Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

Robert Meier quietly walked between the rows of tanks. Each tank held a blank, a three hundred kilocredit backup body for whoever could afford the fee. They were low-maintenance, but regulations meant that a pair of eyes had to check each tank at least once a day. Every now and again he had to tweak the physiological mix that suspended each body, and about once a month, someone came to pick up one of the blanks. It was a job that no-one really wanted.

Robert took it because he had thought of a plan to bring a little more happiness into the world.

Set apart from the rows of blanks, a small cluster of tanks were given over to creating clusters of tissue-neutral organs and antigen-free blood. Most of his job was the preperation of these for shipping to the nearest hospital. Robert whistled to himself as he filled one-unit bags with blood, laying them out carefully on a desk for packing. This was his favourite thing to do. He had no morbid fascination with the artificial blood, but instead smiled at the chance to be philanthropic. The blood was his conduit to good works. It carried his gift to the sick and the ill; something to lift them and show them what life could be.

Once forty bags were filled, he got his syringe and the case of vials from his jacket, and pushed three hundred and fifty milligrams of metaescaline through the seals. Anyone who needed blood today would walk in Robert’s world for twelve hours: bright, vivid, fast and full of wonder. He packaged up the blood carefully, and called for a courier to take it away.

It was easy to lose track of time with the tanks. Once in a while, one of the blanks would talk to Robert. He could listen to them for hours as they spoke on any kind of subject. Normally it was one that he had some knowledge about, which was always a good thing. It was just getting dark when a young man with a hospital ID badge knocked on the door, asking for an extra few packets of blood. Robert happily fetched three from the fridge, bags that he’d prepared earlier. The man – a pathologist, his badge said – thanked Robert, and left with the blood.

The following day, the pathologist was waiting at the door when Robert went to work.

“Hey there!” Robert greeted him cheerily.

The pathologist punched him, hard, in the jaw.

On the ground, Robert woozily pressed a hand to his throbbing jaw, and decided that this man probably wasn’t real, Real people wouldn’t object to be freed for a few hours.

Later on, a police car came to pick him up. He recognised the faces of some of the officers from amongst his blanks. He tried to talk to them, but they wouldn’t stop talking some nonsense about him being a murderer. Robert knew he hadn’t killed anyone, so just ignored them.

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