“I can’t explain it,” the bewildered attendant said as she stepped up to Lisa and handed her several long curling strips of paper data tape. Pointing out the most recent entries in the minuscule symbols, she continued “These girls have rejected all our programming. This Mr. Flint of theirs?”
“Yes,” Lisa nodded. She had so far been the only member of the fashion consortium to actually meet the legendary Derek Flint; a tantalizingly fleeting encounter. “Yes — he can be quite an influence.”
Lisa recalled his confidence, poise, and dazzling smile. Several seconds passed in silence as her daydream played on. Realizing that her assistant was waiting for a reply; she returned reluctantly to reality with a tiny shake of her head and handed back the tapes. “As a matter of fact, he’s coming here right now and we must get them out of sight...”
She whispered a short series of instructions to the wide-eyed young worker who nodded, turned, and retreated the way she had come. To the sound of receding footsteps, Lisa recalled the lingering dream and tried to convince herself that Flint had not gotten to her, too, as he had with so many others.
Unaware of the chilling intrigue surrounding their junket, Flint’s three lovely secretary/companions lounged at pool side, sipping cool tropical drinks as a flock of uniformed spa attendants fluttered about them like hummingbirds; dispensing magazines, adjusting the oversize beehive hair dryers, performing manicures and pedicures. The girls simply basked in the constant flurry of attention, pausing every now and then to flip a page in a magazine or request a fresh cocktail.
To the resort workers there didn’t appear to be any reason why such beautiful women would come here to a facility which catered primarily to those who could only dream of attaining such glowing fitness. So far during the previous week the three had spent little time in the gym or exercise rooms. There was not a kilo out of place on their slender, curvaceous figures.
Accepting the saunas and mud baths capriciously, they spent most of their time swimming in the warm Caribbean waters or sunning ‘au naturale’ on the secluded beaches. Even now Flint’s ladies languished with cool nonchalance under the steamy driers that were persistently attempting (and failing) to imprint them with the consortium’s own visions of Paradise.
They continued wearing the clear plastic smocks from the stylist over their crisp white lace bikinis and golden tans. Each was stunningly attractive in her own way. Elizabeth had short black hair, green eyes, and was smaller and more voluptuous than either Simone, the sleek blue-eyed ash blonde or Anna, a leggy vivacious redhead. They each seemed to radiate vitality as they discussed the upcoming trip to Rio that would cap off their holiday. Flint was arriving at the resort to join them on his way back from desert survival training in the Sahara.
The young attendant who had spoken to Lisa now returned, trailing behind her a stern-looking supervisor. Dismissed by older woman’s terse signal, the remaining attendants quickly packed up their kits and fluttered off. Other resort workers, uniformed in the same chic powder-blue tunics, white ski pants and short boots as the attendants, arrived to help the three preoccupied guests disentangle themselves from the machines.
“There...” the supervisor said; taking Simone’s unfinished drink from her and placing it aside, “...just one more session and you’ll be through for the day.” She pointed out the way and then walked ahead, tracing a path beside an azure indoor pool and along a terra-cotta tiled corridor.
Flint’s girls followed, still in curlers, as they were escorted onward. Past the gymnasium; past the saunas. The clicks of their high-heeled sandals echoed crisply on the hard tile floor as they entered a part of the building they had never seen before. Without being noticed, several more attendants arrived behind the girls, boxing them in.
Anna tugged absentmindedly at a bobby pin as she looked about, wondering where they might be going. She had removed a few of the bulky curlers herself and was holding them in one hand as she fluffed out her new coppery curls. They had reached the end of the corridor, entering a vaulted mezzanine via a wide balcony. The room below was decorated entirely in white. Following the encircling wrought-iron rail, the group descended a broad flight of polished marble stairs.
The tall Amazon attendants had swiftly moved up so that they flanked each one of the three unsuspecting ladies. Anna turned and remarked offhandedly to the worker beside her, “Well, I hope at least this one will be cool.” She was thinking of a refreshing mineral bath. They had just reached the foot of the stairs. To one side was a white and chrome grand piano upon which rested an alabaster candelabra.
“Oh, you’ll just love it,” returned the attendant in a voice that dripped with sarcasm. As if on cue, the attendants abruptly took hold of the girls’ arms and began steering them toward white, sterile-looking sliding doors with tall narrow wired-glass insert panels. Opulent floral arrangements of white chrysanthemums and fern sprays had been placed to either side of the austere portal.
