Serge stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, his eyes taking in every inch of his scruffy exterior. He looked as though he had just crawled out of the garbage, and damned if he didn't feel much the same.

His skin seemed oddly blotchy in all the wrong places. His hair was in complete disarray. He hadn't shaved since Friday morning, and the random shots of sangria last night were now beating a rhythmic tattoo in his head.

He reached down with one tired, weatherbeaten arm and scratched at his crotch. It only made him feel slightly better.

He shut his eyes deliberately, opening them to gaze into a screen of green and blue. It was as though the personalized menu listings were imprinted on the back of his cornea, although he knew that what he was seeing was merely an effect of the neural implants. "Hangover" wasn't listed prominently across the options list, but "Migraine" was. Serge selected that, and waited as the headache slowly melted away.

Serge blinked again, closing the screen in one swift motion. The software had cost him two weeks' pay and a good word in for Chesterfield, but he had to admit that it was worth it.

Last night, of course, was only opening night. The main event was going to take place Saturday, this coming Saturday, and after that Serge Karanov would have no need for anti-hangover software, or mandatory neural implants, or much of anything else for that matter.

Serge Karanov, Serge mouthed silently, staring at the strange man in his mirror, Welcome to the first day of the last week of your life.

There was a knock at the door.

Serge ignored it, concentrating on his reflection and wondering if it was even worth the effort to pick up a toothbrush and clean his enamel whites. Nobody ever called on him this early in the morning, and if it was a business matter, the Force would probably have buzzed him over the neural-net instead.

There was another knock at the door.

Serge held the toothbrush between two dirty fingers, long enough to chuck it into the automatic waste dispenser. The flat steel cylinder made a humming sound as it chewed up what was left of his dental hygiene.

Another knock.

"Go away," Serge whispered. "It's Sunday, for crissakes. Go away."

Another knock. And a voice this time.

"Serge Karanov?" it asked. The quality was slightly high and more than a little melodic in nature. Serge could recognize a mechanical voicebox when he heard one.

There was a quick succession of knocks. Serge pulled on a pair of shorts and stepped into the rest of his tiny, one-room apartment. He kicked aside a tired old shoe and one of the two bottles of sangria he had finished the night before, muttering all the way.

He stopped at the old-fashioned latch, fiddled with it as though he had never seen it before, and opened the door a crack. The light in the hallway stung his eyes.

"Who's there?" he asked. "If it's about the rent, then I'll..."

"No, Mr. Karanov," the melodic voice said in a far clearer tone this time, "this is not about your rent."

Serge blinked. He caught a faint glimpse of black and red through blurry eyes, and almost staggered back in confusion.

"Serge Karanov... ID GH375-42116709-D?" the voice asked.

Serge rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, that's me," he said. "What do you want?"

"I am here to guide you through your self-termination process, Mr. Karanov."

Serge frowned. He didn't remember reading anything about this when he filled out the application form a year ago. It had to be some sort of bad joke.

He felt a slight pressure on the door, as though his unexpected guest had placed one hand on it.

"May I come in, Mr. Karanov?"

"Oh," Serge said, unable to think of anything else to say. Bad joke or no bad joke, it was probably better to get everything over with. He opened the door a little wider.

Standing in the hallway outside was the figure of a slim young woman, dressed in a conservative red uniform with her silken-gloved hands folded neatly in front of her. She glanced at him in an expression that belied ages of experience; The lines across her face clearly indicated that she was, at best, only partially human.

"You're a week early," Serge said in a disgusted tone. Somehow, he regretted dispensing of his toothbrush a few minutes earlier.

"No, Mr. Karanov," the woman said, her gaze level with him. "We traditionally arrive one week before the scheduled time, in order to assist applicants with their final affairs."

Serge snorted in derision. "Come in," he said anyway.


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