An essay by Elise Tanner, as provided by Deborah Walker
Art by Luke Spooner
My sister came to my mother’s funeral. She stood at the gates, watching my uncles carrying the coffin from the flower-lined hearse. She was a pale ghost, standing apart from the rest of the mourners.
Rose looked exactly as I remembered her. I hadn’t seen her for twelve years, but she hadn’t aged. I touched my hand to my hair, streaked through with grey. Terminal cancer does that, slowly pulling its victim toward its breast and swiping its vicious claws at the grieving family, bleeding the life of out them. I had sent word to Rose when my mother was first diagnosed. She was late, too late.
When she tried to enter the church, Reverend Joyce stepped in front of her. He stood with his arms crossed at the threshold of the church. “Your kind will not enter here,” he said.
Dad came to reason with him, and there was a scene. Reverend Joyce had always seemed such a tolerant man. It surprised me to see him spluttering with righteous hatred.
The cold-lifers spark the most astonishing feelings of passion.
After the service, I had a quiet word with Rose and asked her not to attend the grave. I didn’t want Dad upset, any more than he had to be.
“I’ll go straight to the Green Man,” said Rose.
She remembered, then. My mother had enjoyed a drink, and the Green Man had been local for nigh on thirty years.
“You should have stayed away,” I said to Rose. I’d picked her out a plate of food from the buffet. We sat outside the pub in the biting November wind. We were in a mildewed corner of the patio, hidden from the rest of the mourners inside the pub.
“She was my mother, Elise.” Her speech was slow, as if she had to sort through a multitude of options before selecting the correct response.
I didn’t tell her that Mother hadn’t mentioned her name for more than ten years.
My sister’s face was pale. I knew that her blood surged artificial with cryoprotectants: anti-nucleating proteins, polyols, and glucose derivatives that allowed her body to maintain the state of unnatural coldness that facilitated communication with the others of her lattice.
Our cousins, Alan and Sam, came outside, lighting cigarettes. When they saw Rose, they stared. Sam looked away. Alan spat on the floor and muttered, “You cold cow.”
My voice was tight. “This is my mother’s funeral.”
Alan gave Rose one last look, then nodded. They both went back indoors.
Some people say that the cold-lifers are dead. That the spirit leaves the body when the heart stops beating. The government laser-cooled Rose to a point approaching absolute zero. I imagined her laid out on a stainless-steel slab with the eleven other volunteers. Her heart stopped beating. Bosons formed nano-sized Bose-Einstein condensates within her body. Subatomic particles at extreme temperatures act strangely. The bosons in Rose’s body reached out and became entangled, linking Rose to the nascent lattice mind.
“Where are the others?” I asked.
“Most of us are in the observatory listening to the whispers from the Bowtie Nebula.”
I nodded. The Bowtie Nebula was five thousand light-years from Earth. It was the coldest natural place in the universe. Bose-Einstein condensates form in its heart. Cold-lifers can communicate with entangled particles, regardless of distance. Distance was meaningless to cold-lifers. I wondered if time was also meaningless to my sister.
“Are you cold, Rose?” I asked. I rubbed her fingers, trying to rub a little warmth into them. “You feel cold.”
Are you happy? I wanted to ask to ask her, but, somehow, I couldn’t find the words. She was a cold-lifer. It seemed to me that she was changed immeasurably from the sister I once knew. Taken to the point of extreme and slowly revived, the cold-lifers changed. Their blood sang with odd substances. Their cells reached out in and grew in strange endless patterns.
I hoped that she would live long enough for the lattice minds to gain acceptance. As part of the hive mind, Rose was incredibly smart. Government scientists couldn’t measure how smart they were. The government could appreciate, though, the technological advances that the cold-lifers were bringing. We were, the government repeatedly told us, standing on the cusp of incredible change. Would the cold-lifers be accepted once the material advantages they generated filtered through to the real world? Would their strangeness be overlooked?
Today I laid my mother to rest. My sister is ten years older than me, but she’ll certainly outlive me. Perhaps this was at the heart of the hatred that the cold-lifers so unconsciously initiated. It was the hatred for those who might never die.
“It was good to see you, Elise.” There was no emotion in her words, no humanity behind them. I could see why they were hated.
She stood up and walked away. I thought that part of my sister still existed, in that strange frozen hive of her mind. She had looked outward, and felt pity. She had wanted to share this moment of loss with her drone-sister, who would not outlive the coming of the cold winter.
With her husband, Derrick, Elise Tanner runs Maid Marion 4 U, a professional domestic cleaning business offering services throughout Nottinghamshire. The Tanners have two young children: Rosie and Caleb.
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: http://deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com/ Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, and The Year’s Best SF 18.
Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“The Frozen Hive of Her Mind” is © 2010 Deborah Walker
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Luke Spooner
This story originally appeared in Nature’s Futures.