The orderlies spoke only once during the entire process, as they were lifting him from the casket and onto a gurney nearby, counting down to the main effort. Then they wheeled him from the room, and after we’d walked into the room where we’d slept for the last week, they walked out. We didn’t see them again for quite some time; years rather than the minutes I expected then. I realised only after they’d left that we didn’t know their names, and it had never even occurred to me to ask. Something else did occur to me, though.
“Uh, professor… is he going to have as much of a freak-out as I had when we woke up?”
“How do you mean?”
“The, uh… the smells.” Alex was smirking at me.
“Oh, no. His senses are heightened, but not to the same level as yours. He’ll have quite enough to get used to as it is. Now, hush, he’ll be waking soon.”
There was a quiet minute or two, and then his eyes flickered and opened, squinting almost immediately.
“Muh… my eyes hurt…” History has little or no sense of true drama, but then, we couldn’t warn him of the weight of the moment. James had no such excuse.
“That’s because you’ve never used them before,” he said in a deep brown voice. Alex slapped him on the back of the head. Darwin was looking around, now, his face screwed up.
“Where am I? This is… not my bed-room,” and when he said it you could hear the pause between words. I decided it was my turn to speak up.
“You’re in a hospital ward at Waiouru Army Base, in New Zealand, and it’s the 28th of January, two thousand and eight.” The professor glared at me, probably miffed that I’d stolen his thunder.
“How..?” He was probably hoping for something simple like “You’ve gone mad and I didn’t actually say that.” Instead the poor bastard got the professor on another explain-binge. Darwin seemed to tolerate it, like background noise, while he gazed around at us. James and I had put on more ordinary clothes after our showers – I was wearing the yellow shirt, emblazoned with “EMO!” and a smily face, which Sam had made for my birthday a couple of years back,1 and James was in his yellow-and-maroon rugby shirt. Alex was in a dress uniform, and the professor was in full tweed, so we must have looked a little under-dressed, but he’d have to be shocked by our generation’s lax dress standards sooner or later, and it might as well be while he was in a medical ward.
We sat with him for a while. Mostly he just asked the same questions in different ways, the way one does. He took a while to get the idea of women in the army, and grimaced when he finally understood that Alex really was trained as a soldier. He had no trouble with the idea of two largely self-educated white male middle-class layabouts and ne’er-do-wells, however.