It was November Seventeenth, and my pancreas was no longer under warranty. I’d climbed the fire escape to the roof of my New York City apartment, listening to sirens in the distance while I contemplated what to do next. Wasn’t like I had a lot of options. The automated text came in this morning, six AM sharp, waking me from one nightmare to another:
Alert: Organ compromised. Failure imminent. Seven days remaining.
It was worse than The Ring. There was no one person to blame, no spectral horror on the line. At least Samara could be placated. Replicate the evil video tape, and she’ll let you go. Me? I was screwed. Prometheus Technologies could not be bargained with, and it didn’t grant favors.
“Hey,” Karen said from behind me. She was notoriously quiet. Even the rusted steps leading to the roof refused to groan from her slight weight. “What’s going on?”
I handed her my phone. It’s hard to tell someone that you’re about to die. Really hard. When I first got a cybernetic pancreas, I thought I’d avoided all the messy complications of diabetes. No more almost-died-in-my-sleep low blood sugars, no I-might-have-to-go-to-the-hospital highs, no future risk of neuropathy, no blindness, no complications. The P-55 was supposed to be my ticket to a normal life.
President Wilhouser’s “Unabridged Commerce Law” apparently ruled otherwise. Corporations were now free to use and abuse planned obsolescence however they wished—including the intentional failure of synthetic organs to generate more sales.
“Oh,” Karen whispered.
“Yeah.” I couldn’t look at her.
She sat down next to me. An arm draped around my shoulder, pulling us together as she rested her head on my shoulder. Her breath clung to my skin like she could keep me by her side if she breathed me into her, held me in her lungs, spread me out into her muscles, her brain, her heart. I curled an arm around her waist, tilting my head to rest it against hers.
“There’s a solution, right?” she probed.
“Maybe,” I lied.
Ordinarily, she’d call me out. You’re a bad liar, Caleb, she’d tease. Karen didn’t say a word, just hugged me a little tighter.
“I’ll call the union rep. See if he can do something.” We both knew that would be a dead end. My health insurance used to cover one synthetic organ every three years. They’d traded down to five in exchange for espresso machines in every break room. I couldn’t get my own, due to my pre-existing condition, so I was stuck with whatever work decided was appropriate.
Until then, there was no sense in dwelling. I’d had my alone time, and now we’d had a moment to be apprehensive and naïve together. Disentangling ourselves, we eased back down the fire escape, my fingers numb from the cold. Karen had the good sense to make coffee before going up to the roof. I gratefully wrapped my hands around the mug she poured for me.
“So how’s your novel going?” I asked, in need of a change of subject. She wrote historical fiction. It was a booming field. On our first date, I asked why people loved it so much, and she said, The more alien our future, the more we cling to the familiar past. That was the moment I decided to marry her.
“Pretty good. Almost to the… conclusion.” She avoided the word ending.
We talked about her project for a while, skipping breakfast. Karen never really ate much, and I’d lost my appetite. The conversation took long enough that we briefly forgot my rude awakening and started to laugh. A few hours managed to slip past us when I caught a glimpse of the time.
“Nine-thirty,” I pointed out. “I should probably make some phone calls.”
The laughter left her eyes. “Okay. I needed to shower anyway.”
Once she was out of earshot, I called Pheobe, my HR rep. As a lifelong workaholic, she spent eight to ten hours a day on duty, seven days a week. Didn’t matter that it was Saturday. On the second ring, her sharp voice cut through my speakers.
I explained the situation. She listened. When I finished, she said, “Sorry. Nothing we can do. We won’t be able to even consider renegotiating benefits for a few months. Anything else I can help you with? Workplace dispute, maybe getting an ergonomic keyboard?”
A faint sipping echoed through to me. “How’s your coffee?”
She hung up.
This had happened to other people, though. Calvin Hess, from accounting, had said something about facing transplant troubles last week. Synthetic organs were expensive though. Even he didn’t have a way to cover his replacement. You’d figure a heart would get a more reasonable warranty.
There was always a chance I could just drop back to insulin shots, or maybe a pump, but leaving in a failed synthetic ran the risk of pancreatitis, or sepsis, or a slew of other horrible, painful conditions that’d require hospitalization. Then, on top of the removal fee, I’d get a hospital bill as well. Calvin didn’t have that option. He was also one of the most determined and stubborn people I know. If anyone found a workaround, it was him.
I called him. No response. That didn’t mean anything. He never answered his phone.
Karen stepped out of the shower just as I was putting on a sweater. “Going somewhere?”
“A friend’s house,” I said. “Someone who might be able to help.”
A glimmer of hope flashed in her heat-pinked cheeks, though it quickly darkened. “I guess your HR people couldn’t do anything?”
I shrugged. “Couldn’t, wouldn’t… don’t really know. There’s always a solution. I’ll find it, promise.” Giving her a quick kiss, I left, quickly making my way outside. Calvin’s place was only a few blocks away.
We weren’t close friends, not by my definitions, anyway, but he’d given me a spare key to his penthouse. Like all fancy top-floor moneybags, he had an elevator that opened directly into his living room. Calvin was good with money—it was why he became an accountant—and managed to live luxuriously despite being frugal. I chalked it up to the fact that he was single with no kids. Plus he didn’t drink, smoke, eat meat, party, or do anything social.
I got on the elevator and waved the keycard over a scanner. The penthouse’s button lit up, so I was on my way to his sky-bound home. I spent the ride thinking of what exactly I wanted to say to him, but when the doors opened, I forgot every intended word. Gagging and hitting the button for the lobby, I raised my arm and buried my nose in my armpit. Body odor isn’t the most pleasant scent, but it masked the current olfactory assault, and I was grateful for the fact that I hadn’t showered.
The smell lingered until I stumbled out into the lobby, coughing and trying not to puke. The reception staff gave me a concerned look, with a concierge asking what was wrong. I guess, since Calvin rarely went out for fun, and often telecommuted to work, they hadn’t picked up anything unusual. Without addressing them, I pulled out my phone and called the police. When someone finally picked up, I said, “I need to report a dead body.”
The staff gave me a wide berth after that call. I stumbled outside, head swimming from the stink of putrefaction. It was good, I suppose, that I hadn’t eaten breakfast.
I sat on the curb, waiting for the police to arrive. Cold cement chilled me through my jeans, but my attention was elsewhere. All I could think about was a billboard plastered overhead of a smiling, happy couple. Next to them were the words, “Prometheus Technology, where all your organs come with a lifetime guarantee.”
BIO: Kevin Holton has published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction with companies like Siren’s Call Publications, Crystal Lake Publishing, Mighty Quill Books, Radiant Crown Publishing, Pleaides, Rain Taxi, and The Literary Hatchet. When not reading and writing, he can probably be found working out, meditating, or talking about Batman.