An etched plate glass mirror in an antique gilded frame to one side of the entrance proclaimed in milky Gothic letters: Eternity Now
“Oh, No! That’s the Cryobiology Lab!!” Elizabeth gasped as she suddenly realized where that particular doorway led. They had heard wild rumors about some outlandishly experimental preservation techniques when they first arrived; but had not believed them – then. Almost as one, she and Flint’s other two assistants frantically started to twist free. “Let me go;” Elizabeth cried, discarding her curlers.
But their captors were ready. The squad slowed momentarily before more attendants came up to overpower the three slim but surprisingly muscular young women. The supervisor activated a touchplate at the entrance and the doors parted with a pneumatic hiss. A draft of chill air invaded the white marble room. They marched inward. Simone was the first to cross the threshold, followed by Anna and then Elizabeth.Within, the stone floor gave way to smooth white plastic tiles. Built into the walls on either side of a wide, brightly lit central passage were rows of tall rectangular compartments framed in gleaming chromed metal. All were now darkened and empty. Each was a little bit taller than a shower stall but fully enclosed in thick glass. The tops of the chambers slanted upward into the low ceiling, blending in seamlessly.
The rear walls and floor were polished stainless steel. There were flush fitting glass doors on the front of every cubicle that opened a half-step up from the floor. On each door was a small plaque with the resort’s hand mirror emblem and spaces for a name and date to be entered. Other identical corridors branched off into dimly glimpsed hallways where the reflections of additional cabinet rows could be barely seen. The overall extent of the repository was enormous.
Echoes chased among the shadows. Plucky flower groupings and antique paintings had been placed along the boundary of the chambered room in an attempt to soften the stark, high-tech decor. At the far end of the entry corridor a small Lalique glass statue on a pedestal was framed by a shaft of light, looking as if it were carved from solid ice. Over to one corner, a frosty Dewar gushed a sheet of fog across the shiny tile floor.
Anna glanced around frantically as she was pushed along the aisle, her heels sliding on the slick white surface. “No, don’t. Please. Don’t put us in there!” Her cries, and those of the other girls, fell on uncaring ears. They had reached the far end of the first row, where the attendants were opening the last three cubicle doors. The lights inside had already begun to glow slightly brighter; eternity seemed to beckon.
“Please, NOO! Not in there...”
“Oh, yes, you are!” the resolute attendant retorted.The Amazon holding Elizabeth half pushed, half threw her into the opened cryostorage unit, slamming the gasketted door shut before she could turn and resist. Once the peripheral latches had snicked home, the chamber could not be opened from the inside. There was no handle. During their struggle down the corridor, the three had exchanged places. Anna, the redhead, was farthest from the entrance, followed by Elizabeth and, finally Simone – who had originally been the first to enter. The girls rebelled against their abrupt imprisonment, hammering on the heavy thermopane with their fists, trying in vain to reach those who had abducted them.
On the other side of the double-insulated glass only a faint tapping filtered through to the unconcerned attendants who were straightening their rumpled uniforms. Without casting so much as a glance at the three encased young women, they formed a line two-up and marched out like the seasoned assault troops that in reality they were.
Simone and the other two continued to batter on the glass and stamp on the floor, more out of frustration and fear than anything else. The entry corridor was now empty and the walls were heavily insulated. Looking briefly around inside the small compartment, Anna saw that it was not completely bare. Rows of tiny nozzles, like miniature shower heads, projected at intervals from the corners of the rear wall. More sprayers were located at the ceiling around the glow-plate or were recessed into a metal floor which was decorated by a circular pattern of narrow slots.
Corsages of white roses and ferns ensconced in the rear corners of each chamber were the only ornamentation. They looked fresh; she wondered for a moment why anyone would bother. Then Simone realized that if the hearsay were genuinely true she herself might soon become another, more permanent, variety of decoration here.
Only two attendants remained, the one who had spoken with Lisa and her supervisor. The older one reached across to the control panel at the entry and pressed three small switches. Above each a pale yellow indicator lit. Leaning back, she looked into the cryostorage room and waited for the automatic staging machinery to perform its efficient functions.
Elizabeth glanced about quickly as a hissing sound intruded upon the muffled thumps from her fists. A colorless gas was spraying from the nozzles above her, forming a cloud about her sweat-flecked body. Her very breath began to condense, adding to the fog; it had suddenly become extremely cold. The glass walls around her began to mist up. To either side she could see her companions becoming similarly veiled. The gas spray increased in its intensity, seeming to get impossibly colder still, as other nozzles activated . She tried to ignore it and continue her assault on the unyielding glass, unaware that a thin sheet of ice was already starting to encrust the condensed mists at her feet..
