Authors: Jude Hardin
About A TIME FOR DYING
Would you sell one hour of your life for five million dollars?
In the year 2060, disease has been eradicated, and the average human lifespan has risen to an astounding four hundred and forty-seven years.
Not that people are allowed to live that long. In fact, death is mandatory the minute you turn one hundred.
A couple of days before his microchip is scheduled to release its lethal toxin, Warren Lockhart is approached by an attorney whose client has a very unusual proposition: he wants to purchase one hour of Warren’s life.
Warren is going to die soon anyway, and the money would make a huge impact on the lives of his loved ones, the wife and children he’ll be leaving behind.
And really, what difference could an hour possibly make?
A TIME FOR DYING
It was almost the middle of February, and I was still writing 2059 on my checks.
Maybe it was some kind of denial, my subconscious mind refusing to admit that my time was almost up.
In thirty-two hours, I would celebrate my one hundredth birthday.
I would celebrate it by dying.
It didn’t seem fair. There was nothing wrong with me, but that didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered since the war. When your time was up, it was up. Your microchip released its toxin, and that was it.
They say it’s painless, and that’s probably true. But it’s the dread that gets you. Knowing that it’s coming. It’s enough to drive you bonkers.
I’d been trying not to think about it too much, but as the time drew near, the absurdity of it all became increasingly difficult to ignore. I was going to die, day after tomorrow at thirty minutes after midnight, and here I was sitting at my desk in my home office, going about my business as if I had all the time in the world. I’d crossed everything off my bucket list years ago, but still. With just over a day to live, it seemed like I should have been out getting drunk or something.
I paid the electric bill, and the phone bill, and then I opened an envelope that I’d thought to be junk mail. A credit card offer or something. It had that look.
I pulled the single sheet of paper out and turned to feed it into the shredder, but then the big red letterhead caught my eye.
William B. Rutherford, Attorney at Law.
Everyone in town knew the name. Billboards, TV commercials, all that crap.
Dear Mr. Lockhart:
My client, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been authorized to make you an offer—five million dollars for one hour of your life.
It seems that you and my client were born just one hour apart, he on February 13, 1960 at 11:30 p.m., and you on February 14, 1960 at 12:30 a.m.
Which of course means that the two of you are scheduled to die one hour apart. By selling your last hour to him, the two of you will, in essence, be trading places. My client will die February 14, 2060 at 12:30 a.m., and you will die on February 13, 2060 at 11:30 p.m.
As those hours are quickly approaching, Mr. Lockhart, I shouldn’t need to remind you that time is of the essence. Please contact my office no later than the end of business hours on February 12. That is the deadline. If we haven’t heard from you by then, we will be forced to make other arrangements.
Thank you for your consideration, and please have a wonderful day.
William B. Rutherford
February 12. That was today.
The letter had been on my desk for a couple of weeks. Plain brown envelope with the word IMPORTANT stamped near the bottom edge in front. To me, it had looked like a million other direct mail solicitations, the kind I’d been seeing for as long as I could remember.
Sometime around the turn of the century, everyone started believing that our world would eventually become paperless, at least for the most part. But that little prediction had never come true. If anything, there was more paper than ever now.
The leading causes of death had been conquered with the advent of Gen-41, but it was almost as though we’d regressed in other ways. The younger generation didn’t know any better, but some of us were old enough to have witnessed things like the Internet and cell phones and solar-powered cars come and go. We’d taken some steps backwards in the past thirty years or so. There was no doubt about it.
Things might have been different if it hadn’t been for the war, but there was no way to know for sure.
And there was no point in thinking about it.
Five million dollars. Not that I would have much time to enjoy the money, but it would make a nice inheritance for Brenda. At twenty-nine, my wife still had a long way to go, and she was eight weeks pregnant now. A girl. A child I would never be able to see.
I wouldn’t be around for her birth, but maybe I could make sure that she and the children from my former marriages had all the advantages they deserved, the things I’d never been able to give them while I was alive.
And really, what was an hour? What difference could it possibly make?
I picked up the phone and punched in William B. Rutherford’s number. A woman who identified herself as Sheila answered on the second ring.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But Mr. Rutherford has already left the office for the day. May I take a message?”
“My name’s Warren Lockhart. He’s expecting my call.”
There was a brief pause.
“I’m going to put you on hold,” Sheila said. “Maybe I can catch him in the parking lot.”
I figured Rutherford was still there, and I was right. He picked up a few seconds later.
“Mr. Lockhart,” he said. “You took it to the wire, didn’t you? I’d pretty much given up on hearing back from you. I’m assuming you’ve given the offer a lot of thought by now, so let’s get right down to—”
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” I said. “I just now opened the envelope. It was in a pile of junk mail on my desk.”
“I see. But you’re obviously interested, or you wouldn’t have called.”
“Who wouldn’t be interested in five million dollars? I’m just curious as to why your client wants that hour so bad.”
“I’m afraid anything concerning my client is confidential. All I can tell you is that he wants it, and that he’s willing to pay for it.”
“Let’s say I agree to the offer. What do I need to do?”
“You’ll have to come to my office and sign some papers. The money will be transferred to your account immediately, and the time will be subtracted from your chip and added to his. That’s really all there is to it.”
