Author : Sean Kavanagh
“Save me, save yourself,” the old man muttered, as he did every morning. There was nothing kindly in the sick old man’s words, and the nurse shuddered to hear them or to touch him. Behind her stood a phalanx of three doctors, all looked weary. They were supposed to work in shifts, but it was hard to sleep with this patient. The Final Patient, as the media had named him,
“There,” said the nurse after administering the last in an endless row of daily injections. She carefully backed away, afraid of the one hundred pound man in the bed, with his papery skin and wheezing breath. Death really did have an odour all its own. One of the doctors gave her a pat on the back. They were all in this together.
From the dying old man, ran the usual web of tubes and drips. The contraptions that kept him alive, slowing his exit from the world, providing comfort. But there was a second layer of lines connected to his body: fibre optic cables that went out to the internet and from there to the world beyond. Millions of times a second they sent out signals about the old man’s health, letting servers and control panels on all the continents know he was still alive.
The old man had connected himself to the nerve centre of all the nuclear plants he owned around the globe. If he died, they went into deliberate meltdown, taking millions or billions with him. It was the ultimate incentive to science: keep me alive, cure me…or else. I die, you die.
They’d thought about cutting the connections, but the system would only interpret that as death and….well.
Over the months leaders, spiritual and secular, filed in, pleading for him to think again about this act of personal ego that he was committing against the world. He told them to leave – in case he died of boredom. The old man’s family had made the same plea, only to be written out of his will (a cruel joke as who wanted to inherit an irradiated empire of broken power plants?)
He lay dying, the threads of fibre gently counting down his demise.
In the fevered atmosphere of panic, organ donors became national heroes as they came forward to give the old man fresh meat to extend his life a little more. Their sacrifice noted and then forgotten as new ailments took hold. The doctors told the politician to expect the worst any day soon. The politicians told the people to expect good news any day soon. Hollywood worried whether DiCaprio was too young to play the dying old man in the upcoming film of his life and death.
And then the old man’s assistant appeared and whispered in his ear. The old man looked crestfallen. He beckoned the nearest doctor to him, whispered the release code, and allowed the cables to be removed.
His death would be his own.
“What happened?” asked the nurse as the assistant went to leave.
“His rival, Mr Lu in Shanghai is also gravely ill. Mr Lu’s office just announced that he has also connected himself to his nuclear plants. It’s a fashion thing with these rich now.” The assistant looked at his old, dying boss. “These rich guys always want to be the centre of attention, they hate to be the same as each other. “