“How much?” asked the tall man, peering over his designer sunglasses while slinked down in the oversize wingback chair.
Dr. Tillman Westerbrook looked across his black executive desk and smiled. “Well, that really depends on what plan you choose,” he said, pointing to a plasma screen behind him displaying a power point presentation. “Of course, our most popular option is what we call the ‘Cerebral,’ which is $80,000 and involves placing the brain in a cryo state – postmortem. We have more than 500 clients who are signed up with the Cerebral program. The idea is to preserve the brain until such time it can be revived and matched with a new host body. Needless to say, we haven’t advanced quite that far just yet.
“But a man of your means, I imagine, would prefer ‘The Works,’ which is a full body cryogenic procedure with a 30-year guarantee. The goal here is to keep the entirety of the person intact so that, once revived, their appearance and memories will pick up at the point they temporarily transitioned. Should the body and or brain diminish in any capacity during that 200-year timeframe, in the unlikely event the service does not yield the desired result, you’re designated caretaker or survivor will be issued a full refund – save the storage charges. I truly believe this is the future of not just the company, but the science. With a few more advancements, this can be achieved in my lifetime.”
The tall man was Manfred Standish, but his stature went far beyond his height. He was the world’s richest person – by far – and by virtue of that wealth (inherited, thanks to a large plot of land atop an enormous ore of gold), he was arguably the world’s most powerful man, as well.
Hard to imagine anyone arguing that point, though; politicians, captains of industry, international influencers … all of the globe’s movers and shakers could almost always be moved or shaken by his every whim. Oh, and how he enjoyed acting on his whims, especially when he got to play puppeteer.
Today’s multi-billion-dollar impulse took him to Fresno, California, and the pristine headquarters of CryoState Incorporated. The home office of the world leader in Cryonics, CryoState is designed to ensure that life doesn’t end, it merely takes a break.
In fact, every brochure, correspondence and mention of “CryoState” is always followed by the quote, “This is where your journey pauses, but never stops,” from Westerbrook himself.
Standish rose from his seat, walked over to the plasma screen and glared at it intently. Suddenly, he spun around and looked at the doctor with arms spread wide.
“No, doc,” he said. “I mean how much for CryoState Inc. – all of it? The building, the land, the equipment, the frozen stiffs … the whole shebang. I’d really like to make the deal within the hour. I’m flying to Antarctica … I’m building a domed multipurpose stadium on the South Orkney Islands and plan to put an NFL expansion team there. Anyway, tell me the price and we can wrap this up. I’ve got places to go and people to see and worlds to conquer.”
Westerbrook, a balding, bespectacled, middle-aged man, was not only the founder and lead scientist at CryoState, but for the past two decades had worked tirelessly to “mainstream” both the organization and the whole philosophy of cryogenics. For years it was a punchline for jokes and considered quackery by “real” scientists and medical experts, but thanks to his efforts its reputation as a pseudoscience was finally starting to fade. His serious approach had won over critics, especially since he was able to back up his extensive research.
He truly believed those already in cryosleep were less than 50 years away from experiencing the fruits of his labor. In fact, he himself hoped to see it; he was Patient 47 in “The Works” initiative and was also in the midst of producing an even more experimental option on his personal time. To some, cryosleep had always seemed like science fiction, but with each passing day he was more convinced it would soon be science fact.
“I … I don’t know what to even say to that, Mr. Standish,” he muttered. “CryoState isn’t for sale. This is my company, my passion. Everything I’ve ever learned has been sunk into this science. Surely you can understand it’s far more than a business to me, it’s very much my reason for being. And its value is incalculable.”
“Well,” Standish said, “you need to calculate it. Everything and everyone have a price, doc. And everything’s for sale whether you realize it or not. I hate to burst your bubble here, but I’ve already taken the liberty of getting my team to talk to most of the CryoState scientists, who, by the way, have agreed to work for me at double their current salaries. There are a couple of holdouts, but they won’t be missed.”
“Look, with the money I’ll be giving you, you can still do whatever you want to do. You can even stay here if you like, working for me in an advisory role or honorary role or something cute like that. But one way or another, everything that’s been accomplished here is about to become a Manfred Standish accomplishment. That’s just how business works – especially the way I do business.”
Westerbrook was livid. More than that, he felt betrayed – and for good reason. If, in fact, the CryoState scientists were no longer his scientists, there wasn’t much he could do to keep the organization working the way he believed it should. He had heard of hostile takeovers before, but never imagined it would happen at a cryogenics facility.
