1 CHAPTER 1

"A month. One month of relatively active life. I'm afraid, this is all you've got left." the doctor removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.

I knew of course that his profession would make anyone a cynic. And still he didn't seem to be delivering the news lightly.

The doctor shook his head, his hair gray before his time. "Yes, a month," he pursed his lips, hesitating, then blurted.

"It'll be the question of what runs out first: your health reserves, your will to live in ever-growing agony—or your ability to finance therapy and medications. I hope you'll excuse me for being so blatant. I'm very sorry. Normally, we don't inform our patients in case of a Class A diagnosis. We contact their relatives, but you don't seem to have listed any. What a shame. I don't think that spending the next month in and out of surgeries will be worth your while. We just can't do anything for you. An inoperable brain tumor is indeed the end of the line. Today's medical science just isn't good enough. I'd rather suggest you put your affairs in order. Pay off your debts. Go on holiday with your friends or someone you love."

He continued talking but his voice didn't register any more. I stared at his hands fiddling with some paperwork. I wasn't going to die, surely! What cancer was he talking about? My life had only just started to work Out!

The phrase echoed in my mind. Today's medical science just isn't good enough. What about the science of the future, then? Will it be good enough?

The thought struck me, giving me new hope. I sprung to my feet. The chair creaked, having heard yet another death sentence. It must have witnessed more of those than Old Sparky. I mumbled my goodbyes and headed for the door. Ignoring the elevator, I flew down the steps three at a time, ran across the crowded parking lot and slumped into my Hyundai's seat.

I pulled the cell out of its case and started the browser. What was it that I'd heard on the radio on my way to work? The first in Moscow.. We sell immortality.. a chance to live forever.. to see the future with your own eyes. Implanted by some marketroid team, the buzz words sat firmly in my brain, and still I couldn't remember the name of the thing — a center or something.

My head smarted with the effort, sending colored circles dancing before my eyes. I winced and sat still, waiting for the spasm to go, then felt for the painkillers in my pocket. When had I last taken them? Was it with my breakfast at ten o'clock? If it was, I'd better make the pills last another couple of hours. The doctor had already taken me to task saying that all that constant OD-ing was ruining my liver. Had he been trying to be funny?

What was their name, dammit! Was it Chrome? Chronyl? Or… Chronos? Exactly. Chronos. I Googled their office number.

"Chronos life extension, how can I help you?" chimed a young female voice, soft and eager.

"I, er," I faltered. "I mean, hi. It's about your cryonics program. Can I make an appointment or something?"

"Absolutely. I'm feeding you Our location."

Forty minutes later, I parked up by a state-of-the-art business center. Their high-speed elevator gave me a bout of childish delight replaced by a new spasm of agony. I gave up and swallowed another pill with best wishes to my liver. It shouldn't get any ideas about being transplanted, once I croaked, into some lucky alcoholic billionaire.

The client manager was too young and too pretty. A strategically undone button on her business blouse added to her cleavage and hindered my concentration. But despite her tender age, she spoke in a competent voice and her eyes filled with compassion and purpose as we talked.

"We've been in business since 1960s in the US alone. Now we're offering a large spectrum of cryonics services in dozens of our centers all over the world. It's our fifth year worldwide, so you've come at the right moment to enjoy our anniversary discounts."

"Excuse me," I butted into her pitch.

"Could you please tell me about the procedure? And, er, about your price range."

"Absolutely. Once the contract is signed and the payment clears our bank, we fit you with a sensor which feeds your data to our ER team. If your condition becomes critical, the team will remain on standby twenty-four-seven. Once you're pronounced legally deceased, they begin the cryonics procedure in order to—"

"Wait a sec," I faltered. "What do you mean, legally deceased? Are you going to wait till I die?"

The manager gave me an understanding nod. She'd obviously heard the question hundreds of times. "We can't freeze you alive, can we? Legally, it would be murder. So first we need to obtain a proper death certificate. Following that, our team of experts will perfuse a client's tissues with our cryoprotective solution and begin freezing his body before transporting it to our cooldown facility where it is stored under liquid hydrogen in an individual cryostat container. The body remains there for the duration of the contract - usually, until the arrival of a resuscitation technology."

