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Ice in the Furnace
They promised quick oblivion. You know time warps and wavers, attenuating when you least desire it, but this is fast by no one’s standard. You wait for the moment of no sensation, no awareness, and then for a signal preceding that moment, for a green light, a click, a beep, a whir. Technology is so efficient these days that sounds are added more for effect than function, but you wait for mechanical reassurance that the process is fine and underway.
The air is dry and a touch cold—a clinical autumn. Outside was hot and clingingly humid in the manner models predict will only worsen, but you’re past the point of relief, your shivers fluttering the hem of your medical robe. Now you wait for an alarm, an indication something is wrong, and more importantly, an indication someone is alert to it.
There is something wrong. You remember every description of the cryogenic process, looping together zealous sales pitches, the placid tones of a dozen (sponsored) physicians, and the sceptical articles of your growing detractors until your head is a buzz of white noise.
Calm, now. Count: one, two, three…
You’re fine. Employees are only metres away, tuning, monitoring, cognizant. Behind an unyielding pod of metal and composite cladding—stop it. The tech is in its infancy, but every investor summary passed over your desk spelled out diligence and care, adherence to regulations; the indictment of negligence delivered to your offices inculpates a former enterprise. This minor discomfort is better than jail. Trust your plan. Any second, the vent will open and numb your thoughts to snow-damped quiet. When you thaw, the occupied world will be temperate and its judgements mellowed.
A hiss sinks into your ears. You feel it like the lick of a cold-blooded tongue. The air drops from October to November, November to December… and stops there.
Your lungs hurt, pricked with frost-barbed breaths, but your mind soldiers on, synapses unencumbered by the chill. This isn’t right. This is barely arctic when it should be a cosmic void. It has to be quick, otherwise enzymes unravel like children’s shoelaces, otherwise ice rends cells like a wolf caught in netting. Vitrification: your safe room with an as yet undetermined key.
The pod is malfunctioning. Your nails bite into the palms of your restrained hands, slowly turning numb, but your plan is melting through your fingers.
Finally, you yell. If there’s a word buried in the sound, you hardly know. Maybe help, maybe out. There’s no one in these walls to hear, so it means nothing, contained between you and the insulation. You must sense this on some level, but you yell again, again, again, as if noise can clothe you, trapping your warmth beneath your skin. You really should know better: yelling to an unreceiving audience never halts a catastrophe, and you’ve too often been the ears that don’t listen. Death is still a way out, but it’s too imminent to stay a concept, so yell until your throat is raw and your mouth tastes of pennies.
Later—you’ll never know how long—you lapse into quiet. There should be an echo to pad the change, but everything is hushed as a winter morning the instant your tongue lies still. No one is coming.
You’re possessed with that awful, fluttery feeling of bad decisions realised too late but still surreal enough that you almost imagine you can take them back. If you could only rewrite one memory, flip one choice—but that implies a guilt you don’t want to accept. Better to go out indignant and wronged than wrong and despairing.
Anyway, which choice to pick in the crowd of hundreds? The signature declaring you of sound mind and consenting for cryopreservation was the last log on a fire lit half a decade ago—and the other fire, the bigger fire, long before that. If not this, here and now, then court and depositions, exposure and incrimination. And if not prison, then a world in flux, riled and unpredictable as it burns.
Now the guilt is impossible to deflect. An ache flares under the bridge of your nose, and the lights glaring down split and overlay through a wet lens you can’t concede is tears. Maybe they’ll freeze to your eyes. You can almost feel it, almost see cracks breaking up your vision like sea ice, splinters slipping through membranes in bloodless rending… Oh, gods.
You thought you were so very clever, didn’t you? Blazing through life like an arsonist, bright and brilliant since you learned to throw conversational matchsticks at the dinner table, flames illuminating your ambitions. Business was another game to win. You were good at making people play, at making them buy. But that was as much on them, and if they want to scapegoat you now, well… Like climate never shifts, like you weren’t already the inheritor of a smouldering world.
Chattering teeth. The dry bite of boreal breaths.
The first lawsuit took aim at your company; the next would have levelled at you, though you’ve contrived to be well and truly beyond range. With the heat closing in—an ironic expression—you leapt too far. Here you’ve landed. It should have been perfect, a solution so tidy it might have slipped from the sterile rooms of your scarcely-used penthouse. Cryo-technology: the jewel in your investments, undersigned by your hand if conceived by another mind. And there, nestled deep in its promise, a perfect asterisk of incompletion.
Your scheme hinged on half-finished technology: vitrification goes one way, a high velocity descent past the deadly zone of maximum ice crystal formation, and never worries about the climb back up. Once frozen, you’re stuck, like an automobile on the brink of a partial bridge. It’s a long term venture, you told other investors. Only when the zone can be evaded twice will cryopreservation be fully viable. That was the beauty. When the magistrates issued their summons, they would have found the law impotent. You could wait in stasis for everything to cool: condemnation cannot come before trial, and exposing a cryosleeper to the inflamed world with safe warming unsolved—if imminently feasible, you were assured every quarter—is a death sentence.
Not so brilliant now.
You paid for your own grave, dug the hole with your business model, signed consent to be buried. Make a note to remind Development of coffin bells, of opened caskets with claw-scarred lids. No, no, wrong. Your brain is skipping like it does before you fall asleep.
Don’t go yet.
Someone must notice. A red light, a warning beep, a readout on an electrochromic display. Unless it’s sabotage.
Unless they don’t want to see.
Everything is smaller. Your dreams. Your whimpers. Your heart beats. This cryogenic pod is your world.
Keep waiting for oblivion.
Anna Clark is a daydreamer—and a shipyard pipefitter in Cornwall, UK. When not fixing boats or swimming in the sea, she can be found writing speculative fiction on the rocks by the beach.
Originally published July 28th 2023.
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