George Jenner lives and writes in Stanmore, Australia.
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by George Jenner
His wife and children came home in giant, insulated boxes packed with ice to keep them fresh. He looked at Ingrid in the biggest box: her face impassive, not in the least touched by the sharp plastic plate that had severed the head from her body, or the metal spike that had minced her brain from behind. He looked at the twisted remains of Tanya, whose teenage face, even cleared of blood, was barely recognisable, so crushed was the skull. While looking at Toby, he tried to reach out to stroke the boy's cheek, but one of the technicians stayed his arm, for he would not be allowed contact with them again, even to remove the car's guidance computer from where it had lodged in Toby's skull. Slowly, carefully, the technicians took the bodies to the basement where they installed them in their prepared cryogenic tanks: Joe and Ingrid, and their children, were "eternal lifers". Joe watched the remains of his family disappearing down the stairs, waiting for their only formal funeral which would be the turning of the switch that monitored their temperature. Then instead of praying or even helping with the antifreeze preparation of their bodies, the normally passive, weary Joe went into his workshop -- and went crazy.
He screamed, he kicked the walls, he threw tools through the windows, and he cried in gut-wrenching sobs. He ran around the benches breaking things, scared by his own energy yet unable to control it. And he did not stop until he had hefted an axe, then helped by gravity cleaved a reinforced carbon fibre crate that had arrived in his laboratory that day, smashing even further one of the delicate bone fragments of skulls that were so carefully packed within.
Stillness followed, broken only by the heaving of Joe's chest and finally a grunt.
They were plastic bones, anyway, he thought. They would not trust me with the real bones of the Moon People -- if there were any real bones.
Moon People was a popular name, whipped up in the frenzy following their discovery.
One morning Ingrid said, "Hey listen to this, Joe," as she tried to read the table display between the coffee, the muesli and the children.
"Can I read the comics?" asked Toby, reaching and spilling some juice on the display.
"The baby needs pictures because he can't read," said Tanya, sticking out her tongue.
"Who says I can't read," said Toby, pouring his juice into Tanya's cereal.
"You rotten bastard ...."
Ingrid screamed for silence. She moved Tanya's cereal to Toby's place, saying, "We'll watch you eat it while I read this article. 'A construction team at the Lunar Base in Mare Tranquillitatus ...'"
"That's the sea of tranquillity," said Tanya. "We learnt that in science."
"Silence! 'A construction team at the Lunar Base of Tranquillity, whatever that is, has uncovered what appears to be an ancient grave that had been disrupted by the meteorite that created the Maskelyne Crater. It was announced yesterday that an archaeological team has been working secretly for over a month on the exhumation of bone fragments which bear strong resemblance to those of human beings. A complete scientific investigation has been launched to discover the origin and age of the bones.' A speaker for the team said 'that there are bones at all is extraordinary, to say the least. If they turn out to be human bones then ... well I wont know what to think.' Well what do you think of that Joe?"
Before he could answer Tanya screamed. "Oh, yuck, he ate it. Mum, Toby ate that rubbish."
"Oh go to school you little mongrels! Go to school before you drive me completely mad. Come here first. Let me kiss you goodbye. You too, garbage face." Then she hustled the children into a doorway, smiled at them, kissed them, smacked their arses pretty hard so they ran out the door, wiped her hair back into place and sat down at the table, sighing.
Joe was staring at the photographs of bone fragments. "Sounds like a hoax. Worse -- a joke," he said.
"Maybe you'll be invited to participate?"
"In the complete scientific investigation?"
"Maybe even in the joke."
Joe just nodded, though Ingrid noticed the twitching of his thick eyebrows that hid the interest in his dark eyes. She smirked and teased his hair, then offered him some more coffee.
"No thanks. I think I'll get to work. I could use a hand today. Are you staying here or going to the Temple?"
Wounded, she paused before she replied. "Office. I'm going to the office. Do you have to be sarcastic just when I'm happy for you? And why all of a sudden do you need me to help you?" She wanted to add, are you so desperate to keep me?
Joe said, "He's a hoax, isn't he? Roger the Miracle Man has been a hoax all along."
