Author: Greg Roensch
The transport came in for a bumpy landing on Hos as the twin moons rose on the horizon. A medical technician by trade, Rael-6 had known this journey would come one day, though he worked hard to put it off. “It’s just normal aches and pains,” he’d say to anyone who asked about his condition. But those aches and pains had become worse, and, after a long consultation with Dr. Boethius, Rael-6 was forced to book his flight to the hospice planet.
“Seven hundred and fifty years is a good life,” the admitting nurse remarked while checking his vital signs.
“Seven hundred and fifty-three to be exact,” Rael-6 replied.
“A good, long life,” the nurse said and smiled.
Rael-6 was soon sleeping and didn’t stir until hearing a familiar voice whisper his name.
“Good morning,” said Dr. Boethius. “How do you feel?”
“Old,” Rael-6 answered. “How much more time do I have?”
“It’s hard to say,” the doctor answered. “We don’t have a blueprint for these things.”
“I see.” Rael-6 settled back in his bed.
“Can I get you anything?” the doctor asked.
“No, thank you, doctor. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.”
“That’s the best approach.” Dr. Boethius patted Rael-6’s shoulder. “Don’t hesitate to request more Doxa if you need it.”
When Dr. Boethius returned three days later, Rael-6 was noticeably weaker. His skin was drawn tight over his entire body. And, as expected, there were large gashes on his torso.
“It won’t be long now,” the doctor said and administered a heavy dose of painkiller.
Rael-6 shut his eyes, a smile forming on his cracked lips.
Later that night, as Dr. Boethius was catching up on paperwork, a nurse hurried into his office. “It’s Rael-6,” she said. “It’s time.”
“Keep him sedated,” the doctor ordered. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” The nurse telepathically administered more Doxa.
Rael-6 felt a warmth in his veins and was soon dreaming about being back home at his dining room table, sipping spice tea, and telling the doctor about a child he’d fathered while stationed on a mining ship in the Quadrillion galaxy.
“I begged her to stay with me,” Rael-6 explained, “but she was committed to her career in deep space. I found out later that she and the child died in the Second Great Mining War.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the doctor said.
“I wouldn’t have to do this alone if they had come with me.” Rael-6 wiped a tear from his cheek.
“You’re not alone,” the doctor replied.
Rael-6 never woke from the dream. The hospice staff made sure of that as his tight, yellow skin, now covered in gashes, began to fall to the floor.
“Keep him fully sedated,” Dr. Boethius ordered and peeled away a layer of skin.
A moan from the patient caused the doctor to glare at the nurse. “Fully sedated, I said.”
Rael-6 didn’t make another sound as the doctor tore away more skin.
Ten days later, Dr. Boethius returned to find a new, young patient sitting up in bed.
“How do you feel?” the doctor asked.
“Like a million Napanthian crystals,” answered the patient. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure why I’m here.”
“Just routine maintenance,” Dr. Boethius assured him.
All is in order now, thought the doctor. Rael-6 is gone. In his place lay Rael-7, a fully rejuvenated Class-3Z model ready for deployment. This shell should last another 753 years, the doctor noted before prodding the patient’s skin and checking his vitals one last time.