The Vanishing Mediator

Having fun on the internet.

heart-shaped box

DTX, a story of the Machine of Death by Chris/0

The card burned a hole in my pocket for several days. Once I decided to visit modMatching, I did so right after work. They were a short T ride away, at Downtown Crossing on the Red Line.

Inside was a long, crowded waiting room. Terry hadn’t mentioned how popular this service was. I pushed through to the far wall and the reception desk. An interchangeable nameplate announced that the secretary’s name was Navah.

“Hi, Navah,” I said.

“Navah,” she replied. With the accent on the second syllable.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK, I should probably be used to it by now. Are you here to sign up for our matchmaking service?”

She pointed to a pile of clipboards and a mug filled with golf pencils.

“Actually, I’m here to see Dr. Qawi.”

“Sir, this isn’t a doctor’s office; we don’t take appointments. If you sit down and fill out an application, you’ll be assigned an amorologist who can assist you with your modMatching experience.”

“No, I have a… a card…”

I got Terry’s business card from my wallet and placed it on the desk, writing side up. Navah eyed it skeptically at first, but then:

“Is this Mr. Gunderson’s handwriting?” she asked, meaning Terry.

“Yeah. He gave me that card. He’s a friend of mine.”

Navah’s eyes went wide.

“Then you must be Eric.”

“I’m an Eric; I don’t know why you’re putting –”

“This is great. I feel like I know you so well already. I’m sorry about all the shrieking harpies, by the way. Let me page Dr. Qawi for you.”

Which she did.

“He’ll be right out, I’m sure.”

I leaned in closer to her. “Does… everyone here know who I am? I don’t want to sound paranoid, but if even the secretaries know clients’ personal details –”

“Oh, no. I’m an amorologist, too. We’re rotating front desk duties until we can hire a full-time secretary. Don’t worry. There’s only 23 of us.”

I didn’t have time to be bothered by that before Dr. Qawi appeared. A broad smile painted his face, and his hand was extended in greeting.

“Eric! How wonderful to meet you. I feel like I know you so well already.”

“I know, right?” Navah exclaimed.

“Let’s talk more in my office. You can skip all this paperwork.”

Navah waved as we left.

Dr. Qawi led me down a long hallway, with many doors set into both sides. Through the doors’ small windows, I could see people in lab coats assisting other applicants. Some were frantically filling out forms, and others were taking what looked like a dexterity test. In one room, everyone was just shouting at each other.

That room did not appeal to me.

We stopped in front of one particular door – the only one without a window – and Dr. Qawi unlocked it, revealing a large office. He headed inside, and I followed.

“Those people in the lab coats, are they the amorologists?”

“Oh, yes. It’s sort of a uniform we have here.”

We sat in folding chairs and Dr. Qawi continued.

“Thank you so much for finally coming in, Eric. I’m sure you’ve heard that you occupy a special place here at modMatching. It’s little exaggeration to say that this company was built on your failed relationships. Because of that, I think I can let you ‘inside’ on some of our methods.”

Dr. Qawi steepled his fingers, thought for a moment, and asked:

“Eric, how are you going to die?”

“How… am I… what?” I sputtered.

“Do you know?”

“No, of course not.”

“I do. Or, I can. Not through actuarial tables, not probabilistically. I can tell you – scientifically, with certainty – how you are going to die.”

“You can see into the future or something?”

“Just a glimpse. But a glimpse is enough to be able to start putting the puzzle pieces together. Let’s say you find that 10,000 people in San Francisco are going to die in an EARTHQUAKE. A man in Ohio with the same fate is going to be looking to move at some point in the future. A woman in Miami is going to be CRUSHED BY POLAR BEAR. She should consider avoiding zoos. Though what might get her is a visit only an hour west of here to Worcester, home of Polar Beverages and their many bear-themed billboards.”

He paused, as though waiting for me to laugh. I did not, and he eventually continued.

“But what if two people who have never met are going to die in the same way? Not as part of a larger group, but just those two. What would that mean? People who are meant to die together will probably be very close in the events leading up to their deaths.”

