Andrew stepped off the slidewalk and entered the nondescript storefront of Die Now Incorporated.
As his eyes adjusted to the subdued lighting, the first thing he noticed was that, despite the garishly macabre nature of Die Now’s promotions on the tridee, the offices of said corporation were not so different than those of the differential analysis firmed for which he worked. Light beige carpeting, recessed “comfort” lighting, a reception desk. He found himself gaping at the normalcy.
“Not quite what you expected, I take it?”
Andrew turned, and met the soft gaze and warm smile of a middle aged woman in her eighties. “Oh, hello! Er yes, I suppose I was expecting something more… ”
“Brutal?” the woman supplied, and they both laughed. “Don’t feel bad, that is what everybody thinks before their first time here. But we find that once the person has made the decision to die, there is no more need for the Halloween imagery and Grim Reaper talk. What they need now is a neutral, soothing atmosphere in which to make their final decisions.
“I appreciate it. ” He truly did. He had decided to die not even a full hour ago, and was greatly relieved at the woman’s calm, professional demeanour and the office’s low key decor.
“So, shall we begin? ” asked the woman.
Andrew gulped, swallowing his heart. “What, do it right now?” Suddenly, he was terrified.
“Oh no, Mister…. um…. ”
“Genesis. ” said Andrew. “Andrew Genesis.”
“Pleased to meet you, Andrew. My name is Rue. To answer your question, it is the policy of this company to never do anything without the full and total consent of the client. You can cancel the whole thing even up to the very last moment before the procedure for no charge whatsoever. Many people find that merely facing their mortality achieves whatever it was they had hoped to achieve by surrendering it, and we fully support their decision. We are here, after all, merely to facilitate. ”
“I see. ” said Andrew. Now he felt silly for his earlier overreaction. So what if he had been done right then? It was what he was here to do, wasn’t he?”
Rue sat down behind the reception desk and said “So are we ready to begin the intake process?”
Andrew sat down opposite her, and said “Yes.” quite firmly.
“Excellent. Now we already have your name. Place of employment? ”
Andrew coughed. “Um… Something A Little Differential Analysis. ” He smiled apologetically. “I didn’t pick the name. ”
Rue did not miss a beat. “Oh, SALDA, I’ve heard of them. They do excellent work. I think we may have employed your firm during our early years, for the hard actuarial work. Place of residence?”
“Bubble Nine, Ohio Ring, Third Municipal Layer, Kipling Branch, Trunk 989, Upper Half, Volta City.”
Rue typed away efficiently. “Right. Now, I have to ask you this for record-keeping and legal liability reasons, but rest assured your answer will in no way influence the outcome of this interview or the availability of our services : why is it that you wish to die?”
“Ah. ” said Andrew. He had assumed he would be asked this, but it still seemed abrupt. ” Well, for all the usual reasons, I suppose. Bored with life, can’t see any point in going on to just more of the time, not lucky in love, etc.”
“I see. ” said Rue, typing.
The sudden silence dug into Andrew’s nerves. “Is that not…. er, enough?”
“Oh, it’s fine, Andrew. As I told you, we only record the reason for legal reasons. If it makes you feel any better, your justifications are quite average. Some people come here for far slighter reasons than that. One young lady came in here yesterday just because she was mad at her girlfriend!”
They both laughed at that, and Andrew felt greatly relieved. At least he wasn’t like that silly person!
“Now have you decided how long you wish to remain dead, Andrew?”
“What?” said Andrew. “You mean there’s… I didn’t know there was a choice. I mean, I knew it wasn’t permanent, of course… ”
“Of course. Our business would be quite illegal if it was, and rightfully so. But we can keep you dead for any period of time you choose up to and including the statutory limit of five years. ”
“Oh I see. ” said Andrew. “I guess I just hadn’t thought it through that far, truth be told. Does it make much of a difference?”
“Not really, no. Dying is an experience. Being dead is not. So really, it is up to you how long you want to be dead. We are quite happy to fit you death into your busy schedule. We have plenty of storage space, and our Thanatonic Field Generators take almost no energy to run once they are warmed up. The only real difference it makes is to the storage charge on your final bill. ”
“Right. ” said Andrew thoughtfully. He pondered his options. If it really didn’t make that big of a difference to the experience, simple frugality would dictate that he choose the lowest possible duration for his well timed demise. Then again, it had cost him eight Transfers and nearly half an hour of his time just to get here, and it seemed silly to go to all that trouble and expense for something that was only going to last a moment or two…
“And you guarantee that I will actually die, and be dead? ” asked Andrew, stalling for time.
“Indeed! That is what makes us a leader in the field of death. We have reams of testimonials from satisfied clients who assure us that they truly thought they were dying. We even have some clients who had suffered a near-death experience before coming to us, and they swear it is exactly like the real thing. We have doctors, surgeons, and scientists who have sworn that they can detect absolutely no sign of life in any part of our clients’ bodies while the Field is on. You will be completely, thoroughly, and entirely dead in all respects but one. ”
“Oh?” said Andrew, only half-listening. “And what would sense that be?”
“The legal one. Legally, you will still be considered alive. A court ruling earlier this year made it clear that any form of death, no matter how thorough, which can be reversed is not consider death in the legal sense. So if you had any thoughts of escaping debts or collecting life insurance…. ”
“Oh heavens, no!” exclaimed Andrew. “I just want to die!”
“Ah good. We here at Die Now prefer that our clients do not go into the procedure with any kind of misconceptions as to the nature of the outcome. The good news is that because you are never legally dead, there is no problem resuming your previous life when you return to the living, if you so choose.”
“Wonderful. ” said Andrew. That was the last thing he wanted. He had sort of assumed that once you died, you got to start over again. New name, new friends, new job, new life. Right? Like… reincarnation. But without having to grow up all over again.
“One last question before we go ahead with the procedure, again, strictly for record keeping and legal reasons. I assume you have made all the appropriate post mortem arrangements? Pets being cared for, friends notified, employer informed, and all that?”
Andrew stared at his shoes, blushing hotly. He hadn’t done any of those things! Suddenly this whole thing seemed impulsive and stupid. His plant ecology would need feeding in a few hours. He was pet
sitting his best friends’ two pet civets. Hells below, he even had a date that night. And really, if he just went back to his same old life afterward, and the actual experience itself was unpleasant, then really what was the point?
He stood abruptly and stammered as he backed towards the door, “Listen, I…. uh, I th-think I should really give this some, uh… I don’t think I really want to um… ”
Rue smiled at him reassuringly. “I fully understand, Andrew. Take all the time you need. Would you like to take some of our literature with you…?”
Andrew shook his head as he bumped into the door. “Um, no, I don’t think I should… I mean, I don’t think it will be necessary to, uh… ”
And with that, he turned and fled.
Rue gave the slightest of shrugs, and deleted Andrew’s file. That was not strictly in accordance to corporate policy, but over the years of doing this job, Rue had learned to read the people who came in that door pretty well, and she knew in an instant that Andrew was not truly a client. She knew he would never go through with it. She would have bet a month’s worth of Transfers that he was a one-hour or less case. The real clients were the ones who had truly thought it through. Or the ones who were truly so impulsive that nothing could stop them anyhow.
Just then, a pale child barely in her thirties stepped into Die Now Inc.
Rue smoothed her dress, watch this young thing gape at the banality of the office for a moment, then approached her quietly, and said :
“Not quite what you expected, I take it?”