“You want a price?” Westerbrook said, angrily. “One hundred million dollars … that’s my price.” It was a ridiculous number – even for a man with ridiculous wealth – and one that Standish would surely balk at. And when he did, Westerbrook thought, he’d move on to some other megalomaniacal pursuit.
Except he didn’t balk.
He didn’t even hesitate.
“Sold!” Standish said, clapping his hands. “I honestly thought you’d ask for more but a deal’s a deal and I’ll have my guy write a check. Oh, and I know I said you could stay but considering I just gave you $100 million and I sense you have an attitude problem, I’m gonna go ahead and rescind that offer. I would fire you, but it’s not my company just yet. Anyway, I think you should be able to land on your feet.
“Regardless, say goodbye to CryoState Incorporated and say hello to the Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement. Just leave your badge at the front desk. But as a parting gift, you can keep your white coat.”
Westerbrook was stunned. His life’s work was now in the hands of a megalomaniac, but he was also $100 million richer. And while he had apparently lost all his scientists, there was not a single one who knew more about cryogenics than he did – not even close. In fact, he knew more than the whole lot combined.
He had no idea what Standish planned to do with “his” new company, but Westerbrook couldn’t imagine it would be in the best interest of anyone other than Standish. And he worried about the clients … the 500 or more in “Cerebral” and the 50 who has signed up for “The Works,” which included himself.
As he laid down his badge and headed for the main exit, he glanced up at the top of the escalator and noticed Standish looking down at – and on – him.
“What are you going to do with the clients?” Westerbrook shouted. “There are more than 200 brains already harvested for Cerebral. And I know of 20 bodies in cryosleep right now in ‘The Works’ wing. We have a responsibility to them. You have a responsibility to them.”
Standish sneered and let out a slight chuckle. “Not your problem anymore, doc,” said the new owner. “Why don’t you just forget about all this and go on a nice vacation, huh? Just be sure to sign all the paperwork first. It should already be at your house.
“Oh, and thank you for your service to the Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement. My staff wishes you nothing but the best as you pursue other opportunities.”
News services jumped on the unfriendly acquisition immediately, although most of the stories framed Standish as a genius billionaire and gave very little mention of Westerbrook. And instead of asking the hard questions – questions like, “What do you have planned for the facility?” – the media simply gave Standish free reign to promote himself.
“No one who has ever lived has accomplished what I’ve accomplished,” Standish said in a lengthy statement sent to every major news gathering organization on the planet. “I have achieved wonders, but the wonder of eternal life will be my greatest accomplishment. With the world’s greatest scientists at my disposal, and under my guidance, mankind is set to take a giant leap thanks to the Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement. Details are coming soon, and I invite everyone to get ready for the next step in human evolution.”
Westerbrook couldn’t avoid reading and hearing about Standish’s boast; it was the main story on newscasts, topped every social media trend, and led every text alert. When the wealthiest human being on earth talked, everyone wanted to listen, even though very few had any idea what he was trying to say.
Throughout his life Standish had gobbled up properties and businesses, always claiming to do so in order to make them better. In reality, his main accomplishment was becoming richer. Once his ventures began to bore him, he’d sell them off or fold them outright, leaving thousands of workers suddenly without jobs. He was like a parasite – living off something else until it died and moving on to another host. Clearly, people never came first for Standish.
Yet, this purchase was different. There were more than workers involved, there were already human beings “stored” in the facility, and they were stored at considerable expense to themselves and/or their families or conservators.
James Bedord, the first person to be placed in cryosleep back in 1967, was being kept at what was – until $100 million had changed hands – once known as CryoState. So was Robert Ettinger, known as the father of cryonics and the inspiration for Westerbrook’s work.
Even baseball great Ted Williams – who, through neuroseparation, was preserved in two pieces – was there. Westerbrook had no clue if Standish planned to honor those “commitments” and was no longer in a position to make sure he did.
However, he was certainly sure of one thing – his newfound wealth would allow him to further his research, and hopefully fast track his private version of “The Works.”
As he had told Standish, this was designed to reanimate the person placed in cryosleep; if they had died of an illness, once a cure for that illness was found a treatment would be applied in hopes that the mind and body would be revived.
Westerbrook had spent countless hours working on the process, and was certain just a few more ‘ah ha!’ moments were needed to make it a reality.
Standish had the money to fund all the research needed to achieve the goal, but Westerbrook wondered if there was anyone who had the level of expertise in the field that he did.
