He awoke in a bed - tired, alone and confused. He squinted his eyes until his blurred vision gradually came back into focus but at the same time, they ached from the bright lights that shone down from the ceiling. He slowly looked around the plain and featureless room. His initial guess was that he was in a hospital ward. It certainly smelled like one; but it lacked the generic bedside-friendly look one would normally associate with a public hospital. Wherever he was seemed more like a high-tech research laboratory. He then looked down at himself as he lay on the bed. His body was covered many tubes and wires which led out to strange drip-bags that dangled on a frame and to machines that whirred and beeped repeatedly. Soon, he was fully conscious but lay there, motionless and growing increasingly distressed. He dared not move too much for fear inadvertently causing himself further injury - and yet he had no idea how he ended up there in the first place - no memory of why. In fact, to begin with, he had no memory of anything at all aside from who he was; and then gradually, like a shallow stream, they began to trickle back. It was a painless sensation but strange all the same. It was like computer files in his mind being opened one after another. He soon started to recall what he was - a soldier, covert operations, and driver specialist. He remembered a mission he and his team had been building up to, but no recollection of the mission itself. He lay back down and concentrated hard; but recalled nothing more after.
A few minutes more passed by for what seemed like forever, until the door to the room opened, and in walked two mysterious men dressed in long white laboratory jackets. The man naturally assumed they were doctors. Both men seemed pleased to see the patient was awake and had pulled through whatever surgery he had undergone. As they carefully sat him up on the bed to examine him, the patient slowly opened his mouth to try and speak but struggled to get even one word out. The only noise he could make was reduced to stuttered whispers, as if he had never spoken before in his life.
“Now rest easy, sir,” one of the doctors reassured him, “You have been through quite an experience and there is much for you to take in.”
The doctor took the man’s wrist and checked his pulse, while the other doctor examined his tired eyes. The man was weak and exhausted but continued his efforts to speak; to force out at least a syllable. The doctors stepped back slightly and faced him as the sounds became more frequent; and waited for him to say something coherent.
“Can we help you, sir?” one of the doctors asked slowly. “Is there anything we can do for you just now? Can we get you anything? Anything at all?”
They waited patiently as the man continued to force out sounds. The stammered whispers gradually became mumbling murmurs, which became louder with each passing second until he eventually began to speak clearly.
“I...” he began slowly and delicately. He looked directly into the eyes of what he presumed to be the senior doctor. “I’m hungry. I want something to eat.”
“I’m not surprised,” The doctor replied with a smile. “My assistant here has a tray of food ready for you. A strong appetite is very common for somebody in your condition.”
The doctor signalled his assistant forward, who then wheeled across a tray of food into view and positioned it in front of the man. The patient looked down at the dish with a raised eyebrow in surprise at what he saw - not disappointed or dissatisfied, but rather pleasantly surprised. Instead of the stereotypical ‘hospital food’ he had been expecting, or even a mundane pack of sandwiches from the nearest vending machine, the man found himself being treated to what, for him, would be the ‘perfect feast’. It was a large dish of chicken wings, accompanied by a variety of spicy dipping sauces. In addition to that was a twelve-inch chicken and red onion pizza, a side plate of French fries and a large bottle of cola - chilled. This was hardly the kind of meal he expected somebody in the medical profession to recommend but there he was - being beckoned by so-called medical experts to just ‘dig in’ - and that he did. Wasting no time, the man dived in and began to stuff his face with the heavenly meal. He gorged primitively as if he hadn’t eaten in years and relished every second of the experience. The doctors watched with a smile, with one of them taking notes and nodding in approval at what they were observing. As he ate, the man kept watchful eyes on the two men in white; after all, there was a reason why he was there and why he was being treated like a celebrity.
“Hungry?” the lead doctor commented. The man nodded and forced a tight smile as he attempted to show appreciation despite a mouthful of chicken.
“Thought you might be,” the doctor continued with satisfied smile. “According to the details we collected this is meant to be your favourite food.”
The man nodded in agreement. “Too right, doc!” he finally managed to speak.
“Normally we would have had something healthier ready, like a salad or a pasta meal;” the doctor explained, “but the research and current guidelines recommend encouraging you to familiarise yourself with your surroundings based on what you would see as ‘normal’. This can include favourite foods, familiar smells, even music if you like.”
“And after some time,” the other doctor added, “we’ll expose you to familiar faces, such as friends, relatives, work colleagues, etc.”
The man paused and looked slightly confused. What did the doctor mean by ‘familiarise’? His thoughts then brought him back to the bigger issue of why he was in hospital in the first place - and he was immediately aware that somebody he hoped would have been there when he woke up, was not.
“Cassy?” he inquired. At the same time, he began to look around. “Where is Cassy? Is she here? Is she okay?”
