Par Autre Vie by Gabriel S. de Anda

Lawyer Zachary has the soul of an artist, and struggles with the morality of helping his clients pay off debt with high-tech indentured servitude; by Gabriel S. de Anda.

"I've been doing something wrong all my life," said the lady in the chair, more to herself than to the small clique of people gathered behind the glass partition. She lifted her head, eyes hot and moist, looking like the martyred Saint Sebastian, questioning Heaven's harsh justice. Just then they downloaded the PIT into her. The lights in the building dimmed momentarily. Her eyelashes fluttered as neural pathways were rerouted and sections of her brain were shut down.

She ceased to be herself.

The station attendant with the black armband removed the restraining straps and the wire leads plugged into the standard implant sockets behind the lady's ears and in her wrists.

"By the power invested in me," said a uniformed bailiff who stood to the side, speaking more to the group of witnesses than to the woman in the chair, "and according to statute and custom, you, Mercado Zuniga, are now a ward of the benevolent Republic of California. You are hereby remanded to the custody of the American Lotus Corporation, to repay the debt you have defaulted on. Subject to all governing legal provisos, your employer's tenancy begins today."

Zachary Solomon felt the knot churn in his stomach. He turned to his client and said, "Okay, Mr. Miyake. She's all yours."

Lafcadio Miyake bowed after taking the small, activated sheet of shimcom paper, the token of abridgement rights. "Once again, counselor, many thanks for your valuable services," he said with a smile which masked more than it revealed. "American Lotus is in your debt."

Zachary wiped a thin moustache of sweat on his sleeve and cleared his throat. "Ah, no, Miyake-san. It's my place to thank you." He smiled deferentially.

"Tell me, my son. Is there any positive word on Mrs. Solomon?" Zachary couldn't tell if Lafcadio shook his head, or whether it was the tremors that were the old man's constant companion.

"I am afraid not," said Zachary. "The doctors say that there is no cure in sight. I fear my dearest mother is not long for this life." Zachary's mother had fallen prey to an offworld disease, a cancer which steeped its victim in a sleep that invariably ended in death. The Somnambulist's Syndrome, as the press had dubbed it, had reached epidemic proportions, claiming over eighty thousand lives in less than three years.

"I'm so sorry to hear this."

"One cannot regret what is ordained," said Zachary, imitating the formal tones in which Mr. Miyake usually spoke. "She has had," he added with mismatched levity, "her 'run on Broadway.'"

With eyes so narrowed that it was hard to see the rheumy whites, Miyake said, "So Zachary-san, are you ready to come work exclusively for us?" He scratched his wrist, his wrinkled face all business. "Aren't you planning to take a wife soon?"

Zachary held a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. He had had his fill of Personality Abridgement cases. "Ah, thank you again, Miyake-san, but I must respectfully decline. My hands are filled with far too many cases as it is," he lied.

Miyake's indulgent smile said he knew otherwise. "Yes. People will always be getting into accidents and getting divorced, no? Be careful with jealous husbands and speeding ambulances."

Zachary laughed politely at the joke. "I have appreciated the referrals," he added, trying to mask his hunger. "You've been more than generous."

"I understand," said Miyake, eyes further narrowing on the use of the past tense. He chose to ignore its implication. The old man turned to eye his PITted employee standing docilely to one side, eyes downcast. Still speaking to Zachary, he said, "Would you join me, then, for lunch?"

"Thank you, sir, but I'm afraid I have to fly. I have, ah, a client to interview."

"A potential employee for the Corporation?"

"Yes, maybe. Another bankruptcy." Hopefully the last one, he thought. The appointment had been set up before his change of heart.

Lafcadio nodded approvingly. "Perhaps another time, yes?" He turned to the waiting woman. "Come, Ms. Zuniga. We must be on our way." She followed obediently, her gaze empty and calm, like that of a Zen monk.

Zachary Solomon bowed one last time and slipped away.

It was about a half past noon when Zachary reached his Sixth and Main Street law office. It was the height of the lunch hour. Zachary elbowed his way through the crowd and bought a skinned mango impaled on a stick. He sprinkled it with lemon juice and chili powder, and carefully walked to the building where he rented a small office suite.

The elevator let him out on the fourth floor. He had to manually open the front door; the automatic mechanism had fritzed out, and the landlord had been loath to fix it, being that Zachary was behind in his rent.