He doubted it; most of what any other scientist knew about the field came from what he had taught them. What he hadn’t taught them, though – what he had kept to himself throughout his time at CryoState – was his opinion that the science could be applied to living subjects.
Ethically, there was no avenue to pursue such an inquiry. Even if some poor soul had volunteered to be “frozen alive” in the interest of science, Westerbrook wouldn’t or couldn’t do such a thing. Science came first in almost anything, but not at the expense of another person possibly giving their life for it.
But what if he did it to himself? Instead of Patient 47 in “The Works,” what if he was Patient Zero in what he called “The Quest?”
In this extreme version of “The Works,” the subject would be given general anesthesia and then be placed in cryogenic sleep for a period of time chosen by the subject. While those in traditional cryogenics had already died in hopes of being artificially brought back to life, those in “The Quest” would be very much alive when frozen, and kept that way until such time they wanted to return.
Westerbrook often bemoaned the state of the world, one in which knowledge had never been easier to obtain but somehow always seemed to be buried under misinformation, hate and stupidity. When he began studying the concept of cryosleep, he knew one of its greatest uses could be allowing someone to, in effect, travel to the future. Years could go by without the subject ever realizing it, and once they emerged from their liquid nitrogen slumber it would be as though they had ventured to an entirely new era overnight.
It was a perfect plan for those optimistic enough to believe that a future world would be a better world, but it was also something that could serve as a means of escape. Perhaps someone bereaved or lonely in the present could get a fresh start after a few decades of sleep.
Considering what had been taken from him, perhaps Westerbrook was just that someone. No partner, no children and no close family members, he had so immersed himself into his work that it was his only real reason to exist. His company was gone, but his vision remained, and it was time to see it through.
A year had passed since CryoState Incorporated had become Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement, and as was the case with almost everything under the Standish umbrella, it had become a vulgar vanity project in which nothing tangible had been accomplished. For the bargain price of $1 million, the rich and powerful could reserve a spot in the “Standish Standout” wing of the facility, with the promise of not just immortality, but eternal wealth.
While in cryosleep their money would be invested in various Standish concerns, and once a “standout” had revived, they’d be rewarded with their riches. How this would happen, however, was a bit of a mystery.
Yes, Standish had hired most of Westerbrook’s top scientists, but over the course of 12 months he had also fired the vast majority them and strong-armed them into filing non-disclosure agreements. “Too many cooks spoil the soup,” Standish said when the layoffs were announced. “We don’t need all these people running around and getting in each other’s way.”
But what about the individuals already in storage? Many of them required round the clock observation, and that was no longer possible with the decreased staff. Not a problem – at least not for Standish. Although news that Beford and Ettinger were “no longer part of the program” failed to garner much media attention, the removal of Williams from the facility was something of a cause celebre.
“We told his estate we could keep storing him here for a substantial fee, but he wasn’t really part of our future plans so it’d be best if they just cut their losses,” Standish said at a press conference. “Look, the future of this company is for young, vibrant people to commit to the Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement, so when a new world is born, they can be ready to hit the ground running. Sure, Ted Williams was a great baseball player and a war hero, but he was already 83 when they brought him in here and he had been in failing health for years. It’s not like he was going to come out of cryosleep and win anymore batting titles or lead a bombing mission.”
Standish’s expulsion of Williams was cruel and crass, but it was also a story that lasted only a day or so. Soon, the media was back to writing about celebrity diet tips and the latest dust-up between pop stars. Once again, Standish had escaped scrutiny mostly unscathed. Yet while the megalomaniac continued to impose his will on a world that worshipped golden calves, Westerbrook had sunk nearly all of his $100 million into his own private cryogenics facility.
Two of the scientists who were laid off by Standish following the takeover – Dr. Mallory Jefferson and Dr. Akshay Kahn – were working full time for Westerbrook, and in 12 months they had not only upgraded “The Works” chambers, but had spent countless hours making “The Quest” pod operational.
While traditionally the containers used for “The Works” were tall and cylindrical and designed primarily to house the body and pulse oximeter to measure vital signs, “The Quest” was much different.
Constructed more like a small room, the cylinder was much wider and featured a window that allowed attending scientists to do full body monitoring 24/7. In addition, there were entry points allowing analysts and/or physicians to place their arms inside sterilized, form-fitting full arm gloves that were resistant to the internal elements. The gloves – which could withstand temperatures up to -200 degrees Celsius – allowed them to reach the subject and administer medicine or even perform invasive surgery if necessary.
