The man behind the desk decided that the most remarkable thing about Calliope was how unremarkable she was. He'd grown accustomed to women who had chosen beauty, voluptuous curves, flawless skin, features nearly symmetrical, but not perfect.
Then there were those who had chosen to be exotic. Take the woman with blue hair, for example, an actinic blue, hair that stood out, literally stood out from the scalp, a nimbus of blue surrounding her head, framing a face artfully sculpted and decorated, as was her body.
Her exit had been positively pyrotechnic.
There was the nostalgic look, such as Clio with her mid-20th century cashmere sweater, who had chosen an exotic exit, exsanguination using giant leeches.
Some decided to be bizarre, but the less said about them the better.
But Calliope was mundane; not tall, not short, not voluptuous but not scrawny, attractive but not glamorous. Her dress was a modest shift -- timeless -- hinting about the body beneath it but revealing no secrets. Her features were pleasant but not exceptional, good complexion, good skin tone, a nose neither too large nor too small.
"And how may we serve you today?" he inquired politely. Her input form was as uninformative as the young looking woman was unremarkable.
"I wish to make and Exit, of course," she responded condescendingly. She had a distinct accent, which in these days of homogeneity and instant communication was a rare affectation.
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry." He was discomfited by her for some reason. She just didn't look the type for a dramatic Exit. EXITS drew the more adventuresome, usually. The so-called "average" Exit didn't even require a consultation -- fill out the on-line form, receive an appointment notice, report as scheduled and -- oblivion.
It was the eyes, he decided. There was little of the world-weariness that most Exiters displayed. With Calliope there was wit there, intelligence, curiosity. While anticipation wasn't unusual, death being the final frontier, Calliope seemed unusually eager.
"I see -- uh -- Calliope, that you are a student of history."
"English history," she elaborated. "With a specialty of the Tudors, concentrating on Henry VIII."
Many immortals took on hobbies over the years, but an academic pursuit with this narrow a focus was unusual. His implant fed him the information about the Tudors -- 1485-1603 old calendar AD, a powerful English royal family, the most notorious being Henry VIII, who went through six wives. After his death, Henry was first succeeded by his sickly son, who died young. Then, after a brief period of political turmoil Elizabeth I took the throne. She was the antithesis of Henry's profligacy. She died a virgin, supposedly, and was probably one of the most successful Queens known to history.
"Interesting," he observed placidly. "Would it be presumptuous of me to assume that you wish your Exit to be staged in that historical setting?"
"Not at all," she assured him. "That's why I'm here. I saw your reconstruction of revolutionary Paris. Most impressive. I'm hoping you'll do as well for me."
"Thank you. We'll do our best."
She drew a deep breath. "As you surmise, I have immersed myself in the Tudor period over the years, buried myself amongst musty volumes. I'm an active member of a group that stages Renaissance Faires, recreations of that time. I've steeped myself in the culture of the period until there is nothing more for me to learn..."
"Except?" he prompted when she let the word trail off into silence.
"Except to personally experience the more dramatic means by which some less fortunate members of the court chose to Exit -- or, perhaps I should say, rather -- had their Exit thrust upon them," she responded.
His implant had already informed him that two of Henry VIII's wives had been decapitated for their transgressions, one of whom he had even heard of. "You wish to be executed," he concluded.
Calliope nodded solemnly. "Beheaded," she confirmed. "I prefer that to being burned at the stake, which, at that time, was the other penalty for women guilty of treason. Were I a man I could be hanged, drawn and quartered, but that's not appropriate."
"I see," he assented, more than a little relieved with her choice when his implant sent a quick informative flash to him of what being hanged, drawn and quartered entailed; a partial hanging, followed by disembowelment while the traitor was still alive, and finally, chopping the miscreant into four pieces. Well, five if you counted the head. That was often stuck on a pike.
He decided that choosing that Exit was about as likely as someone choosing to be burned at the stake.
He sought escape in routine business. "I presume the guillotine is not appropriate?"
