“The First Price”

“The First Price”

Originally published in Dystopian Express anthology (Hydra Publications, 2016).


“You seem a little more comfortable today. Have you been getting out of your apartment a bit more?”

The words were distant echoes, each one bouncing from one end of his skull to the other until they merged into an indeterminable murmur.

By the time the noise receded, she was already dumping more of it onto him.

“Well, you look like you’ve been getting some sun, at least.”

A sharp, staccato ripple broke through the droning.

She might have laughed.

“Do you feel like talking today?”

The pitch of her voice shifted half a step upwards as she spoke.

Another question.

He shrugged.

“No? How about looking up, then? Do you feel like we could start there?”

Questions, questions, questions.

Less than a minute in and he was already getting tired of her and her damn questions.


He raised his head slowly, letting his gaze pass over his cheap khaki pants and then creep gradually across the laminate surface of the coffee table until it reached the splayed out cables feeding into her diagnostic machine. They were a tangled mess, but the console wasn’t in much better shape. Its thin, metal casing was dented and cracked in several places; the spindly sensors and instruments sticking out of it were so rickety that they might as well have been held together with tape. The thing probably hadn’t been serviced in years. Firmware was probably more out of date.

An articulated arm uncoiled itself from the center of the console like a scorpion’s tail rising up to strike. He almost would have preferred a venomous stinger to the sensor suite that was packed into the appendage’s bulbous tip.

A quick scan would reveal everything that his silence sought to conceal: metabolic rate, toxicology, brain activity, blood pressure, electrical impulse levels, the works.

She didn’t like secrets.

“Trouble sleeping again, I see.”

Lyndon looked past the device to see her sifting through the data that its sensors were relaying to her tablet. She must have caught his movement, her eyes snapping upward before he could look away.

For a painful fraction of a second, she made eye contact.

She might have smiled before Lyndon looked down.

“I sleep fine,” he said.

“I’m glad to hear that, but how many hours of sleep would you say you’re getting?”

Her voice was piercingly clear, always tuned to just the right frequency, one that couldn’t be ignored.

He shrugged, his head sagging towards his left shoulder.

“Three hours, maybe four?”

There was no sense in lying about it. Not with that damned machine frisking him all the time. He managed to confuse it once with a combination of contradictory answers and forced emotional reactions, but lying to a machine wasn’t the same as lying to a human. There was no way to do both at the same time. When it gave her a false reading, she just smiled that practiced smile of hers and kindly asked him to cut the bullshit.

“I think we’ve talked about this before, Lyndon,” she said. “There are more and more studies coming out that show the effects of sleep deprivation on emotional well-being and productivity.”

There would be at least three such studies waiting in his inbox by the time their session was through. They were probably already en route.

She had a study for everything.

Lyndon nodded slightly.

“Still having trouble letting go of the day?”

“I guess.”

“How many hours are you working on an average day?”

Lyndon tried to do the math quickly. He glanced at his hands to tick numbers off with a flex of each digit.

“I don’t know. Fourteen? Sixteen? Depends.”

“Any days off?”

He let out a faint grunt; it was the closest he could get to a chuckle.

“Not really.”

“Can you remember the last time you had a day off?”

He sighed. There had been that day he went to get his transit pass renewed. He’d been due for a full assessment diagnostic this year; insurance liability, they said. Stood in line all day for a med-droid to tell him to cut back on his caffeine. The rest of the day was a blur, though. He might have gotten something to eat afterwards, but maybe not. Didn’t much matter; he was back in his chair next thing he knew.

When had that been? A week ago? Two? Surely not three, was it?

“Week and a half or so, I guess,” he said.

The answer did not provoke a reply.

Lyndon fell into the trap, glancing up and meeting her concerned gaze.

The machine on the table hissed softly.

She smiled. It was the softer one, the one that didn’t look quite so rehearsed. She saved it for moments like this when she wanted to convince him that she gave a shit.

“Have you thought about taking some time away, Lyndon? You must have bit of vacation time, don’t you?”

He shook his head, but couldn’t quite break eye contact.

“I can’t,” he said. “Not this time of year.”

Her gaze was magnetic. Every detail of her blue eyes leapt out at him, held him with a firm, dispassionate insistence.

“You’re entitled to that time, Lyndon,” she said. “The enclave’s bylaws are…”

 “Yeah, yeah, I know!”

The machine buzzed excitedly, harmonizing perfectly with his raised voice.

She blinked.

The smile was gone now.

“I just can’t do it right now, okay?”

She stared at him. Her eyes seemed a little less vivid.

