Wednesday, April 4, 2012


© 2012 by John Shirley

Once more he was tempted to confrontation. He could tap Anne on the shoulder, demand to know what was going on. But if he did, all she had to do was brush a finger over a corner of the screen on her workstation, and the data would vanish. Considering the high security trappings here, the secrecy—she might well lie to him. Or shrug him off.

Len toggled the elder cruiser back, then triggered it into opening up. Trying not to groan aloud—barely managing it—he climbed out, keeping a hand on the cruiser to steady himself. Then he adjusted its manual controls, hit the GO button, sending the unoccupied elder cruiser zipping around at random as he stepped to one side of the door to the adjoining lab, leaning against the wall. Dizzy, but determined. The elder cruiser was banging into things in the lab with an apparent air of anarchistic glee. Crash, a table; thump, a wall. Crash, another table. It was making more noise than he’d intended. Going to bring the guards...

It brought Anne first, as he’d hoped. She came striding through the door, muttering—jumping back to avoid the cruiser. “What the hell is this doing in here!” She didn’t see him pressed to the wall in the corner, behind her. He slipped through the door to the adjoining lab, glancing back—seeing her trying to turn off the cruiser. It darted perversely out of her reach. She cursed, and told it to stop instantly and it ignored her. Wrong voice.

He chuckled, and limped unsteadily over to the transparent sarcophagus, a queasy suspicion forming as he looked at “Zach,” tubes feeding into his nude body. Len turned to the display in the workstation. Blocks of color floated in the air, each one holding a file. He touched the nearest. A name came up on it. He squinted, read the name over three times, and his heart seemed to crash around in his chest like the elder cruiser in the lab.

He touched another block labeled restoration unit maintenance. He flicked a finger into End Program. A window popped up.

Warning. Your Subject Will Awaken. Continue? Yes/No

Kind of reckless of him to press yes. So...Yes.

The high-tech sarcophagus clicked, and whirred, and a series of lights along its base went yellow. Its upper half tilted slowly back, opening, releasing a cryptic smell—a concentration of that background smell mixing the humanly organic with chemical harshness. The man in the translucent sarcophagus stirred, slowly waking.

Len watched, keeping a hand on the workstation for balance. Vaguely aware the banging had stopped in the other room.

The vertigo was dots swarmed and receded...his knees wobbled...He’d pushed it too hard. He felt close to collapse. Another energizer would probably kill him.

“I’ve called security...” Anne’s voice, behind him.

Len turned—saw her standing there clumsily holding a high-end taser in her hand.

Pointing it at him. He shook his head. “You ever fire one of those, Anne? The one time I wanted to take you shooting, when we lived together, you wouldn’t go. ‘Course, that was actual guns. You remember I had a rifle? You always hated it...”

She stared—and lowered the taser. “Leonard?

“What’s left of me.”

She let her mouth drop open. Then she raised the taser again. “No—you’re not.” She nodded toward Zach. “That’s Leonard...So who the hell are you?”

His turn to gape. He stared at Zach. The kid did look like him.

Zach was pretending to be him.

He shook his head at her. Felt his heart trying to knock its way from his ribcage. “Anne...that’s—he said he was my nephew. He’s—if you think he’s me, then he’s pretending to be me...He’s...I don’t know, a clone of me, uploaded or something.”

“Oh yes?” She snorted. “A clone? When he came to me first he was an old man. He’s a retread now. That is Leonard Winniver—rejuvenated. It’s...”

Oh, no. “He was old, when he came to you?” Rejuvenated...

Len hobbled closer to the sarcophagus. He looked closely at “Zach”—and thought about his childhood. Picturing his father’s face. “Oh Lord. He’s made some facial changes so it’s not too obvious, but...”

His father’s funeral had been closed coffin. They’d thought it was vanity...

She lowered the taser again, turned to look at Len. She gasped, put a hand over her mouth. “You are Len. You are! Oh my god, you have to be. Look at you.” She pointed at ‘Zach.’ “So...who’s that?”

He had to steady himself on the edge of the workstation. “That’s...I think it’s my father. A pretty damned good actor, after all. Pretending to be me, for you, because he knew...about us. And...” Len had to take a long, steadying breath.

She reached out and touched his face, making him shiver. A pleasant shiver. “You have blood on your face!”

