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Pin-up by Michael Kaluta

System Freeze was a short story about a bluepill programmer and amateur mountain climber, offered another chance to live by an Agent after falling as she was climbing Mount Everest on the condition that she completed the AI program she was working on.

It was written by Poppy Z. Brite and illustrated by Michael Kaluta for The Matrix Comics Series 1. It was published in The Matrix Comics Volume 2 with new illustrations by Dave Dorman and later in The Devil You Know, a collection of her short stories. It was then republished in The Matrix Comics: 20th Anniversary Edition.

The actual text can be found here: System Freeze/Text.


While climbing Mount Everest, Fria Canning discovers the withered corpse of a fellow climber, a Japanese man, whose body she believes has remained unrecovered since at least the previous season. Fria, acknowledging the difficulty of retrieving the dead bodies of any climber at her current altitude, offers the man a quick prayer before leaving it to continue on with her own ascent. A short 15 minutes later, Fria herself faces possible death after falling a hundred foot down into a hidden crevasse within the mountain.

Her body broken, Fria starts entertaining her own death in the mountain and recalls hearing how other climbers, after dying in similar crevasses, had their bodies eventually chewed up by the ice and later churned out somewhere lower in the mountain. Liking the appeal of leaving her own imprint on systems, the same appeal which also inspired her to start writing the artificial intelligence program Self, Fria instead preferred the mountain to keep her body.

While visualizing her own death, Fria then spots a man in a black suit and dark glasses walking through the ice and approaching her. The man introduces himself to be Agent John Fine and helps Fria to stand up on her own. The seemingly recovered Fria is apparently admired by Agent Fine and his colleagues because of her AI work. Agent Fine then offers to get Fria out of the crevasse. A doubtful Fria initially declines this offer which made Agent Fine take a step away from Fria and causing Fria to immediately fall back into the ground and suffer pain much worse than before. Agent Fine explains that he only wanted Fria to complete her new AI program, something she would have done in case she lived anyway, and even offered to pay Fria handsomely for the program. Fria then accepts this deal.

Upon acceptance of the deal, Fria is instantly back at the surface of the mountain with both her body and all her equipment intact. Dismissing the whole experience as a product of hypoxia, Fria continues on and eventually reaches the summit the next day.

Back home in New York, Fria is in front of her computer screen no longer able to continue working on the new AI program due to what Fria suspects is an association between the program and her upsetting memories of Mount Everest. Still believing the entire experience to be caused by hypoxia, Fria decides to set the completion of the program aside.

Agent Fine would knock on Fria’s door 2 days later asking her for the new AI program. Fria, at first unable to recognize the man, suddenly remembers the entire experience at Everest after Agent Fine reintroduces himself and reminds Fria of their deal. Fria admits to Agent Fine that she can no longer complete the program due to the program’s strong associations which Fria avoided thinking about. Agent Fine, asking if Fria was referring to the ice, suddenly starts to crystalize and speedily generates so much ice from his body that the ice quickly proceeds to envelope and tighten around Fria until it kills her.

In a morgue, the coroner and his assistant discover that Fria suffered broken bones which were consistent with a fall but are puzzled by the lack of anywhere she could have fallen from. The coroner also concludes, after looking out the window and pausing to see the sun and sky of a perfect July day, that Fria died of hypothermia.


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