Dr. Victor Fries skitters across his lab’s cold metal floor. Six long, spindly metal legs support his Plexiglas-enclosed head. The legs’ movements are controlled by the same type of neural impulses that would have moved the limbs he was born with, communicated through a first-of-its kind interface plugged into the the remaining portion of his spine.
Fries is the inventor of this triumph of bionics, but it is nowhere near the most impressive of his works to be found even by a cursory glance around the place. Against the wall lies a fully operational bionic body, which is Fries’s preferred mode of transportation out in the world.
These inventions were, as the saying goes, born of necessity. Fries began his study of direct-interface prosthetics not long after he discovered that the cryonics lab accident that had left him famously frozen – Fries remains in his refrigerated jar, unable to survive in temperatures above 140 Kelvin, or -213◦ Fahrenheit – had finally begun to degrade his muscle tissue. His neural pathways remained intact, but his organs were doomed to fail.
Before his bionics breakthrough, the doctor had achieved dubious fame by inventing the once-thought-impossible freeze ray, which has proven terribly effective in the course of his crimes.
“It’s actually quite simple,” Fries says, an electronic approximation of his voice coming from a speaker also hooked into his central nervous system. “The larger scientific community believed a temperature-decreasing projectile to be impossible, because cold is, rather than something one creates, an absence of energy.” One of the spindles taps the ice off a test tube, maintaining the doctor’s view of the viscous, shifting blue liquid within. “But what no one had previously considered was a projectile so dense as to physically force the thermal energy from its path, creating cold.”
Fries is not a physicist, or at least holds no credentials in the field. He received his bachelor’s in biology and attended medical school immediately after. He has no other degrees. That hasn’t stopped him from making enormous strides in engineering, physics, chemistry and medicine.
At a level more intimate than any degree could provide, Fries knows the cold. Beyond living every moment in it, Fries is the world’s leading expert on cryonics. After his wife, Nora, was diagnosed with a terminal, presently incurable degenerative disease, Dr. Fries persuaded her to undergo cryopreservation before significant organ damage could render a future cure moot.
Fries lingers for a moment over an enormous tube filled with a clear, bubbling liquid. Cables snake around the tube like overgrown roots. Dozens of monitors dot the tube’s base, silent and unchanging. They have nothing to report. Nora was evacuated months ago from a similar tube with the help of the Batman in an equipment explosion that claimed Fries’s previous lab and nearly his life. Fries hasn’t seen her since.
After a moment, the spell is broken. The doctor continues on, the metal points on which he walks clacking their way over to another chemical reaction that needs careful examination.
Pharmacology is, Fries admits, difficult to do properly under the conditions his body demands. Temperature is often a crucial component of chemistry. Many reactants remain steadfastly dormant at temperatures so far below freezing.
But he works however he can, all too aware that every minute his wife remains out in the world, she likely inches closer to organ failure and death. As a fugitive from the law – and from the extralegal pursuit of the Batman – Fries is unable to launch an adequate search for her. He leaves his hidden lab only when he absolutely must. All he can do now is develop a cure and hope she finds her way back.
Fries’s mind may be the best of his generation, but it may also have been destroyed by madness. After his wife’s prognosis and subsequent freezing, he became consumed with what many have called an obsession. There is some debate, though, over whether Fries’s obsession is with curing his wife or with taking revenge on those responsible for his condition. Those close to the many people the doctor’s actions have hurt or killed tend to argue for the latter.
It is no secret that Fries holds a sometimes-violent grudge against Gothcorp, if not the entire city of Gotham. To hear Fries tell it, Gothcorp’s then-CEO Ferris Boyle cut funding to the company’s cryonics division, decreeing it “unprofitable.” When Fries refused to leave the Gothcorp lab, fearing transporting his wife so early in her cryosleep could prevent proper preservation, Boyle sent a gang of thugs to forcibly remove him. A physical altercation ensued, which destroyed the lab, compromised Nora’s cryochamber, and nearly killed Fries, leaving him in his frost-dependent state. As he struggled to keep his lab stocked and his research going, Fries, bitter, enraged and unceremoniously ejected from mainstream science and its already-scarce grants, turned to crime.
Fries’s face hardly changes during his tale, a stoicism made all the more eerie by his unmoving lips. There is, however, a moment when he speaks of the compromised cryochamber, of the potential death of his wife due to one unlucky shove from a hired gun, in which his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly. They hold the hyper-focused look of a man capable of anything, but almost before it can register, it’s gone.
The jar containing the doctor’s head swivels, turning his face away. Sharp metal points scrape brusquely against the frozen tiles, tracing what would be a well-worn path (if the ice here weren’t so hard) to Fries’s bionic body. He has to go out. For what, he will not tell me. He asks me to leave, and of course I comply.
I will never forget the wonders I’ve seen here today, nor the constant shiver beneath my parka, nor Victor Fries’s eyes, frozen, dead, red and blazing.
Guest writer Cameron DeOrdio writes fiction, journalism, essays, PR and comic book scripts that no human dare illustrate — largely because no one who draws will read them. You can follow him on Twitter if you’d like, but if you’d rather not, that’s OK, as he’s a Mets fan and has therefore exceeded his lifetime disappointment quota.
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