Today was the day. Today was William Cropper’s last day.
It had taken him some time to come to the decision, but when it came it was both exhilarating and liberating. All it had taken was a neat digital scrawl on a contract and he was a free man with credits to spare. He had disconnected from the digisphere and gone out into the streets, into the rain. He never bothered to inform his friends or family. His mother would despair, his father wouldn’t care. Katya would give him hell for the decision.
It didn’t matter.
His worries were gone.
Gone like the dreariness that had pervaded his life. He felt uplifted in that moment, above the petty concerns that gripped his fellow citizens. Looking up, he could see the districts at the other side of the rim, the buildings all clawing upwards at the central access tunnel. His eyes picked out the ungainly shapes of cargo lifters and landers moving like fireflies. One of those was his.
The security officer at the landing zone had looked him over, eyebrows raising just enough to suggest he didn’t believe William Cropper could afford the travelpass he had flashed, but wasn’t paid enough to make an issue of it.
William had simply smiled and sauntered in, passing the rows of heavy lifters until he found his ship. It was painted white and gold, wrought of exquisite finery. A luxury vessel. A uniformed attendant stood beside the lander’s Vattek logo, her hands clasped together.
She smiled at him, there was no pity in those eyes, only understanding.
“Your request was unusual, but Vattek was able to make the necessary acquisitions. Please, follow me.”
Inside the vessel, William was directed to a private room, “Apply the silver fluid to your head and it will do its work, after that please change into the clothes provided, we will be ready for you.”
William did as he was bid, feeling the sting of the nanites as they swarmed over his skin and did their work, cleaning him thoroughly. Dotted lines were tattooed across his body as they worked. It took no more than a minute for them to process the impurities and purge his system without a trace of waste. He felt reborn, and he couldn’t help running a hand over his scalp, now tattooed and devoid of hair. The stream of silver fluid curled down his arm and pooled back into the container of its own accord.
His clothes had disappeared, replaced by a simple green shift which he threw on. Outside his room, he saw the walls of the access tunnel drawing nearer and felt his awe grow. He had not even felt the vessel lift off.
The other side certainly lived like the gods in Olympos.
The attendant stepped forward and brought him to the next room. Two chefs stood behind a counter, working away at the grill. The smells that assaulted William were delicious, they drew him in as he took a seat at the table. There was only one chair, his chair.
“As requested, a six-course menu consisting entirely of real beef. If you wish, you may examine their work.”
William had no need to, he could see the slabs of marbled meat waiting to be cooked and he waved the chefs to proceed.
Every bite was a delight. The food melted in his mouth, succulent and rich in flavour. The chefs explained every joy that he experienced, describing their use of garlic, salt, pepper, chillies and then even more exotic condiments, words that he forgot but reveled in.
In that moment, William decided he had truly lived. No Vatflesh or GeneRoach could possibly compete with this extravagance. He had never had any vices in his life, but he knew if he had been a rich citizen, this would have been his.
By the time the sixth course came, he was feeling sluggish and tired. He knew it was the pills Vattek had sent him that morning. It became a struggle to lift the fork and the utensil wobbled and fell out of his hands before he slumped in his chair. The attendant’s heels clicked against the floor as she approached and pressed two fingers against his neck.
“He’s going under. Anders, get the gurney, Pike, tell the surgeon to prepare.”
“Right you are, ma’am. Gotta say, he’s a looker, he’ll make someone real happy.”
“Pike, just tell the surgeon. You, of all people, should know Vattek always picks their customers carefully. Especially after the accident with the fryer.”
William felt arms lift him up and set him down. He felt his eyes closing as he was wheeled to another room. A cold room with a white sterile ceiling. The last words he ever heard echoed softly in the room.
“I will be making the first incision here, along the upper scalp before peeling it back. We’ll prepare it for transplant, then we’ll harvest the rest.” It was a clinical voice, calm and soothing as William felt himself drift away without any cares left in the world.
“I’m making the first incision now.”