“I can save your life.”
The words reverberate in Felix’s skull, mocking him. How can five words make him shake? How can five words stop everything? They are so straight forward. Clear. No double meanings. No softening. Just there.
Not like the words he’s heard before.
You have a terminal diagnosis.
Five percent survival rate.
I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do.
Why can’t they just say the obvious?
You’re going to die.
He stares at the woman in front of him, takes note of her pointed features and long legs. Not his type, but pretty. He wonders if she hangs around hospitals all day, clipping heels and glaring white teeth constantly on the hunt for suckers like a modern-day snake oil salesman. The mental image of her standing in front of an unsuspecting crowd, vials of brightly coloured ‘cures’ in finely manicured hands, yelling their praises at the top of her lungs almost makes him laugh.
Instead, he gives out a disbelieving snort.
“You some kind of miracle worker?” he asks, “Or are you trying to save my immortal soul? What church are you from?”
She just keeps smiling, like her big teeth are some kind of shield to his disbelief.
“No miracles,” she says pleasantly, “Science. I work with some of the finest minds in the world, Sir. We can save your life. What guarantee can the people in this place give you?”
She looks pointedly around them and Felix find his eyes following. Hospitals always stink of medicine and disinfectant. Bright, florescent lights glare down uncomfortably as doctors and nurses rush to and fro. It’s a busy place, constantly seething with people, but Felix always feels alone here. He sits in this waiting room, time after time, overlooked until they call him in for his treatment. Then he leaves, veins full of their poisons and its hell.
He doesn’t say anything, not wanting to give away his own hate and disdain for this place. He doesn’t know how she knows he’s dying, maybe death has a look or a smell. Maybe she’s actually half blood hound.
He tries to keep a straight face at that thought, but he has so little to laugh about lately. It’s hard.
She gives him a softer version of her thousand-watt smile, as if to say, I understand.
“Think about it,” she says, handing him a card before he can protest. He watches her walking away, heels clip, clip, clipping as she goes. The card in his had feels surprisingly heavy.
I’ll bin it later, he thinks, pocketing it.
He doesn’t throw it away.
Instead, he spends a long time staring at the card. Future Cryonics glares up at him in bold, red letters. The name Dr. Francesca Steiner MD PHD and a number taunts him. He spends some time googling cryonics. The results are not encouraging.
…the freezing of a human corpse or severed head…
…speculative hope of resurrection in the future…
He shakes his head, not knowing why he expected anything else. Science, she had said. What a joke! He feels like a fool for even entertaining the thought.
He looks around his apartment. Its messier than it used to be, laundry piling in a corner and a stream of take away boxes stuffed into an overflowing bin. The framed pictures and medals from his army days stare at him mockingly. He looks at the familiar, smiling faces in khaki and wonders not for the first time why he is trapped in this death. He should have died in the hot, sandy wasteland that had taken so many of his friends. He should have perished on his feet, not in this traitorous body.
He thinks of the not too far off future. Of IVs stuffed in his arms, of being so weak others have to help with his most basic needs and of the long, slow crawl to darkness. Dying alone, in his bed, like a feeble old man.
He looks up Dr. Steiner anyway, curious and trying to distract himself.
The results are more promising.
In her picture she’s a bit younger, but that beaming smile is still present. Her list of accomplishments and awards run long and she seems to have dipped her toes in a number of things. He can’t find any connection to cryonics though.
He shuts the computer down and looks at the card, frowning.
“Huh,” he says and thinks.
Clip. Clip. Clip.
Felix notices the sound before he sees her. When he does, her smile is even wider and she extends a hand to him. He takes note of her piled up hair and crisp, white lab coat.
“Captain Riggs,” she greets cheerily, “I’m so glad you could make it.”
There it was. His name again. She’d said it on the phone before he could introduce himself.
They’re standing in the waiting room to her offices, a tall grey building surrounded by electric fences and security guards in black uniforms. Ex-military, Felix had conjectured as he drove through the gate. He had been surprised not to see any posters advertising their services or informative flyers explaining what they do as he was led in. He was here more for curiosity’s sake than anything else. There was no way in hell he could afford cryonics, even if he wanted to.
“You still haven’t told me how you knew my name,” he says, releasing her hand quickly.
“I’m a researcher at heart,” she says coyly, “This way, please.”
She leads him down a tiled corridor, her clicking heels echoing loudly in his ears. There are several grey doors on each side and she leads him directly to the fifth one on the left. Her cheery voice rings in his ears as she chats, the company speech he guesses.
“…we pride ourselves on top notch medical care, the best in state-of-the-art equipment and, of course,” she opens the door for him, “Results.”
