by J Alan Erwine
Edward awoke, his whole body tingling as if millions of spiders with tiny pins on their legs were walking across his skin. He wanted to scream, but his voice was gone. His mouth was completely dry. He had no idea what was wrong with him. He didn't even know where he was. The last thing he could remember was . . . no, that was impossible. He remembered being sick, but he couldn't have . . . no, he couldn't have.
His eyes opened slowly, as if they hadn't opened in years. Light shone down from the ceiling. A blinding, overpowering light. The kind of light only a hospital would have. So, he was still sick.
"Good morning, sir," a voice said. Suddenly, the light was eclipsed by a face behind a surgical mask, but it wasn't like any mask he'd ever seen before. It was made from some strange material that almost looked like a micro-thin plastic. Edward's eyes slowly adjusted and he found himself staring up into a pair of denim colored eyes.
"Where . . . ?" he tried asking the only question that could be on his mind, but his voice couldn't find the strength for a second word.
"You're in your future," the voice responded. Edward was glad he was lying down. He suddenly felt very faint. Then there was only blackness.
It was 2115. He still couldn't believe it. He'd gone just over a century into his future. When he'd first shelled out all the money for the cryonic freezing, he'd thought it was a joke. He had money to burn, so he bought into what he knew was a scam. He never thought it would work, but he hadn't had anyone to leave his fortune to, so why not? Now here he was, living proof that humans could be frozen and resuscitated.
"I'm Dr. Zenti," the man with the denim eyes said.
"My cancer?" Edward managed to mumble.
"Cured," Dr. Zenti said with a smile, "as are all the other ailments your technology couldn't handle. In a few months, the nanoprobes will leave your body and you'll be as healthy as anyone in the twenty-second century."
"Have you ever heard of nanotechnology?"
"Sure, I used to read science fiction."
"It's not fiction anymore," Dr. Zenti said with the warmest smile Edward had seen in years, his years, not calendar years. The smile seemed to blend into the man's perfect features. There were no lines on his face, even though Edward was sure the man had to be in his forties.
"It's going to take me some time to get used to this."
"Of course. I hope you don't mind, but I set up an appointment for you with one of the sim-shrinks."
Edward shook his head. "Do I even want to ask?"
"Artificial intelligences trained in counseling."
"In your terms, yes, but we no longer use humans for that sort of treatment. People have better things to do with their lives than study psychology."
Edward didn't understand, and he figured he was going to have to get used to that feeling. This world was nothing like the one he'd left. The changes a hundred years' passing could bring about were startling. Edward couldn't recognize anything, and he wasn't going to be able to get used to virtual reality entertainment. He wanted his TV back. "You think this head shrinker will help me adapt?"
"Of course, but I also want you to see him because we can't keep your serotonin levels balanced. It looks like clinical depression. We can only treat the symptoms, not the cause.
Edward nodded. Depression? He thought he understood, but he really didn't care because he suddenly remembered Mary. The future didn't seem so bright all of a sudden.
"So, tell me about, Mary," the disembodied voice said.
"No Bavarian accent?"
"If you would like, I can simulate one," the voice said, sounding something like the perfect stereotype of Sigmund Freud. "Is that better?"
"No," Edward said, glancing around the featureless room. He could see what he now knew were the holoprojectors, but other than those, there was only his chair sitting in the middle of the room. "What I would like is to have something to look at."
"Such as?" The voice had resumed its bland mid-western newsman accent.
Edward shook his head. "I'm not sure."
A chair suddenly materialized in front of him. Sitting in the chair was a man in his late fifties or early sixties. He had a full white beard and small round black glasses that rested on a rather large nose.
Edward laughed. "If I didn't want to hear Freud's voice, what makes you think I'd want to see him?"
"I can shift to another form if you'd like."
"No," Edward said, holding up his hand. "This at least gives me something to look at."
"So, tell me about Mary," the hologram said.
"What's to tell," Edward said, placing his hands together and forcefully rubbing his thumbs together. "She was the love of my life."
"She was married."
"Not to you, I take it?"
Edward tried to look around the room, not wanting to look the hologram in the eyes, or whatever passed for eyes on the thing. "No, not to me."
"Did she love you?"
"She always said she did."
"That's not what I asked."
"How the hell should I know?" Edward shouted, standing up and pacing around the room. "How am I supposed to know what another person's feeling or thinking? I thought you were supposed to help me feel better. I feel worse than I did when I woke up."
Edward stopped his pacing. "Excuse me?" He had never been a violent man. He'd only been in one fight, and that had been stupid elementary school antics, but right at that moment, he wanted to punch the smug hologram right in the face. A lot of good that would do.
"Your anger and your pain show that the healing process has begun."
"It has to begin," Edward said, sitting down, out of breath. "She's been dead for decades."
"Not to you."
"No," Edward shook his head. "I'm the dead one. She's still alive."
"How'd she feel about you dying?"
"She was devastated. She actually almost left the jerk she was with, just so my last few months could be more enjoyable, but she couldn't even do that. She never loved me."
"Can you be sure?"
"If you don't mind, I'm really tired. Can you have Dr. Zenti take me back to my room?"
"Of course. We'll pick this up another time.