“Do I? Oh yes. A little...mishap. Nothing serious.”

“How’d you ever get in?”

Len shrugged. “The roof and.... Anne—this man...”

“You don’t really think it’s your father...Your father is dead.”

“I never saw him die. He wanted to be alone, when he went. He said. Which—seemed strange to me. And then—this guy turned up in my hospice. He said he was my nephew—and I saw him as my nephew. Because—he was acting. Anne—” He touched the sarcophagus. “What is this thing he’s in?”

She seemed to vacillate. Then her shoulders sagged. “That ‘thing’ he’s in...Um—is a nano immersion unit. MicroRNA ‘walkers’—the unit guides cell repair nanos. Telomerase rebuilds, cell regeneration, RNA reset. Cell by cell repair.”

The supine man groaned, and muttered. The man’s voice a croak. “Lenny...”

She stared at Len, trying to process it. “You’re Lenny...and he’s...”

Len nodded. “My father...”

She stepped closer, absently touched her tongue, used the tip of her finger to wipe blood off Len’s face. “Lenny...”

Len turned to look at the open “sarcophagus.” The man in the immersion unit opened his eyes. He looked at Len, his gaze clearing, sharpening. They knew one another. He cleared his throat. “Thought I heard your voice.”

“Dad?” Len shook his head. “Oh Jesus. What did you do?”

Blinking rapidly, the man who’d played the part of Zach Winniver sat up in the sarcophagus. Plastic tubes disconnected themselves from his limbs, and slithered away. Where they’d connected to him his skin looked slightly bruised but unbroken. He swallowed. “Oh God. I feel sick...” His voice was froggish.

“You may as well get out of the unit, Barry,” Anne said leadenly. “The process is interrupted. It’s a mess now. Going to take time to reset. If it can be done at all. You’re going to feel shitty for awhile.” Her lips trembled. “You seemed so much like Lenny. You really are a lying son of a bitch.”

Barry Winniver grimaced. “I guess I am.”

“He’s an actor,” Len said, ruefully. “You study video of me from late in my life, dad?”

His father smiled faintly and shrugged. “Yeah.”

Len felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. “You had to be hiding a hell of a lot of money. You faked your death—you let me shrivel up so you could...” Len blinked away tears. “You know, dad—that’s not the arrangement people usually have with nature.”

Anne sighed, opened the lower panel on the sarcophagus, helped Barry Winniver out. He seemed as unsteady as a very old man, though he appeared physically young, perfectly formed.

“I...nearly did die,” dad said. “I was sick, genuinely sick, close to dying.”

“He was in semi-suspension for years,” Anne said. She found a white bathrobe in a metal drawer under the sarcophagus, and helped Barry into it. She moved about methodically. As if she had to do something, keep busy.

Len tried to imagine his father engineering the whole thing. “Semi-suspension...” The technology slowed the body down to less than a crawl. Iced but not frozen, chemically treated, a suspended animation so people could wait for medical breakthroughs. And it seemed the ultimate breakthrough had come—for those with the money. “He had some kind of deposit with this company?”

She nodded. “Jensen brought him out of it,” she went on, methodically massaging Barry’s arms. “When it was ready for him.”

“But—what name was it under? Barry? Leonard? Zach? What?”

“Um—Suspension Patient three thousand...something. Their original names are commonly fudged. Just, you know, special bank numbers, that sort of thing. People slated for rejuvenation often don’t want it out. You find out though—I mean, I recognized Donald Trump because my aunt used to work for him, and when I was a kid—”

“Who? You mean the guy with ‘that thing on his head’? Had some casinos, a TV show?”

“Yeah. Pretended to die. Like...” She gave Barry a look of mild disgust. “...and, you know, they come back young as someone else or someone related. Like your ‘nephew’ here or like Bloomberg did. Or Donald Rudock—”

“No way. Rudock? The creepy old multimedia billionaire? Come on, he died years ago!”

She shook her head. “Rejuvenated. He’s a retread under another name...”

“But—” Len shook his head in sick disbelief. “I mean, Bloomberg wasn’t…isn’t…a bad guy...but Costin and Rudock…it sounds as if some of the worst people get rejuvenated.”