“All right,” she said, nodding. “I understand that you feel that way.”

Lyndon sighed and looked back to the floor.

“We’re almost out of time for today, Lyndon.”

The voice was distant again, practiced and measured.

“I have you down for next month on the same date and time. You’ll get a reminder, as usual.”

He shrugged.

“Fine. Whatever.”

Their sessions always ended the same way. She would tell him now about the terms of his counseling rights and the therapy requirements spelled out in a subheading of his employment contract. Something else about his benefits package and leave eligibility.

But the familiar drone of her voice rattling off procedural protocol did not begin.

He looked up to find her still staring at him, her eyebrows slightly furrowed and her lower lip clenched between her teeth.

This face was new.

“Can I ask you to do something for me, Lyndon?”

He didn’t know how to answer. She didn’t usually ask permission before telling him to do something.

“Sure,” he said.

“I want you to think about what you would do if you did take that vacation. Think about where you would go, where you would stay, how you would spend your time there.”

He blinked and rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to process the request.

Something rattled inside the machine.

“If you like,” she said, “imagine you could take someone with you. Who would it be? What would you do together?”

The machine rasped as Lyndon stood up.

“See you next month,” he said.

He reached across the table and pressed the sensor on the upper left hand corner of the monitor. The screen went blank, taking her image away and leaving him alone with the diagnostic machine.

It wagged its rickety appendages at him.

“Fuck you, too.”

The thing clicked as he left the room.

There were three people sitting in the waiting area outside. He recognized two of them, but didn’t know their names. The other one must have been new.

He didn’t say anything, turning instead down the long corridor that led back to his workstation.

His shift wasn’t even half over yet.


The chair had been specially designed for ergonomic comfort by dozens of engineers pouring decades of cumulative experience into producing the ideal centerpiece of the 22nd century workstation. Test studies had shown that it all but eliminated lower and upper back strain, completely prevented or arrested wrist ligament deterioration, and helped to stimulate circulation during prolonged periods of use. Once incorporated into the workplace, research indicated that medical claims associated with degenerative physical strain declined by as much as 90%. Healthcare savings in the first year alone were usually enough to cover the steep implementation costs, but the elevated productivity of a healthier workforce often helped to recoup the investment even faster.

Lyndon hated the damned thing.

His workstation consisted of little more than the chair and the array of keypads and monitors that were connected to it by dozens of articulated armatures. It was merely one of several dozen similar setups, each one occupying no more than a few square feet of space on the giant office floor. A small canopy covered each station, shielding it from the harsh fluorescent lightbulbs burning just a few feet overhead. Although nearly every seat was filled, the room was silent save for his own breathing and the steady footsteps of the floor supervisor as he stalked from chair to chair monitoring the productivity of his subordinates. Sophisticated sonic dampeners prevented any sound from escaping each workstation, which helped to reduce potential distractions and unnecessary interactions between employees.

The supervisor stopped when he noticed Lyndon. He made a big show of glancing at his watch as if he didn’t already know the time from the retinal display on his contacts.

“Get a lot out of your session today?” he asked.

Lyndon wanted to tell him to fuck off, but that would only prolong their interaction.

“Went a bit over. Shrink’s busy today.”

“No different than the rest of us, then. You’d best get back to your station; we’re far enough behind as it is.”

“We’re always behind,” Lyndon said.

The supervisor laughed.

“It just feels that way because we’ve added new clients recently.”

Lyndon didn’t see what was so funny about his explanation. Adding new clients was precisely the reason that they were always behind. By the time the department got around to hiring more people to deal with the workload, they would be shorthanded again.

“Make sure to check your messages,” the supervisor said as he resumed his rounds. “Looks like it’s going to be another long night for you guys.”

Lyndon climbed into the chair’s harness and slowly strapped himself in. Hundreds of tiny sensors embedded in the seat padding detected his presence, each one sending a different signal to the many processors that helped to regulate the occupant’s comfort. Sheets of nano-motors woven into the fabric activated to massage his muscles while thermal regulators worked to keep the temperature of his skin constant. The leg clamps disengaged as the mag-lev field kicked on, leaving the chair floating tranquilly in the air.

Keypads, touchscreens, and display monitors swung into position all around him as the chair’s armatures contracted like long, skeletal fingers over the seat. A few quick keystrokes brought the system online and the monitors glowed to life. The narrow screen floating to his left displayed his current task load; it had more than doubled since he left his station.

He reached up and tapped the first item on the screen.

Topic: 2034 Metro Phoenix Riots.

Client: Suncast Media.

