“The Basement”

Jared Fostveit

All rights reserved by the author

 

 

“Congratulations, Class of 2002!” exclaimed President Engraham, from behind the podium. This was only the second time I had seen the man, the first being at orientation. I worked so hard to get to this point and now, finally, I had graduated from Medical School. I could finally get out into the workforce and put to use my eight years of education from the University of South Carolina. The problem was I would have to leave everyone behind in S.C. to make it in my new profession.

“I’m really going to miss you Rob!” This, the only thing my mother could squeak out between the tears and sobbing the day I left for New York. Growing up, it was just mom and me. No father figure; he had left when I was five. No other brothers or sisters. Just the two of us. But the time had come; I needed to start the rest of my life. And I was going to do that with my new job in New York.

I said goodbye to Mom and walked through the terminal towards Gate 14, where my plane would leave. I was pretty nervous, since this was the first time I had ever flown. Growing up, I had never left my little hometown in S.C. I went through security and found my seat on the plane, a window seat next to a very pretty woman named Leah.

  _____________________________

Luckily, when I departed from the plane in New York, I saw a man holding a sign that had “ROB GREENE” printed on it. Otherwise I would have walked around the huge complex for hours and wouldn’t have ever figured out where to go. I walked directly to him and let him know that I was the man he was waiting for. He introduced himself as Alan Barber, President of the “Life and Life After Death” Corporation, the company that I would now be working with.

“How was the flight?” my new boss questioned.

“All right. I met a really nice woman; her name was Leah. Too bad she was on her way home to Cleveland. I doubt I’ll have time for any women with my new job and all anyways.”

“You’re a smart man, Rob. We work extremely long, excruciating hours here. We are really trying to do the world some good, that’s why we work such crazy hours, discovering cures for diseases that are killing people everyday. You will work six days a week, 7 am to 8 pm each day, some days in the lab, others in your office. But we’ll discuss the details more when we get to the office.”

Alan had a limo waiting for us in the parking lot, which first took us by the new apartment the company had found for me. I dropped off everything I owned, everything I could fit on the plane, and then we walked to the research facility, which was just two blocks away.

                        ­_______________________________

“Well, here we are. This is the building where you’ll spend the majority of your life from now on,” Alan instructed me. “Welcome to ‘Life and Life After Death.’ Let me show you around.”

The building was one of the largest, most prestigious buildings in New York; it had thirteen stories, fifteen offices per floor and a large lab on alternating levels. As we walked around, Alan began telling me the history behind the building and the company. He introduced me to each and every person in the building. That could be a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it anyways. Alan told me that I was the youngest employee ever hired, at the age of 26, by the corporation. Apparently he had a feeling that I would do something great one day, and wanted to get a hold of me before anyone else had a chance.

“And here it is, this is your office.” Alan said as he pointed into a small hole in the wall. The walls were empty and the desk was clear. I had two chairs and a filing cabinet. I don’t think anything else would fit in there as it was.

“Did I mention I was claustrophobic?” I added sarcastically.

“Well Rob,” Alan began, “the way we work around here is only the most productive make it, and those that don’t do anything don’t. So, if you work hard and put in the hours and get your job done, you’ll move up in this industry real fast.”

As we came to the end of the hall on floor 13, after walking through and talking to every person in the large structure standing below our feet, we decided to take the elevator down to the lobby. Alan wanted to let me get settled into the apartment and see some of the city before overloading me in work.

“Oh, one more thing, Rob,” Alan said as we rode downward in the elevator as if he had forgotten, “see the B-button here? It’s for the basement. Do not go there, it is off limits. You can’t get there without one of these keys,” as he held up his set, pointing to the key with the orange stripe of tape around it and the keyhole next to the B-button. “Special research is being done down there, and only a select few have access to the area.”

“Here’s your stop, Rob.” Alan said as we reached the first floor of the building. “Go back to your place, get settled in, and enjoy the rest of the day. I’ll see you at 7:00 tomorrow morning. If you need anything, here’s my number,” he said as he handed me a card that included his home, office and cell phone number on it.

                        _______________________________

            I was startled when my alarm clock forced me out of bed at 6 am. Today was the day that I would begin my first real job. I showered, put on some clothes, grabbed some breakfast, and headed out the door for my two-block journey to my new life. For the next three months, nothing changed. My routine became so rigid that some days I would wake up without the alarm. I would get to the office promptly at 6:45, work all morning, take an hour break for lunch, work all afternoon, and stay until 9:30. I wanted to make sure there was no doubts about what “this young kid” could get done in the scientific research industry. Apparently, Alan had noticed all the hard work I was putting in, for he promoted me twice, each time getting me a larger and larger office to work in. Every time I would ride the elevator, I would always look at the B-button and wonder what was really going on down there. I had been working there for three months and the curiosity was building each time I entered the elevator. Finally one day, I couldn’t take it any longer. I would get into that basement, and I would find out what was being done down there.