It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“This… This sounds incredible. But I can’t believe that you just magically know how people will die.”

“It’s not magic, no. It’s this.”

Dr. Qawi gestured to our left. I turned, expecting a crystal ball to have materialized when I wasn’t looking. But it was just a desk, with a computer on top of it.

“Oh, a computer. I thought –”

“Not exactly. It’s a machine I invented. It takes a sample of your blood, and tells you how you’re going to die. It’s sometimes vague, but it’s never wrong. By the way, were you told what the ‘mod’ in modMatching stands for?”

“Lots of things.”

“Those are just for marketing. It’s named after this. The Machine of Death.”

“Machine of Death. M, o, D, matching. modMatching. If you’re meant to die together…”

“Then you’re meant to be together. Exactly.”

“And when people are going to die in the same way, you pair them up?”

Dr. Qawi leaned back and stared at the ceiling.

“If only it were that simple. We’ve had just one couple whose predictions and circumstances matched perfectly. It took thousands of samples to find them, but we needed a trial couple to get funding. Thomas and Mary Jenkett. They live out in Watertown, married already. Proudest day of my life.”

“So they have no idea that they’re together because of how they’re going to die.”

“No, I told them once they got engaged. I figured we owed them that much. Also, we paid for the wedding. And since then, we’ve refined the process into a workable, repeatable system. We can determine to a high degree of confidence whether two people’s similar fates are actually one shared fate.”

“But only if the machine is actually never wrong,” I said.

“It’s complex, but it is based on solid physics theories. Actually, my first attempt at controlling the effect resulted in a Machine of Life. But everyone’s results read SHOVED HEADFIRST THROUGH VAGINA.”

“What, really?”

“No, I’m only joking. All this talk of death has a way of darkening the mood.”

“Oh, OK. Good. Because that would have been –”

“Some people’s read CAESARIAN SECTION, of course.”

“In any case, that information wasn’t very useful. It’s easier to go backwards than forwards, but I discovered that by measuring and comparing the resonances of the quantum –”

“Nope!” I shouted all but involuntarily. “That was the password: I now regret asking. The answer is magic.m As far as I’m concerned, that machine contains chicken bones and a chalk transmutation circle.”

“No one ever wants to hear the full explanation.” Dr. Qawi looked almost forlorn. “But that’s OK. Science doesn’t demand your understanding to work, only your participation. So, are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“To participate… in science!”

His unbridled joy was intoxicating. And if the machine worked as he claimed, then whether I did or didn’t was predetermined. So the only thing to do was to follow my heart.

And see to whose heart it led me.

“Yes,” I said. “I am ready to make this happen. I don’t like needles, but as long as I get a comfortable couch and a cookie at the end, I think I’ll get through it.”

“Why in the world do you need those?”

“Well, I’ve never donated blood before, but I’m pretty sure they give you juice or cookies at the end. Right? To raise your blood sugar, or something?”

“That won’t be necessary. It’s made from a glucose monitoring device; it only takes a drop of blood. I could… still get you a cookie. If you want.”

I sheepishly ignored his offer and put my finger into the machine. It whirred for a moment, and something tapped against my finger. More whirring, then silence.

I let out the breath I’d been holding.

“If nothing else, it’s good practice for if I ever get diabetes.”

Dr. Qawi frowned. “If the machine prints DIABETES, try to keep that optimism.”

The machine whirred again. A curled bit of paper slid out from it, looking just like a receipt from the grocery store. Dr. Qawi tore it from the machine.

“Do you want to see it?” he asked.

“Not at all.”

And it went into a manila folder.

“In that case, you’re all set. We’ll give you a call when we find enough people with high correlation, and you can all meet one another.”

I stood up, and Dr. Qawi and I shook hands.

“This goes without saying,” he said, “but everything I’ve told you doesn’t leave this company. The Jenketts signed NDAs as long as their arms. I hope we can count on you to be just as… discreet?”

“I’m not even sure how I would explain it. Not without going cross-eyed.”

Dr Qawi laughed. “It’s surprisingly effective security. Here, let me show you out.”

On the way home, I bought myself a whole box of cookies.