Cold Comfort

A futuristic play of cryogenic proportions

ACT ONE, “DIE ANOTHER DAY”

Jim Paillot

Jim Paillot

Overhead lights cast a sterile glow over a conference room dominated by a rectangular, polished wood table. A woman wearing a business suit sits at the head of the table. Three other people slump in chairs. Each wears a white smock that extends to just above bare feet. Wisps of steam waft from the heads and exposed lower arms of the sprawled forms. Behind each misting body stands a gleaming chrome cylinder.

Woman: Wake up. Come on, wake up, sleepyheads.

The hunched bodies groan, mumble, and begin to move.

Woman: Yes, sit up, that’s it. Shall we have some wine and cheese? I’ll bet you’re hungry. Let’s take roll call first and make sure the gang’s all here. I’ll start with the Splendid Splinter, the greatest hitter in baseball history–Ted Williams. (No response) Step up to the plate, slugger.

Ted: Oh my lord, how did I get here? Last I remember, my son told me to drink a special milkshake he’d whipped up for me. I took a swig and then everything went hazy. (Pause) I’m gonna take batting practice on that boy’s behind!

Woman: Now, now. He was acting in your best interests. Next we have Carl Sagan–astronomer, author, skeptic, and the last known scientist to have appeared on a late-night television talk show without putting both the host and the audience to sleep.

Carl: Why yes, I’m here. Have I made contact with the great cosmic hereafter? You’re not . . . no, that’s impossible. It would be thoroughly ironic, though, given the unwillingness of modern religious systems to conceive of a female God. But, of course, the whole idea is irrational.

Woman: Indeed. Now, let’s hear from Richard Feynman, physicist extraordinaire and all-purpose supersmart individual.

Dick: Hello. I love surprises, and I’m certainly surprised to be here. But don’t call me supersmart. Just think of me as a curious dude and a wise guy.

Carl: That’s not how your scientific colleagues referred to you, as I recall.

Dick: Oh, they called me much worse names–usually while I was giving lectures. But I was never boring. How many of those stick-in-the-muds still get talked about today? Say, what day is it?

Woman: It’s the first day of the rest of your lives in the year 2102. You are now wards of the Martha Stewart Living Foundation.

Ted: 2102? That would mean I’m, gee, 183 years old. By God, the Red Sox should have won a World Series by now.

Woman: Don’t be silly. Something far less preposterous has happened. Our scientists finally figured out how to revive people from cryogenic sleep. None of you actually died. You just took metabolic time-outs while hanging upside-down in chrome cylinders (She points to each of the containers.), your bodies frozen solid in liquid nitrogen.

Carl: Lucky I wear turtleneck sweaters, even in the summer. At least, I used to wear them. (He looks at his smock with disgust.)

Woman: Oh, you’re all lucky. First, Martha had the foresight to acquire this company back in 2005. She had made a lot of money improving the quality of people’s lives, but her firm hit a rough patch. So, she took her remaining resources and invested them in the business of improving the quantity of people’s lives.

Carl: Whoever corners the market on extending human life is going to enter a financial universe of, well, billions and billions of dollars.

Woman: I like your style. Of course, money has lost some of its value over the past century. The 7-11 down the block charges $200 for a hot dog and a soda.

Dick: Ouch.

Woman: But let’s look on the bright side. You’re the first group to come out of the deep freeze, and we’re all so happy about it here at the MSL Foundation. It means that our scientists have succeeded in regenerating frozen biological cells. It’s sort of like jump-starting a dead car battery on a winter morning. I can’t reveal the complex details of our discovery. Competition is fierce out there.

Dick: Tell me anyway. I could care less about the blood sport among business types trying to squeeze big bucks out of crying medics.

Woman: That’s cry-o-gen-ics. (She emphasizes each syllable.)

Dick: (Grinning) Whatever. You don’t have to worry about me having a yard sale with your trade secrets. I’m just like every other retired Nobel laureate–I want to devote my spare time to solving the mystery of consciousness and explaining how the brain works.

Carl: You’re forgetting the big questions, Dick. What are we doing here, and what do these people plan to do with us? I never put a down payment on a cryogenics capsule, yet here I sit, steam coming out of my armpits.

Ted: I didn’t know I was cooling my cleats in this cryogenic on-deck circle, either.

Woman: None of you did. We recruited you through confidential family and professional contacts. As elite members of the scientific community, you’ll serve as cryogenic ambassadors to the world now that regeneration technology is a reality.

Ted: You’ve got to be kidding. Me, a scientist? And I suppose you think Dick here can hit a curve ball and Carl can throw overhand.

Woman: You wrote a book called The Science of Hitting, didn’t you? Let’s not overstate the importance of academic degrees. Consider yourself just as much of a scientist as these gentlemen. (Pause) Now, we’re waiting for Monroe. He runs the MSL Foundation, and he’ll fill you in on what we have in store for you.