"Why don't you come and meet him. Just once, then you'll understand. Meet him in the flesh."
He said nothing but thought, Don't turn away from me. He shrugged instead, then stood and helped her clear the table. She irritated him by humming, so he went to his workshop downstairs.
She called after him, "The Moon People could make you, you know."
In his room with him you might think that Joe inured against death, and seeing his lugubrious face you would not know that life charmed him. First he would first show you his bones. He had cupboards and draws full of bones, both replicas and originals, and he had compiled a data base of nearly every bone that ever existed. Formally, Joe would be introduced to you as a forensic archaeologist, but the prose of the title betrays little of the magic he felt. The bones he worked with were always ancient, yet Joe was deeply affected by the bones he worked with, and always aware that they once framed living beings. In his reconstructions of people from their bones he unwittingly added aspects that he found attractive in living people, forming gentle friendships with the product of his handiwork. Perhaps you have seen some of his models and dioramas, for they are in museums everywhere. Joe himself admits he could not claim that his reconstructions of Homo habilis and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, for example, are completely accurate, but if you ask him to justify his choices of skin colour and hair styles, he will simply grunt into his beard and refer you to the extensive literature he has published on these subjects. Joe gave his models anatomy and behaviour based solely on indentations in bones. Steeped in controversy and spiced with beauty, they fed his reputation. Watch Homo erectus throw a spear at a small animal, and being nagged by his family for missing; watch Ramapithecus loving; Australopithecus afarensis hating; Homo sapiens sapiens praying; and Joe's personal favourite, Lucy (A. afarensis) singing.
Ingrid used to accompany Joe on his field trips, content to sit in the dirt of the Levantine or the permafrost of Siberian tundra while Joe spooned the dirt from the ancient remains of familial worlds.
"Don't you feel like you are robbing graves, Joe?" she once asked. "Don't these people deserve to be left alone?"
Joe unbent his aching back and regarded her with his melancholy eyes. "When I am dead," he said, "I will be happy if someone uses my body as an experiment to teach themselves something about what it is to be a human being."
"Oh really? And what have you learnt from little miss Australopithecus there?"
"That her prayers did not stop her grave from being interfered with."
Ingrid giggled at Joe's supercilious smile and the way he licked some dirt off his black beard. "You don't know what she was praying for," she said, laying her head back to catch the sun, to doze while he worked patiently at bringing life out of the dark soil.
Back in his workshop he would love his Australopithecus back to life with the addition of flesh to her bones and scars to her flesh. Then to give life and movement Joe installed motors to extend and contract the tendons. To guide the motors he gave them a brain, then guided the brain by remote control. Joe had become an expert on remote control systems, and used the most compact and advanced guidance systems available - those which are installed in the cars that you and I have to drive along the motorways of our computerised world. They had everything necessary to drive an animal: voice control; a voice box to ask questions; ears; eyes and control for four limbs. Because it was cheap he usually he used the same model guidance system that was installed in Ingrid's Ford; the same model, that is the same infallible model, that caused her fatal accident.
That night she had been at a television transmission from what Joe had disparagingly called "the Temple". She called it her office. She had taken the children, ostensibly to keep them away from Joe who was uncrating the bones of the Moon people.
They were greeted by her boss, Roger, who said, "Hiya beautiful!" and pounced forward as if to kiss her, but stopped himself when he noticed the children watching.
Tanya, forever suspicious of Roger in her growing carnal awareness, walked past him and pushed her head defiantly into teenage pop music oblivion. But Toby liked Roger (he often called him "Uncle") and jumped on his broad back, urging him to prance like a maniac.
Ingrid smiled, though it flickered past the delighted boy to alight with admiration on Roger's strength.
Remarkable, she thought. One hundred and sixty years old, and I made him as good as new.
