“In the Words of the Late, Great Woody Allen…”

by Paul Tomlinson

 

“I woke screaming. It was a dream I’d been having almost nightly for three or four months. I call it my ‘Valdemar Dream,’ after the Poe story, you know?”

Sylvie looked up, and the detective nodded.

“I couldn’t wake myself, even though I now recognised the dream. My father lay propped up on pillows in his bed in the Victorian Gothic room, pale and emaciated, looking alot like Vincent Price. Cadaverous. It was obvious that he was dead: you could smell it in the room.”

Sylvie Shiran’s dream self approached the bed with a smooth motion like a camera tracking shot. Then she was close to him. His dead lips parted, and she thought she could hear the creak of parchment skin. A blackened and swollen tongue jerked spasmodically between his teeth, and a horrible groan escaped his throat.

“H-Help me!” He gasped.

His eyelids fluttered, drew back from yellowish eyes which seemed to lack their natural moisture and fullness, deflated like leftover party balloons.

“Help me, Angelface…”

Sylvie hated to hear him call her that; he had used the endearment until her seventh year, when she had told him he shouldn’t call her that anymore, now that she was grown up. But it meant that the nightmare had almost run its course.

Her father struggled to sit up, sinews creaking, his knobbly fists pushing down into the bedclothes. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then his eyes and mouth opened wide and he released a terrible scream. The flesh of his face grew slack. The blackened tongue began to ooze a dark, cancerous pus, and unable to support the weight of the flesh within, his skin began to split, liquid putrescence leaking from the growing tears. The jaw sagged further and further, unnatural, snake-like: one hinge failed and the jaw hung unsupported on that side. A patch of scalp, complete with lank strings of whitish hair, slid over the left eye.

“Angelface…” The word lost in a gargling death rattle.

Sylvie had woken screaming, as she always did.

 

Vernon Bancroft wasn’t a private detective, exactly. A sometime journalist and biographer, he considered himself a hunter of sorts. A seeker of truth. A freelance researcher, compiler of reports and finder of data. Via his computer he had access to the libraries of the world, to commercial databases, newspaper archives, official information sources, and unofficial — possibly illegal — data networks.

Bancroft himself had developed much of the software he used in his searches: autonomous, ‘intelligent’ mole programs which burrowed throughout the datasphere, sniffing out obscure references, replicating themselves in order to follow branching leads, and then recombining to share and compare findings. ‘Intuitive loop’ programs came up with associational, non-logical connections and perceptual leaps in order to further the search, and the moles were released once more. Data was channelled back to compilation programs which sifted, evaluated and arranged, writing text and generating appropriate graphics.

If Bancroft associated himself with the world of the private detective at all, it was with Sherlock Holmes older brother, Mycroft, who could solve a mystery by carefully analysing the facts, and without ever having to leave his armchair.

Sylvie had known Bancroft only slightly at school. She remembered him as highly intelligent, shy, and tending to overweight. The Vernon Bancroft of today was almost exactly as she’d imagined he would be: the straight chestnut hair was thinning and he had grown a moustache in an attempt to age his cherubic face. He sat behind a massive desk, keyboard close to hand, and she could see the fine wire trailing from the dermatrode behind his left ear. She suspected he was jacked into the ‘Face almost constantly, monitoring the progress of his searches. Sylvie wondered if he remembered her. On the ‘phone she’d told him that they’d attended the same school, but he showed no sign of recognition, and had seemed uncomfortable at being reminded of that period of his life.

“I’m afraid I don’t interpret dreams, Miss Shiran,” Bancroft said. “Though I could probably point you in the direction of some appropriate software…”

Sylvie shook her head.

“I know what the dreams mean,” she said. “And I know why they started when they did. What I need is for you to help me find my father.”

Bancroft laid his fingers on the keyboard. A missing person case was something he could usually deal with fairly quickly: it was usually a matter of searching personal credit transactions, or at worse, of gathering enough personal details to search for a pattern of movements and consumer behaviour. He typed in her father’s name and set a superficial search in motion. He frowned when the result was displayed on the desktop.