But the biggest difference of all is that Westerbrook was convinced he had created an environment inside “The Quest” that would allow the body to drift into a coma-like state for years, decades … even centuries.
During Jefferson and Kahn’s time working with Westerbrook on this venture he had not told them that his plan was to personally pioneer his theory, but all that was about to change. “Mallory, Akshay …. I need to speak with you both,” said Westerbrook, walking into “The Works” wing where the doctors were performing system checks on the cylinders.
Both scientists smiled and sat down. “Sure, boss,” Mallory said. “What’s up?”
Westerbrook looked up at the ceiling, rubbed his chin with his right hand let out a long sigh. “Obviously, I was disappointed when Standish hired you away. You two had been with me for so long I felt like you’re family,” he said. “Well, families argue and fight but ultimately make up. And you’re both back in the fold, as far as I’m concerned. You know more about me than anyone, and there is absolutely no one I trust more with my life’s work. Standish – that charlatan – is a fraud and would never believe in what we’re doing.
“Unfortunately, he’s the billionaire. Because he owns politicians and a good portion of the media, he has the bully pulpit that we don’t have – never had, really. When anyone thinks of cryogenics they’ll think of him, and now he gets to define what was once ours. I don’t want that to happen, but I can’t stop it unless I do something that you might think desperate.”
Jefferson and Khan had long since stopped smiling, and were now concerned about their friend and mentor. “Tillman,” Khan said. “We don’t need Standish for anything. With the money you got from him, we’ve been able to build all this. This is where your dream – our dream – is now, not there. This is the place for real research … real advancement, not what used to be CryoState. He’s turned that place into a sideshow attraction.”
Westerbrook shook his head. “Agreed,” he said. “But you see, it doesn’t matter. If he knew we were doing this, he would crush it. Men like him – men who want power for the sake of power – will do anything and everything to maintain it. If he found out that we had made greater advancements than him, which we have, he’d send a goon squad after us.
“There might be a massive outage to our power grid, or a fire that destroys everything. One or all of us might wind up in a freak accident. I would put nothing past him, which is why what we do has to remain a secret. And why you have to let me do what I’m about to propose.”
Jefferson and Kahn looked at Westerbrook with a mixture of concern and curiosity, waiting for him to explain. “I want to initiate “The Quest” project immediately, with me serving as Patient Zero,” Westerbrook said. “I think we’ve done enough in the past year to make it worth the risk. I think I can go in alive and come out alive. And if I can, we’ll have opened an entire new avenue of the human experience.”
Kahn was speechless, while Jefferson couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “This is crazy, Tillman,” she said. “Complete madness. Yes, we’ve made remarkable progress on ‘The Quest’ – unbelievable progress – but what you’re doing is offering yourself up as a human sacrifice. You above anyone else realize how unethical that would be.”
Much to the surprise of his partners, Westerbrook laughed. “Unethical?” he said. “What’s unethical? I’m not asking either of you to do it. I’d never ask anyone to do something like this. But this is my choice – my decision. Science is trial and error and experimentation, and I’m willing to risk myself to achieve our goals. It’s similar to assisted suicide – death with dignity. Well, this is life with dignity.”
Khan disagreed. “I thought we agreed that when it was time, we’d use a dog or cat that was set for euthanization,” he said. “At least in that situation you might possibly save a life. What you propose could possibly take a life – your own. To say I’m not at all comfortable with this is putting it mildly.”
Westerbrook was acutely aware that such extreme measures had never been considered before, but before there was never reason to believe CryoState would cease to exist as a true scientific entity. If it worked, he could go public with what was surely the greatest scientific breakthrough in the history of mankind. And once the world saw what had been accomplished, the Manfred Standish Center for Cryogenic Advancement would be obsolete.
“This is how we beat him,” Westerbrook explained. “We’ve spent all this time working so far under the radar that he doesn’t know we even exist anymore, and doesn’t care.
“We bring proof that cryosleep is not only possible but exists here and now – independent of Standish – and we can position ourselves to work with various governments and become part of their scientific research teams, making ‘The Quest’ universal in scope. And as vulgar as it sounds, it would be worth trillions of dollars. We’d be too big for him, which I’m sure would be a first for the great Manfred Standish.”
In theory, it was a sound plan. Standish had the ability to take over businesses, but taking over governments would prove far more difficult. And while the field of cryogenics required tremendous amounts of money, Westerbrook hoped this breakthrough would ultimately lead to cryosleep ultimately becoming common practice for anyone who wanted to participate.