As an employee of Cryolife Inc, Ingrid had nursed Roger back to life, back from the twentieth century cryogenic suspension tank in which he had been frozen for sixty years. He had been revived to receive the benefit of contemporary prosthetics -- artificial replacements for his emphysemic lungs. The artificial lung had been perfected many years earlier, but the problems with raising one of the frozen dead went beyond curing the mere ailment that caused their initial death, and raising Roger was a risky experiment. Roger was frozen in the late twentieth century after trying with his millions to buy the death of someone with lungs that could replace his. But no suitable donor could be bought or found, so Roger spent his remaining loot on the dive into the nitrogen, hoped for future salvation, and slept; and slept; and slept.
Cryogenics companies like Cryolife were booming in the early days of the century. People were always ready to pay for future hope: when they could put their money in trust, rejoicing in the slogan "you can take it with you now!" But sixty years later not one human being had been raised from the storage tanks to be embraced by the new world.
The publicity said that they had thousands, if not millions, of years of shelf life, but with no results to see the supply of customers dwindled, and the managing director of Cryolife was worried. Dunstan was his name, but they called him Mr. Grey for the colour of his suit and his face. He inherited Cryolife from a father who died slowly giving him time to plan his death. Mr. Grey spent his days walking around his father, and strolling down the rows of storage tanks. Back and forward again and again. Worried. Worried not because they needed customers for money, for they had plenty in trust from the existing customers; rather, he was bored out of his tree and had no joy in his work.
He wanted more than anything else to know what would happen if they defrosted one of their customers; for, like the public that was shunning his company, he suspected it would not work. Yet his scientists told him they could probably revive someone now, especially one of the more recently frozen that had suffered less cell damage at the time when the freezing dehydrated the cells and filled them with salt, when the ice crystals distorted the cells and tore the membranes. And he knew it was not long until he took his turn in the tanks; though he was no young lad, nor near the end of his natural life span, depression had settled on Mr Grey with finality -- his society and family kept him joyless and friendless. Yes he wanted to sleep -- and oh! how he wanted to know if he could actually come back to love. So he crossed his fingers and told his technicians to bring Roger back to life.
It was Ingrid who supervised the warming and the replacement of cryo-protectant with oxygenated blood; the replacement of his decrepit lungs with plastic prostheses; the meticulous, though incomplete, cellular repair of his organs and limbs by nanoscale robots; and, finally, the current to his heart.
Thus the first child from the ice was born. Yes he was a child, ignorant of every aspect of speech and memory, though instead of impatiently reaching for a nipple he was wild with panic at the unfamiliar world he found. But he learnt quickly, for the world he awoke in was similar to the one that had hard-wired the plastic connections in his brain when he was a child; the language went to the places he had made for it during World War II; and some of the photographs and diaries he had taken with him fell into places -- that is they suggested memory to him. Before his pathetic legs could bear his weight Roger had left infancy, grasping for further language skills that would allow him to see into or past the depth of his amnesia, for the deprivation of current to his brain had erased everything that was not hard-wired in infancy.
Under the close and gentle guidance of Ingrid he grew inquisitive, marvelling at his circumstances. His intelligence and imagination replaced easily that which he had lost, and he embraced his new world without regret, his resolve and joy growing in step with his strengthening body. His plastic lungs and sixty year old body barely kept pace with his exuberance.
The day the managing director came to say goodbye he found Roger and Ingrid watching a twentieth century movie, for they found that the idioms of his own time settled more quickly into his mind, like keys into a lock. Ingrid was sitting on his bed holding his strengthening hand, smiling with the delighted man at the quaint old movie. Sometimes they prompted her to ask him questions.
"Were people really like that, Roger?"
"I don't remember, Ingrid, but what reason do you have to doubt it?"
"You people are really weird."
"Hey, Mary used to say that." He laughed, then stopped, surprised. Had Roger remembered something? "Mary? Who is Mary," he asked. "How do I know what she used to say?"
"Your daughter. The one in the photograph. You remember something your daughter said?"
"Hey, maybe I did." He spent a frustrating day trying to remember Mary, but nothing came and stayed. He remembered little else, and even that one phrase he doubted sometimes, for the image of Mary flittered past his mind like a ghost. The amnesia interested the managing director.
"You remember nothing?" he asked.
Roger shrugged. He was strong enough to sit up, but there were days when he was very confused still, and even his language skills were those of a child.
