Six friends make a pack to each choose an occupation that would benefit their group and thirty years later they have created one of the largest cryonics organisations and reveals the first successfully awakened human, or so they say.
On the twelfth year of uninterrupted heat, the endurance of six friends had come to an end as they once again returned to the old factory building. Surrounded by cracked asphalt with a thin layer of dust, roasted leafs on the palm trees from the extended summer, and an overtaking odour of recycled frying oil, CryoCare rose up from an oversized parking lot.
In Aimee Lee’s office, a piercing light shot through the glass and over the laminated floor. Reminiscing about the soft sent of wet stone, changes of season, and the bright pallor of winter, Aimee firmly gripped a solid curtain by the window, sliding it all the way across the opening to conceal the room from every last shred of light. Devoted to playing out her role she relied on patience so the desire to once again reunite the sixth member with the group, could bring her completion. Today was that day. A television screen came to life as Aimee turned it on by remote. Her hand rested on Damien Cave’s shoulder as he sat comfortably in a wheelchair, pale and with every inch of hair removed from his body. In silence, they watched as a commercial, narrated by a man with a dark but soothing voice, appeared on the screen.
“Ever felt like a vacation is never enough - what if we said that the perfect vacation is only a phone call away?” On the screen, a man in the scorching sun was mowing his lawn while yearningly glimpsing at an empty hammock beneath an oak tree.
The image faded out as the narrator continued. “Do you have a decease no current medicine can cure - what if we said that all you need is more time?” A young boy with dark circles around his hollow eyes rested in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends.
“Ever feel depressed and need a break from everything - what if we said that you could?” The image transformed into a man, leaning over an edge on top of a roof, looking down onto a busy street below.
“Ever had the desire to make a clean slate, to start over - now you can.” An old woman placed an out of business sign outside an obsolete printing house. The woman turned to observe the city behind her, watching as the wheels on cars altered into humming engines that lifted them above the ground, and how skyscrapers grew even taller towards a sky where silent trains ran on slim lines between the buildings.
“Ever wanted to know what the future holds for mankind - what if we said you could find out for yourself?”
The narrators voice toned out and onto the screen emerged a large industrial building where huge separate metal letters spelled out the name CryoCare.
Inside a vast hall, fluorescent lights along an endless roof above a grey shiny floor – crowded by man-sized containers positioned horizontally in parallel rows – stood Aimee, wearing a white lab coat to act the part. She spoke directly to the viewer with a firm yet welcoming voice. “We all have our reasons to escape, to take a break from whatever is troubling us; this is the service we are providing - for you. Come down and have a talk, no risks, no responsibility, and you decide when to come back. You deserve this. The future is now,” Aimee said, as the commercial came to an end with contact information running at the bottom of the screen.
“I kind of like it - nice effects,” Damien said, placing his hand on Aimee’s. “Must have been expensive.”
“When have you ever worried about costs? We’re running it on every channel, every hour, just like Andrew said. Every soul in this town will see it. It’s going to be huge; the press is already waiting for us downstairs.” She was actually getting excited. “Are you ready? We could wait a few days if you need to finish up your business.”
“It’s all been taken care of. I’ve waited long enough.”
Aimee took a deep breath, grabbed the handles on the wheelchair, and together they moved out from the office where a faint scent of whiskey still lingered on from last night’s celebration. As they exited an elevator on the ground floor and the doors separated, a constant stream of camera flashes hit their faces, microphones pointed at Damien as questions hit him from all angels. He remained quiet. Their answers would come soon enough. Two security guards forcefully divided the frantic group of reporters of local newspapers, radio stations, channel four, five, six, and of course the esteemed LA Times. Aimee and Damien made their way through the crowd and positioned themselves on a podium placed at the centre of the main lobby, lit up by the intense sunrays reflecting in the waxed stonewalls and the check board structured floor. Proudly, Tessa Lind, director of legal affairs, and Andrew Vitello, CEO, joined them on the stage. The moment they had all been waiting for had arrived. For the duration of over a decade, their skills had been improved, polished into perfection: a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, an entrepreneur, a scientist – and the invisible man who had now returned to humanity. With a smile that went unnoticed, Andrew handed Tessa a small note, “My office 3PM”, and addressed the audience; presenting the first successfully cryopreserved and awakened human: Damien Cave.
