Ion gazed at his watch, not to read the time but simply because he appreciated watches. Ion Reed was an unusual man. He liked antique chronometers, no, he loved them, but he despised what they measured. Time.
He was always short of time. No matter how much money, success, and power he accumulated, it was time that worked as a constant reminder of the taint his immortality carried.
Ion had an appointment with the quantologist at two. The implant in his left arm needed adjusting. He wondered if the antique watch, a Panerai L`Astronomo, vintage 2010, was somehow interfering with the quantum-fiber mesh under his skin.
He had celebrated his one hundred and fiftieth birthday a week ago. It had been a grand event; most of his friends had been there. Now that he thought about it, friends was the wrong term; acquaintances fit better. Much better.
He smiled at the watch. Only thirty of its kind had been made. He undid the brown leather strap and inspected the back. Milano. He cringed, reading the engraving. It referred to the hometown of the original owner.
Ion didn’t like using secondhand goods, but in this case he was prepared to make an exception. Maybe the previous owner’s genetic configuration was incompatible with his quantum implants. Perhaps there were some traces left on the watch that now interfered with his settings.
He reluctantly put on the watch, this time on his right wrist. It felt strange, wrong somehow. Ion sighed, took it off, and again strapped it to his left.
Forty-five minutes until the appointment. One hundred and fifty years. He stared at his watch. The skin surrounding the antique timepiece looked wrinkled, patchy, and dry. An inch above the watch it was perfect, the skin of a twenty-five-year-old.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago. That’s when he opted for quantum-mesh infusion. What had become standard procedure over the last century had been, at the time, an exclusive treatment only the mega-rich could afford. He still remembered lying down on the cold metal bed of the quantum-infuser. The silver shimmering lid closed and wouldn’t open for seven days. Entombed in a metal coffin, hooked up to parenteral nutrition systems and a couple of excrement extraction devices. A pig in a breeding crate, stuffed with artificial carbohydrates and anti-inflammatories, modified to satisfy the contradictory demands of human society.
It seemed like an eternity had passed when the lid opened. Six hundred four thousand eight hundred seconds. It had felt longer than that, at least in the beginning. The first day was torture. Thoughts stuck like flies to a rotting carcass, punishing him with waves of fear and despair, stories about death, about being left in eternal solitude.
How long would he live? He wondered if the promises were true. Quantum geneticists at Qlife Inc. talked about a potentially indefinite life span. The current implant was meant to last five hundred years before it had to be replaced. A long time.
The implant was not really an implant in the old-fashioned sense. It was more of an additional layer, an artificial skin under skin. An organic mesh of quantum filaments so thin they were impossible to spot. Ion pinched the damaged skin next to his watch. He couldn’t feel it.
The quantum mesh combined with the surrounding tissue and grew fine tendrils into deeper regions of the body where it infiltrated internal organs, interacting with the human organism at a cellular level, overruling its natural tendency for aging. Ion’s cell reproduction functioned at the efficiency of that of a twenty-year-old. His body had been rendered ageless. But what about his mind?
Time had always been mankind’s worst enemy. Stopping the process of aging should have beaten the adversary once and for all, but now, looking back at his life, the opposite seemed true. Time was even more dominant than before. It was the timeless time that bothered Ion. The time he could not see reflected in his physical self. Things around his timeless existence changed, but he did not. At least his body did not. His thoughts though did change. They became darker, more oppressive. Ultimate bondage. A prison much more intimidating and secure than any physical confinement.
Ion had been pondering existential questions for some time. Over the last twenty years the conviction that keeping his body alive, ageless, was a bad idea, had turned into an obsession.
He had made a mistake, a massive mistake. Turning his body into a timeless vessel was like creating an eternal prison. He had locked himself into the darkest cell and thrown away the key. He now existed in a nightmare of his own making. And the worst part was that he had not the slightest idea of how to escape.
