Joe Carpenter heard a ringing in his ears as he sat in the doctor’s office. He had come back for the news about the cancer he and his wife suspected. In the hospital they called it nuclear medicine, not a very comforting name, but it would be able to tell what was wrong with him and what the doctors could do about it. He hadn’t slept very well for a week, being too worried to let his mind drift off into sleep.
Joe felt the squeeze of his wife’s hand on his arm, and then realized what the ringing was all about. The doctor told him that he had cancer, stage four. It was inoperable and he had five months to live. That was enough to cause a distinct ringing, and forced his brain to reconstruct the doctor’s words backwards.
“I’m sorry Mr. Carpenter, even if we had caught it sooner, there probably wasn’t much we could do about it. It has already spread to your lymph nodes and major organs. As far as options go, we can make the time you have more comfortable, but you should probably get your affairs in order, and spend time with your family.”
A house, a career, two dogs, three cars, four children, five months to live and six trillion cancer cells. “Only a year until I was going to retire, how about that?” He laughed a little at the thought, the absurdity of it all. His wife broke into tears, and pleaded with the doctor. There must be something he could do, anything. They would fight it, chemo, radiation, surgery—they had built up a sizable nest egg but she was willing to spend it all if they could only save his life.
“I know it’s hard ma’am, but we can’t operate, so the treatments will only make his time more miserable. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can’t refuse you treatment though, I’m just letting you know that it won’t do much good, might only prolong his life by a week or two at most.”
The car ride home was a slow solemn journey. Joe had to drive himself, since his wife was prone to bouts of hysteria and sobbing every few minutes. He was numb, and really did experience a feeling not unlike getting Novocain at the dentist, except that this time it was an injection straight into his brain.
He wasn’t a smoker, he thought to himself. Didn’t drink too much except at social gatherings, didn’t work at a chemical plant, and his house wasn’t under high-tension wires either. He didn’t really believe in everything the Catholic Church taught, but he believed in God. He wouldn’t hold it against him would He? Maybe it was the premarital sex, but most likely it was just dumb luck—fate as it were.
Joe pulled the minivan up the freshly coated driveway to his house—the house that was almost paid off, so that he could live comfortably on his retirement and social security. He was sixty-two, and didn’t plan on having trouble like this for many years to come. It was even worse considering his own parents were still alive, in their late eighties. Why would God do something like this to him? Didn’t he live his life to the best of his ability?
The kids were in college, two in graduate school, and one doing her undergraduate. The youngest joined the marines a few years ago, and was doing a tour in Iraq. Joe honestly believed that he would be at his son’s funeral, not the other way around. But it was suppose to happen like this he thought, he just wanted to make sure that his son was alright once he left the military. Guess he won’t know, unless he meets his son up in heaven before he meets his parents and wife.
He and his wife discussed about how best to break the news to their children. The summer was getting on soon and they would all be home except for their son in the military. Joe couldn’t wait for him to come back on leave, since there wasn’t much time left. He had to tell them soon, within the next two weeks. In the meantime, he would wallow in self pity, making his way through all the stages of grief. He thought he went straight to acceptance, but did feel a tinge of anger.
Joe’s wife Tammy was trying to comfort him all she could, promising to make his favorite dinner, and set him down on the couch so he was comfortable, and to do whatever it was he wanted, anything to make his life easier. But right now he just wanted to be alone, and told her that she should just run out to the store and do all those other errands they had been neglecting. Tammy was respectful of her husband’s tasteful hint and she left the house to get groceries for tonight.
Nothing was on TV so Joe went to the computer to check his email, look at some pictures of his daughters in college, his son in Iraq, and he and his wife when they first got married. He let out a loud sigh, and a few tears started to well up in his eyes. It was hard to take, very hard. He finally let it all out once he knew his wife was really gone, his pride wouldn’t let him cry in front of her. He was always the one that had to be strong for the family, not her. This was not a weight he wanted to put on his family, but it was bound to happen someday, why not now?
About an hour later Joe was searching through Google, trying to find anything that could help him. Some doctor somewhere must have patients that survived. Maybe he would leave the country and go get treatment that the FDA banned in America. He was smarter than all that though, all that stuff was a sham set up to bleed suckers dry in their final months of life. He understood why, he was willing to throw away every penny he had for just a few more years.
And then an ad popped up next to the search engine. The caption read: Dying? Maybe you don’t have to. Underneath there was a symbol and then the name Alcor. He clicked it—nothing could hurt at this point. A video popped up and told a fanciful story about old cryogenic experiments, vitrification, the possibility of life after death, reanimation, all things that Joe had never heard of. It told about huge vats full of frozen brains and tubs with corpses dunked in liquid nitrogen, stored for years and years. It sounded like something he saw in a horror movie as a kid, a mad scientist’s laboratory, a freak show.
He was intrigued nonetheless, and read up on how the whole process worked. They would wait by your deathbed, and once you were pronounced dead, they would go to work, preserving and storing your brain to be revived at a later period. The website admitted it was a long shot, but even if it was just one in a million, what’s the use in not taking the chance? The fee was reasonable, way less than what he had already spent in medical bills. This was something he had to think about. He wondered what chance they had of ever resurrecting anybody, or if it was just another one of these shams like so many other cures or religions or delusions. If you pray here you will live forever, if you take this pill or eat that plant you will be cured… if you freeze your brain then we will revive you. Maybe it was all the same. He closed the window and shut the computer off.
A week later and Joe and his wife were going over what they would tell the kids when they got home, and whether they should keep it a secret until all of them were home from school or just approach the issue one at a time. They thought it best to just tell everyone at once, and then maybe have his son on the phone, but he probably had other things to worry about. The last thing Joe wanted was his death messing up the effectiveness of his son over in Iraq, that might get the both of them killed sooner than either of them had to.
