Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Meltdown

by Vincent L. Scarsella


The rumor had been going around for weeks that they were closing the warehouse and would melt down the bodies. The night before it finally happened, I met Jeremiah and Stan at Riley's, a ramshackle tavern a block down from the warehouse.

"It's closing," Jerry said as he brought our first round of drinks - cold drafts for himself and Stan, and a coke for me. I was playing the good citizen. I had the graveyard shift that night, to use a bad pun - midnight to eight.

After a sip of beer, Jerry added: "Nora told me it's a done deal."

Stan waved Jeremiah off with his nose almost into the foam of his beer. We'd been hearing for weeks that they were closing us down. But Stan had never bought into such talk, scoffing whenever Jerry delivered fresh news from Nora, a secretary in the agency's personnel department back in DC with whom Jerry has struck up a flirtatious, long-distance c-phone relationship.

"Wha'll they do wit' the bodies?" Stan wanted to know, as he always did whenever the closing-down-the-warehouse rumor came up. Grinning, already half-drunk and slurring his words, Stan added the inevitable: "Mel' 'em down like ice cubes?"

Jerry seemed particularly annoyed by Stan's question that night. All he knew was what he had been told - closing down the warehouse was a done deal. Nora had even net-mailed final notices to the dozen or so known relatives who had kept in contact with the agency over the years -- some of whom still visited the bodies sometimes - and to the last known addresses of the hundreds of other relatives who had not. She had even given Jerry the name of the firm hired to secure the place and transfer the bodies to funeral homes for cremation or burial.

After Jerry explained all this, Stan merely shrugged, remaining smugly unconvinced. From the look on Jerry's face, I thought he was going to pop Stan one.

"What'll they do with the bodies?" Jerry stared into Stan's droopy, half-drunk eyes. Then he gave Stan the same answer he always gave:

"Bury them, like they shoulda been."

Stan lifted his head and glared at Jerry.

"Be a pub-lick outcry," Stan said, as he did every time the rumors started up.

"For what?" Jerry replied, as usual. "When they hear how much it costs to keep the warehouse open, there'll be a public outcry it wasn't closed sooner."

We fell into a glum silence as we downed our round of drinks. Finally, Stan suggested that we blow Riley's and head for the Starlust Lounge, a new strip joint near the old casino downtown.

When I begged off, Stan growled at me.

"C'mon, Dave," he slurred. "Wha's the difference. If Jer's right, and they're closing us down, then wha'ya got to lose. They can't exac'ly fire you. You can sleep it off in the shack. Or, wha' the hell, not go in at all."

"I still need the pay," I told him, but that wasn't really why. It was the same reason I hadn't missed a shift in three years. It was also why I put more effort into this shit job than all my fellow warehouse techs combined.

"And you never know," I continued, with a wink back at Jerry, "There just might be a public outcry."

We exited Riley's into an icy drizzle. Hunched up under our collars, we headed down a dark, back-alley in an abandoned industrial section. Why the-powers-that-be had picked this particular city and this particular warehouse for storage of the bodies was anyone's guess. Someone must have paid off a political favor, no doubt.

After a minute or so of this glum stroll, Stan started grousing again what a lousy country this was. He wondered what the hell he was going to do, where the hell he was going to get a job, once the warehouse closed. If it did really close, he added, swinging around to glare at Jerry. Jerry hunched his shoulders, not taking the bait.

I kept quiet too. I was tired of such talk, how bad the economy was, the constant flow of jobs to the nip-haired, slant-eyed, raw-fish-eating bastards in the Pacific Rim Cartel. How people, even little kids, were forced to live and starve in the squalor and cold of city streets. Nobody knew what to do anymore except cut back production, lay off workers, outsource jobs overseas, and still go bankrupt.

America in perpetual decline.

"As for the friggin' bodies," Stan said with a laugh, as we rounded the corner to the main drag where he and Jerry could hail a cab, "they weren't ever gonna be revived anyway."

