Writer - Dave Henson
The line at the Department of Mortality Variances shuffles forward like a centipede. My own fault for not getting here earlier. "ID," the woman says when it's finally my turn. I float my card toward her. As it hovers, a life-size hologram of my head projects out of it. She scans the right eye of the hologram as well as my own and looks on her screen comparing the results to each other and also to what's on file for me.
"You know," I say. "You could just scan my real eye and check that against your system. You don't gain anything by --" Her look flips me off.
"How can I help you?" Mr. Allan.
"I'm dying. End of the month. I--"
"Acceptance or renewal?"
She taps her screen. "I see this is your tenth renewal, Mr. Allan," she says, shaking her head. I ignore her. She must be one of those five-and-outters. "Renewals, Line 3," she says. I hear her mutter something about "making room for the unborn" as I walk away.
I go to the end of the long centipede at Line 3 and look over at 2 for the accepters. Short of course. Calm. I finally shuffle my way to the head of 3.
"But I already--" What's the use. I float my ID. Hologram pops up. Man scans hologram's eye, scans my eye, checks system, taps screen.
"Line 4," Mr. Allan.
"Line 4? Why did 1 send me to 3?"
The man looks puzzled. "Well, if you hadn't come to 3, how would you know to go to 4?"
I look over at short 2 and go to the end of 4, the longest in the place. Slowly we centipede forward. My turn. ID, hologram, scan, scan, compare, tap, tap. "Mr. Allen, I'm afraid you're in the wrong line. You need to go to 5. This line is to schedule procedures for standard renewals. You're qualified for an upgrade."
"This is totally unacceptable! Wait...what? Upgrade?" Now that's surprising, with all the time I've wasted in my simulations pod. I compose myself. "Line 5, you say?"
I go to 5. It's relatively short. Not everyone qualifies for an upgrade.
After the usual, the man says "I'm afraid there's been an error, Mr. Allan."
"The upgrade is for 'en' not 'an.'
"Mr. A-l-l-e-n. Not A-l-l-a-n. We've had system errors today."
"Oh." Makes sense, actually.
"Line 4, please." He floats back my ID.
I look over at 4. Even longer than a couple minutes ago. I look at 2. Three people! Line 2 -- the easy way out. Line 4 -- on and on.
I take my place at the end of 4. We slowly centipede along.