This short story was created to explore what might happen if skills could be harvested and implanted. How would society evolve? How would this redefine wealth, and how would the disparity between wealthy and poor grow? The only science fiction component is the surgery itself.
“And now, we are immortal. We have grown past such material concerns as death; the mind is the legacy.” -Dr James T. Granstein
Maria Amherst was dying. She had been dying for months now. Some exotic heart disease they said, practically incurable.
Practically incurable for someone of her social status, that is. Treatments did exist, but not for her. Elites and Crows received medical priority in all matters, and supply production was carefully monitored to ensure no unwanted surplus. Everything nowadays was carefully monitored.
Maria was a Spare. Someone held in reserve, if something ever happened to the Crows. Not quite smart enough to get an advanced education, but able to hold a job in the increasingly unstable markets. Not worth the expense of nanobot heart repair, but eligible for higher-end painkillers. A series of tests taken as a child had marked Maria as someone worth only this token effort of decades-obsolete medicine, and now she was dying.
There were three other beds in the room. White-painted steel frames held thin mattresses, easily disinfected plastic protectors used in lieu of traditional cloth sheets. They had all been occupied the night before, by patients with similar illnesses. They wouldn’t be empty for long; as the only medical establishment left in the district, the DeSantos Medical Treatment Facility was, understandably, both overworked and understaffed.
Maria turned her head to look past the bare shelves and faux wood desk until she could see the far wall. It was her favourite wall in the room, because underneath the clinically white paint she could still make out the faint colours of some old mural. Aged eyes squinted to make out the familiar smudge of purple, guarded on both sides by orange and blue. It reminded her of the sky and cloud gazing as a child. When was the last time she had felt open air on her skin? Only a month ago, but it felt like years.
Two days ago, Maria had attempted to leave this small, depressing room. Where a fortnight previous she could still walk to the food dispensary, she now struggled to stand on her own two feet. She had made it all of three steps before she collapsed, hand stretched out to the door. It had taken an hour before a nurse noticed.
Maria wanted to see the sun again, just for a moment. The room was deep inside the DeSantos facility, hidden behind a maze of hallways, treatment rooms and offices. Bright lights shone down on white tile in this perfectly sterile environment. Was it sub-level 15 or 16? They all looked the same.
And then, the door opened to shake Maria from her spiralling thoughts. The man who walked through - no, this was no mere man. He was something… more. It was apparent in the way he walked, each step confident and self-assured. He wore a dark green suit that flowed with his motions, never hindering. A silver watch lay on his wrist, emitting the tell-tale sounds of a genuine gear-powered machine. He walked with grace, each subtle movement a masterpiece in an art form only the privileged few could learn. He was like a dancer on stage. Or a predator, stalking its prey. Ha! Maria had never had time for poetry, but alone in this room, it seems she had found a knack for it. No, despite the airs of perfection he may put on, this Elite was as flawed as anyone else. A being of flesh and blood, just as she was.
“Good afternoon, Mrs Amherst,” he said with a subtle quirk of the lips. He spoke like a therapist, with subtle inflections designed to procure the optimal reaction. An emphasis on her title, because of course he knew that Mr Amherst had died two years previous. And his smile! Untrustworthy men could always be found out through their smiles, the books had always been clear on that, when the pleasant lie failed to reach their eyes. So what did that say about this man, whose eyes crinkled in a way that spoke of genuine pleasure?
“I want… to see my son.”
Maria remembered when she had first met this Elite, when a strong, healthy voice had carried out her demands. Now she rasped and sputtered and struggled to say what was so important. The Elite must have remembered this as well, because his smile widened imperceptibly before transforming into a well-crafted frown.
“I’m sorry Mrs Amherst, but your son is busy with his work, as you well know. He told me to send his regards.”
