MUTINY OF SHUTTLE X569
Monsieur Deparnasse was still bustling in his tiny underground laboratory on Rue de Grenelle, close to the Eiffel Tower. The air smelled of mold and welding. The twelve-square-meter room was packed with scraps, tools and iron bars. Patrique Deparnasse was a broke inventor who had just one dream: flying above the rooftops of his beloved Paris.
In 1927, the world was in an aircraft frenzy. After the solo no-stop flight of Charles Lindbergh, everybody wanted to test new technologies and new ways of developing flying machines. On May 21st, the French public greeted the American pilot with a huge crowd; there were more than a hundred and fifty thousand people at Le Bourget Airport.
That day, Deparnasse realized that he wanted to become like Lindbergh, a living hero beloved by everybody. He was neither a pilot nor an engineer, but he had a very vivid imagination and a huge thirst for knowledge, all mixed with a pinch of stubbornness and a twist of madness.
He had an average life, with an average wife and an average salary; he was the typical common worker, the next-door man. He was a high school math teacher, but he hated his job. He thought that he was just wasting time and bartering life for a fixed income.
The day after Lindbergh’s exploit was a sunny Sunday. Deparnasse went out for a walk; his soul was burning and he knew that on Monday, he was going to resign from his job – that was the day that he will become an inventor.
That night, he talked to his wife about his decision to resign, waiting for her support. But she wasn’t as open-minded as him; she was upset and said that he was just a deluded middle-aged man that wanted to feel young again. She even threatened to leave him. But Deparnasse didn’t care about her opinion, he was ready to quit his old life and begin a new adventure.
The next day he resigned, and asked for his final pay-check. It wasn’t much, but he could afford to rent a small space, and buy some tools and machines. When he came back home, he didn’t say anything to his wife. Deparnasse went upstairs, packed his clothes into a bag and went away, without a word to his wife. He was about to close the front door behind him when his wife started shouting the worst words he had ever heard in his whole life. He didn’t care about anything but his dream of being the first man flying above Paris, so he slammed that door; his old life laid forever behind that door.
The following days were really tough for Deparnasse. He had to sleep, eat and work in the same twelve-square-meter room. He was used to having a two-story house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big common area and a very nice kitchen. This wasn’t a home; it was more of a studio flat, but it was cheap. He spent all his money on a welder, a complete set of tools, hammers, wrenches, bolts, nuts – everything he needed to be an inventor.
“Where is that monkey wrench? I’ve left somewhere. Nobody comes here, so it can’t have just disappeared. I think I need a break, I’m talking with myself again.” Deparnasse was a very lonely man. He now spent all his days in that dark basement, like a mole in his den.
In that warm night in July, he decided to take a deep breath of fresh air. He walked down the street to the closest café, Le Moustache, and sat outside. He asked for a glass of red wine, a fresh salad and toast with cheese and tomatoes.
“Ah, could you please bring me a pencil?” Deparnasse asked the waitress as she wrote down his order.
“Here you are, monsieur.” The waitress handed him a spare pencil from her pocket. “Are you an artist? Do you want to sketch me? There are some artists in the neighborhood who are obsessed with drawing and drinking wine. They still think they live in the nineteenth century!”
“No, I’m not an artist, I’m an inventor,” he proudly replied.
“Oh, I’m impressed. This is the first time I’ve served an inventor. What kind of invention are you designing? I think you should invent a way of earning money without working.” The waitress laughed and went back to her duties.
“You silly girl, I’ll laugh when my inventions are sold all over the world and you’re still here waiting tables,” Deparnasse muttered.
“Excuse me, monsieur, I couldn’t help overhearing that you are an inventor,” a voice sounded right at Deparnasse’s back. He turned and saw a middle-aged man drinking a strange dark cocktail. The man was well-dressed, neatly shaved and had an ivory stick leaning next to his table.
“That’s right, monsieur. I’m an inventor and my name is Patrique Deparnasse.”
“Good evening, Monsieur Deparnasse. I’m Gerard Barret and I’m a trader.”
“Nice to meet you, Monsieur Barret. What kind of trader are you?”
“Gold, silver, sometimes copper. But I don’t like my work it’s very boring and without the slightest artistic value. I bet your job is much more interesting and exciting than mine, isn’t it?” He took a small silver box from his pocket, opened it, then pulled out a cigarette and a golden lighter.
