Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Death and Taxes

I suppose it was all good really, during the first sixty-eight years or so. Stable job, good pay and a comfortable working space - so what if I was bonded to the government? The economy was poor, I wasn’t ambitious and the country was safe. A golden offer it seemed, back then.

It was mostly paperwork during the early years. Got promoted to Senior File Manager where I was fifty-one, along with a few extra feet to my cubicle. Boring work, long hours, but hey, it was all for the retirement plan, yes? Save up; buy a yacht, a house by the sea...

Then came the plane crash.

It was a business flight. My first in thirty years. Go figure, huh? The government dragged what was left of my charred remains and put my brain on life support. They re-grew about half my vital organs, fixed a couple of bones and liver problems, and overall had me coming out of the Re-Vita-Tank fitter, healthier and definitely much better than I was before. I had been so amazed, so grateful to be alive again...

Until I found out that they paid for it using my retirement scheme.

Apparently there exists some sort of clause in my bond that basically amounts to a highly formalized and technical version of “till death do us part”. Except that today, what with all the breakthroughs in genetic and nanotechnology, it is they who decide when one can....pass on. And they get to use our money to do so as well. Apparently it’s considered one of the duties of a responsible employee to keep himself in good, working condition. It said so on the contract.

So I got stuck there in my cubicle for another twenty-three years, at least until I earn enough to repay the cost of my medical treatments. Somewhere around the age of a ninety, my heart gave out. So they replaced it with a metal one, along with the full set of annual screenings and charged it straight to my account.

Five years for the heart, five months each year for the screenings. I’ve been working day and night, overtime and off-time, and still my numbers are in the negatives. And the funny thing? The more I worked, the more help I actually needed. Too much stress caused high blood pressure, lack of sleep caused all sorts of mental imbalances in my brain. There came a point where the government paramedics had to tranquilize me in my cubicle just to get me down to the psychiatrist. Therapy sessions on stress and self control. All sorts of fancy drugs and tiny monitors to keep in check my mental aptitude. I woke up each day feeling absolutely great; happy and enthusiastic for work.

Good working condition, all the time.

It reached a point where I contemplated suicide. The minute the monitors picked up the sudden spike in my brain they immediately flooded my system with all manner of happy drugs. I spent the next five minutes staring at the wall, smiling. Ever since then I’ve kept careful track of my thoughts. I couldn’t lose another five minutes like that again. It lost me 0.0147% of my Medi-Monitor Fund in opportunity cost.

The last strategy I tried almost worked. By that time I had spent about one hundred and fifty (or was it sixty?) years in the Filing department. I'd had enough. Of course, I didn’t let that thought stay. I played with it, let it slip through my mind, little moments that flitted away before the monitor could pick up any major irrational spike. In those moments, over the course of the years, I put together a plan. Little things, like a laser-powered Auto-cutter, placed next to my deck for the really tough papers. Careful and discrete noting of the various schedules, and observations of the various “checks” they made on the cubicles that I ingrained into muscle memory.

Then the day came. A small window of opportunity, barely five seconds long. More than enough to lift the laser-cutter to my brain and slice through the neurons. There were still parts of the brain they couldn’t quite fix yet. If I managed to get a good clean shot through the prefrontal cortex I’ll be effectively dead. But then I had to go and do something stupid.

I hesitated. And in that brief two seconds of contemplation the monitors sounded the alarm. Neurotoxins paralyzed my limbs and motor functions, while a fine mist of sleeping gas filled my cubicle. By the time I came to, it was far too late. They demoted me, added the cost of the sleeping gas, and packed me straight back to work.

Good working condition. All. The. Time.

It’s been nearly two hundred years now. I’m still working there, still trying to pay my debts. So long as I owe them money, they’d never let me go. It’s in the contract. I heard that nowadays, if anyone tried what I did fifty years ago they’d be Deboded – their brains extracted yet kept alive to be used as temporary processing space for the organic computers. And memory is just so cheap nowadays...

I write this account mostly because it helps me keep track of things. It also helps prevent me from going insane. I’m afraid if they ever detect another hormonal imbalance in my brain they’d Debod me and stick my head in a jar. So I write, just a few words at a time. Just short enough to escape notice.

I’ve not left my cubicle in what...twenty? Thirty years? I’ve not seen the sky, or the stars, or what passes for the soil these days. Food, drink and drugs are fed directly into my bloodstream. Sleep is a memory, something frivolous that only the rich could buy. Back when times were tough, my dad used to say that he could never afford to rest. But I-

I can never afford to die.

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