Metempsychosis Apotheosis - 11

“Welcome to Transmigration Studios!” the woman said as Li-Hahn and I entered their office. “Please have a seat in the waiting room, and someone will be with you shortly.”

Li-Hahn gripped my arm as we walked into the waiting area. She had her phone out and took a selfie of us as we walked. I could hear the blip of reactions as she grinned for the camera, panned around, then logged off with a “Byeee!”

High-backed leather chairs arranged back to back stretched across the room with dozens of potential candidates relaxing and chatting quietly.

“Hello Mr. And Mrs. Adamson, my name is Richard and I will be your guide this evening.” The man was tall, thin, and had an effeminate face with sculpted eyebrows, slicked-back blond hair, and appeared to be wearing subtle makeup.

“Hello Richard, you can call me Robert, and this is my wife Karyn.”

“Pleased to meet you.” He shook both of our hands. I noticed his nails were perfectly polished and extended.

“Can I get you anything before the screening?” Richard said. “We have soft drinks, champagne, cheese, and crackers...”

“Some water would be nice,” I said.

“Champagne!” Li-Hahn said. “I love champagne.”

Richard gave a small smile and nodded. “Of course, be right back.”

I glanced around the room, trying to catalog everything I could. It appeared each chair had a ‘guide’ or assistant assigned to it and each assistant had up to a dozen that they serviced.

Richard came back with our drinks and said the screening would begin momentarily. He handed us some VR head and handsets and instructed us to put them on.

We went from a real-world waiting room into a virtual waiting room where our avatars stood in line at what looked like a roller coaster. As we waited, the roller coaster shot upwards at a gravity-defying angle, and I seriously hoped they wouldn’t be treating us to the same virtual ‘experience.’ My motion sickness would not allow any type of roller coaster, virtual or real.

“You’re next, and don’t worry,” Richards's voice came to us. “You won’t be riding a roller coaster, that’s just to keep you entertained as you wait.”

Finally, we passed through the starting position, and some questions came up on the screen. “Answer the following questions as honestly as possible. Tap the right button for yes, and the left button for now using your VR input devices.

“Are you satisfied with your life?” No, Yes.

“Do you have hope for your future?” No, Yes.

“Does the thought of being in someone else’s body excite you?” No, Yes

“If given the opportunity, would you change bodies?” No, Yes

“Can you keep a secret?” No, Yes

“Have you ever not kept a secret?” No, Yes

“Are you keeping a secret right now?” No, Yes.

“Do you abuse drugs or alcohol?” No, Yes

“Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” No, Yes

“Are there any current warrants for your arrest that you know of?” No, Yes

“Do you owe taxes?” No, Yes

“Have you ever considered suicide?” No, Yes

“Do you believe in life after death?” No, yes.

“Do you believe in God?” No, yes

“Do you believe in an afterlife?” No, yes

“Is there such a thing as bad luck?” No, Yes

I answered them in the manner of what I thought someone who wanted a ‘new life’ would answer. The questions grew more and more difficult as they went along, with some rephrasing questions that had already been asked. “Have you ever not kept a secret” became “Have you ever revealed a secret?” “Do you owe taxes,” became “do you have unpaid taxes?”

It frustrated me and as the questions went on and on, they changed...

“Have you ever lost someone you loved?”

“Has someone ever disappeared from your life that you cared about?”

“Are you here to find someone?”

“Are you here on behalf of someone else?”

“Are you married?”

“Are you faithful to your marital vows?”

“Do you suspect your spouse is not who they say they are?”

Stunned, I quickly realized I wasn’t the first person who had tried this.

***

After an hour, the questions finally finished, and I took off my headset. Li-Hahn smiled at me as she sipped from her champagne flute.

Richard appeared. “I see you have completed your session. Part two will begin shortly. Is there anything I can get you?”

I sighed. I knew I’d tried to do the best I could with the questions, but I had stupidly come to this event as ‘me’ not even trying to hide my identity. Of course, they would know who I was, who Karyn was, what I was attempting to do.

“No, I’m good,” I said.