Every day, Maria had asked to see Christopher, and every day, she was given the same answer. He was busy at work, but wished her well. He had an important task to complete, but hoped she recovered. It was this Elite, who took pleasure in watching as her hope died a slow death. The staff had been instructed to ignore her requests ‘for her own peace of mind’, not that they had ever listened to her in the first place.
“I’m afraid I didn’t come here just for chit-chat,” the Elite said. His handsome face was the textbook definition of empathy and sorrow. “I have unfortunate news for you, Mrs Amherst. In an unprecedented turn of events, it seems your heart disease has attacked several major arteries, reducing the flow of blood to your brain and several other critical organs. You may have experienced some fatigue and dizziness these past few hours; these symptoms will only increase.”
“How… long?” Marias asked.
“It’s a matter of hours now, Mrs Amherst. Perhaps one day, if you are fortunate.”
The Elite sighed, as if this news weighed heavily upon his mind, before he continued. “Now, there is one final matter to settle.”
Of course there was. For three weeks, this Elite had been circling her like a vulture. He had sensed her weakness, her fading spirit, and was now going in for the only Maria had left: her soul.
This was what it was all about, the driving force behind this entire society. The reason why Elites could amass so much power, why Crows were invaluable and Spares weren’t. Production had long since surpassed human consumption and conventional currency hadn’t been used in decades. Instead, children were divided into categories so that the most intelligent could learn. And when they had learned enough, they would be harvested, their very skills extracted and auctioned off to the Elite.
As weak and powerless as she was, Maria controlled what the Elite wanted most. She was a spare, she had never signed the Devil’s Contract, had never handed over her soul to the elite. She had fought against the tests, defying decades of statistical analysis to rise in station through sheer willpower and determination. He would not take this from her!
“I…refuse!” Maria said for the dozenth time in as many days. But where before the Elite had frowned and shifted tactics, here he continued on unfazed. Something was wrong.
“Ah, you misunderstand me, Mrs Amherst. With a decreased blood flow to your brain, your decision making skills have been… shall we say, reduced. As such,” and here the Elite paused to savor the dread on her face, “you are now deemed mentally incapable. The decision falls to your son, Christopher; I am only here out of courtesy.”
Christopher? Her poor boy, surely he would let her die in peace! The man’s smile returned as she stared, horrified. He was waiting now, letting her understand exactly how powerless she was. Maria couldn’t even speak as sheer revulsion filled her mind. The thought of her skills being sold off, someone else taking everything of worth and leaving behind a corpse. Another person would live on with a piece of her brain matter surgically implanted, or perhaps it would be kept in stasis as a betting chip in some brutal fighting pit.
“It’s admirable, really. A heartwarming story about dedication and love. You pushed through your Spare status, moving up the ranks at an old drone manufacturing plant until you were Chief Engineer.”
This was her life, dammit! Who was he to summarize her entire being into a few short sentences, to turn her into a cheap caricature of herself? This man, who had never experienced even the slightest inconvenience?
“Even when your husband died in that rogue drone malfunction, you kept going. You raised Christopher on your own, what a sweet boy. He’s remarkably intelligent, for a Spare.”
What had this man done to her boy? Was he safe?
“And now, even in death, you will help provide for future generations. Chief engineer for 17 years, oh my, your talents will not be wasted.”
“You… can’t…” she whispered.
“Well at least one of you sees reason. I was so impressed by Christopher’s foresight that I offered him a job as a financial clerk at my firm. He’s been working there for, oh, three weeks now. It’s a temporary position for now, but I might just keep him permanently.”
“Goodbye, Mrs Amherst. I’ll be sure to tell Christopher you said hi,” the Elite said as he leaned over her bed, deep green eyes speaking of compassion and genuine sorrow as he watched her last moments.
Maria shifted her head to once again see that painted-over mural. The colours faded into white as eyes unfocused. And Maria Amherst died, alone but for a husk in man’s form, mourned by none.
This was her legacy.
Photo by Cash Macanaya on Unsplash
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