“According to newspaper reports and official records, your father died from heart failure almost five years ago.”

Sylvie nodded.

“I want you to find his body. The company which was keeping him seems to have disappeared: I think they could have been involved in some sort of scam to make money from people like daddy.”

“Your father had his body preserved at the time of his death?” Bancroft asked.

“He set up two trust funds, one to pay for a company called Elysium Inc. to keep his body in cryonic storage, and one to provide him with money to fund his new life when he was rejuvenated at some future point. Both these trust funds have disappeared too.”

Bancroft raised an eyebrow.

“How do you know that, Miss Shiran?”

“You’re not the only person who can tap into bank records,” she said.

Bancroft glanced down as the first results of his search for Elysium Inc. were displayed.

“Elysium’s licence lapsed eighteen months ago and they did not seek to have it renewed. They ceased taking clients over a year before that. Financial records show that they were close to bankruptcy for much of their life, and that they were eventually subject to take-over a little over a year ago. All business, including — presumably — the continued storage of existing clients, was taken over by Transmigration Industries. That’s probably when your father’s bank accounts were relocated. Transmigration continue to operate to this day, last filed accounts are a couple of months old, but they seem to be a stable, profitable organisation. Their a wholly owned subsidiary of… that’s interesting, they’re owned by Talos Industries, the AI giants. I would say that your father’s body is in secure hands.”

Bancroft smiled and gave a little shrugging gesture with his hands.

“No mystery,” he said.

“I suppose I should be relieved,” Sylvie said. “I suppose I thought they’d taken his money and just ditched his body somewhere. Or that their machinery had failed and all the bodies had been defrosted and allowed to rot, while they quietly disappeared.”

She smiled sadly.

“Well, from the evidence here, I’m pretty sure that your father is safely stored in a vault somewhere, watched over by Transmigration Industries employees. I can do a little further checking, see if I can find a list of their stored clients and make sure that your father’s name is on it, but I think you really have little cause for concern.”

“I’d like you to check,” Sylvie said.

Bancroft nodded.

“Did you receive any kind of counselling when your father was taken into cryonic storage?” He asked.

“Counselling? You mean like, grief counselling?”

“I would have expected the company to have provided detailed information about the process of cryo-preservation, and some kind of help in dealing with the emotional aspects of the situation.”

“They gave me a sort of interactive video documentary, showing the techniques involved, the history of the process, that sort of thing.”

“As I said before, Miss Shiran, I am not a psycho-analyst, but I would suggest that the nightmares you are suffering don’t stem from any real fears about the whereabouts of your father’s physical body, but rather from the results of suppressed grief. Did you mourn following your father’s death? Did you cry?” Bancroft asked.

His mind’s eye was scanning a short magazine article on the kinds of problems commonly suffered by relatives of those who selected cryonic preservation.

“Well… no, it was difficult. It was almost as if I couldn’t accept that he was dead. I thought it was just some kind of denial, refusing to accept that he was dead, and that I’d eventually come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t there anymore and grieve at the loss. But I didn’t…”

“Just looking quickly at some of what has been written about cryo-preservation, I can see that this is a common response among surviving relatives: those who promote cryo-preservation claim it makes the whole idea of death less traumatic, because it no longer signifies the final ending of a life. But experience has shown that it has made grief more traumatic, because the ‘victim’ is never quite dead, relatives are never truly able to ‘let go’ and accept that their loved one is gone and mourn their passing.”

“You think I’m having nightmares because I couldn’t properly mourn my father’s death?” Sylvie asked.

“I’m suggesting it as a possibility. I’m not certain that knowing that your father’s body is safe in a cold vault somewhere will make the dreams go away. I think the problem goes deeper than that, and you might need help from a more… er… professional… that is… a… ”

“A shrink, Vernon. That’s what you’re trying to say.”