A waiter enters the room carrying a tray that holds wedges of cheese, a bottle of wine, and three glasses. He puts the tray on the table and hands a card to the woman.

Woman: Ah, it’s from Monroe. He’s ready to see you. But first, eat, drink, and be merry.

Ted: Wine and cheese? Who put this Little League menu together, Bud Selig? Let’s go fishing and fry us up some real food.

Woman: No one goes anywhere until you meet Monroe.

Carl: Martha Stewart runs a tight ship. Where’s that free-spirited Julia Child, now that we need her?

Lights dim.

ACT TWO, “BODIES POLITIC”

Ted, Carl, and Dick stand in a plush executive suite. A large window looks out on a city skyline. Oak-paneled walls accentuate an array of art deco furniture. A beefy man in a business suit smiles from behind a mahogany desk.

Man: Hello. Welcome to the future. (He laughs casually.) My name is Monroe. I’ve taken hold of the reins here at the MSL Foundation, or Martha’s place, as we call it. And I believe the company’s about to gallop into a position of industry leadership now that our thoroughbreds are showing some life. (He waits for a response and gets none.) Ah, by thoroughbreds I mean all of you.

Carl: We get it, sir. What we’d like to know is why we’re on this ride and where it’s taking us.

Dick: Yes. This situation has already gotten weirder than quantum physics.

Monroe: Please, everyone, call me Monroe. Let’s get down to business, shall we? You are our first cryogenic success stories, and success creates responsibilities.

Dick: I know what your game is, Monroe. You put me in the big chill so I could be regenerated as your director of research operations. You sly duck.

Monroe: An intriguing but inaccurate inference. Science has far surpassed anything you could imagine from your 21st century perspective. So has technology. We need all of you to attend a globally broadcast press conference tomorrow where you’ll announce that MSL cryogenics extended your lives, it’s the real deal. Heck, you didn’t feel a thing, did you? It was like taking a long, restful nap and then, pow! You came, you thawed, you conquered death. Put it in your own words.

Ted: Well, spray paint me in pinstripes and call me a Yankee. That’s it? Just tell those scribblers and microphone jockeys that we’re tickled to have been pickled?

Monroe: Good one. You’re a natural. We’d also like you all to serve as MSL Foundation spokespersons on television shows.

Carl: It’s not that I’m averse to chatting up the media, mind you. But what a waste! You’re putting us out to pasture when we’re still in our intellectual prime.

Dick: Not to mention the good deeds that can be accomplished with these . . . what should I call them, cold capsules? Think of the many endangered wild animal species that Martha’s place can save from extinction.

Monroe: We’re saving a wild animal species, all right–politicians. (He leans back in his leather chair.) Remember, you come from a time when there were only a few hundred television channels. Wireless transmission advances since then have spawned 5,000 television channels, and that number is growing as we speak. And do you know what three-quarters of those channels broadcast?

Carl: (With a downcast look) Infomercials.

Ted: Hey, they’re not all so bad. I bought one of those singing fish you hang on the wall. I call him Gil Hodges.

Monroe: No, Carl, not infomercials–news and public affairs shows. Nearly 4,000 channels serve up headline news and commentary, all the time, day and night. Those shows are cheap to produce and highly profitable, believe you me. I think we have more people covering news than making news these days. But there aren’t enough political analysts and social pundits to go around. That’s why we’ve been cryogenically canning as many politicians as we can. Now, we can regenerate a whole army of talking heads for hire.

Carl: Which politicians are you talking about?

Monroe: Oh, let’s see, there’s Bill, Hillary, George W., Al, Colin . . . you get the picture.

Ted: How about Strom Thurmond?

Monroe: No, he’s still alive. But we have an impressive stable of ready-for-prime-time pontificators waiting to come in from the cold. And each of you has led the way in making their political comebacks possible.

Dick: So, you used us to get regeneration technology up and running, and now you’re going to have us sell freeze-dried blowhards for the boob tube.

Monroe: It’s the natural cycle of scientific enterprise. Remember the Human Genome Project? It started out as a great DNA-dissection adventure, stimulated a raft of research into the genetics of disease, and after a few decades, morphed into a bunch of secretive DNA firms that sell medical breakthroughs directly to people who have enough money or insurance.

Ted: Whew. I think we all just got knocked on our keisters by a high, hard one under the chin.

Carl: Baseball is truly a metaphor for life, even among formerly frozen folk. I think it’s time to dust myself off, crawl back into my cryogenic clubhouse, and ice myself down for another 100 years or so. Maybe then I can be put to better use. Want to join me, fellas?

Dick and Ted nod their heads in approval.

Monroe: If that’s what you really want. Personal choice means so much here at Martha’s place. As our motto says, it’s a good thing.

Lights dim.

****************

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Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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