“Tell you the truth, I’ve never even heard of anything like this. I didn’t know time could be bought and sold.”
“Only in rare cases, where two people were born within an hour of each other. It’s a federal statute, originally drawn up for twins and other multiple births.”
“Yeah. Like when one of them doesn’t make it. For a fee, the parents are allowed to transfer the deceased child’s time to the living child’s chip. But the way the law’s written, anyone can take advantage of it, as long as you were born around the same time. Of course most people want to stay alive as long as possible, so it doesn’t happen very often. I could only find two other instances where multiple births weren’t involved, but the precedence is there. We’re good to go on the contract.”
“One hour for five million dollars.”
“That’s the deal. Like I said, I’ll need you to come in and sign some papers.”
He seemed a little too eager. I didn’t know what to think about that, but I figured if his wealthy client was willing to pay five million, he might be willing to pay more. I decided to squeeze it for all it was worth.
“I want twenty,” I said.
“Twenty million dollars. That’s the price tag for one hour of my life.”
“Mr. Lockhart, please. Be reasonable. That’s outrageous, and you know it.”
“I don’t know anything. Since deals like this never happen, how can we possibly know how much an hour is worth? To me, it’s worth twenty million. Call me if—”
“Wait,” Rutherford said. “I can offer you seven point five.”
“That’s not even close. If you can’t do better than that, I’m afraid we don’t have anything more to discuss.”
There was a long pause.
I was about to hang up when he said, “Ten million dollars. That’s all I’m authorized to offer. That’s the limit.”
And that was the number I wanted to hear.
“Deal,” I said.
Rutherford exhaled into the phone, obviously relieved that we’d finally come to an agreement.
“Good,” he said. “So I’ll need you to come in and sign the papers.”
“Will tomorrow morning be all right?”
“No, it’ll have to be this evening. It’s five o’clock now, so—”
“I can be there in thirty minutes,” I said.
“I’ll be here waiting for you.”
I grabbed my jacket and my keys and headed out the door.
That night, Brenda and I were lying in bed pretending to watch a movie from the twentieth century called
. I hadn’t told her the good news yet, but the money had already been transferred. Ten million bucks. I’d checked my balance at an ATM on the way home from Rutherford’s office.
“I love you,” Brenda said.
“I love you too.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
I held her closer. “You’re not going to start crying again, are you?”
“It’s our last night together, Warren. What do you expect?”
“I know. It’s crazy. I’m in perfect health, and the government—”
“I just remembered something,” she said. “Chairman L was supposed to make some kind of big announcement on television tonight. Everyone at work was talking about it.”
“Do we really care?”
“We might, if it affects our lives, or the life of our child.”
“It’s probably about as important as the last big announcement he made,” I said.
“About the toilets?”
Because of the severe drought, Chairman L had signed a bill making it illegal for anyone living in states west of the Mississippi to flush on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Luckily, Bren and I lived in Georgia, where you could still take a dump seven days a week.
“Mind if I pause the movie for a few minutes?” she said.
“What time is he supposed to come on?”
“Nine, so the live broadcast is already over. But I’m sure they’re showing snippets on channel one.”
“Whatever,” I said. “Can I tell you something first?”
She paused the movie, clicked over to the National News Channel. Chairman L’s fat head filled the screen.
“…so to celebrate the love I have for each and every one of you, and to commemorate the huge strides we’ve made in population control, I’m giving you a special gift this Valentine’s Day. On February fourteenth, at the stroke of midnight, every living man, woman, and child on the planet will receive twenty-five extra years on their microchips. That’s an extra quarter of a century for everyone…”
” I shouted.
I grabbed the remote, switched off the television, climbed out of bed and started pacing around the room.
“What’s the matter with you?” Brenda said. “This is great! Didn’t you hear what he said? We’re all going to get twenty-five extra years. You’re not going to have to die so soon after all.”
A wave of nausea washed over me. I hadn’t sold one hour to William B. Rutherford’s anonymous client. I’d sold twenty-five years.
Rutherford and his client must have known. Somehow, they must have gotten word about Chairman L’s valentine to the world weeks before the public announcement was made.
“This can’t be legal,” I said. “It’s like back when we had the stock exchange. You couldn’t use inside information to buy and sell. You could go to prison for years. This has to be something like that. There has to be some kind of law to prevent—”
“Calm down. You’re making me nervous.”
“I have to figure this out. There must be a way.”
“You’re not making any sense, Warren. Stock exchange? You know, I vaguely remember that from my history classes. What are you talking about?”
“I’m going to get it back,” I said.
“Get what back?”
I couldn’t bear to tell her what a fool I’d been. I grabbed some clothes and a pair of shoes and stormed out of the bedroom, stopping at the foyer to dress myself before heading out into the night.
I watched the sun come up over William B. Rutherford’s office. On the way, I’d stopped at an all-night pharmacy to get my prescription filled. That’s the thing about Gen-41. You have to take it every day or you start going downhill fast.
I swallowed my pill and drank some coffee, but I must have dozed off sometime after the seven o’clock traffic report. When I woke up, it was almost ten.