“Cassy is fine, I believe,” the lead doctor reassured him, “and you will get to see her once we’ve helped you get back into the swing of things. And on that note, allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr Wint and my quiet assistant taking notes over there is Dr Morecambe.”
“Doctor...” the man inquired again, still frantically looking around the room. “Why am I here?”
“First things first,” replied Dr Wint as he leaned closer towards the man. “We need you to confirm to us who you are.”
“What?” the man remarked in confusion.
“Your name, please?” Dr Morcambe asked, “Your full name, please?”
“My name...” the man began as he answered slowly. “My name is Haughton - Jonathan Kenzie Haughton.”
“Correct!” Dr Morcambe replied, making a gesture with his pen as if he were ticking a box on his notepad.
“Your birthday is May 12th...” Dr Wint then said suggestively.
“August!” Jonathan corrected him. “11th August.”
“And your favourite colour...” Dr Wint then suggested, “...Green?”
“Red!” he answered.
The doctors looked at each other with nods of approval; but Jonathan was unimpressed. He pushed the rest of his meal away and sat further back on his bed.
“Would you tell me what this is all about?” he asked impatiently, “What happened to me? Why I’m here?”
“Do you remember much before waking up here?” Morcambe asked him. Jonathan paused for a minute to think about the question.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess it rather depends how long I have been lying here. Have I got amnesia or something, Doc?”
“We don’t believe so, Mr Haughton,” replied Dr Wint. “In fact, we are hoping that your long-term memories are all intact. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have done our job properly.”
“But I’m still not sure why I’m here,” Jonathan replied. “I’ve no idea how I’ve ended up in hospital, being pumped full of chemicals and hungry as hell. I just...”
Jonathan paused momentarily as a sudden realisation hit him.
“The mission!” he guessed. “I’m guessing our target was a little less welcoming than we were led to believe. Did anyone else make it out okay?”
Dr Wint sighed and moved closer to Jonathan.
“Now look, Mr Haughton,” he said. “Right now, you probably have many questions, and we will do our best to answer them as best we can; but the process is a delicate one and it is important that you to trust us for the time being. I assure you we all have your best interests at heart.”
Jonathan’s expression became more impatient. He wasn’t used to being in the dark with what was going on around him and he certainly didn’t appreciate being spoken to in riddles. He responded with a more aggressive tone in his voice.
Dr Wint was unfazed and remained calm.
“Mr Haughton, do you remember anything about your mission?” he asked. “Anything at all?”
Jonathan calmed slightly and began to reflect on what he could remember.
“To be honest, Doc? No!” he answered.”
“No matter, Mr Haughton,” replied Dr Wint. “With the permission of your former superiors I am at liberty to disclose to you that there were...complications regarding the mission of which you speak. From what was released publicly, several things went wrong, for everybody involved. For unknown reasons, the armoured vehicle being used to transport the team spun out of control and crashed, killing all on board.”
Dr Wint’s careful choice of words hadn’t gone unnoticed by Jonathan.
"Former superiors?” he inquired, still confused.
“One step at a time, Mr Haughton,” Dr Wint replied patiently. “Firstly, we need to know what the last thing you remember was.”
“Literally the last thing before waking up here,” Morcambe added, “no matter how trivial.”
Jonathan paused again and took a deep breath as he attempted to recall everything that had happened to him. His memory was still cloudy, but he was not yet sure whether it was down to his exhaustion or his injuries.
“If I’m honest, Doc, I’m not really sure what I remember. I’ve been drifting in and out of consciousness - been having vivid dreams...”
“Concentrate if you can, Mr Haughton,” Dr Wint advised. “It’s important.”
Jonathan obliged and began to clear his mind; but after a few moments he shook his head in disappointment.
“No,” he answered. “The last thing I recall was the day before we were due to set out.”
“Go on,” Dr Wint encouraged him.
“I said my goodbyes to Cassy that morning and drove away,” Jonathan continued. “I remember stopping off at the Forever Together clinic en-route in order to update their memory banks and...”
“And what?” Dr Morcambe asked,
“And... now wait a minute!” Jonathan suddenly realized. “Did you say that the crash killed everyone on board?”
“According to official reports, that’s right,” Dr Wint nodded.
“But how can that be?” said Jonathan. His facial expression twisted slightly in confusion. “I was supposed to be the one driving!”
“Well, not exactly,” Dr Morcambe commented.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Jonathan. “Did I go on mission or not?”
“Well, technically...” Wint remarked without finishing.
John turned his head back up towards Dr Wint and looked him in the eyes again. “Doctor...My mind’s a total blank. Do you know what happened to me out there? Why can’t I remember anything?”
Dr Wint placed a comforting hand on Jonathan’s shoulder.
“It is probably for the best that you are sitting down, Mr Haughton,” he said, “This isn’t going to be easy to take in. It never is.”