We had heard this argument before. There was no real hope for reviving the bodies. Not in this economy. Not in this country. Our golden age was long behind us.

America had never even gone back to the moon.

Fending off Stan's last desperate plea that I say hell with the warehouse and come sniff some strippers and get drunk with them, I said my see-you-laters as they squeezed into a cab and reminded Stan that he was relieving me at eight the next morning. He left me with a drunken snigger as he shut the door. From inside I heard Jerry laugh and shout: "Give Marilyn a kiss for me," just as the cab sped away.

I smirked, hoping he wouldn't tell Stan what that meant. I was also more than a little pissed that he had said it in the first place.

####

I had one of those cramped trailers in a lot off Waverly Street. The park had been built for homeless families during The World Depression of 2025. But when the economy improved (nine years later), and there weren't so many homeless, they had to do something with the trailers. Someone bought them for a song, made some renovations on the cheap, and rented them out at a considerable profit.

Though crowded with furniture and junk, it was only three blocks from the warehouse and relatively safe. The people living there were mostly single techs, laborers like me, or childless couples. There just wasn't enough room. I wondered how it must have been with all those homeless waifs squeezed together during those bad, desperate times of the WD25 which made even the present seem prosperous.

I stumbled into my trailer about nine hoping for a couple hours nap, if I could fall asleep. If I started thinking about my ex-wife, Chayleene, I'd just toss and turn and never get to sleep. She had taken off six years ago with our two kids one morning while I was sleeping off another hangover and had never looked back. Not that I didn't deserve it. I was a shit, probably still am. Too much hyper-smack, booze, whores. I couldn't hold a job. And in this economy, pretty soon, I couldn't get a job. She had to work, an admin slave for some webcorp. Her Jap boss sweet talked her into going back with him to a new job, and a new life, on some isle deep in the Pacific Rim Cartel. By now, my kids were speaking and thinking Oriental. And dear old Dad was just a bad memory, good as dead.

That night, I couldn't fall asleep, just tossed and turned, thinking of my wasted life and the imminent closing of the warehouse. I would soon be jobless again.

Even worse than that, Marilyn would soon be truly dead.

####

At the warehouse, I found old man Burrows stretched out, eyes closed, snoring quietly on the old green leather sofa that had been in the shack ever since it opened thirty years ago. It stank of smoke and farts, and maybe even some jism along the way.

As I entered the shack, Burrows stirred. By the time I opened my locker, he was sitting up, yawning, stretching out his arms.

"'Bout time you got here," he said with another yawn.

He was way past his prime, unemployable, and couldn't be happier if the warehouse closed. A forced retirement with a modest lump of severance pay would be his ticket to an old age community in the Sun Belt with his scraggy wife.

It was five minutes to midnight. I was early. I punched in and sat at the control panel, scanning for problems. There was a red light on indicating trouble in the south quadrant. Where Marilyn was tubed. A leak?

"How long that been on?" I asked, looking back at Burrows.

He scowled, oblivious.

"What?"

"That," I said, pissed, pointing at the schematic of the south quadrant on the board.

Burrows shrugged. "I dunno," he growled.

I cursed him under my breath and went to check it out. In thirty years, only half a dozen bodies had been lost to what we called, "meltdown" -- some malfunction in the warehouse cooling system that keeps the bodies frozen in their bath of liquid nitrogen. When that went bad, the body melted; hence, the phrase, meltdown, a truly bad word in our business.

I found an inconsequential small leak. A valve was drizzling less than a gallon every six hours. I welded it shut with a laser torch. Took all of three minutes.

By the time I returned to the shack, Burrows was gone. With not so much as a thank you for doing his job for him. The old prick.

I shook my head wondering how he had lived with himself all these years. Slept most every shift except when the inspectors came down from DC and gave us the once over.

