Author : Ian Rennie
Hilton’s eyes opened, to his own mild surprise. Everything he saw was in dim monochrome, suggesting it was either really early or he was really tired. He was sitting in an armchair in a small office without the faintest clue how he had got here. The last thing he remembered was…
So he’d gone through with it. Evidently it hadn’t worked.
Before this train of throught could get much further, a smartly dressed businesswoman entered the room, flashing him the thinnest of courtesy smiles.
“Good morning, Mr Hilton. My name is Annabel Tseng, and I’m here about your debt.”
He opened his mouth to speak, and was cut off, in a magnificently rude display of politeness.
“It’s probably best if you don’t try to deny it. I’m here on behalf of your insurance company and Zybeco Body Leasing. You were three months behind on payments and you decided to settle your balance by driving your car and your body off a cliff. We recovered you from the crash site and put you in temporary acmommodation.”
Hilton looked down at himself, and understood another part of what had been bothering him. His skin, visible only in greyscale, wasn’t skin. It was some kind of polymer replacement. He was in a sim. As he was looking down at what he had become, Ms Tseng pulled out a softscreen sheet from a manila folder.
“At this moment, your debt to your insurers and Zybeco equals around four trillion yuan, plus a twenty five per cent defaulter’s penalty. Repayment can be made by cash, credit, or servitude. At present pay and interest rates, you will have your debt settled in just under fourteen years of work. You’re a talented programmer, and that makes you worth more to us alive than dead. Not the easiest option in the world, but you should have thought of that before you attempted to defraud the company.”
“It wasn’t like that”
Ms Tseng looked at him in mock-interest. His voice had sounded grating and artificial, words pumped through the cheapest voice-synth they could stick in this sim.
“Wasn’t it, Mr Hilton? Do tell.”
When he spoke, it all came out in a rush.
“Susan left me last month. I went into a spiral. Drink, pills, anything to put me into oblivion for as long as possible. I didn’t crash the car to default on my debts. I was praying for death.”
She laughed, and Hilton understood where he was. Humanity had found no hell, so they had built one for themselves.
“Mr Hilton, death is no excuse for laying off work.”