Monday, November 16, 2015

Fiction: Lottery For Life by Alexander Kautz

Lottery For Life
By Alexander Kautz 

Terrence William Carmichael didn't have a single true friend in the world, but what he did have, was a corporate empire that would have made the Rothschild's blush. The Texas Trustar oil refineries that his great grandfather has passed down through the generations, had made his entire family wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. So rich in fact, that when his relatives began succumbing to sudden illness and strange accidents, many suspected foul-play... 
Though the authorities had never provided feasible evidence or even a single witness, that couldn't have been bought, the finger had always been pointed in the same direction. In the end, it had come down to a few elderly relatives and feeble accusations, which had been hushed under threat of lawsuits. Terrence had never married, always more concerned that women only desired his company merely within a ploy to get to his money. Barren, old and bitter, his only desire was for the one thing that money could not buy, more time...
Alone within his office tower overlooking Central Park, surrounded in fine marble, hard-woods and imported antiques, he sipped at expensive brandy while staring down upon the world. A man of average height and build, white haired and sporting a mustache that one might attribute to the film stars of the thirties, the lines of his face and large dark eyes revealed a long and embittered life.
"Just look at them down there--," he grumbled, sipping at his brandy and squinting as he gazed down,
"Like ants--scurrying about to their mindless jobs just to keep themselves in cheap booze in dirty little apartments. Like roaches--that's what they are. An infestation... They have their whole lives ahead of them--wasted--wasted on people that aren't worth the time given to them!"
Making his way back to an enormous corporate desk, he slumped into his chair, putting down his glass to examine something that had been left between his other documents. It was a small, glossy black card with fine, hand written, gold lettering.
"What's this?" he read the inscription from off the card aloud,
"Lottery for life--time well earned? I certainly don't need the money--lottery, give me a break."
Before he could toss down the card, a voice called to him from the doorway. It was Norman Henderson, his senior vice president. Overweight, blading and appearing as though he might burst from his suit at any given moment, he politely knocked at the open door, motioning with a finger,
"Um--you might want to hang onto that, sir?"
He spoke as though concealing some great secret, which immediately caught the attention of the elderly man, who sighing deeply, motioning for him to enter, saying,
"Okay Henderson--tell me why I might be interested in this--lottery?"
"Well--," Norman adjusted his glasses, his blue eyes flitting nervously around the office before returning to Terrence,
"There is a little more to this than meets the eye. The card came to me through a trust-worthy source and--well, according to them, these people--," he leaned closer over the desk as though fearing to be heard,
"Are an exclusive group of Swedish physicists--and--can guarantee you, more time..."
There was a moment of silence as the two men just stared at one another. Norman felt the sweat at the edge of his collar as Terrence, uncertain of whether to shout in anger or laugh at the ridiculous jest, tapped his fingers in thought, asking,
"And you believe this--do you?"
"Um--well, Mr. Carmichael--," Norman sputtered,
"In this modern age of medical and scientific break-through--I didn't see the harm in suggesting that you--look into it?"
"Henderson--," Terrence dropped the card onto his desk,
"Norman--how long have you been with us now?"
"Ahh--well--twelve years now--sir."
"Indeed--," Terrence sipped at his brandy without removing his predatory gaze from the now obviously tarried man,
"And after all of these years--trusting you with decisions that can change the state of this empire, our very lives as we know it--you bring me this?"
"Um--sir--I can explain--," Norman stuttered,
"This is a very exclusive organization and you have no idea of what I went through to locate and--um-- attain this information."
"Maybe you know a good psychic--or palm reader that I can also visit?" Terrence stared upon Norman with such intensity, that the little man looked like a hamster caught within the cat's claws, saying,
"I do not need crystal balls or card tricks."
"Sir--," Norman raised his hands defensively,
"I was assured, that these people have discovered a way to actually transfer the consciousness of one person, through chemical and electrical impulses--into the body of another."
"What?" Terrence appeared as though he might erupt at any given moment, his face reddening as his eyes bulged,
"Preposterous! Science fiction--pish-posh!"
"Mr. Carmichael. You are always telling me that you would give anything--," Norman pointed to the card on the desk,
"For just a little more time. Well, science fiction or science fact? What harm is there with simply looking into this?"
"Okay then--," Terrence removed his glasses, rubbing at his eyes before looking back at Norman,
"You check into this."
"I can't--do that--," Norman shrugged apologetically,
"I told you that they were exclusive. So exclusive in fact--that they would not even accept my call should I try."
"So how the hell do we contact these characters?" Terrence plucked the card from his desk, 
Looking at the New York address and raising an eyebrow as he turned back to Norman,
"There is a local address on the bottom of this card."
"They only accept personal visits from possible clients--," Norman scratched at his nose,
"You would have to attend at that address--apply, and await further instruction as to whether they might consider you for the procedure."