But Burrows wasn't really much different than the rest of them, even Jerry. The job was, first of all, downright boring. Maintenance Engineer was our official title,

G-12s, but we were nothing more than glorified security guards, babysitters for corpses frozen decades ago. I hadn't had to perform more than three or four major repairs in my three years on the job and spent most of my time watching pressure reads on the computer screens. Even leaks like the one I had just repaired were infrequent. There just wasn't much to do.

But unlike the others, I still believed what we were doing was important, necessary. None of them had a feel for the job, what it meant. Jerry seemed to understand, and agreed with me, or at least nodded like he did, whenever I got passionate about it over a beer or three at Riley's. But deep inside, just like Stan and Burrows and the rest of our crew, I don't think he really ever got it.

####

Thirty-five years ago, after the last of the four of five private cryogenic labs with names like Everlife, Inc., went belly up, by special government decree, the frozen bodies remaining in their possession were gathered up and brought somewhere until someone could figure out what to do with them. An old warehouse in a long-ago closed factory in this old, dirty northeast city was purchased, cleaned up, and equipped with the pipes and technical gear to house and preserve the bodies.

It took six, seven months, but eventually the warehouse was opened for business and the bodies, frozen over a span of seventy-five years, started coming in, seven thousand eighteen in all. Each one of the bodies represented a real person with a real contract promising rebirth into a golden age where they'd be reanimated and cured of whatever had killed them. An insurance policy had been purchased to pay for the procedure that would instantly freeze them at or near the moment of death, and then maintain them for however long it took to reach the hoped for golden age.

But the money had dried up, and the companies promising salvation went bankrupt. Most of the families of the dead frozen bodies had long ago forgotten about their long lost relatives or themselves had died and turned to dust. In my three years at the warehouse, I could recall only three regular visitors, and a few others who stopped in to gawk at their great-great grandfather or eccentric great-uncle left to rot in this god-forsaken warehouse.

No one had ever visited Marilyn.

When the cryogenics firms went bankrupt, the government was left, of course, holding the bag. A sub-agency had to be created to care for the bodies, under the Department of Agriculture of all things, and jobs were created to implement the care-taking. The taxpayers, none the wiser, paid the bill that thirty-five years of care required.

Until now.

####

At the beginning of each shift, I retrieved Marilyn's file.

"Marilyn French," I told the computer.

A moment later, the image of a manila folder came up against the background of the blue screen, with her name blazoned across the top of it in big black letters:

MARILYN FRENCH

My heart always skipped a beat.

Below her name was her warehouse number: 3468.

"Next page," I said.

The outside flap opened to page one, her bio. I had read the same information perhaps a thousand times. Born January 4, 1979, died December 24, 2001. Christmas Eve. I marveled every time that she was dead twenty years before I was even born.

She had stood five feet six, weighed one hundred twenty pounds. The color of her hair: blonde. I knew from the photographs later on in the file that it was golden blonde, like summer wheat. She had lived in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo. She had just completed the fall semester of her junior year at Cornell when she was killed.

I knew her measurements -- 36-26-34; her SAT scores -- 625 verbal/590 math; and, that she had played the clarinet in the Amherst High School band.

Her best friend's name had been Patti Martin. She had a pet golden retriever, Lancelot; a cat, Percival; and three nameless gold fish.

She was an excellent travel soccer player and liked to golf.

She wrote poetry, and her father had indulged her by publishing some of them in a thin paperback, Teenage Wastelands.

All that on page one.

On page two, I learned how she had died.

####

Her mother had been driving the car. They were returning from the mall after some last minute Christmas shopping. As they crossed one of the busy intersections not five minutes from home, another car sped through the red light at sixty miles an hour, and broadsided them. The driver of that car was drunk, and sustained, of course, only minor cuts and bruises.

Marliyn was killed instantly, at least that's what the coroner believed. Her mother survived the crash but was burned beyond recognition when the car exploded only moments after some passers-by had pulled Marilyn free.

