The Death Club
by Neil Smith
The wind was whipping around the seventy-fifth floor of the Philby Building, howling fiercely and battering the windows like an invisible monster. Three young men were looking out the window at a sea of skyscrapers encased in a gray fog.
"You'll have to dive through whirlpools of trash," one said.
"Hell, that's the fun part," another said.
"No man, you gotta see the landing, you gotta have the experience," the third one said.
"I'll have the experience. You'll see the landing. Help me get this window open. I pried the crap from around it yesterday."
"No way I can see Tony from here."
"Just get ready, Addy. Man, this is exciting. I can't wait. Hey, fuck you, death," he yelled, "we've got painkillers! Push!" The three pushed hard on the window and, with a horrible screech, it grudgingly tilted out about two feet. Cold wind flowed through the opening, bringing bits of floating trash and the simple molecular gray dust of the world's destruction with it. They waved it away.
"Hurry Yemp, it's freakin' cold." Yemp approached Mark and scanned his eyes with a neural mapper until it beeped. They nodded to each other and Mark ducked and stepped through the opening. He stood on the ledge, turned and waved. Addy pressed a button on his talker and waited. In a moment, it beeped back. He gave a thumbs-up sign. Mark took a breath, turned, put his arms out like Superman, and jumped. At first he was surprised at the force of turbulence and wind, and couldn't open his eyes. But he wanted to see. He turned a somersault and put his arms to his side, dropping head-first like a missile. He forced his eyes open and saw the street charging up at him, felt the wind freeze-dry his eyeballs. He smiled and pursed his lips to kiss the ground and pummeled into the sidewalk, his head exploding upon contact and his body banging off the concrete and resting awkwardly, neck broken and ripped back, his head a stringy obliterated mush, his torso crushed.
"Man, did you hear that," Addy said to Yemp as they tried to pull the window shut.
"Louder than I thought it would be. What the hell are we doing; leave this," Yemp said, and the two gave up and made for the elevator. Yemp pushed the button and they waited.
"I saw Paul the other day," Addy said.
"No shit? What was he doing?"
"Roaming around like a mindless lunatic. His skin was terrible, I could hardly recognize him. I think he lives under the Sparks bridge with a few other clone-tards. They don't roam far."
"Our fallen comrade, new member of the ascending idiots, displacers of the old school."
"I didn't try to talk to him. You could see he was totally dished."
"Of course. Man, I miss that flipping nut." The elevator appeared and the two entered it. On the ground, Tony was standing guard over the mangled body of Mark, a vidvisor pushed up on his head. Occasionally, a bum would wander toward them and Tony would casually display his stinger, and the bum would shuffle off. Tony half-heartedly grouped Mark together with the toe of his shoe while waiting for Addy and Yemp. Minutes later the two came ambling out of the Philby lobby and jogged over to Tony. They looked down at Mark.
"Splat! Dead again, Mark," Addy said, shaking his head.
"How was it from here," Yemp asked.
From what I saw, it was spectacular. I need you guys to help me with the box and we'll go get loaded and watch it a billion times. It's gotta rate up there with the all-time greats, a good closer. C'mon." The three walked over to Tony's car. Tony popped the trunk and Yemp and Addy pulled out five smooth rectangular sheets. They walked over to Mark's body and touched the sides together to create a box over him. The sides molded upon contact. As they bent, Yemp grabbed Tony's stinger and flashed the neural mapper's information into it. Tony stood and aimed the message into the machine.
"Let's go," he said.
"Man, he's taking a huge risk; should you leave him here?" Addy asked.
"Playing the odds is what it's all about. He'd tell you that, I wouldn't. The force-field will protect him," Yemp said.
"Your spirit is gone."
"Oh fuck Addy, naturally."
"Shit, I almost forgot," Tony said, and lifted up a corner to slide a talker under the box. He stepped back and pressed a button on the stinger. The box hummed lightly and was bathed in a dull red light, like a neon coffin. The sides read, 'Adele Hospital, Mobile Nanite Technologies, Cellular-Level Repair.'