"What is this--some kind of sick gag? I will not risk secret meetings with shady outfits! I'm a damn, corporate oil king--," Terrence became enraged,
"Now, get the hell out of my office before you find yourself at the end of the unemployment line!"
Norman rushed from the room, closing the door behind himself as grabbing his brandy, Terrence sipped at the glass, looking at the card still clutched within his hand,
"Lottery for life, my ass..."
Dropping the card into a wastebasket, he wandered toward the window, looking out over the cool, gloomy, September afternoon. The leaves had turned a golden and brilliant orange that accompanied by the radiance of the reds, shone like gems in the failing light. Central Park, how long had he stared down upon those same trees? Like him, they withered, faded within the autumn as the winter would soon claim and bring an icy stillness...
Turning, he walked back to the waste basket, plucking out the card and staring at it, thought within a whisper,
"Maybe--it wouldn't hurt to look into this?"

There was a chill in the night as Terrence made his way to the front doors of the building, double checking the address before entering. It was a commercial building like so many others. If not for the mystery and intrigue, it might just have easily been his own office?
There was an almost anti-septic quality to the polished floors and pale marble walls. So much in fact that the odor of bleach and cleaning supplies burned within his nostrils as he approached the front desk.
"Pardon me--," he raised a finger, looking down as a young woman stared back at him,
"But would you be kind enough to direct me to the proprietors of--well, the lottery for life, organization?"
She appeared startled at first, her wide blue eyes scrutinizing him before she asked,
"Might I ask your name sir?" 
"Terrence William Carmichael--of Texas Trustar Oil--," he offered his card, watching as closely examining it, she motioned for him to wait, leaving the desk and disappearing into a back office.
There had been doubt within his mind as to the questionable nature of these people, but that quickly vanished as returning with a polite smile, she waved for him to follow, saying,
"I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience--but as you may well imagine, the security of our clients is a priority of which we take quite serious."
"I can appreciate that--," he followed her down the corridor, entering an elevator and staring at the red digital digits as they ascended to the thirty sixth floor.
When the doors opened, he was taken by surprise as they were joined by two large security guards, who politely greeting them, followed as they turned to the right and hurried down the hallway.
"It's just this way--," she pointed as passing through a set of steel double doors, they journeyed to the end of a long and dimly lit corridor where pressing a button for assistance, she turned to look at him, saying,
"These gentlemen will escort you the rest of the way."
"Thank you--," he looked over his shoulder at the guards who nodding, smiled as he swallowed hard while experiencing certain hesitation,
"I appreciate that..."
As she hurried away, a loud buzzer sounded as the click pf heavy bolts releasing the steel security door now allowed them access.
"This way please." the older of the two guards, rubbing at his finely trimmed white mustache, motioned politely, guiding him down yet another long hallway.
"If you would be kind enough to look into this machine, please." The younger guard assisted Mr. Carmichael as placing his chin upon a cold plastic molding, he gazed into something not unlike a camera lens.
There was a sudden brightness as a laser conducted a retinal scan, causing him to blink and step back into the older attendants waiting arms.
"Sorry sir--it's mandatory that all clients submit to retinal scans---security measures, I'm certain that you understand."
"Why yes--," Terrence blinked as shapes and forms doubled as he squinted, attempting to regain his composure,
"But I had no idea that I would be breaking into Fort Knox?"
There were a few smiles and sighs exchanged as entering a final set of security doors, they now moved down a corridor leading into what appeared to be a laboratory. The floors and walls were tiled white and large windows offered views into surgical bays on either side. Though the equipment was foreign, he recognized some aspects to be those used for magnetic resonance imaging. Several fractured bones during a car accident several years prior had introduced him to the many devices of nuclear medicine.
"Mr. Carmichael--," an older gentleman in a lab technician's attire adjusted his glasses, approaching with an extended hand, saying,
"It’s a pleasure to meet you. I'm Dr. Gordon Horath, would you join me please?"
"Indeed--," Terrence glanced back as the guards turned, swiftly departing as he returned to Dr. Horath, saying,
"This is quite some establishment you have here. I would never have guessed from first entering the building."
Leading him into a lavishly decorated office, Dr. Horath dropped into a large leather chair behind his desk, motioning for Terrence to take a seat, while saying,
"We exercise the greatest of precautions concerning the privacy of our clients and profession. There are some--who might frown upon our specific use of this unique procedure."
"Yes--well, could you explain this in such a manner that someone like myself--," Terrence fidgeted with the little black card,
"Might better understand your, procedure?"
"I am not permitted to reveal the actual technology--," Dr. Horath sorted files upon his desk before, clasping his hands before him, devoted his full attention to the matter,
"But I can explain the basic principle."
