Chapter One: The Awakening

The great ape was advancing on me—slowly, carefully, ready to spring at any moment. I stood there, longknife in hand, ready to meet its ferocious charge with a single life-draining thrust. Behind me, the princess was clinging to my bare back, her arms wrapped about my thickly muscled chest. She was waiting for me to overcome this final obstacle, as we fled from the evil priest who had kidnapped her. The monster looked fierce, but with her soft body pressed close to mine, I felt I had the strength of ten.

The ape closed. He was about to spring, when he slowly raised his great paw and said in a soft, feminine voice, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“What?”

I squinted at his massive paw. I couldn’t tell. Was this some sort of trick?

“How many fingers am I holding up?” he insisted.

His paw was fading. The princess was fading. I opened my eyes. In their place I saw a dimly lit room. There was a female human there holding a hand in front of my face. She said again, “How many fingers?”

I didn’t care. I felt miserable. I’d lost the princess. I looked around to see where she might have gone, but reality was intruding. I focused my eyes on the hand again, I concentrated hard on it … God! I’m not sure I can count that high!

“Three,” I finally croaked.

“Good. You’re coming out in a satisfactory fashion. You may go back to sleep, John.”

Mentally, I thanked her for nothing, and went back to see if I could find the princess.

<<<<*>>>>

Sometime later I woke again. I was in a room with white plastic furnishings. There were shelves and cupboards all around; they were all bare. The ceiling was translucent plastic; the light was off. I could see because the door was open, letting light in from the next room.

This time life was a little more normal: My nose was stuffed, my throat was raw, and I felt hung over. I moved: the bed rolled around under me.

“Waterbed,” I thought. “How I hate getting out of one of these.”

I felt my way to the edge, and tried to roll over it carefully, but ended up falling on the floor with a thump. It didn’t hurt much, which meant I was either worse off than I thought, or in low G.

I struggled for my feet; it was low G. The nurse came in from the next room. She helped me up, sat me back down on the bed, and started massaging my neck and back. It felt real good. I finally recalled her name, Mary … hell of a nurse … she’d put me under with this same massage, and I remembered how good it felt then. I think the princess in my dreams had learned a lot from her.

“Welcome back to real time, Dr. Greenburg.”

She was a real sweetheart. I wasn’t feeling so bad about having to leave dreamland. Soon, I might even feel hungry. But then I swallowed, and the pain in my throat discouraged that idea for the moment. I coughed, and that about finished me off.

I croaked, “Low G. Are we on the new world?”

“Not yet, John. We’re on its moon. But interesting things have happened. That’s why the captain had you revived.”

This was unusual. I’m a zoologist. I wasn’t supposed to be brought out until after we landed.

“Tell me more.”

“I will, while we’re getting you back in shape to join the real world.”

I took a deep breath.

“Okay.”

This revival process was intense and arduous; it felt a lot like trying to cure the flu with aerobics. But it got results. Without it, I’d be in bed a week reviving; with it, I’d be up to speed in ten hours.

“Lead me on,” I sighed.

Ten hours later, I stepped out of the whirlpool, toweling myself off, and feeling like a new man. I felt younger than when I went into hyposleep, sprightlier, and my left knee wasn’t aching. I yelled out to Mary in the next room, “Hey, I feel better than I think I should, Mary.”

“You should, indeed!”

I could hear her click a few last strokes on the keyboard, then she walked in.

“They’ve made some improvements in hyposleep since you went under. They’ve figured out how to keep your immune and tissue repair systems fully active. It’s amazing what your body can fix when it’s given the time and encouragement to work on it undisturbed.

“But now that you’re up and at it, it’s time to get to work.”

She handed me a pair of light work coveralls.

“The captain expects you to attend the next meeting, tomorrow morning, and be ready to contribute. Good luck, dear. And welcome back to real time.”

She gave me a wink and a kiss, and then walked out.

“I could use another back rub,” I yelled as she left.

“Any time,” came the reply echoing down the hall.

“Hell of a nurse,” I thought again. “Maybe there is life without the princess after all.”

Then I turned my attention back to getting dressed and reading up on the reports of our arrival at Alerzion, the first planet man has encountered with an alien civilization.