Dialing for Fishes

Tossing a stone or two in the right place usually brought results. Nothing especially coherent, but proof that he hadn’t lost his mind.

Toss a rock. <Eleanor, are you there?> Toss another. <Calling Eleanor Starke.> Another.

<Merrill?>

He froze in midthrow. <Yes, it’s me. Talk to me, Eleanor.> He waited, but there was nothing more, so he tossed more rocks.

<Where the hell am I?>

<You’re in the fish, I think.>

<Say again?>

<In the fish in your ponds.> In all of them, apparently. He’d had Arrow check over a hundred Starke farm ponds across the Midwest, and all of them appeared to be stocked with the same transgenic species. <You seem to be tied to the panasonics. Were you experimenting with some method of brain transfer?>

<Speak simply, man. Use plain language.>

<I said you’re a fish.>

<That makes no sense.>

This was the way all of his conversations with her seemed to go. It was probably some sort of parlor trick, or a legitimate experiment that never went anywhere, and he was about to give up on her until he asked a question that tapped some wellspring of memory.

<Eleanor, who killed you?>

<Old age, though they wrote pneumonia on my death certificate. I was ninety-six years old, and my body was all worn-out. This was before rejuvenation, before true biostasis even. All we could do back then was let them decapitate you and freeze your head. The idea was that future scientists would figure out how to revive you, fix what killed you, and regrow your body. Well, what would happen if they figured out how to revive and fix you, but they never figured out how to regrow your body? Then all the frozen head people would be screwed, right? Please don’t think me nuts; Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz. Remember that one?>

He did not.

<So I went for the full-body option. Cost was no object for me. We had a suspension team literally standing by with tubs of dry ice and a big chrome dewar of liquid nitrogen. It was critical to perfuse the tissues with cryo-protectant as soon as possible after death. It would have been better to start the perfusions while you were still alive so that technically you never die, but that was considered murder back then and hard to get a doctor to go along with.

<This was back in 1994. Yes, that means I was born at the end of the nineteenth century. Bet you don’t meet many of us anymore. I was a little ladybird toward the end, and chained to my bed. My mind was still sharp enough, though everything else had worn out. The connective tissue was the first to go. I couldn’t turn my head or wiggle my pinky without pain. I was completely alone — no surviving offspring, no family, only paid servants and employees stealing me blind. Those were the days before mentars. We didn’t even have belt valets, if you can believe it. I had single-handedly built a Fortune 500 company doing worldwide port management and construction, but I had no one to leave it to. There was a constant stream of do-gooders visiting my sickbed with hats in hand. Would I consider endowing a children’s hospital? How about a chair at the university? Or a shelter for abandoned emus? It would be named after me. Instead, I set up a trust to freeze and maintain my body and maximize my investments. I left detailed instructions to revive me when the time was right. I was one of those.

<As I lay dying, I didn’t have much hope I would ever open my eyes again because I knew about all the things that could go wrong, including how easy it was to bust trusts like the one I had set up. At best, I expected to be down for a century or two. So I was lucky that the technology took only another forty years to mature.>

On and on she went, with Rip-Van-Winklish anecdotes of awakening in the new century, reclaiming her fortune, and enduring her first rejuve. Meewee was afraid to interrupt her in case he never found the on-switch again. An hour later, when she did wind down, he plied her with more questions.

<Do you remember your space yacht, the Songbird?>

<Vaguely. What about it?>

<Do you know what happened to it?>

She fell silent, and no amount of stones could summon her.

OVER THE COURSE of the next few weeks, it became easier to roust Eleanor from her fishy torpor, easier to keep her on topic and to direct her attention. She regaled him with stories of long ago, but her memory of recent events was spotty. Still, he detected steady improvement, as though fresh memories were returning daily. Arrow confirmed that Eleanor’s scientists had been researching the possibility of transferring and storing memory to external brains and it provided Meewee classified files filled with technical specs and details that were well beyond his ken.

But for all the progress she made, Eleanor seemed totally unable or unwilling to incorporate anything new into her fishy psyche. Whenever he tried to inform her about the ongoing crisis at the GEP or about Zoranna’s recent troubles with Applied People, she would retort <Will you please just forget about them!> and then usually withdraw.

She was incapable of holding the idea of Million Singh from one conversation to the next. <A million what?> she would say. <Speak plainly, Merrill!>

But the subject of Andrea Tiekel was different. It was even possible that Eleanor had known this niece of Andie Tiekel’s. She asked questions about her, but she got caught in a loop, asking the same set of questions over and over.

<Where’s Andie?>

<Murdered, a couple of days after you.>

<What about her mentar?>

<E-P’s sponsorship passed to Andrea, and she took Andie’s place on the GEP board.>

<Did E-P go through probate?>

<Yes.>

<Are you sure?>

Actually, he wasn’t, but how else would the mentar’s sponsorship pass to Andrea? It was the law. Eleanor seemed fixated on this point, and they had the same conversation so often that Meewee told Arrow to research UDJD files. Arrow replied that there was no public record of E-P going through probate.

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