                                   ______________________________

“Knock, knock,” I rattled on Alan’s office door.

“Come in. Oh, hey Rob. What’s on your mind?” was his response when he realized it was me who had walked in.

“Hey, Alan, I was wondering if I could get my hands on all the research files from last week,” knowing full well that the files were stored down the hall in the storage room. “I was just thinking about some things, and I might be on to something.”

“Really,” Alan piped up excitedly, “sure, let me go get them.”

As Alan walked out of the office, I quickly and swiftly opened his top drawer of his desk and removed the only key on the key chain that was wrapped in a piece of orange tape. I would just need to hope that Alan didn’t want to go down there the rest of the day. I planned to return it the following day.

“Here they are.” Alan said as he handed me a stack of files from the previous week’s work.

I thanked him and headed back to my office, now on the fourth floor, a nice spacey, corner suite.

                        ______________________________

Through a string of conversations at the office, I had acquired the knowledge that the men working in the basement had the night shift off, with no other shift relieving them. It would be empty, hopefully, as long as no one had any unexpected plans of being there. I left my apartment at precisely 2:30 am, a Thursday morning, dressed exactly as if I was about to walk up to my office and do more work. I had become known as a workaholic, so no one would be curious of my abnormal working hours and habits.

“Hey Rob, isn’t it a little late for you to be working?” questioned Joe, the security guard that stood beside the only entrance to the building.

“Well, yeah. But, I was in the shower, and got thinking about some stuff that I’m working on and it hit me. I had to come over and get to work on it right away. Have a good night, Joe.” I left him standing there possibly envious, but definitely not curious.

I walked through the lobby, and headed directly for the elevator. Once inside, I pulled out the key I had borrowed from Alan and inserted it into the keyhole beside the B-button, hoping that no one would be watching me on any security cameras or keeping track of elevator usage. I stood there for a second, contemplating my options before my curiosity got the best of me and forced me to push the button sending the elevator plummeting towards the underground lair.

The elevator doors opened and much to my approval, not a person could be seen. The lights were off; the burrow appeared to be deserted. I searched the nearest wall until I found a light switch, which illuminated the entire area. I had no idea what I was looking at, but there were several large, metallic cylinders along the back wall. I assumed whatever was being done down there, whatever “research” was being looked at, must have been illegal. Again my curiosity took over, as I walked to them and searched for answers. When I didn’t discover anything that struck me as important, I decided to just look inside, see what was really going on. When I finally determined how to open the lid, I immediately wished I hadn’t. I jumped back, startled, and tried to calm down as I adjusted to what I had just seen. A body was inside that big tube. It was drowned in a liquid that filled the tank. Later, I found that it was liquid nitrogen that the body was stored in. Initially, I almost turned and just left then. But on second thought, I decided that since I had seen what it was, I should know why the bodies were there. I almost reached inside to touch it, but then quickly changed my mind. After a solid forty-five minutes of searching I came across a book, which described everything perfectly. I thought it best to take the book back to my apartment, rather than standing in an area that was off-limits to me and most everyone else.

                        ______________________________

The book was entitled Cryonics and it had a picture of a cylindrical, metal tube similar to those I had seen in the basement. I didn’t recognize the word, which I initially found disturbing since I had just finished eight years of studying everything there was to the industry. I was compelled to open the book, and this is what I found:

“Cryonics- simply, it is the freezing and storing of a recently deceased human body with the plan to bring it back someday and fix the problem that killed it in the first place. The procedure begins when a ‘soon to be dead’ patient, or someone in the patient’s family contacts the “Life and Life After Death” Foundation. A response team is then sent out to wait for the patient to become deceased. Immediately following the doctor’s announcement of death, the team will pack the body in ice, lowering the body temperature and pump it full of anti-coagulants to prevent the blood from clotting. After the company ships the body to its facility, technicians will drain all fluids out of the body and inject chemicals, primarily glycerol, which prevents ice crystals from forming among the cells. The technicians then place the body in a “dewar,” a vacuum-insulated, metallic cylinder used for storage. The tube is then filled with liquid nitrogen, which further lowers the temperature to approximately –196 degrees Celsius. Now, the body is ready to wait for years to come, someday to be revived and to live on. The liquid nitrogen is used because it is inexpensive and reliable, and needs to be replenished every few weeks. The body is stored upside down, in case of emergency; the head would be the last to thaw.”

After reading the book there was only one thing that ran through my head, “This must be illegal!” So, I called the only person I thought could help.                                             

                        ______________________________

“Hello, may I speak with special detective Jenkins?” I said into the phone, connected to an old friend, back in South Carolina.

“This is he, how may I help you?” the detective replied.

“Hey Adam, this is Rob. Sorry I called so early. I figured you’d be up by now. I have something I need to tell you, and it’s urgent!”

“Oh, hey Rob. How are you, you’re in New York aren’t you?”

