Aging Ice Age by Thomas Matterne
All right, let’s get started. I’ll record the conversation, is that all right?” The reporter didn’t wait for persons answer sitting opposite of him. Instead, he just pressed the button of the recording stick pushing it over the glass table in the middle of the small living room in a suburb of Berlin, which a few years ago was still called Potsdam. “Maybe we’ll start with something personal. What’s your name?”
“Schneider, Simon Schneider,” his counterpart began slowly. “But must my name be mentioned? I don’t want to lose my job, you know?” He paused, seemed to think about something for a moment and then shook his head about his own naivety – he could also call it simply stupidity. “What nonsense I’m talking about, there won’t be that society anymore when this goes public.”
The journalist put on his understanding face, in the course of his professional life he had collected a lot of such faces and knew long ago when he had to put which one on. “Just tell me first, then we’ll see. You are Simon Schneider, and you work as a technician for the Society of Human Aging. We already know that.”
“Exactly, human aging,” Schneider laughed bitterly. “You know this society, yes, the solution to the over-aging of our population, we close all old people’s homes and ensure that people disappear with dignity. Yes, I think disappearance is the right word for it.”
“I know the company. They freeze people and make them dream forever. How exactly do they do that?”
“How do we do it?” Schneider laughed this time with a good portion more bitterness. “Good question, that was also my question when I was hired. I found the idea alternating ingenious and then again perverse. But I have always worked in the field of cryonics, and the company has been desperately looking for people. My interview didn’t actually take two minutes, it just took longer because I asked about the principle right away. It is basically quite simple to connect the brains of the elderly with a central computer and then freeze them. The computer ensures that people than constantly are dreaming in subject areas that they have selected beforehand. Society can control what is dreamed, randomly, because far too many people are now frozen.”
“As far as I know, there’s a catch to this freezing.”
“You mean you can’t undo it anymore? Yes, the great shortcoming of today’s cryonics. We freeze people to the minimum standard of living. They’re alive, living ice cubes. Excuse me, I need a drink.” Schneider stood up, disappeared in a small kitchen next door and returned after a few moments with a glass of orange juice. Without ice, the journalist had for a short moment thought of a bad situation comedy joke and hardly even smiled noticeably. “Excuse me, do you want something?”
“No, no, thank you. Do you think this process can be reversed, people can be defrosted at some point?”
“Sure, someday. But society does not research in this direction, why should they? The point is to make people disappear, put them in coffins, that’s what we call the freezer boxes, stack them in a cellar and that’s it. Think about saving space, a two-meter-long coffin compared to an apartment in an old people’s home. At first, I didn’t think anyone would volunteer. Cryonics has been developed for people with incurable diseases that are defrosted when a cure is found. Or space travel wants to use it to freeze astronauts for long journeys. But cryonics is not yet ready, the current Mars mission flies with awake people on board. Society advertises with the fact that the frozen person dreams forever and will never experience things like age-related physical ailments or, in the worst case, Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t you want to dream forever?”
The reporter shrugged his shoulders, he wasn’t sure, and with a gesture, he asked Schneider to continue speaking. He didn’t want to worry, mainly because his feeling since the beginning of this interview told him that the idea of freezing would become even more insane than it already was.
“In the beginning, it was also hard to convince people. When I first saw hall A1, the official name for the first warehouse with the coffins, ten chambers were filled, but it was designed for 500. And the ten were people on the verge of death, calcified arteries, cancer or AIDS, you know. The method only became established slowly, at the time when this actor had himself frozen. What people don’t do for last minute publicity.”
“Yes, I remember,” nodded the journalist. He took a look at the digital display of his recording stick while Schneider drank another few sips. It was time to get down to business. “Yeah, it’s almost trendy now. Well, when you contacted me, you used words like scandal and fraud.” The journalist hesitated briefly. “Does it have anything to do with cryonics? Are people dead?”
“What? No!” This accusation made him angry, cryonics was Schneider’s territory, he didn’t want anything to come of. “There’s nothing wrong with cryonics. The frozen people live on the necessary minimum level, the boxes are in top condition, and the energy supply is 100% safe. We have emergency generators and regularly run tests. With cryonics, everything is correct.”
“Excuse me, all right, I didn’t mean to attack you. I just thought that was the closest thing.”
Schneider emptied his glass and then slammed it onto the table. “No, there’s nothing wrong with cryonics, everything works perfectly.”
The journalist took a look at the empty glass and fought down even the question of a drink. “Well, what did you discover then. Tell them all in turn, we’ve got all night. Tell from the beginning.” Silence. “As I said, you just tell your story first, and then we’ll decide what to do with it.” That was, of course, a lie, if the story was really as hot as his reporter instinct told him, then he would have a hard time keeping still afterward. The story just seemed really hot, damn hot. Whatever was going on in the Society for Human Aging, something told him that he had his own Watergate in front of him. “Trust me.”
