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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

An Experiment for the Future
by Shawn Strachan

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The university was dark by the time Dr. Hennessy left. It was after midnight and he was fatigued. He drove his car carelessly, still thinking about the argument he had had with Professor Eija Kohtala. "She just doesn't understand," he said to himself.

By the time he arrived home it was almost one. He removed his lab coat and fixed himself a scotch, a double. After finishing his drink he put on his fur-skinned parka and boots, then, after locking his doors, proceeded to the cellar. "Hey fella, how you doing?" he said. The Blue Fox cowered in a corner of the basement.

Shortly after receiving his Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota in 2001, Robert M. Hennessy met a young cryonics enthusiast named Steve Chamberlain; both men sharing a common interest: life extension. Chamberlain convinced Hennessy to accompany him to California for a seminar on cryonics and nanotechnology. Hennessy and Chamberlain were both from wealthy families, and quickly became friends. The two men joined the cryonics society, LIFECOR, in Scottsdale, Arizona and immersed themselves in the study of vitrification ice-free preservation.

The ringing of the telephone woke Robert. "Hello," he answered, groggy.

"Were you serious this evening?" said the voice on the other end.

"Yes, Eija, I was."

"You actually brought the fox back?" she asked.

"Yes, four days ago."

Her voice was shaky. "This is unbelievable," she said. "I'm coming over." She hung up.

Robert put the receiver down and went to the bathroom to shower. It was almost five-thirty now. He fixed himself a coffee and prepared a meal of leftover elk meat for his patient. He went to the cellar to feed the fox. The fox was dead.

Eija Kohtala was born in Rovaniemi, and moved to Helsinki when she was three. She was a very gifted student, and at age sixteen enrolled in the veterinary medicine program at the University of Helsinki. She would meet Dr. Hennessy and Steve Chamberlain eight years later at the University of Kuopio, where she was working in the veterinary science department, more specifically, in the cryopreservation wing. Eija worked closely with the endangered Arctic Fox population, using the more abundant Blue Fox to conduct studies of gamete and embryo freezing. She was only twenty-four at this time, optimistic and self-assured, when she fell in love with Dr. Hennessy. She was twenty years younger than he was, but was drawn to his enthusiasm immediately.

Three years later Steve Chamberlain died. Dr. Hennessy became unbearable; working eighteen hour days, drinking excessively - when he wasn't at work - and developing arcane theories about cryopreservation revival. He performed tests on injured foxes, using the facilities he had installed in his basement, but never managed to sufficiently stabilize the brain tissue. The subjects died instantly. His relationship with Eija began to deteriorate. He became more obsessed with each failure.

Over the next ten years he continued his treatments; using animals, mainly foxes, he would administer an anticoagulant to avoid blood clotting, and then a solution called 21 molar glycerol to avoid ice crystals forming in the blood. He would slowly drop the animal's body temperature to below freezing and put the animal into cryostasis. The results gradually became pleasing, and when, in 2025, a fox (Dr. Hennessy would refer to as Neil Armstrong) survived the re-animation process, he considered it a monumental breakthrough.

The door was unlocked when Eija arrived. She wore a heavy parka, but still looked attractive. Her long golden hair fell about her shoulders as she removed her hood. Dr. Hennessy sat at the kitchen table, his second scotch of the morning in his hand. "Come on in," he said.

Eija noticed immediately something was wrong. He looked melancholy. "What's happened, Robert?" she asked. Somehow she knew the answer.

Dr. Hennessy stood up, shakily. He said, "I don't understand it. He was up and moving; he was drinking water last night before I went to sleep." He put down the scotch, went to the cupboard, and removed two fresh mugs into which he poured coffee.

"I'm sorry," she said, "I know how bad you want it to work." She put a comforting arm around him.

"I know what's wrong, it's the animal's physiology; it's not strong enough to withstand the regeneration process," he said, almost to himself. "I know it would work on a human subject..."

She cut him off before he could finish. "Don't start this again, Robert," she said, removing her arm from him. "Experimenting on an animal that is already sick, when death is inevitable, is one thing, but a living person? It's careless and immoral. Besides, where would you find a willing subject?"

Dr. Hennessy put his coffee aside and began to work on his scotch again. "All I'm saying, Eija, is that the procedure would work if I had a healthy specimen. The foxes I've been using... they're not capable, on a molecular level, of withstanding a lengthy tenure of suspended animation. The EEG showed no sign of edema or cell damage while in stasis, but once they are revived, the swelling of the brain is too much for them."

Dr. Kohtala sat down at the table. The open bottle of scotch gave an effluvium that caused her stomach to heave. She placed the cap back on. "Look, Robert," she began, "when you first came to Finland I was attracted to your passion for animals; you wanted to help them; you wanted to help me help them. Your research made it possible to start the re-population of endangered species, not just here, but all over the world, and now your growing obsession with bringing a live specimen out of cryostasis, is... well, beginning to frighten me."

"I told you, you wouldn't understand," he said. "Do you remember, twenty years ago, they said what I'm doing now was impossible?"

Eija nodded.

"Now what if we could put someone, recently diagnosed with let's say, cancer, into cryopreservation until we have a cure. We could wipe out death by disease."

"I understand the potential, but the ramifications for failure are too great," she said. "How many animals or people have to die before perfection is achieved?"

Dr. Hennessy was silent.

The cellar at Dr. Hennessy's was cold and sterile. Everything was stainless steel and meticulously maintained. There was enough lab equipment to rival some hospitals, and the room maintained a temperature of five degrees Celsius. In one section of the room, enclosed with wire, was a cage. In the cage was a thin blanket, and on the blanket was a fox. The fox looked frightened, emitting a slow growl as Dr. Hennessy slid a bowl of water through the mesh. The fox (nicknamed Buzz) looked, tentative, at the bowl, before beginning to lap the liquid. Within a minute the fox was unconscious.

