
“Mr. Walker,” he began, in a very pragmatic tone, “My apologies for the very colloquial introduction we had earlier. I’m Dr. George Templeton, an anthropologist with a specialization in your period. My thesis was on “The Collapse of the Unipolar World,2000-50” and I have been appointed as your official guide and let’s say mentor”
“Wait. I thought you were a doctor with…..with an actual degree.”
“I mean I thought you had a doctorate which actually means something…..”
“I’m just going to pretend I haven’t heard that. But on a serious note, I believe we can help each other in many ways.”
“I’m sure we can. First, I’d like you to get me out of here, so I can get a glimpse of your world.”
“Sounds just about right! But first we must give you a Seit. Until then you’ll be thrown in—what was the term? —a limbo. It would be almost impossible for you to go anywhere, or get anything done. No input device would recognize your existence.”
Jamie gave a wry smile, “Back in my day, this legislation act would have met with a lot of resistance you know.”
“Oh, they still do.” replied George. “But it was an absolute necessity, you see; nations don’t have the same number of resources that they used to enjoy. And in order to ration its resources for its citizens, all countries signed a global pact to share its civilian’s data under the guise of preventing terrorism, but in reality, it was to fend off the illegal immigrants from the third world. It was- who was your leader again? – Ah! Trump’s wet dream came true.“
“ Ahhh! Of course!” chuckled Jamie “So tell me Mr. Templeton, what else this wretched planet had to face while I was gone? Amuse me.”
“Well do you remember the time, in your time, the superpower countries fought proxy wars to propagate their form of governance, you had democracy and communism trying to get an upper hand over the other? Well at the moment most of the countries have more or less the same form of governance with varying levels of corruption going on….”
“Oh wow! So, does that mean we aren’t at constant wars with each other anymore?”
“No. that’s means we have gone back to medieval times, when we just wanted to procure resources”
“Yep. And Oh yes! You aren’t allowed to say that anymore”
“Excuse me? What do you mean?”
“Are you religious?”
“Yes sir, I absolutely am. A devout church going Catholic right here.”
“Hate to disappoint you, but practicing a religion, so far as reciting a prayer, could land you in hot waters pretty quick. Publicly Practicing Religion is banned in almost all of the world including The Gulf. And Places of worship have either been demolished or converted to public buildings as they were seen as hotbeds for gaslighting the young and the innocent.”
Jamie was shell-shocked. “How did this all start?”
“Well, a couple of decades before, sometime into the 2040s. The world reached its peak of religious fanaticism, which became an ideal breeding ground for civil wars and the dirty politics that would follow. People slaughtering each other in the name of a “GOD” they haven’t seen, heard or felt. Dividing these lines deeper were the religious leaders who had their own ulterior motives in mind. These apparent “flag bearers” of religion used to flare up their section of societies with fiery speeches and blasphemous statements which made the populace go wild on empty and baseless convictions.”
“Energy Crisis. The offset of the global energy crisis made the governments steer away from vote bank politics and actually had to plan for the sustenance of their country’s future.”
“Well doc, I’m no big expert on geopolitics, but I’m pretty sure there were some ultra religious theocratic ruled states. What about them?”
“Oh! People borrowed a leaf from the book of your era. Keep bankrolling the resistance until they break through” Shrugged George.
“And Global energy crisis? Is it that bad eh?”
“ Pretty bad I’d say. Our global civilization, pioneering modern technology every decade, came at a price of-?”
“Fossil fuels, burning fossil fuels.” answered Jamie. He felt like he was back in 6 th standard diligently answers all the questions thrown at him by his environmental sciences teacher.
“So did we finally run out of those juices or what?”
“Nope. Not yet. But this is when countries in abundance of such resources decided to play naughty. They became really choosy on whom to export their resources to. Because now they can afford to limit their options and widen the scope of inflation, and ultimately power.”
“Didn’t ring a bell doc.”
“See, there are two types of countries in the world: net import countries and net export countries. The former can’t sustain on their own due to lack of resources and hence establish thriving service sectors and R&D sectors to establish their soft power. And the later countries are the ones with abundant resources and they don’t really need other countries’ help or inputs for their sustenance. They could always rely on their internal domestic economy for their survival. Now these countries have the actual power to manipulate the dynamics of the power. If they go rogue, which they already had, it would make everyone’s life difficult.”
“Got it doc!”
“ Sadly that’s the reason why the U.S wasn’t able to dominate for so long to maintain a unipolar world order. The military might of Russia, the Iranian oil and the Chinese Technological advancements successfully challenged and won against the U.S hegemony to establish the Multipolar World Order.”
That made Jamie to reckon of all those moments when he silently smirked at those who were constantly whinies on his country, in his country, for something that his country bears no responsibility of.What irks him even more was these constant whiny bitches aint even Americans, but a populace of third world who would gleefully lick the soles of their shoes when they need alms and kick them right back in their teeth when it’s convenient for them. This reminded him lyrics of a song he heard in the past, previous, life:
I give you everything (you let me down, down, down)
I gave you trust and salvation (you let me down, down, down)
I gave you everything that I could provide (yeah)
I gave you strength to stand and you shoved me Down I know you want me to love you But all you ever do is bring me down Won’t you go away forever?
I felt the world of pain (it’s coming down, down, down)
Brought to the water, then left me dry (down, down, down)
Took the drug from the user (yeah)
Took all my strength to run then shove me Down
I know you want me to love you
But all you ever do is bring me down
Won’t you go away forever?
It’s kinda freaky just to see you crawl
And all you can do is stare
I know you’re tripping
While I kick you to the curb Like you kicked me Me Me
Oh you shove me I know you want me to love you
But all you ever do is bring me down
Won’t you go away forever?
I know you want me to love you!
All you ever do is bring me down
Won’t you go away forever? Ever? Ever?
Now Now Now You shove me
You shove me
You shove me down
Shove me down
But Jamie knows,he knows that his country is a metamorphic phoenix, burnt and buried ,waiting to rise from ashes.The greatness of this country lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults……