How many blades of grass were there under the Yashunen sun? From where Reikai was standing, he figured them endless. How many variations might there be? How many strange mutations or engineered species? How many lifetimes would one have to search to find that single perfect blade of grass, that one strand of life that even if cut could be put back together?
“Yes, that's me.” Reikai replied dutifully. He knew it was not the time or place to go into the particulars of his title.
“I'm Iodan Dewire. It's a tremendous pleasure to finally meet you.” Dewire was as thin and immaculately dressed as any deteis. Not a single one of his coal-grey hairs was out of order, and his wrinkles were carefully balanced to maintain the effect of cultured wisdom without the stigma of debilitating senescence. Reikai had seen Sukuuvestaa salarymen in their 30's spend considerable effort and wealth to look like this man, yet he knew Dewire was at least five times that age; If the medical files on him were accurate.
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Dewire. I was just admiring your remarkable view.”
“I remember when I used to run out there all day long, when I was still able.”
* * *
“What are you doing in my laboratory?”
“Ah, Reikai. How good to see you again. It's been a while.” Iiro Kauki, shady henchman to one of the most influential men in the Kaalakiota, turned away from the room-filling scanner to meet the doctor with a mocking smile.
“Not long enough, Mr. Kauki. I see you finally cut the KK logo off your jacket.”
“Now, now, let's not be like that. Nite says he has some work for you, says you know the deal.” Niteloho Koirolen, a spider at the heart of the state, sitting perched in the boardroom of the executive panel's most powerful megacorporation, while his nighttime web wired him to the blackest markets in the cluster. ‘Nite’ was that darker persona, the one that sent goons to remind you of your precarious situation in the order of things, and delivered tasks knowing that those with no other options always made the best workers.
Reikai was exhausted, and knew he had no resistance to put up against this force, so he only sighed. Somewhere deep inside him he felt another vital piece fall away - another door slowly creaking shut. “Yes, I know the deal. Who?”
Kauki raised an eyebrow and re-examined the scientist, forming a new impression. “A man named Dewire. Big guy pushing assets for the Provists on the highsec border. You know, when he told me you'd be the one to handle this, I couldn't believe it. Still don't.”
“I don't care what you think, Iiro. Just give me the files and set up the meet.”
* * *
“You come highly recommended, Dr. Anolanen.” Dewire reclined in an antique Gallente armchair upholstered with billowing leather. Its organic waves heralded a present future of a plastic-and-silicone ideal among their women and spaceships alike.
“There aren't a lot of people who do these kinds of things. The opposition is staunch, even in the State.” Reikai replied, swirling the the last drops of tea around the bottom of a large ceramic cup. Remnants of interstellar tea-leaves suggested the image of a storm pattern.
“It's CONCORD's fault.” Iodan began his tirade. “Putting pressures on people to keep certain technologies from making progress. ‘Protecting humanity’ such drivel. Humanity is petty and self-destructive. The only way to break out of the cycle is to change technology, and science is the only way to do so.”
Reikai didn't have to lie to make the answer sound as it should. “I agree, of course.” He nervously swallowed a dry mouthful of air anyway, and smiled. He tried to remember the face of the alter ego he had carried with him for these jobs before, the silhouette of his younger, idealistic self. The person who didn't hesitate debating ethics with corporate investors - like discussing meat cuts with carrion.
“And we Caldari will always be at the forefront of experimental technology. The only ones willing to stare into the abyss of the unknown and shine a torch. Everyone else is holding us back... Tell me, have you ever met Todo Kirkinen?” Dewire asked.
“Has anyone, really?”
“I have. I met him when he was young. That look he had: all flesh and blood and fire inside. Now he is what all men should be - immortal. Beyond.”
Reikai could only nod, nostalgic for an envy that had long since been replaced by shame.
“I want to do this as soon as possible, Dr. Anolanen. I may not look like it, but I'm sick. This body has reneged and turned to kill me, like the rest of this wretched species, and I need to flee its self-predation.”
“I can have a lab set up in orbit in a week, if you can pay.”
“I don't care about money, Dr. Anolanen.”
“A luxury afforded by the few.”
* * *
“What do you think? Is it what you meant?” Reikai had asked in a memory of many years ago. A memory of feeling the sweat riding ridges of wrinkles in his nervous and pleading face. It was the darkest moment of his life. Darker than the alley, of those nights he did not care to remember, despite bright lights of an industrial view playing outside a fake window in that moment. A memory in a memory, of Kaalakiota City, many worlds away.
“It's a very clean way to handle things.” His abductor and potential saviour had mused, stroking bleached facial hair. A mockery - he already knew all upsides to the plan, why else grab a disgraced brain patterning expert off the streets and give him this deal?