Ion started collecting antique timepieces soon after he had understood, after he realized that he had chosen the wrong path, that humanity had made an unforgivable mistake. People grew older, very old, but everybody looked young, just like Ion.
The woman standing in the queue in front of him smiled. She was pretty and … young. Just as young as he was, or rather, looked. Ion wondered how old she was. She could be twenty or one hundred and twenty, there was no way of telling. Asking people their age was considered a massive faux pas. It was the pinnacle of bad taste, the ultimate rudeness, a sure way of losing friends and social status.
“Hi, Ion, how are you today? The usual? Green jellyfish wrap with soybean curd?”
Ion nodded. “Add some strings and don’t be greedy with the pickles. The hot ones.”
Stan smiled as he grabbed the jellyfish wrap and stuffed it with Ion’s choice of soy products. It’s all bloody algae and soy, thought Ion. Well … besides the third option. Jellyfish.
Ion took the wrap that Stan handed him, moving his hand over the fluorescent strip that traced the outline of the counter. The scanner would pick up on the CC implant in his wrist. Transaction completed.
Ion slowly chewed the first bite of his wrap. It was spicy, as requested. His nose reacted, producing excess fluid that now threatened to find its way out of his left nostril. He sniffed and accidentally snorted a small quantity of the spicy sauce from the back of his mouth into the upper regions of his nose. Tears filled his eyes as he started coughing, his body trying to get rid of the fiery invader.
The woman who had been standing in front of him laughed. Ion hadn’t noticed her while ordering his food. Why is she sticking around? thought Ion as another coughing fit made him drop his food onto the floor. The sauce spilled from both ends of the wrap, a few splatters marking his brand new white leather sneakers.
“Shit!” cursed Ion, grabbing a passionfruit-scented wipe from the counter. He blew his nose and cringed. It sounded like a trumpet. Ion hesitantly looked up. At least a dozen people were staring at him, most in disgust, but some obviously amused.
Ion felt uncomfortable. He was a hundred and fifty years old and still had trouble eating a jelly wrap. Humans are not meant to eat this shit, he thought, reluctantly bending down to clean the bright red sauce from his designer shoes.
The sauce came off, but the chemically coated wipe left a purple streak in its wake. “Crap,” he mumbled as he tried to get rid of the stain, making it worse by rubbing the wipe over the purple mark a few more times.
“You should use soap and water,” said the woman, her voice shaking from the effort of containing her laughter.
Ion looked up. She gazed at him out of big brown eyes, mouth curled up at the sides, making her intensely green lips look like a strangely twisted caterpillar. Her long, perfectly straight hair was dyed a milky green shade, complementing her lips, making her look like a modern-day fairy, who had exchanged the trees of the forest for glittering towers shaped from glass and steel.
“Yes … thank you.” Soap and water, thought Ion. Where in God’s name will I find soap? “I haven’t seen soap for decades,” he thought out loud.
The woman smiled, apparently well aware of his confusion. “There you go.”
She handed him a small square item, wrapped in white silky paper, marked with an old-fashioned coat of arms underlined by ornate golden writing.
“Golden Jelly Soap?” said Ion, staring at the woman, wondering why anybody living in today’s world might need a bar of soap.
“I’m Luna. I manufacture soap.”
Ion looked dumbfounded. “From jellyfish?”
Luna nodded. She took a white cloth out of her bag and poured some water on it before producing another piece of soap, this one already used, and rubbing it into the cloth. She handed it to Ion. “Try it.”
Ion suddenly felt like a little boy, a hundred-and-fifty-year-old boy. He still recalled his mother handing him a cloth with black shoe paste on it. ‘Polish your shoes,’ she would state drily. The current situation felt similar. Luna’s conviction, her presence, didn’t allow any room for disobedience.
Ion bent down to clean his shoe. It worked. He looked up at Luna. “This is the second time you have me on my knees,” he blurted out.