"Certainly not! That was two centuries later, and French!" Her distaste for that was obvious -- more, he suspected, because it was French than because it would be anachronistic. A pity, EXITS had a beautiful working replica of a guillotine.
"Actually, I want to create a little entertainment to accompany my Exit," Calliope elaborated. "Anne Boleyn, Henry's second spouse, is well known, which makes her an attractive figure for me to portray. She was executed for adultery and incest, though the charges were completely false."
He was making notes. "So, we will need a headsman..."
"But Anne presents me with a bit of a quandary," she went on.
"She was executed by a skilled French swordsman."
"That can be arranged," he assured Calliope, assuming she saw obtaining a suitable executioner as a stumbling block.
"I'm confident it could be, but it doesn't fit the scenario that appeals to me. I look forward to making my Exit more erotic, more lusty. Were I to follow Anne's lead, I would have to be decapitated while kneeling upright to receive the headsman's horizontal stroke, not bent over, my neck on the block to receive the vertical stroke of an axe. With the sword it would be difficult for me to -- uhm -- be actively engaged in the sort of activity I envision when the blow falls.
"Now Lady Jane Grey, for only nine days a queen after Henry's son's death, went to the block to keep her from being a rallying point for a usurper. She faced her end, according to contemporary reports, with grace and dignity. But she was young -- only 16, perhaps 17 -- barely married, and probably not experienced in the many variations in carnal relations.
"That leaves me with Kathryn Howard, Henry's fifth wife, who was definitely sexually experienced, before her marriage, and an adulteress during it, perhaps with good reason. She was about thirty years younger than Henry, who, by then was a half century old and weighed something like 300 pounds. He was not in good health, either. A festering ulcer on his thigh had to be drained daily. However, by all reports, in spite of that they did consummate the marriage, but it was barren. When her adultery was revealed, Henry had no choice but to dispose of her.
"She went to the block on Tower Green in 1542. They'd been married only two years. It's said that she had the block moved to her cell the night before the execution so she could practice laying her head upon it. I'd like to do that.
"Did you know," she went on whimsically, "that I refer to her family as the 'cut-here-Howards?' That the family was so inclined toward treason, with the resulting consequences, that I suspect they were born with birthmark on the back of their necks, a dotted line inscribed 'cut here.'"
He chuckled appreciatively.
"At any rate, I choose to emulate her, enjoying, as it were, all the pleasures of the flesh as she presumably did, only in my case right up to the last minute."
Always that erotic component, he mused. "We can provide a suitable group of actors..."
"Not necessary. My Renaissance Faire companions will be more than happy to serve as courtiers and ladies-in-waiting, minstrels and townspeople with whom I can dally. It seems only fair that I entertain as many of them as possible, right up until the very end."
"I understand," he murmured.
"Nor will costumes be an issue. We will provide our own. However, what I do require is a recreation of Tower Green, the lawn within the walls of the Tower of London, along with a low scaffold or platform on which will be placed the headsman's block -- and the headsman and his axe, of course. And I want to spend the night before the ceremony alone, in a replica of her cell." She gave a delicate shiver. "The next day our troupe will celebrate my departure, with me as the primary entertainment. It should be most stimulating."
Obviously her modest exterior concealed a lusty nature. This promised to be another interesting Exit, he mused, as he made notes.
Calliope stepped aside as two men in Beefeater's uniforms lugged the block from her cell out into the light to its place on the scaffold. She'd spent the night, as she'd hoped, in her cold, damp quarters, practicing leaning forward over the block, feeling the cool wood on the front of her throat as she knelt on the straw covered stones, her hands gripping the rude wood mass. The block was strangely beautiful in its utilitarian simplicity, a block of age darkened wood, perhaps two feet wide at the base, a foot thick, two feet high, with curved gouges carved out of the top, front and back, to cradle her chin and shoulders.
She'd scripted assistance for the final scene, escorts to convey her to her death, a companion to plunder her willing body from behind as she awaited the stroke.