"Nora!" he said in a loud voice. "Any messages?" he asked, already tapping through the list of his calls on the free monitor. In a quieter voice he asked, "Is Mr. Winters here yet?"

Nora, an indentured PITted public servant closer to the beginning than to the end of a five-year Personality Abridgement, nodded.

"How long?"

"He's just arrived," she said. "He's drinking coffee in your office."

Submitting your personality to the PIT, to the government, was a suppression of free will and the emotive process which gave rise to ego. Nora had once worked as a programmer and installer of Personality Filters into the AIs that had flooded the market a few years back. The irony of her present life was wasted on her pasteurized persona.

She sat with unnatural calm at her desk, staring at a wall. Zachary walked over to her and wiggled the fingers of both hands before her opaque eyes, like a magician willing something to disappear. She didn't even blink.

Nora had been a three-year gift from Mr. Miyake. Zachary, not too enthused with the idea, but needing a secretary (especially one he did not have to pay), had been afraid at the time of alienating the American Lotus Corporation by a refusal.

"Could you make me a decaf cappuccino, Nora, please?" said Zachary, sighing. "I'll be inside interviewing Mr. Winters." He lightly tapped a combination of keys on the freeboard, and transferred his messages on the screen to his small suite computer.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Winters," said Zachary to the man seated in his office. "No, no, don't get up." Zachary set his leather briefcase on a couch and, first shaking the client's hand solemnly, sat down heavily in his chair. He tapped on his desk console and the messages he'd parked scrolled on the monitor. He casually divided his gaze between the rumpled, unshaven client and the messages.

Damn! thought Zachary to himself, looking up from the monitor and forcing a smile, trying not to let his chagrin show. The check transfer to the American Bar Association had bounced; it had been payment for his Malpractice Insurance.

"Please," Zachary said, crinkling some hardcopy on his oakwood desk. "I've read your application, but I'd like to hear you tell me what happened. In your own words."

"Why?" asked Winters. He was a short fellow with a barrel chest and the scuffed, angular features of an old fire hydrant, paint flaking off and a little rusty. He wore a suit he'd bought in the Orient a few years before he'd lost everything he had. It was a somber shade of charcoal, double-breasted and slept in. "What's the purpose?" he said, his voice flavored with resigned sarcasm. "Once upon a time I was a rich man. Now I have nothing. End of story."

Zachary nodded and arched his right eyebrow. There was no need to elaborate the unfortunate details of loss. A failed series of businesses and a costly divorce had left Winters like a firecracker with a defective fuse. Zachary sighed. It was his job to succeed where the fuse had lapsed. It was a job he had come to loathe.

Zachary looked down at the monitor, surreptitiously reviewing another message. The landlord had called for the fiftieth time about the month's back rent. Zachary shook his head slowly from side to side.

Winters thought Zachary's consternation was for him. "Can you get me a deal?" he asked, swallowing hard. "I was given your card by someone who says he knows you."

Zachary disliked the niche of the legal pie he'd staked out for himself, although it paid well. Times were hard and it was a growing field. And although he'd come to feel first pity, then guilt, over the clients he'd helped turn into public zombies, he nonetheless had come to feel exasperation with those who bemoaned their legal predicament, who whined about the unfairness of their lot. Which was most. It made it easier when they were accepting and resigned to the wheels of justice as they were.

"It's a question of how long, really. I can't get you off," he said carefully, "if that's what mean. Don't you have any assets at all?"

"Of course not," said Winters, his nervous hands dancing in the air. "You think this is my idea of paying off a debt? To lose how many years of my life?"

Zachary gave a quick series of nods and said, "The sum of your commercial debt is high. Depending on what you can or can't do, you could be looking at a twenty-year Abridgement."

"Twenty! I'll be in my sixties when it's over."

"I think with some luck," said Zachary, licking his lips, "I can get you a reduction to fifteen, maybe ten - maybe ten - years."

"How?" asked Winters with a mixture of relief and suspicion. Ten years was, under the circumstances, a long time.

"I do work for the American Lotus Corporation. They offer Abridgement Tenancies par autre vie in exchange for a prejudicial first-bid assignment of your sentence."

"Par oh-tra vee? What's that?"

"Normally, your debt is evaluated and assigned a value in years. A ten-thousand-dollar debt, for example, equals an automatic personality abridgment of a year. Twenty K is a deuce. And so on. There's no negotiation.

