The following short story was written by ReTech and edited for this venue.

Bright neon Wheel of Fortune machine in a casino. Photo by La super Lili.

Photo by La super Lili.

Swen saw the glow from his forearm underneath his shirt. He’d muted his phone, so now someone was pinging him. It was almost an even bet: either his boss or Sully. After a long week it felt nice to be offline, even if it was only for a few ticks.

“Should’ve muted ’em both,” Swen thought as he slid his sleeve up. The loop was swinging underneath the south pass of the Rockies so the cabin dimmed for a moment as the lighting adjusted. His dermdisplay lit up his face as he read: WTF? Need to talk ASAP. You don’t just get recoded and go offline like that. Lemme know where you are. Ping back dammit. (-.-) Sul

Sully might be genuinely worried or he might think that he’d be on the hook. After all, Sully was the one who took him to the clinic, so maybe he was feeling nervous. Swen thought, “I’ll let him sweat till I get to the strip. It’s only twenty more minutes.” He smiled and muted his arm in the same motion as slipping his sleeve back down. The flesh no longer glowed.

Fourteen days ago Swen’s hours had been increased at work. He was given no say in the matter. He was on mandatory rotations for the next three years. Swen had gotten shafted with the most depressing job he could imagine: death-sitter. More accurately, or more officially, “Hospice End-of-Life Observer”. People were too busy to give a shit about a dying family member and headchats just weren’t the same as holding a hand.

Since 2031, WellSys had mandated death-sitters as part of their Grace in Dying initiative. Marketing had originally called it Dignity in Life and Death Options. Apparently not a single person working on the multimillion-coin campaign had abbreviated that. Exactly two hours after the campaign hit the feeds, DILDO was pulled and rebranded as the GD hospice plan. The lesser of two evils.

Thirteen days ago Swen held the hand of a 147-year-old woman who did not receive one call, one text, a single feed mention, nor have anyone claim her things after she died. This was not the sad part to Swen. Millions died like that every year. What made him maudlin was that he’d end up in a bed the same way, in a hundred or so years. The thought of some young forty-year-old sitting with him as he died, just because the kid had to, was repulsive enough.

But the thought of an adventureless life nauseated Swen.

Twelve days ago, he asked Sully if he still had friends that recoded. Swen didn’t try to get Sully drunk first. He didn’t do it over dinner or in some coy fashion, just-so-happening to mention the topic in conversation. Instead Swen walked into Sully’s apartment, smiled, said hello, kissed him lightly, and asked matter-of-factly: “Can you get me in touch with a recoder? I’m tired of being on basic and I want to make enough money so I’m not stuck anymore.”

Sully paused mid-breath for a moment. A slice of black hair slid down over his left eye. He didn’t bother to push it back. He didn’t even bother to breath until his brain reminded him to. Then, slowly, he sputtered: “Is this legal money or illegal?”

Swen’s smile broadened. “It’s legal if you win it.”

Nine days ago, Swen was in the very clean library of a very small house, which seemed to be, well, mostly library. Every visible wall had bookshelves built in. All meticulously organized. Each shelf labeled. Not a speck of dust anywhere. Sully was vouching for Swen while he stared at the spines of all these books… in private ownership. Books! It was a bit of an anachronism.

The woman Sully spoke to was a rebuild. She didn’t try to hide it. Her femininity was a caricature. Hips too wide, waist too small, breasts that were perfect spheres. If Swen squinted she looked like a Japanese holo cartoon. She’d spent a lot of coin to get to this stage.

The woman smiled at Sully and chastised him for not contacting her more over the years. He looked a little sheepish, apologizing. If Swen were actually emotionally attached to Sully, he might pursue that story. He stowed it for possible reference later.

Sully introduced Swen to Jane officially, and they shook hands. It was only after getting a little closer that Swen noticed: she had seven fingers on her left hand and square pupils. Some of it could’ve been birther, but odds were she paid for all of this postnatal. Jane didn’t fuck around.

She took his algo for coin, verified it, pulled out a pen-like instrument, held it to his abdomen and pressed a button on the side — all in one seemingly perfect continuous motion. The thin needle shot forward to grab a core sample of Swen’s liver, flesh, muscle, and blood. By the time the pain response registered in his spine the needle had already retracted.

The jab had been quick, but it hurt. Swen shunted the pain away immediately when the flag popped into his vision. He noted the popup that said everything was sealing off, and responded that no, he didn’t need to report an incident or call for assistance.

