“Remove any doubts from your mind, Mrs Hawking. Our facilities here at Newton Cryonics are state-of-the-art. True, there may have been one or two, er, hiccups at the beginning, elsewhere, but you can have total faith in us, our cryogenic process has proved its reliability.” Dr Zanoun gave a wry smile.
“Alfred’s finding it hard to breathe now. He’s not got long ….”
“Ah, good, now Miss Kelly outside will go through the protocol and form-filling with you. There’s just one thing. Did he want the full body or just the head?”
“Oh, what would you recommend?”
“Well, for most it comes down to price. Keeping the whole body at minus two hundred degrees is considerably more expensive over the long-term than just the head.”
Mrs Alexa Hawking looked out of the window at the huge concrete hemisphere ensconced among neat lawns and flowerbeds that stretched out ahead. She fingered her white hair nervously. “Oh, just his head …. How long …?”
“I can’t give you any definite figures, Mrs Hawking. It could be a hundred years, it could be five hundred ….” Dr Zanoun made a gesture as if juggling invisible balls. “But rest assured, your husband’s head will be safe in our hands.”
‘Hello, message for Dr Jared Wise, Dr Abraham Klein wishes to see you urgently.’ A soft, artificial-intelligent voice came into Jared’s mind. He tore his gaze away from an enormous round window, through which he’d been watching multi-coloured sky-pods dart between towering pyramidal blocks a thousand stories high.
Jared walked down a gleaming white corridor whose windows gave over the city below, into Klein’s enormous circular office, also in brilliant white. Huge oval windows behind Klein’s desk and in the ceiling far above showed puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. Dr Klein looked worried, Jared thought, very worried.
“Take a seat, Dr Wise.” Klein gestured to a sumptuous white chair and retreated behind his desk, also white. He sat down and rested his chin on the inverted V of his fingertips. “There’s a problem.”
“Yes? With the heads?”
“Yes, with the heads.”
Jared knew that today was the second day of reanimating cryogenically frozen heads. Attaching it to a physical body was something else again, but that could wait. Once contact was established, the ‘patient’ could be reassured and placed back into their deep-freeze limbo until … whenever. “Meaning … the process ….”
“The process is fine. We’ve done three. They’re testaments to the reign of Dr Zanoun and his colleagues from way back when. They were brought back over the optimum time, you know, just up to the temperature where we could get the brain to function, then they were given twenty-four hours to … er, acclimatise. Look, I’ll not beat about the bush. There’s something wrong. They’re fine, they’ve got memories, they can reason. But … something’s missing.”
“And, Dr Wise, one of them is asking for you. By name!”
Jared stood in front of a cylinder of invisible liquid. At the level of his face floated an aged human head. It reminded him of a realistic wax head, the kind of thing they used to have in those wax museums in the old movies. The only difference was that this head was hairless. Suddenly, its eyes opened and blinked, looking directly into his. The thin lips twitched, then formed the semblance of a smile. A voice came through a transducer – pleasant-sounding, affable. “Hello, Jared.”
“Hello …,” he glanced at a label … “Mr Hawking.”
“Please, call me Al.”
“Well, welcome, to the year 2612, Al. There’ve been some changes since you were last … around.”
“So, I understand.”
“What do you remember?”
“I have memories of a hospital. That’s all.”
“After you died?”
“Nothing, not till yesterday.”
“Well, you understand you’ll have to go back into cryo, Al. Till we have the technology to put you back on a body.”
“Time doesn’t matter to me, it’s a great adventure. But there’s one thing.”
“That thing from yesterday.”
“Well, a being, an … angel, I believe, came to me. He spoke about you.”
Jared started to worry. The process couldn’t have worked right. He’d need to discuss this with Dr Klein right away.
“Yes, you see. You’ve got my soul. It passed into the world of spirit when I died and eventually reincarnated … into you! The angel told me.”
“I’ve got memories. Memories of Alexa, my wife, my job, I worked in the fire brigade. Kids, we had three, Ginnie, Dawson and Arnold. But you know that too, deep inside.”
Jared had a flash of memory – burning buildings, sheets of orange-red flame, a fire engine careering through streets with sirens blaring, men in reflective uniforms running. He could smell the smell of fire and smoke and that thing he hated most – burning flesh. And Alexa, twenty-five, a sensual young brunette mashing her lips on his, her heavy hard-tipped breasts against his nakedness …. He forced himself to come back to reality, of a kind. “Well, how can I help?”
“I want it back!”
“Sorry, you’re the one who chose not to die properly!” It was his soul now. He turned the audio channel off and pressed a button to restart the initial stage of the cryogenic process. Not daring to look at Al’s face again, he headed back to Dr Klein, wondering what on earth to say.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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