"Currently, however, the courts are clogged with these kinds of cases. The law encourages the private sector in buying up the debt of people such as yourself."

"What does that mean?"

Zachary smiled patiently. "The American Lotus Corporation, for example, would pay off your debts. Instead of you owing a term of years to the Republic, you would owe it to American Lotus."

"How does that help me?"

"The Republic takes no pleasure in abridgements. Times are rough everywhere, cash is tight. But make no mistake, Mr. Winters, money always talks loudest. Corporations like American Lotus perform a service to society by keeping the money-wheel turning. In exchange, the Republic allows them less stringent regulations. In order to encourage such transactions, you understand."

"Less stringent how?"

"As I said, if you go through the Republic, debts are not negotiable. American Lotus, however, can offer you not only assured quality working conditions during your tenancy, but they also offer an estate of years called 'par autre vie.' It means 'for the life of another.'"

Winters shook his head uncomprehendingly.

"It's like a lottery. Instead of, in your case, a twenty-year sentence for your debt, you can choose to be abridged for the duration of the life of someone else. Of another."

"Come again?"

"You choose a person other than yourself. A sister, an aunt. It has to be someone related by blood." Zachary's lower lip jutted, its mute twist saying, Who knows? "A father, perhaps," he said, looking through Winters' file opened in his lap. Zachary knew that Winters had a father, seventy-three years old, wasting away in an Old Folk's Home. "That person, instead of the imposed sentence, becomes the measuring time, or 'life', if you will, of your term of indenture."

"How does that help me?" Winters asked for the second time.

Zachary leaned back into his chair. This was the part he hated the most.

"Life is uncertain, Mr. Winters. The mortality rates are high these days. Accidents, environmental diseases, spiraling crime, and so on. If the person you choose as a measuring life dies before the normal expiration of your indenture, your sentence ends, prematurely. Ahead of time." Life could be extended almost indefinitely, if you had the money. Winters had none. The old man in the convalescent home would live to eighty, maybe eighty-five at best, giving Winters a PIT term of seven to twelve years. Who knows, maybe even less.

The possibilities registered on Winters' face: excitement competed with moral revulsion. "You mean if I choose my sister, I'll be praying that she dies before my term is up. That's horrible!"

Zachary eyes did a shifty dance. "I don't think you're looking at it in the correct light. For one, while you're abridged, you won't be hoping anything; your mind will be in stasis." Zachary shrugged. "It's a gamble, a lottery as I said. A slim chance, perhaps, but more than you have now." He tapped a pencil on the desktop. "Or perhaps you look forward to a certain twenty-year abridgement?"

"I'll have to think about it."

"Of course, I understand."

Zachary pursed his lips, cocked his head, his eyes widening with true commiseration. "It's your decision, Mr. Winters. But bear in mind," he said, reciting almost by rote the spiel he had been delivering for nearly two years, "all things being equal, the American Lotus corporation is a good employer. They'll provide work that isn't demeaning. Excellent conditions and a future with their organization when your indenture ends. If you work for the Republic, you could end up cleaning toilets at a razorbox stadium. Think about it."

Winters sat mutely for a while, not moving.

"Do you have any questions?"

Winters looked up with wet eyes which threatened to brim. Oh shit! thought Zachary. Please, not one of those.

"Will I... dream?" Winters asked.

There were studies he could quote, there were lies which he could tell, but Zachary no longer had the heart for it. Even so, the truth was still a little beyond facile enunciation. He shook his head, then shrugged apologetically. "I don't know, Mr. Winters," was all he managed.

They shook hands gravely and Winters let himself out.

If I'm lucky, he won't come back. Go to some other firm. But Zachary knew, Winters would be back.

God, I hate these cases, he thought. He took a long, slow breath, hoping the waves in his stomach would ease. He briefly wondered what it would be like to be PITted, and shuddered. To surrender your will for a term of years, to lose a chunk of your life...

He forced the morbid thoughts from his head and finished checking his messages. Lord knows, I've problems of my own. There was one left, from Grace, his fiancé. About the American Express card he'd given her. It was brief and irate in tone. The card had been denied at some boutique on Rodeo Drive, much to her chagrin and embarrassment. Did he have an explanation?

Ah, Grace, Grace. Patience. Zachary stood, turned the computer off, and made his way to the lobby.

"Nora, please call the American Express offices. Tell them that there's been a mix-up, and that I'll have the payments in by the end of the week.

