Author : Cosmo Smith
Within its cryogenic cocoon, the body lies inert, crystallized. Only with the most acute perception can I observe slight movement: the hourly rise and fall of its chest; its 6-minute heart beat.
My hands mechanically perform their routine. Nasotracheal tube seal – check; nutrient levels – check; sensory anesthetics – check, heart rate – check…
“Stephen Carmack,” words on the monitor read, as though names still matter.
I examine the frozen face, half-hidden beneath its feeding mask. Eyes that have never seen reality are lidded in the torpor of a never-ending sleep. On its bald scalp, a dozen electrodes register small flurries of activity as the body’s brain surfs the net.
My finger presses the green button and the plastic cocoon retracts into the wall with a pneumatic hiss.
I have been here forever. It is home, this warehouse of bodies – aisles extending infinitely. My task: cocoon out, check, check, check, cocoon in.
I vaguely remember wanting this job. Curator of Humanity, they called it. Somewhere outside, a family of mine receives a royal paycheck. Or are they here, among the 99% that live, breathe, and die in the net?
Cocoon out, check, check…
As I begin to doubt myself, it happens again: a prolonged twitch of this body’s index finger. It lasts nearly a minute, but it is the most exciting minute I can remember.
The cause is easy to discern.
“Arthur,” I surprise myself by speaking. Then I laugh. “Arthur Warthur, you fogey. You are improperly anesthetized.”
The finger again. I mimic its motion with my own.
After a third time I reach to adjust the anesthetics. And stop.
In the sterile silence, I become aware of my racing heart. For several minutes I watch the body’s face, its skin gray from the pale light of the cocoon.
One click on the monitor is all it takes to further decrease the anesthetics.
Minutes later, a second finger moves. A slow shuddering of weak muscle ripples up the body’s arm.
I decrease the setting further, and further still, watching the slow convulsions as the body experiences an odd form of synesthesia between the net and real life.
After that, a password enables adjustment of the cocoon’s internal temperature.
I have reached the point where hitting the side of the cocoon elicits a reaction from within when the body’s chest spasms abruptly and the heart rate flatlines. For several tense minutes, I wait. For what? Alarm bells?
There is nothing. And a press of the green button pulls the cocoon out of sight.
Unsealing the nasotracheal tube, I soon find out, creates the most interesting reactions. The body doesn’t realize for a long time that it can no longer breathe, but when it does, it goes wild, especially after a bit of defrosting.
Prolonging the time until death becomes a game. Decreasing nutrient levels has no effect, whereas increasing them can sometimes lead to very spastic movements.
I become so absorbed in this newly discovered world, that my own pull back into reality comes as a nasty shock. It takes a long time to adjust to the small room, even after the VR goggles have been pulled from my head.
A businessman in a black suit faces me across a desk. To the side, a woman and two children, whom I now recognize as my wife and kids, watch.
The businessman politely waits for me to reorient myself before speaking.
“I’m sorry Mr. Underwood,” he says, “but after that simulation run, I think we are going to have to go with another candidate for the curator position.”
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