She beamed, delivering the good news, as if they'd already brought me back to life. I wasn't so impressed, though. The prospects of me waiting for myself to die didn't sound like a promise of immortality.

"So how much would it be in total?"

The girl produced the price list. Zeroes flickered before my eyes.

"Our anniversary campaign," she raised her finger, "allows us to drop the bottom line twenty percent. The complete package Will cost you seventy thousand dollars."

She saw my raised eyebrows and hurried to add, "There is an option to only have your head stored for as little as twenty-five thousand. And for just six thousand we can preserve your DNA sample which will allow the science of the future to grow your clone. Our analysts believe that it might preserve part of your personality."

I stared at her. What was she saying?

All they seemed to be doing was milking terminal patients for their last buck. Having said that, wasn't official medicine doing the same? Their job was making more money, not helping us recover.

"I…. I'll think about it."

I stood up, ending her rosy pitch of incredible generosity. For a brief moment, the girl lost her sales drive and looked straight at me as she offered me her hand. "I have a funny feeling you'll be all right.. Brad. Just don't give up. I'll see what I can do and I'll give you a call. I might bring the bottom line down a bit."

"Thanks," I said, looking for her name tag. "Thank you... Helga. I'll be all right."

I gave her another smile as I let her soft palm linger in my hand. Wistfully I released my fingers, turned round and strode out of reception. Interesting girl. A dark horse. Yesterday I'd have probably tried to get to know her better. You never know, it might have worked. But today…. damn this cancer!

In any case, I had to look into it further.

At least this cryonics stuff gave you half a chance. I couldn't afford to dismiss any ray of hope, however ephemeral. The alternatives were too bleak to even start to contemplate. Had I had enough money, I'd have risked it: you couldn't take your wallet with you, anyway. But I'd never been lucky enough to see so much dough, let alone possess it.

For the last two years, I'd finally gotten my act together. I'd prized my ass off the computer chair and began looking around, learning to mix and fit in while keeping my eyes on the ball. Funnily enough, my hobby had become my career—who was it that said, Find a job you love and you'll never have to work again? Basically, I'd started a hardware repair shop. I didn't underprice myself, but I enjoyed doing quality work and always fixed a few extra bits the customer hadn't paid me to do. Word-of-mouth marketing had me as a new and upcoming expert and the money flow grew deeper and wider. Not that my savings account had grown any healthier: I had too much to catch up on after all the years of vegetation. I got myself a new wardrobe and a two-year-old Hyundai. I could finally afford to take a girl out or help Mom financially. All that allowed me to feel human again, but I hadn't arrived at the savings stage yet. My little business had grown to the point where I started thinking about hiring an assistant when trouble came from the least expected place.

Anyway. Back to the drawing board. I needed money. My immediate goal was to leave Mom with as much as I could. After Dad had died in that wretched car accident, she'd been in a bad way, what with her heart and leg problems. She was a brick, was Mom — she'd even moved into Granddad's old country house not far from Moscow. If you believed her, the country air did her good. But her miserable disability pension came nowhere near my recent assistance. Without my help, Mom would soon be living hand to mouth: clutching a few pennies by the grocer's doors, counting them over and over as she calculated whether she had enough for some bread and a carton of milk or whether she'd have to wait and leave milk till Sunday?

My ultimate goal, however, was to find enough money for this cryonics thing. I needed a chance. I could always lie down and die if it came to that. Now where would I get hold of a hundred thousand dollar bills? Could I maybe rip off a get-rich-quick scammer or corrupt functionary? I had no qualms whatsoever about doing so, but even then you had to agree that moneybags weren't that easy to approach these days. Without proper training, you couldn't really penetrate their guarded residences. I was likely to get busted before I even started and spend the last weeks of my life behind bars — if their bodyguards didn't put me to rest in a local graveyard before that.

Next. Could I win some money in a lottery? Or in a game? Chances were minimal but you can't win if you don't try. I made a mental note to set aside a few hundred for a casino. Let's see if Lady Luck had the hots for me.

~ ~ ~

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