“I appreciate your concern for me … truly I do,” Westerbrook said. “But my mind is made up. With or without you, I’m going forward with this. I’d love for you both to be a part of it – as scientists as well as friends – but I can do this alone if I have to – and I have to.”
While Westerbrook looked on, Jefferson and Kahn leaned into each other and began quietly conferring. At times the conversation rose above a whisper, and even became animated on occasion. Finally, the two rose together and approached Westerbrook.
“We’ve talked it over,” Jefferson said. “And really, it comes down to a quote by Lisa Randall. She says, ‘Speculation and the exploration of ideas beyond what we know with certainty are what lead to progress.’ So, we’ve decided to help you lead us to progress, even if it’s against our better judgment.”
Westerbrook felt a huge sense of relief, as well as gratitude. He had made a huge ask, and the faith his partners were showing by going along with his experiment made him feel he had made the correct decision. If he did go into the cryosleep chamber and it proved to be his coffin, he was fine with that.
“I didn’t know what you’d decide, but I’m eternally excited you agreed to help,” he said. “Now, let’s get started.”
Once placed inside “The Quest,” all that remained for Westerbrook was to relax and allow the IV containing the Midazolam to put him under. His instructions to Jefferson and Kahn were quite specific; set the reanimation clock for one month.
“And whatever you do,” he said. “Don’t let Standish find out about this.”
If he went in – and came out – that should be enough time to determine what kind of effects cryosleep might have on the subject. Based on his research, which never had the benefit of an actual living being, he was convinced there were would be short-term grogginess and possible memory loss.
However, once he was greeted by the attendants (who would provide him an update of who he was, where he was and what was happening), he could quickly reacclimate to the living world.
He really didn’t have to think about such matters, though. The “knockout drug” was administered at 11 a.m. Pacific Time on June 12, 2026. On July 12, 2026, he hoped to find out if his experiment had, indeed, been successful.
Westerbrook gasped for air, and once he was finally able to take a breath he immediately began coughing. His throat was raw, his head felt like it was in a vice, and his eyes were watering. Making matters worse, he was freezing.
He had no idea what was going on, and as he looked around, he saw absolutely nothing that looked even remotely familiar. There were no tables, no chairs – no equipment of any kind. And once he got his bearings, he realized he was sitting on a floor – so white it seemed to glow – and adorned in some sort of bluish, gel-like substance that covered him from his neck down to his feet.
The pounding in his head finally began to subside and slowly snippets of his memory began to come back. He was Dr. Tillman Westerbrook, and he worked in a lab. Not just a lab … he was a scientist who was involved with something extraordinary.
But what? He remembered others working with him – a man and woman – and he recalled looking at them as he began to drift off.
He was the founder CryoState … or what was once CryoState. He was trying to discover the next step in cryogenics, and he was the one willing to provide the leap. “The Quest” … it was called “The Quest.”
“It must be July,” he muttered. “A month must have passed? But where are Mallory and Akshay? And why am I alone in this room? And what is this gunk covering me?”
Westerbrook grabbed at his chest with his right hand to pull on the substance but when he did it was though it was liquid; it slipped right through his fingers.
Just as things had begun to clear up in his head, now he was starting to get confused again. This was not the room he designed. He wasn’t even sure he was in the laboratory.
He rose to his feet and looked for a door, but there was no door. Something was very, very wrong. “Help!” he shouted. “Mallory! Akshay! Anybody! Is anybody out there.
The walls – or what he thought were walls – appeared to crystalize before dissipating into a mist. Once gone, he found himself faced with a trio of silver figures that looked more like mannequins than human beings. They had no eyes, no nose … no defining features of any kind. They did however move, leading Westerbrook to believe they were some kind of artificial intelligence.
“I don’t know who you are, what you are or what’s going on,” he said. “But I can assume this is not July 12, 2026.”
The figure in the middle stepped forward, and its face transformed from blank with no characteristics at all to one with a nose and a mouth, as though made of mercury.
“Patient Zero,” it said in a calm, soft voice. “Today’s earth calendar is August 12, 3004. This is your 27th cryosleep trial with a time lapse of 47 years, six months, three days and 11 hours.
This will be your final procedure. The Jefferson-Khan Center for Cryogenic Advancement thanks you for your service and wishes you nothing but the best as you pursue other opportunities.”
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