"Good. They touch it, they burn. Let's go," he said, and the three headed back to Tony's car. The car lifted off the ground and silently sped away.
It landed on top of an old eighty-floor skyscraper, and the three got out. Tony pointed his stinger at the doorway and clicked. He clicked again and the door opened.
"The apoptosis, man," he said, shaking his head.
"All things must pass," Yemp said, and the three entered the building. They boarded the elevator and were taken down to floor thirty-seven. From there, they entered a large lobby with the words 'Death Club' tacked together with little plastic skeletons above the door. The walls of the cavernous room were papered with money and spangled with an assortment of wildly hung crucifixes, and the room was piled with knickknacks, crates, furniture, thousands of books and magazines, and all sorts of technical equipment stacked haphazardly about.
"Check on Charlie, Tony," Yemp called out. Tony went over to a clear horizontal tube that contained a headless, breathing body. Above the tube was scrawled 'Macabre by-product of Modern Technology.'
"Respirator check, cardiac check, intravenous feeder check, dialysis check, brain, still gone; Charlie's very much alive and enjoying life. He took a nice healthy shit while we were gone."
"Good ole Charlie; he'll outlast us all." Addy went to the fridge and brought back some beers. They opened them and sat down in the various plush loungers that were scattered throughout the large room. Tony removed his vidvisor, tilted the coffee table to slide the junk off, and set it down on the table.
"Shine it over there, all sides," Yemp said, indicating an area before them. Tony put his finger on the vidvisor and a large cube of video appeared in the space before them.
"Close-up on Mark first, so we can judge his reactions, and then we'll play with angles."
"Right." The block of video focused on the face of Mark, looking down, smiling, his hair being whipped around violently. Suddenly, the building was falling up behind him and he circled, ending up head down, body up, hair blown back. He opened his eyes and puckered his lips, all the while with a serene expression on his face. The video stopped with Mark virtually kissing the sidewalk.
"Oh man, nice job, Mark," Addy said, and the three whooped and applauded.
"Now, advance at the slowest level," Yemp said, and as the video advanced, Mark's face began to change, at first seeming to bend inward, and then slowly spreading out, with flecks of white and red beginning to show.
"Stop," Yemp said. He glowered at the still frame. The three studied the picture.
"All right, normal speed," Yemp said, and Mark was punched into the ground with the dull, loud sound of many bones breaking at once. Yemp and Addy applauded again, but Tony was distracted. He stood.
"He's the ace. And he ain't here now; so you guys, I think we need to talk about something," he said, scratching his head.
"Alright," Yemp said, and threw his legs over the arm of his chair. Tony looked at his hands. He then touched the vidvisor and the video returned to Mark on the ledge.
"Man, everywhere I go, I'm noticing prolific wetware malfunctions," he gesticulated.
"Of course," Yemp said, and sipped his beer.
"You know what I mean. Not the usual shit. We need to do general repair on ourselves with the nanite chamber every other day, but look what's happened: Paul, Ivy, Xanthy, cloned. Repairs aren't happening. Remember Xanthy? We fixed that old abattoir and she rode -- what did she call it?
"The Magic-Meat-Making Escalator. We still have those cans of her."
"And she was cloned after that, nothing seemingly wrong. Still can't find anything wrong. It could be that cell-death's on cue, everywhere, we just don't know. So anyway, the predictability of outcome has personally shot it for me. It's now more about suicide or cloning than about dancing with the Reaper."
"I survived after Xanthy, remember," Addy said.
"So, how would you like to die?" Yemp asked Tony, ignoring Addy.
"The last time? Sitting in front of a window, with my feet up, watching the horizon somewhere, slowly drinking and drugging myself to the point of insanity, and death."
Yemp rubbed his chin. "The way of our fathers." He finished his beer and tossed it.
Addy rubbed his hands; "If he clones... shit, I don't know, we always said we wouldn't freak. Is this freakin'?."
