The spicy fried bananas were finally done. If only my girl was here to see this, she'd hate it. I love that. I miss that. People hating, if even just for fun. These days it's all positivity, most of it false. That won't stop me from remembering hate, love's lover. It's not forbidden to hate, just looked down upon. We convinced ourselves we're better than that.
Someone would look down upon me eating spicy fried bananas a few hundred years ago, but not now. Even if I had someone to share it with, they would love me for it. Not hate, never hate.
My evenings often consist of making some of my favorite food, and relaxing with a random memory. My Memory Reader was old, but good enough to put me to sleep with a smile. Just as I was about to plug myself in, there was a knock on the door. I got up to answer, the wood creaking under my feet while the smell of bananas filled the room. As I opened the door, there stood a boy.
What? Did he just ask me to take him?
"I was told to come to you."
"For what exactly?"
"Not likely, kid."
It's been years since someone asked me to perform a Take. By God, it's been at least a few decades! Never did I think someone would ever come knocking again, asking me for a Take, let alone a child. By the looks of him, I'd say around 10 years old.
"It IS you, isn't it? I know I'm at the right place.“
"What were you told, exactly?"
"That you help people. People like me."
"And what kind of people are you?"
"A desperate kind."
They always said they were desperate, without even trying to grasp the meaning of the word. Desperation was barely a human feeling. It's suited more to animals, who live and die in fear, and use it to survive in the toughest of times. For a human to say they are desperate is insulting in my opinion, especially these days. Options are plenty, the world is at peace and the horrors of the first couple of centuries of the new millenium have been left behind. Long past are the days of the Last War, or the Deaths.
"I've never helped anyone like you, and that's not going to change.“
I shut the door on him. Never have I performed a Take on a child. That is just wrong. Who told him about me? I have severed almost all contacts since my last one. It must have been the last customer's family, the only people angry enough to breach contract. I guess it was inevitable, but I honestly thought I have become obsolete in this society. People just don't want to die, nor do they have to. Regardless, my career as a Taker ended after my last job went wrong. They are never supposed to feel pain, but that one time... To this day I have no clue what happened. His face when I touched him still haunts me, accompanied by the screaming.
"Please talk to me!"
The boy was still outside. I opened the door and saw tears run down his eyes. Damn it...
"You want something to drink?"
Water... What am I doing? Why did I let him in? Because he's crying? Weak, I'm so weak.
"What's your name, kid?
"What do you want from me, Val?"
"They told m-
"Who is they?"
"The Bravino family."
"Then they must have told you that I'm retired."
"And they still sent you here?"
"They said a man like you deserves no peace."
They were right. Their Pater's suffering was my fault. I should've done more research, prepared better. Not like I actually found peace in the meantime...
"And what kind of help do you think I can provide you."
“You know what kind! Stop treating me like a little kid!”
Said a little kid.
“If the Bravinos told you anything about me, then you know I don’t take kids.”
“So why did you come here?”
“Do you remember COVID-19?”
“Sure, even though it was a good 250 years ago.”
“Well, I remember it too.”
Hold on, is this kid a NAH? Is that why he seems so mature? But kids aren’t allowed to become non-aging humans. The age limit is 18 in most of the world, somewhere 21, and even older. How did he even survive the operation?
“So, you’re a NAH?”
“I was one of the first ones. I got the virus then and was in a life-threatening condition. The first NAH experiments were starting around then. Most of them failed, but those that succeeded rid a person of all diseases, and that was my last hope.”
“So, you’re telling me that you’re… old?”
“Yes. I was born in 2010.”
Does this change things? It’s still been years since I’ve done a Take. And he still looks like a kid. A 260-year-old 10-year-old. Can I do it?
“You still haven’t told me why, Val.”
“Because I can’t anymore. I give up. Being this old in a body of a kid is a horrible experience. Everything I’ve ever wanted has always seemed out of reach.”
“Things on tall shelves, I suppose.”
“Yes, my statement can be taken quite literally. My partner also left me because she didn’t see me as a potential Pater. My brother and sister still see me as a boy, even though I’m seven years older. Of course, they got the operation at 24 and 30. The breaking point was my best friend. After a night out, he left me a message saying we should spend less time together, because he always feels like he’s babysitting me. I thought I would just wait until they figured out something to fix this situation, but I’m tired of waiting.”
I can’t even imagine what it’s like, walking through life and changing your views about it through the years, only to have life look at you the same way the whole time. Not sensing progress, not receiving deserved treatment. I get it. Especially the Pater thing. A strong Mater needs a Pater they believe is also strong, and I get how that could be difficult to see in Valeriy. They were the heads of the family. Unlike the old days, not necessarily related to the rest of the family. Families were very interchangeable, due to long life spans. People tend to switch families every 30 years, so the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ aren’t used as much anymore.
“So, you chose this.”
“What other options do I have?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Neither do I, it seems.”
“But this? This is IT. You know that, right? No more… you. Ever.”
“Just don’t. If I were an old man with a cane, you would’ve done it without hesitation. But I reckon not a lot of those around either.”
