Adapted from the film A.I. by Bryan Harrison
She was a beautiful woman, but her eyes had been growing distant in recent months. Initially she'd been able to deal with the pain. She had never let hope slip from her grasp and Henry had let her optimism affect him. He'd let her refusal to accept the inevitable keep him too in this state of emotional limbo. But the fortress from which she defended her breaking heart had barricades insufficient to challenge the relentless siege of fate. Her once spontaneous chatter had disappeared, replaced by short and evasive responses to his attempts at conversation. Darkness had overcome her spirit. He was at a complete loss to deal with this shadow on her heart, and loss was the one thing he'd had enough of.
Henry turned his attention to the passing landscape outside, wondering how many struggling souls made their encampments in the forest beyond the road. For the Swinton's life had been a series of jumps up the corporate ladder. He was established, an insider with a firm that had nothing if not longevity in its field. They were never in want for food or shelter like so many in the shanties and the streets of broken cities that had been starved and washed away in the deluge ages ago. They'd never want for the simple conveniences of life that so many fought for every day. But he'd trade it all in for one irreplaceable thing. The groan of an old pain welled up in his chest and he suppressed it. He turned his thoughts away from that. He had to be strong for her. He was all she had left, and she; he. They would get through this. She would learn to let go, just as he was learning.
As their cruiser whirred past a young and changing landscape, something cried out from the depths of the forest. It was a shrill sound that penetrated the humid gloom. Neither of them noticed it.
But the Swinton's passed this place by without a glance. They were headed for a different ward; one where lay the injured or disease-stricken sons and daughters of those who could not bear the loss; for it was not just the loss of a child, which was in itself enough, but it was the loss of the chance at having a child at all. The Federal Government had invoked and strictly enforced restrictive licenses on birth. It would be many years before lovers would bring another life into the world at their own whim.
She was here now, walking briskly through the artificially silenced room. The whispers of visitors and doctors and the hum from the banks of life preserving cryogenic tubes were inaudible to her. Henry followed quietly behind. From a silent space inside, his heart was calling to out her. She did not notice.
As she arrived their sons cryo-tube was being lowered from its parking place in the wall where he slept in frozen stasis, awaiting a miracle that would bring him back to her. It had been years since she had cried entering this sterile room. It had all become routine, a routine she desperately needed. It kept her from being consumed by the darkness that loomed at the edge of her world, the gloom that she caught desperate glimpses of when she was at home trying to go through the now meaningless motions of daily life.
When the tube was at rest, she sat down in the viewing well that surrounded her sons glass home. He was peaceful. He was sleeping. This she let herself see. The ice encrusting the inside of the glass was invisible to her. She did not notice the occasional wisps of gas that floated over her sleeping boy's face and momentarily fogged his image. His blue and frozen flesh made no difference to her. She did not acknowledge Henry as he moved into the well and sat beside her, nor the troubled look that he wore.
She took from her satchel a small music player that Henry had bought for her. On it were hours of music samples of her choosing. This week she had chosen some of Martins favorites; the lilting waltzes to which he used to bounce around the house as a little boy. She planted a small virba-speaker against the glass tube, so her sleeping boy would hear his mothers loving voice, and pulled from her satchel the book she had brought. It was the book he'd loved as a little child. An image came into her minds eye then; a memory of his childish wonderment as she'd read to him all those years ago arose and threatened to break her heart. But she forced the image away and began to read.
"Robin of Sherwood Forest, " she read the cover and opened the book, "The baby was born as the first leaves of autumn fell; a baby boy. And Marion's wish came true. The boy had white hair. He was baptized Martin, after his grandfather..."
As she read a man in a white lab coat entered the room behind them. His quick footfalls were softened by the dampers but Henry had been awaiting his arrival and jumped up to greet the man. "Dr. Frazier Hello. It is so good to see you," he whispered excitedly.
Dr. Frazier returned Henrys handshake, feeling the nervous anticipation in the man' grip. He could see the new creases along the man's forehead and knew what worries had created them. It was always the unspoken questions: 'Is there anything new? Any sign of hope?' Henry had become the most devoted of all the parents of the young patients in his ward. He had began to scan the medical reviews himself, desperately seeking anything that even hinted at a solution to the puzzling illness that had taken his son away. That this thing had taken its toll on him was plain to see.
