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Freezing Geezers

a short story
by Kit Reed


How does anybody find anybody else in this world? Search engines! OK, I was googling myself, although I think it was well before google was in her prime. Whatever the search engine, it turned up, I think it was Simon Ings' review of my Weird Women collection, and believe me, I was stoked. I got in touch with Keith, we back-and-forthed by e, and I put him in touch with Terry Bisson and a couple of others who were happy to have their work posted on I-Plus and the site grew. Keith and I met in London, I sent more stuff; we met in London and I told him about my online community at StoryMOO and voila, he sat in as resident critic for a term, reading and responding to kids' stuff both in notes and in our online workshops; then he came to Wesleyan in the States where all this was happening in meatspace. Then Wesleyan paid my way to do a gig in the UK and during this period I realized that StoryMoo was a terrific place to do realtime online interviews-- first I talked to Geoff Ryman about Air and other matters, then Keith on Genetopia, both of which you will find posted on the ancient and honorable I-Plus. It's all been tremendous fun. But/and, like any thriving organism, I-plus grew exponentially until it hit what seems to be the ideal optimum size. I can only hope some hard-copy publisher will find a way to collect and publish all the treasures collected here for posterity -- and people like me. Meanwhile, a farewell story, to mark my final contribution to the final chapter. Ave atque vale, cheers and all that. Oh, and excelsior!

Freezing Geezers

Everybody wants to live forever, but in order to do this, Barry Whittimore has arranged to pre-die. He wants to do this while he is still young and good looking, because he is rich enough to afford the process and pay for maintenance into the next millennium, if that's what it takes.

Besides, why wait until you get cancer or some other gross disease that medicine may never figure out how to cure? Think young. Stay young. Go while you're still buff and attractive, just the way you are! Isn't that much, much better? Go out before you get too feeble to restore. Do it while you're on a roll and come back when improved technology in the areas of cosmetic surgery and, ahem, masculine enhancement catches up with your needs.

Barry is a handsome, sexy, vital seventy-five. He is a rich, fit and versatile CEO, one of the world's movers and shakers, lucky man! He's also a gifted amateur painter in the outsider vein, in his spare time Barry does Florida landscapes on driftwood planks his assistants go out before dawn to collect before the tide catches them or the beach sweepers carry them away. He especially loves art openings; the tourists are crazy about his paintings, partly because he comes on like a romantic beachcomber who lives in a palmetto shack instead of the witty, wealthy man that he is.

They have no idea that he goes home at night to a waterfront villa he picked up for a song. It's valued in the mid-seven figures, now that he's fixed it up. He's brought home some lovely women from those sidewalk art shows. House is filled with and cold running girlfriends, arrayed around the indoor-outdoor pool and draped on overstuffed sofas, slow dancing on the terrazzo floors. He loves to come upon his girls wandering the halls in their thongs and tankinis, chattering and giggling as they run around enhancing the decor. And they love it when he wanders out and bumps into them, except lately he's seen his girls' expressions change when they see him coming and they don't wriggle and laugh the way they used to when he pounces on them.

One thing his father the company president taught him was, always leave the meeting while it's going well.

As a prospect for Vitality Eternal, Barry is a natural. Besides, and this is a dead secret. After a lifetime of being Mr. Super Happy Fun Guy on top of all the stress that comes with running a megacorporation, Barry is, frankly, a little tired.

He has, furthermore, made a very special arrangement here.

Usually Vitality Eternal expects its clients to be legally dead before they touch them, in order to avoid trouble with the law. Of course they intervene at the exact moment when the important parts of you are still functional, but according to the law anybody they touch had better be legally dead. Why, that's dangerously close to being a corpse! No cliff-hangers for this chicken. He only plays games he can win.

Barry knows better than anybody how loud money talks and he's convinced the good people at Vitality Eternal to begin the process while his physical assets are still intact.

Which is what they are doing at this very moment, as in a semi-drugged state which the director advised him is the prelude to suspending his functions without turning him to ice, he wonders why instead of being lulled, he is tense and alert. He is on a table in the Center for Operations in this unique facility in a location which, for security purposes, has never been disclosed.