“Do you smoke, Monsieur Deparnasse?” he asked, offering him the box.
“No, I don’t smoke, my lungs are already full of dust and mold.”
“What do you mean?”
“Unfortunately, my studio isn’t well-ventilated. But I’m going to move into a bigger one when I find a sponsor for my invention.”
“It’s so sad that a man with such a thrilling job doesn’t have the chance to work properly!” He fumbled in his inside pocket. “Here you are monsieur, that’s my card. Call me next week and let me know how much you need. I’d like to hear more about your brilliant idea too.” Monsieur Barret left some banknotes on the table, stood up, grabbed his stick and held his hand out. “I look forward to hearing from you, Monsieur Deparnasse.”
“Goodnight, Monsieur Barret.” Deparnasse shook his hand. Monsieur Barret limped into that warm night in Paris.
The next day, Deparnasse was absentmindedly drawing a sketch of a hot air balloon on Barret’s card. “He’s just a rich, cocky salesman who wants to steal my idea. I will never call him! I’ll find my money somewhere else.” He ripped up the card and walked out of the studio, searching for a breath of fresh air. Down the street, he found the same waitress cleaning the tables outside the café.
“Good morning, monsieur. Is your invention ready?” she laughed while wiping the chairs.
There is nothing to laugh about! Soon I’ll be the richest man here and I’ll be laughing at your stupid job, he thought, while crossing the road. The studio was near the Eiffel Tower, and Deparnasse loved to walk around the area when he was out of ideas. His favorite spot was a floating bar moored at Port Debilly, just under the Tower. It was quiet and had a very nice floating terrace on the river. Deparnasse ordered a cup of coffee and some madeleines, then began to scribble on a paper napkin.
“Hey Monsieur Deparnasse, long time no see, huh?” called a voice in the distance. It appeared to be coming from a bateau-mouche. “Over here, Monsieur Deparnasse!” Barret was waving his stick. Deparnasse waved back with a nervous grin on his face, but it was impossible to notice it from the boat. “Don’t forget to call me, monsieur! I’m so curious to hear what you’re working on.”
Deparnasse nodded with angry eyes. I would never call, you dirty thief.
Later that day, Deparnasse went back to his office to work on his biggest idea. He opened a blue folder on the table and analyzed his drawings. This was a new project for personal flying machinery that fit into a small bag on your back. The banks don’t understand how innovative this is! I just need more money.
Deparnasse’s thoughts were all focused on fundraising and how to find money before he was evicted from the studio. He sat on a stool and let his head fall into his hands, trying to figure out how to avoid his bankruptcy. He was lost and depressed about the idea of another failure, about the idea of going back to his wife and admitting that he was a loser without any skill or attitude. He had to do something, but what? A ray of light flooded into the basement from a small hatch and hit the metallic garbage bin that shone for a second, just the time needed to catch Deparnasse’s attention. He stood up and noticed the ripped business card inside; maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to call Barret after all.
“Hello, Monsieur Barret, it’s Patrique Deparnasse… Yes, the inventor… I’d be glad to show you my latest ideas... Yes, I understand… I see… Well, next Friday morning would be great… Me too. Goodbye.”
One second after the call, he felt relieved and full of a strange energy that had flown into his spine. “Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought. Maybe trusting people isn’t so bad after all.” He sat back on the stool, watching the dust dancing in mid-air, lit up by a single ray of light. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.
The week passed very quickly. Deparnasse worked every day until late to draw an accurate representation of his idea. On Friday, he woke up early to check his work one more time. Later that day, he arrived at Barret’s office – 45, Boulevard de Sébastopol. The office was in a very nice building, which had a dozen golden plaques near the entrance that named the different companies. “Here it is, Barret’s ImpExp, third floor.” The building had a brand-new lift made of bronze and wood, which even had staff inside to control the machine.
“Where are you going, monsieur?”
“Barret’s ImpExp, third floor, please.”
The lift wasn’t very fast, but it was smooth and made no noise at all.
“Third floor, monsieur. The last door on the right.”
“Thank you.” He walked out the elevator and turned right. A dark mahogany door was at the end of the landing. “Well, Deparnasse, it’s now or never,” He took a deep breath and rang the bell.
After five seconds, the door lock buzzed and somebody from inside shouted, “It’s open, come in.”
Deparnasse stepped into the office. The room was huge with a desk in the middle, a white door on the right and a wide window on the back wall.