"Does it matter?" Yemp asked. "We're at zero hour, no funky apocalyptic horsemen in sight. Mark wanted to push it; that's his stupid business. He's way too fucking gung-ho for me. I'm with Tony and I'm druggin.' We all know what death is -- it's nothing. Hell, do the Fan Feeder, let's take our minds off things." Yemp applied a patch to his arm. Tony nodded and touched the vidvisor. An image of a huge industrial fan came into view. Addy and Mark were removing the fifteen-foot tall front screen. Watching this, Yemp began to smile. On the cube, Yemp was being held sideways by an industrial robot, and the fan was surrounded by a huge, open tent. Addy and Mark stepped out of view. Tony walked up and clicked the neuro-mapper at Yemp's eyes and then retreated.
"I'm ready," Yemp called out.
"Turn it on, Xanthy," Mark said, and the fan began to turn, slowly at first, and then faster. Yemp's hair was blowing wildly as the robot held him pointing at the fan, which was now roaring. Yemp, watching this, curled up in his chair and giggled. "Go," said Yemp on the cube, and the robot moved toward the fan. It began to feed him into the rotating blades, head first. His long hair was caught and violently ripped off, followed by cl-cl-cl-cl-cl-clang! as it jerkily fed him into the fan, flinging blood and sheered bits of Yemp all over the sheets. When the robot finally fed all of Yemp into the fan, Tony yelled 'jump', and the robot jumped into the fan, causing an explosion of sparks and robot parts to come flying out amidst howls of laughter. Yemp smiled. Tony came over and patted Yemp on the back.
"You're right, of course," he said. "It doesn't matter either way. Mark's an idiot."
"He's always been right about the painkillers, though. We owe all this carnage to their wonderful magic," he said, and saluted the air with his drink.
Tuesday morning the three set out for the location of Mark. The car gracefully scooted around and between buildings, slicing through the fog and finally landing near the nanite chamber. The three got out and ran to the chamber, which was tipped over on its side, black from fire, and surrounded by large spots of dried blood and small bits of scattered viscera.
"God dammit," Addy yelled, "they fucking took Mark!" The three stood there for a moment, dazed. Long burnt sticks were strewn about the box.
"How'd those brainless fucks know how to do that," Tony asked. "How the flying fuck did they know how to do that? Jesus!"
"He wasn't done repairing yet," Yemp said, and kicked the box. "Shit, shit, shit!" Tony stood there clicking his stinger.
"I can't get it to respond. The stinger's working, but the chamber's not answering. No AI signal at all. They destroyed it." He looked at the others.
"Uh, shouldn't we try to find Mark," Addy asked.
"The clone-tards have made a meal of him by now, Addy," Tony said.
"Tony, you can't fix the nanite chamber, can you," Yemp asked rhetorically.
"Sorry. We'd need at least a non-degraded nanoassembler, a molecule bin, and a functional lab, and I wouldn't know where to begin anyhow. It's impossible. We've got basically three days."
"We could try to find another one," Addy said.
"Yeah, hope there's an undiscovered one out there, preferably encased in lead for the last fifty years. No, it's all right on schedule, but be happy, Addy; your boy Mark made it, he died. And that's what I'm gonna do."
The three stood and looked around, then walked back to the car.
At their living space, the three were sprawled out, silent. Addy was puffing on a joint.
"I wanna mow down a bunch of clone-tards," he said, between puffs.
"Not a good idea. That's doin' them a favor," Tony said.
"There's a city of them at the old ball park," Yemp said. "Thousands. But you can't mow them down, because I want to do something."
"I want you two to crucify me in front of them."
"For shits and giggles." Tony sighed.
"So what's your plan, Yemp," he asked.
"Well maestro, I thought I'd play Jesus for the new crew. Since there is a possibility that they may survive, if they can keep fucking at a high rate, I thought I might as well become the new God for the next millennium. I've got boxes of bibles, paraphernalia, tons of vids, and we could stage a mini-passion play. If we hand out enough of that shit, and pictures of me, I might get to be God, and in a thousand years or so, there may be paintings and artifacts of me all over the planet. Or not, if the clone-tards die out. Still. Have you ever flown over the ball park? That's a little civilization there."
