Author : Martin Sumner
Sydney Park, Loss Adjuster for Prudential Insurance, straightens his tie. Slides a manicured finger into his starched shirt collar. Swallows. Checks for the third time that he has his leather briefcase with him, and pushes open the swinging glass door. The morgue attendant looks up from his desk in reception. Sydney hands him a card. Disinterested.
“I’m here to, ah, see Mr. Swann. So to speak.” The attendant shows him the way. White and peppermint green. The corridors, the signs, the staff uniform. Bright sterility. Overlit. The labyrinth echoes to the sound of Sydney’s brogues. The attendant has slippers. He shows Sydney into a small windowless room, daylight-white strip lighting flickers on, the attendant hands him a magnetic card. He checks that Sydney knows the procedure. He says he’ll wait outside. He sits down on a plastic chair.
Sydney closes the door and slots the card. He sits down. Clears his throat. A screen comes alive. It shows a profile of the deceased, one Jack Swann. The screen asks for a proceed command, and Sydney hits the appropriate key. A dial tone becomes a series of pips, and then a ring tone. The screen offers a choice – digital face animation or slide show? Sydney goes for the slide show. Always pick the slide show.
“Hello, this is Jack Swann.” The voice of the dead fills the room. Images of Jack Swann on the screen, a life that was. A life lived. A life lost.
“Ah, Mr. Swann. How, um, how are – um, well, anyway. I’m from the Prudential, your insurers. I’m processing your claim. In fact I’ve processed your last three, if I remember correctly.”
“Sydney, isn’t it? Yes, I remember you. All is well, I hope!”
Might as well get straight to the point. “Well, not exactly, Mr. Swann. Complications I’m afraid. Several complications. Firstly, your, ah, death occurred whilst you were in violation of your policy agreement, according to the police report. The policy specifically states you are not covered for dangerous sports, acts of God, travel to proscribed areas or, um, gun running.”
“Dammit Sydney we went through this last time. I wasn’t gun running. They are high explosives for strip mining. Purely commercial.”
“Well, ah, that worked last time, certainly. Interpretation, one supposes. However Mrs., ah, Alicia, err, Swann, your wife has been in touch.”
“We’re divorced, dammit.”
“Indeed, however as she rightly pointed out – upon checking – she is still the benefactor of your will. And, well there is no easy way to say this Mr. Swann, but she is pushing for a death certificate. She wants a pronouncement, and she is rather insistent. Certainly we at the Prudential cannot meet the cost of regeneration on this occasion, given the circumstances, and the scrutiny we are likely to get from Mrs., um, your wife’s legal team. You see our position, Mr. Swann?”
“Ex-wife, man! Ex-wife. Well what the hell am I supposed to do now? I can’t afford to pay for regen myself. That’s why I pay you. Damn that woman. Where does this leave me?”
“Well, Sir, is there no way the, ah, Company can cover your expenses?”
“You kidding me? I have to buy my own damn Geiger suits. Cover my expenses!”
“I see. Well, it’s probably immaterial anyway, Mr. Swann. Perhaps it’s time to think about a new career inside the matrix. You know, retrain. OS development. Anti-viral service. Wiki. That sort of thing?”
“Immaterial? What exactly do you mean by that, Sydney?”
“Well Mr. Swann, perhaps you’ve lost count. I’m afraid you’ve had your eight legalised regenerations already.”