A dark-skinned gentleman appeared from somewhere, dressed in a very white tailored suit with gleaming white loafers. He stretched above me, maybe 6’5” with a bald head, and a perfectly sculpted beard that angled up his jaw.

“Mr. Adamson, I’d like to speak with you.” The guy had a deep rich voice.

This was it.

“Sure.” I laughed, nervously. “Hope I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Of course not. Please come this way.”

I noticed Li-Hahn hadn’t been invited. She gave a giggle. “Do good, babe!”

I brushed her cheek with my lips and followed him.

We walked past dozens of people either with VR headsets on still, or waiting and chatting softly.

I was led to an immense office with a huge old-fashioned oak desk. Plush red carpet, bookshelves with hundreds of old books, and a round conference table.

He went to the desk and sat in a richly cushioned desk chair and indicated I shoot sit in the chair opposite.

“You know who I am.” He leaned back in his chair, regarding me with eyes that belonged on a shark.

“ExMuritious Forrester.”

“I figured you to do your homework, Robert.”

I nodded, nervous. I wondered if security agents would come in from all sides of the office and burly men would throw me out.

He looked at me, his eyes locked on mine. I realized this was a test of sorts and I didn’t flinch or turn away nervously. I was angry. I wanted Karyn back, and this was the man who could get it done.

“What are you doing here, Robert?”

I shrugged. “Well, it seemed like a good thing at the time.”

He nodded and turned to a laptop next to him. “Sold your house, car, boat, depleted most of your retirement...”

I looked down at my hands.

“So what, four hundred K?”

“A little under three.”

He nodded, rubbing his chin. “And so what, you hoped to do what exactly with that?”

I shrugged. “Get a new life, I suppose.”

He frowned. “And why would you want that?”

“Well, Karyn did it, didn’t she?”

He sighed. “I think your intentions were a bit less honorable. You know we have your wife in our system.”

“I just want her back,” I said. And my voice broke as I said it.

“So what, you were going to swap into a body and...”

Defeated, I sighed. “Get on the inside. Find out about your organization. I know you must have an insurance agency wrapped up somewhere here.”

“Ah, and you thought you’d be able to work for them and somehow stop a machine from operating that has been functioning for over 300 generations?”

“Something like that.”

“You know, we’ve had your kind before.” He made a motion on his screen and another screen behind him lit up. Profile photos of different people flicked across the screen.

“David Greenfeld, Akron Ohio. Now deceased.”

“Jennifer Bolden, Denver Colorado. Now Deceased.”

“James Cox, Detroit Michigan, Now Deceased.”

I shivered. Obviously, they didn’t fuck around.

“Want to know what these people all had in common?”

Ice water flowed through my veins. “They all had a partner who had been taken by you?”

He nodded, solemnly.

“So you’re going to kill me then?”

He flipped the screen off. “Depends on you. You’re a smart man. Based on your screening results, you pass. I could allow you to participate in the event and get a new life.

“Or?”

“Or, your body will be found in the next two weeks. Natural causes, I assure you.”

“So there’s no chance of ever being reunited with Karyn?” I said, and my voice hitched again.

“I didn’t say that, did I?”

I shook my head, closing my eyes.

“We don’t encourage it, it’s true. But your wife has been extremely cooperative and is earning her way up. She will never again achieve her own body back, but eventually, she will work her way into a life that is—“

ExMuritious leaned back considering. “Manageable.”

“And I can be with her then?”

He nodded.

“And what do I have to do?”

“Well, you have a choice. You can run, of course, but we will find you. I can promise that. Or, you can take part in tomorrow’s event, get a new life, and be happy. Then when your partner has earned her way through, you can be reunited.”

“Can’t I pay to be reunited now?”

He grinned.

“What if I choose to just leave and go back and wait?”

He shook his head. “That ship has sailed, Robert. I think you know that.”

“And how long until we can be reunited?”

The man bobbed his head from side to side. “Hard to find obedient workers like your wife. Ten, twelve years maybe?”

My stomach turned to concrete. Whom would she be then? Karyn, my happy-go-lucky life-filled wife would be someone completely different, probably was already as different as Li-Hahn out there was to her former self.

