With The Reaper On Retirement
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Joyce Michaels put her headphones on and queued up the same song she played every time she made one of these trips: When The Sun Sets by James Blunt. It was the same song she listened to before her father was supposed to pass away. Joyce set the track on repeat.

She waited at the stop outside of the hospital. The hour or so after each operation always felt strange, like some kind of dream. Joyce opened and closed her hands a few times. Yeah, they still work. They feel wrong, but they work.

When the bus arrived, Joyce shuffled on and swiped her public transit card. She found a nice seat next to the window where she leaned her head against the glass. Condensation built up little by little, but Joyce was too busy looking outside. It was always cloudy on operation days. Never raining, just grey.

This was Joyce's fourth operation. Usually, they're expensive as hell and hosts are near impossible to find, but The Foundation worked out all the logistics. Joyce didn't think about where her new self came from. She could take some good guesses, but that's a fast way to feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

The bus driver called out "Edeborough and Forbes!"

Joyce got up and left the bus. It was a short five minute walk to the graveyard. She was a few minutes late; Eric was already there. You couldn't quite see the pulsing light from the cybernetic enhancements under Eric's shirt, but you could tell something wasn't quite right when the wind blew and pressed the shirt up against the sharp edges and wires. Joyce paused the song and took off her headphones.

"You know, if you didn't wear those headphones everywhere, I'd never know it was you," he remarked.

"Yeah, they've gone through some repair, but they've outlasted at least four bodies by now."

"Good headphones."

"Good headphones indeed."

The two of them just stared at the grave for a few minutes. It was a familiar sight. Joyce was a little surprised the tombstone hadn't corroded much. You could still read the inscription:

Here Lies A Hero
Here Lies Anthony Michaels

"You ever envious of him?" Eric asked. He asked the same question the last three times too. Joyce always gave the same answer.

"Every time I have one of these operations."

"You think he's happy for us?"

"I don't really know. Depends how much he can sympathize."

"Technically, the dead can't sympathize."

"Well, if you're going to go there, the dead can't be happy either."

"You remember the last time you felt happy?"

"No, but its not like I keep a log."

"Touché."

The two stood in silence for another few minutes.

"You ever worry we're living on repeat?"

"You've got quite a few questions today, don't you?" Joyce replied. She shot Eric a little smile.

"Eh, you know, just looking at a grave nowadays makes you think. It's been a while since anyone's made one in earnest."

"That's true."

"I just worry we're dead already. Just haven't really realized it yet. Can't really tell if we're still living at all, since there's nothing to compare it to."

"You think this is the afterlife?"

"Who knows. I could see it. Just a place that perpetually keeps you alive because you can't die twice."

"Sounds a bit too poetic."

"Probably is. But then again, a lot of things end up being more poetic than we expect," Joyce motioned to the tombstone.

"I don't know if I'd call this poetic."

"Dying to save 'countless lives' ten days before we all become immortal? That's ironic at least."

"What's with the air quotes?"

"It's what I heard from The Foundation. Can't exactly trust everything they tell you."

"So, I assume you never got any details?"

"Nope. Not even with my access. I asked Emily a while back, but she hasn't responded. I've got quite a few questions for her about other things too."

"Must've been big. Maybe he really did save countless lives."

"Or doomed them. It could go either way knowing our line of work."

Another five minutes. These ones felt a bit longer. They lingered like bees around flowers. Just trying to suck every last bit of nectar out until it was all gone. And then Joyce spoke up again.

"I hope you're right."

"About what?"

"About the afterlife thing. I'd be able to live with myself better if I knew we all just died on that day."

"Well, technically you wouldn't be ali—"

"You know exactly what I mean."

"True."

And then ten minutes of quiet, which was only interrupted by the pitter patter of raindrops. Joyce was surprised. It never rained on operation days.

"We should probably get going then," Eric noted.

"Probably."

"I have my car here, I can drive you back."

"Nah, I'll take the bus. I'm way out of the way for you."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Ok then. Take care. I'll see you around."

"You too."

Joyce put her headphones back on and restarted the music. She focused on the song as her body went into autopilot. She'd adjusted to this new one pretty quick. It carried her through the rain, to the bus, and back home to the three room flat across the city, where Joyce collapsed on the couch, stared at the ceiling, and just kept listening to her music.

My only respite
Since life haunts me
Knowing I'm gonna die
Eventually










Joyce's phone buzzed.

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