A post-script to the explanation how Marilyn had died was that the driver of the other car spent only a year in jail. It was ironic to think that the bastard could still be alive.

I turned away from the screen to check the central monitor. All was well in the warehouse. The bodies in the rows and rows of silver tubes remained in frozen stasis, waiting for a golden age that would never come.

After a sigh, thinking how cruel it was to dash such hopes, and how sad it was that Marilyn's life, and all its potential, would now forever be wasted and forgotten, my anger rekindled. I was angry with the drunk driver who so recklessly had ruined two beautiful, better lives. I was angry with the government for failing to find a punishment for him to fit his crime. I was angry with the whole human race for failing the promise of giving Marilyn a second chance.

After another sigh, I ordered the computer to the page where pictures and video of Marilyn had been scanned into her file. There she was, in a bright summer dress, smiling and waving at an anonymous photographer, her blonde hair flying in the wind on a sunny day; in another, she swayed on the deck of her father's boat, laughing as it sped along Chatauqua Lake, their summer home, her skimpy bikini revealing a bronze, athletic frame that, although slim and tom-boyish and small-breasted, never ceased to make me horny.

Like every other shift, after the photographs ran out, I told the computer to play the video and watched her in motion, hear her voice, her laugh, and yearn for the impossible -- to be with her. To touch her. To kiss her.

There she was before me, so real, in that amateurish home video, over-acting, grinning, making faces for whomever was holding the camera which shook at times as he laughed with her.

And then, she became serious.

"What's the matter?" she asked the person taping her and pouted. "You seem sad."

I pretended she was talking through the years to me.

"I love you," she said, and blew whomever a kiss.

I always pretended that kiss was for me.

####

About a year ago, Jerry caught me reading Marilyn's file. He was my relief the next shift and had come in early to shoot the breeze. Like me, his wife had left him for the Pacific Rim and now he was lonely and down on his luck most of the time. Ran off with some Chink accountant, he laughed.

"I got one like that," he said that night after I quickly ordered the computer to close her file. If he had come in only five minutes earlier, he would have caught me jerking off to Marilyn's bikini picture.

"What?"

"You like that girl," he said and nodded toward the screen. He plopped down on the old green sofa and leaned his tall, gaunt frame way back.

"I --" But I couldn't deny it. It was more than just, like - I was in love with her, as silly as it seemed. Marilyn was frozen, sixty years dead.

"There's this little girl," Jerry closed his eyes as he considered what he was about to tell me. "Number four eighty one. She's over there, in the west quadrant." He sighed. "Only ten years old. A beautiful thing, like my darling Kaitlyn. Know how she died?" Of course, I didn't, so I just looked at him. "Some jerk wasn't paying attention and hit her as she crossed the street riding the bike her parents had just bought for her birthday. Imagine that -- a happy memory turned to ugly tragedy." He held his breath for a time. "I go see her almost every shift."

That's when I thought I understood the depth and goodness of Jerry's soul.

####

After viewing Marilyn's file, I had little else to do, as usual, during the rest of my shift. At some point four hours in, I called it up and masturbated (again!) to Marilyn's bikini picture. I didn't like myself for doing it again and again -- but, I had long ago stopped trying to resist. It was the lone pleasure in my life these days, to dream of making love to the woman I loved, however impossible a dream it was.

Toward the end of my shift, I dozed off. The agency let me sleep five minutes before sending a gentle prickle of electricity from the armband monitor to wake me up. The others never wore the device and they thought I was a silly brown nose for wearing it myself. But I didn't want to be the one to sleep through a meltdown.

Stan woke me up as he stumbled in, still piss drunk.

"Ya shud av seen the lad'es," he slurred. "Cah-reem-ie."

"Stan," I moaned. "How the hell --" I was about to add, "you gonna work your shift."

But by that time, he had fallen onto the green sofa and was already snoring.

