I followed the robot butler out of the French doors and along a smooth red-flagged path that skirted the far side of the lawn from the garage. The cyborg chauffeur was now working on a big black and chromium in-system spacecraft, head and shoulders inside some inspection panel. I wondered idly why the rich would employ humans - or near equivalent - to perform tasks much more easily done by machines.
The path took us along to the side of the icehouse and the butler opened a door for me and stood aside. It opened into a vestibule that was as cold as an icebox. He came in after me, sealed the outer door, opened an inner door and we went through that. Then it was really cold. Even the heating inserts in my clothing were barely able to deflect the penetrating chill.
Hulking black monoliths, row after row of cryogenic equipment filled the place, sheeted with frost. Pipes and heavy cables snaked across the floor. The archaic apparatus was scarcely visible, the gloom more enhanced than abated by a handful of low-emission light sources and a galaxy of status indicators, reassuringly green for the most part. My breath froze into clouds of sharp ice crystals instantly and I could feel the crunch of frozen water vapour under my feet.
The butler did his best to get me through without tripping on loose power feeds, and after a while we came to a clearing in the middle of the museum collection. Here, in a space of hexagonal anti-slip medical tiling, an old-fashioned deep-sleep casket lay open, and in the casket an old and obviously dying man watched us come in with black eyes from which all fire had died long ago, but which still had the coal-black directness of the eyes in the portrait that hung above the mantel in the hall. The rest of his face was a leaden mask, with the bloodless lips and the sharp nose and the sunken temples and the outward-turning earlobes of approaching dissolution. His long narrow body was wrapped in a life-support tabard, moving noiselessly to support his breathing. His thin claw-like hands were folded loosely, purple-nailed. A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like Martian lichen fighting for life on a bare rock.
The butler stood in front of him and said: "This is Mr Marlowe, General."
The old man didn't speak or move, or even nod. He just looked at me lifelessly. I wondered how much movement he was capable of, and how much of that was actually the intervention of the medical machinery.
Then the old man dragged his voice up from the bottom of a well and said: "Brandy, Norris. How do you like your brandy, sir?"
"Any way at all," I said.
The butler went away softly clicking between the life-support machinery. The General spoke again, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work cyborg concubine uses her last power cell.
"I used to like mine with champagne. The champagne as cold as Europan icebergs and about a third of a glass of brandy beneath it. You may turn up your heaters, sir. It's too cold in here for a man with blood in his veins."
To keep his heart going at all in this temperature, his blood must already be mostly ethylene glycol. I set my clothing’s heating to maximum and felt automatically for a cigarette and then stopped. The old man caught the gesture and smiled faintly.
"You may smoke, sir. I like the smell of tobacco."
I lit the cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rat-hole. The faint smile pulled at the shadowed corners of his mouth.
"A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy," he said dryly, "You are looking at a very dull survivor of a rather gaudy life, a cripple paralysed and maintained in near-stasis by this ancient life-support machinery. I can be warmed only infrequently, each minute of consciousness etching at what remains of the cells in my brain and my body."
I stared at him with my mouth open, breathing steam. The crushing cold was like a pall around us. The old man nodded carefully, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head. Then the butler came back through the icy monoliths with a heated trolley, mixed me a brandy with lemon and hot water in an insulated cup, and softly went away again among the machines.
I sipped the steaming drink. The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.