Old Life, New Life (Short Story)

There’s not much to say about this month’s story, except for: Enjoy!

The woman smelled like strawberries and sweat. And death.

Tom wasn’t sure what death smelled like, exactly, but it must be something like this. Why else would she be here, with him, if she weren’t close to passing?

„Have you done this before?“ she asked, her voice croaking.

He touched her long, white hair and placed it gently around her face. Decorated the skyblue pillow with the strands, really. Anything to keep his hands busy while he waited for his supervisor to come back. He didn’t want the woman to see his hands trembling.

„You, my lady, are not my first,“ he said and smiled at her. „But I believe you’ll be my number one.“ He’d practiced that smile in the mirror a thousand times, made sure it was the perfect blend of gentle and assuring. His job was putting the patients at ease.

„Your hands are shaking,“ the woman said and reached out one of her skinny arms. Tom took her hand in his.

„So are yours,“ he said. Her fingers were long and thin as they laid there in his palm. She was too weak to really grip it and he was careful not to squeeze too tight. He’d never hurt a client before the procedure before. But Louise, one of the others that started out with him, had accidentally broken a client’s foot as she’d maneuvered him onto the bed once. She was no longer employed with the company.

He checked the electrodes that were attached to her forehead one more time.

„This might sting a bit,“ he said, preparing the injection. The woman huffed. A laugh, maybe?

„Don’t worry about that. This one won’t remember it for long,“ she said. Still, she winced when he pushed the needle into her parchment skin.

The injection was the last step in the preparation. First, the patients had to undress themselves. Those that were unable to do it themselves, he’d have to undress. They would be covered with a white sheet during the procedure, one that could easily be pulled up over their faces when everything was done.

Step two was hooking the patient up to the machines and checking that all stats were taken correctly. He checked again now, and the woman’s brainwaves, heartbeat and blood pressure were perfectly up to par.

Then he would insert the needle that pushed the serum in. It was a mixture of a sedative and the transfer activator that had to be perfectly aligned for the patient. And then there was that last step: waiting. Keeping the patient comfortable. The part that he hated.

When Tom had started his apprenticeship three years ago, he thought the worst would be figured out the serum. So much could go wrong there, what if he miscalculated? But as it turned out, that was the easiest part. His colleagues told him he’d get used to the hand-holding. It was as simple as patients in and patients out, a routine procedure by now. For some reason, Tom always felt a certain dread whenever he sat there for those last minutes.

Or maybe it was nostalgia.

„Are you excited for your new life?“ It was meant as a rhetorical question, of course. All his patients were excited for their new lives.

„I’m not sure,“ the woman croaked, then coughed. He had to help her turn over on her side so she could spit the mucous in a bowl. „If excitement’s the right word? Antsy, maybe.“ Then she coughed again. When she laid back down, Tom rearranged her hair on her pillow. The woman gave him a quizzical look.

„Why am I doing this, you ask?“ Tom smiled and grabbed for her hand again. „Because when you see yourself – your old self – after the procedure, I want you to leave with the best memories of her.“

„I have great memories. But she’s not working anymore,“ the woman said. „Else I’d keep her.“

Tom squeezed her hand. Gently, but still.

The door opened without any announcement.

„My name is Dr. Trevor and I’ll be administering your procedure today,“ Tom’s supervisor said. „Have you been through this process before?“

„No,“ the woman croaked. „Why would I do that?“

Trevor laughed and put on his most charming smile. It was a mixture of charming and I-will-hack-you-into-pieces. In a sense, he would.

„You’d be surprised, ma’am. Has Tom here informed you of your rights, the risks and possible side effects?“ He didn’t wait for the woman to answer as he filed through the papers on his clipboard searching for her signature, then said, „Ah yes. Let’s not waste anymore time.“

Tom moved quickly behind the curtain at the top of the woman’s bed. There was another bed there, with another body that smelled like death.

Because this one really was.

He could hear Trevor’s voice from the other side of the curtain, explaining the steps of the procedure he was taking. The woman probably didn’t care, but it was something they’d learned kept their patients calm. The procedure only worked if the patients were calm.

And God knew what happened when they weren’t.

„You’ll feel your hands and feet growing colder now, but that is perfectly normal. Don’t worry, you won’t have to stick this out much longer.“

The woman coughed and Tom sprinted to the other side to check her vitals. They were still within the norm, even with her body shaking to its core. He held the small metal bowl to her face again as she spit up and brushed her hair out of her face.

„You’re a champ, ma’am. You’ll be done soon.“

Trevor shot him a look from the other side of the bed and Tom moved back behind the curtain. Here, the machines detected the first vitals from the other body. The heartbeat came first and with it, the blood pressure rose slowly. On Trevor’s side, the woman’s vitals were dropping drastically.

„It’s not picking up fast enough,“ Tom yelled over. The vitals hadn’t climbed over the threshold yet.

„Then make them faster,“ the doctor yelled back. „I can’t hold her here forever, you know. That is the point of what we’re doing.“

Ah, that joke. Because it was still so very funny after the five hundredth time.

Tom started rubbing the body’s chest through the gown. It helped with the blood pressure, but the heart beat was still low.

Then, the first waves came over and after ten breathless seconds that felt like eternity the body on his side opened her eyes wide. She gasped, one big draw of breath.

„Why, hello there,“ Tom said and flashed his smile again. „How are you feeling?“

The body — woman — on his bed looked a bit confused, then raised a perfectly delicate arm to her throat.

„I can breathe,“ she said, then laughed. She coughed, and when Tom gave her a glass of water, she gulped it down. „I’m starving,“ she said then.

„How many fingers am I showing?“ Trevor asked as he stepped around the curtain.

While he checked the patient’s vitals and cognitive abilities, Tom went to the other side. His job was now done.

Slowly, he detached the electrodes from the woman’s body. There were burn marks where they had been attached and her eyes were still wide open. He closed them, then gently placed the sheet over her head.

Despite himself, he had to brush a tear from his eye.

Soul transfers had that effect on him. They were the new rage now and anybody who could afford one was getting one. None of them ever looked back on their ‚before‘, never even glanced at the body they left behind. As soon as they were transferred, they continued on with their lives as if they hadn’t left a part of themselves behind.

Tom could hear the woman talking, her voice loud and bright. She counted backwards from ten, answered all her self-picked security questions and laughed as Trevor made her wiggle her toes.

„I haven’t been able to do that for years,“ she said.

All the while he sat there with the leftover body, holding her hand. Her former hand.

She smelled like strawberries and sweat.

But most of all, she smelled like death.

Original image by Nick Olejniczak on Flickr.
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