"Ingrid says I might remember more as time goes by."
But as he body grew daily stronger, his memory did not. This was heartening news to Mr. Grey. He was wondering about the gentlest means of suicide, and how to ensure the technicians arrived too late to be obliged to save his life but soon enough to freeze him with minimal damage. In the end he chose to bribe his way into a cryogenic tank, which was by far the safest way -- dying free of poison, violence, disease or malice.
Ingrid taught Roger to dance. They waltzed around the infirmary on his spindly legs. He grew sturdier with each step and more hale in spirit than any man of single birth, and soon he was able to re-enter the world, singing and dancing and garrulously trumpeting his life. He extolled the virtues and happiness of being alive. He yelled from the rooftops of the connected world, "I am a human being and I am marvellous!" and with such charm as attracts followers to whom he could advocate his new approximation to eternal life.
And who would be his first disciple but Ingrid, his mother in this new world. The children came with her. Joe stayed at home, for he was still content in this life.
The cult boomed, and Roger was its voice; a world renown mouthpiece for cryogenic suspension. Eventually, by applied energy and enthusiasm, he became chairman of Cryolife Inc. So Cryolife boomed, for Roger advocated that families should keep cryogenic equipment at home, ostensibly in case of sudden death, but mostly, as he said, so that families need never again be separated from their loved ones -- even by death. So Ingrid and Joe equipped their own house with freezers.
Her motherhood of Roger left Ingrid ebullient, and she continued to work with him when he became the manager of Cryolife. Her days were furnished with the energy of childhood in a maturing and intelligent man, and when she finished her days with Roger, Ingrid went home to find Joe, drowsy and stale looking, bending over a mould or scraping away at some bones, stopping only to give her a perfunctory kiss, then sinking quickly back into his work lest he brood on her good humour. It was plain, to him at least, that he adored her and the children. It was plain to her, too, yet she could do nothing about the charismatic Roger, and she could never explain her overtime.
"Why are you so enthusiastic?" asked Joe.
"Joe this means something to me."
"Being deep frozen in your grave?"
"It's not a grave Joe. It's just temporary. You know Roger. He's the living proof. Why would you want to be burnt and blown away like dust when you could come back with his ..."
"He's bursting with life, Joe."
"What if I live to be a hundred? Why bring me back to life in a worn-out carcass?"
"You'll be brought back when you can have a new frame. A whole new body to live again with."
As her enthusiasm waxed, so his waned. He felt it useless to compete in life and withdrew into his own laboratory of reincarnation, sifting endlessly through the grave goods of the long dead, deducing how people spent their lives from the way they dealt with death. Toby picked up a bone.
"What's this, dad?"
"The jawbone of the little boy they found buried on the moon."
"Yeah? I speak Moonish, you know." He took the jawbone and, worked it up and down as a ventriloquist dummy, saying "bloogle bloogle blew" and moon-walking around the workshop.
Joe laughed. "Bring it back, you idiot." He gathered the boy in his arms and kissing his smooth forehead adoringly.
Toby asked, "Are you going to make him? Playing on the Moon?"
Joe shrugged. "What do I know about the Moon?" he said.
Toby grinned. "I'll teach you. I used to live there you know."
A voice from behind; "That explains a lot."
Tanya came to them, reaching out her arms as if to pull Toby away. "Come on we have to go out, Toby," she said, then suddenly lunged around him to pin her father to the desk. "Get him Toby," she cried, and the giggling children set to tickling their father until they were interrupted by a forced cough from Ingrid.
"You two leave your father in peace. It's time to go to the office."
"Oh do we have to mum?"
She bundled them out of the room, kissed Joe on the forehead, saying, "We won't be late. Apparently the Moon People bones are waiting for you there. I'll bring them home."
"They're already here!"
"Really?" She was momentarily confused, but said, "Anyway, they need an audience for Roger's transmission tonight so we still have to go."
"Do you want me to come too?" He nearly meant it.
"It's all right, Darling. You stay and work."
The children gone, Joe turned back to his bones, ordering them to absorb his attention.
