|Vernal Equinox 2001|
Michael R. Gist is a member of HWA. His fiction has been published in Weird Tales. Other upcoming stories will appear in Dark Matter and Xoddity.
Michael is currently working on his second novel. You can visit his website at www.michaelrgist.com.
He lives in the redwood empire in Northern California with his two cocker spaniels.
Descending in the elevator and walking onto the sidewalk, Jamal immediately cast about for an escape clause, a back door out of his predicament. All his life he'd slid by, letting others take point at the crucial junctures. Sure, he'd heard that no one got off the mudball alive, but he wasn't willing to accept that. Not now. For everyone else it was fine; they were little more than savages, still struggling to institute animal rights, abortion rights, and a host of other obvious social advances. But for himself, no way. His own demise would be the winking out of an enlightened, superior animal.
As he waved for a taxi, he considered that everything was relative. There was a certain flux to the universe. One day, in the distant future, if he was standing in the exact same spot, he wouldn't be hailing a taxi. Oh no. He would probably be standing on some kind of invisible conveyer belt that covered him with a plastic dome and whisked him to wherever he wanted to go in a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds. Or he would step into a machine, dissolve and reassemble somewhere else, just like the transporter on the old Star Trek television show.
And in that future time, he would finally encounter his equals, evolved beings of unfettered intellect.
That's when it came to him. His brain, without giving him a headache or demanding a fee, searched its vast banks of stored trivia and came up with the answer. The problem had been solved for quite some time, by other people like him, who weren't willing to just let go. Like him, they wanted to continue to live, to reach utopia. They, too, knew that the future held the promise of renewed life, or even immortality.
Cryogenics. That was the key. The freezing of the body down to near absolute zero. Then, when a cure was found, there would be sweet revival.
Resolved, Jamal wanted an immediate fix. He didn't want to spend any more time among the primitives than absolutely necessary. Mentally, he shucked off any remaining attachment to this world, and began to imagine his life in the next. That was where paradise lay, an earthly corporeal one, not the wishful dreams of the masses.
Finding a telephone booth, he called a place listed as Phoenix II. Their prices were far higher than he expected. Jamal asked questions. What about storing just his head? Another quote -- and he smiled.
So what if he couldn't take his body? It was too devastated by the disease anyway. All he really needed was his brain. His clean, working brain. Where he was going, cloning everything else was sure to be a snap. Or maybe they would build him a cyborg body. He liked that idea. He'd be a tall handsome Jamal Jones that stayed young and never wore out. By the time he got across town, he was humming.
He had a moment of nostalgia when he entered his apartment overlooking the city. No more marches to watch on TV from the safety of his couch. No more protests to read about in the papers over his cafe latte. But he couldn't stand around having second thoughts.
He spent a week completing his affairs before he finally turned over all his money to Phoenix II. Thankfully, for an extra charge, they were willing to abide by his special demands. As he signed the final checks, he didn't leave a penny to any of his relatives, and he told none of them what he was doing. They had scoffed once too often at his politics.
Phoenix II was a small but impressive replica of a Greek temple. Within hours of his entry, he was bathed, dressed in silk pajamas and gently anesthetized. A doctor stood by to declare him dead even as he was freezing, flouting the pointless law that demanded the internment of only deceased individuals. He could only assume that after he was in suspension they would remove his burdensome body, freeing his brain at last. And his last thought was of the congratulations he'd receive from a Self yet to be.
Opening his eyelids, Jamal's mind drifted out of a fog and into wakefulness. His brain informed him that everything was happening just as he'd hoped and imagined. He was pain free, lodged in some liquid pooled around the bottom of his neck. He could move his eyes, yet had no ability to speak.
Rolling his eyes, he found he was housed in an elegant bell jar. The room was plain white, about twenty feet square with a row of windows through which he could not see.
He blinked. Directly across from him was a table with four other heads -- two men, white-haired and well beyond middle-age, and two women, one fiftyish and the other quite young, perhaps in her late teens. Situated similarly to Jamal, they couldn't seem to move the slight stump of their necks, but looked extremely healthy.
Their eyes moved and were open. They all looked at him sometimes together and sometimes singularly. After a very long time of staring, he couldn't help but wonder if they had as much desire to speak to him as he did to them. He had a thousand questions and no way of getting answers.