"You understand," the director told him at their last conference before the signing, "this makes you one of the chosen few. You're part of our very, very special pilot project," he went on. He dressed too much like an undertaker to suit Barry, but he offset it with that reassuring, essential winners'-circle smile. "Only a very few strong, exceptional, directed people are willing to make the assurances necessary for us to allow them to pre-die."

At the time, Barry was flattered. When he wakes up, he'll be with people like himself. Hard driving. Exceptional. Special. That's me.

"No underground storage tanks for our premium clients," the director said, without saying exactly how many there are. "For you and others like you," he concluded, "We have designed luxury accommodations in a very, very special place."

Now Barry is at the heart of the operation. He is strapped to the suspension table in the great central dome in a massive underground installation whose location is so secret that instead of having the chauffeur drop him or letting him take one last run in his breezy convertible to get here, Vitality Eternal came for him in a closed car. Of the gigantic buried complex, only the dome protrudes. The inverted teacup where he is lying, he's relieved to see, is designed to provide the suspended with reflected views of the tips of palm trees and the gorgeous, constantly changing Florida skies.

"We can't tell you," the director said when Barry finally signed the papers, "exactly how much the suspended perceive, but we have made the environment as pleasant as possible for our very few, very special clients who have the wits and the will to pre-die. We can't know whether they are alert or even aware once we have completed the process, or in healthy stasis until the next phase. What we can tell you is that you'll never be alone at Vitality Eternal, and you'll never be un-tended. As long as you're here at V.E. you will receive excellent, excellent care in surroundings designed to keep you happy and edified. At night, whether or not you can see them, we will keep non-stop motion pictures running in our three dozen suspension pods, all the latest movies showing on our three dozen individual frostproof screens. Now, if you're ready..."

He's beyond ready. When he woke up this morning his left arm had frozen so he couldn't bend it and when he looked back at his pillow it was matted with fallen hair. The girls don't know it but his Mr. Funboy hasn't spoken to him in weeks.

Barry is ready in other ways as well. When you plan to pre-die, you also need to pre-plan. His staff has stored a thousand books and hours and hours of music in his Megapod for easy listening, in case he can hear anything, and if he can't... It will be more like a long nap, which is what the facilitator promised. No, Barry is no sucker ripe for the plucking. Before he acted, Barnett Whittimore researched this thing and V.E. is definitely the best provider, with longterm plans for preservative suspension and continued care and staff lined up into the next five generations to back it up. On top of which he extracted certain guarantees from the director before he signed.

"You will never be alone," the director said. Barry cut him a check to guarantee that. Then, because every C.E.O. knows to smile at everyone and trust no one, he cut another check to guarantee the services of several generations of his personal staff to make sure everything goes right. Annual payment contingent on fulfillment of obligations in the year prior and annual renewal of vows. Then he hired a slew of Pinkertons to follow up on that.

Now he is, as they say in the V.E. suspension business, ready to roll. Beyond ready, with his half-million hours of books and music and his outfit ready for the great day when he wakes up in the new world. Several outfits, in fact, because life may be eternal but high fashion changes every week. If he turns his head he can see them hanging on their rack outside the cylinder where he will spend the next part of his life. Hard, perhaps, being deprived of so many things he's used to but restful. Even the most loving women are untrustworthy and every year after thirty personal maintenance is a terrible, geometrically progressing chore.

Barry's girlfriend isn't necessarily pleased by this but it isn't really a problem. Amy's barely thirty but her body has begun to sag that first (predictive) bit. Another few months and she'll be flabby enough to fail the pencil test. Her face is cobwebbed with beginning lines and face it, he was over her anyway. He'd just as soon forget her, he'll pick up in the near future with somebody fresh and new when everything's curable, by which time Amy will be either too old to talk to or many years dead. When they bring Barry back and they fix him up he will walk into a whole new generation of beauties waiting-- whenever that is. He can afford to be patient.

In addition to plenty of money, Barry has nothing but time. Before he came in here he cleared his calendar and liquidated his assets. Not counting the emergency cache of Krugerrands, his money will go on making money for the next thousand years. As a fail-safe, he arranged for the place where he will sleep until his caretakers wake him to be fitted with a pay-by-the-day cash dispenser of his own design.