It had all begun with a simple thing like a promise. Neglected by teachers, parents, classmates and strangers, they refused to give in to the roles put on them. Instead they created roles of their own, agreeing to never lose sight of the purpose of their league. Revenge one might call it – manipulation - to use one’s skill to generate reliance. Founded with an aim to provide a service too many were in need for, CryoCare was established, and the illusion of a prospect only an unknown future could give, was formed.
A constant stream of questions emerged, but as if rehearsed Andrew answered them one by one. “Thanks to Aimee Lee’s research in bio-engineering…” Andrew replied. “No, we want to keep the costs to a minimum so not to exclude anyone…” The questions seemed endless but after years of practice Andrew enjoyed the moment of finally reaping the award of years studying masters of the trade. Much could be said about Andrew but modesty was not one of them: handsome, intuitive, pervasive, some had even called him kind once; Tessa was not that person. For her Andrew was no more than a tool, a gullible tool she had found that day at the school yard almost thirteen years ago, and she couldn’t help but to feel a sort of pride of that accomplishment as she often enjoyed those little things in life - much like this day - the day they had all been waiting for, the day when all her strive would be awarded. Some might thank Andrew for that, it was initially his idea to create CryoCare, but Tessa knew better, she knew none of them could have made it this far without her. A perfect society was constructed upon its notion of regulations. Regulations she controlled.
“But how can we condole the unlawful act of committing suicide, voluntarily or not?” A journalist said, directing the question at Tessa.
“It’s not suicide if you’re not clinically dead,” Tessa answered and waved for Aimee to join her side. “Let us explain.”
“All the previously failed trails have one thing in common,” said Aimee, “crystallisation.” Thoughts of an old book, Successful Freezing of Mr. Moro, she had read in high school entered her mind, and the image of a man entombed in a block of ice on the cover. The book never did have much to do with cryogenics, a mere page or two about the procedure, the rest of the content was left for the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, survivals of war, Dostoevsky, Orwell, human rights, etc., etc. - humanity at its best. “Freezing a person is not the solution, and that would also include - as you stated in your question - a condition of death in order to be possible. We do however keep the temperature low in order to slow down the ageing process, but it’s not fatal,” Aimee lied. “What we do is keeping the body alive, like a deep sleep but regulates the heartbeats, along with brain activity to a minimum. Much like hibernation.”
“So, you still age?” a reporter asked.
“Yes, that is inevitable. But you would perceive years as minutes.”
“Damien?” Another journalist said. “Can you remember anything while in hibernation, or is it just a black space from then to now?”
“There were dreams, but that is not why I did it.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“I believed in Aimee and what CryoCare said they could do, so I volunteered to be a part of their first trial. I had nothing to live for in the past. I do now,” Damien said.
In the audience, a mumble of rumours and sceptic remarks followed each other between the questions, interrupted by a draft as Lex Grady hurried through the front door and took a seat among his colleagues. “You’re late,” they whispered, while the questions continued on.
“I’ve seen the commercial,” Lex said, and waited for a window of silence amongst the crowd. As the moment appeared he swiftly got up on his feet while Andrew gave him permission to speak. “This is great and all, a huge achievement,” Lex said with a smile “Only, how can we trust you have the actual skills to perform this service?”
Everyone in the audience observed as Damien once again rose to his feet. He leaned his lips close to the microphone. “I’m here, aren’t I?” He said, and a relieved laughter spread among the audience. “I was unhappy once, and all I can say is things change, the world changes, and the only thing you can do is wait. Time used to be against us, not anymore –”
“Well said,” Andrew pinched the microphone from Damien. “As we try to explain in the commercial, this solution should fit a wide range of people. Whatever reasons one might have for a recess, if you’re simply unhappy, sick, or curious, this sleep will help you. Imagine starting over, to wake up ten, twenty, fifty years from now, in a new world that can accommodate you in a way the world could ever do today. The possibilities are endless.”
Damien observed the enthusiastic crowd. The commotion reminded him of his hometown where a field of reeds grew near the lake, and how it moved as it was caught in the seasonal autumn storm. He never did like reeds very much - but he always enjoyed a good storm.
Later that afternoon, Tessa with her professional attitude and lack of expression, entered Andrew’s office. Her formal appearance never took him by surprise. Instead it always seemed to amuse him. His intention of calling her to his office was unclear to her but she could have been late, made an excuse or not show up at all. Tessa arrived in time, note still in her pocket, and a pair of glasses on the tip of her nose - not prescriptions - merely for image. Andrew enjoyed his moments with Tessa and took his time, forcing her to relax with silence as he moved over to her side of the desk. “Everything up and ready?”
