His golden-eyed bride comes to the Duke of Fifth Dawn from the Colony of Jade With Honeysuckle, bought by great expense in hand-pressed uranium coins. With due honor, she is received and quartered for seven days with her father in a bark of shining metals and orion fuel. Patiently, and in the manner of a humble man, the Duke courts her with the Five Noble Forms. Though she is paid for, he considers himself a romantic soul.

The first gift is a maiden of the lower botanic firms, who, kneeling before her silk-veiled eyes, sheds the wide-sleeved robe veined with gold. Her skin has been replaced with fine china in places; celadon and Ming Dynasty patterns gleam from her arms as she performs a dance of alluring movements before the bride. When she finishes, she kneels and performs the tea ceremony there, upon the floor of the luxury rocket ship.

A scroll of nothing more than common nanopaper is returned with his drone, an understated expression of gratitude and acceptance. It is so simple, so humble, so rustic and unaffected that his breath catches in his throat to imagine how untutored and raw his bride must be. How innocent, this silk-wrapped bride from the backwater colony.

He selects for the second gift a child's toy, a block of hand-polished bastard teak and crystalline logic. It plays for her the poems of the Night Lady illustrated in coruscating rays of prism-formed watercolor hues. For a return message, he receives only a brief acknowledgment via a common line of text on one of his terminal accounts.

He is galled. Infuriated. Insulted. This bride ought be thanking her ancestors, returning even a glimpse of propriety. Dashing the rough red teacup his artisans have crafted from coils against the silk carpets of his office, he calls for his drone and scrawls out his offense, a list of demands, threats, and demands of identity. Has the Matchmaking Database and his investment been for naught? Has this backwater colony sent him a lower drone from their reclamation plants, or worse, a clone of Lord Jade With Honeysuckle?

The response returns swiftly, within hours, wrapped within the stasis field of the drone. It is tested for a full day and night before it is revealed: a box of pressed seaweed and gilt, scented with lotus blossom and sage. Within, on a lining of rough tan linen, he finds the treasure.

His mouth goes dry, his eyes go hungry. Within the box is a folded card of raw paper veined with honeysuckle blossoms. Slipped into a slit at the center of the card are five strands of hair suspended in a slender glass specimen vial. A tiny pink clip, a silken bow, holds them in a neat loop: infinity.

His assistants extract and test the sample, returning with verification. The Duke unfolds the card, and regards the visage within.

His bride has been rendered in true watercolor, meticulously, by the hand of a master of the paints. She is seated, unmistakably, before a port gazing out over Fifth Dawn, and her robe has slipped halfway down her arms, exposing the ivory line of her shoulders, the small black tattoo denoting her genetic lineage at the back of her neck. Her hair is swept up and covered in emerald satin, veiling all but the delicate architecture of her neck and the skin of her shoulders.

The Duke calls for three members of the harem, and disports with them mercilessly. In the morning, one is dead of a snapped neck, the other is bruised and bloody, and the third is with child. The servants who clean his quarters whisper quietly of his virility as they feed the dead and injured to the reclamation pods. The third, they confide in each other, will never walk again.

He dispenses with a third gift, but hurriedly closes the negotiations. They are wedded within a standard week.

His bride enters the Fifth Dawn with the company of the agent of the Matchmaking Database, who is severe in an old-style suit. The shrewish officer, unformed by geneknives and untouched by even crude alterations, wears her frown like a nun's habit. The Duke cares not. His eyes are for the mass of silk under which his love, the bride, moves. With pleasure, he regards the gliding walk, the gesture of her gloved hands, the gentle pressure of a gravity shield against his fingers as he takes one hand. The ivory sliver of wrist that gives up blood for the verification of her identity.

It is she herself, and he trembles with desire that cracking bone and breaking skin has not satisfied. The genemother of his heirs. The ivory aspect of a noble and untainted lineage. Pure, uncloned humanity, more real than the dolls he sports with. It is beyond belief.

Beneath his handwoven robes, he is harder than he ever remembers being.

The ceremonies, the spiced smoke, the reed mats, all are inconsequential. The words flow easily from his sub-brain. Her voice lilts and falls like silver chimes. Her movements are pristine, trained. She is flawless, an idol in glorious, verdant silk.

The vows are said, the contracts are sealed. Her father rises without a word, as does the agent of the Database. There is a low bed before the ancestral altar, piled high with pillows. Rising, he begins the dance of their wedding night, murmuring the words as he sheds his robes with precision, exposing his perfectly formed body to her eyes.

She sits as if stunned by his immaculately tanned skin, or by the physique of a Grecian idol he reveals without shame. For a moment, he dares to believe he has shocked an untried innocent, a naive girl. Nearly, he reaches for her, heedless of the forms, needing to rip the veil from her face, needing to see the shocked, fearful reaction.

Finally, she rises, like a graceful swan, his wife, and turns, her silk slipping and shifting as, like an automaton of flesh and blood, she rotates with minute, gliding steps. The sheer artistry shocks him.

Her hands, gloved in supple lambskin, rise to the back of her neck, sweeping aside a sheer scarf. The suggestion of that unshielded skin has him breathless.

Then she begins to unwind the sheets of her robes, the silk, and he is taken aback, enraptured.

The suggestion of a smile eddies from beneath her veil, as bit by bit, the Duchess of the Fifth Dawn turns. With each shrug and delicate motion, the fabric pools at her feet. With each pass of a hand, he sees less and less of the ivory and less and less of her figure. Veils of gossamer and slubbed fabric, circling spools of nano-aura, all float about her like sheets of fog. Her movements, this dance, this unfurling, twinkles with the under-robes, an inlay of gilded thread sparkling in the light of the ruddy braziers.