“I’m not trying to say that you’re crazy, just that you’re mind is trying to deal with a problem for which it isn’t prepared, it has no frame of reference: we all know what death is, and come to accept is as natural. But your father is in some not-quite-dead limbo, and your mind isn’t sure how to deal with that. Until it figures it out, I think the dreams will continue.”

Sylvie sighed.

“What you’re saying makes sense, and I think I’ve known that all along. But I also think I have to work this out for myself; I have to find my own way to deal with the fact that my father is undead.

“If you can find out and let me know for sure that my father is safe in some Transmigration Industries vault, I’m sure that will help. Maybe I can contact them and see if they have a more professional kind of aftercare service for relatives than the company they took over.”

She smiled then, and Vernon Bancroft felt his face flush as he emembered that one of his first wet dreams had involved the lovely twelve-year-old Sylvie Shiran.

“Leave your number with me, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve discovered something concrete,” he mumbled.

She scribbled her personal access code on a slip of paper and pushed it across the desk. Bancroft wanted to squeeze her hand reassuringly, but dare not.

“You know, when I saw your name in the business listings under ‘Investigators,'” Sylvie said as she got up to go. “I knew it was fate; that you’d be able to help me.”

She smiled again, and was gone.

Vernon Bancroft was murdered three days later.

*

Sylvie found an urgent voice message on her machine a couple of days after visiting Vernon Bancroft. He sounded both nervous and breathless, and background noise on the call suggested he was on a public pay ‘phone.

“Sylvie, this is Vernon. We need to talk, urgently. You were right to have nightmares about your father, but not for the reasons you thought. I can’t talk over the ‘phone, I think Talos are monitoring me and they’re almost certainly monitoring you. I couldn’t find a public encryption key listed for you, so I daren’t send you any data: we have to meet. Soon.

“You remember our year twelve games teacher, the one who looked like Fred Flintstone and used to call me Doughboy? If you remember his name, that’s where I’ll meet you, by the fountain. Don’t use an on-line map to find the place, we have to assume they’re watching. I’ll wait for you from 2pm until five tomorrow. Please be careful.”

If it hadn’t been for the panic in Bancroft’s voice, the cloak-and-dagger message might have been amusing. Sylvie remembered the games teacher Bancroft mentioned: she’d thought he looked more like a down-at-heel Superman than Fred Flintstone, but like most of the year twelve girls she’d had a bit of a crush on him. His name had been Jackson Marcel.

Sylvie bought a printed 3D tourist guide to the city and located the Marcel shopping complex in the index. It was the only Marcel listed, and there were no Jacksons, and she was pretty sure there was a fountain at one end of the shopping mall, by the moving stairways.

Vernon Bancroft didn’t show. Sylvie was there just before two, and spent the whole afternoon sitting on the low brick wall around the fountain. By four-thirty she was pretty sure he wouldn’t turn up, and ducked into a coffee shop where she took a window seat which allowed her to keep an eye on their supposed meeting place. By six o’clock she’d drunk so much coffee her nerves were humming like power lines and her eyes had taken on a look of wide-awake startled surprise. Her fifth giant chocolate chip cookie was a mound of crumbs on the table in front of her.

She caught a cab outside the mall and gave the driver an address two streets away from Bancroft’s office. As it happened, the taxi couldn’t even get her that close: traffic was gridlocked, and the driver slid open the glass panel to tell her that there’d been another fire bomb attack and the emergency services had closed off three whole blocks.

Sylvie paid the driver and jumped out. She began running towards the column of smoke rising above the buildings, knowing where it would lead her.

“Hey, you can’t go in there!”

Sylvie turned, and came face to chest with a fire-fighter. She stepped back and looked up at him.

“I’m meeting someone,” she mumbled.

“Not in there you aren’t, whole place is gutted.”

“Anyone hurt?” She asked.

“Eight dead that we know of. You might want to move back from here, that whole front wall could come down.”

He turned away, as if he wasn’t bothered whether Sylvie moved or whether the wall fell.