“I hated to do that. They’re nice,” the younger attendant said as she watched the scene progress. Five seconds had passed. The misted glass had just begun to crystallize into a frosty translucent curtain, partially obscuring the figures inside. The tapping sounds were becoming fainter. She suppressed an involuntary shiver and continued, “It’s a pity they’re so hard to convince...”
The frigid gas sprayed against Anna from every direction as she continued to whirl about, trying to find the key to her freedom. She had already given up on the impervious rear wall and now had shifted her attention to leaving a message, a word maybe, scraped in the rime covered door of her glass prison.
She started to move toward it, but everything was surreal, as if she were trapped in a dream turned chillingly true. Out of the corner of one eye she saw the hazy form of Elizabeth in the next cubicle as she reached out upon tip-toe to strike the glass; then slow and freeze in her tracks just before touching it. Incredibly, she remained completely motionless.
Anna then realized, reaching out through the sub-zero fog, that she could not feel her hands any longer. Numbness was creeping up her outstretched arms with every passing moment. For some reason she had held onto one of her hair curlers; now she could not release it from her grasp. Must keep moving, she thought, and tried to shift again. But the torrent of gas and the bitter cold were winning. Her long, shapely legs were stiffening into their final position – her shoes had already frozen solid to the slotted metal floor. Anna’s last visible action was to slowly twist about her slender waist while the thin plastic salon cloak she wore crackled like cellophane in the relentlessly cold gas stream..
“It’s that Mr. Flint of theirs,” the supervisor said. “He must be a hypnotist, or something.” The (brainwash and) driers had worked as intended on her mind; the imprinted ideas and philosophy of the consortium were shaping her words. Strong women should never serve men. She was going to be a leader.
“Does it ever make you wonder,” the younger one mused, “when you see how girls like that feel?” She angled her head toward the chambers, where barely ten seconds had passed since the switches were pressed. Doubts were forming in her mind though, pushing back against the deep conditioning. Those women were happy to have Flint as their boss, their friend. And more?
Her chief did not answer directly but paused to take a measured look back at the frost cloaked chambers and the rigid, shapely forms occupying them.
I’m losing, Anna thought. She could no longer feel the refrigerant gas as it swirled freely around her immobilized body. Perspiration and mist had sheathed her skin and hair, giving her statuesque figure a slightly glossy, almost painted, appearance as it picked up highlights from the overhead light panel. The numbness continued to claim her, but she was not conscious of it anymore. All around it was foggy. Her eyelids had remained open and were coated with delicate rime ice; each long eyelash glazed by tiny crystal shell.
An unvoiced NO! on her glistening parted lips, Anna gazed out upon arms she could no longer move, no longer feel. Still poised in her final, futile, assault on the walls of the windowed chamber, she was able to form one last thought before the cryogenic induction cycle was complete and all thoughts were suspended:
Simone, standing resolutely in the exact center of her chamber, had apparently given in calmly to her frosty fate as a timeless ornament. In her trim white bikini and high-heeled shoes, with the clear plastic smock covering but not concealing her lithe figure, she appeared poised like a mannequin in some avant-garde window display.
Elizabeth in the next cubicle was a graceful, but contrasting, study in arrested animation. Her activites had been suspended in mid-stride. One slender bronzed arm was raised; about to, but never able to, touch the glass door. The other angled away for balance, her outstretched hand reaching for a forever unreachable wall. A look of open-mouthed surprise was captured on her face.
The click-click-click of relays signalled the end of the fifteen-second cycle and brought the supervisor’s mind back to the question. She gazed one last time at the silhouettes in the frosty tableaux and saw not innocent young women who had become petrified pawns in a conflict they knew nothing of, but instead saw risky failures of a conditioning process that one day would have all of womankind thinking just the way that she did. She looked back at the younger attendant and said simply, “Forget it.”
Before turning away, the younger one suppressed a restlessness that had been building. If she started thinking on her own, she might end up suddenly stashed away just like they had been, quick-frozen in a stream of nitrogen gas. It was not an extremely glamorous reward for unguarded thoughts.
Without looking back again, she pressed the closure panel and walked off to resume her business, little knowing that she too would unwillingly join Flint’s ladies in that sub-zero gallery before the day was out. The outer doors merged and shut as the lights in the three occupied compartments simultaneously dimmed. Other automatic machinery activated itself to maintain the chamber temperatures constant and the occupants in perfectly suspended animation.
For an hour, a year, or an eternity.
Anna, Elizabeth, and Simone had had their last session for that day, and for many days to come.
A decidedly ‘cool one’ it had been, indeed.