"Oh. And tell Mr. Lanier that I'll have the back rent in his hands by Friday, okay?"

"Yes, sir." She scratched her head, her expression calmly beatific. "And what about Mr. Rosales?"

Zachary stopped moving, his eyes narrowed. "What about Mr. Rosales?" he said slowly.

"His new attorney was here earlier today. He said he has to see you."


"This morning. While you were in court."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I'm telling you, Mr. Solomon."

Zachary wiped his hands on his pants. "Tell Mr. Rosales' lawyer that I'm out of the city for a week. On a trial."

"I did, sir."

"What did he say?"

"He said that you can't avoid him forever."


Nora smiled her Buddha-smile.

"Okay. Well, I'm going to lunch, Nora. I'll be back at... What time is the Pesmen interview?"

"At 5pm."

"I'll be back before then. Oh," Zachary said, pulling a tape from his pocket. The missive telling Miyake that he would no longer be handling their caseload. "Here's a letter I've dictated to American Lotus. Make a hardcopy and send it out. Today."

"Where will you be lunching, sir?"

Zachary exhaled. "At Fiasco."

"So tell me," D'artagnon Slade was saying between noisy slurps of his spicy lemon grass soup. "How much longer are you going to ignore the dictates of your heart?"

Zachary spooned steaming broth and a chunk of savory squid into his mouth. "Looks like I'll be a practicing attorney for quite some time, Dart. I'm in the hole as it is." He explored with his spoon, finding a plump snow-and-rose colored shrimp in the tiny sea of steaming gold. "But as to my work for American Lotus, I'm stopping that. I sent them notice today."

"Good for you. Have you told Grace yet?"

Zachary sighed. "No. Not yet."

Despite the disheveled state of his life, Zachary was feeling happier at that moment than he had for quite some time. The Fiasco was a hole-the-wall cafe he and D'artagnon had frequented in their student days, not far from the university where they'd met ten years earlier. The pungent odors and tastes of Thai cuisine were freighted with pleasant memories and the bittersweet associations of a time that, despite the complexity of its new emotions and thoughts, had been much simpler. The future had seemed so malleable, like a block of soft clay to be molded, into a statue, a vase or a bust, whatever one wanted. Zachary, then an aspiring young poet, had been pursuing an English Lit degree. D'artagnon had been studying Business. In an ironic twist of fate, Zachary had gone on to become a lawyer, while D'artagnon had ended up with a Fine Arts degree, becoming a multimedia performance artist. He currently enjoyed a sort of local celebrity which showed every promise of flowering into something larger.

"Not the gold mine you thought it would be?"

"Um, well... yes and no."

"How's your mom holding up?" asked D'artagnon.

Zachary shrugged. The bonds between the two men were well rooted in the past and in their sympathetic temperaments. But death and the Somnambulist's Syndrome had drawn them closer still. D'artagnon had lost both parents to the offworld scourge.

"She's wasting away," was all Zachary could say on the subject. There was no need for further elaboration. D'artagnon understood the low-grade but constant emotional havoc over having a loved one so stricken. Part of one's psyche was calling out to God to perform a miracle, to save the patient. Another part implored their quick death and release. Guilt was the product of these conflicting desires.

The Somnambulist's Syndrome made a patient out of everyone involved.

A young, tiny woman with long, straight black hair brought their pineapple rice and chicken satay.

"I was a witness," continued Zachary, "at a Personality Abridgement this morning. A young woman who'd expected a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow but instead found a handful of sleep." Zachary scooped rice with crumbled shrimp, cashews, raisins and small chunks of pineapple onto his plate, then handed the crownless pineapple shell to D'artagnon. "She said something just before they closed up her mind."

"What was that?" said D'artagnon, forking a mouthful of rice directly from the headless pineapple before actually serving himself.

"She said, 'I've been doing something wrong all my life.'"

D'artagnon stopped chewing for a moment. "Interesting. Are you sure?"

"Yeah. And you know what? It didn't make sense at the time. Oh, I know, it's not a very mysterious statement, but it stuck with me all the same, and I've been thinking about it all day." He paused for a sip of milky-orange iced Thai tea. "I feel the same way."

"What's wrong, Zack? Smoking more and enjoying it less?"

Zachary laughed. "Yeah. Something like that." He smiled at his friend. "Who hasn't had that feeling of wishing to be in someone else's shoes, living the life of another."

