Don’t Bother With Me
by William Quincy Belle
At the sound of the knock, Mr. Hobsworth stood up and walked around the desk. The door opened and Ms. Schneider stepped into the room. “Mr. Barkley is here to see you.” She moved aside and a distinguished man in a well-tailored suit walked forward.
“Mr. Barkley.” Hobsworth beamed as he held out his hand.
“I appreciate you coming over to see us.” He gestured to a leather armchair. “Please. Make yourself comfortable. May I offer you anything? Coffee? Tea? Water?”
“No, thank you. Kind of you.”
“That will be all, Ms. Schneider. Please ensure we’re not disturbed.”
“Yes, sir.” The woman backed out and pulled the door shut.
Hobsworth made his way back around the desk and sat down. “As you know, your family has been involved with our company for two generations. You represent the third.” He reached to one side and pulled a file folder across the desk until it was in front of him. He opened it and took hold of the first page of paper. “Alexander Barkley, age sixty-nine. Your birthday is tomorrow. We’re just in time to get the documentation signed.”
He set the page to one side and picked up the next two sheets. “Congratulations, by the way.” He turned the sheets around and pushed them across the desk to his visitor. Reaching out, he took one of the two pens from the mahogany holder with his nameplate and set it down in the middle of the first page. “If you would sign at the bottom of each page. Regulations state we must have two signed copies of official documents.” He smiled.
Barkley glanced down at the sheets but remained seated back in the chair. “I don’t want to do it.”
Hobsworth’s gaze darted around. “Pardon?”
“I don’t want to do it.”
Hobsworth’s smile disappeared. He looked down at the file folder and rubbed his chin. “I don’t understand. I thought this would be a mere formality. Your father and mother, your uncles and aunts, your cousins, I can’t think of anybody who has not wanted to continue what your grandfather started. All of your brothers and sisters have agreed in principle to do so when their time comes. Why would you not want to?”
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.”
“Are you concerned about the technology? I assure you we use the latest in slow programmable freezing. Coupled with our own patented vitrification process, we introduce only industry-standard cryoprotectants to ensure little or no cellular damage. Independent audits by the Cryonics Institute has rated our company number one in its field for three years in a row. Our cryopreservation is the best in the business.” Hobsworth nodded his head with a knowing smile. It was a compelling sales pitch.
“It’s not that.”
Hobsworth frowned. “What then?”
“I don’t think I deserve it.”
There was a moment of silence. “Why not?”
“Think about the greats: Albert Einstein, J.S. Bach, Leonardo da Vinci, all of them are remembered years, centuries after their deaths for outstanding achievements. What have I ever accomplished? What have I done that merits preservation? I should die and be forgotten; just another nameless face in the crowd of history.” He shook his head. “I don’t see that it matters. I don’t see that I matter. I’d rather not sign. I’d rather leave my spot for somebody else.”
“But your place has been reserved.”
“I feel this would be a waste: a waste of time and effort and a waste of money. The family estate will pay a fortune to preserve me and I’d say that money could be better spent elsewhere. Give it to charity.”
“Mr. Barkley, your grandfather was quite strict in setting up your family’s trust fund. I have no say in the matter; I’m obliged to follow his wishes.”
“I understand, Mr. Hobsworth, but I do have a say in the matter. It’s my life. I have free will, and I have rights. It is my intention to exercise both that will and those rights and do what I feel is best for me. I’ve done my time, and I’ll be satisfied with just that. I don’t want to wake up hundreds of years from now, obliged to start all over again. It doesn’t strike me as natural.”
Hobsworth sat with both elbows on the armrests holding his hands in front almost in a position of prayer. He tapped his index fingers together. “Are you sure I can’t say anything to persuade you?”
“I appreciate your interest, but my mind is made up. I know this makes me an outcast in my family, the black sheep as it were. However, I feel strongly about this, and I’m determined not to veer from my course.”
The two men sat staring at one another. Finally, Hobsworth raised a hand to his mouth and cleared his throat. He stood up. “Mr. Barkley, it was good of you to come in today.” He smiled and stuck out his hand.
Barkley stood up and shook his hand. “Thank you. Thank you for understanding.”
“Ms. Schneider!” Hobsworth leaned forward as he called out.
The door opened. “Yes, sir?”
“Would you be so kind as to accompany Mr. Barkley out?”
“Yes, sir.” Ms. Schneider stood to one side and gestured to the open doorway. “Mr. Barkley, shall we?”
Barkley walked to the door and turned around. “Thank you again, Mr. Hobsworth.”
“A good day to you, sir.”