“Who’s dead?” She asked.

“You got friends in there?” He asked over his shoulder.

Sylvie decided to say no: no use risking her neck by saying in public that she was a friend of the private detectives.

“I have an appointment with the manicurist on the third floor.”

“Not any more: there is no third floor. The old lady from that floor is dead, so are the people from the accountant’s office. We have an unidentified male in the office next door, big guy, you know him?”

The fireman turned to face her; his eyes were red and he looked dog tired.

Sylvie swallowed, shook her head.

“Any idea how the fire started?” She asked.

“You’re not a reporter, are you?” He asked, worried that he’d already said too much.

“No, just someone who’s got to find a new manicurist.”

The fireman nodded and looked as though he was going to turn away, then stopped.

“It was a mortar attack, so the witnesses say. A van pulled up across the road and fired two incendiaries through a third floor window. Someone said they heard small arms fire inside before that, but no one’s sure about that yet. Gotta go, my boss’ll chew me out for chatting up the bystanders. See you.”

“Hey, I think you guys do a great job!” Sylvie shouted after him: it was sort of lame, but she meant it.

The fireman waved thanks without looking back.

“Well done!” A voice beside her said, startling her.

A dark haired young man stepped out of the shadows carrying a small TV news camera.

“I’ve been trying to get something out of those guys for almost an hour. I’m Rob Denmore , Network IX.”

He held out his free hand, and Sylvie shook it without thinking.

“Sylvie Shiran,” she said.

The cameraman knelt and began stashing his gear into a holdall.

“You okay, Sylvie?” He asked, looking up at her. “You look kind of pale.”

“Just shocked, I think. Someone I knew died up there,” she said. She was staring up into the rising cloud of smoke.

“You and your manicurist were close?” Denmore asked.

“What?” She looked down at him, frowning. “Oh, not really. You just get to know people over the years, you know?”

Denmore got to his feet and slung his holder over his shoulder.

“You want to go and get a drink somewhere? I owe you for getting the story on camera.”

“Don’t you have to rush the pictures back to the station?” Sylvie asked.

“Transmitted them live,” Denmore said. “I hope you don’t mind, but the studio will take you out of the picture and put one of their reporters in instead.”

Sylvie shrugged.

“I could probably get them to pay you something, if you wanted.”

She shook her head.

“A drink’ll do fine, as long as it isn’t coffee.”

Denmore led her towards a small unmarked van with blacked out windows and dark metallic green paintwork. It was parked half on the curb, and he kept it that way as he reversed down the street alongside the queue of traffic. He turned into a narrow side street then and a few more turns further on pulled up in front of a small bar hidden away on a backstreet.

“It’s not flashy, but it doesn’t get too noisy,” Denmore said.

“As long as it serves whisky, I don’t care,” Sylvie said.

“My father would have liked this place,” Sylvie said, her voice only slightly slurred. “He’d have said it was a proper pub.”

The bar was dark and smoky, and the people at the other tables were little more than huddled shadows. Occasionally light from the fireplace would be reflected on a raised pint mug.

“I’ve been thinking about my father a lot recently, I still miss him.”

Denmore sat with his elbows on the table, chin propped in his hands, staring at her.

“What?” She asked, trying to read his expression.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

“What?” She insisted.

“I was just thinking how beautiful look in the firelight.”

“Must be darker in here than I thought,” she said.

Denmore smiled.

“You know, I feel like I’ve known you for years,” Sylvie said. “Sitting here with you getting slowly pissed feels really… comfortable.”

“Maybe we met in a former life,” Denmore said.

“You’re not one of these reincarnation nuts who thinks they were Napoleon’s great aunt in a previous life, are you?”

Denmore shook his head.

“I think you get one chance at this life, and that’s it. If you don’t make the most of it, you’ve blown it, and you only have yourself to blame,” he said.

Sylvie nodded.

“That’s what my father used to say. He always lived each day as though it was his last, didn’t want to waste a precious minute.”