“Of course, Andrew. Is that why you called me here?”
“I would just hate if it all fell apart due to some minor detail.” Andrew knew all too well that Tessa would never allow for something like that to happen, that was why he had chosen her, paid for her college and promised her a position at CryoCare. She was a vital part of the team, but also an object for his personal amusement. He always did like to hunt. “Let’s drink to being ready,” Andrew said with a smile, and poured vodka in two glasses.
Tessa politely put down her glass as he handed it to her. “No, thanks. We’re not there yet. We need to stay focused,“ she said, knowing all too well how easy it would be to make her wall crumble with the whiff of liquor. Perfection craved sacrifices and solitude was hers.
Meanwhile at the local newspaper, Lex was finishing up the article he was born to write. Historical comparisons weighted in every paragraph, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin wall, and now this. It was history in the making. The reader had to be susceptible to every phrase; every line in his story, for this would surely be his last. And shortly the large printers occupying the basement spat out newspaper after newspaper with Lex’s story printed on the first page, “Sleep: cure of the century!” trucks delivering them to every newsstand in the city.
Damien, no longer in his wheelchair and in a brown tweed jacket to fit his age, lit up a cigarette as he entered the CryoCare physician, Frank Carver’s, examination room. Damien took of his cloths and climbed up onto the examination table. Frank allowed him to finish the cigarette. Damien had always been a smoker, never tried to quit once. An act of defiance one might say, a cowardly escape from the harsh reality that he was in fact entitled to a future. There was no use trying to argue, Frank debated. Fighting against expectations, rules and living out the roles put on Damien, it had made him yield and with no one to blame or take revenge on, he took it out on the one person he had access to: himself. “Those things are going to kill you one day.” Frank said, and turned on a light box on the wall that displayed two x-rays photos of Damien’s chest.
Damien inhaled an extra amount of smoke. “Maybe that’s what I’m aiming for.”
“Then get a rope, more efficient.”
“I’m not in any hurry,” Damien said, and shivered as Frank’s ice-cold statoscope touched his bare chest, sending chills throughout his skin that would have made every follicle tighten and force their tiny hair to rise - if there had been any.
“Now take a deep breath for me,” Frank said.
Damien inhaled. Even before Damien came to Frank’s office he knew the news would be bad. That was not why he once again found himself in Frank’s care – breathing. It was merely a routine visit, an obligation, not due to some illusion that the past was no longer the present. It was time to reconcile with the lumps in his chest, turning his own body against him. No treatment, no escape, they used to say. Nothing had changed. The cancer was spreading.
“Now breathe out for me, slowly,” Frank said.
Damien exhaled - slowly. The decision had been taken for him. Suspended animation they called it but Damien always preferred the phrase hibernation, an undisturbed sleep. He had not objected to the decision. It may have been an illusion, a lie of an alternative future, but nonetheless, back then he didn’t mind. All he used to care about was the escape, and the thought of this day; the day when he would return and all their hardship would be rewarded.
The empty halls of CryoCare buzzed into light as Andrew turned on the light switch as the others prepared themselves to greet their first clients. Aimee stepped in as receptionist, Tessa printed out piles of contracts for them to sign, Frank sterilised his appliances for their check-up, meanwhile Damien, who’s task had already been accomplished, observed the line outside the building as it grew longer by the minute; youngsters, old veterans, and all in-between were now standing in a neat line, and he couldn’t help but to give out a chuckle as he watched them drag their luggage down the asphalted sidewalk. Such amusing creatures he thought, there was no need for change of clothes where they were going; such fools, holding on to what might seem important but was in fact as replaceable as yesterday’s news.
Tessa received her stream of clients and made them all fill out the forms and sign it at the bottom. A young Mexican man entered her office as a young woman left, and Tessa gestured him to sit down. He was obviously nervous as he squirmed and avoided her look. “Do you have a house, a business - a car perhaps?” Tessa asked.
“No?” The man answered.
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” said Tessa, “formalities. What we can do in your case is to place you in the no visitation section and put a thousand dollars in an account for utility expenses. You do have a thousand dollars, do you?”
“Yes, yes, I have,” he eagerly replied. “Is that enough?”
