Juan lowered his voice to a whisper amid all the humming ellipticals in the gym, and he made a point to move his mouth as little as possible, so the A.I. on the security cameras wouldn't be able to read his words from his lips. I understood him, because I was used to him speaking in the noise around us.
«Arth, I tell you, then I only see one possibility.»
He waited for me to ask, he really milked the moment.
He looked away and back to me, «Rich-funding.»
I opened my mouth to protest, but he didn't let me and rambled on, «I know a guy who knows a guy, who knows a guy, you hear me?»
Rich-funding and the Take-their-fun-initiative—where paint balloons were hurled at anything nice they owned—had led to basic income; the rich and their past political lackeys agreed on it and pushed for an appropriate wealth tax to pay for it after too many of their family members were taken hostage and threatened with personal harm or a fair-share: a random amount of crypto currencies in exchange for the loved one. To some families that happened more than once a month and it became a routine nuisance, a waste of their precious time, but for the majority of the population—in the light of low wages and precarious job and life situations—true fairness and equality were delivered.
I kept my voice down, sporting my own ventriloquist qualities, «Juan, I don't know, that's not me.»
«It's your brother.»
«If they catch me, they send me to Red Deer!»
«Nonsense, don't worry, you want to rich-fund! Red Deer is just for the lowest low lives.»
Red Deer, the Correction City of the North Western Union, just celebrated its 10th anniversary. A decade ago, the society was looking for a piece of fruitless land, they could designate solely for a first-degree felony retreat, complete with everything you need for a life if you didn't fit into the society, and not even in the Goo, due to your criminal energy. So they called a referendum. The people of the Union could vote for Red Deer or Thunder Bay. As it turned out, it wasn't even a close call since many Red Deeranians voted for their own city; and some even stayed.
There were old school supermarkets, parks, verticals, farms, a hospital, an own police force, a pseudo-government, you found everything in Red Deer, everything but a decent human being. All of them carried life sentences for heavy crimes like murder and computer hacking, plus the army of the aging old world criminals from the banks, advertisement, the car, pharma and the oil industry—still, in Red Deer they were allowed to roam the streets freely despite their despicable deeds. No medieval jail cells, no wardens, a human life in dignity, more than they ever granted their victims, our grandparents and great grandparents. And if one clobbered another one, nobody cared. True freedom, according to their own definition.
«You sure about that?», I asked.
«Positive. I haven't heard of any rich-funder going to Red Deer. Imagine.»
«Okay, so if I do not go to Red Deer... IF not... then I end up as a Goozonx cylinder.»
«They won't catch you. The underground rich-funding connector is a cousin of my neighbor and knows his stuff, he does it for years. His clients are happy as far as I know.»
I hammered my thumb against my chest, «As far as I know, I don't have enough luck in my life to pull that off. And my brother wouldn't like that either.»
«Does he like... life? Living?»
«He must… Otherwise…», I nodded, he would know what I mean.
He did. «How much younger is he?»
«Yeah, that's quite a bit. He has the best years ahead of him.»
«I know. Well, in the framework of his condition.»
I sped up on my elliptical.
«If you can't pay for the surgery… Would a transplant do the trick?»
«Transplants always do the trick.»
«I'm just asking, Arth. Is your brother, same blood type, same...»
«What are you getting at?»
«You know what I'm getting at? It must have crossed your mind.»
It did cross my mind. Giving him a chunk of my brain, donating it to him in my last will—if I would walk the plank myself.
«I'm not sure if I can do that. I'm not a hero yet.»
«Everybody can do that. So many do. You can do that. You carry a hero inside. Your grandfather was one of the first... your father did it, too. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you...»
«No, no, I know.»
«I'm just saying.»
«I know, Juan. Maybe I do some more research.»
«Yeah, there you go. You don't want to jump to conclusions on that level.»
I blew up my mustache and thought out loud, «A visit with a suicide counsellor doesn't harm.»
«Exactly, now you're talking. What do you have to lose? You got to do, what you got to do. Keep your options open.»
: : :
His words echoed in my head, Juan was right, what did I have to lose? Not much. What would Berat gain? Everything!
Even the pace I was walking down 4th Avenue South seemed to mimic that, I sped by most of the people—without running.