People, both male and female, entered the room. They all wore white, and their unlined faces remained as placid as their movements. They walked about the room, but he couldn't get a handle on exactly what they were doing. In any case, they showed little interest in the bell jar quintet.
For a while, he tried to get attention, but eventually he realized such actions were futile, and boredom became his nemesis. He slept as much as he could, but he had no sense of time, so he didn't know whether he had slept an hour, a day or a month. He thought of food and other pleasures he'd had in his previous life, but it was a mere exercise. He had lost all sense of hunger or appetites of any kind. And thinking did not suffice for experience. Finally, to entertain himself, he set up a blinking code with the younger female head across from him. More hours and months went by until they were finally able to communicate.
She was a very pretty girl with even teeth and a head covered with short copper-colored hair, his favorite. Her name was Suzette, she was nineteen years old, and she had died in an automobile accident that mangled her body.
"I was driving," she blinked. "Three of my friends were killed. We were all drinking and smoking, when I insisted on taking the wheel. They tried to stop me, but I was a spoiled rich kid used to getting my own way. I don't know what happened to them, or how I got here. Probably my dad. He never wanted to let go of me."
Her confession bonded them together. After that, he spent all his time telling her about himself. Over time, he related every protest as though he'd attended it, and every letter to the editor he'd read as though he'd written it. And as he went on, he smiled to himself. Now that they were here, his false front of zeal wouldn't be needed anymore. In a way, he himself would be an anachronism in the world he dreamed of.
As he continued to blink-talk to Suzette, he became attracted to her. But he was careful not to tell her he loved her. Even though he felt closer to her than to anyone in his life, he didn't want to make a commitment that would stand in the way of his own new life. And he sensed her disappointment.
After a lull, there came a spate of activity. The two elderly gentlemen and the older woman were all taken away in quick succession. When they didn't return, Jamal's hopes soared.
"Age before beauty," he blinked at Suzette. "Thanks," Suzette blinked back. "I was beginning to wonder why not me. I'm sick to death of sitting here. I'm ready to get on with -- whatever."
"It won't be long now," Jamal said, anxious to get out of his bell and onto an operating table. The almost atrophied muscles around his mouth twitched into a tiny smile.
Later, as he nodded off, a white-suited person suddenly loomed in front of his glass jar home. Another went to Suzette.
Suzette's attendant scooped her out of her protective bell and onto a clean metal tray covered with a white cloth. The same was done to Jamal. When he was set on his tray, he mentally pictured himself taking a deep breath, but of course he didn't. However, he did sense the air touching his facial skin. The experience filled him with adulation for the people of the future who were so far along in their medical knowledge that somehow oxygen was fed to their brains without the need for lungs. If they could do that, there was no stopping them. He was on his way!
To his great delight, he was carried into a large beautiful room filled with people seated around decorated tables. It was obvious they were having an elaborate celebration. He hoped it was meant for him, as a welcome. When he was carried to the front of the room and passed up to the obvious place of honor, he imagined a swelling of pride. And he was further pleased when Suzette was placed opposite him.
A tall wiry man stood nearby. He ran his finger around a ring of glass and a series of melodious notes filled the room. He moved his hands and face, but he didn't speak, and that's when Jamal realized he'd never seen any of them speak -- when the company responsed to the man's gestures, Jamal had to deduce they were telepathic.
Frustrated, he pressed his eyes tightly shut and concentrated, willing his brain to let him hear what they were saying. And then, just as quickly, he heard a slight murmuring like running water, followed by the very soft gentle voice of the speaker, who seemed oblivious to Jamal's mental invasion.
. . . sample this wonderful delicacy from the dig at Phoenix II.
The wiry man gently encircled Suzette's copper locks. Her eyes had closed, her lashes were dark webs across ashen cheeks.
With long delicate fingers, he lifted the top of her head off like a jack-o'-lantern, reached in with a gold spoon, scooped up a bite-sized chunk of cheesy brain and popped it into his mouth.
Jamal tried to scream.
© 2000 Michael R. Gist, all rights reserved
Vernal Equinox 2001 Issue, Updated March 21, 2001
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.