Around the conference room, immortal men and women assembled at the hieroglyphic stone table in the underground bunker of Home Base One, their projected holograms beaming from similar ultra-compounds around the globe.
My boss, Mr. Ethan Anderson—the tall, tan, forty-five-year-old founder of Defying Death Industries (DDI)—sat at the center of the Egyptian Room, sharp blue eyes emanating competitiveness as he explained the new legal ruling, DDI’s double infinity logo rippling across his chest. “It means, we’re going to have to source donors elsewhere, inventory will price us out otherwise. There’s plenty of bodies in Africa. I sent a strike team the second the news broke.”
“But, boss,” the man across the table began, “wouldn’t patients need to fly there?”
Ethan shook his tough guy head. “That’s an option. But a few competitors have set up holding bays stateside. That’s our cheapest option, a lock-up. It’s better than enlisting more American donors, minimum age and payouts being what they are.”
A few nods. Killing that many Americans would cost a fortune.
“Besides, stock’s up twenty percent this quarter alone. Market loves us. Who cares if life donors aren’t local? We’ve added more quality years and saved more lives than anyone, except maybe SLI. And it’s not like we’ll face any ballbusters, half the senators and congressmen are lifelong customers. Even the president herself.”
‘Screw the stock, Ethan. It’s protests we’re worried about.’
“Protests come and go.”
‘Not like this. If more Americans starve because they’re not getting death donor spots, that could go viral. The word catastrophic comes to mind.’
“It’s not our fault they’re unemployable. And let’s be real. Who actually cares where the dead schmuck on the slab next them is from when come to after a rejuve? People just want to live longer and feel great. The cheaper, the better.”
He was right. The people had spoken.
‘That may be,’ the woman said. ‘But you need to keep local donors happy.’
Why? Hadn’t she seen lines wrapping the building day and night, donors begging for a few thousand. Ethan seemed to agree, and laughed. “Supply’s through the roof. And once we expand, it’ll drive prices further down. Donors have zero leverage.”
‘You’d better be right.’
He smiled. “Have I ever been wrong?”
The meeting wrapped after each of DDI’s heads reiterated their action items, and the company’s cheesy mantra: “Live long, prosper and profit.” Once they’d left, Ethan rose, pacing. “Fifty-five-million unnecessary deaths a year,” he said to himself.
I was a statue at my post, back to the Anubis door, despite everything being locked down. This was the subbasement of Ethan’s favorite home, equipped with state of the art sensors, an army of weaponized drones, a dozen attack dogs, and a three-meter concrete fence surrounding the five-acre property. Money had its perks.
Without warning—like most things Ethan did—he spun and left. I followed at a distance. Like an apex predator, he liked his space. I could relate.
We took the reinforced lift to Subbasement One, and Ethan beelined for the kitchen. His triple-espresso-infused smoothie was on the obsidian countertop. He downed the disgusting, optimized weekly brown slop in three gulps before Maria, the mouthy Argentinian who did Ethan’s red meats—and probably a lot more—emerged from the far pantry. Daron would say she was a looker if he was with the guys. But I’d kick his ass, and he knew it.
My shift ended four hours later. Time for a slog home in Atlanta rush hour.
After a brief report to Mr. Anderson and his head of security, Vlad, I was more than ready to leave. Three lifts later, I arrived topside two, sun blazing my eyes. That had taken getting used to.
The security chip in my palm opened automatic double doors as I strode through the first parking garage checkpoint. A combination of gait analysis and biometric sensors, along with Quinton’s okay, let me pass to the waiting Tesla at the staff self-driving section.
The scratched up, dinky two-seater opened, and I hopped in, laid back, and closed my eyes. Long day.
My seat buzzed as we reached our street, and I tapped my temple to activate my high-end display, perk of the job. A dashboard appeared in my ARlense contact retinas, an entire operating system and all the world’s information. It was 5:45 p.m. Shit, Daron was going to kill me.
The car dropped me in the gravel driveway of our two-story suburban rinse-and-repeat home. No used needles on the sidewalk or missing persons signs, that was a plus. But the darkening stain on the water-damaged front porch looked worse. Avoiding the creaky step, I grabbed the newspaper the city insisted on wasting valuable tax dollars to produce, and stepped into 105 Abbott St SW.
Another violent riot in San Francisco’s slums, Amazon’s profits hit an all-time high, and a ridiculous report on same-race death donors increasing efficacy, something to do with genetic similarities. As if dicing the brains and organs of a Caucasian would be any different than an African, or an Asian... Ethan would be furious. There was still a dent by the weight rack from a similar story two years ago.
Not that it mattered. I had twenty more years on the job before I’d earn our death insurance. At least that’d buy me more time with my little girl, Malea, if I made it that long… But guard duty for Ethan was low key and paid enough to keep the hospital loan sharks at bay.
“Oh, you’re home.” It was Daron, brown hair swept back, face a dimpled smile. “Forgot it’s Wednesday.”
Plopping a wet one on him, I dropped my messenger bag on the whitewashed linoleum of our cozy-at-best sized home, the best we’d ever be able to afford despite my lofty salary. Even in death, Daron’s mom strangled our life. Why’d I agreed to those last-ditch treatments? We’d be paying off the debt from now to eternity.
“We still on for tonight?” I asked.
He shrugged. “You sure you want to go?”
Was he kidding? We hadn’t had a “real” date in ages, not since Ruby Tuesdays, which almost shouldn’t count. “It’s our anniversary, babe. Thirteen years, today.” To think, I almost didn’t go to that Army ceremony.
I hadn’t thought about Saudi in years, repressing everything, that’s what the psych said after my one and only appointment. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m pissed, that’s all.”
Uh-oh. He’d always had swings, and his mom had been on SSRIs forever... Taking his wiry shoulders, I guided her to the beat-up blue couch in our little living room. It’d been a wedding gift. “What’s up, baby? Everything okay at school?”
He shrugged. “I mean, these kids…” A sigh. “The prospects aren’t great.”
What could I say? He was right. “DDI’s always hiring,” I said in what I hoped was an encouraging voice. “Broke twenty thousand refreshes last year. Company’s swimming in cash.” If only Daron and Malea could get moved up the list...
“I know, it’s just—” The door creaked open. Malea? “Hey, Malea, that you?”
“Yes, Mom.” Here come the sassy teenage years, and she was eleven... It felt like yesterday. I touched my iron-forged stomach. “Can I sleepover at Karen’s?” She walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge and groaned. Payday wasn’t until Friday.
“No, baby, it’s Wednesday,” I said. “You can’t spend the night.”
Malea stepped through the opening and rolled her eyes. “Dad, can you help me with my math homework? We’re doing Southern slave trade economics. I’m having trouble.”
I rose. That was my cue. This new-agey teaching was beyond me. Walking into our IKEAbasic plastic and plywood kitchen, I grabbed a cup and turned on the tap. At least the filter worked, the sludge drinkable. Remember to check Sunday. Didn’t need Malea getting sick again.
An hour to kill. Opening my ARlenses, I outlined a rectangle on the flimsy table and a virtual keyboard materialized. A new browser, the NYTimes appeared. Anything interesting? NYC protests over donor compensation, Africans undercutting the market, again...
At half-past six, Daron appeared in a pullover and slacks, messy flop combed into something presentable. Finally... standing room seats filled fast and we couldn’t afford guaranteed ones. He’d be so disappointed if we missed the movie.