A sigh left my lips when I heard the single drum sound of the deep Taiko bass beaten every second heartbeat. I had to halt at the next intersection to let a mobile consumption site rumble North. The drummer stood on top of the vehicle balancing the movements with his bent knees, never missing a beat, so addicts and those who wanted to try something new could hear him from afar. Depending how many users were following the vehicle, this would take a while; usually one vehicle attracted three to four hundred addicts, followed by an armada of rats patiently crawling behind them waiting for somebody to die, so they could each get one or two bites out of him before the mobile social workers could collect the body.
The mobile consumption sites were permanent mobile, they never stopped, they bumbled down the streets in a random pattern at a slow pedestrian speed, so everybody who needed to, could follow and wait for their term to hop on board and take their drug of choice: Semifanta, Osi or Pzy.
Sobered up enough they would leave the site on an extended metal arm they could hold on to, so nobody would slip and fall. Once they let go, they just kept walking and let the trek trudge by until they queued again at the end. By the time the effect of the drug had subsided enough, it was their term again.
Nobody slept, not in the go-to-bed way, they napped while ambling on, often holding hands or the shoulder of the one in front of them, following the drum with their eyes closed taking these small steps as if an invisible weight around their ankles would hinder them to walk like a normal person.
After too many complaints from people that the mobile consumption sites were an eyesore, especially for kids, the city listened and ordered to tie black balloons filled with helium to the left ears of every user. The shiny round balls bounced two metres over their heads up and down and against each other, an uplifting sight.
The black balloons also allowed to find the rare addicts that got disoriented and passed out between buildings and in parks before the rats got to the best of them.
A gush of water that had collected on the roof of the site cascaded down over two fresh intoxicated clinging to the metal arm. They didn't feel anything; they didn't even blink.
My device vibrated, and I woke it up. The bill for Dr. Trutch's cubicle ceiling glowed in my inbox. Later, I couldn't be bothered right now.
Around me people were busy checking their devices. To my left a man tried to lean on a bar on the side of the sidewalk in front of a share store, but since it was a holographic projection, he stumbled and fell to the ground. Like woken up from a bad dream, he looked around realizing what had happened, rubbing the knee that broke his fall.
He got up by himself, smiling, shaking his head in disbelief.
: : :
By the time I reached the Afterlife Inc. building, my clothes felt damp, and a wet film covered every inch of my skin. Sweat mixed with the afternoon rain. Water rushed down the giant blinking LED letters over the entrance: 'Afterlife Inc. - Drop in, Drop out'.
After my decision to get some information, some qualified input on the whole thing, my mind was churning, and that's why I didn't recognize her until she approached me and rested the polka-dotted umbrella on her shoulder.
«You want to go in there?», she said.
It was that young woman I have seen before in the crowd, wearing her weird coat again with the two different halves.
«Hey, up here!», she said.
«My name is Minna.»
«Do you have two minutes to watch this infomercial about life?» She held her device next to her head, her eyes stealing the attention from the screen where the video had started.
The mist on her face gleamed, shadows moved on each side of her small nose, and tiny drops covered her skin. Unlike me, she wore a bucket hat with a camouflage pattern and a thin rim, the left side propped up.
«Here», she wiggled her device. Obviously she noticed the video was no match for her looks, and I couldn't be bothered less about the infomercial.
«What are you doing?», I asked.
«I'm a member of C.A.U.S.E., Citizens Against Unnecessary Suicide Exit.»
«You heard about us?»
«No. What else can there be, than suicide?»
«We believe in natural death with all its ailments, misery, loneliness and pain.»
«A great waste of time.»
«We don't think so. It doesn’t have to be that way. We are here for you. In front of every Afterlife Inc. building, you will find one of us trying to convince people like you to take the long road.»
«To protect you from making a mistake.» Her voice slightly stern with a dash of friendliness.
«What do you know?!»
«That each life is worth something.»
«Some more, some less.»
«That's what they say.»
I expected her to go on, to make a stronger attempt to convince me of the opposite, instead she lowered her device. Our eyes remained locked. I had never seen greener eyes, even when I tried to remember. Right now her eyes seemed to suck up the colourless world around us like a positive version of a black hole, a sparkling green oasis in a grey desert.
She squinted and said, «Hello!»
«What do you think?»
She must've asked me something while I was in Greenland. I didn't want to admit I wasn't listening to her.
«I said, everyday is a once in a lifetime event. You live because you love life.»
«You maybe. Nobody loves me, nobody needs me.»