“Was he afraid of death, do you think?”

Sylvie considered this before she answered.

“Not afraid, I don’t think. But I don’t think he was happy about it. There were so many things he wanted to do. I think he was maybe afraid of ageing, I remember him being pretty obsessed about not growing old. I don’t think he ever really got over the death of his father; my grandfather lived to the age of 129, but when he died he was a bitter old man, twisted and in agony with arthritis. But his mind was bright and sharp, right up until the day he died. I think that upset my father. Why must the body decay and die, when the mind hardly ages? That was the $64,000 question for dad. He felt that the spirit was betrayed by the flesh, that the body ought to be renewable for as long as the brain held out.

“I guess that’s why he had himself deep frozen when he died; in the hope that science might one day revive his brain and put it into a healthy new body.”

“You think that’ll ever be possible?” Denmore asked.

“Nope. At least not in my lifetime, I hope. I’d hate for my father to be running around like a teenager when I’m in my old age,” she smiled at the thought and drained her glass.

“You want another?”

Sylvie shook her head.

“I think I’ve pretty much decided that my father is dead, not in some kind of suspended animation ready to be revived and rejuvenated. How could anyone believe that being turned into a pile of frozen meat would save the contents of their mind? The whole idea is ridiculous.”

Tears were streaming down Sylvie’s cheeks.

“Please take me home,” she said.

 

Denmore walked with her to her doorstep, and when she tried to kiss him, he pulled back and planted a kiss lightly on her cheek.

“Goodnight, Sylvie.”

*

Denmore called her the next day.

“How are you?”

“Okay,” she said.

“Did you see the report on TV?”

“No, I went straight to bed, sorry.”

“No problem.”

He sounded just a little disappointed.

“Hung over?” He asked, staring at his ‘phone screen.

“A little. Do I look that bad?”

“Absolutely not, you look wonderful.”

“You don’t have to lie to try and make me feel better,” Sylvie said.

“In that case, you do look a little frayed round the edges this morning.”

“Thank you so much. Did you just ‘phone to try and ruin my day?” She asked.

“No. I ‘phoned to say that I’ve been thinking about what you were saying about your father and that cryonics business, and I did a little digging; I’ve managed to get us a guided tour of the Transmigration Industries lab: you can go and see your father’s icebox, or whatever they call it. If you want to.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Sylvie said.

“Well, I had to do something: I needed an excuse to call you,” Denmore said.

“Why did you need an excuse?”

“It didn’t feel right just ‘phoning out of the blue to invite you out to dinner tonight…”

“You’re really sweet, Rob.”

“Damn, that’s what women say when they think you’re a jerk.”

“I don’t think you’re a jerk.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, maybe only a little. But I’m really not sure I’m up to eating in a public place tonight.”

“Then how about I come over and cook dinner for you at home?” Denmore said.

“You can cook?”

“No, but I have seven hours to learn: how difficult can it be? I’m lying, I can cook. What do you say?”

“I don’t know. I mean, it sounds great, but I’m not sure I’d feel up to washing the dishes afterwards…”

“You have to be kidding: you think I’m stupid enough to volunteer to come over and cook dinner for you and wash up afterwards?”

“Yes,” Sylvie said.

“You’re right. I’ll see you around six-thirty.”

“Okay,” Sylvie said. “Thanks, Rob.”

*

“I learned how to make this from my grandmother,” Denmore said. “And I swore to keep her recipe secret.”

Sylvie surveyed the ingredients he’d laid out on the kitchen counter top.

“Do you know how many calories there are in granny’s ice cream?” She asked.

Denmore shrugged.

“It never did granny any harm: she lived to a ripe old age,” he said.

“Fat but happy,” Sylvie said.

She watched him beat eggs and put them into a bowl with sugar and single cream, and then place the bowl over a pan of boiling water.

“This looks almost as complicated as the process for deep-freezing a person,” she giggled.

“You been at the cooking sherry?”

“Nope. You want to know what the recipe is for creating a corpsicle?” She asked.