Jane told him to come back in thirty hours and entreated Sully not be a stranger. As they left, Sully said, “It’s a long story,” in the tone of voice that means, “Please ask me more about this, I’m enjoying it.” Swen did not.

A day later, thirty-one-and-a-half hours later to be precise, they reentered Jane’s place, just after Swen’s watch had closed. She was dressed far more casually than before and seemed a bit rushed. She took them into her bedroom. While opening the closet she said, “As agreed, 100% secrecy?” Barely a question there, but Swen and Sully both nodded curtly.

Jane breathed onto the door hinge and the closet made a brief beep, then the floor folded away and a light came on beneath. She began to step down the cramped spiral staircase and motioned for them to follow. Below was a small lab, matching the footprint of the house above. Floor and walls were polished copper plate, while the ceiling was glass panel. The unbalanced LED lighting would have been harsh anywhere else, but here, the bounce from the copper meant everything glowed with warmth. It was very bright.

Jane spun an antique swivel chair around.

“Dental?” Swen wondered, trying to run a search. Then he noticed the warning in his peripheral and called it up. “No signal, retrying. Emergency services offline.” Sully must have noticed his expression and explained, “It’s the copper. But it keeps prying eyes out too! Win-win.”

Swen wasn’t sure what he was supposed to understand about the copper. He sat down in the chair and his vitals popped up on the display next to him. Jane smiled, watching his heart rate, and told him to relax, this is what he paid for.

“Sure,” Swen thought. “But recoding is still a risk.”

“Just an FYI,” Jane said cheerily, “I did do a backup and have a virus ready. You’ll lose about two weeks worth of memory if that happens, but no loss in cognition.”

“Um, yeah, good,” Swen said.

He’d never done a brain recode. He’d never felt the need. Fixed an issue with an allergy when he was thirteen, and recoded for fat-cell processing in his late twenties. A couple of tweaks over the years, but who doesn’t? Recoding the brain — well, there was a reason that required a federal license and not just a three-year permit. Fed meant tracking, justification, and most importantly coin.

He saw that Jane was running a DNA sequencing model. “Right, double-check is clear. We’re good to go.” She beamed and asked Swen to agree to “this,” handing him a tablet with a waiver on it.

He briefly read the waiver and saved it in his mental offline storage. The tablet scanned his iris and fingers, and he spoke, “I agree to this procedure willingly,” when prompted.

Jane took the tablet in one hand and gently pushed his shoulder back. “Relax! Relax and be comfortable. You’ll be in that chair for a few hours. You’re going to have a helluva headache. Sorry, but there’s just nothing I can do about that part. Recoding your Parvizi region may be only a few million neurons, but immune suppressors and the brain don’t really mix. Different rules up there.”

Swen was willing to take the risk. He refused to die alone in a common bed.

Jane produced a standard mediject and held it pressed it to Swen’s face, resting it just below his nose down to his chin. “You said you didn’t want the procedure to be traceable, so there’s really only one way into the brain, you know. This will be quick but it’s gonna sting. Sorry love.” She tapped away on the screen, still smiling.

Swen looked away from the mediject to Sully, who held his right hand. What he didn’t see, when he looked away, was the probe entering his nose. It sprayed a local anesthetic to numb the tickling and soft tissue. But once the tracking locked, there was no muting the incredibly sharp sting when it pierced his sinus cavity, heading into the Parvizi region. A moment and it was gone, but the blinding pain echoed into his head. Swen let out the breath he’d been clamping onto.

“All done!” Jane announced.

“How long?” Swen asked.

Jane knew he meant the time and not the probe. “It’s not a big cluster. But neurons take a bit more.” She was grabbing an IV bag from a refrig unit. “You’ll get two of these while you sleep. It’s some sugars, electrolytes, and proteins. Just the right mix to fuel that recode.” She was so adept that Swen barely felt the IV line tapping into his arm. “Sorry about it being cold. But these proteins don’t store well at room temps.”

Swen’s arm began to ache slightly from the cold liquid hitting his veins. Suddenly a sharp whistle began to drown out Jane. She turned to Sully and asked him something about his injury? Swen wasn’t sure. The whistle was becoming painful. It was like an old-fashioned horror movie. The shadows in the room began to grow and swell to cover everything.

Swen realized: this sensation must be the recode. He let his head fall back, starting to think, “This isn’t so bad,” when his vision went entirely dark. The whistle was drowned out by an even more severe explosion of pain. Swen felt himself screaming just before he passed out.