"Shit," I said to myself. I was in no mood to cover for that drunkard and work another shift on the hope he'd slip me some credits on payday.

Still, I decided not to blow him in. Sure, Stan was a useless drunk and wasted most of the time, but I understood where he was coming from, why he had gotten that way.

Five minutes later it was a moot point anyway. Our mostly absentee crew foreman, Dornan, called in. When he saw me at the main console instead of Stan, he frowned. I had to admit that Stan had come in "a little under the weather," with a nod to his lump of body, face down, snoring on the sofa. I lied to him that I didn't really mind if he sent Stan home and had me work a double.

"Don't need you to," he told me through a yawn. I was surprised that Dornan had called in so early. The sun was barely up. "Stan was going to be relieved anyway."

"What?"

"The warehouse's officially closed," Dornan said. "Any minute now, a team from the private security outfit they hired should arrive to secure the place."

Seeing my shocked expression, he offered a sympathetic wink.

"Sorry, Dave," he said. "But you're out of a job."

####

Jerry phoned me that afternoon.

"Pricks," he said, "didn't even let me know. Showed up for my shift and some lame at the front door tells me to go home, that the warehouse had shut down. That my services, said the prick, my services, were no longer needed."

"I know," I said. "I was there when the prick showed up. I tried calling you, but when you didn't answer, I figured you were sleeping last night off like Stan."

I had been sitting at the computer screen staring at Marilyn's bikini picture. Every once in a while, I touched the screen. At one point, I even started crying. All the while that drunk, Stan, was snoring from the sofa.

Less than an hour into what should have been his shift, at a few minutes before eight, a crew of white coats came busting in. They wore special badges and said they had been contracted by the agency to take over. With a smart-ass grin, the one claiming he was the chief prick showed me a letter to prove it. And, yes, he was oriental.

"You gotta leave," he told me in his staccato voice. I swiveled around and turned off the computer, hoping they wouldn't care to ask who the gorgeous broad was on the screen. Just as I turned off the screen, Stan let out a growl and got their attention.

"Your pal?" the chief prick asked with a smirk, thinking we were fags or something.

I shrugged. "We both work here," I explained.

"Used too," he said with a sniff.

A couple hulks from his crew shook Stan awake and lifted him off the sofa. He grumbled and cursed as they unceremoniously escorted him and me to the front door. Outside in the cold bright October sun, Stan threw up on the front steps.

I walked away, tired of the bullshit, not even thinking to stop and help him find his way home.

I was too pissed off. Too distraught and humbled once again in my sorry life. All I wanted to do was kill someone. Somehow I made it home without doing that.

"Think they melted down any bodies yet?" I asked Jerry.

But he had walked away from the vid screen.

"Jer?"

A few moments later he returned with a beer in his hand and crashed on the chair at his screen.

"Think they melted any yet?"

He took a sip and shrugged.

"I dunno," he said. "I dunno what the timetable is."

Nor did he seem to care. His little girl in canister four eighty five was soon going to be a lump of melted dead, wet flesh and he didn't seem to give a shit. Maybe, he didn't have such a big heart after all.

"What are you gonna do now?" he asked. "For work. For money."

I shrugged. I hadn't given that issue much thought. All I knew was that those pricks were gonna melt down Marilyn. And all Jerry could do was sit there, sip his beer, and worry about his next job.

####

After a couple minutes, we ended the call. Not much more to say. The rumors had finally come true. They had closed the warehouse and would melt down the bodies. There'd be, of course, no public outcry.

I told the computer to show me some news. My main screen flashed on some stiff anchor reading from cue cards. Below the screen scrolled a line of even more news. After a few moments, there it came, the story about the warehouse being closed down:

"A spokesperson from the Cryogenics Trust Agency, charged thirty-five years ago with maintaining approximately seven thousand cadavers cryogenically preserved years ago by several now defunct companies, announced this morning that the Agency had ceased operations. The cadavers would be removed from their preservation units and shipped to funeral homes for disposition. Most of the bodies would be cremated. Of course, every effort would be made to locate next of kin for alternate disposition in individual cases. The Agency spokesperson explained that the escalating cost of the program had convinced Congress to rescind the original bill directing the Department of Agriculture to take control of the bodies and continue their preservation...

