I hate it here

by Spider Jerusalem

The Word

 

It was her heart that chased Mary into the cold. The first heart attack was a shock. She jogged every day, took her nutritional supplements and the hopeful age retardation course. She and Stephen moved from southern California to northern, taking worry and angina with them. Away from that harsh dry heat, towards easier climes and better doctors. A colder place. The second attack caught her as she looked out on San Francisco Bay. There was going to be a third. The doctors talked bypass, but their eyes were empty of promise. The young don't lie well. She looked at her own heart that week, on the new hospital scanner. It was starting to look like something that's been left out of the fridge too long. A week later, she and Stephen signed contracts with the Ryley Life Extension Foundation. A month later, she managed to croak out, "See you later" to Stephen before her heart went grey and still… and that was sixty-four years done with.

And it was a hell of a sixty-four years. She saw the war that drove America crazy; saw it with her own eyes. She saw the first step offworld. She saw a severed city put back together with sledgehammers. She saw William Burroughs and Nelson Mandela and Richard Nixon and The Beatles and Mother Teresa. there was history in Mary's head; hard history, hardlived and loved. And all Mary wanted was to keep seeing history.

Her contract was for a neuro job. Neurological suspension. The busy optimists at Ryley ever so gently hacked off Mary's head, wrapped it in fairly crude protective fabrics, and dropped it into a 

steel can full of liquid nitrogen, like throwing a coin into a wishing well. Mary's head was frozen at -186 C, and racked up with everyone else they were tossing down into time. Stephen died of some disgusting disease in Kuala Lumpur three years later, way the hell too far from Ryley. He died hard, fists clenched, eyes shining with anger. An endless future with his beautiful wife had been stolen from him, and he died with hate and a sadness too big for his mouth to capture. Stephen's last words were, "If you people ever washed your fucking toilet seats--"

Six weeks ago, Reclamation got to Mary's can. They drained out the liquid nitrogen while looking at their watches, and got Mary's head into a provenance field before hauling ass down to the African for lunch. Stuffed full of matoke, they came back to find out that Mary was who the ancient suspension contract said she was. So they got to work growing her the body the contract said she wanted. Ryley were busy optimists, after all; they knew nanotechnology and free cloning had to happen sometime (either that or we'd all go up in a mushroom cloud or whatever Ragnarok du jour was) so they offered special options to their clients. Awake in a new world with the body of a twenty-year-old? Hell, any twenty-year-old. Request your youth back, or pin a picture of the look you want to your contract, whatever. Ryley wouldn't have to deal with your crazed demands, after all. "You want the head of John Wayne, the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the cock of a Brahma bull and testicles like basketballs? Sure. In the future, everything will be possible…" All these years later, then, City Reclamation fired a miner into her, to excavate a physical template memory. But it just fell into a wet ice-damages mess; damaged from the imperfect business of freezing, damaged from the uneven process of thawing. So they started in with the repair infection. A thousand regiments of robots, each the size of molecules, all stamped into Mary's brain. At that size, it's not a problem to move individual atoms around like building blocks, assembling whatever you need from what's available. Scouts hunted down the cellular information structure in Mary's brain, and then sent the grunts off to work, patching Mary's brain back together cell by cell. Reclamation had time for coffee. Refiring the miner, they nailed Mary's physical template memory, took a decent trace off it, and plugged the numbers into the quicktank. Bacterial-level robots in a mixture of water and soil started building the most complex machine in the world. think about it; the quicktank is given a job most of us would laugh out of town. Build a sophisticated camera capable of full 3-D input and peripheral pickup, using only water and jelly. Build an eye.