Ingrid often took the children to watch Roger's transmission. It was mostly an advertisement for the services of his company, but he found quite a large audience interested in his first hand tales of the twentieth century (though most of them were made up to an extent that overcompensated for his amnesia). He was their visitor from the past, and like most professional visitors did not know his status was simply as guest. With admirable guile he told the future where it had gone wrong, and how to fix itself; most of which remedies involved freezing yourself and waking up later as if life was merely a hangover that is best escaped by sleep, and just as easily forgotten.
The accident happened after one of those transmissions. Ingrid, Tania and Toby were riding home on the automatic expressway at one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour, trusting the car to take them home as reliably as it always did, when the car decided to leave the expressway where there was no exit. The car did this for no apparent reason, and though she was thoroughly crushed by the impact with the concrete stanchion, it was publicised by the police that Ingrid had taken manual control over the car. They were, of course, under orders to say that it was human driver error. Unfortunately there was a photographer on the scene before the police, and the photograph showed that the three occupants were probably in the back seat at the time of the accident, and since it is impossible to make a car jump off the expressway by a mere voice command, rumours spread that there was something wrong with the automatic pilot.
Joe survived the accident by submerging himself in his work with the remains of the Moon People. He had three nearly complete skeletons and a dozen poor quality photographs of the site where they were found. His request for more information and better photographs was met with bureaucratic obfuscation; and he was angered by the imperative post script "make them cute." What did that mean? Was he not to make them the way he thought they would appear? Should he not base his decisions on all available data? No soil samples; no material analysis of the artefacts; no radiological or isotope data from the original skeletons; not much at all, really. But then, how applicable is any of that to selenological graves? Three humaniform skeletons found on the moon, added to nebulous space talk suggested hoax to Joe, but he kept silence and set to work, content to be occupied, though all around him the rubble of his workshop reminded him of his rage at the death of his family.
Then the policeman came: Detective Staines, with his anonymous face and blue overcoat. He looked suitably sympathetic for a while, then asked, "Do you know how many accidents involve the failure of automatic pilots on expressways?"
Joe was not expected to answer.
"Officially none." Staines paused, then asked, "Does it strike you as odd that your wife's car should suddenly decide to leave an expressway at one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour? Missing the exit completely? You know about automatic guidance systems, don't you, Professor? Wouldn't you say that was odd?"
"Machines fail," said Joe, adding softly, "unofficially of course."
"Well what do you think would happen if people were driving around at such speeds thinking their automatic pilot could make ... an error of judgement?"
"The pilots are intelligent programs. They make thousands of decisions every second. Can every one be right?"
Detective Staines did not answer. He paced the laboratory, making Joe's eyes work and watching them. Abruptly he stopped and asked, "So where was she going when she had the accident?"
"She was coming home."
"No, I meant to say her boss."
"Which one then? A friend or her boss?"
"She had been at a television broadcast of a show her boss runs. You may have seen his show ...."
"I've seen the show yes. Is this Roger a relative, too? Your boy...."
"Toby, yes. He called him Uncle Roger. "
Reddening, Joe looked down at the desk and fidgeted with a randomly chosen bone.
The policeman asked, "So do you go to the broadcasts yourself?"
"I usually have work to do."
"But do you ever go?"
"I said I usually have work to do. Like I have now."
"On the Moon People?"
"How did you know that?"
Staines turned from him, surveying the paraphernalia of the laboratory. "Let's talk more about automatic guidance systems."
"What about them?"
"Leaving unresolved the question of whether or not they might ever fail, do you think it's possible to sabotage them?"
"So that a car might leave an expressway at the wrong moment?"
"I think it's quite likely that they could fail and do it by themselves actually."
"The manufacturers don't see it that way."
"And they want you to prove I sabotaged my wife's car because she was having an affair, otherwise people would lose confidence in their product?"
"I loved my wife. I loved my children deeply and they were completely innocent. Just because my son to calls my wife's lover 'Uncle' on television ...."
"So they were lovers?"
Suddenly, Joe started to cry. "I don't know. Honestly I don't know. I don't care any more either. They are gone. Can't you leave them alone. They are gone and nothing can bring them back."