“No, but I suspect you’re going to tell me anyway.”

Sylvie smiled an ‘how right you are’ smile.

“First take one corpse and make sure it’s dead,” she said.

“And fresh, presumably.”

“Hook it up to a heart and lung machine to keep the blood and oxygen flowing. Add a cocktail of drugs to prevent the blood coagulating, and then begin the cooling process using ordinary ice.”

Denmore took the pan off the heat and stirred in vanilla essence, then placed a plate over the top of the bowl. He half filled the sink with cold water and lowered the covered bowl into it to cool the contents.

“Remove the blood and replace with a fluid which will help preserve the body tissue. Add additional ingredients to help prevent the tissue being damaged by the freezing process.”

“Are you making this up?” Denmore asked.

“No. I called up a video documentary, watched it in bed this morning.”

“I was watching a couple of old Warner Bros. cartoons on the kids’ channel: those things are wasted on the under-fives.”

“Place the body in a bath of silicon oil and cool slowly for about two to three days, until it reaches a temperature of almost minus 80°C.”

“Can you use olive oil if you don’t have silicon?”

“Probably not,” Sylvie said. “Now place the body in the storage unit — a sort of man-sized Thermos flask — and cool with liquid nitrogen to a temperature of around minus 200°C. Place the storage unit in a safe place, away from the risk of malicious or earthquake damage. What are you laughing at?”

“I’m just remembering my granny cooking; how she’d start a recipe and discover she didn’t have all the ingredients listed, and then start substituting: what started out as Boeuf Bourguignonne usually ended up as lamb casserole. I just hope Elysium Inc. kept all the right ingredients in!”

Sylvie wasn’t laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Denmore said. “That was pretty tasteless.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s just that talking about this whole cryonics thing makes it all seem so… unlikely. It’s all based on the assumptions that a body can be preserved indefinitely at superlow temperatures, and that medical technology will one day have progressed to the stage where frozen dead bodies can be revived and whatever killed them — disease, accident or old age — can be cured.”

“Presumably science will also have solved the potential overpopulation problems too,” Denmore said.

“They’ll also have to sort out the problems freezing itself causes to the preserved tissues,” Sylvie said.

“What I don’t understand,” Denmore said. “Is that if a person is dead at the time of freezing, how come they believe that when they are thawed the mind — the soul, if you like — will be preserved? How can they believe that individual identity, temperament and memories will be stored indefinitely in a mass of frozen brain cells?”

He lifted the lid on the bowl and stuck a finger in to test the temperature.

“I don’t think they do. I think that’s where Talos Industries comes into the equation. Remember the scandal when it was revealed that their initial successes in developing genuine artificial intelligence had been achieved by copying pathways from a human brain? Suppose they can copy all the contents of a brain into computer storage?”

“I don’t know,” Denmore said, licking his finger. “They’d need a pretty big storage facility.”

“And you think Talos can’t afford that?”

“I’m sure they can; but I don’t think someone like your father could. Walt Disney maybe, but not an ordinary guy like your dad. To rent that kind of facility indefinitely, until his body could be revived an repaired, or a new body cloned from his cells, would be beyond even his pocket, compound interest or no.”

“You’re probably right.”

“It doesn’t seem like cryonics is exactly a surefire way of achieving immortality,” Denmore said.

“It isn’t. And I don’t understand why my father couldn’t see that,” Sylvie said.

“Maybe he could, “Denmore said. Maybe immortality was something he dreamed about all his life, but he must have known that the chances of living for ever were pretty slim. He probably read up on each new possibility as it appeared, maybe invested money in a few of them, but as time wore on he just grew to accept that death was inevitable.”

“But if he knew cryonics was no good, why go through with it?”

“Like the video says, a slim chance of immortality is better than no chance at all.”

“You saw their video too?” Sylvie asked.

“Yeah, I came across it when I was digging around for information on Transmigration,” Denmore said, not meeting her eye.