“Yeah, that’s what I need to talk to you about.”

“All right, go ahead. What’s the matter?”

“Is freezing dead people legal?” I asked, without hesitation.

“It most definitely is not, Rob, why do you ask?”

“Because, I’ve seen them. My company is freezing dead people. I went and searched around early this morning, and I found a bunch of these containers, filled with liquid and bodies!”

“Whoa, slow down Rob. You’re telling me that your company is storing frozen bodies in your building?”

“Yes, Adam. You need to send some people up here soon and check it out!”

“Alright, alright. I’ll get some people on it first thing next week.”

                        ______________________________

Working on very little sleep, I managed to wake up and get to the office on time. Good thing I had, at 7:25 my phone rang. It was Alan, and he wanted to see me in his office ASAP. I was frozen as I hung up the phone. Had they seen me? Did they know I had taken the book? What did he want to talk about? I walked up to his office on the seventh floor and much to my dismay, found Alan and the other 4 most senior members of the corporation waiting for me.

“Hey Rob, how are you?” Alan didn’t mess around, “Were you here earlier?”

I hesitated for a moment and then, assuming they had seen me and had proof, figured I might as well come clean. “Yes, I was here this morning.”

“That’s what we thought. We watched some security footage earlier and it was pretty obvious that it was you. Guess that means its time for a walk, and a promotion!”

“What?” I was very much confused at this point, “a promotion?”

“That’s what I said,” Alan continued, “now that you know about the basement and what goes on there, you’ll be working down there now. You can keep the key you took from me yesterday; you’ll need it from now on. Now let’s go down there, and you can have the official, grand tour.”

                        ______________________________

The doors of the elevator opened yet again, revealing the basement room, this time the lights were on and a dozen people were hard at work. Alan walked me through the whole room, introducing me to men I had never seen before, pointing out displays, and telling me the history of the project. Apparently a man, nearly forty years earlier, had the idea that a body could be stored after death, with the hope of being revived many years into the future. Alan told me the bodies were those of people who had been terminally ill, who hoped that someday a cure would be available for their disease.

I walked around, following Alan, not really caring what he had to say until I saw something really strange. I had been reading the names of the people inside each dewar, and one, specifically, caught my eye. It was the body of Edward Greene. It was my Father!

“Yes, Rob,” Alan began, “your father is inside.”

“Wait, what---,” I started before Alan cut me off.

“Let me tell you what happened, Rob. Twenty years ago a man came to our doors, he had heard that we were experimenting with cryonics and offered himself as a scientific donor. He informed the company that he was being treated for Leukemia and it was past the point of recovery. He knew he was about to die and just like you, he wanted to help the scientific world, so he signed his body over to us after death.

“Does my mother know he’s here? Did she know about the disease? Did she know about any of this?” I had so many questions, and I was asking the people that I was about to turn over to the FBI.

“Those are things you’ll need to discuss with your mother, not us, Rob.”

I had grown up learning that no matter what, family comes first. “Alan, we need to talk about something.”

“What is it? What’s the matter?” he questioned.

“This morning, after I came down here and saw what was going on, I called a friend of mine back in South Carolina, a friend that works with the FBI.”

“So why are you telling us? It seems that if you wanted the FBI to find out, you’d just let us get caught.”

“That’s my problem.” I began, “Now I want to work. Now I want to research this new stuff. I want to know what happened to my father, and I want to do something about his disease. If we stick with the research, maybe someday someone will create the cure for his problem and I could actually meet him. Not only would it be a new beginning for him, it’d be a new start to our relationship.”

“Well, I guess we need to do something about this then now don’t we?”

“Yeah, I think we could get everything, all the equipment and all the notes, out of here by the end of the weekend. They will be visiting sometime early next week.”

“All right, let’s get to work!”

                        ______________________________

“Alan, can I speak with you,” I said as I knocked and opened Alan’s office door, “I’ve been working so hard on the basement work for the last month and I need a few days off to go home. I need to talk to my mother, and really discuss what happened with my father when I was a child.”

“Of course you can Rob.” Alan responded, “You’re the only reason that we’re still doing cryonics research. If you hadn’t told us about the FBI, the entire company would’ve been shut down a month ago. Plus, as you’ve learned over the years, family always comes first. So do what you need to do. Take the week off. Come back when you’re ready to come back.”

“Thanks Alan, I really appreciate it. I’ll see you soon.”

                        ______________________________

“Did you know, Mom?” I questioned her of my father’s whereabouts.

“Yes, Rob. I knew. When your father left he told me of his plans. He had suffered with the leukemia for about a year, at that point, and didn’t want to put you, and the rest of the family through it.”

“Family really does come first,” was the only thought that ran through my head at that moment. This was also the moment that I decided that I would devote the rest of my life to try and reconcile the family. Someday, someone would discover a cure, and it would not only cure my father, but it would cure our family.

 

© Copyright 2005 by the author

All rights reserved