"Now that is a surprising thing to say. I was under the impression that you, or at least your wife, believed that they could be brought back. In fact, don't you have your wife and children packed in a refrigerator down stairs for just that purpose? Isn't that Uncle Roger's creed? A fridge for every home?"
"A vault. A family vault."
"Yes I've seen the advertisements. Strange way to live forever if you asked me."
"Nonetheless it was her wish." Joe bowed his head, quietly weeping.
Staines paused. "I'm sorry." For the first time he was uncomfortable, embarrassed.
"We have to exhume him. Defrost if you prefer. We have to defrost Toby to take the control box out of his head so that police experts can examine it - for tampering."
"You can't. You'll kill him."
"Don't worry. It will be done under the guidance of cryogenic engineers and surgeons, and after we take out the box we'll freeze him again if you like. Any engineer you prefer."
"You know Uncle fucking Roger is the best.
Joe walked slowly down the stairs to the tanks where his family was interred and he walked around them, his hand trailing gently and abstractly over the insulated covering. He cried with them for a long time before returning to the lab, finally to begin the serious reconstruction of the Moon People.
Plastic bones: and he had assumed that they had exactly the same shape and weight as the originals.
Then he questioned the assumption. Every query he had made had been met with inconsistency, incoherence or even plain doubt. Three skeletons which, if judged as terran primates, were quite plainly a woman, a teenage girl and a younger boy. The resonance with his family rankled and further delayed the start of his work, but such was the publicity surrounding him he was forced to begin. The moon weary people of earth had not responded in this way to a space adventure for many years. Joe's impression? It must be a hoax to get more funding.
They finally met. After the accident, Roger came to offer Joe his condolences, but soon asked to see the Moon People.
"Isn't it wonderful, Joe?" He was admiring the reconstructed skeletons in Joe's workshop. "You have to admit it can't be a hoax." It was true that the bones were different enough to be interesting, and different enough for him to be sure they were not Homo sapiens, but Joe was yet to be convinced of their origins beyond the Earth.
"I'll tell you when I've examined them further," was all he said.
"You have no faith man. Cryolife would never have sponsored the project if we had had any doubt about it's authenticity. I've interviewed the people who found them Joe. Personally. They are people of great integrity."
"Why are you sponsoring this Roger? Publicity?"
"Partly. Curiosity too. And, Joe, I have a theory. You may think this is crazy but I think those three people were left in cryonic suspension on the moon, and someone was going to come back for them - except the apparatus was destroyed by a meteorite."
"The theory is crazy. You are crazy. Or you know a lot more about this than they have allowed me to know."
"Perhaps." He winked. "Financier's privilege. In any case, that they were buried at all shows humanity. Since they clearly treated their dead for the afterlife it shows there was humanity on the moon uncountable ages ago."
"It would show humanity more clearly if they were buried alive," said Joe, sullenly resenting Roger's optimism and its attractiveness. I want to hate him, he thought, but he has a child's innocence. Would we all come back so guileless from death?
As if in confirmation, Roger said, with all sincerity, "Oh Joe. You forget our motto sometimes, don't you. 'We are human beings and we are marvellous.'" Roger smiled and stood. As he left he said, "I paid a lot to bring those babies back from the Moon, Joe. Make them cute."
Joe made them more than cute. Though he followed scrupulously the anatomical constraints imposed by the shape and marks on the bones, his sculptor's hand strayed a little fancifully in the facial features. And was it a hoax? The Moon People were at least as different from us as Neanderthals were, yet different in ways he never could have imagined. So he turned away his suspicions of Piltdown and enjoyed those differences, playing with them. He started with the frame of bones, patching them together with ligaments, fat and muscles, colouring and shaping until they were perfect in his mind and pleasing to his eye. Unlike his previous dioramas, however, he added no motors nor moving parts: for the three were built in static pose, as if reflecting the growing passivity of his mood.
He left them on the moon, naked: the woman in the centre with an arm around the shoulders of each child; the children were waving into the distance; and they all looked forlorn and lost. After many days when the faces were finished Joe stood back and looked at them, thinking, By God, By God, they are so beautiful! And then he wept.
