Author : Wasco Shafter

“Thirty minutes until heart failure” chirps a voice in Mark’s head. He flips through the internal photographs on his heads-up display, but there’s nothing new there. His heart is a confused, rotting lump of electrified meat rattling his ribcage. Five minutes has not done much to change this.

Beyond his display, surgeons twiddle their scalpels. Mark can see one chain-smoking on the observation deck. The surgeon closest to him waves a breathing mask in his face. Mark shakes his head, then returns to the medical feed on his earpiece:

vaccine for brain flu … cure for cushing’s disease … bionic arm … Ping!


He drags the figures around in his mind. Three minutes for the 3D printer to assemble one, twelve minutes to do the surgery, fifteen minutes to play with.

“I can wait.”

The surgeons throw up their hands and sub-vocalize queries into their own earpieces. The pieces obediently sift through the sum total of human knowledge, aggregate relevant data into feeds, whisper the results into their ears. They listen to baseball scores, celebrity gossip, the whereabouts of their spouses. Mark listens to the steady march of biomedical research:

cure for anorexia … vaccine for hopelessness … bionic eye… Ping!

“Twenty minutes until heart failure.” The surgeon in the observation deck puts out his cigarette. He moves his lips, and his earpiece’s sensor reads them. Mark hears,


“I can wait,” he replies.

The surgeon digs around for a lighter. “You’re really letting this go down to the wire, guy.”

“The wire keeps moving. Got a ping just now tells me a new type of heart takes half the time to install.”

“Great,” Says the surgeon, “Get it. We’ll have you out of here in nine minutes.”

On the operating table, Mark shakes his head. “I don’t want that heart. I want the time its existence gives me. Can’t afford to get surgery, just to have a better heart come out fifteen minutes later.“

Mark sets his earpiece to ignore the surgeon and focuses again on the medical feeds:

cure for addiction … vaccine against starvation … bionic breasts … Ping!

“Fifteen minutes until heart failure.” Six minutes left to find a better heart. Information pours into Mark’s skull through his ears, his eyes. He mutes his death-clock, places it in the corner of his display instead. Eleven minutes, twenty seconds. Scripts comb the torrent, highlighting breakthroughs of tangential interest:

cure for heartlessness … vaccine for heartworm … bionic blood … Ping!


He teaches a widget to calculate the time until his point of no return, places that countdown directly beneath the death clock. Two minutes, forty seconds.

He sees the mirrored image of his death-clock on the surgeons’ displays.

cure for common cold … vaccine for impure thoughts … bionic hair …


Thirty seconds. The surgeon with the breathing mask moves in. Mark flails his arms. He can’t speak, but his earpiece reads his lips:


Ten seconds until point of no return. One. Negative five. Mark doubles the breadth of his searches, combs four datastreams at once. The surgeons solemnly disconnect from his feed one by one, and file out of the room. The surgeon on the observation deck crushes out his cigarette, and then he too leaves.

And four minutes later, when Mark finds a new prosthetic heart in Beijing that operates at 100x normal efficiency, and can be easily installed in the time he has left, there is no one to do the surgery.


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