Around him, the curved operating theater is banked with glass cylinders designed to contain human... he doesn't want to think bodies. As nearly as he can see, through the thicket of tubes and drains and busy personnel surrounding him, the tubes look empty, but you never know. Of course they aren't empty, the others he's joining are probably surrounded by protective fog; soothing vapors, maybe, perfume or some absolutely amazing psychotropic drug that brings unendurable pleasure indefinitely prolonged. There will be others. Otherwise the director could not have made the assurances he made. The pre-dead are actually still living. Imagine a gentle, hibernative state. Those glass cylinders are filled with other humans, Barry concludes, wondering why when they guaranteed round-the-clock monitoring for as long as he's out of commission, there are no living arrangements for support staff in the room.

Right. Before they go too far with this, Barry needs to ask a few more hard questions. In life as in business, you never go to a meeting unprepared, but you understand that no CEO is ever perfectly prepared. Things happen. Circumstances change. Better sort this out before I do this... Wait a minute, he says and is surprised to discover that nothing about him moves. His lips aren't moving. There is no vibration in his larynx. No air pushing out of his lungs to power the voice. Wait, he cries, but no sound comes out.

He sits up and begins waving his arms, shouting. Hold up a minute, he cries desperately. Stop! And like a soul floating toward the white light he sees the whole thing from a fresh vantage point at the apex of the dome: figures working over his inert body on the table, silent and intent in their lavender scrubs.

Cold, he realizes. And trapped. He is not feeling peaceful, as the company promised, something's gone wrong with the anesthesia. He isn't feeling liberated; he's just tired. Tireder than he's been, and instead of the thrill of euphoria the brochure promised would come as the V.S. recycling pumps chill Barry's blood and combine it with elements he should have studied more carefully, he is bushwhacked by encroaching dread.

Mercifully, unless this too is part of the process, he shudders when his body temperature drops below acceptable levels, and passes out.

You don't get to be a rich, successful man like Barry Whittimore without being a positive person, and in the last second of his past life as he knew it, as the bright strains of Vivaldi pour into his head, Barry tells himself, the worst is over. Now sleep. You'll be young and raunchy and good as new when they wake you up. But there is running along underneath a chord of chagrin. This is nothing like I thought.

The first thing he knows when he wakes up is that you're not supposed to wake up. There are V.E. attendants orgying in every scrap of his coming-out wardrobe, even the gold leather Fiorucci flares. The next generation, he thinks, judging from the air of abandon, the long cobwebs trailing from the operating arena lights. Their hair and some of the makeup is surprising but they all seem to have two ears, a nose, ten toes and ten fingers, just like him. That's all they have in common, he can tell by the lolling tongues and the idiotic grins.

The second thing he knows when he wakes up is that you're not supposed to hear. By this time the orgiasts are singing and dancing in a ring-around-the-rosey pattern, circling the operating table on which miniature goats cavort and miniature monkeys play. When is this, anyway? Where are the director and his dependable staff? "Corpsickle, corpsickle," they sing, as if they get this loaded and sing this song every night, which as he'll find out soon enough, they do, "we love you. We love all your clothes and the paychecks too..."

The third thing he knows is that a tremendous amount of time has passed. All the music and all the novels and self-help books stored in his megapod have played themselves out and expired, all while he was too zonked or whatever that was they did to him to enjoy a single chapter or a single tune. Note to self, he thinks, clicking, clicking, clicking. Next time arrange backup player, plus regular re-load of megapod.

Next time?

Night clouds rush across the sky outside the dome, streaking it with eerily unfamiliar colors. In the movie, Barry thinks, remembering the last remake of "The Time Machine" or something very like it, This is where you look up for the first time and see two moons.

In a way, it would be a relief. A supernatural explanation would open the door to an unnatural escape. When did he first understand that he needs to escape? Immediately, he thinks, as outside his cylinder the party goes on. But there is only one moon up there that Barry can see in the reflector conveniently positioned so even the suspended ones can enjoy the view, the director explained in laying out the plan. The sky is just the same and he is just as stuck.

By this time the partiers have broken up into twos and threes and passed out or arranged themselves in compromising positions on the floor, all but one, who wanders up to the cylinder, giving Barry a fisheye close-up of his nostrils as he taps on the glass with hairy knuckles and says, "Yo, corpsicle!"

In spite of everything he has just learned about his condition, Barry screams and screams.

Outside the cylinder, his hope for escape leans closer and blinks. "You in there?"