"I'm all ears." Terrence leaned back into his chair, watching as the Doctor, clearing his throat, said,
"The human brain is simply a more complicated version of computer hardware, wherein resides chemical and electrical signals and impulses that retain our experiences. We have devised a technology that allows us, not only to view these intricate interactions, but to enter into the main frame, so to speak."
"You can look into a person's thoughts--memories?" Terrence gawked, the possibilities of utilizing such technology to undermine the competition, derive secrets and hidden information from his enemies, drew his immediate attention.
"Not just that, my friend--," Doctor Horath clasped his hands together, staring solemnly across the desk,
"Through this procedure, we are capable of extracting these chemical and electrical impulses, and transferring that information into another brain."
"Dear God--," Terrence put a hand to his mouth,
"You could rule the world."
"Our intentions are directed entirely within the preservation of life--," the Doctor tapped a finger upon his desk,
"Not just any lives, but those considered significant to society, worthy of continuing."
"If you can transfer someone's consciousness into another brain--," Terrence paused in thought,
"What becomes of the old body and the person whose body is being used for the transfer?"
"In life--," Doctor Horath moved from his seat, motioning for Terrence to follow as he continued,
"We have people that come from many walks of life. Sadly--some of them have little reason to continue within the existence they had."
Opening a door before Terrence, he motioned for him to enter the adjoining laboratory, switching on the lights as they continued and he said,
"Some people live in such poor conditions that they would give almost anything---just for a short time to enjoy their lives. We simply provide these--volunteers, with a year's bliss and then collect on the contract."
"Financed suicide..." Terrence gasped as opening a set of curtains before him, the doctor revealed a row of gurney's containing several male and female bodies. 
"As you can see--these specimens are exceptional--," Doctor Horath led him into the room, drawing sheets to reveal faces and firm, toned limbs,
"They are perfect in every physical aspect, free of disease or any other health concerns."
"Can they--," Terrence rubbed at his eyes, looking down upon a dark haired woman who could be no older than her early twenties,
"Hear or understand what's going on?"
"No--," the Doctor gently recovered the woman, 
"They are very much alive--and can be revived when required. At the moment, their bodies are in stasis and function merely on a subconscious level. The machines provide all other nourishment and we attend all hygienic requirements. In all aspects, they are simply like cars awaiting new drivers."
"And--," Terrence cleared his throat, turning within thought,
"How dangerous is the procedure---and what might one of these, cars--cost?"
"The actual procedure will come at no personal cost to you--but you do understand that for someone to give up their life--there must be some form of restitution to the donor?"
"Alright--," Terrence nodded,
"Now I understand."
"We have arranged--," the doctor shrugged,
"For certain individuals to have won public lotteries. It's much easier than explaining sudden wealth when the authorities notice certain persons, um, missing?"
"Alright---some poor bum wins it big--and then disappears on vacation in some tropical place, known for violence against tourists--," Terrence grinned, his eyes flashing,
"It’s all so perfect--so well, conceived... What do you need from me--name your price."
"You seem to have a natural talent for this manner of business--," Doctor Horath led Terrence from the room and back into his office, saying,
"What we need from you, is a waver signed, releasing us from all obligation or responsibility in the event of the unthinkable. It's a legal matter and one that you must be familiar with?"
"Yes--quite understandable--go on--," Terrence literally trembled with the excitement, money being of little concern.
"And the restitution fee--that we provide the donor--," Doctor Horath sighed,
"Must be made in the formation of a donation to our society. As you know, this must be done with the utmost care as we do not wish to draw attention. Your entire estate and holdings must be left to the individual, whose body you will acquire. In this fashion, once your old body is discovered in a location that we choose for disposal, as not to draw too much suspicion, you retain all that you own through inheritance."
"Brilliant--so much so in fact--," Terrence stared wide eyed,
"I would be interested in also financing your work--for a percentage?"
"You will have another lifetime to consider the possibilities--," the Doctor smiled with a nod,
"Possibly--several more."
"Alright then--," Doctor Horath adjusted his tie, leaning back into his chair,
"You will need to choose the recipient, arrange the legal matters and make the donation as mentioned."
"How soon can you--get me in?" Terrence swallowed hard, his throat dry as he anxiously awaited an answer.
"That's entirely up to you--but to avoid drawing suspicion--you understand that we require a year's time after payment and the appropriate documents have been attained," Doctor Horath shrugged,
"After that point, I can assemble a team within a day. The procedure only takes a matter of a few hours for the transference to be complete--and then, there are a few days spent within recovery. We are very proficient."
"How many--," Terrence raised an eyebrow,
"How many others--who have undergone this procedure--are out there now?"
"I'm not at liberty to reveal those details Mr. Carmichael. But I can assure you that though they are a select few, their identities would certainly startle you."