It had been nearly four weeks since the revival, and the fox was in relatively good health, eating and drinking on a regular basis, as well as walking around the pen.

Dr. Hennessy studied the electroencephalograph closely on the computer screen, noting with distress the fox's unusually high brain activity. The spikes on the screen alarmed him.

"What's going on here?" he said, tapping the screen with his finger. The wave pattern had become increasingly rapid, and the fox's body began to twitch as Dr. Hennessy looked from fox, to screen, and back again. He jumped to his feet and opened a cabinet on the wall, removed a syringe, and rushed to the cage, not bothering to properly undo the door fastener. Before he reached the fox the seizures ceased, and the fox was once again still. Wiping sweat from his forehead, Dr. Hennessy returned the needle to the cabinet and sat back down. "Must have been having a dream," he assured himself.

When he was confident the fox was stable, he returned upstairs. He made himself a sandwich and deposited his tired body onto his couch. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly eleven at night, and he expected Eija anytime.

When Eija arrived it was after midnight and Dr. Hennessy was asleep on the couch. She stole across the room and, with her lithe body, jumped into his lap, startling him awake.

"What the hell..." he began before realizing what was happening. "Oh, hi honey, I must have dozed off for a few minutes." She now lay prone on top of him.

Although he was in his early fifties, Dr. Hennessy was in remarkably good shape. He gave her a kiss and wrapped his arms around her, pressing her face against his. She drew back quickly, admonishing him for not shaving today. They returned to sitting positions.

With the success of his patient, Dr. Hennessy was once again content, as was his relationship with Eija.

"How's Buzz doing?" she asked.

"He's doing well," he replied, "although there was an episode tonight; an irregularity in his brain activity."

Eija looked concerned. She was aware of his fragility in the event of failure.

"Don't worry, he's fine," he comforted her. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. Eija followed.

"I am worried, Robert," she said. "I know what the consequences are." The concerned look on her face now turned to consternation. "Promise me something," she continued. "Regardless of the outcome, I want you to stop with the experiments; for me; for us."

Dr. Hennessy looked abhorred, as if he had just witnessed a guillotine execution for the first time.

"How can you ask that, Eija? You know this is my life. Cryopreservation is the future, and I'm going to be its pioneer." He noticed the frightened look on her face.

"Do you know Mrs. Haapalainen," he continued, "the Chemistry professor?"

She nodded agreement.

"Well, her six year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia last year. I felt so helpless when she told me. I wanted to say something encouraging, but I couldn't."

He pulled a chair from the kitchen table, sat down, and with eyes downcast, said: "I just kept thinking, what if that was my daughter, our daughter, would I be willing to risk everything?"

The next morning, Dr. Hennessy called in sick to the university. He set to work at once, fastidiously preparing the cryopreservation chamber and all necessary instruments, medications, and chemicals. He felt a great sadness as he fed the fox his last meal. After the fox finished eating, he opened the cage door, and without hesitation, the fox darted up the stairs and out into the snowy forests beyond.

"Goodbye, Buzz."

Dr. Hennessy went upstairs and picked up the telephone, dialled, and waited for an answer.

"Hello?" said the voice.

"Mr. Haapalainen?"


"My name is Dr. Hennessy. I work with your wife at the university, and was wondering if I could speak with you."

At six-thirty that evening, as Eija finished her day at the university, she decided to drive straight to Dr. Hennessy's. She was aware he had not shown up to work, and was unsuccessful with her repeated telephone calls. As she pulled up to his expansive house, she noticed an unfamiliar car in the driveway. She parked behind Dr. Hennessy's dark blue Saab, and gave a quick glance in the window of the guest vehicle. In the rear seat of the car was evidence of a young child. At once she felt an ominous dread in the depths of her stomach. She walked briskly to his rear cellar door, and finding it unlocked, entered the room.

Sitting on a chair in a corner of the room, quiet and pensive, was a man Eija did not recognize. He spoke at once: "You must be Eija. My name is Mr. Haapalainen. Dr. Hennessy called me early this morning, wanting to talk about something important."

He rose to his feet and walked to the cryo-chamber in the center of the room.

She recognized the name immediately. "Oh my god!" she said, turning to look at the cryo-chamber. "You let him put your daughter into cryostasis?"

"I'm afraid Dr. Hennessy has put himself into stasis," he said, in a barely audible voice, looking both terrified and embarrassed. "I tried to talk him out of it, believe me, but he was insistent. He said what he was about to do was an experiment for the future; for my daughter's and the world's."

The tears that had formed in Eija's eyes now fell to the ground inches from her feet. She stared at the accumulating puddle, unable to speak.

"I'm sorry," the man said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "He told me to tell you he loves you very much, and would see you again, soon. He was very confident."

She wiped her face with the back of her hand, then, staggering imperceptibly, made her way to the chair the man had been seated in. As the shock of Haapalainen's revelation subsided, her mind became lucid. She could almost see Robert emerge from the chamber. She saw his smile, that awkward and lopsided smile that made her forget why she was mad at him. She saw Sunday afternoon car rides through the countryside; romantic dinners by candlelight. The images began to intensify in her mind, until she observed an adolescent boy, smiling and laughing as he played catch with his father. And then the image of the boy dissolved and was replaced by a glimpse of a distant future; a young girl, a beautiful blond-haired girl of about seventeen, turning to wave at her new parents as she left for her prom.

Once again tears streamed from Eija's eyes. She turned to look at Mr. Haapalainen, who still stared guiltily at the chamber.

"I think everything's going to be alright," she said finally, allowing herself to smile. "Besides, he always wanted to be an astronaut."

Mr. Haapalainen, not entirely understanding, returned her smile.

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