Alternate Epilogue – Tony’s Failure

[This option was kind of a downer — I suspect you’ll agree that the epilogue in the published book is much better]

8 January 8008 M.E.; Moden Industries       

Tony opened his new locker in the basement and began unloading personal belongings from a box. He considered each item thoughtfully as he transferred it from box to locker.

When he lifted a name plate from the box, he sat down on the bench behind him and stared at it for a long time, caressing its letters. “Anthony Fiden—Vice President, Marketing,” it read. Rising, he finally set the name plate on the shelf in the locker. “It’s not my fault, you know. It’s Doú—” He coughed. “It’s him. If he weren’t such a selfish, hard-nosed tyrant, none of us would be in this—”

“You’re burning daylight.” His new supervisor walked in and tossed him some coveralls. “Put these on and get up to sixth floor. There’s a toilet overflowing in the men’s room. Get a move on,” he added as he disappeared down the hall.

Despite his supervisor’s admonition, Tony took his time changing and getting up to the sixth floor. They couldn’t very well punish him for dragging his feet—being demoted to maintenance was almost as bad as it got. The only thing worse was cleaning septic tanks, but that was reserved for traitors.

Once in the maintenance closet on the sixth floor, Tony located a plunger and started for the door. However, something caught his eye, and he stopped to stare at it for a moment, considering its possibilities. At last, he pushed the door shut, set down the plunger, and picked up the pack of replacement razor blades sitting beside a scraper. He turned them over and over in his hand. Would it work? He hadn’t tried it for some time. And it wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?

Well, okay, it would hurt—but if it worked, it would be worth the pain.

He slipped a new blade from the pack, unwrapped it, and stepped over to the utility sink. He didn’t want a big mess to clean up if this didn’t work. He’d only made that mistake the first time.

He pulled down the coveralls, unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt, and pushed them up.  Several lines scarred the undersides of both wrists. His movements picked up speed as he worked, energized by the hope now pulsing through him.

Tony had long ago realized the truth: their attempt to regain Paradise would fail. When he first understood this, the resulting hopelessness and lack of purpose had threatened to smother him. Initially, that drove him to work harder, which brought him plenty of bonuses for his exceptional work. But money couldn’t fill the void. He’d occasionally found things that distracted him from his melancholy—the high he got from winning at gambling was only the latest one—but eventually they all faded and left him facing the truth again: he was miserable. For him, the truth found in The Manual that “the wages of sin is death,” was a promise rather than a judgment.

Taking the blade in his left hand, he checked his watch. Then he leaned over the sink. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he made a quick, certain slash across his right wrist.

Blood spurted down his hand and splattered into the sink. He considered the patterns created as if trying to interpret an abstract painting. Initially, the amount of blood looked promising, and excitement rose within him. Maybe this was the time it would work!

But, as he watched, he soon realized that he had failed again. The flow of blood was already slowing. He erupted in scathing oaths against the Viv Zabé—against Doúg.

As his anger waned with his expression of it, other emotions replaced it, and he was again overwhelmed with the desperation of his situation. He was lost—forever lost. And wholly without hope. Although he hated himself for it, he even found himself wishing, not for the first time, that he were human. Humans were stupid and puny, but at least their miserable lives ended. His just went on, and on, and on—void of hope.

The bleeding stopped completely with a few minutes, but he continued to check his watch at irregular intervals until the cut had finished knitting itself together. “Forty-three minutes.” Almost twice as long as last time. That, at least, was promising.

He washed off his hand and rinsed out the sink, finishing just as his supervisor called over the walkie-talkie. “Fiden, where are you? That john hasn’t fixed itself!”

Tony sighed. “On my way. To nowhere,” he added as he returned the device to his belt. Then he swore at Doúg again and went to fix the toilet.

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