It is time. He heard the voice in his head, from a long way off, and realized he had been asleep, lost in dreams, for heaven knew how long. He hardly remembered who he was, but he must not have been asleep the entire time, for he had some inkling of where he was. From the looks of it, it was some kind of stasis tube, an isolation chamber. He was looking through water, some kind of liquid. Was he still dreaming?
He lay there for a moment, eyes open, not quite fully conscious, as the room warmed around him, prodding his sluggish blood to life. In his head, he remembered that voice, that same voice that told him it was time--a woman, or a high-voiced man--telling him of the wonders that sprung up as he slept, the horrors. It was a voice out of time. Out of time, as he'd been for so long, so long that he only remembered a name: Arthur. I am Arthur. But who am I?
Arthur sat up in the fluid-filled tank. He gasped as warm air flooded into his lungs; vomited as the fluid that had kept him alive and nourished but static and unmoving forced its way out of his eustachian tube. His organs convulsed; he felt like every nerve was on fire. The light in the room was growing brighter only gradually, but it was like a dagger being driven into his temple. He sat there for heaven knew how long, until the air moved in and out of his lungs unobstructed. Arthur realized he was cold, and looked down; he was naked. It made a certain amount of sense that he would not wear clothing in a fluid-filled tank, though he wasn't sure how he knew this, just as he wasn't sure how he knew that someone would be coming for him, soon.
He found a gray jumpsuit and blue vest of some strange, supple material hanging on a hook on the wall, and he put them on. Arthur. I am Arthur. Am I Art? Artie? What is my family name? Where IS my family? And, soon: Where am I? Yet he had a strange feeling, a knowing, that all would come clear. He thought he remembered the voice in his dreams, telling him that this would happen. Who was that voice?
There was a soft ding, and a set of doors he hadn't noticed slid open at one end of the small, smooth-walled chamber. A tall, slender man in a white coat entered. A scientist? He was holding a square device with a stylus poised and ready to write.
"Excellent," the man said in a dulcet and soothing voice. It was not the voice from Arthur's dreams. "Our Rip Van Winkle is awake. It's been a long time; even we aren't sure how long. How are you feeling?"
"Why, I'm..." Arthur's voice came out hoarse, his vocal cords contracting painfully as he tried to speak. He swallowed, and made another attempt, lifting his head proudly, though he wasn't sure why he felt he should do so. "The waking...was difficult." His own voice sounded strange to his ears, the words felt odd on his tongue, the shape of them. He didn't sound like the man who stood before him. Why?
"I'm sure, I'm sure. Please, drink this." The man handed him a clear bottle of some strange green liquid. It bubbled startlingly on his tongue and down his throat, and was achingly sweet, but he immediately felt clearer-headed. Perhaps he'd been missing some vital nutrient that was supplied by this...he looked at the bottle again, saw the name, and smiled. Somewhere, surfacing from deep within his memory, was the taste of dew from the mountainsides. This was nothing like it.
"We had arrangements made for you upon your awakening from stasis," the man said, "if you'd like to come with me."
Arthur nodded. It didn't seem as though he had a choice. There was nowhere else but this room, devoid of people, of food, of life. He did not know what life was like on the outside, except that it had been changing, so much, so quickly. He followed the man, who walked briskly, his shoes making crisp tapping sounds, and found himself in a huge network of corridors. They walked through the maze, Arthur hurrying to catch up with the larger man while still gaping at the unfamiliar sights, still straining to use his eyes after their long rest.
At the end of a long hallway, a set of doors slid open and they stepped through. Arthur stared, and his eyes slowly moved upward. It was a huge cylinder, the likes of which he'd never seen; like the inside of a castle tower, a grain silo, only much larger. Lights twinkled along it at intervals, and huge semitransparent red spheres were moving up and down the sides and even the middle of the space, suspended in clear tubes. He thought he could see the shapes of people inside the red spheres. This was confirmed when one glided down to a halt right in front of him, and a smiling young couple stepped out, wearing green jumpsuits. They nodded and hurried to a set of doors labeled "A Plus Resort and Underwater Hot Springs."
"Underwater?" Arthur exclaimed, astonished. The scientist nodded. "What is this place?"
"Why, sir; this is Apple Isle. You've been in the underground research facility ever since you were found miraculously preserved in some kind of natural stasis field about thirty feet below the island's surface. But you've been unconscious for so long; maybe..." Arthur must have looked blank. The scientist blinked and shook his head. "It's worth a try, I suppose...In the old stories people called it Avalon."
This week's piece was inspired by Christmas on Madeira by Flickr user Madeira. It was also inspired by watching too many Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine reruns, while also reading a kids' graphic novel about King Arthur. Check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, Linus, and new members Neil and Dermot, who's still getting set up.