Sully and Jane only heard a minor gasp as Swen’s body went limp.

Six days ago, Swen woke up in the same chair. His vision was clouded by latent dream noise. It took him a few minutes to figure out where he was. A piece of paper was taped to his hand. “If no one is here when you wake up, take the band off your head. NOW.” Swen reached up. Sure enough, there was a thin band around his head. He slipped it off and saw that it was wired to a port in the nearby console.

The moment the band came off, the flag went up: “No signal, retrying. Emergency services offline.” This was a hard antenna… offline that long would’ve raised a few flags he guessed. Smart move. “Jane’s been doing this a long time,” Swen thought.

There was a text on his arm that read: Sully called in for you, sorry to hear that you’re ill. Call when you can — M

His supervisor had it on record for both of them. Who cares in comp jobs, nothing they can do about it, just lower your coin cred if you really screw up. His vitals would’ve showed him asleep the whole time. So his ass was clear.

The IV bag was nearly empty. Swen figured it was best to let it finish, so he eased back down. Probably worth waiting. Get used to the new connections. Experimentally he tried a few calculations. Three digits multiplied by three digits yielded a solution before Swen could finish consciously formulating the problem. Raising the numbers barely slowed him down. Swen starting building an algorithm, quickly stepping up the complexity, but he didn’t even really know what it meant.

He would need his book. A few years ago Swen had found an old hardcover, once used in academic classes. He’d never seen anything like it. It was called Statistical Number Theory, Advanced (third edition). Math wasn’t ever been a strong suit for Swen, but it was fun to see, so he tried reading it. Then he spent six months with state tutorials. They were happy to provide education that would get him a job. He was happy to do something that was not the same thing.

After a full year of classes Swen had tackled the book. Somewhere between the seventh and eighth chapters he realized that this was how the the house won at gambling, even legal gambling. It was really just a slow way to steal. He kept studying. Nothing jacked in anymore. He didn’t want them knowing.

He took one more class and tanked the exams. When a counsellor called him to ask how they could help, Swen said that his brain couldn’t take it anymore. She offered some solutions, since his previous results showed progress. Swen gave a bit of a dramatic performance about his failures and said that he just couldn’t take it. She offered some kind words but no doubt tagged him as having reached his limits. Good. Now here he was, recovering from an expensive recode. Getting ready to take a big gamble.

The smell of food brought Swen’s attention forward. Sully showed up first. He had Korean takeout. Suddenly Swen was ravenous, and he only left one of the six spring rolls for Sully. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” Sully said. “Happy to see that you’re okay. We’re going to need to get you back upstairs soon. You’re going to be tagged if we don’t watch it.” He might look naive, but Sully played the options he had.

Swen’s balance was a bit off going up the steps, but that wasn’t a surprise after sitting for so long. Once they were up, Sully locked up the lower level.

“I need to piss,” Swen said. Sully pointed to a door and smiled.

Swen’s arm lit up as he closed the door. Three ads and a payment confirmation. It was about the moment he closed the ads that something odd, new, different… new, something new happened. He said to himself, “I wonder how many of those actually work?” In the next instant he could see an array of calculations based on how many sent, demographics, locations, time, etc, etc, etc… It was an ocean of numbers. None of it on the display. It was just there in his head. Answers to a numerical question.

Jane was coming in as he walked out of the bathroom. “Fluorescent piss?” she asked brightly.

“Um, yeah. Very bright,” Swen said.

“Not a surprise. We should go over the dos and don’ts. I did a scan last night. Things will still change a bit. But the numbers all look pretty good. Did you eat yet?” she asked both of them.

Sully held up the Korean takeout containers.

Satisfied, Jane turned her attention back to Swen. “The injection was minimal and won’t show up on a scan in another day or two. I stripped a few of the sequences from an old common meningitis. Something you could’ve been exposed to anywhere on the planet. So no flags there. And it won’t register on sniffers! Since this is deep-brain activity, you’re not emitting pheromones or endorphins outside the euthymic levels. Honestly, the only way they could tell is with a side-by-side cerebellum image test. Then the boosters would show up. You’re producing some very off-the-wall secondary neurotransmitters! It’s a solid hack, affecting a very low number of systems. Unless you get warranted as a deviant I cannot see you raising any flags at all. Alpha, beta, theta — all pegging those normal ranges just like you’d want. You’ll probably be tired for a few more days. Rewiring the brain takes energy. So keep up on the proteins. It should be functional now. How you seen any changes?”