«That's not important, important is, that there is the possibility, the chance!»
«No chance. My life has no meaning.»
«The meaning of life is to live.»
As if my lips belonged to somebody else, I heard myself saying, «I gotta go.»
«What do you remember from the video?»
«What? H... Why?»
I just looked at her.
«However», she said, «Please, listen to me, suicide wasn't always as easy as it is now...»
«I know, that is why the past is called the bleak age, imagine going through all of what you said and then dying alone in pain. Thankfully, we live now.»
She wasn't fazed, «There were entire cultures where suicide wasn't an option.»
«Really!? And those were?»
«Have you heard of Judge Murray Sinclair?»
«No. How did you hear about him? If he is never on any display, anywhere.»
She needed a beat and decided not to tell me, «He is a hero for C.A.U.S.E. And you never even heard about him, about another way to look at the whole situation.»
«You just have one life, please hear me out, just once», I noticed she started to speak faster, she pulled off this spiel before, and people left her standing in the rain, «Early last century Judge Murray Sinclair stood up when the assisted dying debate began, he pointed out that, I quote, “Traditionally, in indigenous cultures, suicide never existed”, and...»
«I am not Blackfoot or...»
«But wait, it is not about that, it is about the message!», she grabbed my arm for a moment, when I motioned away from her, and let me instantly go, which I regretted just as instantly, «Excuse me, please, and, it is because our way of life is so artificial, he said “If you live in nature and all of a sudden you're going around killing yourselves, committing suicide, your people won't survive. You have to carry on, you have to move on, no matter all the bad things happen in life”, and-and-and, one last one!»
I halted my attempt to keep moving, «Make it short.»
«“It will not take much for a young, vulnerable person to believe that their situation is intolerable to them”, does that ring a bell?»
«Yeah, the goodbye bell.»
«Hey!», her hand landed on my arm, «I can't force you not to do it, I'm not allowed», she said in slow-motion.
Gently her fingers glided off my sleeve as I moved away, and after two steps towards the door, which felt like crossing a bridge over the Old Man, I turned my head away from her, watching me.
: : :
When I walked into the waiting room, nobody paid attention, everybody was busy writing messages or killing time by playing a device game. Minna's green eyes still followed me around, over the walls, the doors, the people and over the free chair on the other end of the blaring white room, where I wanted to sit down.
«You have to draw a number», a man said behind me.
He pointed with his thumb at a metal box next to him, «It's your turn when your number comes up», he blew his mustache to the side, «There», and nodded to a corner on the other side, where a screen switched with a fake analog clacking sound to '#85 → Counselor G'.
A poorly dressed guy with long gloves got up and left.
«Thank you», I said to the man and pulled at the cardboard tongue that stuck out of the box. I drew #117.
Quietly I sauntered to the empty seats. Ambient music floated underneath the fluorescent light drop-ceiling, a silent hissing noise from the air moistener in the top corner and a whiff of cinnamon fought the odour of drying clothes, angst and absence of personal hygiene—some of the two dozen visitors must have come right away after their gym shift without showering.
They all wore the fashionable black contact lenses. Me not, and Minna gladly hadn't either. Her green eyes were the only colour in the room, the only colour I saw since I left her.
The slogan 'Discover Death!' flickered up and bled into the entertainment trailer for the Cloud Hotel 'Where all your dreams come true and a few more', which dissolved into paradisiac depictions of the afterworld.
Clack, #86 → Counselor P. The oldest person marched out of the waiting room. He already had grey hair, the sign of greed, of people clinging to their lives for better or for worse, not caring about the rest of us. I never wanted to end up like that. As soon as the door closed behind him, a woman commented, «Way past due date», and started giggling.
Snickering in the waiting room.
The man who told me about the numbers wiped his face with his palm. His slick black eyes glistened in the light.
Besides, the old guy looked like they belonged here. Were they all terminally ill, one way or the other? Or one of their loved ones? That could be. Life can be that way. Did someone even have a younger sibling like me in need of a donation?
Since we already established a social connection, I leaned over to the man that helped me, «Excuse me.»
«May I ask, what brings you here?»
«Aluheimer, stage 3.»
«Before I can't tie my shoes anymore, I'd like live it up at the hotel.»
«Good for you, I'd do the same», I said.
The woman giggled again. I found that inappropriate.