Felix feels like he’s stepping into a space ship. A stainless steal room shines in bright overhead lights, monitors displaying numbers and graphs he can’t begin to fathom are scattered everywhere. There are five, large pill shaped pods standing in a semi-circle in the very centre of the room, each large enough to fit a person.
“Mr. Gordon!” Dr. Steiner’s voice jolts him, “Come meet Captain Riggs! He’s here to see what we do.”
As though materializing from thin air, a short figure with hunched shoulders emerges from a cluster of monitors. He wears the same crisp lab coat as Dr. Steiner and Felix can see his name tag. I. Gordon.
“A pleasure, Captain,” he has a strange accent, Eastern European perhaps.
“Mr. Gordon is our resident engineer and mechanical expert,” Dr. Steiner boasts, “He maintains our stasis chambers.”
“Is that where you freeze your corpses?” Felix asks derisively.
She laughs and even I. Gordon spares an amused smile.
“The internet doesn’t know everything,” Dr. Steiner says, “Come, I’ll show you.”
She leads him over to one of the pods, pointing to a screen. Like in a hospital, there are numbers monitoring the vital signs of whatever rests inside. All the numbers are low. Too low. There’s even a heart monitor, but the line is flat. Felix is about to open his mouth when the monitor gives an unexpected beep.
The heart monitor jumps.
“What is that?” he asks, stepping back.
“The heart rate is slowed, but still here,” Dr. Steiner explains, “Unlike cryonics as the media will tell it, we do not freeze people when they are already dead. Nothing can effectively bring a human back to life after so long in a cryogenic state. In these pods you will merely sleep until a cure can be found.”
“And that’s how you expect to save my life?” he shakes his head, “That’s impossible.”
She doesn’t stop smiling.
“Let me show you.”
She pushes a button on the pod and something clicks. There’s a sharp hissing sound and the beep, beep of the heart rate monitor intensifies.
“What’s happening?” Felix asks, confused.
“This is a dog,” she says, “He’s been in stasis for five years. I’m reviving him.”
More hissing, more beeping and then another, sharp click. It takes a while, but Felix can’t tear his eyes away, watching in disbelief as the pod opens, folding back like the lid of a coffin.
It’s a golden retriever, pale hair still frosted from the cold, but melting rabidly. In minutes, its eyes are opening and it gives a dramatic yawn. Felix watches in awe as it rises to its feet, shaking its body rapidly so that fleck of water spray all over them.
Dr. Steiner looks triumphant.
Hope is a terrible thing. As painful and debilitating as any illness. Felix knows this, has confronted this time and again over the last year. And yet…
“I can’t afford it,” he says immediately as they enter her office, “There’s no way in hell I can afford something like this.”
“I know,” she says, taking out a file and placing it in front of him, “We work on an alternate revenue stream.”
“Why me?” he almost begs, so confused and fully prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“You’re terminal,” she says, shrugging, “You need it.”
“You looked at my medical records,” he doesn’t know how to feel about that, “There’s no guarantee of a cure.”
She pulls out another file. He hears the soft clip, clip, clip of her heels as she moves towards him. She’s not smiling anymore, instead her expression is dead serious. He finds that alarming for some reason.
“As I said, I’m a researcher at heart,” she pushes the file towards him, “These are all the current studies being done on your illness, there are several clinical trials in progress. There is hope, Captain Riggs, you just need more time.”
He thinks of the monster inside him, ravaging his body without a care. Its fast and brutal and has grown too fat on his life force to be dealt with medically. He hates it so much it hurts. There’s no cure. No way to find one. No time.
“You can take a look for yourself,” she carries on, “There are several drugs and we could only be decades away from the nanotech advanced enough to attack such diseases on a molecular level. It’s the future, I’m offering you. A future.”
His mouth feels dry and the overwhelming hope is too much to squash down.
“I can’t afford it,” he reiterates dumbly.
“I’m not in the business of making rich people immortal,” her nose scrunches in distaste at the idea, “Just think of me as a patriot Captain. The world needs men like you.”
As Felix picks up the file, his hand is shaking.
“Do you think he’ll do it?” Dr. Steiner looks up from her work. Mr. Gordon is standing in the doorway to her office, looking at her quizzically. Its been a few minutes since Captain Riggs left, clutching the file she had given him to his chest like a kid with a safety blanket.
“Yes,” she says confidently.
“You like him,” Gordon point out, “Much more than the other.”
She gives a real smile at that, twisting and hungry.
Gordon snickers, raising a pretend glass of champagne in the mockery of a toast. He’s already put the dog back in stasis, ready for the next candidate to walk through the door.
“To you and your creatures, Franny,” he says with a grin.
She laughs, tipping her head back and letting the sound ring.
“To the future, Mr. Gordon,” she corrects him gently, “To a glorious future.”