“Yes.” Anolanen had agreed, offering the smile he used to give laboratory inspectors and quality agents, this time talking about the filthiest topic he had entertained in the entire length of his life. Filthier than faking results, filthier than lying to his employers, filthier than human experimentation.
“What if he doesn't go through with it, or if the procedure fails?” The smile, leading.
“If the procedure fails, they will die.” Just the memory of those words once again made Reikai deflate. The room was spinning, then as now. The stolen lights in the memory on the wall had made him nauseous.
“Ah, quite foolproof then. And if he chooses not to go through with it, I guess I can spend my money elsewhere to deal with the problem.”
“Oh, what of the scan? Assuming the procedure actually does work, what will you do with it? I mean, we both know it won't be much use, but one can never be too safe.”
“Hah... yes...” Reikai needed to throw up. “I will destroy it, of course.”
* * *
“Now lay down here, Iodan. I'm going to activate the AIMED, which will attach some electrodes for biometrics while I prepare the rest of the equipment.” Reikai instructed calmly. He waved for the girl he hired to act as a pretty nurse to leave. He had already paid her much more than she'd get for a normal night's work with Nite's money. For a second she lingered in the doorway to the sterile laboratory, perhaps curious, perhaps hoping for another lucky handout. She reminded Reikai of his wife. He turned away and closed his eyes, pretending to work until the door closed behind her.
Hanging like a long-limb from the ceiling, insect-like, dressed in polished steel and tempered plastics, arching down behind Dewire's head, was the scanner. Developed in parallel evolution to the extravagant pattern scanners used in spaceship capsules, it was a very old and terrifying machine. Because it offered immortality.
“Any irritation around the implants?” Anolanen asked his patient. Lying there with much of the pale skin of his body exposed, Dewire looked much more frail than he had seemed at the last checkup. Certainly, his state had been declining over the past weeks, but he always wore his suits, always in powdered to look vivid, always with a proud and powerful face. Here there was no facade for him left to hide behind - just a sack of dwindling flesh imprisoning a fading mind.
“No, Reikai. I don't feel a thing.” Dewire replied. As the automated medical assistant attached pads and plugs to various parts of Iodan's body, monitors around the room started rendering stats: heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity. Nanites in the bloodstream were reporting cell counts, filaments in the brain stem were reporting neuronal noise levels.
Reikai patted the man's arm in a reassuring manner while studying the stats on the screens. “Okay. Are you ready to proceed?"
Dewire nodded and gave Reikai a look that was full of determination.
“I know that look. You told me of it.” Reikai said. “It is young Todo's. All flesh and blood and fire.”
Iodan laughed slowly and wearily, like a child's toy with dying batteries, as the AIMED injected a murky sedative into a port on his arm. When Iodan's eyes fell shut, Reikai pressed a glyph on his console and the scanner slid into position. With a wet, mechanical noise, the interface of the machine entered the many sockets providing access to Dewire's brain. The always accompanying twitch of the body made Reikai look away.
After a minute, a light on the console indicated it was ready. As a steady, droning hum settled in the room, Reikai sat down. The AIMED went to work according to a standard program, hooking up life support systems for the body: heart, breathing, nutrients. Reikai just sat there for a minute, not contemplating - just existing. He imagined being that automated medical drone - just a few dumb lines of code knowing what a flu is and how to install an IV. The AIMED finished its routine and retreated to an alcove. Reikai's joints ached.
When he pressed the trigger he closed his eyes in reflex, despite knowing there was no flash.
When the noise from the machine died down, Reikai sighed and rose from his seat. His stance was different now that he didn't need to keep up appearances to the room: hunched over and tired from wearing his masque. At the back of the machine, he opened a hatch and pulled out a thin wafer of shining crystal - the scan. His movements in finishing the shutdown and ending the life support of the body were a feeble routine. In subtle contrast, he handled the data-crystal with the shining after-image of Iodan's brain like he was looking at a familiar photo of a long-dead friend.
He walked over to the desk and opened his briefcase. From a fitted leather pouch he withdrew a clear plastic box lined with shining crystal storage slates. With sentimental precision he opened the box and ran his hand over the shining slivers, shades of electric green playing between his fingers. His eyes lingered on the auto-dates on the tops of the slates, and he briefly considered the years that had blown past in this sorry work, stuck in this ruinous existence he had forged for himself hoping to build a better world.
As he slotted in Dewire's crystal at the end of dozens of near-identical mementos, Reikai looked towards the simple bed where Iodan's body now lay lifeless. His index finger idly stroked the first shining slate in the order - maybe this time would be different. Maybe this one could be put together again.