Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love—I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will.
I have two things that belonged to her. The first is a photograph, taken at a party in what looks like a hotel. Her hair is dyed red—it doesn’t quite suit her, so you know it isn’t hers, like an unexpected note in a melody where you thought you knew where it was going and then it went sharp. She’s holding a glass of something pink and bubbly. Maybe it’s her birthday. If so, it’s probably her twenty-eighth. She’s laughing.
She was really young to be a client. Especially back then, most of the people who thought about life extension were retirees. Mortality was very much on their minds, and they’d had a lifetime to accumulate their savings—suspension was expensive. I wonder where she got the money. Her file doesn’t say.
So in this picture she’s laughing. She’s seated, supporting herself with one hand braced against the carpeted floor. Her head is thrown back and her back is arched, and she’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. There are other people around her, behind her, just smiling blurs holding drinks, but you get the feeling that she’s the reason they’re smiling. She’s the star they’re all in orbit around. Like me. I fell into her orbit years ago and can’t break free.
The picture moves with me through my bleak basement apartment, from room to room—sometimes it turns up on top of the half-size refrigerator, sometimes absent-mindedly left on a shelf in the medicine cabinet where I discover it again later and take it with me to the bedroom. I’ve found it between the sofa cushions at least half a dozen times. She follows me, or I follow her—it’s been a lifetime since she smiled that smile, and I’m still completely, utterly taken.
The one place it never goes is on the dewar in the corner. That would just be too macabre, considering.
This is the only photograph she left. I often wonder what it was about this moment, this time in her life, that she could have looked ahead and known that this was as good as it gets. In this picture the cancer’s already killing her, she just doesn’t know it.
She died less than a year later. Pancreatic cancer. It’s in her file.
• • • •
I was given her file four years after I started with the company, in a crumbling box of data that needed to be digitized.
Those poor bastards, they had no idea what would happen to them fifty or a hundred years on. I wondered at the time whether they might have changed their minds about being cryopreserved at all. Probably not—they were in the immortality business, like we are. They would have paid any price.
“All early conversion cases,” my boss said. “We don’t know what’s really there anymore. The risk of fracturing was high in those days.”
I’ve seen the results of fracturing. It’s not pretty. The early full-body cases were bad, which was one of the reasons they went to neuro in the first place. The splits in the elbows, the back of the knees, the buttocks, the groin—anywhere there’s a fatty fold, the frozen flesh split wide open. When they realized it was happening, and that there was almost no chance of a full-body patient getting out of it without severe damage, they were all converted to neuros. The procedure is executed with a power saw.
I flipped through the files, brittle and yellowed with age. The metal prongs that held the files together had rusted, and some of them snapped off when I tried to free the pages for scanning.
Her file was near the end. I scanned it and put it back in the box with the others to be destroyed. I didn’t even really think about why I went back for it. I just wanted to see her smile again.
• • • •
The other thing I have of hers is a note—hand-written, on a 3×3-inch faded yellow square. The writing runs across it at a diagonal. She wrote it with a fountain pen; I can tell by the way the width varies in the strokes. They are bold strokes, no-nonsense strokes. The ink is a whimsical green. Was that important to her? This was her last message to anyone who mattered.
There is a small stain at the bottom of the paper now, a droplet of liquid that the ink bled into and spread like lichen. Brandy, if it was from five years ago; whiskey, if it was more recent. I’ve had this file for a long time. I can’t read it now, not really, not in the state I’m in. It swims in front of me through a bourbon haze. But I know what it says.
This is as I wish to be restored.
Her wishes were clear, written there in green ink, spattered and smeared from my ministrations, and that’s what keeps me up at night, keeps me drinking. What would she want me to do? The note is all I have of her, aside from the picture, and the file, and the file says nothing.
That’s not strictly true. It’s just all I know of her. I have all of her. All that’s left, anyway.
• • • •
From what I’ve read, her actual last words were nothing to write home about. She wanted her cat looked after. She wanted water, and was cold. That’s pretty normal. “Cover my feet,” she said to the nurse. “I’d like a drink of water,” she said. “My mouth is so dry.” Usually there is no wisdom imparted, no grand finale—we’re cold, and we want to sleep. It was no different for her.
Her final moments were uneventful, if you discount the cadre of specialists outside her door. It was after she died that things got serious.
That was all a very long time ago.