Swen smiled back. “Yes, a lot. Number conversions are effortless. I don’t have anything to check against. But it seems like it’s going well.”

“Good,” Jane said.

“What about his feed? Isn’t that going to show some odd numbers?” Sully asked.

“Push notifications should be fine. They’ll be a bit off for a few days. But when he was downstairs I spoofed his feed and added in some biometrics to show he had a high fever and a lot of REM disruption. WellSys will just assume some random forty-eight-hour thing since he’s already returning to normal. Nothing else comes up on HUD unless he makes a query. The rest is subconscious. Like I said, deviant only.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m just going to keep feeling nervous, I guess. This kinda thing, it’s dangerous.” Sully scuffed his foot against the floor.

“Honey, living is dangerous! May as well get the best of it. I think it’s a good plan. Worth the shot. Hell, makes a lot more sense than those guys that come into work to get horse dongs or that guy last week who retro’d his follicles to produce feathers. Sure, it has possibilities. But the cost, that was a year’s worth of coin for a retro that will only last three or four months at best! There’s no way he’d get longterm permits for that one unless he can prove dysmorphia. And I don’t think there are a lot of birds trapped in men’s bodies. Women on the other hand…” She brushed Sully’s arm and he flushed slightly. “Awww.”

“It’s okay, I’m good.”

“Uh-huh,” Jane said.

Swen noted that there might be more going on here than he realized earlier. Perhaps another day.

Five days ago, Swen went back to work, just like normal. He was pinged by HR and replied that he was feeling okay again. In all the time that he’d worked for WellSys, he had never seen another employee IRL or online, other than sitters. He just assumed the whole thing was run by bots. That was okay with him — most service companies were.

They assigned him to a comatose woman. “No brainer, that one,” Swen told himself, barely amused by his own joke. Her stats read that she was forty-seven, fell while hiking. Between the fall and the four hours for rescue she was in bad shape. She was a Reborn, so she had a DNR. Once they hooked her up, no one from the family came back.

Swen brought an actual pencil and some cards. Nothing online for testing. For seven continuous hours he played math games, sudoku puzzles, solved probabilities, ran problem generations, and most importantly studied card games. He had reviewed the camera feeds for the rooms and was acutely aware of where he could sit and not be seen.

For two hours Swen stared at patient #149. “When she dies, she will be my 149th.” The thought filled him. After the math, after the puzzles, after proving to himself he was ready to take those steps… there was silence and the background whir of tech keeping this life from fading too fast.

He wondered, often, why these people weren’t just euthanized. No one came except death-sitters, no one noted it except to close up records. No one cared. So why bother? If anything, this made living seem even more pointless to Swen.

Prior to this job he had not considered mortality, the numbered days left in his life. Swen had lived without reflecting. But now he pondered this every day. Every day, he spent ten of his precious hours in a room with a breathing corpse that no one gave a fuck about. Ten hours he would never get back. Ten hours that could have been spent… “That’s just it,” Swen told himself, “What else would I be doing? What monumental thing am I being taken away from?”

The answer never came. He was too afraid to actually voice it. Too afraid to listen. But the void of a null answer spoke volumes. It occupied those same ten hours and reminded him that nothing was all he had done and all he might ever do. The very first day that epiphany took hold was the first day be began to form his plan.

Today is the first day that Swen will test his plan. The recode will peak in roughly one more week. Time to spread his wings.

There are six licensed places to gamble within the loop of the city. BlueStar is a little to the east of Swen’s route home. It is clean, with plenty of attention-grabbing holos everywhere he looks. Gambling is confined to the outer edges of the room and a parlor area. It would be too obvious to enter the high-stakes room right off the cuff. But the slots and small tables are perfect.

He casually walks around the slots. All of them are a minimum of four wheels with twenty-two slots. Mechanical machines, too, the only kind anyone trusts. If they are certified, the results are entirely random. With twenty slots and four wheels he has 234,256 combinations. Not worth trying the five wheels — they are even worse.

Five-deck blackjack. The house rules give them a 0.48% advantage. A five-person table helps him out a bit. Swen calculates quickly and decides to play for two hours, then quit no matter what his hand. It might keep it from looking like he is gaming the system if he does well.

By 1:47 Swen has nearly quadrupled his money. Not exactly subtle — no way this isn’t drawing attention. So he gently changes up. Two losses, a bust, loss, bust, loss. He calls it a night. The dealer thanks him. The other players congratulate him. Swen makes sure to mention that his luck has run out more than once.