As the weeks went by, Edward felt himself becoming more comfortable with his new world. His talks were progressing fairly well with the sim-shrink, and he even had a room with a window now. Nothing could have prepared him for his first look out that window into the world of 2115. Skyscrapers had grown to immense proportions and the streets teemed with people, but the most striking aspect of his future was the sky. Edward had never seen a more crisp color of blue. There was no pollution. None in the air, none on the ground, and Dr. Zenti had said there was none in the water.
"You'll have to take a trip to the equator," Dr. Zenti had told him. "If you think those towers are impressive, you should see the space elevators. They stretch all the way to orbit." Edward remembered reading about such things, but he never thought they'd be possible. That was one trip he was sure to make.
"I thought you might like to take a trip outside," Dr. Zenti said with the smile Edward was learning to love.
Edward couldn't speak. He just smiled and started getting dressed.
Once outside, Edward was stunned by the air. It had the clean smell and taste that only the air of the Rockies, or the Andes, or some other unspoiled area should have. "What city is this?"
Edward was speechless again. They walked for nearly an hour, discussing the past century. There was now a world government, but all wasn't a Utopia in this new world. War and famine still swept through much of the world, especially the southern continents. Many were saying that would lead to a World War, but most of the nuclear weapons had been destroyed. Edward was also glad to hear that the Cubs had won a couple of World Series titles. Even more proof that the impossible could become possible, given enough time.
"All the people," Edward said, staring at everyone as they passed, "they almost seem perfect."
"Once genemod therapy became inexpensive, nearly everyone started doing it, except for the extremists. Let's face it, everyone wants a perfect baby."
"But it's all so boring."
"There's more to life than physical beauty."
Edward laughed. He had been far from attractive in his world. In this new world, he figured he'd look like a leper. "I know there is," he said, suddenly thinking of Mary. He missed her beauty, but he also missed her imperfections. He'd give anything to see the tiny scar under her lip. She was a real woman, not one of these gene modified freaks. "I'm getting a bit tired. Can we go back?"
"Of course," Dr. Zenti said, staring at him with those intense denim eyes. A quick glance at his AI's screen would show him that Edward wasn't showing any signs of fatigue. Edward didn't care.
"How are you finding life in the twenty-second century?" the sim-shrink asked.
Edward thought about the question as he surveyed the room. As the sim-shrink had learned more about Edward, it had begun to add decorations to the room. At first, it had been early twenty-first century furniture, but as it learned more about Edward, it added things more appropriate to his mindset. A TV, something useless in this age, sat in one corner. Next to it was a fish tank with several gorgeous angel fish. Now the computer had added a window with a view of the Rocky Mountains, similar to the one he'd had in his living room, but it was even closer to the view from Mary's kitchen. "It's confusing. It doesn't seem like anything's real."
Edward laughed. The sim-shrink really didn't understand what he was talking about, or so it seemed. Maybe it was just playing psychiatric games. Might as well play along. "You, this room, the people outside on the streets."
"I don't understand."
Edward shook his head. "Probably not."
"I want my old life back. I want a world that makes sense."
The sim-shrink nodded with false sincerity. "Maybe I should have Dr. Zenti introduce you to some of the other revivals. Many of you have these problems."
Edward nodded. It seemed like a good idea. People that were real. People that would know what he meant when he talked about eating a hamburger. People in this crazy century didn't even eat meat. He needed people from his own time.
"I think this was a good idea," Dr. Zenti said with his typical smile, but this time there was something more to the smile. Edward could almost swear he could see a bit of mischievousness to the smile. "We've just revived three new ones from about the same time you were frozen, give or take a decade. Maybe you could help with their adjustment."
"Sure," Edward said. Maybe having something useful to do was just what he needed.
Dr. Zenti escorted him into a room that was barely warmer than freezing. He could see the breath of the three internists working on the just-revived corpse. Edward remembered the cold now. The unbelievable tingling running through his body. He felt sorry for the person on the operating table.
"She now has full blood flow," one of the internists said.
"Very good," Dr. Zenti said. "Rather than being shocked by my eyes, like you were, Edward, maybe she should see you when she wakes up."
"What do I say?" Edward asked trying to resist the hand pushing him towards the table.
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
Edward stared down at the recently thawed corpsicle, as the doctors called them. The woman's skin was white, bordering on blue, a temporary effect of the freezing. She had shoulder length blonde hair and a remarkable face that was beautiful, but not perfect. Edward was about to comment on just how beautiful she'd probably be when she didn't look dead anymore, when her eyes suddenly opened. They were brown and beautiful just like . . . "My God," Edward said.
The woman's pale lips trembled into a smile. "Eddie," she managed to gasp.
Edward turned and looked at Dr. Zenti who was smiling so big Edward could only see teeth. "She was frozen the day after you were. Left a note saying that she couldn't live in a world without you. Her husband took all of her money and then ended up marrying someone a month after Mary was frozen."
Edward turned back to Mary. She was still smiling. He felt like he was going to cry. He was. A tear traced a path down her pale skin. She mouthed the words, "I love you."
Edward bent down and kissed her cold lips, feeling the warmth return to his heart. "I love you too."
Did you like this short story?
"The Coldness of Love and Death" ©J Alan Erwine.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000-2001 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.