The man in the EXITS office was rocked back in his chair by the entry on the last line of Clio's application, desired method of Exit.
Clio appeared to be in her thirties, a nice body, no obvious special modifications. It was hard to say that she was average by today's norms, "average" being hard to define. So many had experimented with the customizations that came along with immortality that, being normal by historical standards, she actually stood out from the crowd. She wore a sweater -- cashmere, probably -- which softly embraced what could even be her natural breasts, neither too large nor too small.
The rest of her figure was just as pleasant, a comfortable waist and hips, demure skirt, nice legs, what he could see of them. Really, she was dressed out of a time long gone by but always in fashion, like the music of Mozart.
She had a pleasing face, but nothing extraordinary, a flawless complexion perhaps a bit on the pale side, peaches and cream, a faint spray of freckles on her cheeks. Her nose was -- average, her lips neither to thin nor too full, nicely expressive, her jaw strong but not aggressive.
Her hair was a lustrous black that only emphasized her pallor, with a graceful curl. Her eyes were hazel -- it was her eyes that hinted of her true age. If he had to guess he'd put her chronologically near the two century mark. A glance at her file confirmed that.
He admitted his intrigue at her request. "It's not one I've ever heard before. You have experience with leeches?"
She nodded. "One of my interests over the years was biology. There was a time when I -- well, it is a little embarrassing -- but I had some as pets. I developed a relationship, you might say. I enjoyed feeding them."
When he frowned, puzzled, she unbutton the sleeve of her blouse and rolled it up, and showed him the inside of her arm. It was dotted with small, pale circles. When he leaned forward, she held it out for him to inspect more closely.
"Scars?" he asked, surprised. It was unheard of that anyone would be scarred these days. It took no more than a five minute treatment to eliminate the most gruesome scar. He fought to conceal his revulsion at such a bizarre display. Along with immortality had come an expectation of perfection when it came to the human body.
"Call them a badge of honor. I wear them as a fond reminder of that time in my life."
"Was it painful?"
She shook her head. "Not particularly. Their saliva has a natural local anesthetic."
Not liking to be distracted by asking his implant he'd put his desk to work, querying for information about leeches, of course. Unbidden, the phrase "blood-thirsty little suckers" came to his mind.
"You seem dismayed," she observed, her lips quirked with a subtle smile.
He nodded. "It's not a life form I was familiar with. It's not a means of Exit I've encountered before, either," he admitted. His mind was racing. "I assume you're suggesting death by exsanguination, bleeding to death. We have handled that sort of request before, using a catheter in a vein or artery, even slicing the jugular and carotid arteries with a sharp knife. Won't you require a large number of leeches?"
"I'm not talking about just any leeches," she responded. "The ones I want are large. They grow to be 18 inches long, an inch in diameter."
"They prefer warm, moist, dark places," she explained. "I believe you get my drift. They can consume up to five times their own mass in blood."
The image rocked him, even after all the varied Exits he had scripted and overseen.
"To be safe, I suppose we should have at least a dozen giant leeches available," she mused. "No, make that two dozen. It would be embarrassing to run short. Before we finalize arrangements I'll do some calculations to make sure to have an adequate number."
She waved a hand dismissively. "No need. Since I am familiar with leeches it will be my pleasure. I'll want to select them carefully. It is such a delectable thing to anticipate. What I want from EXITS is an appropriate -- production, I guess you might say."
He pulled himself together. "Some sort of swamp, or jungle setting, I presume."
"Not necessarily. While that's where some leeches are found, others are more terrestrial, and the ones I will use have been specially bred, so it's certainly not a requirement. And just so you understand, they aren't as ugly and slimy looking as the holos you're looking at.
"I want an Exit that's -- showy, dramatic. I have a streak of exhibitionism that I've suppressed, all my life." Her regret showed. "My mother opposes public displays, vulgarity. Yes, she's still alive. She regards making and Exit as weak and irresponsible."
"Yet you don't, I gather."
She shook her head. "I see it as a way of finally cutting the apron strings, I guess. As you can see, I dress modestly, always have. She insisted I ignore fashion trends in favor of something twentieth century-ish, never showing off my body, even at the beach. Even my sexual encounters have been very discrete, conservative, run-of-the-mill. Boring, I guess you could say. I've been a serial monogamist.
"Boring," she mused wistfully, then cheered up. "This being my last chance, I want -- I want to show off, for a change, as my last act in what has been a rather mundane life. I'm not a theatrical type of person, so I really don't know how to create an interesting scenario for something like this. I was hoping you would be able to suggest something. I want people to see me make my Exit, marvel about it, talk about it, as many people as possible.