His progression towards death hastened, and he could barely get out of bed after another week. He didn’t remember the doctor saying if this was normal or not, but guessed you don’t just feel fine for five months and then drop dead the next morning. He did remember them all agreeing that treatment would be a worse ordeal, but Joe was starting to seriously doubt that.
The kids didn’t take it all too well. The girls would still be heard crying late at night, not wanting to part ways with their father this soon in their lives. They weren’t married yet, didn’t have any children of their own, and wanted him to be there for all those moments—walking them down the aisle, recording the birth of their first children, all those things that he knew for sure he wouldn’t be able to do.
But as time went on, the more he thought about that advertisement he saw on the computer the other day. Alcor… why not do it? That wasn’t their slogan, but it might as well have been. His wife and children almost never left the house now that he could barely get out of bed, and certainly not at the same time. He asked them to bring his computer into the room, leaving out the real reason why. In secret he wanted to find out more about Alcor, maybe even call them and ask some questions. He did.
They came to his deathbed four months later, amidst the anger and sadness that his family was going through. Whether or not it was caused by the response team from Alcor, his impending death, or a mixture of both, he didn’t know. What he did know was that they didn’t want him to do it, that his family wanted to just have him buried next to the plots that his parents had already picked out and bought for themselves.
“Honey, I’m still going to be buried there next to my parents, it’s just my brain that won’t be, but I’ll still be there, what does it matter?”
Tammy said through a glaze of tears, “I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right… something about it just feels wrong,” she sobbed a little. “I just… I just don’t know…”
Joe’s decision was made however, and his condition was bad enough that Alcor put him under a 24 hour watch, so that as soon as his heart stopped beating, they would begin their morbid work. He didn’t really want to think about everything involved in extracting a human brain from a recently deceased corpse, but that’s what they were there to do. His family was getting hysterical about their presence, but honestly, he was going to die anyway, and this was his last wish. They granted it to him, and he joked about how they would still get a lot of money from his life insurance and estate, just in case the cost was what the trouble was. Of course they said it wasn’t, but one can never know for sure about these things.
And then it happened, at 1:32 AM, Wednesday. Joe wasn’t able to sleep. He sat up, pointed to his neck and said, “I have a pain right here,” while looking at one of the surgeons, then dropped dead. A ruptured blood vessel, not the cancer. It was a little ironic, but it worked out for the morticians that posed as surgeons—they didn’t want the cancer that was spreading around Joe’s body to reach his brain, it would only make resuscitation more difficult in the future.
They carried out their work quickly, without waking the rest of the family. That was fine as long as they documented it on camera. The law was becoming more welcoming to the practice—they used to have to get the spouse to release the body, get the state to furnish a death certificate, wait for an autopsy if one was required, all the time the precious brain cells were turning to mush, and would never be able to regenerate into anything. Soon they hoped they would be able to perform euthanasia on terminal clients, perform the operation before death. But that was in the future, like everything else that this company did, always in the future.
They hooked Joe up to a machine that drained his blood, replacing it with preserving fluids. One tube sprung a leak and splattered red drops all over the tan carpet. No time for clean up, they had to work fast. Get his brain out and freeze it, then thunder down the highway back to the storage center. A noise startled the team, it was the shriek of Joe’s wife as she opened the door to the bedroom. Dr. Osborn had just lifted the vitrified brain out of the skull, and they locked eyes while he was holding it in his hands, crimson blood dripping on the dead corpse that used to be Joe. Drip, drip, drip.
A blinding flash of light, and Joe gasped for breath as if he had been underwater, a half second away from drowning. He was in a purple velvet bed, with his head resting on a pillow filled with something that was poking him. He was surprised that he could sit up so quickly, since he remembered not being able to the day before, being bedridden. On the table next to him was an old oil lamp that smelled like kerosene, and a few other candles yet to be lit.
There was also a table with a wooden radio, and a small lower table with an old school black and white TV. He knew that because it was on and playing old episodes of I Love Lucy with the volume turned off. It was all very strange, and the floral wallpaper didn’t help either—his own parents didn’t even have wallpaper in their house.
The door to the room was metallic in color and had some knobs and dials on it, seemingly pasted on for decoration. It slid open and a man with a brown three piece suit walked into the room. He shuffled over to one side, looked at Joe, bowed, and then took out the pocket watch that was clasped to his vest, checking the time.
“Top of the evening to you gentleman, good sir. May I offer you a smoke or a shave? Best be presentable, there is a long carriage ride to the country, good fellow.”
Joe didn’t say anything, just stared at the strange man.
“So, I heard you were a New York man by birth, you ever take the steam express to the gold mining town out west?” the man said with a nervous smile, taking out a pipe. He lit it with a butane lighter.
There was an AR-15 rifle on the wall, with an attached laser sight and scope, not unlike the one his son bought on leave last year. Joe had about enough of the strangeness to be able to speak again. “So, there is a gas lamp, black and white TV, an AR-15, a weird sliding door, and then you. This has got to be a practical joke or something, just tell me where I am, I want to see my family, I don’t have much time left on this earth and would like to spend the days I have left with them.”
“Yeah… I told them this was a stupid idea. Honestly, you are the oldest one that we had, and we narrowed it down to something like the hundred years around the 21st century, but honestly we couldn’t pinpoint it. We just replicated a bunch of junk from the museum and put it in here, hoping to wing it. You guys are a lot sharper than they say.”
“Wait.…” The color ran from Joe’s face.
“Yup, welcome to the 134th century, everyone you ever knew is dead, and there is no planet earth anymore. Try not to cut yourself on anything sharp when they let you outta here, most of you don’t last.”
Joe didn’t say anything after that. Once the strange man left, he got up to check if they had put bullets into the AR-15.