"Bastards," I mumbled.

After my fifth stiff shot from my last bottle of bourbon, my anger exploded into a kind of madness. I hated everything about this country, my life. How we all had let the best from inside ourselves slip away. The Orientals hadn't allowed the World Depression of 2025 to get the best of them and now they had our wives and children. I decided the Japs were behind this, too, the decision to close down the warehouse. And because of that, they would even take Marilyn from me.

In this half-drunken stupor, I took a solemn vow not to let that happen. I had nothing to lose. I had already lost everything. I would do something bold, something radical, something decisive in an effort to reclaim my dignity.

I became even more angry imagining how the bastards hired by the agency to dispose of the bodies would pull Marilyn's cadaver from its frozen stasis where it had been preserved more or less unchanged the past sixty plus years, and allow it to melt and decay in a body bag unceremoniously tossed into the back of a truck on a pile of others and carted to some funeral home for cremation.

I was not going to let them kill the woman I loved!

As the last hot velvety pleasure of the bourbon slithered into my gut, I decided what to do. I was going to rescue her from damnation.

####

A few years ago, I had bought a ray gun. It was a cheap low density model used mostly in low-class drug robberies in the high crime zones. I had purchased it due to some ill-defined need that some day, it might come in handy. It never had until now.

I pulled down the shoe-box where the gun had remained hidden ever since, charged and ready on the slim chance that someone would care to invade my trailer for the worthless junk that had accumulated in my name.

I opened the lid and saw it there, a smooth, shiny silver snub-nose pistol. Instead of lead bullets, it shot concentrated pulses of white energy that could burn a smoldering two-inch hole through elephant hide. It felt cool and heavy in my hand and though I was more than a little drunk that night, I knew that I would aim and shoot anyone who resisted my resolve to save Marilyn.

With the ray gun on my bed, I changed into the orange agency jumpsuit, grabbed the gun, and hurried out of my trailer into the night.

There was a guard at the side entrance, half-asleep. He remained that way right up to the moment I shoved the ray gun under his chin.

"Freeze asshole," I told him.

He gulped.

"Open the goddamn door," I told him, and pushed the barrel of the gun farther up his chin.

His eyes became wide as full moons on a cloudless night.

"There's another guard inside," he rasped.

"If he does anything foolish," I said, now completely into my righteous role as Marilyn's savior. "I'll blow your frigging head clean, then his. Got it?"

He nodded.

"When we get inside," I told him, "he'll see me holding the laser to your throat. You order him to throw his gun down. And, he'd better do as you say."

The other guard looked even more scared than the guy at the door when he saw me holding a ray gun to the throat of his comrade. He followed instructions and quickly threw his ray gun down with a clang onto the cement floor. I ordered both the hapless guards into the control shack and told them to sit down on the green sofa.

"Just keep quiet," I told them, "and nobody gets hurt. I'm just here to save the bodies. Otherwise, its none of your business, so just cool your heels and do as you're told." I glared at my captives, sitting there, shitting their respective security pants on the old, ugly couch.

"Understood?"

I told the computer to put me in touch with the news department of the local net. In an instant, I was online with some underling. I quickly explained the breaking news -- I had kidnapped two guards and was in complete control of the cryogenics warehouse.

After some mumbling while he tried to figure out what the hell I was talking about, the kid told me that he had to get in touch with his superiors. Half a minute later, an actual reporter, Don Gray -- with a face I recognized from the local net -- was finally on the screen examining me with a curious frown.

It took only a minute to convince him that he really had a story. All he needed was one look at the frightened guards behind me to realize that this was an authentic kidnapping.