Aluheimer, the aluminum-caused version of Alzheimer with a sped up disease progression was a common diagnosis. Rastan once meant, we should have taken a look at the animal world, no animal ingested aluminum, it couldn't be any good. What were they thinking?
The man ignored the woman and asked me, «How about you?»
«My young brother is sick, and I can help him. Here», I tapped against my head.
«That is a very honourable thing to do.»
«Thank you for saying that.»
«He can be proud of having a brother like you!»
Again, the woman snickered quietly, with her head turned away, her shoulders bobbing.
Clack, #87 → Counselor C.
She stopped her laugh track and got up.
I resisted my urge to mirror her behaviour and giggle, as she entered the hallway.
Six flatscreens on the walls dissolved pictures and quotes. Kim, the androgynous poster person, pointed right at the spectator with the text bubble: 'Do we need you?'.
Between two doors—one saying 'Counselors', the other saying 'Express'—hung the famous black and white oil painting of the hero Egon Friedell standing in the window in the 3rd floor warning the pedestrians on the sidewalk to 'Step aside!' before he jumped to death. Schools, halls, places and streets, an energy drink and a kitchen tap-lunch were named in his honor.
The entrance door opened, and two guys sneaked in. They knew about the numbers, one guy pulled twice and gave one ticket to his friend. They sat down beside each other kitty-corner to me. Both wore pretty much the same clothes as I did, bought at the Goo during the last off-season sale.
The one with the longer mustache noticed my glance, «How is it?»
«Well… com ci com ca.»
That wrung a brief smile out of them, shielded by their black contacts. This way their eyes didn't match their mood.
And the same guy said, «Spanish?»
«I don't know. Just picked up the phrase somewhere.»
«You have a concrete idea?»
«Idea?» What was he referring to?
He helped me by sticking out the tip of his tongue and going cross-eyed before pretending to die.
«Oh, how I... no, no… yes, but… I just came for some more… uh… input, information...»
«I got some information for you. You know, they are planning to ditch the goodies!», his onyx eyes pierced right through me.
«What do you mean?»
«The good stuff: the sun, walking-the-plank, the family pay-off, the...»
«What?», a wasp nest in my guts woke up.
«Yeah, so we figured, we won't wait, I mean, what then?»
«No goodies when you go? No party? What's next? We have to pay for it!»
His friend joined in on the conversation, «Well, in the past people had to pay for their funeral.»
«Serious? For their own funeral?» I couldn't imagine. How cruel. Who would come up with that? «Did they have to bake their own birthday cake, too?»
That earned me unexpectedly a lot of laughter in the room.
When everybody quieted down, the one guy whispered, «Did my research.»
I was still mulling that over, «People had to pay for their own funeral... What if somebody couldn't pay? They'd been left lying around? For the rats? I wouldn't be able to pay!»
«Me neither, maybe they chopped them up and put them in the garbage, or they just fed them to the pigs.»
«Or to the people.»
A female loudspeaker voice interrupted us, «A liver for Edmonton! Edmonton needs a liver. Any volunteers? We need a liver in Edmonton.»
We all looked at each other, eyes full of uncertainty and tiredness. The man, who helped me with the number jumped up, straightened the belt on his pants and marched towards the express door, «Frack it, I'm out of here, bye folks.»
The two guys clapped their hands. He waved a thank you to the only applause he probably ever got.
The door closed behind him. Silence in the waiting room. People clung to their devices and moved them closer to their faces.
I exhaled deeply, I must've held my breath for a while.
The loudspeaker crackled on, «Hair for Calgary, we need a set of hair for Calgary. Oh, and eyeballs for Edmonton. More eyeballs for Edmonton.»
: : :
The wide corridor leading to my counselor's office was equipped with screens on each side lighting up as soon I approached them—pictures of famous heroes that had the guts to take their lives before it was too late, and before it became broadly acceptable, contrary to the status quo at the time: Ivan von Donnershausen, Sibylle Moukandjo and Dallas E. Smith appeared on the screens, happy ghosts from the past, true rebels and martyrs, which had led the way to the future.
What would I have done without them? My brother would have had no chance.
At the end of the hallway, a door opened, a friendly goodbye from a man mixed with laughter echoed toward me, and when we passed each other, the man smiled and gave me the thumbs up. Considering the situation, I appreciated seeing him oozing a confidence I hadn't garnered yet.
