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Science Fiction Suspense Crime

On the semi-terraformed planet of Mars, a middle-aged man enters the Red Rover Casino via an oversized pair of sliding translucent carbyne main entry doors. The traffic noise from the protected electric vehicle and pedestrian path briefly mingles with the ding-dong ringing of electronic slots and the metallic jingle of token payouts before the doors glide shut behind him to latch with a buzz. Ever since the invention of the Liberty Bell slot machine in 1895, the basic function of these mechanical monstrosities has remained essentially unchanged…gouge as much currency as possible from hopelessly addicted gamblers. Specifically to this tale, desperately hooked bettors, very much like the auburn-haired, sunken-eyed man named Mister Eugene J. Jones, who goes simply by Ejay.

A scantily-clad brunette booth-babe hands the man a special coin with a broad smile, “Sir, here’s a ten-credit token on the house. Please use it to try a single pull on our new Planet-4-Million credit slot machine.”

Any other day, Ejay would’ve headed straight to the back of the dimly lit casino to see this magic machine for himself and take his shot. Today however, he’s on a mission, so he tucks the serialized token with the casino’s RR logo on one side and the Roman numeral IV on the back, into his inside jacket pocket and heads for the elevators.

The slender well-proportioned advertising model recognizes from Ejay’s unkempt and unshaven appearance that she should mention another option. “Of course, sir, you could just cash that token in and get some food. Either way, good luck to you.”

Ejay hasn’t showered or eaten a full meal in days, so he momentarily entertains taking her up on the suggestion, before letting the elevator door close. He pushes the button for the penthouse level and crosses his arms while the lift brings him to the entrance lobby of a business known as Body and Soul.

A blond receptionist, as pretty as the girl in the casino, greets him with a thin smile. “Do you have an appointment, sir?”

Ejay looks around before approaching her desk and seems relieved when he notices that the waiting area is empty. “No ma’am, no. My name is Eugene Jones and I was hoping for an…an immediate session,” he pleads.

Her smile turns down as she rings the doctor on her intercom. “There’s a Mister Jones here to see you Doctor Scambiare…can you permit a walk-in this afternoon?”

There is a short pause and then another woman’s voice answers, “Sure…I can skip lunch today. Send him in.

The receptionist points a slender finger to the door behind her. “Go ahead Mister Jones. The doctor will see you in room three on the left.”

Ejay timidly makes his way down the short hall and into the exam room. Doctor Scambiare invites him to take a seat in an elevated exam chair and asks, “So, Mister Jones, what can we do for you today?”

“You can call me Ejay, if you please, Doctor.”

“Of course, and you can call me Sophia.” The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes become more prominent with her smile, and for some reason, that, and the gray streaks in her hair put Ejay at ease.

“You’re my last hope, Sophia. I have to leave my old life behind.”

The well-seasoned doctor busily hooks up some electrodes to his head and wrists as she replies, “Oh come now Ejay…there are always alternative options. First, let’s get some basic statistics on your health before we make any commitments…” She waits until the camera focused on his face displays his financial history on the monitor to her right, then she adds, “…but even before that…how do you propose to pay for this operation? You do know that, based on your final selection, this procedure can cost anywhere between ten and a hundred thousand credits, right?”

Ejay is about to answer when the doctor’s intercom rings, “Doctor, there are two serious businessmen here looking for someone by the name of Eugene Jones.” By her tone, it is clear that by “serious businessmen,” the receptionist means “gangster thugs.”

Sophia squints at Ejay before she slyly lies, “That’s fine, dear. Just show them we have no appointments for him, and have them leave contact information on the off-chance that he pays us a visit.” She grabs a towel from a drawer and hands it to Ejay so he can wipe his sweating brow.

A few moments later, the receptionist confirms the men have left. Sophia finishes her health screening as Mister Jones attempts to relax. “Well now, Ejay, you’re in perfect condition for a thirty-eight year old drinker. The only anomaly is a slightly elevated blood pressure reading…which considering our recent interruption is not at all surprising. Now, I have to ask, why would a perfectly healthy, albeit scruffy man, want to leave his old life behind?”

Ejay is puzzled and distraught as he answers, “You don’t know? I’m into it up to here with the guild! For God’s sake, I owe them nearly two hundred thousand credits…and my time is up! When they see I can never pay my debt…well, well…I may be healthy, but I’ll still be dead!”