"And you want us to nail you to a cross?"
"Of course. But first, we have to set up some kiddy vid machines so they can maybe learn to read and write. I don't know if that'll happen, but what the hell. What about you, Addy?"
"I'm just gonna O.D., like Tony. I'm sort of ready."
"Well," Tony said, "before we promote you to god-hood Yemp, how's about we watch some old stuff. Relive our fond memories of dying for sport."
"Good," Yemp said. The three sat back, and Tony began to run through many of the exploits of their six-year collective on the vidvisor. There was Paul being gnawed and slowly eaten alive by sickly, deformed lions at the zoo; and Addy having his face-plate surgically removed and walking the streets afterwards; and Ivy having her intestines unspooled through her anus while dancing in front of a group of clutching, insane bums; and Tony loudly claiming to be the 'Bleeding Wonder,' drawn and quartered, stuck on top of the hovering car and hooked up to hundreds of gallons of spurting blood, laughing maniacally and shouting to various derelicts while drugged beyond reason; and the many more dulling mockeries of death captured by vid against a backdrop of minute and steady overall degradation. After a while, they got up and began to get ready for Yemp.
Tony and Addy shuffled into their living space, grimy and drained.
"Do you think they got any of it?" Addy asked, throwing his sword and helmet in the corner. Tony dropped onto a chair.
"No, not at all, but we set things up pretty good. It's possible they may get it someday, and then Yemp might get his wish to be God."
"They looked terrible."
"Yeah. I don't know if evolution can save this sick planet. They'd have to have babies at a fantastic rate for the gene frequency to change enough for survival." He got up and walked to the kitchen. On the way he passed a mirror: His reflection was disturbingly different than he was used to, and he shrugged it off and grabbed two beers from the refrigerator. He threw one to Addy.
"Look," said Addy, and he pulled out a large clump of hair, the roots seeming to give way with ease.
"Nice," said Tony, and he took a long pull from his beer. He itched all over, and he knew Addy did too, the gray fog doing what it was originally supposed to do, in a sense: clean house.
"I'm going to go, Addy," Tony said.
"I don't know, but time's running out. What about you?"
"I think I might blow this building sky-high." They looked at each other.
"See you, brother," Tony said.
"God speed." Tony walked out, thinking it was the wittiest thing Addy ever said.
Tony got into the car and accelerated out of the city. Looking down, he saw the buildings, then the strange dead trees, peaking out from the gray fog of mindless, dutiful microbes. Soon, he'd arrived at the Crystal Dynamics campus. He landed at a building labeled Lab #4, grabbed some patch keys, and went in, locking the doors behind him. He strode the long, silent halls, until he reached a large, secure door labeled C-19-L4. He placed three patch keys in various positions on the sensor and the door opened. Once inside, he repeated the process and the heavy door closed and locked. The room was as large as a gymnasium and crammed with imposing machinery, all of it running. There was a long row of horizontal tubes much like the one that Charlie inhabited back at their living space, except that these were encrusted with ice-crystals. Tony went over to a control panel and pushed a button. One of the tubes opened up, empty.
"Hi fellas," Tony said, "better late than never." He carefully took off his clothes, mindful of the sore red patches that were becoming prevalent all over his body. He grabbed his stinger and walked over to the tube, stood there for a moment and looked around. He'd set this up a couple years ago, but due to the very complicated code work of the cryogenics AI computer, was only able to get one tube opened, and it was occupied. Tony had taken the stiff body out and put it in an abandoned car in the lab's parking lot. For all he knew, it was still there, in some capacity. Now, he was finally entering the tube, and it felt strange. He climbed in and aimed the stinger at the computer. He clicked it once, twice, and the lid began to descend. He let out a breath. His mind flashed on his fallen comrades as the lid shut and his body began to freeze into a solid crystallized block.
Story copyright © 2000 by Neil Smith <email@example.com>
Artwork "Frumlive" copyright © 1999/2000 by Eric Seaholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>