The door belonged to the office of my counselor. I knocked underneath a wooden sign that read 'In Dubio Prometheus'. I had to smirk, somebody had fun at work. The door opened automatically.
«Come on in, I am Jaqueline LeFuet, welcome to Afterlife, your reliable partner for an innovative and smart journey for many years, make yourself comfortable.»
«Arthur», I sank into the leather armchair, the soft padding hugged me.
«Today's quite a day, I tell you, a good day... well, how about yours, Arthur?»
«What can I say...»
Behind her, on the wall I counted six John Hofsess medals, awarded to her over the last consecutive years. She was good at her job.
«I see, I see», she lowered her voice softly to the whisper of a mother explaining the difficult history of a former oil-family to her five-year-old son. After a moment of silence, she dialed up her tone and asked with a professional smile, «Glass of water?»
«No, thank you.»
She blinked, and the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth emphasized her friendliness. Her long white dyed hair fell down into her lap, splashing apart like a bucket of ice. Behind her on the wall hung an artsy calligraphy: 'Taking one's life, means saving one's life'.
«My favorite quote. It says it all.» She had followed my gaze.
«Whose is it?»
«Mine, I came up with it myself.»
«Thank you. It earned me the Silver Sliver», she grabbed briefly her coat collar, and the medal for outstanding contributions to society blitzed in the fluorescent light.
«My husband framed it. He is into arts. I'm more into words», she placed her hand next to her 56er device on the table and tapped on it with her thumb, «Can I please see yours?»
She wanted to make sure it's me and copy and read all relevant data for her.
I placed my 55 on the table, Near Field Communication activated.
«Thank you, Arthur, can I ask you to fill out a short form while I do the readings?»
«Wonderful, I'll send it to you right now», she swiped over her screen, «Should be there, takes no time, thank you.»
I opened the Consultation Form in my inbox. It read: 'A few quick questions. You are done in fifty seconds. You have five seconds to answer each question. Default setting for all answers is No, None or Nothing. Go!'
It started right away.
'Your highlight in life?'
That came out of nowhere, what a question, whoa, let me think... there was this…
'Thank you, you have no highlight in life.'
The screen changed to the next slide.
'Do you have any remote reason to cling to your life? Please answer with maximum 140 letters.'
Now I started writing right away: If it wouldn't be for my brother I...
And I got stuck, yes, what? Why? Wait. Five seconds for 140 letters?
'Thank you, you have no remote reason to cling onto your life whatsoever.'
Next slide: 'What reasons do you have to pass on?'
I typed like crazy, not caring about the spelling and using every auto-complete suggestion possible: My brother is sick, to help him with my brain, to make space for the younger people, not waste any food or energ...
'Those are plenty of good reasons. Thank you. Congratulation. Are you religious?'
«Excuse me, Jaqueline, I have a question.»
She sighed, «Wait!», she quickly wiped over her device, «Now I have to halt the document», she looked up at me, «The timeline is an important part of the survey. What is it, Arthur?»
«It asked me about my religion.»
She rolled her eyes, «I hate that question, too, invisible friend or not, who cares, right?! I asked the department already twice to drop that point. So? Are you religious, are you particular about your one? What does it matter if it is the Spaghetti Monster, God, or which one of the 2000, or who or what else?»
«Isn't that a personal question, asking for one's religion?»
«Ooooh, sorry, wait. Was your family traumatized by some reli-belly in the past? Not counting the first two millennia where religious trauma was inevitable.»
«Well then, lucky you. As I said, we are working on dropping this question. I know this is a difficult topic for many because of the thousands of years of mental, physical and financial exploitation by those quacks—or worse, right!?—but I promise, by next month it is fixed.»
«You probably don't care what is next month, right?! Okay. Can you just answer yes or no for now?! Please. So we can finish this and move on.»
She tapped her 56.
My screen unfroze.
I check marked: No.
'What is your hero time frame? As soon as possible or not?'
'How do you like our counselor? On a scale of 1 to 10. 10 being the best.'
'How do you like our counselor's outfit? On a scale of 1 to 20. 20 being the worst.'
17, no, I deleted it and typed 3.
'How would you rate the cleanliness of this branch building? On a scale of 1 to 5. 1 being the best.'
10. Then I erased the zero.
'How was the emotional energy in the waiting room? On a scale of 1 to 8. 8 being the best.'
'How did you hear about us?'