Four days ago, Sully woke Swen with hot coffee. It was one of Swen’s more aromatic blends. Sully hated them all. He’d let himself into the apartment, knowing that Swen would still be asleep on a late-shift day.

Sully still had mixed emotions about the recode operation, fearing that he was going to be left in the dust of the new adventure. Sully thought he had already prepared for this. “It’s happened before and it’ll happen again,” he told himself. “People are just passing moments, like emotional fads.” He didn’t want to admit his hatred of being alone. He didn’t like VR’lationships; long-distance never worked out.

Sully had started himself off on the wrong foot anyway. When he was sixteen, he developed a mad crush on a thirty-year-old rock miner in the belt. Their schedules synced so that every day from 1:15 to 3:00 (Sully’s local) they would fall weightless into each other’s stories.

Sully still had trouble falling asleep before 3:00. He would lie to himself if he thought about it, and make up any excuse possible, rather than admit that he pined for a love so intense. They never are again. After his third relationship ended poorly, Sully started to jokingly say that they were on a sliding scale and eventually would fall below zero.

In some ways Swen reminded Sully of the rockjock. He was looking for a life that was larger than this. Looking for external factors that could remove him from the mendacity of here or the boredom of now. “No app or philosophy is going to fix what’s in your head,” Sully would think when looking at Swen.

At sixteen he never saw it. Sully had been too young to see that drive as anything other than breathtaking. The pining for more, the willingness to risk, the need to be anywhere else but here… Sully would hang on every word as he listened to the stories of a rockjock on a three-year contract.

In both cases Sully just wanted them to turn and look at him and realize he was here, still, and maybe he was worth staying for.

The relationship with the miner ended abruptly when a contract came up to do a scoop run in the far end of the belt for six months. No comms, bare-bones operation, high risk, big coin. One day, the rockjock just wasn’t there to talk. Sully had given up hope months before the text popped up informing him of the loss from “explosive decompression”. All he could think then was, “But I’m still here…”

Watching as Swen sipped the coffee with sheet wrinkles pressed into his cheek, it was all Sully could think now too: “I’m still here.” Even though he was just waking up, Swen was actively talking about probabilities and percentages. He didn’t thank Sully for the coffee. Swen’s focus was winning and a way to get out. Sully was as far removed from his plan as that woman he was on watch for. To Swen, they were both just as dead.

Three days ago Swen walked a very meandering route to work. It took him an extra three minutes and nineteen seconds to arrive; one minute and eight seconds more than he’d estimated. But he had no way of factoring in the food-line fight that he passed through on his way uptown.

The reason for the roundabout route was simple: drop off as many books as possible. Some hit trash cans, some donation bins. One book even got propped up against a guy sleeping by the rails. He’d been offloading the earlier ones that he no longer referenced for months. This was the last lot of books. Besides freeing up a substantial amount of space in his apartment, it was evidence that he did not want around.

Just in case he ever got investigated, this had to seem like a random bit of luck. A few small wins were inspiration for a big risk… that was coin he didn’t have so no big deal to loose it… it was just a way to escape… other people did it so why investigate him… he’d already run through the followup a thousand times. Nothing could appear out of the ordinary.

The walk, while not usual, was not unusual either. Swen’s med file listed panic incidents from the past and they had all been precipitated by situations with large groups. He purposefully choose the most densely packed car this morning, just to make a small scene and get out right before the doors closed. So he had video of his reason for walking. Swen left early because he had clothes to pick up. Which he missed, now that he had to walk. Planned. None of it noted anywhere. Just like the conversations with Sully. He didn’t tell Sully he was leaving in a few days. That would be evidence as well. It all had to be normal. “Yesterday was nice,” he thought, “Funny how that worked out for me.” He pushed the guild down like a bad bit of spicy food.

21:47 was written in Swen’s registry. He hadn’t even realized that she was dead until the bell chimed. Often there was a bit of a change in the breathing, a muscle spasm or a jerk. Even brain-dead people — as though the body didn’t want to let go. But this night she quietly stopped living and not a single person would know other than him. “Not me.”

Two days ago, Swen reread some motivational works and watched a couple of life coaches on their feeds. He needed to make sure everything was in order. No doubt his profile showed some unrest by now. This needed to be precise. All the details finalized and covered. Without them, he could be charged. He did not want the probe that would be included. Some questions, external scans, profiles, he could handle and keep it within spec. But a deep tissue scan would reveal something.