Luna smiled a mysterious smile and said, “Call me … if you like,” before turning around and leaving Ion behind, who, knees still bent, stared after her as she briskly strode down the street.
Her short lilac dress was made from expensive fabric. She obviously was not poor. The transparent soles of her shoes gave off flashes of light, and green sparks burst into life every time the metal tip of her high heels punched the concrete floor. Ion wondered if her hair would glow in the dark.
He got up and placed the soapy wipe in the green receptacle of the recycle bin. Soap was natural, wasn’t it? Ion was sure it was meant to go into the green bin.
The bin refused his offer. Ion shook his head. Seems it doesn’t know anything about soap. He grabbed the wipe and put it on the red, general rubbish receptacle.
“Shit.” People were staring at him, again. Ion didn’t like the feeling of prying eyes boring into his back. What now? He had to get rid of the wipe, but how? He had never experienced anything like it before. Normally every piece of trash was either recycled or, if it was polluted, chemically incinerated in the red, general rubbish bin. The red bin’s base functioned like a chemical furnace, reducing any kind of rubbish to its molecular components. The process of incineration ended with a brief exhalation of hot air and the genesis of a tiny, black ball, never larger than the size of a marble, traveling down a transparent tube mounted at the bin’s side, leading to one of the many underground garbage collection depots.
The bin wouldn’t accept the soapy wipe. Ion stood in front of the metal device, again placing the item on the receptacle tray. The result was the same. The bin swallowed the wipe only to spit it out again a couple of seconds later. “Unknown contaminant.”
Ion took the wipe and put it into his pocket. He looked at his watch. He was late for his appointment.
Should he call the quantologist? He gazed at the mirrored surface of his mobile phone. The face of a confused-looking twenty-five-year-old stared back at him. Only his left arm, where the antique watch touched his papery skin, looked old. No, it looked ancient. It was dry, marked like the surface of the moon. Ion smiled. He actually enjoyed its uniqueness.
The quantologist could wait. He had paid for half an hour of the man’s time. It belonged to him. He was free to do with it whatever he liked. He smiled. It felt good to waste some time.
Ion pressed the call button on the closest tube port. Tube ports, cylindrical metal structures not much larger than an old-fashioned phone booth, lined most streets. A sad replacement for the chestnut trees that once softened the rough edges of the now mostly empty streets.
The door slid opened. He entered the tube and announced his destination. “Qlife, medical quarters, ambulant patient.”
The metal cylinder moved down and stopped for a brief moment before accelerating. Ion leant against the padded wall, holding onto the metal handles that extended between individually partitioned sections, meant to hold up to six passengers each. He stared at the holographic display floating at the center of the tube. Master Grey was promoting one of the new implants Qlife had just released to the market.
“Your meditation will reach new depths. It is designed to work in tandem with your partner’s device, fusing your experiences in blissful unity. You will feel like you have never felt before. It’s amazing, mind-blowing. It is beyond great. You have to try it. Words cannot describe the pleasures you will experience. Look at these two.…”
Ion turned down the volume. He disliked the bald man in his silken robes. Master Grey was the leader of the Techno-Zen movement, the preferred religion of the rich. Master Grey was more of a public persona, a show master, than a spiritual leader. He urged people to meditate on goals they hoped to achieve.
It’s all materialistic, thought Ion, as he stared at the ad announcing Master Grey’s show that he hosted every night. Many a time he promoted specific implants manufactured by Qlife. The new device connected with the brainstem, integrating the host with the ether of shared experiences retrieved from all people meditating, from all individuals who were currently online. The implant promised a sense of individual unity. Ion had never tried it. He thought the concept of individuality didn’t work awfully well with the idea of unity. How in God’s name should he retain his individuality while in unification with the whole? One of the two sides had to be a sham. Besides, the meditations were not so much about love and compassion as about personal wellbeing. Wellbeing was defined as the pleasure that was triggered by extensive shopping experiences while under the influence of the joyful aftereffects of meditation. Shopping malls were the churches of the Techno-Zen movement. They were calm, tranquil places where people relaxed while spending their hard-earned money on the latest gadgets, most of them advertised in the Zen master’s show. This made Ion think about the shopping channels of the TV networks of old. He grinned, thinking that Master Grey really operated a shopping network, covered by a veil of religious slogans. A veil that was almost transparent, blinking letters shining through threadbare shifts: Buy!