“Good morning, mademoiselle. I’m Deparnasse, Barret is waiting for me,” he said to the young secretary who was reviewing documents behind the desk.
“Monsieur Barret will be ready shortly. Please have a seat,” she replied without even looking at him. The room had two small chairs on the left. Deparnasse sat there for fifteen minutes, thinking about what to say, what not to say, what part of the…
“Good morning, monsieur!” Barret emerged from his office. “Please come in and let’s talk business.”
“Good morning, Monsieur Barret.” Deparnasse got up from the chair and walked in. Barret closed the door behind them.
“Please take a seat.” Barret gestured at a dark brown wooden chair with a burgundy leather seat. “Would you like a drink? A cup of coffee? A sip of whisky?”
“I’m fine, monsieur. Maybe a glass of water would be great.” Deparnasse was stunned by the magnificence of the room. A gigantic wooden desk with a fine leather top sat in front of a full-height window with white frames. The hand-woven carpet was as smooth as silk; the walls were covered with books, trophies, certificates and paintings.
Barret grabbed the handle of his pristine black Bakelite personal phone and called the secretary. “Geraldine, a bottle of water with two glasses, some ice and three slices of lemon, please.” He hung up the phone and turned to Deparnasse.
“Well, monsieur – first of all, I’m sorry I kept you waiting but I had a few phone calls to make first. Now I’m all ears and eyes for your ideas! Please enlighten me with your visions.” He stretched on the armchair, waiting for Deparnasse to begin.
“I know you’re a busy man, so I won’t waste your time. I have brought my sketches for an innovative means of urban transport that will render obsolete horse-drawn carriages, cars, and any other kind of human transportation designed so far,” He lifted his worn briefcase onto his lap, then opened it and spread out some sheets on the desk. “This is the first model of PVA, Personal Vertical Airplane, and it allows anybody to fly anywhere. The concept is simple: instead of having a huge motor to lift an airplane, it’s easier to design a smaller motor for a single traveler.”
Deparnasse talked for almost fifteen minutes without a single break. He didn’t even notice when Geraldine entered the office and put a glass of water on the desk. It was as if he was possessed by some kind of spirit; he was very passionate about his idea.
“That’s why I think it’s the best way to move around in such a crowded city like Paris. It would also be perfect for New York, Istanbul, Boston, Tokyo – sky’s the limit, monsieur.”
Barret hadn’t said a word the whole time. Then he turned on his chair to stare at the windows. It was a bright day, with a light blue sky and no clouds at all. “Well, monsieur Deparnasse, I want to be honest with you. I didn’t understand any of the mechanics or physics of your concept, but I just fell in love with it. Write me a list of things that you need and come back next week to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I’ll sign you a cheque with the amount that you need and we will be partners. What do you think, Monsieur Deparnasse?” He slowly turned his chair back to his guest.
“I’ll be back next Monday with all the documents and a detailed estimate of costs, risks and revenues.” Deparnasse shook Barret hand, took a deep sip of water and rushed out of the office.
The whole weekend passed in the blink of an eye for Deparnasse. He prepared all the documents, data and a detailed business plan in less than three days. On Monday, he went back to the office with a bigger briefcase. This time, he didn’t wait a second in the reception. At 9:05am, Deparnasse and Barret signed their partnership agreement for prototyping, producing and selling the PVA. That day, at 45, Boulevard de Sébastopol, the Fuse Enterprise was officially founded.
In less than five years, an initial capital of twenty thousand francs turned into a fortune, and the PVA was sold all around the world. Deparnasse changed from being a broke inventor who lived in a wet and moldy basement, to becoming Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1935. The Fuse Enterprise survived even the Second World War.
Everything was shiny and wonderful for Deparnasse, until the winter of 1952 when he was in Tokyo for a promotion tour. He was at Nakatomo Ginkoo, the biggest Japanese bank, to sign a supply contract for the local police, when he passed out right after the deal. They believed that he was so excited by such a big occasion that he couldn’t handle the pressure. But the truth was far worse.
When he woke up, he was lying in a bed with a nurse sitting next to him. The room was white, and the rain, ticking against the windows, could be heard over the beeping of the machines attached to him.
“I’m sorry, nurse, but I don’t speak Japanese. No 日本語, I’m sorry.”
‘日本語’ was the only word that he had learnt during his tour.
