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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Winter is Coming

I'm taking a break from First Contact --- it's getting a little out of control and I'm not sure what to do about it. Here's a different story.

The title is, of course, an homage to GRRM.

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After a week of snow storm, the snow and wind suddenly stopped. From the direction of the rising sun, two black spot crawled across the icy plain that used to be the Chesapeake Bay. Gradually it became clear that they were two sleds, each pulled by eight dogs. On each sled were two human figures bundled in multiple layers of fur, leaving only their eyes exposed to the ruthlessly cold dry air. For days they exchanged no words among them, trying to expend as little energy as possible.

Finally, they stopped in front of a giant building standing in the frozen city that used to be Baltimore. Like other buildings, it was surrounded by at least ten feet of snow. The two drivers jumped off their sleds, each pulled out a spade from the sled, and began digging into the snow. The pale sun hung brightly in the sky without heat. The glistening white city was immersed in a dead silence. If there were any humans left on the continent that used to be North America, they would be huddling in the middle and southern regions of Mexico by now.

Except these four --- Simon Bluefish and his wife, his brother Billy Bluefish and his wife. Simon and Billy worked patiently and steadily, until they dug out a tunnel in the snow to reach the front door of the building. The wives sat and waited. Simon knew exactly where the front door was, because he had worked at the Institute of Cryonic Research for more than a decade, until it was shut down nearly six months ago. When the military evacuated everyone south, Simon and his brother hid their families, waiting, and waiting.

Using the spade, Simon broke the front door of the deserted building. The alarm, although still rigged, made no sound for lack of electricity. The women saw their husbands' gesture and followed them inside. It was just as cold as outside, but at least the knife-edge breeze was left behind them. Billy's wife unbuttoned her coat. A black-haired little head poked out of the bundle and looked around curiously. The boy was only four months old. The four adults had all been prepared for his demise on the road, but he had miraculously survived.

The cohort passed through hallway after hallway, as Simon navigated in the dark confidently like a blind man in his own living room. Finally, they reached a double door. The lock was easy to break. Behind the door was a cave-like warehouse. Simon turned on his electric torch and searched for the switch for the electrical generator. He found it and turned it on, listening with satisfaction to the buzzing sound. This was no dumb luck. He had come back a week after the institute was evacuated and tested out the generator himself.

Everything was as he remembered. Two rows of about twenty coffin-like containers lined up in the middle, while pipes and machines lined the walls. Billy went up to the first container and began to pry open the lid, but Simon stopped him. "Leave her," he said, and walked a few meters down. He stopped at a middle container and rubbed off the frost off the glass window over the head of the body inside. Inside lay a middle-aged man with a double chin. This was the CEO of the institute. He was one of those who decided to freeze their bodies in the hope of surviving the ice age.

Simon opened the container lid according to the instructions written on the surface of the container. The instructions for how to thaw the bodies using the machines against wall were also clearly described. After all, whoever discover them centuries or millennia later need to be able to thaw them correctly and easily. He motioned Billy to help him get the large, double-chinned man out. They carried the body, now frozen stiff, out of the warehouse and into the room next door. Next, Simon picked out three more containers to open and dumped the bodies. He was careful to take out only middle-aged men, as women and younger men would be a lot more useful when the ice age was over.

When people were evacuated south over the past year, no one knew how far the invading ice sheets would reach and how long this winter would last. Perhaps escaping to Mexico was sufficient. Simon was no climatologist, but he had eyes and ears and a habit of paying attention. He noticed that the people coming in and out of the institute begging to be frozen were the most powerful politicians and richest businessmen in the world. Being an invisible janitor, he heard conversations about how the cryonic machines have been tested and proven to work. He had devised a meticulous plan and made all the necessary preparation before he was sent packing along with other employees.

After four male bodies were removed from their containers, Simon first put the baby into one of them, closed the lid, and turned on the freezing process. It was done in half and hour. The frozen baby lay peacefully in the container, immersed in liquid nitrogen. Simon looked at the reading on the container and found everything to be in good order. They all hugged each other wordlessly. He then repeated the process for his brother and the two women.

After sealing up the fourth container, Simon let out a long deep breath of relief and wiped the sweat on his brow. The last person left would not be able to freeze himself, as there was no one left to turn on the switch and, in a few hours, turn off the electrical generator. He had heard that the building was probably going to be crushed by the glacier, which would continued pack the sturdy containers in ice.

Simon cleaned up after all was finished, just like he had done a thousand times before, turned off the generator, and closed the door quietly behind him.

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