December 31st, 1899
He was awake, but he didn’t open his eyes.
Rhys let his fingers touch the sheets, drinking in the sensation of the last time he would ever sleep in a bed. The last touch of morning sun on his face. The last peaceful moment before death.
Eyes still closed, he ran a diagnostic, ensuring that all his caches had been purged, that there were no files out of place, that all of his memories were aligned – there was no reason to risk something going wrong with the recycling procedure. There was no cause to take risks with what little existence he was going to have for an unknowable eternity.
Time passed, and he felt himself finally make the only kind of peace he could with the situation – the resolve to know that now it was all coming to a head. He was not going to run. He disagreed with the decision – he hated the decision – but it was their decision to make, not his, and it was his Duty to comply with it.
He stepped out of bed, then dismissed the bed – in the short time he had left, he would not need it again. He slowly dressed, as if he were dressing for a full night’s work – every accoutrement of his Duty at his side, just in case there were any problems before he was led to the crystal chamber.
With a sigh, he dismissed all the furniture, except for his table and chair, and the rest of his belongings
– save for the diaries that had recorded his observations. Reynolds hadn’t asked for them, and Rhys saw no need to offer them, but if something were to survive of him – other than his son – then it should be the physical records of his work.
Rhys laid a hand on the books. ‘These are lost property.’ His hand tingled as the books were shifted into storage – there for anyone who wanted to find them or know the details of his life.
He sat and required himself a hearty breakfast – the kind he likely would have eaten, if he were the stockman that so many believed him to be.
Some cried when their times came, but he was not that weak.
He required an apple and slipped it into his pocket. There were worse things to do than to chance the possibility that he’d keep whatever was in his pockets.
Rhys wiped his mouth, stood, then dismissed his trusted table and chair, leaving him alone in the stone room, surrounded by nothingness. He walked to the door, touched the rough wall, then left it for the last time.
He locked the door with a thought, then brought up the HUD menus that would close it out, strip away all system traces, and make it simply an empty civilian room again.
In all of his imaginings of his last day, he had thought to take one more loop of one of his patrol circuits, to look at familiar sights once more, or to…try to hold onto a life he was no longer entitled to.
Now that it was the end of all things, the end of his life, he felt no desire to be sentimental.
He had said his goodbyes. He had ensured his legacy. He had tipped all the whores who had ever been good to him.
Rhys closed his eyes, felt the street beneath his feet once more, felt the connection to his city be the strongest it had ever been, then shifted to Reynolds’ agency. He reintegrated in the lobby of the building.
There was a desk where a human girl sat some hours of the day, looking pretty and sorting the true visitors from those who were in the long place. She wasn’t there now. Likely too early.
He started up the stairs to the left – and found Reynolds on the first floor, sitting in the open office area. The man had an office, but as there were no other operations agents, he didn’t appear to use it that often. The man had a huge building, and he shared it with fewer than half a dozen people. A waste, like so many things the Agency did.
Reynolds was toying with paperwork – an element of the job Rhys was glad he had never been overburdened with – but stopped as he approached.
‘I didn’t expect you until much later,’ Reynolds said. He stood and smoothed his product-laced hair back.
Reynolds was always so neat and tidy – all the agents were so neat and tidy, as if Rhys’ kind were only being eradicated due to their uncleanliness. Rhys felt both of his hands clenching into fists, his short nails digging into his palms. He squeezed a little harder, and he felt blood on his fingers.
‘Do you want a drink?’ Reynolds asked. ‘I think I have–’
Rhys lashed out, swinging his fist at the man on the other side of the desk. Reynolds – out of his reach
– took a step back anyway. Rhys bounded over the desk, a dirty boot print landing on Reynolds’ clean white paper, and leapt off the other side towards the agent.
Something in him made him avoid Reynolds; something kept him from attacking the man. They didn’t have to recycle him. They could scatter his blue – leave nothing of him behind, leave nothing conscious, share none of his memories or skills.
And disappearing entirely would be worse than what was already happening.
He slammed a fist into the wall and felt his knuckles split from the force of impact. Reynolds stepped aside, and Rhys hit the wall again and again, trying to slam his anger into the masonry.
When Rhys felt the ulna in his left arm break, he stopped. He let both of his arms hang to his sides, drops of blood beading from his knuckles as all the damage repaired itself.
‘You aren’t better than me,’ he said, rubbing at his arm. ‘You know that, Reynolds.’
He heard a glass clinking, and he turned to see Reynolds pouring two glasses of scotch. ‘Apples and oranges, mate,’ Reynolds said. ‘You can’t compare when we are deliberately so different.’
‘You’re a bastard,’ he said, needing to insult the damnably calm man.
Reynolds handed him a drink. ‘I know what I am, and despite what you think, I do respect you. You have done your Duty. You are here – early, even. And–’
Rhys down the drink in one burning mouthful, then hurled the glass against the wall. ‘I don’t need your sympathy!’
Reynolds sipped at his drink. ‘It’s my city, too,’ he said, his voice calm but firm. ‘I don’t operate in the same way that you do, but it is– We can’t go into the new century working with someone is freely likened to Jack the Ripper.’
He pulled Reynolds’ drink from his hand. ‘At least I protect the whores!’
‘I never intimated that you hurt–’
Rhys whirled on Reynolds, his coat flaring. ‘No!’ he screamed. ‘That is not what I mean! You don’t even acknowledge them! The women I know do not know you!’ He fell back against the desk, his hands shaking. ‘You don’t protect your civilians, not like I do.’
Reynolds put a hand to his mouth, then nodded. ‘I suppose I have been deficient in that area of my responsibility. I will begin to…look into the corners and edges.’
Rhys nodded. ‘You had damn well better, now take me to my execution.’
The agent stared at him for a long moment, then looked to the floor and nodded. A permissions window appeared in his HUD, indicating Reynolds wanted to shift him.
His final decision. His final chance to run. One shift, and three steps could have him free. One shift, and three steps would mean that he could see his son grow, live, and maybe die – depending on how long duskers lived, once free of the system.
One last chance at freedom.
Rhys hit the accept button in his HUD and allowed the agent to take him away.
Upon reintegration, the crystal chamber loomed large – a large chunk of far too whimsical crystal that looked like a glass coffin, or a child’s imagining of what a piece of a world mirror would look like.
He was afraid, and he let himself feel the fear, revelling in one last true emotion before the unknown of the collective unconscious.
Rhys stepped up onto the platform and turned, laying his back against the slanted crystal.
He closed his eyes for a moment and made two last requirements, long range, to appear on the bed of the house he’d purchased: a single rose for Julia, and a wooden toy train for Arthur.
‘It has been deemed,’ Reynolds intoned in a formal voice, ‘that you have come to the end of your Duty.
It is commendable that you have come willing to this event, and in time, your components may be used for future proxies of the system. You have done your Duty, Rhys.’
Two sheets of crystal moved up and closed in front of Rhys’ face, sealing him entirely within the colourless material. His hands lost sensation, and a bell began to toll in his mind.
It was the loudest sound in the world, the loudest thing he had ever heard, and it felt as if his body was shattering with each and every long, clear note.
Sensation disappeared from limbs.
He thought of his whores, his duty, and his legacy.
The bell sounded again, and he came apart.
Rhys saw blue.
Then he saw nothing.