When the money ran out and it became clear that we couldn’t sustain them all, we had to decide which patients we couldn’t save. I’d been with the company for the better part of a decade by then. I remember Melanie breaking down in tears during the board meeting, and Bill having to excuse himself to be sick in the restroom. This was a failure that we took personally, so personally that for a while I was spending nights taking calls from colleagues and talking them out of suicide. You can see why they would consider it—it would have been a poetic kind of atonement. Generations of patients had placed their lives in our hands, and we’d failed them.
The earliest patients had the lowest probability of success, due to the imperfect vitrification processes they used in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Eighty-three early patients were selected, their polished chrome dewars stacked against a cinder block wall and their data files updated. Distant descendants were tracked down and contacted, most of whom neither knew nor cared that they had an ancestor in suspension and weren’t much interested in the disposition of their remains.
She never had children, never got married. There was no one to call, and no one to care that the count had changed by one when I turned them over for disposal.
• • • •
The unit is fairly easy to maintain. The temperature isn’t as well regulated as I’d like, and I can’t get it as cold as we had at the facility, but I do what I can.
Three years ago last August, I nearly lost her to a storm that kept me away from home longer than expected. In my mind I could see the sweating canister as the temperature climbed, I could see that crimson hair hanging in lank wet strands, while decomposition set in—autolysis, cell rupture, her skin blistering, slippage, irreversible damage—everything we as mortal beings fear and everything that we had protected her from for the better part of a century.
And her face, while achingly beautiful, was not the worst of it. If her brain began to thaw, what part of her would be lost first? Language skills? Motor function? Impulse control? Memory? I could imagine her life as a map, traced in sepia on immaculate folds of gray matter: the roads, waterways, borders, and landmarks of her heart erased one ruptured cell at a time. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I had to get to her and stop it.
I nearly knocked the basement door off its hinges, my heart pounding like a hammer, but there she was—enclosed, sealed, regulated, cold. Liquid nitrogen levels low but not dry. Cold enough. If I had been another six hours it might have been too late.
That was the moment, knowing that I’d almost lost her. I could no longer pretend that I could store her here forever. I had to start planning for her revival.
The next morning I came to on the floor, empty bottle just out of reach, my head pounding and my gut in revolt. When I opened my eyes in the half-light, there was a face in front of me, like I’d woken in a bed beside someone meant to be there, and in my half-conscious state I thought it was her. I reached out to touch her, and my fingers struck the hard, cold steel of the dewar.
I haven’t traveled since.
• • • •
I bought a green pen. I wrote the words over and over again in a notebook that I used for nothing else, and I carried the picture of the laughing girl from room to room as I thought about what it meant to revive her.
I practiced until I couldn’t tell the difference between her handwriting and my own. I try to put myself in her place—young, unafraid, confident that the future will be better, brighter, and that she will be welcomed there. I write the words, and for the six seconds that it takes, I think I can feel what she felt in those moments. The stroke across the T is emphatic, the flourish on the d is full of anticipation of a day when all of her dreams will come true.
They’ve been working backward, last-in-first-out. The synthetics are good, I’ve seen them. Like Lassiter. He was a neuro suspended not too long after her—thirty years, maybe—and he’s taken to it fine. Everything about her that matters is still there. The memory of her first kiss, her last goodbye, all of the events that made her or broke her. All of the things that made her smile. What she really wanted, I tell myself, was to come back.
I’ll probably be fired. Who am I kidding? I’ll definitely be fired. But once they know I have her, they’ll have to do it, won’t they? We don’t talk much about what happened all those years ago. When we do, we refer to it as the Crisis, and we don’t look each other in the eye. If they know that she’s still here, and that they can bring her back, they won’t have a choice. And they can’t have me arrested, not when they would have destroyed her. If we believe our own marketing material, I stopped them from committing murder.
I comfort myself with this thought and the last of the bourbon. I’ve laid in a bottle of something pink and bubbly. It seemed like the right kind of welcome. Whether or not she’ll be able to taste it is another matter.
Tomorrow. Tonight I’ll pass out like I have every night, with her picture nearby and her words echoing in my head.
It made about as much sense as wishing on a star. It could never be done. People who had never even heard of a stem cell thought we’d grow them brand new bodies just like their old one. We’re not going to grow anencephalic clones in tanks and age them to their twenties. That’s not how revival works. It’s not how it’s ever going to work.
Her future was a place, and I am a native of it. I know the terrain; I know the weather. And I know that this isn’t the future she wanted. This isn’t what she meant.
This is as I wish to be restored.
It was a naïve hope on her part. I have a lot of hopes of my own, equally naïve. But the main one, the one that I cling to as consciousness fades away with her picture pressed against my heart, is this:
I hope that she forgives me.