“She asked how you are, Deparnasse-san.” The doctor walked towards him. He was a tall and slim young man, with dark black hair and a pair of tiny round glasses. “Deparnasse-san, you shouldn’t travel so much with your health,” he said, while reading Deparnasse’s medical report.
“What’s wrong with me, doctor? I’ve always had wonderful health! This is the first time in my life that I have ever passed out. I guess it’s the stress combined with the jet-lag, isn’t it, doctor?” Deparnasse tried to sit up in bed, but he was still too weak.
“Calm down, Deparnasse-san. You need to relax and to think about your future.”
“My future? Please, doctor, what’s going on here? What’s my condition? Is it serious?”
“Well, it’s deadly. But it’s slow and you have the chance to live up to five years without any suffering.”
Deparnasse blanched with terror. With a single statement, his life had stopped ticking. He felt like a falling glass and that discovery was a cold marble floor.
“How can that be possible? I’ve never noticed anything!”
“Maybe, as you said, the stress and jet-lag aggravated a previous illness that, until now, was silent but active.”
“What illness?” he asked, terrified by the answer.
“It’s a genetic disease that inhibits the production of hemoglobin. You will become weaker and weaker, because your red cells will stop transporting a sufficient amount of oxygen. That’s why you passed out.”
“Is there a cure? I’ve got a lot of money and I can afford any kind of treatment!”
“We will have a cure, of course.”
Deparnasse felt relieved and naively asked, “I want that cure! When it will be ready? I can pay any price for it!”
“It will be ready when we are able to cut strands of DNA and fix it. But I’m afraid that neither you nor myself are going to be alive when that happens.”
“So, it’s just a matter of time, you say. Am I right?”
“Yes, Deparnasse-san. We know what’s wrong with you and how the disease works, but we don’t have the right tools to fix it. Maybe in one hundred years, it might be possible.”
“I want to go home, please...” Deparnasse closed his eyes.
Four days later, he returned to Paris, but hadn’t told anyone about what had happened. Deparnasse decided to have a drink at the café where they met for the first time. Barret was late.
“Good evening, Patrique! I haven’t heard from you since before you left for Tokyo. Tell me everything. How many PVA were sold?”
“They bought sixty of them. If they like the product, they will supply it around all the main municipalities. But we have a problem. Or, at least, I have a problem.”
“What’s wrong, Patrique? Don’t scare me please,” Barret nervously asked.
“When I was in Tokyo, I passed out and they took me to the hospital. They discovered that I’m sick.”
“Oh my God, what is it?”
“It’s a DNA disease that can be cured.”
“Oh good, my friend! You had me worried to death. Please don’t make jokes like that.”
“It can be cured in the future – maybe in a hundred years or something like that.”
They both fell silent after that. Deparnasse looked relaxed. Perhaps he had started to accept the fact that he was going to die sooner than he had expected.
“We can’t just sit here waiting for you to die! We have a lot of money, I bet we can do something. Leave it to me,” Barret got up and shook his hand. “I’ll make some calls, don’t worry.” He walked away into the night. Deparnasse stayed at the café, drinking his red wine.
The very next day, Barret spent hours calling doctors, medics and surgeons, trying to find a cure for Deparnasse’s disease. But he did not have any good news for his partner; the only solution was a bit extreme and its success wasn’t guaranteed.
“Patrique, it’s Gerard... I’m fine, thanks. I have some news for you... Yes, I’ll be here until 4:00pm... Okay, I’ll wait for you. See you soon.”
Deparnasse rushed into Barret’s office like a tornado. “Tell me what you found! Tell me there’s something we can do. I can’t die this rich and famous!”
“My friend, please sit down. I’ve got a very old friend who is a Norwegian doctor, and he has an interesting idea. Basically, he was the only one who gave me a ‘solution’, if that’s what we want to call it.”
“Gerard, I don’t understand. Is there a solution or not?” Deparnasse couldn’t help but pace around the office. He moved like a tiger in a small cage.
“Well, the idea is to postpone your death and wait for better times, when science and technology are ready to treat your disease.”
“And how does your Norwegian friend think we can postpone my death?! Does he have a magic watch that he can use to pause me and wait until the future arrives?”
“That’s exactly what he has. He’s a time-wizard and he can stop time if he wants.”
“At this point, I’d try anything. I want to talk with that doctor, if he’s a real time wizard.”