“Don’t worry about it, we’re here to accommodate you. We wouldn’t want you to miss out, now would we? All we need is a signature here, and a date.” Tessa handed him the contract and signalled for the next in line to enter. For the days to come the mass of client’s, all signing up to be suspended, accelerated and the queue outside CryoCare was winding over the white marks on the parking lot. Together the four friends worked hard to meet the demand, and one by one the population was soon hidden in the confinement of the basement. For two months Damien watched as the line outside seemed endless, until the third month came to its end, and so did the line. The city of angels had ultimately lived up to its name. Families had been united in their aspiration for suspension, others shattered due to their disagreement as a few decided to stay behind; teenagers blindly followed their peers, intrigued by the promise of an exciting new-fangled realm; parents remained - too afraid to leave their estate behind; sickened old-timers, taking their chances in the future as their grandchildren grasped the possibilities of the present. The lure. The anguish. The choice. Like a melanoma, it had spread throughout the city, forcefully, unyielding - swiftly. Individual dates for suspension had become a joyous prospect, something they all looked forward to.
Those who remained, those who were contempt with the existing reality, were a few in numbers with the responsibility of millions weighing on their shoulders. Bewildered how intense the allure had been, and the shear amount of hibernations had been, they left the metropolis and withdrew to their own corners of the city. Waiting for their neighbours to wake up and return home. Entire neighbourhoods became uninhabited, shutters on the windows closed for the years to come; cars abandoned along the sidewalks with tainted for sale signs; furniture on the front lawns from previous garage sales; local markets closed for business; printers on stand-by in deserted office buildings. During the day, the soulless streets were left for the ghosts after the homeless had found shelter elsewhere. The city had celebrated in the discovery of a hope for a new future, a second chance, and the ability to cheat untreatable deceases; all that remained was the shell of a metropolis.
Without his usual deadline, Lex with a sense of aloofness leaned over his desk with a bottle of whiskey next to him, when he suddenly heard noises coming from the elevator and two teenagers entered the floor, and began to steal papers, pens, and other office supplies. “Don’t forget the computers,” Lex remarked with a mumble and took another sip of whiskey. They youngsters seized their scavenger hunt, surprised to hear a voice among the empty rows of worktops, turned to look at him, then continued shuffling a stack of notepads in their backpacks. Lex ignored them and dragging his tired legs towards the windows. It was getting dark outside. Silhouettes from the streetlights were casting shadows on bare and empty sidewalks. A few fires rose up from tin cans and lit up the dimmed streets corners. A block away he could see a scruffy old man, worn cloths layered upon his skinny shoulders, hauling a wobbling cart - packed to the brim with supplies - into a furniture storehouse. The alarm pierced through the empty alleys but shortly seized. No blue and red, Lex thought, they must have joined the others in the sleep chambers, “good for them.”
“The whole place is pretty much deserted man, everything is up for grabs,” one of the youngsters said behind him. “There’s like a block for every person. We can do whatever we want, take whatever we want,” his friend continued with an enthusiastic face.
Lex went back to his desk, poured another shot, and swallowed it in one sweep. “Then why are you taking office supplies?”
“They’re going to want to know what happened, man. You know, when they come back.”
“I can tell you what happened,” Lex said. “I can tell you everything but there’s no use. They’re not coming back. They’re gone – all gone.” Lex couldn’t help but to feel a bit of remorse of desiring a change he might not have been ready for. Everything he had done was to reach this moment, and now what? The moment had passed, but he was still here. The population was shattered and as an act of survival those who had decided to stay behind grabbed what they could, and out fear of being abandoned they turned against each other. They had created a war. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing he contemplated. War was freedom. No longer any group mentality deciding the future for all, setting norms that inhibited those who wanted something else than a suburban lifestyle consumed with labour, breeding, and relationships based on comfort. This was all they ever wanted. This was why they had agreed to join forces to begin with, to pull of the achievement of a lifetime. The biggest hoax ever constructed. There was no waking up; they volunteered to leave and so they did. Lex had regrets but non-that wouldn’t make him do it all over again if he had the choice. He liked his assignment. He had always been able to see himself as a writer.
At CryoCare, the agonising silence transcended along the hallways and Damien couldn’t take it anymore. As the others withdrew to their rooms, Damien started walking, and didn’t stop walking until his tired feet forced him to find shelter in an abandoned house in the suburban outskirts. As he crawled inside, he heaved his drowsy body on a leather couch and filled his empty stomach with left over liquor till he passed out in the delight of a dreamless sleep. Rudely, morning arrived and a loud shovelling abruptly disturbed his slumber as the sound of pebbles repeatedly grinded against an iron surface. Damien went out to the backyard and through a high fence he could see an old man digging in the blistering morning sun.