I wrote: Public flat screens.
'Did somebody send you here? (the person would receive a little present from us)'
That's nice, I named Juan.
'Thank you for taking the time and answering our questions.'
When I looked up, my counselor's eyes rested on me, already smiling, then Jaqueline spoke in her soft voice, «You had me for a moment with your religion question. But just so you know: if you later do want to talk to a priest or something, we have a spiritual person on site that re-enacts anybody you want, priest, pasta, rabbi, monk, angel, a seer, a goblin, et cetera... or a mix of all of them.»
«I don't think so.»
«The colleague is doing a real great impression of all of them, in a mash-up!»
«No, thank you.»
«Good. Looks like you are coming to the right conclusion at the right time! You definitely did your best at the gym. Your numbers, especially during the first years, were excellent, why did you never pursue a career in sports?»
«Ingrown toenail. Just when the coach came for a fitness test.»
«Oh, what an oil-boom. But now everything turns out fine, doesn't it?»
«And you got a little tired over the last months at the gym, hmh?»
She talked to herself, «The tendency says so, your watt production dropped, as you know, in the 0.7% range, measurable. Statistics don't lie.»
«No. I guess. I slowed down… yeah, probably tired after all the years.»
«Where you did your best, Arthur! Better than most, top 2%. That must feel good.»
«And now you have to move on, you deserve the best», with a flat hand she wiped invisible dust off the white table surface, «And your younger brother deserves it, too, doesn't he?»
«Yes, he does. He does.»
«Do I sense the beginning of PDS?», she asked.
«No, no, I don't know why I repeated that.»
«But it could be, couldn't it?»
She nodded, «It would add another reason, just hypothetically, of course. So what can I do for you? Do you have any concrete ideas, questions?»
«I do have a concrete idea… I just don't know any details, how do we go about this, what would be the next step? Do I have to…»
«Arthur, calm down, you did exceptionally well in your life, you can't ask for more, your journey is the cherry on top of the cake, of your fulfilled life.»
«I am just careful, I don't want to be roped into something, you know, there once was...»
«We are not from the Oil & Gas industry, we are not animals, we treat people with respect, we are Afterlife, you made the right choice, you came to the right place! We can take care of everything, you don't have to worry about anything anymore, we even get rid of your personal belongings in your studio and look for a new renter», she sang the company's credo, «Suicide easy, from A to Z», dragging out the Z at the end, «That's what we are here for. Sorrows and worries you leave behind from the moment you sign the commitment.»
«I haven't signed anything yet, did I?»
«No, you didn't, but we are on our way, and rest assured, I won't rush you into anything.»
Her cheeks turned red, she blushed, and the rosy red looked good on her.
I asked, «By the way, is it true that they plan to... change the suicide benefits?»
She took a beat looking suspiciously to left and to the right as if we could be observed, and whispered, «Actually, I'm not supposed to tell anybody, but you deserve it, you are a decent guy, you did your best at the gym, and I'm sure you can keep a secret, right?»
«The rumours on the street are correct. There will be a change, and if you ask me, rather sooner than later, because the allover electricity production is on a decline and the society has to save. We are all in the same boat, so they might implement a fee for the cremation, and if one can't pay, then the amount will be deducted from the benefits, the goodies, but that shouldn't bother you, or influence your decision, this is just about you, and your brother.»
«So, shall we proceed?»
: : :
«After all, suicide is what makes us human, only animals live their lives to the end.»
«I meant that literally, I didn't mean the greedy grey-haired.»
«I know, I know.»
«Good», she leaned forward and folded her hands on the desk, «From my side I totally can understand your decision if that helps you in any way. My own brother passed away, because nobody was able to help him.»
«I'm sorry to hear that.»
«Appreciated. And alone for your willingness to sacrifice your rather meaningless life, you have my highest respect, and in the big picture, you are in line with some of the most notable heroes! How does that sound?»
«Oh, and in line with your grandfather and father!» The redness left her cheeks.
«With that ancestry it's almost a wonder you didn't show up here earlier», she laughed lightly.
I smiled with my mouth.
«Little joke. Anyway, Arthur, I wish I would be in your shoes. Really, it's an honor to work with you, for you, for the best for you, and for your brother, your family. You deserve the best, and I can't picture you watching your younger brother passing away while your efficiency slides and you are becoming more and more like a useless plant in the corner of a room waiting to be watered.»