"I will make all the necessary arrangements on Monday morning--," Terrence nodded,
"The sooner we get this done the better. I'm old and am beginning to feel mortality at the door..."
Reaching across the desk, Doctor Horath shook his hand, his eyes large and bright with enthusiasm,
"Then we shall choose your donor, revive him to sign all necessary documentation, appear with you in public--and proceed in one year's time."
The year had passed painfully slow, each day an eternity as the calendar continuously taunted the old man. Having made all arrangements, donation and spent a great deal of time with his donor, whom he chose to call "D" rather than giving him an identity, he patiently waited. Unfortunately, though he had been patient, his health had steadily declined. It was just a matter of time before his ailing heart would simply just fail. Time was now of the essence and he would not be denied...
"Andrew Thomas MacDonald--," he looked at the framed portrait of the young man and himself seen at a convention. The lad had come from a small family with only one surviving relative, a sickly grandfather. Blonde haired, blue eyed and broad shouldered, he was the picture of health. A picture that, within just a few days, would be of none other than Terrence himself!
Sure, the family had kicked up a fuss over his decision to leave his entire empire and holdings to this inexperienced and unknown man, but what could they do? After all, he had them all tongue tied either legally or through blackmail, most vile... He had to chuckle, though a little frightened of the procedure, his conscience bothered him little as he hadn't really had one since childhood. In the end, everything was a trade-off, it all just depended on how far you were willing to go...
There was a knock at the door and answering, Terrence was surprised to look upon young Andrew, who politely entering, stood before his desk, extending a hand,
"Mr. Carmichael--I just wanted to thank you, for everything."
"Oh--well, yes, you're welcome." he accepted the lad's hand, leaning back into his chair to examine the boy closer, asking,
"You are scheduled to be at the office--this evening--are you not?"
"Yes sir--that's why I'm here--," there was sadness within the man's face, something that ran deeper than words could ever explain,
"Maybe--if it's not too much trouble? You might look in on my grandfather once in a while? I left him whatever money I had--but he's alone and--."
"Do I look like someone who gives a damn about some old man that's on death's door?" Terrence stood up, glaring at the lad,
"He’s wealthy now. And might I add, a considerable amount more than any of you are worth."
"I was just wondering?" Andrew looked away, obviously intimidated by the old man,
"If maybe--you might see it clear to--."
"What? Wait a little longer?" The rage now glowed red within Terrence's face, his features twisting as pointing an accusing finger, he growled,
"You best be getting along. Our deal--is signed--sealed and delivered."
"Yes sir--," Andrew turned and walking away, paused at the door to look back,
"I hope that you enjoy my life--more than I did..."
Terrence turned within reply, but the lad was gone within the sound of a closing door.
"You can bet your worthless ass I will--," he grumbled,
"And he better not get any ideas about skipping out either..."
It was another cold night, almost exactly one year from his first appointment with Dr. Horath and as Terrence left the building, he stopped to stare into the darkness. It would snow soon, he could smell it within the chill that turned his breath to vapor. The leafless branches of the old trees reached into the heavens as the stars twinkled within the ebony shroud of eternity. How many nights had he looked up into that darkness, dreaming, desiring nothing more than to escape death's reach for just a little longer? A dream no more as the reality was less than a few hours away!
Startled by the ringing of his cell phone, he stood beside his car, answering the call,
"Ramona?" It was his youngest and only surviving cousin,
"What the hell do you want?"
Between tears, she stuttered,
"I was just watching the television--oh Terry--it's simply horrible!"
"I'm busy--," he growled, unlocking the car and throwing his suitcase into the back seat, cursed, saying,
"Either spit it out or shut up woman--money is time and time is money--and you're wasting mine!"
"That sweet boy--the one you left everything too," she wept, 
"Didn’t you hear?"
"No--," Terrence became utterly still, his chest pounding furiously as he gasped,
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Well--," she whimpered,
"I'm so sorry--he leapt from the tower of the Grantham building. So much to live for--dear God--why would he do something like that?"
There were no words to express his frustration, but the tightness is his chest and sudden inability to gather breath spoke of something far worse! Gasping, he dropped the phone, grabbing at his chest as the stabbing pain tore through him!
"My heart!" Choking, he fell to the cold pavement, fighting, struggling for just a single breath! But none would come, he tightened, spasmed and then, the world faded into blackness...
Ramona sighed, closing her cell phone and turning to kiss Andrew's cheek,
"You and the other actors were absolutely brilliant my dear. It was worth every single penny..."
"Imagine that?" Andrew chuckled,
"That old goat believing that he was actually going to transfer into my body."
"Greed is an ugly thing--," Ramona poured herself a drink and raising it within a toast said,
"To the lottery for life--the winners and the losers getting exactly what they deserved..."

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