I knew the technique. ExMuritious was making things seem like this was my only option, this was my only path. I knew I had a lot of options in front of me, I could go to law enforcement, but I’d need incontrovertible proof that this dark organization existed. And who would believe me when I tell them this company, traded on Nasdaq was stealing bodies?

“I can see what you’re thinking,” ExMuritious said.

“Yeah, and what’s that?”

He grinned, even white teeth shining perfectly. “You’re thinking you could go to a three-letter agency and turn this all over to them, what you’ve found, what’s happened, etc.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

To that, I say this: he pressed a button on his tablet.

A picture sprang up on the display behind him. It appeared to be a busy restaurant, a diner of some kind, and patrons ate at different tables, passing in front of the camera as they sat down.

They spoke a different language, Spanish would be my guess. An older waitress stepped out from the back carrying a platter full of food and started handing them to the patrons.

She spoke something and the entire table erupted in laughter. Her iron-grey hair was pulled up into a neat bun, and she wore a white apron tied around her stout form.

“I take it the waitress is Karyn.”

ExMuritious shook his head. “Dishwasher.”

I stood up and peered at the diner, toward the back someone was washing dishes. Male, they appeared to be in their late fifties, with a stooped back, and when they turned toward the camera I could see he had few teeth. His skin was very tan, and his hair was thin and also grey.

“That’s Margarita and Edmundo Salazar, and they own La Patria Cafe in Hermosillo, Mexico.”

“And Karyn is...”

He nodded. “We find gender flips to be especially motivational. I doubt your wife reaches out, however she’s been doing it, in this incarnation.”

So he knew she’d been reaching out, but not how. That was good information.

“And you’re saying if I go to the authorities...”

He shrugged. “Edmundo is stabbed during a mugging, hit by a bus, slips on a bar of soap in the cafe. Any number of things. Or perhaps we relegate her consciousness to an octogenarian suffering from Alzheimer's. The options are endless. It will take time for any agency to build a case, Robert, time your wife cannot afford.”

“So you have me by the balls, it would seem.”

He smiled. “Indeed.”

“So there’s no other choices? What if I become...what was her name, Margarita?”

“The transmigrations are assigned by lottery, Robert. I’m afraid even if I wanted to pair you two up, it wouldn’t work out.”

I sighed and wiped my hand over my forehead.

“Look, go back to the hotel, rest, reflect on our conversation. I’m going to approve your attendance at the event. Look over the lives offered, make a bid, don’t make a bid, whatever you’d like to do. I can guarantee you at least one of our offerings tomorrow will be within your price range.”

“You know, Li-Hahn was broadcasting on Tawkback when she entered the event tonight.”

ExMuritious blinked. “I’m sorry?”

I nodded. “If you think your event is so secret, why was she broadcasting a live stream as she entered?”

ExMuritious frowned. “This is news to me.”

“She’s a loose cannon.”

ExMuritious nodded. “Well, live streams can be eliminated.”

“Yeah? You know how many followers she has?”

He smiled. “Well, we used influencers from the beginning since they are admired by so many people. It’s concerning, but we’ll take care of Li-Hahn.”

“What if I take over my wife’s body and hold it for her until she can be returned?”

He seemed to give that some thought for all of about two seconds. “Li-Hahn bid nearly two million euros for it. Can you match that?”

“No, but she’s also had a lot of plastic surgery done that must lower the value.”

“True,” ExMuritious said. But not what, one point eight million euros worth.”

“What if I work for you?”

“In what capacity?”

“Well, I’m sure you’re insured. I’ve been dealing with corporate-level insurance for the past nine years. I could make sure your claims are vetted, that you have the best representation with carriers, pre-vet incidents...I could be a real asset.”

“And in exchange, what do you get?”

“Karyn’s body, until such a time you can let her be with me.”

“Hmm, that might be...advantageous to us.”

“I will work hard, and I will be loyal, I give you my word.”

He smiled a shark’s smile. “So no live streams?”

“None.”

He stood up. “Go back to your hotel. Let me look into some things. Perhaps we can work together.”

I nodded and stood up. I held out my hand. “To future endeavors together.”

He held back. “To future possible endeavors.”

“Agreed.”

We shook. His hand was very large and enveloped mine.

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