“Listen, baby. I’m still in love with you. I prove that every day!”, Death rattled, exhaling noxious fumes. He had been drinking again, distilled spirits of purgatory. It stank like hopeless regret.

Life glared. She wasn’t going to put up with this any longer. They always had their ups and downs, but lately Death had been going off by himself, and she didn’t want to think about what he had been up to.

“You can prove it by putting that bottle down for once!”, she flared her nostrils, annoyed at Death’s latest binge. It hadn’t always been this way. The early eons were such good memories. Her, verdant and beautiful and him, stern and foreboding. It made her toes curl just to think about it.

But now, it was all different. His robe was ragged and stained, and he showed his skull mask more often – something he swore he wouldn’t do outside of collecting souls. It frightened her, seeing the bleached cheekbones and the perpetual grimace of bared teeth.

“Fine, you want the bottle, you can HAVE the bottle!”, Death stumbled, nearly losing his balance. He flung the bottle on the floor, ochre liquid splattering on Life’s best rug.

“Out, out you BASTARD! It’s OVER!”, Life yelled, pushing Death away. She locked the ornate door, leaving Death on the sidewalk.

“Fine… got to get.. something anyway.”, Death lolled back, slumping on to the ground snoring.

Albert was on board duty. It was jokingly called “Bored Duty” by the lower guardian angels, but only when the supervising archangel wasn’t around. His boss didn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. It was like many jobs in the lower tiers of angels, thankless and tedious. It did allow for improvements in rank, but you had to put your time in.

“No one gets to the top without climbing each rung.”, Albert muttered, shaking his head. After a short stint at the golden gates processing souls, he was glad to have something new to do. Even if his current shift covered the next five hundred earth years. That was nothing to an angel, like walking to the corner store for some crisps.

A red light lit up on the board, startling him. What was this? The lamp glowed dully, having not been lit in quite a long time. The label read “Imbalance”. Albert hadn’t seen that before. Referring to the manual, the entry read “Imbalance – Fundamental balance disrupted, refer to birth and death counters to verify.”

Albert glanced at the birth and death counters. Births were ticking upward at a steady rate, while death wasn’t moving at all. This wasn’t good. He’d have to make a report and alert the higher-ups. This might even make it to the big man himself if it went on too long.

Sighing, Albert pressed a button on the console, “We’ve got a problem here.” he folded his wings, leaning on the board as he reported the situation. This was going to be a long shift.

The emergency room was overflowing with people, some standing in the hallway. Others were out in the access driveway, blocking incoming ambulances. Nurses rushed from patient to patient, performing triage. Marsha wiped her brow. As head nurse, she knew the ER could be hectic, but this was something else.

The last admission had a stab wound in his neck, but very little bleeding. He had a weak pulse, almost like there was nothing there for the heart to pump. Yet he was still awake and alert, when he should’ve been unconscious from the loss of blood.

Another man had been shot in the chest, and he was filling out paperwork. Marsha couldn’t explain why he wasn’t feeling any pain, or why his heart hadn’t flat-lined. People just kept coming. Ambulances were lined up down the street, some from neighboring counties.

Marsha rushed over to the next patient, wrapping a cuff around his arm. She hoped that the incoming surge would stop, they were running out of vital supplies.

Fate stirred her tea, carefully choosing her next words.

“I’m just saying sweetie, that you have to be practical.”

Life fumed, staring out the window. It had been a while, and she was starting to regret throwing Death out. It had seemed the right thing to do at the time.

“The drinking was the last straw! He never used to be like this.”, Life put a hand to her mouth, holding back tears. She still loved him, but he was such a bastard sometimes. Sniffing, she sat down at the table.

“I know. But there’s more to him than the bottle. All I’m saying is talk to him.”, Fate sipped from her cup, steam rising in faint wisps.

“Well. Okay. I just don’t want to go through this again. I hate him!”, Life sobbed, leaning on Fate’s shoulder.

“I know sweetie. I know. Immortals like him can be cruel. But give him a chance, all of creation is out of whack.”, Fate stroked her hair, wiping away tears from Life’s cheeks.

“I’m sorry I caused you trouble.”, Life took a small linen square from her pocket, wiping her nose.