"Par autre vie," D'artagnon nodded. "Maybe it's time for a career change, captain."

"No, no, that isn't it. Not really. Besides, it's too late for that."

"Never too late, counselor."

"No, Dart. I've been doing something wrong all my life, and now I've just got to make the best of it. As far as gigs go, the Law ain't that bad. Besides, I like the good life too much."

"That's part of your problem, amigo. You've got to stop acting like a Renaissance Prince. You're living beyond your means. You like the 'best things in life', but Zack, they end up owning you. You know that."

True. Somewhere along the line Zachary had concluded that at best he would have made a mediocre poet. And even if he'd been great, poets didn't earn the major ducats. The nascent seed of materialism that had flowered in the lapse of his artistic pretensions had given him a taste for luxuries and a love of beautiful surfaces. Such a life required money and credit; at the time, law had seemed a means to this end.

His practice, while still young, had brought him substantial sums of money, especially the American Lotus account. The problem, however, was a cliché, and the cliché was true: the more money you made, the more you spent. Like most lawyers, Zachary possessed poor organizational skills, and when he should have been investing in an effective paralegal, he'd invested in a new Jaguar, a rented oceanfront house in Venice, a girlfriend with the beauty of Helen of Troy and the avarice of the legendary Imelda Marcos. He was on the brink of financial doubt. He thought of Winters and shuddered.

"Be careful, Zack," said D'artagnon, as if reading his mind. "You don't want to end up like one of your poor clients."

"I know, I know. I'm not too worried, though. At worst I could lose most of what I have. But I wouldn't have that many outstanding debts either. Besides, I'm still a lawyer. As long as I've got my ticket, I can always make more money."

"What gives on the Rosales case?"

Zachary sighed. That was a headache. Rosales was a Personal Injury case that he had mishandled, on which he had inadvertently blown the Statute of Limitations for prosecution. The client had lost the case for no better reason than that the necessary papers had been filed after the expiration of the Statute. Rosales had wasted no time in bringing a malpractice suit against Zachary, an action for negligence.

"He still has to prove that he would have won his case had it gone to trial."

"Would he have?"

Through a sense of avoidance and denial, Zachary had compounded his negligence by ignoring the answers to such questions. "I don't know."

"And if he proves he could have?"

"I don't know, Dart. I guess I could be looking at a judgment against me for a lot of money."

"You have malpractice insurance, don't you?"

"I do now," he lied. Zachary tore a piece of roasted chicken from a stick, dipped it in the peanutty satay sauce, and bit into it. Somehow it seemed to have lost its flavor. "But the pisser is, I didn't at the time the Statute was blown. I'll be liable."

"Goddamn it, Zack. What'll you do?"

"Grace is going to lend me the money," he said with a foundationless assurance. In point of fact, he hadn't even asked her yet. But how could she refuse?

D'artagnon's eyes narrowed doubtfully. "Good luck, sport."

"No, really, it'll be cool."

"Gentlemen?" Both men turned.

The waitress with the mane of night brought an extra chair to the table and the devil settled into it. She and D'artagnon exchanged insincere smiles; Zachary kissed her offered lips and settled back as the waitress placed the extra table settings before the newcomer.

"You found us," said Zachary in an exculpatory tone, for D'artagnon's benefit. Grace Hunter's appearance had been unexpected.

"And what are we celebrating?" asked Grace amiably. She brushed back a thick cascade of golden hair, revealing a large teardrop earring of Baalgemmian ivory with mirersatz studs. The look on Zachary's face plainly exposed his proud and smitten heart.

Grace's beauty was singular and tailor-made from Zachary's dreams. Her face was like an artist's study, incomplete but whose unerring lines were evocative, aethereal. She had large eyes of long-lashed Mediterranean blue which without make-up melted hearts, and with brought the meltflow to a boil. Her nose was slightly incongruous, a delicate, unfocused fragment of ancient Roman architecture with a mild boxer's bump just below eye level. It rooted the goddess in the sphere of humans. Her lips, wetly lipsticked, were as sculpted and defined as her nose was suggestive and dreamy.

"We're celebrating the fact that your fiancé's finally woken up," said D'artagnon.

"You accepted Miyake's offer," guessed Grace, her voice inflected with gaiety.

Zachary paused, his lips puckering into an uncertain smile. "No," he sighed. "Just the opposite. I decided to drop the account."