At three in the afternoon, Sita finally managed to spit some skeleton salvia into the wetlock of the boss's private drinks cabinet. Sita used to be a cat burglar; Civil servant wasn't much of a career change. So Reclamation broke open some cherry vodka while Mary was growing in a bottle of dirty water. By the time Mary's new body was ready, Sita had managed to get Michelle drunk and was giving her one in the toilets, and Humberto was taking a piss into Mary's can, marvelling at how the urine crackled as it struck the residue. The wobbling remainder of Reclamation wrestled out the transfer hoses, linked Mary's shattered old head up with the newly-minted, disease free twenty-five-year-old Mary, and piped her mind over. And that was that. they put a call in to the Reclamation counsellor, heaved Sita off Michelle and gave her a crack upside the head, and hauled it down to the bar for the night. And that was Mary's second birth done with. Five minutes later, the nanotech life support system riding Mary's new bloodstream released all its locks and allowed her to wake up. She came to, alone and wet, scraps of mud under her fingernails, in a stiff body that felt like a glove to small, in a grubby room without windows. Mary had already gone into mild shock when the counsellor turned up, ten minutes later. the counsellor had recently been left by his wife, and had more important things on his mind. Like, where the hell else was he going to find a woman prepared to do all the horrible things he required to get it up? He was immediately impressed by Mary. Young slim body, slightly glassy look in the eyes, mildly concussed expression, what could be shit under her nails. Very good. he gave her the usual Revivals bathrobe, quietly relieved it'd been washed this time. "Hello", he said. "I'm Michael. How are you feeling, Mary?" And horribly, crushingly, blasting-out-all-hope-of-sexingly, the first words from those soft, pale, damp lips were: "Where's my husband." So fuck it, Michael thought. Just another Revival. Shouldering on a cold heavy professional cloak, he eyes his pad and, with a relished edge of steel in his voice; said: "Your husband died three years after you, in an unrecoverable location. He didn't make it into suspension. Mary's stomach fell away. Mary asked how long she'd been in cryogenic suspension. he did the worst possible thing under the circumstances. he told her.

"There's a transport waiting for you." the counsellor told her, not sounding bothered whether she was listening or not. "That'll take you to a revivals hostel. It's double-parked, so get a move on."

"Double-parked." She clung to that. It meant something, after all; cars, driving, roads. Something dully normal. Something real at last. It didn't occur to her that that meant she'd have to go out onto the street. The ride down was ordinary. there'd be an ordinary car or bus waiting for her outside on the ordinary street. How much could things really change? Oh, it'd be weird, sure, she expected that. But she coped well enough with the massive changes she saw in her own first lifetime. From a four-digit phone number to the Net. From wooden planes to the Mars rover. From there to here.

She barely registered the journey back to the Hostel. Everyone was at dinner when she got there. No one thought to feed her. She was led through a maze of beds that smelt sharply of the people who slept in them. Looking at her new charity-donated clothes, still bearing the ammonia spoor of the man who wore them last, Mary's shocked brain started to a new understanding. She wasn't wanted here. She was revived out of a sense of begrudged duty. She'd been foisted upon a future already busy enough with its own problems by a past that couldn't have cared less. She could have told the future what it'd been like to meet Che Guevara in that old Cuban schoolhouse. She could've told them about the last Queen and Albert Einstein and a million other true stories besides. But the future didn't want to know. It honoured the contracts with the past; revived them, gave them their money back (even adjusted the sums in their favour against revaluation and inflation), gave them the Hostels. Put them away with a new, unspoken contract: Don't bother us. We're not interested. Everyone else in the Hostel had been damaged in the same way as Mary. Sooner or later, they took an unfiltered look at the outside world, and it burned away something important in them. There were fights in the Hostel, and the alleyways surrounding. The hospitals were used to it. Gashes and blunt force trauma inflicted by blunt butter knives - the closest things to weapons made available in plenty in the Hostel's canteens. There were tears and screams in the night, very night. Some of them were Mary's. The Revivals are thrown out of the Hostels during daylight hours, on to the streets. Many Revivals go into light catatonia on the streets. The tougher ones traditionally round them up and drag them back home at mealtimes. Mary sticks to the alleyways, where the light and noise of the City is screened out a little. And she talks, to anyone who will listen. She tells of how she was Revived; tells it in cold, quiet, terrible detail. She has a photographer's eye. She's made a still documentary of her new life, up in her chilled head. And she tells stories of the past. Great rich warm human stories of Stephen Hawking mapping the universe from a wheelchair, of dancing with children in Zimbabwe dust and walking through Moscow snow with Mikhail Gorbachev... John Kennedy playing grabass in the White House, Nelson Mandela laughing at dirty jokes on a Jo' Burg street, a kid walking in front of a Chinese tank...

The stories that make us great.

Mary will live for maybe another century. But her story's over. Because you wouldn't have it another way.