“Nah, not much really.”
There are some brave souls who think they don’t want to live forever, who then get to their fifties and get scared. The industry calls them ‘middle-aged money’ for the high prices they pay. The younger you are, the cheaper the operation. It’s free for a year when you turn 18, but illegal after 60. The fifties cost the most and are usually paid for by people who feel regret. By people who think they will start living when they can’t die. The opposite happens often, however. They lose motivation to act, because of the abundance of time at their disposal. There is time for everything, so they do nothing. They enjoy their newfound immortality for a decade or two, and at the end – they all come to someone like me. There aren’t a lot of those left though, because most people get their operation before their thirties, around their physical peak. Most of my customers in the years leading up to my retirement were middle-aged money.
“So, was the crying a play to get my sympathies?”
“I don’t like this body, but it doesn’t mean I don’t use it to get by as much as I can.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Hoped you would.”
“But you have to pass the test first.”
“What do you mean? The Bravinos didn’t mention any test.”
“Not my problem.”
“What kind of test?”
There is no test. I could do it right now. I should, but I don’t feel I can. This has never happened before. Is it because it’s been so long? Or because he is in the body of a kid? Why am I so hesitant?
“Not test, so much as a question to which you have to give a satisfying answer.”
“Satisfying to you?”
“Isn’t this a government-regulated thing?”
“Not when it comes to kids. Even though you’re mentally older, I haven’t checked up on the law in a while. If I do this, it’s off the books. Plus, I’m retired, remember?”
“Let me hear the question then.”
“Alright, name three things you will miss should the Take succeed.”
“You’re kidding, right? And besides, what do you mean ‘should it succeed’? Doesn’t it always?”
“Nothing succeeds ALWAYS.”
“Fair enough, but come on. What kind of question is that?”
“It’s my moral obligation to be sure that you know what you’re doing, and that you absolutely want it. What are three things you would miss?”
“Alright. Food. I’d miss food. My father was a great cook, as was my first Pater. Some of those dishes I can still taste in my dreams. The Bolognese my father made could make you hate all other food, and wish this were served as every meal, every day. When my father died, the Pater that stepped in was just as good. Lucky, really. I’ve always enjoyed good food and have taught myself the culinary arts. I have followed the growth of the cooking industry, tried most new recipes, ingredients, and spices. Eating is bliss to me, and I do feel bad knowing I’ll never try a new dish or get to know a new taste.”
“Touching. Never thought a man could get emotional about pasta. Next?
“You got me on the spot man!”
I took a bite of my spiced banana.
“Smiling.” A tear.
“You would miss smiling?”
“Yes. Mine, and others’.”
“Fair enough, want to elaborate?”
“Do I have to?”
“Nah, you’re right. The last one?”
A long pause.
“Can I keep the last one to myself?”
I got up and signaled him to follow me. We walked through a door into a room. THE room. My old office. When I wasn’t taking in the field, this is where it happened. It was an all-black room with no windows. There was a single bed in the middle. I instructed him to lay down and closed the door. It was as if we were blind. Not a single ray of light got into this room. Eyes opened or closed - it made no difference.
“Alright Val, I need you to count down from ten, can you do that for me while I prepare? And don’t rush it.”
This better work.
“Nine. Eight. Seven.”
I stood over him, totally unprepared. If this didn’t work, it would be awkward.
“Six. Five. Four.”
Alright, here goes nothing…
“I changed my mind! Don’t take me!”
Worked like a charm, even. Now I had to fake it a bit.
“Are you crazy, I almost ended your LIFE!”
“I know, I’m sorry! I just…”
“Damn it, Val! You can’t play around like this!”
No matter how old, we all turn into kids at our moment of truth.
He got up, and we walked back into the living room. The crying lasted for about ten minutes. This was the familiar part of taking. Damn, am I glad this little bluff worked. After he settled down, he got up to leave.
“So, what was the third thing? Did it affect your reconsideration?”
“Music. It was music.”
“Cheesy, but I like it.”
“How many times has this happened?”
“More than I can count, honestly.”
“Did you know I was going to change my mind?”
“I had my doubts, let’s say.”
He walked out and thanked me. People who change their minds usually see it as some sort of spiritual experience, and Val wasn’t any different. I was sure he would look at life from a different perspective from now on.
“One more thing. The Bravinos always referred to you as ‘the Taker’. What is your name?”
“Abraham, nice to meet ya!”
I got back into my seat, took a bite out of the now-cold spicy banana, and took a nice trip down memory lane.
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A remarkable take on the theme. I really admire your creativity here!
Great premise! Brilliant title. I really enjoyed the read.
A catching story from the very first words. Great job!
I really liked the futuristic world and the suspense. Nicely done!
This was really good! I loved the line about hate being love's lover, plus the punny title. And the whole sci-fi, futuristic setting. I do feel bad for the Val; it must suck to have an adult mind but a child's body. Oh well, now that he has new perspective, I'm sure he'll figure out how to deal with it better.