"Wanna tell me why?" he asked. "What the point is."

"Better call the police first," I told the reporter. "To give the story some drama, some zest."

Gray nodded, realizing the good sense that made. The police would surround the place in short order and then we'd have the tension missing from this episode.

"Okay," he said, after the minute or so he needed to call in the report. "They're on their way."

"So," he leaned forward and asked. "Why are you doing this?"

I told him about the frozen bodies and the agency's decision to destroy them. It was murder.

Of course, I didn't tell him about Marilyn until the end.

"You're in love with her?" he said. "A frozen girl?"

I nodded, and swayed a little from the booze, telling him, yes, I was in love with a dead woman who had been frozen sixty years ago.

####

By then the police had arrived and one of the negotiators had insinuated himself between me and the reporter.

His name was Detective Kew, another fucking Oriental and right away he was trying to play good cop.

"Look, kid," he said after he had heard me out. I'd said nothing about Marilyn. My position was that it was simply wrong to waste the dreams and hopes of another generation by closing the warehouse and melting down the bodies. "There must be some other way of resolving this than keeping those guards in there."

"Yeah," I said. "How? How else am I gonna get anyone's attention?"

"Well," Kew said with a smile and a nod toward the reporter. "You did it, you got coverage. Now everyone will realize how wrong this is."

"But I want real coverage," I told the detective. I was surprised at how cogent I was being, how clear and steady in my conviction. How quickly I had sobered up. "I want this story to run not just on the local net, but on National Net. I want the whole country to know what a punch a pricks their government is."

"Now, kid," whined the detective. "That's asking a lot."

I nodded back toward the frightened guards.

"It's the only way," I told Kew, trying to sound determined and righteous, "that they'll ever get out of here alive."

With a smirk, Kew nodded and said he'd see what he could do. Gray, eager as hell, got permission to do a live interview, inside. In exchange for the guards, he'd go in and become my hostage.

There were about fifteen or twenty minutes of furious negotiations. Detective Kew was adamantly against the exchange. But I insisted and that was that.

Once Gray was in the shack with me, I'd let the guards go.

Gray was tall and lean, a veteran reporter and seemed not the least bit frightened. He had covered some shitass wars in the Middle East and Africa when just a cub reported and liked action almost as much as booze. He told me he had a wife once who also ran off with a fucking Oriental to the Pacific Rim. With a shrug, he added: "Fuck her."

He appeared to be quite sympathetic to my cause, even when I admitted that I didn't know what had gotten into me and that it had been a stupid thing to do. I'd probably be going to jail for the rest of my life.

Gray patted me on the shoulders and promised that wouldn't happen. His article would make the public feel sorry for me, see my side. So it was doubly important that I give a decent interview.

I sighed, brushed back my hair and nodded to Gray that I was ready to begin. He turned on his port-a-cam, and immediately launched into it. His first question was why I had done it. Why I had risked everything, my freedom, maybe my life, to kidnap the guards and stop them from closing the warehouse. Of course, he knew that I had done it to save Marilyn. And that's what he wanted me to tell everyone.

(The next day, the headline would read: MAN FALLS FOR DOOMED FROZEN GIRL, ATTEMPTS RESCUE. One of the Marilyn's photographs, the one in which she had flashed a wide smile and cocked her head ever so coyly filled the screen, with an unimpressive photo of me as an insert. The guys would get a big yuck out of the article, laughing until their sides burst with the idea of me smooching up to Marilyn on the computer screen every shift. Well, fuck them!)

When the interview was over, I called Kew and told him I was releasing Gray and he could send in his men. Kew squinted at me in disbelief, trying to see Gray. In the background, Gray stuck up his thumb to confirm he was okay, that he was coming out.

"Think it'll save them?" I asked Gray as he started to leave.

"Hope so," he said. "If nothing else, kid, it makes a great story."