As a veil pulls loose of her arm, another billows from beneath, unloosed from the pressure of the knots. Her wrist flashes ivory, briefly, then is concealed in shifting fabric. She is a sandstorm, a maelstrom, a slowly-evolving cloud of suggestion. Even as he catches a glimpse of her perfect hair falling, honeysuckle-scented, from confinement, it drifts about, yet another filament to the veiled dance, obscuring her neck. Her eyes, perfectly golden, are gone even as the veils of her face vanish: the aura of sparking energy fields and nano-rings surround her yet again.

There is less fabric, then, and even as he thinks to raise a hand, to move forwards, the last of the wedding robes comes free. For a single moment, the curves of her hip, the suggestion of lips, the billowing curtain of her hair, are revealed amidst glimpses of uncovered flesh. With a final susurrous gasp of cloth against cloth, the slip next to her skin melts to nothing.

As the backs of his fingers brush her soft, perfectly fleshy cheek, she fades away into a phantom and a dream.

You might expect that someone in danger of freezing to death would want to be wearing as many clothes as possible, but somewhere between one in five people and a half of all those who die of hypothermia actually start to strip down before they die. This phenomenon is known as 'paradoxical undressing'. Many are found completely naked, often curled up in the closest thing they could find to a cave. Nobody really knows why, since people hardly ever freeze to death while scientists are watching, unless the scientists are freezing to death too.

Our bodies are better at registering that a temperature is extreme than they are at saying whether it is hot or cold, which must be a factor here. Most people who are in the process of freezing to death surely know they are cold, though - even in the confusion of hypothermia, even compounded by the effects of alcohol or other drugs, which are involved in many but not all of these cases. We must look deeper.

The most popular theory is that it is to do with muscles getting tired out. When the body is exposed to the cold, it reacts by contracting blood vessels close to the skin's surface - this vasoconstriction reduces the heat lost from warm blood as it is pumped through cold flesh, which helps explain why our extremities go numb and lifeless in the cold. If the muscles constricting those blood vessels finally get worn out, it would make sense that the blood would come coursing back through the veins. With hot blood suddenly making it through to their chilled limbs, the freezing person might suddenly feel overwhelmingly hot.

It has also been speculated that paradoxical undressing may be the result of a malfunctioning hypothalamus, which regulates the body's temperature responses, probably also leading to vasodilation. However, I have not been able to find any detailed description of the mechanisms that might be involved.

Most cases of paradoxical undressing are also associated with terminal burrowing behaviour, or 'hide-and-die syndrome'. Having stripped off, the dying person crawls into a nearby enclosed space - under a bed or a hedgerow, say, or inside a wardrobe - where they curl up and await the end. This is even more mysterious than the undressing itself. Perhaps the cold triggers some kind of vestigial hibernation instinct; perhaps such enclosed spaces just seem comforting, in some primordial way. Delirium may be involved.

Whatever the explanation for the undressing and the burrowing behaviour, they are often greatly disconcerting for anyone investigating hypothermia deaths. If you don't know that these things are very common in cases of terminal hypothermia, you are likely to assume that the nudity is the result of a sexual assault, and the 'hiding' of the body has been done by a murderer ineffectually trying to cover their tracks. Often the victim's clothes are found in a trail somewhere behind them. Sometimes they manage to keep on going for a long time after disrobing, and their naked body is found exposed a mile or more away from a pile of their discarded clothes, leaving endless fuel for speculation about their final hours. Sometimes it gets even stranger than that.

More

  1. Fortean Times: 'Cold Cases'
  2. "Terminal burrowing behaviour"--a phenomenon of lethal hypothermia
  3. "Paradoxical Undressing" in Fatal Hypothermia

Paradoxical undressing is a medical phenomenon during which victims of severe hypothermia find themselves compelled to remove their clothing due to a perceived increase in body temperature. On July 25th, 1994, an article, published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine by Dr. Markus Rothschild and Dr. Volker Schneider, analyzed observations made regarding 69 separate cases of lethal hypothermia recorded between 1978 and 1994. Of those cases, 17 individuals (25%) were found to be either partially clothed or nude. Some sources suggest that this estimation is modest at best, claiming that between 50-70% of hypothermia cases exhibit signs of paradoxical undressing.

A number of explanations have been suggested to account for the physiological cause of paradoxical undressing. One theory, described by Dr. Rothschild and Dr. Schneider, argues that cold-paralysis of the nerves within the body's blood vessels may lead to vasodilation, allowing blood to flow back to the extremities, which results in the illusion of body warmth as felt by the victim. Another possibility discussed is that the body's vasoconstriction reflex, triggered at the onset of hypothermia, may ultimately lead to a paralysis of the vasomotor center within the medulla oblongata, causing the body to feel far warmer than it actually is.

Associated with paradoxical undressing is another phenomenon found in hypothermia victims, named the "terminal burrowing behaviour" by Dr. Rothschild and Dr. Schneider—prompted by a process within the brain stem, the dying individual instinctively seeks out a burrow-like niche for protection, such as beneath a bed or alongside a shelf, obscured by objects. Within the 17 cases found to engage in paradoxical undressing, 14 were also observed to exhibit this terminal burrowing behaviour. The presence of both phenomena can, at times, complicate the work of forensic scientists, particularly in cases regarding female victims—a body stripped of clothing, for example, might lead an investigator to approach the case as a sexually based homicide, interpreting any skin abrasions (made as the victim began to "burrow" against the hard ground) as signs of an altercation, and, finally, the burrowing behaviour itself taken as an attempt by the assailant to stash the body from clear view.


Sources
  1. ""Terminal burrowing behaviour" - a phenomenon of lethal hypothermia" by M.A. Rothschild & V. Schneider (July 25th, 1994)
  2. Forensic pathology: principles and practice by David Dolinak, Evan W. Matshes & Emma O. Lew (2005)

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