“No worries. I just want you to be happy. He’s in the garden, I invited him here. Go talk to him.”, Fate guided Life to the door, brushing wisps of hair behind Life’s ears. They were a good couple, she thought. Besides, nothing would function properly without them, including her.

Death sat on the wrought iron bench, looking down at his hands. He had recovered from his binge, but a dull pain was still tugging at his heart. How could he have been so stupid. Life had always been his guiding light. Without her, he felt lost, like a sailor on an ocean stretching out to infinity.

He looked at the cork in his hand. It was from the last bottle he was going to drink, ever. That is, if she was going to talk to him at all. He thought about what it would be like to never collect a soul again. No purpose, just aimless wandering until time itself ran out.

It scared him. More than anything in creation. Having no reason to exist was worse than purgatory, or perhaps even hell. He shook his head, breathing in the smells of the garden. It was time for a change.

“I’m just a useless goddamned idiot.”

“I don’t think so.”, Life stepped into the sunlight, her sheer dress sparkling.

Embracing, Death whispered into her ear, “I’m never drinking again.”

Life kissed him, drawing him closer.

Perhaps there could be one more chance.


Pulse racing, hammering thud in my head. Damn it. DAMN IT.

The sweet clinical voice of the pharmcore doctor echoed in my memory.

“DVote is the best of Synthetic Synaptic Tech coming out of the New Mandarin Collective. This however, comes at a price. You MUST have your follow up visits, a personal scan and evaluation session with me every week for solid month. After we imprint you, it takes time for the mind to accept what its being told is the truth.”

I was a few blocks away from the clinic, but it might as well have been miles. Sitting down on a dirty square of sidewalk, I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples, remembering the doc’s speech.

“If you miss an appointment, then the association starts to break down. There’s a good risk of physiological damage if you don’t consult us immediately. Its all in the waiver you signed. Once imprinted, you have to see us. And if you’re thinking about going to our competitor ‘TruLove’ as a guinea pig to get a discount, I’d strongly suggest against it.”

DVote and TruLove had a megacorp rivalry that was beyond most sovereign skirmishes – the few that existed, that is. It all hinged on several provisional patents that were granted by an immature AI, now being challenged in the various baroque legal venues where global corporations fought it out over trillions in revenue.

I had gotten imprinted for Saki. I thought it would impress her, that I was willing to suffer through the procedure to be completely in love with her. In an age of boundless distractions, both virtual and physical, it was the closest thing to getting married – that is, before you merged your identity tokens to produce your legal co-mingled signature.

That was six days ago.

It was yesterday when I told her the news, sitting at her breakfast table while the delivery drones flew by the balcony in a blur, rivers of air buzzing in their wake. She sat opposite me, putting her hands on the table like she was afraid it would fly away.

“But Macx, I can’t do this with you… I’ve been to TruLove.”

She had gotten imprinted on someone else – a co-worker in her office. That didn’t stop the antigens from flowing out of her pores, rising on the brownian motion of the air and being absorbed into my skin. It didn’t prevent the similar yet aggressively programmed machines in my head from activating its self-destruct mode. I don’t even remember leaving, just the tears falling from her face, pattering on the linen placemat in front of her. An angel weeping for the damned.

Slowly, I rose up. I had to keep moving. Maybe I could make it to the clinic, convince the doc that I wasn’t trying to do an end-run around their product security, offering up my saturated synapses as study material for their fiercest rival. I laughed out loud at the stupidity of it all.

Shooting pain from my feet to the top of my skull brought me to a jarring halt. It was close, so close. I could make it. I just had to keep from thinking of —

I fell over backward, staring up at the night sky, stars twinkling.

“If you actually attempt to visit TruLove, or have any of their supposed remedies applied to your system, our contravention systems kick in. This will involve gradual mental loss of your imprinted memory, continued discomfort, and in some extreme cases, partial nervous system shutdown. We don’t recommend contact with anyone inoculated with TruLove products before you’ve been stabilized. Do you understand?”

I understood. Perfectly well.

I stared at the sky and let the stars whisper to me, until their voices grew too weak for me to hear.