“I’m sorry, did I wake you?” The man said, as Damien broke of a plank and squeezed himself through the fence. On the other side, the man was digging a large patch where herbs, tomatoes, salads, and other eatable vegetables grew tall and strong.
“What’s all this?” Damien asked, and dried off some dirt from a carrot as he pulled it up from the ground and gnawed off a piece of the crispy taproot. The sweet taste overtook his dry mouth, so he finished it quickly and pulled up another.
The man bent down and began to sort out weeds inside the squares. “The owners must have left the garden behind. Sad to see it go to waste,” he said, and picked the weeds one by one by their stems. Leaving tiny sprouts behind, barely distinctive from the rest.
Bewildered of the man’s commitment to craft something beautiful from the ruins, Damien picked up a small shuffle and began to clear the edges from overgrowing grass. “Do you have a family?” he asked the man.
“I used to but they left - it was their decision. I made one too.”
“I’m sorry,” Damien said, dried of a drop of sweat from his forehead and sat down on the grass to rest. His body was getting progressively tired by the hour. Maybe the smart ones were actually the ones who decided to leave? He thought to himself, and suddenly it all become so clear to him. He was still in the illusion that everything would work out. But it already had. The plan had worked. Damien got up on his feet and dusted off the dirt from his pants. There was no longer any weed to pull up from the roots, no escape from himself, no goal to be accomplished.
Aimee stretched out on a narrow couch in her office and wiped of the shallow sleep from her eyes as Frank sat down next to her, holding a cup of coffee in each hand. “You’re sweet,” she said, “I thought you went back to your family.” Aimee glanced at a clock on the wall behind him, it was already past noon - not that it mattered.
Frank placed his coffee on a side table and handed the other one to Aimee. “I thought you knew,” he said, “she lost her job, obviously, so she took the girls to see Tessa a couple of weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you regret it? This I mean.”
“Not really.” Monotonously Frank stirred the coffee in a counter clockwise cycle. “I’m grateful for this place,” he continued. “It gave me what I needed, so no regrets on my part. I could never be what I am today if it wasn’t for all of this. No one else cared,” Frank said and he meant it. That day, almost thirteen years ago, when they first met and decided to help each other, to gain from each of their chosen skills; that was the day he knew he would make it.
“So, what are you going to do now?”
“I’ve been thinking about that, and I think I’m going to be okay. There must be a lack of physicians and people will always get sick. They can’t all be gone. I think I can still make a difference. How about you?”
“I honestly don’t know. I always did want to start a family but I’m not sure. What’s the point? I still can’t believe you did, I mean you knew all this would happen, why bother, why go through all that?”
“Not really sure, why do anyone get a family, loneliness maybe - because it’s expected of us. We all have roles to perform. I wanted to have it all and I got it, even if it only was for a short while.” Frank placed his hand on Aimee’s arm. “It’s never too late you know.”
She had always seen Frank as someone who was working in the background; someone who never really participated; took any interest in the project - she had been wrong. But he was wrong too - it was too late. “Damien is sick, isn’t he?” Aimee asked, although she already knew the answer. She had seen it in Damien’s eyes the day he came back.
A soft scent of smouldered tobacco made its way to the couch, and as she turned, there was Damien leaning in the doorpost. Aimee could feel the knot in her stomach. “Are you here to say goodbye - or to stay?” She asked with a soft voice.
Without a pause of reflection Damien said, “both.”
The way the dark woodlands of Alaska had sheltered him the previous years so would the glass shell of the container shelter him for the ones to come. The soft mattress would bare the mark of his body, and his warm breath would fog up the inside until his last one would leave its shell. It was time to sleep an undisturbed sleep, and this time there truly was no escape. As Frank and Aimee closed the lid, Tessa took off her glasses and reached for Andrew’s hand. Once there were six, now there were five. “I think it’s time for that drink now,” Tessa said, and embraced the moment, glancing over the result of their united achievement. A low hum filled the cold air and glass fibre optics spanned the continual corridors between the endless fields of containers. Andrew pulled the switch of the generator. Instantly, the entire unit was cloaked in a silent darkness and the place was now what it was always meant to be - a tomb.
Written by Alex Backstrom
Cover Design by Alex Backstrom
Year of creation: 2013