“Would you be upset if I asked you to cancel the visit to Transmigration’s lab?” Sylvie asked.

“Of course not, if that’s what you want.”

“It is. I don’t really need to see it. I know enough about the process. I know that my father is dead, no matter what they’ve done to his mortal remains. I don’t want to go any further into this, I just want to get on with living my own life.”

Denmore nodded.

“Then we’ll start today, with the finest vanilla ice cream you’ve ever tasted!”

He poured the contents of the bowl into a shallow plastic container and placed it in the freezer.

“We’ve got half-an-hour to kill, what shall we do?” He asked.

“Well, we could make love,” Sylvie said. “And then we could watch another twenty-eight minutes of kids’ TV…”

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re really funny?” Denmore asked.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

“No, why?”

“I just wonder where you got the idea.”

He kissed her before she could reply.

“Have you ever done it on the kitchen table?” Sylvie whispered, so close to his ear that it tickled.

She pushed backwards and tore open his shirt, began smearing fresh cream over his chest.

“I don’t remember this being in my copy of Mrs. Beeton,” he said.

“Parts of it are from the recipe book, parts of it I improvised from the ingredients at hand,” Sylvie whispered. “Now we just stir gently…”

She massaged his crotch.

*

“What will you do about the table?” Denmore asked.

“I’ll call someone in to fix it, don’t worry,” Sylvie said.

Denmore stood naked at the sink, whipping the double cream with a hand whisk. Sylvie stared, fascinated by the movements of his body.

He folded the cream into the ice cream mixture and returned the container to the freezer.

“Careful,” Sylvie said.

“It won’t be ready for another hour or so,” Denmore said.

“I’m hoping you mean the ice cream,” Sylvie said, her voice a throaty whisper. “Let’s go upstairs and see if we can wreck the bed.”

“I was going to whip up a Bolognese sauce for the first course…”

“I’ll settle for you and the ice cream.”

*

“I think I’ve worked up an appetite for some of that ice cream now,” Sylvie said.

“I’m not sure I have the energy to go down and get it,” Denmore said.

“I’ll go, I need to pee anyway.”

“Make sure you wash your hands!” He called after her.

Sylvie reappeared in the bedroom doorway, naked, holding the bowl of ice cream. Her face was filled with a look of child-like innocence and pleasure.

“This is gorgeous,” she said, licking ice cream from her finger.

“So are you, Angelface.”

Denmore watched her expression freeze.

Sylvie dropped the bowl of ice cream.

“No…”

She mouthed the word silently.

Denmore raised an eyebrow, smiled.

“I’m afraid so, Angelface. You were so close to the truth earlier that I thought you’d see through my little disguise. The cryonics is a ruse, a cover so that we can move our money around when we’re revived. Of course Talos Industries can record the contents of an old brain, but they can also wipe a young one and replace its contents with a rich old man’s recorded memories.

“We don’t have to wait years for our bodies to be cloned or cured, we simply take over a new one. All we need is a supply of healthy young people without close family attachments, whose lives we can take over without anyone ever really noticing.”

“But… but how could you…?”

Sylvie tried to hide her body from her father, covering herself with hands and arms.

“I had to see you just once, Sylvie. Before you were taken from me.”

Sylvie frowned.

“Taken?”

Her father smiled with his new mouth.

“Part of the contract we sign says that we have to provide a new body for each body we receive. Did you enjoy your ice cream, Sylvie? You always loved it as a child.”

“I didn’t eat it,” Sylvie said triumphantly. “Only a taste.”

Her father shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter how much.”

“I’ll call the police…”

But she could not muster the energy to move.

“No time,” her father said.

As Sylvie’s muscles relaxed and she slumped forward, her father moved forward to catch her in his arms: he didn’t want to deliver damaged goods.

He laid his daughter gently on the bed, and her eyelids fluttered.

“What price would you pay to live forever?” He whispered.

It was not an apology.

 

THE END

© Paul Tomlinson, 1997

(Length: 5,600 words)