Barret reached for his phone and dialed the number. After three minutes, somebody answered.
“Hello, Doctor Bokinen, it’s Gerard Barret... I’m fine, and you? Well, I’m here with my partner and he’s curious about your procedure... No, he didn’t know... Okay, just one moment please,” Barret passed the receiver to his friend. “He wants to explain his method. Take it.”
“Hello, Doctor Bokinen, I’m Patrique Deparnasse.”
“Hello, Mr. Deparnasse. I think we can fix your disease. Or at least we can try, but I need you to trust me. The treatment that I’d like to show you is still at an early stage of development and I can’t guarantee its success.” The doctor had a thick accent and a very calm voice.
“Doctor, I’m about to die, so I think I’m in a position to try anything possible. I can’t just quit now, after everything I’ve done so far. I must do something.”
“My idea is to slow down your aging, then wait until there is suitable technology to treat your disease.”
“Doctor, I’m sorry if I sound rude, but I’m not a clock that you can just pause, nor a piece of meat that you can freeze. Can you explain your treatment?” Deparnasse’s voice was trembling with anxiety.
“Well, Mr. Deparnasse, you have just explained my cryotherapy yourself – you are an actual piece of meat and I can freeze you in a big refrigerator. I hope that isn’t too blunt.”
Deparnasse wasn’t sure about what the doctor said; he was astonished by the image of his body refrigerated like a pound of beef. “Doctor, I don’t know what to think. I can just trust you and hope that you’re not going to kill me faster than the disease would.”
“Mr. Deparnasse, I can’t tell you that it is not risky, but waiting for your disease to kill you is definitely riskier. If you agree, I can prepare the documents for the treatment, and you can start the cryotherapy in three weeks.”
“Where are you going to freeze me?” Deparnasse imagined himself in an ice coffin in the middle of a huge steel room.
“I’m not technically freezing you, I’m just lowering your temperature in a controlled way that will create the effect of slowing your metabolism and inner clock. The treatment can’t be stopped, so we need a place with a controlled environment of 1° all year round.”
“We could build a chamber here. I’ve got the money and the right people to do that.”
“Mr. Deparnasse, your money can’t buy the unexpected. What happens if your room runs out of energy, due to a hypothetical black-out? Could your well-designed chamber be ready for electrical failure? I don’t think you can take that risk. That’s why you must come here, to Norway. We have the perfect environment that will provide you with the necessary temperature for about fifty thousand years.”
“How? What technology can last so long?”
“It’s the oldest technology in the world – nature. My cryogenic laboratory is an underground facility in the Svalbard Islands, and it could be your home for at least fifty years, if you want. It’s up to you.”
Deparnasse didn’t know what to say. He had to choose whether he wanted to live out the last years of his life waiting for his certain death, or risk his life now for a probable future reward.
“Doctor Bokinen, I’ll see you in three weeks in Oslo.”
Those weeks were the shortest of his life. He lived everyday knowing that it could be the last day of his entire life. He wandered around Paris like a tourist; he went to all the museums, cafés, restaurants and cabaret shows that he had never seen. It was the strangest period of his life, enjoying everything so much while sitting on the edge of the abyss. He spent his last day in Paris on board of a bateau-mouche, watching the city from the river.
“Goodbye, my dear Paris, I hope to visit you again in the future.” The boat slowly passed under the Pont de l’Archevêché, leaving a long trail in the water.
When he arrived in Oslo, the weather was horrible. The warm sun of Paris was replaced by thick gray Norwegian clouds. The temperature was chilly and he realized that he packed luggage for very different weather conditions. At the airport, there was a tall man in a black suit, holding a white sign with Deparnasse’s name on it. He didn’t say a single word for the whole trip from the airport to the harbor, where Doctor Bokinen was waiting for him.
“Welcome to Norway, Mr. Deparnasse. I’m glad to see you here.” Doctor Bokinen opened the door of the car and helped Deparnasse with his luggage. “How was your flight?”
“A bit of turbulence, but it was fine.” He stepped out the car and closed the door. “Doctor, what’s the plan? Are we going to take another flight to the Svalbards?”
“No, Mr. Deparnasse, we will go on a nice tour by boat,” Bokinen pointed at a huge white boat with a red cross on it. “That’s our ferry to the Svalbards.”
“But it’s more than two thousand kilometers away! It’s cold and dangerous, and I get seasick.”