The door of the tube slid open. Ion stepped onto the polished marble floor of the Qlife medical reception area. “Ion Reed. I have an appointment with Dr. Sandor.”
The woman behind the imposing white desk pointed at a shiny rectangle glowing under the glass surface. “Identification.”
Ion hesitated for a moment before placing his hand on the biometric scanner. The woman wore a bored expression. “You are late. Seventh floor. Room 729.” Ion stared at the woman, considering telling her that it was his time, he was paying for it. “Elevator five,” continued the woman, now looking even more annoyed than a few seconds ago.
Ion entered the lift. A screen set into the wall displayed another ad. This time Master Grey was just getting up from his daybed when a food delivery arrived via the All-Receiver of his luxury apartment. “Tokyo Fried Jelly! I love it!” said Master Grey, his mouth displaying a wildly fake grin. Ion shivered in disgust. “Kill me if I ever order that shit,” he thought out loud as the door opened. The woman waiting outside walked past him, a chiding look on her face.
“Sorry,” mumbled Ion as he left the elevator.
Ion took off his watch, waiting for the quantologist to finish whatever he was typing into his computer terminal.
“Mr. Reed. How have we been?”
Ion had a theory why doctors used the first person plural instead of the third person singular. Using we instead of you seemed to come across as unifying. We supported the idea of having joined a group; an air of trust and acceptance oozed from the word we that the basic you was sorely lacking. The you was condemned to lead the life of a lone wolf while the we enjoyed the warmth of the tribe.
“We have been good, besides the skin irritation.”
Dr. Sandor guided Ion’s arm into a transparent tube. His head vanished behind a huge screen displaying a magnified version of the blotchy skin of his arm.
After a long moment the doctor’s head reappeared. The expression on his face had changed and so had his speech. “You can take your arm out.”
Ion was surprised. To where had the unifying we disappeared? The we had sounded much nicer, more friendly, and kind.
“Here’s your receipt. Apply the cream twice a day. For at least two weeks.”
The doctor’s head again disappeared behind the screen. Ion read the receipt. “AntiRel. Topical incompatibility removal cream.” He put on his watch and placed the receipt in his pocket. “Thank you.”
The doctor didn’t say a word. He just looked at Ion in a morbid way that made the hair on his neck stand on end. I am not dying, thought Ion, unsure if his self-diagnosis was true.
Ion stepped out of the tube that had taken him to the private port of his penthouse apartment. He felt unusually concerned about the day’s events. The woman, Luna, had not only left him in an emotional state of puzzlement but also with a bar of soap that his hand, as he now noticed, held in an unusually firm grip. He pulled it out of his pocket, inspecting the wrapper.
Golden Jelly Soap. He sat down in his media chair and pressed the ON button. The blank wall in front of the chair came alive with a multitude of windows, each displaying a different channel. CNN News was reporting on the stock market crash in Asia while Bloomberg Finance showed an overview of Ion’s investments in the global crypto currency markets. He stared at the sea of red. “Bloody idiots … I told them to get rid of all XuShu tokens.”
His gaze wandered to MSN where a woman was reporting on the jellyfish crisis in Japan. The creatures now grew to sizes that made it necessary to change the way they were harvested. Ion had suspected this would happen and invested a few million Satoshi into JelCo, a company that had developed and patented a technology that allowed harvesting jellyfish up to three times the size current trawlers were able to reel in. Ion smiled. He was sure his investment would pay off.
“Websearch,” instructed Ion. A blank screen popped up in the center of the media wall. “Golden Jelly Soap.”