Assuming they’d rush, since asking for a scan meant they thought recode, he’d have ten or fifteen days, not enough time to erase all traces. There’d be some telomere deviation, peptides out of spec, secondary neurotransmitters, something that would flag him and warrant even more probing. More invasive probing. The goal was clearly to avoid that point. He kept thinking about the details, knowing that would up his stress levels and hormones.

When Swen got to work, the locks scanned him as he passed through. It was optional for commercial facilities. Not optional for medcenters. His face never showed it, but inside Swen smiled, knowing that his file would show increased stress responses.

Luck was on his side with rotations too. He was assigned to a young boy, just over fourteen. The family was waiting for the primary mother to arrive from a dark-side lunar station. She was an exec up there and they wanted her to be present for the kid’s shutdown. The boy had taken a dare from his game pod. They’d lost a tournament because of him, and he had a choice to leave the pod or do an IRL dare. In this case, a particularly stupid and dangerous one. He had to climb below a rail and hang from it while the vehicle passed overhead.

The location his game pod chose was a section of rail almost twenty meters above the ground. He could not use mech to get there. Once in position, the boy was supposed to hold onto the middle rail and vid the whole thing for proof. All of which he apparently did well. The boy wore nothing that would attract the magnets and climbed down a series of barriers to the track. Once there, he hung from the center rail just centimeters below the magnetic coils. He had his camera hovering just below him to stream his feat.

Approximately one minute later, the camera cut out when the coil directly above it charged, rocketing its screws, along with the composite body they were holding together, straight up at nearly 230 meters per second. The twenty-three millimeter camera punched a twenty-three millimeter hole into the boy’s skull, entering near the median aperture and lodging just above the inferior horn. Nine seconds later the magnet discharged and he fell nearly twenty meters onto a delivery truck parked below.

The boy might be repairable, but there was no guarantee of functionality, and there was no backup of his personality or memories. Only the very wealthy could afford backups on a regular basis, since secure storage of something so precious came at a premium. The best the family could have hoped for was starting from scratch with a mental infant, slightly dysfunctional, in a pubescent body. They opted to scrap.

Swen was, for the record, distraught by this assignment and logged that detail when he signed in. The family arrived almost two hours prior to the scheduled end of his shift, so Swen asked for a sedative and begged to leave early.

It was all he could do to keep from laughing on when the advert popped up while he was heading to another casino. The ad offered him a “special” two-day trip to Vegas. It specifically talked about “getting away from it all” and how the stress of a normal work-week needed relief. Swen could not have been happier to know that the profile pegged him as high risk. Gambling away all that money was going to be perfectly mundane when his file was reviewed.

The rest of the night he spent observing, counting and winning in a ratio of two-to-one. Actually it was 1.879333 to one, but that was effectively close enough that Swen allowed himself the convenience of rounding up. Not a lot of winning. Just enough to prove to himself that he had the variables under control. Also enough to ensure he had a buffer of coin to allow for early losses to 1) not hurt him if something went wrong and 2) show him the proper motivation to want to win aggressively in the light of that loss. So he’d have a legitimate reason to play until he won big.

When he started winning it was several hours into play. Sully had called twice and Swen’s arm lit up a few times as well. Swen muted. He suppressed the guilt. Sully was not part of this. Well, at least not anymore. “Look forward. Don’t ever look back. Winners never look back,” Swen kept repeating to himself. It wasn’t enough to cancel the guilt, just to dilute it so the pain was manageable. But that’s how it worked. You always had some sort of pain to manage.

When he’d had enough of this casino — when he ran the numbers and knew they’d had enough of him too — Swen crossed to the overland express and paid the coin for a southern one-way. Vegas was for families with kids and old people who liked classic films. If you wanted to win big in this hemisphere you went to Buenos Aires.

Jewel of the continent… so the adverts said. What they didn’t talk about was the waiver on three international treaties, a 2% higher coin return, and the fact that there was a very active port there that gave him some viable options: West Africa in under two hours, Antarctica in under four hours, and (even though he’d never gone beyond low-G orbit) Aitken Basin was only eighteen hours away.

All of which satisfied Swen’s second biggest requirement: they were never an option before, as well as his first: they were not part of his former future. As the rail got up to speed, Swen fell asleep thinking, “I should mute my arm.”

As noted in the beginning, this short story was written by ReTech.