Grace's almond-shaped eyes narrowed, growing frosty, glancing at Zachary sideways. She pursed her lips, her tongue distending the surface of her left cheek. "I thought we discussed this?" she said cautiously.

"Yes, we did, and I concluded that it's not the kind of practice I want to have. We did discuss this."

Grace bowed her head, her elbows on the table and her shoulders high. "I don't understand your moral prissiness," she said. A glass of iced lemon water and one of Thai tea were set before her.

"I'm tired of stealing my client's dreams."

"Ah, I see," she said, leaving the red impression of her lips on the upraised glass. "And your solution is to give up your own?"

"Lighten up, Grace," ventured D'artagnon. "Give your man a break."

Grace glared at the performance artist. "And what will you do?" she said, turning back to Zachary. "No no, don't tell me. You want to go back to writing limericks."

Zachary laughed but sighed heavily. "No, of course not. I just can't do Personality Abridgement cases anymore, Grace. It takes too much out of me. I feel like an executioner."

"Oooh, I see. You're just going to second guess the Supreme Court, is that it?" Her features softened. "Honey, there's nothing wrong about what you do. Look around you," she said, half-turning and gazing out into the crowded streets. "The world is a tough place, filled with people who are broken and on the edge. The Republic actually performs a valuable service by allowing despair, ennui and hopelessness to be counted for something, to be used to offset debts which crush and make humbled people even smaller and useless. Would you rather they committed suicide? Is that more humanitarian?"

"No, of course not. But you'd have to look into their eyes, Grace, to see that they're afraid either way. It's not an easy thing to become a slave."

"To become a slave? What does that mean, Zack? Every day we find ourselves doing things we don't want to, things which must be done nonetheless." She took a long swallow of tea. "Besides, it's the law we're talking about. Afraid? That's the whole point."

She plucked a fat shrimp from Zachary's plate and ate it. "Just think about it some more, honey," she said, licking her fingers.

"I have. I sent my withdrawal letter to Miyake this afternoon."

A silence descended upon the trio which D'artagnon wisely interpreted as an exit cue.

"I've got to be at the Santa Monica Cyrix Pavillion," he said, rising, smiling. "I'm doing a performance piece with Kris. I gotta help her with the props and things. I've reserved two seats for you guys. Next Tuesday?" He kissed both on the cheek.

Grace's food was brought on the heels of D'artagnon's hasty retreat, but she played with more than she ate.

"Come on, Grace," Zachary said, finally breaking the tense silence. "It's not the end of the world."

"No. I suppose not."

"Look at it as a new beginning."

"Yes," she said wistfully. "Back to square one." She shook her head, took a desultory bite, chewing dispiritedly. "What kind of work will you do?"

"I've listed my name with a referral consortium. I'll become a General Practitioner."

"Back to square one," she repeated, this time a mumble.

"Maybe your father can steer some contractual work my way," Zachary suggested. Grace's father was the Vice President of Operations for one of the larger orbital chemical laboratories. "I read in the news that Miller & Rivera is negotiating with Luna." He smiled. "You know, I received the Calamari Hornbook Award for Contracts in school."

She nodded vaguely.

Zachary looked down at his plate, guiding a lone cashew on tour of the rim. He spoke without looking up. "Grace. There is something you could help me with. I think I'm in trouble."

Grace stared at Zachary's downcast face. "It's the Rosales thing," she said in a steady voice, "isn't it?"

Zachary took a deep breath and laid his chopsticks down. "I know. My timing's off."

"They've got a judgment already?"

"No. Not yet. But it doesn't look good."

"What does that mean?"

"It means quite possibly one-hundred and fifty, maybe two-hundred thousand dollars I don't have."

A world of thoughts drifted across Grace's pained eyes. She knew what her lover was asking of her.

"It's been hard, Grace. With my mother in the hospital. With this gnawing guilt from the Lotus caseload." He sighed, shook his head. "You're the only thing that keeps me going."

She laughed gently, touched Zachary's hand. "Maybe you should reconsider your decision."

"I can't," he said, squeezing her hand

"You won't," she said, pulling away. "That's irresponsible."

"I can't, Grace. Don't you see?" He grimaced at her unsympathetic stance. "Do you want me to be happy?"

"Of course, honey."

"You'll get your money back."

"I'm not worried about that."

"I need to get organized," he said, shaking his head. He looked into her eyes. "Be my manager. Take over my life."