Barry and Anne nodded, simultaneously—Barry with a look of mild regret. “You got that right,” Anne said sadly. “Who can afford rejuvenation? Some of the worst people around. Michael Costin “junior”—what a jerk he was to work with. The most commercial, narcissistic entertainers. The greediest tycoons. They don’t want average people to know about it, demanding rejuvenation so they come someone slightly different. But the same.”

“So...” Len rubbed his throbbing head. He badly wanted a tall glass of beer, right then. With a whiskey chaser. Though it might kill him. “So we’ll have some of the worst people from big media and politics and business—around for hundreds of years, maybe thousands? Just getting worse and worse...”

She whined. “When you put it like that...”

Barry chuckled. “It was Don Rudock who told me about it when I did some work for Tox News. All this...” He waved at the lab. “This has been quietly in the works for a long time...Retreads, Lenny,” added Len’s dad sadly, voice still hoarse. His dad, Barry Winniver.

Who was a hundred-and-seven—who looked like a young man in his twenties. “That’s the slang.”

Dad put a hand to his mouth, looking like he was trying to keep from throwing up. “Starting over, like me. I’m starting over as Zach Winniver.” He smiled ruefully. “The ‘young actor.’ My own grand-nephew.”

Len looked at Anne—and saw she was silently crying. But she was looking at him as she wept—not at his father.

“I’m sorry, Len,” his father said, finally. “I thought about arranging it for you. But it was you or me.”

“Yep, that would have decided it right there,” Len said, his head whirling.

“The money wasn’t there for us both and—I just couldn’t face what was coming. It was a chance to do my life right. Do my career right... And—I wanted to see you off. Say goodbye. As Zach. Least I could do.”

“So guilt brought you to me. Visiting me in the hospice. Pretending to be Zach.” Len squeezed his eyes shut, and opened them again, trying to clear his vision. Those leaping black dots leapt away, and back again. “Was it maybe a little penitence, dad? Punishing yourself? You were going to just let me die. I might have said okay, anyhow, if you’d talked to me about it, asked if I minded you getting the treatment and not me...”

“I couldn’t talk about it. We’re all sworn to secrecy. The whole thing is...not quite legal. It’s unlicensed, and it’s just a big, fat secret. If people knew, in a crowded world....and—Len—the process is unbelievably expensive. Astronomical. A billion for most people. I had to use every last dollar...”

“And when you woke up—there still wasn’t quite enough money. You found out Anne was here...and you played her...” Len gazed in dull amazement at his father.

Barry Winniver nodded. “I didn’t have the whole fee, but...I thought she might help me...She got me the suspension and...”

Len looked at her with a sudden shock. “You’ve had the treatment too...”

She shrugged, wiping away tears. “Only one stage. I’m not fully rejuvenated. The company won’t let us do stage two without paying. I can age normally from here but—if I wanted to be any younger...physically younger...there’s stage three—it’s got to be done right. Or you don’t stay that young for long. Your dad needed to finish that one, Len—and you interrupted it! You can go one stage without a second but if you do two stages...” She fluttered her hands. “There are risks if you go that far. Big risks.” Her lips buckled. “Len— I really, really thought he was you. I wanted... I just were the love of my life and you got so distant from me, and you just—let me go. And he seemed so much like you. He acted so much like you, but...nicer.”

“He acted.” The room was spinning, faster and faster. “Oh God. Dad—you seduced her! You—”

The door to the hall clicked, and swung inward, and two big, heavily armed men in private security uniforms came in, one of them looking like he was from Tonga, the other one palely blond and tanned. “That’s him, Charlie,” the Tongan said. “From the roof.”

The cloud of black spots was swarming angrily through the room. A buzzing noise became a roar in Len’s ears. He felt profoundly weak. Empty. The black speckles formed into one enormous cloud that consumed the world.

As he fell face down, Len thought, Is this what dying’s like?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Archive of Stories
and Authors


Phoenix has enjoyed writing since he
was a little kid. He finds much import-
ance and truth in creative expression.
Phoenix has written over sixty books,
and has published everything from
novels, to poetry and philosophy.
He hopes to inspire people with his
writing and to ask difficult questions
about our world and the universe.
Phoenix lives in Salt Lake City, Utah,
where he spends much of his time
reading books on science, philosophy,
and literature. He spends a good deal
of his free time writing and working
on new books. The Freezine of Fant-
asy and Science Fiction welcomes him
and his unique, intense vision.
Discover Phoenix's books at his author
page on Amazon. Also check out his blog.