I nodded and gestured for him to go before Kew and his men got nervous.

While waiting for the police to charge the shack and manhandle me, I called up Marilyn's file. Her bikini video naturally. I had my face pressed against the screen when Kew's SWAT team rushed into the shack and pulled me to the floor. I was staring up at Marilyn's picture as they cuffed me and literally dragged me out.

####

Jerry came to see me in the psyche ward a few days later.

"You did it, man," he drawled, proud as hell. "You beat them."

"For now," I said with a shrug.

Gray's article had caused a minor furor, fueling Stan's promised public outcry. The agency was forced to rescind its decision to close down the warehouse. For now. But already there had been a contradictory editorial published, written by some taxpayer's group, citing the high cost of keeping the bodies frozen. And for what, a dream that was hopeless, that would never come true? That denied the souls of the bodies from their rightful place in eternity?

It ended up all right for me. I was assigned a decent enough lawyer who argued persuasively with the district attorney for a generous plea since it was obvious that I had never intended to hurt anyone in taking over the warehouse and kidnapping those guards. All I had wanted to do was save the woman I loved. It didn't hurt that the public saw me as a kind of sympathetic Romeo. Even the two guards didn't seem to hold a grudge.

I ended up pleading to some lesser assault charge with the DA agreeing to five years probation.

Of course, the worst part of the deal was that I lost my job with the agency. I was banned from the warehouse. The severity of that part of my sentence somehow escaped public comment.

####

A few weeks after the plea was entered, and the notoriety of my case had died down to nothing, I returned to Riley's and saw Jerry sitting by himself, sipping a beer in a booth in back of the place. He looked tired and distracted.

He brightened momentarily when I slid in across from him. He asked me how I was doing and, with a shrug, I told him I had found some lousy tech job in a droid repair clinic. He told me now that the publicity had died down, the rumors had started again that the agency might finally close the warehouse once and for all and melt down the bodies. Nora had told him that they were going to wait maybe three, four months. And this time, there'd be better security so a stunt like the one I had pulled couldn't happen.

I thought of Marilyn and shook my head.

"How is she?" I asked him. He looked up, pretending not to know what I was talking about.

"Marilyn," I said.

Jerry gulped. He couldn't stay focused and suddenly looked away from me.

Finally, after a breath, he turned to me again.

"I see why you fell in love with her," Jerry said. He gave me a sick grin right then and I understood at once. He had fallen in love with Marilyn. Every shift, he went to her file and did the same things I had. Even masturbated to her bikini video.

"I won't let them melt her down when they close the warehouse for real next time," Jerry promised.

I took a sip of beer and frowned at him as if to say, "How's that?"

"I'm gonna take her home with me," he blurted. "I saved up some money. And I already arranged it with the agency. They said they'd lease me the equipment, cheap."

"You son-of-a-bitch."

"I'm sorry, Dave," was all he could say.

After glaring at him for a time, I laughed to myself, shook my head and moved out of the booth. I stood there and stared down at him, deciding whether if it was worth it to pop him one in his face.

Instead, I turned and started off.

The bastard had the nerve to call after me. He actually thought I could forgive him for orchestrating the chance of living with Marilyn the rest of his life.

I suddenly stopped and turned around.

"She's dead!" I yelled at him. "She's goddamn dead!"

But he didn't believe it. And neither do I.

THE END


© 2007 Vincent L. Scarsella

Bio: Vincent L. Scarsella's stories have appeared in Aphelion (most recently Jane's Head, June, 2003) and many other publications, ncluding NonEuclidean Cafe, The Leading Edge, Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature (East Tennessee State University), Fictitious Force, and Antimuse. His story "Vice Cop" appears in the Pendragon Press anthology "New Writings in the Fantastic". Another story, "Practical Time Travel," is set for publication in the Dead Letter Press anthology, "Bound for Evil: Books Gone Bad."

E-mail: Vincent L. Scarsella

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