“No result found for ‘Golden Jelly Soap’; showing results for Golden Jelly Soap without quotes.” Ion sighed. 52.23 million results containing jelly, 22.68 million containing golden and … 5 containing soap.”
“Displaying five of five results.”
Result 1: SOAP — Wikipedia
SOAP (originally Simple Object Access Protocol) is a protocol specification for exchanging structured information in the implementation of web services in computer networks. Its purpose is…
“What? No! New websearch: Soap used for cleaning.”
“1 result found for ‘Soap used for cleaning’; showing 1 of 1.”
Result 1: Soap — Oxford Dictionaries
A substance used with water for washing and cleaning, made of a compound of natural oils or fats with sodium hydroxide or another strong alkali, and typically having perfume and coloring added.
“I know what soap is, damn it. I want to know who Luna is.”
“25 results found for ‘I want to know who Luna is’; showing 1 of 25.”
Result 1 of 25: Luna (goddess) Wikipedia
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Luna is the divine embodiment of the Moon (Latin luna; cf. English "lunar"). She is often presented as the female complement of…
Ion slumped back in his seat. He stared at the ceiling. The divine embodiment of the moon… A goddess manufacturing soap... a product that seemed to be non-existent in modern society. Ion felt a tug of déjà vu. He sensed he was missing something, something essential. Why did he know about soap if even the omniscient Internet had basically no information on it?
He remembered using soap when he was just a kid. His mum had told him innumerable times to wash his hands. “Don’t forget to use soap!” she always said. Ion’s mother had died long ago. It’s been more than a century, thought Ion, wondering why snippets of childhood memories never brought up a clear picture of her face. He remembered her sayings, but not her mouth, not her eyes, not her… All detail seemed to have been lost in time, stuck in invisible cracks of his mind, which was loath to release more than a vague memory, a washed-out shadow of her former self.
What now? Ion felt like he had been dropped into a maze. There seemed to be no way out. Every turn led to a dead end. He sighed as he pushed himself up from his seat, still holding the soap, wondering why it didn’t want to part from the firm grip of his hand. He stared at it, hesitating for a moment before unwrapping it, taking special care not to damage the paper, which seemed to be coated with a water-resistant finish. There it was … the soap. The mysterious artifact.
A piece of paper was stuck to the fragrant white block of forgotten history. “Use wet cloth, rub in soap, and apply to irritated skin. Contact me if unexpected symptoms arise.”
He inspected the paper, turned it around, and scrutinized the wrapping. He shook his head. There was no number, no information on how to contact her.
Ion snorted in dumbfounded disbelief as he walked into the kitchen and put the soap on the island bench next to where he had left the box that contained the cream Dr. Sandor had prescribed.
Stress and tiredness tugged at him; he needed to chill out, free his mind from this dilemma. He fetched a glass of water from the dispenser and strolled into the relaxation room.
As he climbed into the VR isolation pod a picture of a similar-looking device flashed through his mind. Solarium. Ion’s mind was blank. He couldn’t remember ever hearing the word before. Strange. Something else to look up on the Internet, he thought, as the sky of the virtual reality bed closed.
Ion stretched out in the warm, salty liquid that was kept at body temperature, deciding to only make a quick visit to his favorite bar, see who was around. Maybe meet a woman, have some casual sex. “Location: The Limelight; Mood: Mellow; Sound: Smooth Jazz; Dress code: Smart casual.”
He closed his eyes, enjoying the water making his skin tingle as it started to turn into a viscous compound, encasing him in a full body VR coating.
“Ion. What can I do for you?” He found himself sitting on a bar stool at the center of the long, mysteriously glowing marble bar that was the main feature of his favorite club. A three-piece band was performing on the small stage, playing a song he had never heard before. “Martini, dry. Thanks, Tom.”