She smiled, but her sorrow was evident. "Not an auspicious beginning to our life together."

He sighed. The world felt too much in his limbs, in his bones, in his stomach. He felt a post-orgasmic mixture of relief and sadness.

"I love you," he said.

"I know." She leaned in and took his kiss.

Zachary watched sullenly as the last of the twelve jurors was escorted out of the courtroom. The judge had been the first to leave. There was a palpable, cavernous silence in the court. The armed bailiff, a middle-aged man gone prematurely gray, was a PITted Republic employee. He remained by the closed doors of the judge's chambers. Two remaining court spectators shuffled out into the late afternoon corridors.

"I'm sorry," said Mr. Carabino, Zachary's attorney. He closed his file, gathered up papers and pens into his maroon leather briefcase, and pulled back from the defense table. "Really. I'm sorry."

Zachary remained seated in a defeated stupor. He felt himself in one of those fugue states where everyday things lost their identities, where the word the seemed odd and misspelled. Mr. Carabino quietly retreated. The bailiff, sensing no further need for his presence, withdrew. Zachary was left alone.

He leaned back into his wooden, lattice-backed chair, and ran both his hands through his hair. His mind lethargically tried to catalogue his thoughts, but it was doing a clumsy job. The events of the past five months were like poker cards shuffled by inexpert hands. One card, however, kept on cropping up.

It had happened.

He had been sentenced to a thirty-year Personality Abridgement. He would be fifty-eight years old by the time they gave him back his mind and his life!

The heart is an unrepentant and untrainable beast, and Zachary longed for Grace. In the wash of melancholic self-pity that inundated him, he thought not of how she had left him, but only that he would never again love and be loved. She had called off their engagement and gone offworld with her father for an unspecified time. He smiled ruefully, eyes brimming with memory.

What difference did it make? As if he could have followed her to the stars! In a few days he would no longer know who he once was. Maybe it was best to be cast into the PIT. There was much he wanted to forget.

Grace had never mentioned the money he'd asked to borrow in her goodbye card. But there was no point in asking after that which one could (or could not) see with one's own eyes. And now the Republic would take over his life, be his manager. He smiled to himself, remember his words to Grace.

He had tried to contact Miyake, to reconsider his withdrawal. Fear of the PIT had made him less prissy about his moral qualms. But by then it had been too late. American Lotus was not returning his calls.

A half-hour must have gone by before Zachary managed to summon the blind animal energy to get up from the table and leave the courtroom. He had a few days of freedom left. He wanted to see D'artagnon, one last time.

The marble halls were deserted although the wind-down noises of the juridical beast could still be heard here and there: voices making unintelligible queries, the creaking wheels of carts loaded with files, the feathery echo of anonymous laughter.

"Mr. Solomon?"

Zachary turned to see a suited figure getting up off a hallway bench, slowly walking toward him.

"Mr. Solomon? May I please have a word with you?"

It was Piers Sheldon, Mr. Rosales' attorney. The prosecuting lawyer who had obtained the judgment against Zachary.

"No hard feelings, Mr. Solomon?" said Sheldon, extending a hand. There was a vacant glimmer in the man's hazel eyes. So dazed was Zachary that he shook hands with the man who had helped steal his life without realizing what he was doing.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of," said Sheldon. "You fought a good battle, gave it your best, and that's what's important." He smiled moronically and shrugged his shoulders. "But after all is said and done, justice must be served."

"What do you want?"

"I want to make you an offer."

Zachary's eyes narrowed. "What kind of offer?"

"Well, not really an offer. I simply want to inform you that the plaintiff in your case has entered into an extrajudicial settlement regarding the thirty-year P. D. he obtained against you." Sheldon smiled slyly and cleared his throat. "You see, Mr. Rosales is not very interested in having you as his employee. He's more interested in the cash value of your tenancy."

"Who do you represent now, Mr. Sheldon?"

"Mr. Rosales has opted to sell his judgment to a private concern. You're familiar with the American Lotus Corporation, correct?"

"You're joking."

Sheldon handed a sheet of shimcom to Zachary. "It's already been transacted. ALC owns your tenancy. This is the Order. You're to report to a PIT center on Monday."

Something slinky slithered in Zachary's lower intestine.

"My boss, Mr. Lafcadio Miyake would like you to know that he is honored to have you working for American Lotus again. We're all enthusiastic to welcome you."

