Michael Harvey is a journalist and documentary producer. His work has won numerous national and international awards, including multiple Emmy Awards, two Primetime Emmy nominations and an Academy Award nomination. He lives in Chicago. Harvey’s new book, The Innocence Game, is out now!
The Short Sentence theme for August and September is DECEIT. Read Michael Harvey’s story below for inspiration.
Her eyes were the color of sifted ashes. They reminded Jack of wood smoke drifting over a campfire and he wondered if they were real.
“Hell, no,” Sinta said, passing her hand over the corpse’s eyes. “She had a major overhaul ten years ago. New eyes, heart, lungs, liver. Fully synthetic blood injection.”
“How old was she?”
“At the time of the work?” Sinta blinked once and a holograph screen full of information floated between them. “A hundred and thirteen. She had her first transplant work done at sixty, so that’s about right.”
“And her medical history?”
“I told you. Her bio-scan projected a thirty-seven percent chance of a cardiac event at a hundred fifty-four, increasing by roughly two percent every year thereafter.”
“So there was no way she should have died at a hundred fifteen of a cerebral aneurysm?”
“Unlikely, but you need to remember her transplant package was cut-rate. We encourage people to opt for the premium package, but not everyone wants to spend the money.”
Sinta flicked her index finger and the dead body of Elizabeth Perkins rolled up into a slot on a wall full of corpses. Sinta began walking down the aisle toward the door. The screen of information followed. So did Jack.
“Doesn’t that seem a little strange?”
The Cook County Coroner pivoted on a spiked heel, stripped off her gloves and tossed them into a hole that opened and closed in a wall. Sinta didn’t like to get her hands dirty touching dead bodies. Few synthetic humans did.
“What do you need, Jack?”
“There was a ticket found among her belongings.”
“Yeah, a ticket to a movie theater.”
“You and your movies.”
Over a drink one night, he’d tried to explain Casablanca to Sinta. She’d said she got it, but you never knew with a synth.
“My client is Elizabeth’s niece. She told me her aunt went with a couple of friends. A private screening they do every week at the Biograph. According to my client, her aunt’s friends were found dead as well. All within a day or two. All of ‘natural causes’.”
“Did any of them have the premium package?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m betting no. When your time comes, Jack, please don’t skimp. Call me next week and we’ll grab lunch.”
Sinta swiped her information screen clean and left Jack alone in the morgue, staring at a wall full of dead people, blank faces staring back at him through their cylindrical tubes.
The running time for The Shawshank Redemption was two hours, twenty-two minutes, which meant the matinée should have finished around three. That was an hour and a half ago. Seven seniors, all men, had gone in for this week’s private screening. None had come out. Jack climbed out of his car and crossed the street. The Biograph’s lobby was small and empty. Jack walked down a short corridor to a darkened theater. Just inside the door, a male synth smiled. Jack saw the quicksilver flash of a needle and reached for his gun. Then he was falling backward, into a black hole smelling faintly of popcorn.
“Can you hear me?”
Sinta touched the side of his face. Up close he could see the silicon curve of her lips. She smelled like the sun and sand. The summers he spent in Michigan flashed through his head in whole, rounded images. Somewhere, The Rolling Stones played Memory Motel.
“Huh?” He was sitting in the Biograph. The theater was dark, expect for a single light on Sinta. Jack tried to move his arms and legs but couldn’t. The light illuminating Sinta was cut. Jack felt her slip into the seat beside him and coil her arm in his. A screen flared to life with the final images from Casablanca.
“Your favorite, Jack.”
“Tell me about Elizabeth Perkins.”
“There was nothing wrong with Elizabeth. It’s just the program.”
“The program?” Jack’s mouth tasted like cotton. Sinta gave him something to drink through a straw. Deliciously cold orangeade with ice in it.
“Government’s bankrupt, Jack. Or soon will be. City, state, feds.”
“People are living too long. Costs are through the roof.”
“Maybe we should just stop giving birth to bio-humans altogether?”
Her synth eyes flared in the dark. “You know I don’t believe that.”
On screen, Louis Renault picked up a bottle of Vichy water and threw it in a wastebasket.
“You like the movie?” Sinta cuddled closer, her voice again soaked in velvet.
“Sure.” Jack’s eyelids felt heavy.
“The pilot program’s simple, Jack. We select older people… anyone over a hundred ten. They must have no significant others. No one who’ll will miss them. The whole thing is designed to be painless.”
“I know a niece who might disagree.”
“We invite them to the movies. They sit and watch their favorite film. We scan their brains, access some deep memories and fill the theater with the sights and sounds of their lives. It’s really quite wonderful.”
On screen, Bogie was telling Ingrid what she needed to do. She told him she couldn’t. Tight shots of eyes.
“We’re hoping to roll it out next year. Offer cash incentives to anyone who terminates early. The savings in health care alone are staggering.”
The propellers whipped up. Ingrid grasped Victor Laszlo’s arm, but her heart was with Bogie. Always with Bogie.
“You’re far and away our youngest candidate, Jack. But you gave us no choice. We’re not ready to go public. And, well, you know how you are.”
On screen Louis talked to Bogie about the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Sinta took Jack’s hand. Her voice faded in and out. Fifty thousand years from now she’d still be alive. And he’d be nothing more than a burst of orange in her eyes. She touched her lips to his and left. Then Jack was alone. On screen the credits rolled. He didn’t want them to end. But they did. Just like they did for everyone who had the misfortune to be born instead of created.