“Mr. Deparnasse, we need to prepare you for cryosleep. It takes seven days, which is the exact duration of the journey by sea.”
“Why don’t we just do the treatment in the hospital, then we can just take a proper airplane?”
“Because, Mr. Deparnasse, the treatment is not quite legal yet. Our government doesn’t allow procedures that have not been tested by the national health authority.”
“That’s why the white boat with a red cross – it’s a floating private hospital!”
“Yes, it’s my private hospital. And in the middle of the ocean, I can provide any kind of treatment I want, limited only by international law.”
“I guess I just have to get on board. So, let’s get this started, Doctor!” Deparnasse stepped onto the footbridge and jumped into the boat. His journey was about to start.
“I’ll show you your cabin, follow me.” Doctor Bokinen led the way through an iron maze full of doors, hatches, handles and stairs. “Here is your cabin, Mr. Deparnasse. You can relax and unpack your luggage. We will set sail in fifteen minutes.” He put a hand in his pocket, searching for something. “Take this, it will reduce your sea-sickness.” He offered a yellowish round pill to Deparnasse.
“Thank you, Doctor, I hope it will help me sleep tonight.” He swallowed the pill like it was candy.
“Don’t be afraid, Mr. Deparnasse. You will be sleeping for years.” Bokinen stepped out of the cabin and closed the metal door.
Deparnasse already felt the first symptoms of seasickness. “I hope that damn pill works fast!”
He laid on his bed and stared at the white roof, thinking about Paris and his life before and after his success, until his thoughts slowly blurred and his eyelids grew heavier and heavier.
When he woke up, his seasickness was gone and his mouth had a strange plastic taste. He tried to get out of bed but his arms were weak and numb. That pill was very strong! I can barely feel my face!
The light was off and the room was dark and cold. He was thirsty and tried to get out of bed once again, but something was holding him back, like somebody strong was pushing him back on the bed. “Hey, Doctor Bokinen? I feel very weak. What the hell did you give me? Doctor?!” Deparnasse heard something odd in his voice; something close to an echo.
All of a sudden, a bright white light turned on. It was so strong that Deparnasse instinctively shut his eyes. When he slowly opened his eyes, he realized that there was some kind of fog in front of him, like the water that condenses inside a house when outside is very cold. He tried to touch the fog, but he couldn’t move at all. He finally understood that he wasn’t weak; his arms were tied to the bed, as well as his legs. “Hey, what’s wrong with you? Why did you tie me up? Is there anybody out there, for God’s sake?”
There were muffled noises coming from outside; he heard somebody talking. He heard some steps and ticking, then the distinctive sound of a door opening. The fog was everywhere and his sight was blurred. He turned his neck and saw a shadow coming out of the fog that was leaning over him. It was a tall man, but he didn’t recognize him. The man moved his fingers, as if he were typing something in mid-air, then the sound of a suction fan overwhelmed all the other sounds.
In less than five seconds, the fog was gone and Deparnasse could see what was going on: he wasn’t on the ship anymore. The tall man was hovering over him, dressed in a white coat; they were separated by glass. Deparnasse was lying in an iron capsule that resembled a coffin with a transparent roof.
“Doctor Bokinen, is that you? Can you please tell me if this is the experiment or not? And can you just let me go, PLEASE?!”
“He’s conscious. We can try now if you want, Dr.” The tall man was talking with another man behind him, then walked away as the glass was covered.
“Where the hell is Doctor Bokinen? I’ve got a terrible headache.”
“Relax, Alpha, you are–”
“Who’s Alpha? I’m not a dog! I’ve got a human name and it’s Patrique Deparnasse, the man who invented the PVA.”
“Inside the cryolab, there is no Patrique, Patrick, Path, Penrose. Nothing. Patients are just letters and you are Alpha, the first ever treated.”
“Treated? I was sleeping on a boat a couple of hours ago. It can’t be!”
“Alpha, you are in the Svalbard laboratory. You’ve been in treatment for the last…,” the tall man checked his watch, “two thousand, three hundred and seventy-six months.”
He had been asleep for almost two hundred years. He was in the future. “We’re in the twenty-second century? I can’t believe Doctor Bokinen did it! So, you woke me up to treat my disease, right?”
“You mean the Fork disease? As per your records, it was treated with an injection in 2035. The cure was discovered by John Arthur Fork, using a combination of nanomachinery and CRISPR techniques.”