"Mr. Miyake? You work for Mr. Miyake?"

"Yes. And let me assure you, ALC is a benevolent employer."

Zachary felt a flash of heat rise through his neck and into his cheeks. If he'd had food in his stomach he would have lost it. He gazed hard at Sheldon. There was something papery and false in the man's demeanor which he'd been too preoccupied to notice in court. Suddenly it came to him.

"You've been PITted, haven't you?"

"You'll be working as an attorney for ALC, Mr. Solomon," answered Sheldon non-responsively. It was as if he had not heard the question. He dreamily scratched his cheek where moments before a fly had alighted. "I understand that you've done the work before." Sheldon tugged at the lapels of his suit jacket, bowed his head, and turned to leave. "We'll see you on Monday."


Sheldon paused and turned back to face Zachary.

"Tell Mr. Miyake that I want a tenancy par autre vie." Zachary briefly thought of choosing Grace, and then having a contract put out on her. But no, it was merely a fantasy. Besides, who knew where the hell she was. Furthermore, the law was not blind to such coincidences.

"Of course, Mr. Solomon. That is an option provided by ALC. Mr. Miyake said you would request it. Let me guess. Your mother?"

Zachary said nothing.

"We are not your enemy, Mr. Solomon. It doesn't matter that you've chosen her. I wish your mother no harm, believe me, but I know of her condition. Having chosen her as a life-in-being, in all probability your Personality Abridgment will last no more than two or three years at most."

"And I'll be free to go my own way thereafter?"

"Yes, of course. That is the law. But we believe you'll want to continue with American Lotus at the end of your tenancy. ALC treats its employees with generosity and care."

Sheldon again extended his hand to Zachary, but this time the latter ignored it.

Sheldon smiled serenely. "Anything else? No? Good. Mr. Miyake will see you at the Pacific Palisades PIT center on Monday. Have a nice day, Mr. Sheldon."

They led Zachary, wearing the standard issue PIT center fatigues of gray and blue work shirt, to the small chamber behind the glass partitioning off the witness room. The station attendant with the black armband fastened the restraining straps on Zachary's legs, arms and chest. A single cord lead was plugged into the newly implanted socket at the base of his neck.

Lafcadio Miyake entered the sunken amphitheater where Zachary sat. He requested a moment, and the attendant nodded and left.

Zachary smiled weakly, his face pale. "It looks like I'll be working with you after all, Miyake-san."

"I am sorry it has to be this way, Zachary-san. All things considered, I am glad that you will be with us again. You are a good attorney."


"Relax and empty your mind, Zachary-san. It will all last the blink of an eye. And when you wake again, we will be there, waiting for you."

Zachary nodded. It pained him that his mother's death would be his release. He would never see her alive again.

"Take care of my mother, Miyake. Promise me that her few remaining years will be painless."

Miyake brightened. "Oh, we'll do better, my son. I promise you that she'll know nothing of this. We'll tell her you succumbed to the disease before the cure was perfected."

Zachary's body tensed. Tell her? What kind of sadistic joker was Miyake? What was there to tell a woman in a terminal coma? He leaned his head forward, straining as if to hear a faint voice. "What are talking about?"

"Oh. I'm sorry. I thought you knew. A cure is presently making its way from Aldebaran." Miyake looked at Zachary with dry, reptilian delight. "ALC has the money to repair the damage. Along with the cure, she'll live out the remainder of her life in comfort. We'll see to that."

Zachary swallowed. How long will that be? he thought involuntarily.

"Barring any accidents, we can give her at least another fifty years, probably more. We'll make sure of that."

"Oh shit," murmured Zachary.

"Come come, Zachary-san. I thought the news would make you happy. Of course, however, this means your par autre vie tenancy will last even longer than the court sentenced you to." He shrugged. "But that is the way the world turns. You can't always get what you want, can you?"

Miyake turned to leave. Just before he reached the exit, he turned one last time.

"Oh, before I forget. Tomorrow we will be having that lunch we've been putting off so long. By then, of course, you'll no longer remember any of this, but I want you to know, I've chosen a very good restaurant. To celebrate. It'll be an excellent meal, I promise. Take my word for it."


  1. An absorbing, interesting read, leaves you wanting more.

  2. Several scary premises in this one. A bit surprised that Zachary of all people wasn't more prepared for the ALC's bait-and-switch on his sentence length. I don't think I'd even risk owning a credit card in such a society.