“Take in what?” Jonathan inquired as his heartbeat began to rise in anticipation. His body was still connected to the machines, which began to register his increased anxiety and signalled their results to the two doctors through a series of rapid beeps.
“As far as you are concerned, you are Jonathan Kenzie Haughton,” Dr Wint began to explain, “You were born in Nottingham, England and moved to Chicago, United States, when you were five. You enrolled in the military at the age of 20, in which you have maintained an outstanding record; being repeatedly selected for covert missions around the world and being decorated for your efforts on several occasions. You have been with your girlfriend, Cassandra Summers, whom you refer to as ‘Cassy’, for 6 years in an ever-growing relationship that included some mutual enrolment in the Forever Together scheme as part of a joint life-insurance policy- hence your regular six-month memory uploads.”
The doctor stopped there to allow Jonathan to process his report. He nodded slowly and silently.
“As you know,” Dr Morcambe added, “The Forever Together institute is a highly sophisticated and expensive scientific endeavour to preserve the memories of deceased relatives upon their passing...to help relieve the sense of loss of the bereaved.”
“In a nutshell,” Dr Wint remarked, “a clone replacement of the deceased.”
“I know,” Jonathan replied. “Cassy and I both signed up to it. We paid extra for the memory uploads.”
“But why so frequent?” Dr Morcambe asked. “Every six months, when most people on the scheme pay to go just once every two years?”
“I want my replacement to be as close to being ‘me’ as possible, if that makes any sense,” Jonathan explained. “Due to the nature of my work, I reckon there is more chance of me dying than most folk out there. More frequent uploads mean that my replacement will have all my most recent memories, should that fateful day ever come. Nothing but the best for my Cassy. Nothing but...”
Jonathan stopped again as another realisation suddenly hit him. Up to now he had been reasonably concerned about the mission, how bad it really was and what had happened to him and his comrades; but now he had another thought - one he hoped would not be true - but one that would logically explain the lack of memory since his previous upload at the clinic.
“Doctor...” he stammered nervously as his heart began to race again. “Where am I?”
Both Wint and Morcambe gave Jonathan a look of both concern and anticipation as they prepared to deliver what he expected to be difficult news.
“To put it bluntly, Mr Haughton,” Dr Wint delicately explained, “following the most recent upload at the clinic, Jonathan Haughton set off for a final briefing in preparation for the mission; after which the team was mobilised the following day...but the vehicle they were travelling in crashed and they, including Jonathan, never made it home.”
“Including Jonathan???” Jonathan exclaimed; his eyes widened in surprise.
“Never made it home,” Dr Wint repeated. “He was declared missing in action and later dead. His body was never found but there wasn’t much left of the wreckage. The mission, whatever it entailed, was abandoned.”
“After which Cassandra Summers, following an understandable period of mourning, eventually filed for the release of the cloned replacement,” Dr Morcambe added. “That was three months ago.”
Jonathan’s breathing intensified as he began to take in the news of who he used to be...and what he was now.
“It will take some time to adapting to the world as a clone replacement, Mr Haughton,” Dr Wint continued, “but we are confident that with the rapid progress we have made so far in getting you ready you should be released very soon.”
Jonathan grew increasingly agitated as the machines continued to beep and buzz wildly. Like a caged animal seeking freedom, he threw the food table to the floor and began to frantically rip the various wires attached to him. The two doctors rushed forward to try and restrain him and calm him down; but he managed to push them away; and after ripping away the final tube, he bolted from the room. Wint crawled to his feet again and frantically hit an emergency button on the wall, which activated an alarm. Out in the corridor, the confused and panicked Jonathan staggered about and covered his ears as the deafening alarm echoed around him. He tried to find his bearings but within minutes, several more scientists had converged on his position and attempted to restrain him. He tried to fight them away but was eventually subdued. Another scientist moved in with a syringe and jabbed the needle straight into Jonathan’s thigh. The tranquilising chemical took a minute or so to take effect, giving time for the scientists to carefully move him onto a nearby clinical bed, where he finally succumbed. As the group of scientists attached the restraints, Wint and Morcambe appeared, none the worse for wear, to examine their patient again.
“I don’t think he took it too well.” Dr Wint commented.
“You think so?” Dr Morcambe sarcastically concurred. “Do you think there’s something wrong with the protein? You’d have thought it would have kicked in by now.”
“I don’t know,” Dr Wint replied, “but either way we cannot let him out of here in his present condition. He’s going to need more time.”
“And what of the client?” Dr Morcambe then asked. “Do we let her know?”
“She doesn’t need to know about any of this just yet,” replied Wint. “Just tell her...he’s not quite ready...which wouldn’t be too far from the truth.”
Wint then leaned over the sedated Jonathan and looked down at his face, as if he was still conscious and listening.
“In the meantime, Mr Haughton,” he silently said to him, “welcome to the world.”