“2035? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?”
“Because we didn’t have any authorization about your resuscitation procedure. Doctor Hendrij Bokinen started the project, but he died shortly after due to a car accident. The Svalbard Cryolabs were bought by a private Japanese health corporation that made billions out of the business. Cryosleep became popular among the wealthy and powerful people all over the world. The problem is that you are the first patient, right before the death of Doctor Bokinen and he didn’t manage your case properly. You didn’t sign any contract or authorization. That’s why you were only woken up in accordance with our automatic procedure, which means that your funds can no longer cover the cost of renting your place here. Please sign here.”
“Wait a second. That means that I’ve spent a hundred years in vain because I didn’t sign a contract? And now I’m broke, but healthy?”
“Well, yes, that’s your new reality right now. We have a two-week rehabilitation process to prepare you for your new life. You will find a completely new world out there, and it could be very shocking if you are not ready.”
“I don’t care about any rehab! I don’t wanna waste any more time here. I’ve got a life to redesign from scratch.” He signed the paper with his own name: Patrique Deparnasse.
“You should add ‘aka Alpha’ for the final validation.”
Deparnasse scrabbled the other name under his real one, then asked to go out and return to Paris. A man guided him through the facility to the main exit. “Go down the street and follow the sign for the docks. There will be a ship waiting for you, and they already have your luggage. Have a nice day.”
Deparnasse walked out of the building and followed the signs. But he wasn’t headed to the sea. After a couple of turns, he reached a huge circular area with the sign ‘DOCKS’ pointing at the empty center. “Maybe I’m just crazy and I’m still sleeping. Where the hell is the water?”
By the twenty-second century, ‘ship’ had become the general term for any commercial means of transportation – as Deparnasse discovered when he saw a flying machine land where the sign was pointing.
“This is a gigantic PVA system!” The ship landed. Then a steward appeared from the back door, asking for his documents. Deparnasse gave him his signed papers and then he got on board.
“Good morning, Mr. Deparnasse. From now on, you are authorized to use your real name except in the other Cryolab facilities. Here is the luggage that you brought with you, and this is the invoice for your stay here at Svalbards Cryolabs.”
The steward showed him to his seat. “Where are you going, Mr. Deparnasse?”
“There is a lot of traffic today in Northern Europe. We plan to land in Paris in sixty minutes.”
“Four thousand kilometers in sixty minutes?” Deparnasse asked, amazed.
“I know, Mr. Deparnasse, it’s fifteen minutes more than the average flight. But the traffic is chaotic today. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”
Deparnasse discovered that in the twenty-second century, planes had become more like rockets. In fifty-nine minutes, they reached a landing point ten kilometers away from Paris. “A cab is coming for you. Have a nice day, sir, and don’t forget your luggage.”
He grabbed his suitcase and stepped out of the ship. It quickly disappeared in the distance and a cab appeared on the horizon. It was a white bubble-shaped car that parked right in front of him. The door opened and a voice came from a speaker, “Welcome, sir. Please tell me where you want to go and I will be glad to take you there.” There was no driver on board.
This is the future and I don’t know if I’m ready to handle it. He jumped inside the car and the door closed without him even touching it. “I’d like to go to 24, Rue de Grenelle.” He fastened his seatbelt and the car started moving, heading to Paris.
He was curious to see all the differences, developments and modern lifestyle of his beloved Paris. The car approached the city and from the distance, there was a skyline of skyscrapers in the former area of La Défense.
Deparnasse leaned closer to the window and asked, “What are those skyscrapers?”
“This was historically the financial district. After financial deregulation, corporations chose to shift their headquarters to the Moon to obtain tax benefits. The district is now used for social housing.”
“Moon? There are cities on the Moon?”
“Cities are not allowed on the Moon. There are military outposts, mining companies, banks and all the embassies of the world.”
While he was approaching the city, he felt something strange about the new Paris. The buildings were exactly the same, as well as the bridges, the river and the parks. There were some new glass buildings here and there, and the Notre Dame had a strange shiny spire instead of its original one. But the city hadn’t changed that much. It seemed so strange that it had been much more crowded in his century; where did all the people go?
“24, Rue de Grenelle. Have a nice day, sir.”
