Stories

Dead is the New Alive


Kodawa had been preparing for this moment for many years now. The nature of an animal is to do whatever it can to pass on its genes to a new generation. The selfish gene. The ones that would brook only their own replication and none others. It was the only true form of immortality available, to contribute indelibly to the human legacy.

He had married with the intent that he would have children. But he and his wife had trouble conceiving and he discovered that he was sterile, or near enough that the best fertility doctors could not help him. That was thirty years ago. He was still a young man then, one without much of a path in life. Have a family, provide for them, die quietly surrounded by them. That had been his goal.

Taken from him, he went through the stages of grief. Except he had never progressed past the bargaining point. There had to be a way, he thought. There must. At first, he considered another way to immortality. To become someone so great that even in the great future, he would be spoken of in reverent terms. So he threw himself into work. He bargained not with doctors, but with the gods. Give me another way. They answered him.

By the time he was thirty-five, he was a millionaire. By the time he was forty, he was a billionaire. But he had earned his wealth only through single-minded drive. He had shut everything else out. His wife left him. His friends forgot him. Even his business associates kept him at arm's length. He was not someone who would be written about in the history books.

Until...

A doctor, with big ideas. South Korean. He had his own dreams of immortality, in more than one way. In legacy, of course, but other ways too. Their meeting had seemed to be a coincidence, but had it?

“Mr. Kodawa?” Dr. Cho said, stepping into the room.

Kodawa was young then, compared to now. Twenty years ago... Dr. Cho led him to the nursery, where a baby he recognized from his parents' old photos, though this one was hooked up to life support. Would it grow in the same ways? He turned and walked away and decided to trust Dr. Cho. He never saw the baby again.

Kodawa couldn't worry about such things now. He was old and dying. His pancreas was cancerous and had been caught too late to do anything about. He was in pain almost constantly. But he did not worry. He went through no stages of grief. He had already bargained.

“I am ready,” Kodawa said to the doctor.

“Good,” Cho said. “Come with me.” He held out his hand and Kodawa took it. He and Cho had been working together for two decades. They kept in close contact and had become, if not friends, at least mutual admirers.

Cho could not have achieved anything without Kodawa's money. Kodawa would simply be a scared, dying old man without Cho. The two of them walked slowly through the facility. Cho could have gone faster, but he kept himself slow for Kodawa. Kodawa knew he was holding Cho back in this, but even though he was desperate, he could not rush this.

All in due time.

They eventually took an elevator to a wing of the hospital that was sealed off from most of the Kodawa Memorial Hospital personnel. Most did not even know it existed. It was underground, the main condition of Kodawa providing the funding to have the hospital built. Those few who knew about it, aside from Cho's hand-picked staff, did not even realize what it was for. Kodawa and Cho both knew if the secret emerged too soon, the ethicists would descend upon them like starving dogs.

Ethics be damned. Saving human life was ethical!

They came to a lone hospital room where a man was kept on life support. He was frail, his body atrophied from disuse. He stared at the ceiling blankly, his face a tabula rasa.

“Do you want to look?” Cho asked.

Kodawa shook his head. “I saw it in the mirror for many years, Dr. Cho. I will have enough time to see it after we finish.”

“Then shall we begin?”

“I do not wish to wait any longer than I can.”

“This way.” Cho led him from the room to an operating theater across the hall. Kodawa stripped down and laid unevenly on the table. Cho strapped him down and a nurse applied a anesthesia.

Slowly Kodawa's consciousness drifted away. He heard Cho talking in the background.

“First we will make an incision at the forehead and travel back to the base of the skull. Once we peel away the flesh, we shall open the skull itself... Can you hear me?”

Light slowly trickled into Kodawa's eyes. He felt nothing at all. As if he were floating in a vat of nothingness. The anesthesia, he thought. It is still fading off.

He tried to say something, but couldn't. His mouth would not move. He could move his eyes and blink, but that was it. He focused on Cho's face. Cho smiled. “So you can hear me?”

Kodawa tried to ask what had happened, but nothing emerged. Surely the anesthesia would have worn off by now, he reasoned. He wanted to scream.

“The transplant was a success,” Cho informed him. “You are the first success, Kodawa. You will pave the way to immortality.” Cho must have seen something in Kodawa's eyes. Confusion or anger.

He stepped away, out of the sight of Kodawa's eyes. “You cannot move, Mr. Kodawa. You will not be able to move. The brain is in place, the nerves attached as we could... But scarred nerves do not transmit signals. I am afraid, Mr. Kodawa, that you are in what we would call a locked-in state.”

Kodawa wanted to raise his hands and strangle Cho. He wanted to break free of the invisible chains that bound him. But try as he might, he felt nothing at all. He saw, he heard, but nothing else. A tube was extruding from his mouth, the same he had seen on the body earlier. His body, the body he was now trapped inside.

“Maybe one day, in the future, we shall be able to fix this,” Cho's words floated to him from some distant shore. “But until then, please enjoy your new lease on life. And try not to go insane from the loneliness. That would be quite bothersome to deal with.”

A corpse. A thinking corpse that could not breathe or eat on its own. And yet he was alive and would be for years, even decades to come.

The light in the room flicked off, bringing him to darkness save for the dim glow of the medical monitors.


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