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee. He has been
a Romantic poet for as long as any-
one can remember, specializing in
the composition of spectral balladry,
utilizing to great effect a traditional
poetic form that taps into the haunted
undercurrents of folklore seldom found
in other forms of writing.
His poetry has appeared on the pages
of such publications as SPECTRAL
CTHULHU, and a poem of his,
"The Rime of the Eldritch Mariner,"
won the Rhysling Award for long-form
poetry. His collection of weird balladry
and Jack tales, THE LAY OF OLD HEX,
was published by Hippocampus Press in 2017.

David Agranoff's

David Agranoff's

David Agranoff is the author of the
following books: Ring of Fire (Eraserhead
Press, 2018), Flesh Trade (co-written
w/Edward Morris; published by Create-
Space, 2017), Punk Rock Ghost Story
(Deadite Press, 2016), Amazing Punk
Stories (Eraserhead Press, 2016),
Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich (Eraserhead
Press, 2014), Hunting the Moon Tribe
(Eraserhead Press, 2011), The Vegan
Revolution...with Zombies (Eraserhead
Press, 2010), and Screams from a Dying
World (Afterbirth Books, 2009).
David is a hardcore vegan and tireless
environmentalist. His contributions to
the punk horror scene and the planet in
general have already established him
as a bright new writer and activist to
watch out for. The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance.

Sanford Meschkow's

Sanford Meschkow is a retired former
NYer who married a Philly suburban
Main Line girl. Sanford has been pub-
lished in a 1970s issue of AMAZING.
We welcome him here on the FREE-
ZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking currently
resides in the high desert of Phoenix,
Arizona where he enjoys campy horror
movies within the comfort of an Insane
Asylum. Search for his science fiction
stories at The Intestinal Fortitude in
the Flesheater's World section.
The Memory Sector is his first
appearance in the Freezine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Owen R. Powell's

Little is known of the mysterious
Owen R. Powell (oftentimes referred
to as Orp online). That is because he
usually keeps moving. The story
Noetic Vacations marks his first
appearance in the Freezine.

Edward Morris's

Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for
the Pushcart Prize in literature, has
also been nominated for the 2009
Rhysling Award and the 2005 British
Science Fiction Association Award.
His short stories have been published
over a hundred and twenty times in
four languages, most recently at
PerhihelionSF, the Red Penny Papers'
SUPERPOW! anthology, and The
Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. He lives
and works in Portland as a writer,
editor, spoken word MC and bouncer,
and is also a regular guest author at
the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

Gene Stewart
(writing as Art Wester)

Gene Stewart's

Gene Stewart is a writer and artist.
He currently lives in the Midwest
American Wilderness where he is
researching tales of mystical realism,
writing ficta mystica, and exploring
the dark by casting a little light into
the shadows. Follow this link to his
website where there are many samples
of his writing and much else; come

Daniel José Older's

Daniel José Older's

Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
Audio Anthology, The Tide Pool, and
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.
When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found here.

Paul Stuart's

Paul Stuart is the author of numerous
biographical blurbs written in the third
person. His previously published fiction
appears in The Vault of Punk Horror and
His non-fiction financial pieces can be found
in a shiny, west-coast magazine that features
pictures of expensive homes, as well as images
of women in casual poses and their accessories.
Consider writing him at,
if you'd like some thing from his garage. In fall
2010, look for Grade 12 Trigonometry and
Pre-Calculus -With Zombies.

Rain Grave's

Rain Graves is an award winning
author of horror, science fiction and
poetry. She is best known for the 2002
Poetry Collection, The Gossamer Eye
(along with Mark McLaughlin and
David Niall Wilson). Her most
recent book, Barfodder: Poetry
Written in Dark Bars and Questionable
Cafes, has been hailed by Publisher's
Weekly as "Bukowski meets Lovecraft..."
in January of 2009. She lives and
writes in San Francisco, performing
spoken word at events around the
country. 877-DRK-POEM -

Icy Sedgwick's

Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth

BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and

G. Alden Davis's

G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.

Shae Sveniker's

Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.

Nigel Strange's

Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.

J.R. Torina's

J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.

K.B. Updike, Jr's

K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free:
(We are not certain if K.B. Updike, Jr.
has lost his Virginian virginity yet.)