But of course the telephone rang. It was Uncle Roger. Joe groaned, for he had hoped never to have to speak with him again.
"They've asked me to thaw out Toby, Joe. I said 'no', of course, but they said they preferred me because I have the best technicians - I mean Cryolife has the best technicians - and they were going to do it anyway, so it might as well be me. What do you think, Joe? They want to do it in a couple of days. What do you think? Joe?"
Joe terminated the call before screaming and putting a chisel through the display of the telephone. The audio signal kept calling him but he ignored it. If he had been busy before while making the Moon People, he was now obsessed as he worked unceasingly, ignoring his toilet, his alimentation and his sleep, for he realised his diorama was imperfect, and he laboured to complete it before they came to defile Toby's rest.
After two days, still unfinished and near exhaustion, Joe answered the telephone. It was Roger.
"Yes?" Impatience, though hidden in fatigue.
"We'll be around tomorrow morning with the police."
"I'll be ready."
"There's something else. Something important."
"More important than the further maiming of my son?"
"Will you listen, Joe. This is hard for me. I want to ask a favour." There was no response so he continued. "I'm dying Joe. That is I'm dying again. It's my liver Joe. I ruined it with booze when I killed my original lungs with tobacco, and they can't replace livers yet if you can believe it - I mean there isn't one good enough to cope with the drugs I have to take to keep alive in this wicked old frame." He tried to giggle, but there was silence from Joe. "I have to die again Joe, just until they can find me a new liver. Joe?"
"I'm listening Roger."
"I'm dying, Joe."
"Oh. Well ... anyway, you know I haven't got any family any more. Anyway, you see, I was wondering if I could be frozen with yours."
"You want to be frozen with my family? With Ingrid?"
"Would you mind?"
He did actually. Joe found his rage again. He began by gently breaking the connection with Roger, then smashing the telephone with an axe, feeling its plastic bones smashing through the vibration of the handle, and his normally lugubrious eyes twinkled once more with passion's sparkle. He danced erratically around his workshop, blindly smashing windows and moulds and bones, but unconsciously being careful to miss the diorama of the Moon People, which stood in mute perfection in the middle of the room. Like a child smashing bottles in a tank, he broke his family grave. He waltzed his heavy axe around the basement vault, striking the controls of the refrigeration equipment and the valves of the nitrogen tanks.
Finally he sat and laughed as he watched the temperature rise and the nitrogen boiling away, then cried as he heaved the bodies out to lay on the floor. As gently as he could he cut the box from Toby's frozen head, then smashed it. He carried the three bodies to the back garden and buried them in shallow graves, then went inside to finish his diorama of life on the Moon, a final touch on which he worked through the night.
He had finished by the time he heard them arrive the next day. Instead of answering the door, though, he hid behind a table and looked at his creation as he drifted to his sleep. He had only had time to make the head of the fourth figure, but it was enough, for it was perfectly made; a perfect father for the Moon Family. He heard the door being smashed in, followed by the voice of Detective Staines and the mystified, scared Roger.
"My God, what has he done?"
"The professor has made a mess."
They looked only briefly into the workshop as they passed into the cellar, followed by the technicians who would help to thaw Toby's body. Joe's poisonous breakfast had reduced him to dazing now, and he hardly heard the commotion from the basement when the mess was discovered, and the further commotion when the bodies were found in the garden graves. Yet he still felt alive, and he felt a final flicker of rejoicing as he saw Roger re-enter, his face desolate.
Roger said to Detective Staines, "We can't freeze them again, you know. I've lost her." Then he noticed the diorama. "There were only three," he said.
Joe was fading quickly. His eyes were fixed, but he felt the slow footsteps of Roger walking to look closely at the Moon People, recognising Ingrid and her children: then the wind of Roger's gasp as he saw Joe's head on a pedestal in the corner of the landscape, staring adoringly at his creation.
As he died, Joe had one last thought: I left you once my darlings, left you frozen on a passing moon. Now I've come to take you back.