The doctor can tell that he is serious, so she decides to see what she can do. “Listen, Ejay, here’s what I can offer. Normally our clients select their preferred replacement body, and we currently have more than twenty bodies in cryostasis from which a paying customer can choose. However, since you will have to pay us post-operation, you’ll need to select a body that still has at least ten thousand credits worth of financial assets. You see, unless a client transfers their monies to a coded account prior to their operation, any former properties stay with their former bodies.”

Ejay looks at Sophia expectantly, “Aaannd…?”

“And…I have but only one option for you. She just came in early this morning. She left behind not only her young body, but a decent-sized bank account. Of course it’s possible that she could’ve hidden away other money in some secret account. She has approximately thirty thousand credits in the bank, of which we will take exactly half to pay for your procedure before you leave.”

Ejay doesn’t seem disappointed, only intrigued when he asks, “She?”

“Yes, she…or should I say you will be Alexa LeRue, who until this morning was a relatively green baccarat dealer here in the Red Rover Casino. I’m sure as a betting man, you know the game. Would you care to see her before we begin?” The doctor pulls up some headshots on her monitor.

Ejay looks at the pictures and sees that they have the same auburn color hair. “She’s pretty…but…but…”

“But what, Ejay? Are you troubled about becoming a woman?” Sophia chuckles.

“No, Doc, I’m just…well, who’s going to be unfortunate enough to get my body? They’ll be dead in two winks.”

“Maybe so, but just leave that to us, Ejay. So, are you ready to begin?”

Ejay nods and a few minutes later a burly male nurse rolls his new body into the room next to him. He and Sophia connect some additional equipment and an intravenous drip. Before Ejay can change his mind, he finds himself drifting into the ether…when he awakes, his only recollection while under anesthesia is that a wildly phantasmagoric image of Alexa LeRue winked at him as they passed each other in the mist.

Ejay, now Alexa LeRue, groggily sits up from her gurney. Sophia steadies her as she looks at the empty exam chair. “Where’s…where’s Ejay…where’s my old body?”

“He’s gone, Alexa.”

“Gone? In cryo?”

“No, Alexa, you two simply swapped bodies. You see, as a paying customer, her request was to occupy the very next person that entered Body and Soul…and that next person was Eugene J. Jones. I have no idea as to her reasons, but she was a paying customer…in fact she essentially paid for two.”

“Poor girl…did you tell her that she didn’t have long to live?”

“No I didn’t, but a deal is a deal.”

Alexa looks down at her ample bosom and smiles, “Sure, Doc. A deal is a deal. I guess I should report to work, eh?”

“If you feel up to it, there’s no reason why you can’t…and after that you might visit your apartment.” Sophia hands a bottle of mild pain medication to Alexa and adds, “Just take one of these a day for any headaches. We’ve already administered one dose intravenously for today.”

“Thanks, Doc!” Alexa kisses Sophia on the cheek and heads out to the lobby. She kisses the receptionist too, and skips into the elevator for a ride down to the casino. When she gets off, she hears that the clanging of the slot machines has gotten markedly louder...as if that was even possible.

Already wearing her dealer’s uniform and ID tag she heads for the baccarat tables. She picks up a new set of chips and cards from the dealer’s cage and opens an empty table. However, before she can deal her first hand, two security guards flank her.

“Alexa LeRue?” one of them asks rhetorically, as if they weren’t already sure.

“Uh…yes?” she reticently answers.

The other security guard pulls out a pair of handcuffs and before she can react she has her hands bound behind her back. “You’re under arrest for embezzling and forgery…you have the right to remain silent…”

“But sir! Sir, I’m not Alexa LeRue! I’m Ejay! I’m Eugene J. Jones!” Alexa squawks.

The two officers just look at her incredulously, so she repeats, “Didn’t you hear me?! I’m Eugene J. Jones!”

The one holding her restraints points to the big screen viewer and questions, “You mean that guy there?”

Under the image of his former, and unusually exultant face, is captioned, “Local destitute gambler wins the Planet-4-Million jackpot…pledges to pay off all his debts with plenty of money to spare.

Alexa refuses to believe her dreadful fate and shouts hysterically, “NO! It can’t be! That’s me, dammit! Damn you Sophia! Damn you Alexa! Damn you all! I just got out of a session at Body and Soul! That’s my win! She has my body!”

The officers both laugh as they drag Alexa away. “Well, Mister Jones, look on the bright side…at least you’ll be going to a woman’s prison.”

January 05, 2021 00:10

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1 comment

David Brown
02:06 Jan 05, 2021

Well, this time I tried to pay tribute to Rod Serling and Twilight Zone. Interestingly, “Better” is also an alternate form of of the word “Bettor” so the title works on multiple levels.


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