Henry whispered urgently about something he'd found. "Listen, there was an article by Randenbach in the journal of Chinese medicine about these virus locators; synthetic, microscopic hunter killers..." Frazier let the man ramble on. He knew what article Henry was talking about and didn't have the heart to tell the man what he thought of it. It was better to let him cling to the idea of a possibility for now. There were more pressing concerns.
Frazier knelt down behind the woman seated in the visiting well. "Hello again, Monica." he said. But she did not respond. She was lost in her routine, as distant from the world as her sleeping boy. Frazier was greatly troubled by this. She was not the same woman that he had met when their son had been brought into Cryogen. She was withdrawn now, and guarded, working on a level of rote behavior like an automaton. Behind him, Henry went on about Randenbach's futile research. This was his form of denial. Frazier sighed, understanding that it was time for them to deal with reality. He stood and started to reply to Henry.
"I can still hear you!" Monica cried suddenly. The men were silenced at the outburst. She continued to read.
And what was it that had taken him away from her? What was this mysterious malady that had invaded their life? Sinclair Syndrome by name. A syndrome? This was a scientific term. It described symptoms; events announcing the onslaught of unnamed swarms of microscopic marauders. But what it really meant was defeat. A syndrome was not an answer; it was an unanswerable question. This was not what had happened to her Martin. He had been stolen from her. From the first dizzy spells, to the horrible convulsions and finally that unforgettable morning when he would not awaken from his sweat-drenched slumber, science had not been able to solve this riddle. Now they had a name for it and somehow that was supposed to explain all?
How long had it been before they'd known the name of this thief? A month? No, she recalled, it had been less. It had been 28 days of unknowing; of awful uncertainty, as their only child spiraled down the edge of some undetected abyss, never to return. Her heart had gone there with him.
Sinclair Syndrome was not always fatal, but those who were diagnosed could be left in a state of coma until their bodies were simply useless. Even Cryogenics had its limitations. The only thing that kept her going had been the possibility of misdiagnosis. They had been accepted for a stasis module and Martin had been asleep here for five impossible years.
She had been the champion of the fight during those first years. Like any parent she had clung to the thin fabric of hope that came from the multitude of new treatments and designer elixirs introduced by numerous corporate labs that built fortunes on selling dreams. She would not surrender to the claims of hopelessness by detached experts whose only stake in the game was whatever book or medication they were fronting. But She had to gamble with her son, the only child she would ever be allowed to have. She had to stick this one out no matter what. And she had.
But how long could she keep this up? This dream? She had been raised on older values. Her old friends had gone on their corporate games of 'King of the Hill' and she had chosen to marry and be a mother, knowing from her own loving mother that this was a noble pursuit. But the one thing that she lived for, had sacrificed her own ambitions for, had been mercilessly ripped from her grasp.
could not go on. She could not go back. Her heart had come to a place where it
would have to stay. She could not imagine saying goodbye. She'd never allow that.
"Yes, I know I..." Henry stopped, lost for a response. On the wall before him paintings of fairy tale characters tried to pretend that this was not a place of death. In one image, men carried a naked Emperor on a sedan. Who had chosen that drawing? How devastatingly apropos.
"She really has me worried," Frazier continued. "She is in the most difficult position of feeling that she should mourn the death of your son, and after five years, Henry, your instincts tell you to mourn him too." Frazier shook his head and raised his arms as if in surrender. "But all this medicine assures us that mourning is inappropriate; that Martin is merely pending."
"Pending..." Henry repeated the word. Wasn't that how their whole life had become: pending; an image on pause, frozen, like their son, in a time that should have ended years ago?
"And all her grief, just goes undigested" Frazier said. He gazed at this loyal, loving man and his heart sank. He'd seen lesser men give up before the fight had really began. Why did the good seem to suffer more?
didn't want to acknowledge Frazier's gaze. He didn't want to look the man in the
eye, he knew what he'd see there. But he had to be strong for Monica. He forced
himself to return the doctor's gaze, and saw an unspoken statement.
Henry turned to watch Monica read to their dying boy. Martin would not hear her from the depths of his cryogenic slumber, and in all likelihood he'd probably never hear her voice again. Henry shuddered. He loved his son, loved him more than his heart could stand. But there were those moments weren't there? He'd deny them if anyone ever asked, but there were those awful moments when he just wished it were all over
one way or another.