«No, that is right! That's for selfish weaklings, for greedy little cling-ons clinging to their lives, occupying and wasting, what is for the rest of us. You are not one of those?!»
«Exactly, you had your time, you had a good time, being healthy and at least an electricity contributing member of the society. That must have felt good.»
«And we are not living in the wild past, where people who wished to end their own lives were left alone by the barbarians of our ancestors and so-called politicians, clergymen and philosophers, and in doing so lived in pain for too long and finish themselves off in desperate amateur ways causing innocent women and children to find them; or taking other lives in the process or stealing lifetime of so many people. Many lead risky lifestyles, because they had nothing to lose and didn't care about other people, speeding or drinking and driving, leading to 1 million traffic victims a year, and even more maimed. Add the addicts with their miserable life spans full of crime and violence and pain for themselves and their loved ones. The ones that provoked the police to shoot them, suicide by cop. Let alone the countless people who could be brainwashed, because of their mental states to commit reli-cides by poisoning or blowing themselves up in public. Or they took young innocent lives with them, from family to mass murder, I only say Scionvard.»
She paused, closing her eyelids in an act of remembrance, «Whoa, I got a little carried away here. We came a long way since then, a long and stony path, and we can be glad living and dying in the now.»
«Through the expertise of Afterlife Inc., the oldest registered, most established suicide agency with many years of experience and excellent references. All our clients passed away successfully. Not one came back and complained. Excuse the little joke», she shortly played with her Silver Sliver, «I assure you that I personally will take care of you and any of your questions once you signed the commitment. Then you will have the standard seven days until your journey—as we like to call it. You can contact me anytime, anywhere, I'll be there for you, personally!»
«That is so nice.»
«Isn't it!? What do you say, would you like to have a read through the commitment, I can answer your questions right here, explain one or the other paragraph if need be.»
My eyes wandered from her to the ceiling and back, «Why not, let's do it.»
«Let's do it», she quoted me and my intonation, «I like that, I like your attitude, I like you, here we go.»
She sent the commitment contract to my device.
Her voice was dripping with confidentiality, «The system filled in the blanks already, your name, address, electricity output, your reasons and that we had our pep talk. By signing this commitment, you essentially understand that we take care of the best 24 hours you ever had before you go on your journey. Afterward, your organs will be donated to the needy while the designated brain part for your brother is of course, reserved for him, that lucky guy, having a brother like you; also, the costs of the transplant are covered, and I can promise you that there will be a bit of small change left over for your brother. He deserves that, doesn't he?»
«A few Volt for his new start.»
«He will raise his glass and cheer to you in the future.»
That thought made me smile.
«Feels good, doesn't it?»
«Yes, I must admit.» Picturing my younger brother healthy and cured filled me with joy.
«When was the last time you felt that good?»
«I… don't know.» And I actually didn't know.
«That's what I'm talking about. There you go, you see, Afterlife Inc. already does make you feel better. And from now on», she pointed to my 55, «it will only get better until the sky will open for you and rays of sunshine will warm your skin and light up your eyes.»
Relaxed I smiled and leaned back.
«I wish I could see that, well, when my own time comes! There are two paragraphs to fill out. Since you don't have any savings, it will be the standard funeral package including a virtual tombstone on Deathbook with a maximum of five internal and three external links to social and crucial media accounts, one template message consisting of 100 letters per account to all of your contacts, cremation and burial of your ashes in a micro drawer in the cemetery wall with your name and your allover watt count on it, in lead on black, here in Lethbridge on the Northern Feedlot Cemetery. Is that correct?»
«Then please check the boxes, there and there.»
With my fingertips, I activated the boxes.
She snapped her finger, «Ah, one thing: do you have any next of kin? Besides your brother, I mean. Because we tend not to notify anybody prior to your journey.»
«Why is that?»
«Nothing big, it's just sometimes some weird uncle comes out of the woodwork pretending feelings, even love...»
«No. No uncle, no next kin, besides Berat.»
«Good, good, then you're ready to sign.»
«That's why I'm here.»
«That's why we are here, right on!», she clapped her hands a few times in silent applause.
I pressed my right thumb onto the field of my device, and it made Bling.
«Congratulation, you won't regret it. Details, special wishes, travel plan and, last but not least, the exact way you want to go, we can discuss tomorrow. How does tomorrow morning sound, 9am sharp.»