Good, Barry thinks. I've got his attention. It's been an interesting experiment, but it's time to call it to a halt.

Thinking and action are two different things when you are in a biochemically altered state. Barry writhes and contorts his face, at least he thinks he does.

"Heh," the boy outside the cylinder says, accidentally rubbing glitter into one eye and then blinking it away. "Colder than a mackerel, just like they want."

When he understands that he can't speak and he can't get down from this armature much less break out of his guaranteed shatterproof cylinder because he is suspended not in vapor but in some cold, mysteriously viscous fluid that resists his every attempt, Barry reconciles himself to a long night and settles down to think. He thinks while the orgiasts party themselves into insensibility and the swing shift takes over and he thinks while the sun rises above the dome and the morning shift pours ice water on them all to shake them and night and swing shifts punch their time cards and take the cash from the EZ dispenser Barry himself designed to keep his care continuous, and shamble out.

It's clear that no matter what promises the director made when Barry checked in here, the whole operation has gone to hell. Best money says, and Barry knows everything there is to know about money, make them wake you up and turn you loose as you are, hell with whether they've cured male pattern baldness and sexual problems while you were out, you can't just hang here waiting. It's time to get warmed up and get back into the game.

At the moment, however, and the inconvenience seems to be permanent, he can neither move nor speak.

You don't get to be a CEO and a megamillionaire by cutting your losses and yielding to the status quo and you don't give up easily. He has to figure out how to communicate.

It takes him weeks to think it through. What difference will a few weeks make, he thinks. When you have years. To accomplish what he has to, to get their attention and make clear he's ready to end this, will take the better part of a year.

In the end, Barry does what he has to do through mind control. When your mind is the only thing about you that's still working, you can make it do amazing things. As the night shift relieves the day shift and the swing shift comes in, all in relentlessly predictable rotation, Barry concentrates on purifying his consciousness, bringing his brain down to pure alpha waves which, when played right, have their own resonance.

In time, in more time than he would care to measure, the giant cylinder moves. In the still, quiet time beyond time as Barry used to know it, his protective prison slides closer and closer to the edge of the platform where it stands while outside, the party goes on.

It will be years before it crashes but when it does, Barry enjoys one joyful surge of triumph as the cylinder tips off the platform and hits the floor in the still, silent moment after the nightly orgy ends and the dawn shift rolls in.

The noise is stupendous. Even the drunkest of them sits up. A woman cries, "What was that?"

"You want to check?"

"Naw, you check."

"Randy, Randy will check."

An attendant comes. Fate, which is either generous or extremely cruel, has twisted Barry's cords and tubes so that, alert and excited, bursting with grateful speeches he'll make as soon as they come and bring him out of this, he is suspended face up.

The boy leans over. Stares in.

With a superhuman effort, Barry blinks.

"Holy fuck," the attendant says. "This one's awake."

A girl shouts, "Get the supe!"

His supervisor comes running. "I dunno, looks like any other corpsicle to me."

"Special case, boss. It says so right here on the tank. Instructions. See? He's waking up!"

"Not on my watch, he isn't."

With a superhuman effort hyped by desperation, Barry blinks again.

"We can't have that." The supervisor turns away with a shrug. "Who'd meet our payroll then?"

"What are we going to do?"

There is a long spell during which nobody speaks. It is exciting and disturbing to Barry, lying here alert but immobile, on his back in his cylinder on the floor.

The two exchange looks that belly up and helpless in his cylinder, Barry is too wild and distracted to read. Quick gestures that could mean anything. Nods.

"No S.O.P. for this," the supervisor says brusquely, "Only one thing to do."

"You want to do it, or shall I?"

"Get the others," the supervisor says. He is more intelligent than the others, which is why he is the supervisor. "Orient Express kind of thing, in case something goes wrong. If they catch us, everybody's guilty so everybody can deny it."

There is a long wait while the day shift and the swing shift come filing in. They are massed around the cylinder where, terrified and hopeful, Barry waits.

Together, they pull the plug. By the time they right the cylinder and roll it back into place, their payroll and their meal ticket, CEO, man about town and womanizing outsider artist Barry is well and truly dead.

© Kit Reed 2006, 2007.
This story was first published in Gargoyle #51, 2006.

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