He observed the bartender adding a bottle-cap worth of Noilly Prat to the shaker, gently turning it to coat all the ice with vermouth, then straining out the excess liquid. He added a good amount of Greylock gin and stirred it for a little while before pouring it into a chilled glass. “Two?” asked the barkeeper.
Ion just nodded as Tom placed a cocktail stick holding two olives into the flared glass. “Cheers.”
Ion smiled, smelling the delicious spiciness of the drink, wondering how they were able to make a virtual experience feel so real. There wasn’t the slightest difference between this and the real thing. At least not to the synthesized variant, he thought, trying to recall how gin tasted before it was replaced with an artificial blend of fermented soy and jellyfish-stingers infused with genetically engineered flavorings.
“Hi, Tom. I’ll have what he’s having.”
Turning his head, he noticed a woman sit down next to him. She looked at him, green lips turning into a cheeky smile.
“Have we met before?” she said, not the slightest flicker of recognition in her eyes.
Ion looked at her, flabbergasted. “You gave me a piece of soap, earlier today.”
The woman appeared puzzled. “Soap? I don’t understand. What’s soap?”
Ion felt perplexed. Was she making fun of him or was something amiss? “It’s a product you can use to wash your hands or … remove a stain from your shoe.”
The woman laughed out loud. “You’re a funny man. Why would you do that? You don’t need soap to wash your hands. You simply put them into a SanHand tube. They’re everywhere.” She pointed at a hole in the wall next to the bar, a green fluorescent ring announcing its functioning presence.
Ion knew. Obviously he did. He had invested in the company before the first version of the product hit the market years ago. He had made a good part of his fortune with SanHand. The barkeeper placed a martini in front of the woman. “I’m Ion, by the way.” He raised his glass.
“Selene,” said the woman, taking a big sip of the fragrant liquid. Ion smiled. She’ll need another one in a second, he thought, signaling the barkeeper for two more. He didn’t mention soap again. He didn’t want to make her think he was some kind of lunatic. It wouldn’t help his plan to take her upstairs. He gazed into her eyes. Selene looked just like Luna, but she had to be a different woman. A simulation; a copy of the real woman.
That was another thing he had to research. Who was in charge of creating the computer-generated beings that populated the virtual reality worlds that most people frequented on a daily basis? There must be some kind of link between the real world and the virtual universe. There had to be a company that scanned real people and created a virtual representation of their physical form. That would explain why Luna was present in the simulation as Selene, at least in body, if not in mind.
“A penny for your thoughts,” said the woman, smiling.
Ion hadn’t heard the phrase for decades. The whole world had been using Satoshi, a one hundred millionth of a Bitcoin, for more than fifty years. A penny. The concept felt ancient. “I was thinking how beautiful you are,” lied Ion, touching her hand seemingly accidentally. Selene stared at the watch on his wrist.
Cold dread manifested in his stomach. Why did he wear his watch? He had taken it off before entering the VR pod and even if he had left it on, there should be no way of it appearing in the simulation. At least it had never happened before.
Selene recovered her smile. “Nice watch. Looks antique. Where did you get it?”
Ion felt a strange reluctance to state what he had said many times before. He hesitated, but finally answered. “I bought it at Christies, London. A long time ago. It’s from before … before everything turned digital. It’s one of only thirty.”
It felt wrong. He would have liked to say, “Milano, Italia! La mia amata città!” Why? Why did he feel like speaking Italian? He didn’t even know the language. Where had this sudden urge come from? It had to be a problem with the VR device. He had to call the company, make an appointment with a technician to service the pod.
Selene grabbed his hand. “Let’s dance.” She didn’t give him time to answer, pulling him from his seat and onto the dance floor where only three other couples moved in slow, elegant synchronicity.
She pressed her slim body against his chest. He felt her firm breasts as two pronounced points of pressure against his ribcage. Selene gazed up at him. “I’m from Florence. I’m here for a holiday.”
A cold shiver ran down his spine. He swallowed, consciously keeping himself from answering in Italian. Oh Firenze, che grande città, he thought to himself. He lost his balance and stepped on her foot. “Scusa.”