Deparnasse finally reached his hometown after two centuries, but he wasn’t happy. He felt a strange void inside his soul that he couldn’t explain. The streets were deserted; the noise of the good old days was gone forever. The city seemed frozen, in a kind of cryosleep. He walked towards his old laboratory, but didn’t find anything except a small garden with a Tilia tree. The building had been demolished, and nobody had left a plaque or statue to commemorate the most famous French inventor of the twentieth century.
For the first time in his life, he was completely lost and alone in his city. He didn’t have a home, any friends, or anything to do – and he realized, while staring at the tree, that you can’t mock death without side effects. He didn’t know what to do, so he decided to walk. Two centuries ago, he was so famous that his main problem had been dodging people; but now his problem was finding anybody to talk to.
I’ll go to the Tower. There must be somebody there. He zigzagged through the streets, trying to find somebody until he saw an old man in the distance, sitting on a bench between the trees.
“Oh Lord, I’m not alone!” He ran towards the man waving his hand and trying not to lose his suitcase; the old man waved back with his stick.
“Good morning, Monsieur! I’m Patrique Deparnasse. Nice to meet you,” he smiled, holding out his hand.
“Good morning, friend. I’m Antoine, nice to meet you too.” The old man held out his stick.
Deparnasse shook his stick. Maybe this is the new way of greeting, he thought.
“Please, have a seat and enjoy this wonderful sun.” The old man patted the iron bench with his stick.
Deparnasse sat down and took a deep breath. “Monsieur Antoine, could you please help me? You’ll never believe me, but I’m telling the truth. I’ve just woken up from a cryosleep and I don’t know what’s going on here.”
“Oh, dear Patrique! I bet they told you that you didn’t sign any authorization, am I right?”
“Yes, they said exactly that How did you know?”
“Because that’s how they make all their money, everybody knows that. Didn’t you hire a cryolawyer?”
“Well, Antoine, I was the first to be frozen! I don’t think there were cryolawyers in my time.”
“The first? How old are you? Three hundred?”
“I was born in 1907, right here in Paris. It was so much livelier back then. I was the most important French inventor of my time, but less than two centuries later, nobody remembers my name. Even my laboratory has been demolished. I had so much power and money back then, but now I’m wandering like a homeless person and asking a complete stranger where all the people are. Antoine, what happened here?” Deparnasse’s hands were like columns, bearing his heavy head full of thoughts, paranoia and regrets.
“My friend, the tourism bubble exploded. That’s all.”
“A bubble? What are you talking about?”
“In 2095, for the first time in history, there were more tourists than citizens, who started to feel trapped in their own houses. The streets were always full of people taking pictures, buying souvenirs, eating food everywhere. It was impossible to celebrate mass in 85% of the churches because of all the noise and flashing cameras. The traffic was so intense; the public transportation system was collapsing. But tourists didn’t care about that discomfort; they were never in the city for more than a week. Paris was one of the richest cities in the world, producing almost 20% of the national GDP, but the citizens were exhausted by the state of things. Day by day, the inhabitants just left, moving to smaller cities around the capital. A lot of restaurants, art galleries and boutiques closed, and were all substituted by chains and malls. The image of Paris was compromised so much that it was impossible to find an authentic French experience in the whole city. In less than two decades, the beautiful French flower faded away. Today, it’s just the memento of mass society that, like a cancer, eats everything and leaves nothing but a desert.”
“So, how many people are living in Paris now?”
“Well, I guess roughly five thousand.”
Deparnasse completely lost his sense of space and time. He felt like he was floating in the air like a bubble. He couldn’t stand this anymore, the fact that reality had become a dystopian nightmare. He stood up from the bench, grabbed his suitcase, thanked his new friend and walked off under the warm Parisian sun, heading to where everything had started: 24, Rue de Grenelle.
The tree was still there, with its branches pointing at the sky and its roots deep in the soil that had once been his roof two centuries ago.
This future is even worse than my disease. I can’t just vanish like this; I was the most important French inventor of the century. I deserve to be remembered! He opened his suitcase and grabbed his razor. He couldn’t be forgotten like this, so he decided to turn the tree into his epitaph. He carved his last words into the bark: Here lived a great inventor, whose ideas contributed to bringing mankind from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. Patrique Picard Deparnasse 1907-2150.
He laid down next to the tree with both arms wide open, watering the Tilia tree with his own blood. For the first time in the last two centuries, Deparnasse was smiling.