Ms. Schneider looked back with a raised eyebrow then stepped into the hall and closed the door.
Hobsworth picked up his phone and punched in a three-digit extension. He surveyed the papers on his desk. “Mr. McNaughton, we have a situation. Are you and your team ready?” He wound a finger around the telephone cord. “I did my best, but he wouldn’t go for it. We have no other choice. He’ll be out front in a minute or two.” He let go of the cord. “Thanks.” He hung up the phone.
Standing over his desk, he massaged his temple. He picked up the first sheet of paper and stared at it. “Ms. Schneider!” He set down the sheet as hurried steps sounded in the hall.
The door opened and Ms. Schneider stuck her head in the office. “Did you call, Mr. Hobsworth?”
“Come in. He wouldn’t sign, so I want you to take his documents over to the copy department and have them prepared.”
“Did you phone the Implementation Department?”
“Everything’s been arranged.” He walked over to the window. “See for yourself.”
She came over to the window and the two of them looked down from the second story into the street. “It’s a shame really, but rules are rules,” she said.
He sighed. “Yes. Grandpa Barkley was adamant about it.”
They watched Barkley exit the building and walk down the street. He arrived at the corner and waited to cross the street. The traffic was moderate in both directions.
A large truck lumbered into view on an empty side street. As it arrived at the cross street, it did not slow coming up to the stop sign. It bore into the street between two vehicles in the first lane and ploughed straight into the front side of a large automobile. The force of the impact pushed the car toward the sidewalk, and its forward motion carried it up over the curb. It slammed into Barkley and drove him against a lamppost.
The post wobbled and looked as if it would fall over onto the automobile, but it remained upright, swinging back and forth. Barkley flopped over the hood of the car, his body crushed between the bumper and the pole. There could be no doubt he was dead.
“Follow up with Implementation. The rescue workers should be here in the next five minutes and have him whisked off to the hospital forthwith. I want them to be there with the proper documents to get the body released as soon as possible. I’m sure the police will finish up quickly; I expect no hold-up there.”
Ms. Schneider glanced between Hobsworth and the street. “I guess the body is a write-off.”
“Yes, we’ll only freeze the head. Grandpa Barkley wanted the complete person, however he did account for the possibility some may suffer an accident which would make such a thing unfeasible.”
“I’m still not sure I understand this roundabout way of cryopreserving all members of the family.”
“Old man Barkley firmly believed in giving everybody a chance to make the right choice. And in saying that, let’s not forget that the right choice was his choice. Not everybody had the smarts to see his brilliance, so he merely helped them along. He loved Roosevelt’s line of “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If talking didn’t work, he was prepared to back up his words with whatever was necessary.”
“Barkley was an atheist, but this technology turned him into a believer of sorts in an afterlife. Not a religious afterlife, but a chance at some time in the future of curing all ills and prolonging our existence.
“On top of it, he thought to turn his idea into a business. He purchased this company and turned it into his personal concern. He wanted the opportunity to wake up sometime in the future, and he wanted to ensure the company would carry on as long as possible.
“In setting up the family trust to continue after his death, he stipulated that all members of the family had to become a customer; all of them had to be cryopreserved. The revenue of the family members add to the income of the company that guarantees it remains profitable.
“Those profits go to the major stakeholder, the family trust, which in turn uses the money to support the members of the family including their cryopreservation.”
He smiled. “It was all his way of making sure that everything would tick along uninterrupted during his absence. He could be certain that at some point in the future, a hundred years from now, two hundred or three, he would open his eyes in a hospital bed with a doctor welcoming him to a new and wonderful life, an extension of his first life.”
She pursed her lips. “I don’t know. It all seems farfetched to me.”
“Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die; cryopreserved, that is.” He chuckled. “The old man had calculated both revenue and expenses hundreds of years into the future and couldn’t afford to have one member of the family opt out of the plan. He didn’t want anybody to risk his chance of coming back to life.” He turned back to his desk and put the various sheets together in the folder. “Would you see to it that Mr. Barkley’s file is properly updated?”
“By all means.”
“What’s next on the agenda for this afternoon?”
“You have a conference call with Morgan Chemicals in California at two o’clock. The shop has raised some issues with the latest batch of cryoprotectants. At 2:30, you are supposed to meet with Mr. Johnson, of Accounting, to run over this month’s reconciliation.
“Finally, at 4:00 pm, you have an appointment here in your office with Mrs. Stapleton. Her husband came to us two years ago, and she’s finally decided she’d like to join him.”
“Thank you.” He smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get to work, Ms. Schneider. The future isn’t going to happen all by itself.”
Copyright © 2016 by William Quincy Belle