"I particularly want my mother to see the side of me she has repressed for so long. Let's see if she wants to live forever with that memory." There was more than a trace of bitterness to this last statement.
It was obviously and act of rebellion, but he'd learned never to probe too deeply into the reasons for his clients' decisions. As long as Citybrain's psych analysis cleared her of pathologic motives or treatable clinical depression, EXITS would serve her.
He was actually sweating a little with the ideas that were running through his head. "How soon had you planned to make your Exit?"
"Oh, there's no urgency. I think planning something like this is as enjoyable as I expect the act itself to be."
He smiled, understanding. Many of EXITS' clients had made similar statements. "I'd say what you're suggesting will hardly be an anticlimax, for you or your audience. I'll draw up some possible scenarios and forward them on to you. Once you've found one that appeals to you we can proceed from there."
"Excellent!" she exulted, her enthusiasm breaking through her controlled demeanor. "Thank you. Thank you very much."
He took her hand, hoping she didn't notice his sweaty palm. "I'll be in touch in a few days."
"I look forward to hearing from you," she responded. Judging by her slight, secret smile, the strength of her grip and how she held his hand a few beats longer than absolutely necessary, she knew full well the impact her Exit fantasy was having on him.
The stage was stark white, floor, walls, ceiling, the only accents the black frame of the white cushioned lounge in the center, flanked by two glass vats, the one on the left empty, the other, on the right, contained what looked like giant worms, shiny black, perhaps a foot long, squirming, moving. Upstage, on the wall beyond the head of the lounge, there was a black, square rectangle with a steady green line tracing across it.
The room was almost too warm, the light almost too bright.
Twenty feet back from the foot of the lounge, comfortably spread out on low benches that rose, step-like toward the back wall, there was a select audience of fifty people, male and female, relatives, intimate acquaintances out of her past. Of course there were also discrete cameras focused on the lounge from every angle for The Feed. Millions, perhaps billions would be her witnesses.
One spectator stood out, in the center of the front row, alone, a woman of indeterminate age, in modest clothes that contrasted sharply with the more garish, exhibitionistic garb of most of the audience -- generally tunics and shifts that revealed as much as they concealed.
Clio was thrilled that she had her audience. Just the thought of exposing herself to them made her wet. The knowledge of what she was about to do made her shiver with anticipation.
Entering the room from alongside the audience, she strolled gracefully toward the lounge, the shining white floor warm under her bare feet. Her only garment was a very modest calf length white robe. Her fingers trembled as she circled past the empty vat. Moving around the head of the lounge she trailed her fingers over the stark white upholstery, to come down the other side where she knelt gracefully by the second vat, the one with her pets, soon to be lovers.
Dipping her hand in, she lifted one of the leeches, which proceeded to squirm and writhe in her grasp. It was cool, slick but not slimy. She raised it to her face, kissed one end of it softly, carefully drawing it away when it made a move toward her mouth, and gently replaced it in the vat.
When she rose again to her feet she faced her audience. "Hello, mother, nice of you to make it."
The woman in the center of the front row nodded tersely.
"Thank you, all of you, for coming to witness my Exit," Clio went on. "Do not mourn for me. I am looking forward to this. As someone said in a very, very old book, 'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.' Though his life was more dissolute, his deeds far more noble and heroic than any of mine, I must confess. But I always liked that line, and this is the only chance I'll ever have to use it."
Her mother grunted. "Get on with it."
Clio tut-tutted. "Don't rush me. I plan to enjoy this, mother dear, to take my pleasure to the fullest. In spite of all your years that's something you've never done, while letting me only taste it. I plan to make up for that at last. I'm going to savor every minute of this"
Unbelting the robe, she let it slide back off her shoulders to expose her lovely nude body, the ebony hair on her head and pussy in sharp contrast to her pale flesh, her nipples small, dark points capping her creamy breasts. Those not already familiar with her beauty -- there were past lovers in the audience -- those who'd never seen her in the flesh, so to speak, gave an appreciative murmur. Even in this world of physical perfection she stood out.
She slid her fingers up her torso to cup those beautifully proportioned breasts, squeezed and teased her nipples, pinched them with her crimson polished nails. The man from EXITS had planned well. Her jet hair, her scarlet nails contrasted sharply with the shining white stage and its props, as would the blood she'd soon spill. The only other touch of color was the green line on the screen above and behind the lounge.
She sat gracefully, raised her legs demurely, knees modestly together -- not yet letting them part to expose her secret heart -- and lounged back on the white synthetic cushions. As she settled herself, the line on the screen over her head began to dance as it picked up the rhythm of her heart, tracing the classic sinus rhythm. There was a soft beat in the air from concealed speakers, the pulse of her life's blood through her arteries and veins.