But Schneider still hesitated. Nervously he played with the empty glass in front of him, drove his fingertip over the edge of the glass and seemed to be disappointed that this behavior did not produce any sound. He suddenly remembered a childhood event when, in a park, he had watched a street artist assemble an entire organ from glass and play it as if it were a one-man orchestra. As if it had been yesterday, he suddenly saw the scene in front of him again. The warm spring sunshine, the birds in the background, his mother at his side, he could almost reach for it. The sun was reflected in the glasses, which were filled with water to varying degrees. Yeah, that’s why he couldn’t hear any sound, there had to be some water in the glass. Suddenly Schneider was back in the present. He had been dreaming. Dreams, Schneider laughed inside, dreames. “Trust?” he finally began to talk again, “In the society, no one trusts one another. Everything’s top secret, like we’re an intelligence agency or something. Everything is double and triple protected, retina scanning is mandatory. After a few days there, I was surprised that you could go to the canteen without having your eyes scanned.”
“Security measures have become a matter of course. You can’t even get on the Trans rapid today without keeping your ID card in the vending machines.” The journalist again took a look at the display of his recording stick, and slowly Schneider could really get down to business.
“Safety first,” Schneider nodded thoughtfully. “But what good is the best security measures if there’s such a thing as chance? Or the better word would probably be an accident, yes, accident. It was nothing but an accident. Actually, I shouldn’t have seen the file at all, it was a T1 newsletter that suddenly appeared on my computer.”
“Just for the executive floor, there’s probably not ten people on the distribution list. “Just the top management of society.”
“I understand, and what was in that newsletter?” The journalist leaned forward and finally got to the point. He looked at Schneider over the table with expectation, but he suddenly seemed to have turned into himself, dropped back into the armchair and probably thought about whether he had just made a mistake. After all, he talked to a journalist about things that society hid from the public by all means. His journalistic experience made the reporter feel that Schneider was thinking about exactly these thoughts. Actually, he wanted to murmur the umpteenth trust you have in me in a conspiratorial tone, but that would have been too conspicuous even for Schneider. Instead, the journalist just nodded encouragingly.
“The circular was about one of the evaluators who confirmed at the time for the government in Brussels that everything was correct. It does, but only with cryonics. The connection between the frozen ones and the central computer is a pure farce, it does not exist. The whole thing doesn’t work technically.”
“Does that mean people just get frozen? Is that all?”
Schneider just nodded.
“But I didn’t think this dream-in-the-brain plant was so widespread, just because the Society for Human Aging holds the patents.”
“Patents on a technique that doesn’t work, at least not on frozen people. The only thing that works is to make people feel, it really works. They can give test subjects an undefined feeling of happiness, nothing more. But probably this won’t even work because the standard of living of the frozen is too low for the brain. You told me, society just freezes people.”
“And because it is not possible to thaw them again, no one can report not having dreamt,” the journalist Schneider’s sentence concluded. “And the experts were bribed back then. Shit, this is really a story.”
“It gets worse. Rumors are circulating in a society that politicians are thinking about forcing whole sections of the population to freeze. At a certain age, when there is no longer any benefit for the general public, they are collected and put into the freezer box. Now that I know all this, I’m assuming that there’s bribery behind it, of course.”
“Bribe, yes, probably,” muttered the journalist. “Do you have this newsletter?” The journalist groaned inwards when Schneider shook his head stealthily. “Damn you! But you remember the name of the appraiser.”
“Take a look at this!” The man in the typical light blue jacket of the Society for Human Ageing pointed to the diagram in front of him on the monitor. “What’s that?”
“Monitoring his dream sequence, how long have you been working here?” With a strong push, a second technician together with his office chair pushed himself from his own work to that of his colleague. “Oh, shit!”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s having a nightmare. Who’s that?”
The first typed something into the keyboard projected onto the table. “Tailor, Simon. Delivered on 03/02/2034, his relatives are paying for a standard dream. “Holidays at a North Sea beach resort.”
“The way his chart turns out, a sea monster just landed on the coast. I’ll inform the boss.” The third malfunction this month, he thought, as he plugged the receiver into his ear and pronounced the name of the caller. Poor guy, came here to dream for an eternity – or at least as long as his relatives paid the bills on time – and now society only had the choice to leave him for that eternity in a nightmare or to defrost him and bring him to the cemetery as in the good old days. Once the dreams were fed into the brain of the person concerned, the computers of society could no longer influence them. They became self-runners, which, however, were to run in a constant repetition loop. Only sometimes they just didn’t do that, sometimes the dreams developed by themselves. Sometimes people were stuck in a sheer endless nightmare from which there was no awakening – except for death.