Ion was losing control. He felt anxious, even panicked. He had to get out of here. He was about to give the signal for the simulation to stop when instead he kissed her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, held her close, and pressed his lips on hers. She pushed him away. A second too late, he thought. If she hadn’t liked it she would have reacted much faster. He went down on one knee. “Mi dispiace, ma sei così bella.” What? Ion didn’t know what he had just said. The words passed his lips without him having any intention of speaking.
Selene looked down on him. Her upset face turned into a smile. “Vieni qui, pazzo.” Ion understood. She had called him a crazy man, but she also wanted him to get back up and join her. He got up, smiling a doubtful smile. Suddenly he took her in his arms, again kissing her passionately. This time she didn’t complain. She responded, pressing her body against his, while her soft tongue caressed his lips.
Ion’s body was spinning out of control. He felt like a mute observer as the Italian Ion flirted with Selene, as they got drunk together and finally stumbled into the lift that took them upstairs, into his private room. He watched as the man who occupied his body made love to the virtual woman. It was passionate, vehement, and beautiful, but for Ion, the watcher, it felt cold, empty, and artificial. He was caught in the same room. No. He was a prisoner inside the mind of the man who now kissed Selene’s breasts, who licked salty droplets off her glistening body.
Ion felt nothing. An invisible wall stood between him and the man who was making love to the beautiful woman. He felt desperate, trapped in his own body, in an experience he was only able to watch, but that he could not control.
After what seemed like an eternity the man fell asleep. The woman’s hair glowed in the dark as her head rested on his chest. It looked like a waterfall of green light extended from her head to the man’s abdomen.
Ion felt relieved. He knew falling asleep was one of the signals. It would end the simulation.
Ion crawled out of his VR pod. His body felt hot, but he shivered from the experience that had made him feel like an unmoving block of ice.
It was late; he must have been in the pod for a few hours. He unconsciously scratched his wrist. No watch. It suddenly hit him. The watch. He had taken it off before he entered the pod. The skin on his wrist looked worse. The dry, blotchy area seemed to have grown by about an inch.
Sitting down on a chair at the kitchen bench, he stared at the piece of soap. His eyes moved to the cream. AntiRel. Soap. Which one?
He didn’t know why, but he picked up the piece of soap, went to the bathroom, and turned on the faucet, grabbing one of the hand towels that sat in a stack, neatly folded, next to the SanHand device. He held the towel under the flow of lukewarm water. He took the soap, hesitated for a second, then rubbed the white block against the wet fabric until a few small bubbles formed, releasing a hint of a smell. Lavender. Ion had no idea how lavender smelled, but it was what his mind told him. His mind had been unhinged lately. It came up with the most unusual thoughts, explaining things in ways he had not thought possible. Lavender. He knew what it was. A flowering plant of the mint family. He hadn’t seen it for … he didn’t know how long, but he still remembered seeing it when he was a child. It grew in his mum’s garden.
He stared at his left wrist, holding the wet, soapy towel in his right. He felt like an idiot, standing in his bathroom, using an ancient remedy instead of the cream his doctor recommended. Whatever, he thought as he gently placed the towel on the patch of dry skin. It felt soothing. He gently rubbed the soap into his skin, bracing himself mentally for some kind of magical transformation that might happen any moment. It didn’t happen. Nothing happened.
Ion harrumphed, more as an expression of relief than disappointment. What had he expected? He didn’t know the answer.
He suddenly felt very tired. The intensity of the VR simulation must have taken its toll. He filled the sink with warm water and pressed the Soniq button before submerging his face and opening his mouth. The supersonic vibrations of the warm, chemically infused water cleaned and disinfected his skin, teeth, and short beard. The process only took ten seconds. It cost him ten seconds of his life. He cleaned his face and teeth twice a day. That made … about two hours per year. Two hours of useless head underwater.