Immortality

“Hello, Mr. Blaine,” she said. “I’m Marie Thorne.”
“Hello,” Blaine said cheerfully.
“Mr. Blaine,” she said, “where do you suppose you are?”
“Looks like a hospital. I suppose—” He stopped. He had just noticed a
small microphone in her hand.
“Yes, what do you suppose?”
She made a small gesture. Men came forward and wheeled heavy
equipment around his bed.
“Go right ahead,” Marie Thorne said. “Tell us what you suppose.”
“To hell with that,” Blaine said moodily, watching the men set up their
machines around him. “What is this? What is going on?”
“We’re trying to help you,” Marie Thorne said. “Won’t you cooperate?”
Blaine nodded, wishing she would smile. He suddenly felt very unsure of
himself. Had something happened to him?
“Do you remember the accident?” she asked.
“What accident?”
“Do you remember being hurt?”
Blaine shuddered as his memory returned in a rush of spinning lights,
wailing engine, impact and breakage.
“Yes. The steering wheel broke. I got it through the chest. Then my head
hit.”
“Look at your chest,” she said softly.
Blaine looked. His chest, beneath white pajamas, was unmarked.
“Impossible!” he cried. His own voice sounded hollow, distant, unreal.
He was aware of the men around his bed talking as they bent over their
machines, but they seemed like shadows, flat and without substance.
Their thin, unimportant voices were like flies buzzing against a window.
“Nice first reaction.”
“Very nice indeed.”
Marie Thorne said to him, “You are unhurt.”
Blaine looked at his undamaged body and remembered the accident. “I
can’t believe itf” he cried.
“He’s coming on perfectly.”
“Fine mixture of belief and incredulity.”
Marie Thorne said, “Quiet, please. Go ahead, Mr. Blaine.
“I remember the accident,” Blaine said. “I remember the smashing, I
remember—dying.”
“Get that?”
“Hell, yes. It really plays!”
“Perfectly spontaneous scene.”
“Marvellous! They’ll go wild over it!”
She said, “A little less noise, please. Mr. Blaine, do you remember
dying?”
“Yes, yes, I died!”
“His face!”
“That ludicrous expression heightens the reality.”
“I just hope Reilly thinks so.”
She said, “Look carefully at your body, Mr. Blaine. Here’s a mirror. Look
at your face.”
Blaine looked, and shivered like a man in fever. He touched the mirror,
then ran shaking fingers over his face.
“It isn’t my face! Where’s my face? Where did you put my body and
face?”
He was in a nightmare from which he could never awaken. The flat
shadow men surrounded him, their voices buzzing like flies against a
window, tending their cardboard machines, filled with vague menace, yet
strangely indifferent, almost unaware of him. Marie Thorne bent low over
him with her pretty, blank face, and from her small red mouth came
gentle nightmare words.
“Your body is dead, Mr. Blaine, killed in an automobile accident. You
can remember its dying. But we managed to save that part of you that
really counts. We saved your mind, Mr. Blaine, and have given you a new
body for it.”
Blaine opened his mouth to scream, and closed it again. “It’s
unbelievable,” he said quietly.
And the flies buzzed.
“Understatement.”
“Well, of course. One can’t be frenetic forever.”
“I expected a little more scenery-chewing.”
“Wrongly. Understatement rather accentuates his dilemma.”
“Perhaps, in pure stage terms. But consider the thing realistically.
This poor bastard has just discovered that he died in an automobile
accident and is now reborn in a new body. So what does he say about it?
He says, ‘It’s unbelievable.’ Damn it, he’s not really reacting to the
shock!”
“He is! You’re projecting!”
“Please!” Marie Thorne said. “Go on, Mr. Blaine.”
Blaine, deep in his nightmare, was hardly aware of the soft, buzzing
voices. He asked, “Did I really die?”
She nodded.
“And I am really born again in a different body?”
She nodded again, waiting. Blaine looked at her, and at the shadow men
tending their cardboard machines. Why were they bothering him? Why
couldn’t they go pick on some other dead man? Corpses shouldn’t be
forced to answer questions. Death was man’s ancient privilege, his
immemorial pact with life, granted to the slave as well as the noble. Death
was man’s solace, and his right. But perhaps they had revoked that right;
and now you couldn’t evade your responsibilities simply by being dead.

IMMORTALITY, INC.
ROBERT SHECKLEY

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