By Jack Fisher

I toured their factory at first. I saw the place where what was left of me would find its rest. A pool of nitrogen, where we guests sleep for ages, wating for the race of not-quite mortals to erase the ill that brought us there, then invest our frozen bones with life again. The rest is up to us; to find a place in that future world for ourselves.

But what snatched, and have devoured, me was the cold: ice to freeze these cancer sores into limbo. That future paradise was too remote. Pain flame and cryogenic reservoir; the first time that I died was fire and ice. The final months of life I had to bide and let the cancer win. An accident, suicide, a stroke-- any end that's swift and would mean that the brain would start to die without the tubes and wires in place to save the cells that make us who we are. A final bout with pain, hospital smells, and the noise...

Then death. And then the blood sucked out and our bodies replaced with slippery goo that doesn't freeze; the pool of nitrogen...but I could feel. I wasn't dead enough. At least it was relief from cancer fire as drugs finally lost their hold. I do remember that the doctor's said that my senses would shut down; no ear, nor eye, nor skin for silence, dark and cold. But I'm sure they suspected that I wasn't dead. I wonder if they knew that this gelid bed becomes a bed of dreams. Dreams of torn flesh, screaming children and the dead beckoning from their niches in mausoleums...

I recalled every kid I tattled on, every lie, seduction, double-cross that had soured my eighty years. Would I have gone if I had known what I was getting when I told them go ahead and throw the dice?

Not quite dead. I wondered if they knew-- for centuries I wondered. I plotted and swore an ugly and sick revenge on that unholy crew, who locked me in this frozen cell, this brew of steamy cold. I know I lost my mind, knowing this-- that if I slept for just one hundred years before the warming metamorphisis, I'd live a million years of fears and silent screams...

I screamed away a few milleniums in that frozen hell, or maybe microseconds. I didn't stay sane for longer than Rome rose and fell. Please thaw these frozen brains; these torn, worn and stitched remains. Dust turned into stars, stars turned into rock in the milleniums I screamed away in madness. But as the sun will someday cool and burn out, so will my lunacy. No one's sanity is ever won back after a long and twisted track. My mind cheats the grave; My body will not decompose in all this time I have. Time that froze not the mind, but dying meat.

The mind still feels. Even in this drab, cold-beyond-cold chasm it functions well enough through one life's pleasures and pains. Perhaps I think of this body more now that I'm detached from it. The pain that splattered me with gore and rot had penetrated me to the core. They gave me no bond or guarantee. I gladly paid the tab for this expensive gift to find myself beyond the cancer pain, even in this temporary death. Ice to freeze those sores...

Something's different. Something's happening. I hear a sound like a flute that is purring low and softly. Then, dim colors sparkling at the edge of vision. The smell of snow-- not remembered, but a true perception. The smell of liquid nitrogen? The colors merge into a solid blue; I suddenly hear and feel my skin screaming in pain, beyond the cancer pain, shrieking now from skin through gut and bone-- and then it stops. The senses dead again, but now the body absolutely gone.

A different kind of numbness from before...If it is real death then it is nothing more. But then I heard my name. It was an alien thought that didn't come from me! The outside sought attention, the warm outside. I said I'd heard and in microseconds they transferred a million bits of truth: The life I bought was ready to be claimed. I could be thawed or perhaps my brain could. The body, however...is dead.

They might have a new, young body they can splice me to. A good chance, but if I die, it flops. Fifty-fifty maybe? A little less...the chance of death was figured in the price. But this requires some thought. I could remain for centuries in this state. Be content to live within my brain-- a metaphor made of frozen flesh-- my fate, at very worst, to sit and glaciate in ponderous senility.

At best a simple winking out. I did debate this for a wink or two. But my quest for the future self was not a slow surrender. I had to know what the future was like. They claimed I could be thawed. So here's the test. Let's throw the dice. It only worked part way. I felt the cold diminish at what seemed a rapid pace-- then realized what it was. The old ice-on-skin sensation on my face and new body; tingling, then I braced for pain, for frostbite pain, but it didn't come. The doctor's raced to save my future self, but lost their hold.

I lost a neuron here and there, but wound up pretty much the same, in this private cryogenic cell. They offered me a choice: Be rolled around in a robot thing , alive, but bound, or I could keep my life on ice. Again and again they tried certain techniques, but after forty years this antique brain blinked and saw, blurred by tears, the chrome-white glare: the very room where I had come to die almost two centuries before. I braced again for pain, but it didn't come. They'd fixed that part. The body I bore was male and weak. Too weak to rise even if I were able to so what choice was I to choose?

I've survived enough years to see the polar star change. This antique brain, rebuilt, recharged, revived, until clever scientists contrived a body that would last. I hope to persevere until the heat death of the universe. We all should keep warm until that final chill. A million suns have risen since my birth: I'm old, but still too young for ashes or for the cold, damp depths of the earth.

Copyright 1998 by Jack Fisher

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