The client’s information unfolded across several screens. News reports, blog entries, video clips, text messages.

A single request loomed above the jumble of raw, unfiltered data.

Query: Sources point to military cover-up and clandestine plot to destabilize problem city; please verify.

Lyndon sighed.

Sifting was a thankless task. The pile of information thrust upon him by the client would only scratch the surface of the hoard of available data spread across the antiquated databanks of the old Internet. There would be gaps, of course; virtual records lost for all time owing to equipment failure and memory corruption from the widespread system crashes some fifty or sixty years ago, back when the old network started to crumble under its own weight. What remained was a disorganized heap of virtual trash, an archeological relic of the nascent information age. Facts mingled with fictions, knowledge with pseudo-knowledge, truths with half-truths. It was a minefield of consciousness; stumbling upon an unseen fallacy could shred reputations as surely as hot shrapnel tore through flesh.

Lyndon didn’t bother looking at most of the client’s information. There was no point in trying to verify the accuracy of data that lacked anything that might pass for research. He fed the unsourced info into a collator program and let it filter through the nonsense in search of firm consistencies while he went to work sifting through the harder data. As he skimmed over several screens of text, he flagged inaccuracies and assumptions that betrayed a lack of methodological rigor and dumped the offending files into the collator.

The data he was left with painted a clear picture of the event in question. There were statistics on unemployment rates, water shortages, and housing prices throughout Metro Phoenix. A few studies on political paralysis at the state and local level drew connections between the statistics and the simmering social tensions that led to the outbreak of violence in the summer of ’34. There were records chronicling the eventual military response, imposition of martial law, and subsequent federal administration of the metro.

Nearly all of the more scintillating stories surrounding the riots were gone. The collator traced the allegations of clandestine conspiracies to hundreds of stories connected to similar events. Some of the results even went back to fictional sources like television shows or spy novels. Most claims had been repeated so often in so many different forms that they were taken uncritically as articles of faith, situating themselves deep within prevailing narratives of “reality” that ran through the old Internet like swirling currents of a powerful river waiting to pull down unwary swimmers.

Lyndon was already typing his response when the when the collator finished its exhaustive search cycle.

Sources unreliable; no verifiable evidence of plot or cover-up beyond organizational incompetence; see attachment for filtered results. Thank you for turning to Veri-Finder Systems for your research data needs.

He paused for a moment before continuing.

Not that you really give a damn anyway. I don’t expect you to ignore all the shit that I just told you isn’t true. Now that all the data is nice and organized, go ahead and make whatever truth you want out of it. It’s not like anybody will fucking know the difference, is it?

Although he derived an impish glee from seeing his sentiments in text form, he quickly deleted them before transmitting the response.

The client request blinked twice and then vanished from the workload screen after he sent his reply. He glanced at another screen to verify his performance.

Time: 10 minutes 24 seconds. Files Sifted: 16. Files Collated: 151.


He was halfway through his second client request when a message icon appeared on one of the touchscreens. After answering the query, he tapped the icon to view the message.

A review of your recent workload has indicated that your average performance time has exceeded the contractually mandated threshold of eight minutes and fourteen seconds per client. In order to refine techniques for conducting optimal reviews, please complete the Veri-Finder Systems Performance Efficiency program at the conclusion of your shift. Also, to remind you of the importance of our obligations to the clients who depend upon our swift and accurate services, please review Chapter 1, Section XI, Pages 16-19 of your Veri-Finder Systems employee handbook and complete the attached assessment. Thank you for your diligent work and for taking these measures to improve your performance.

There was a small box below the message. He tapped it to send an automated reply that informed his superiors that he had both received the message and would comply with its dictates.

The Performance Efficiency program was anything but efficient. Lyndon had taken the interactive tutorial several times before and hadn’t managed to complete it in less than two hours. The policy assessment was hardly difficult, but it would take at least an hour to review the materials and answer the adaptive prompts accurately.

There were still more than five hours left on his shift.

Before turning back to the workload screen, Lyndon noticed four unread messages in his inbox. They all bore the same subject heading.

FWD: New Sleep Deprivation Studies.

He let out a single, mirthless laugh as he pushed the message screen aside and opened the next client request.


The monorail car was as tightly packed in the late evening as it was at midday. Half of its occupants were staggering homeward, scarcely aware of the other half that were mindlessly shuffling towards the impending workday. The scene would be repeated throughout the day, the rail system facilitating the constant cycling of the enclave’s perpetually productive labor force.

Lyndon felt lightheaded. Jammed in the car’s crowded walkway, the bodies pressed against his own were unfamiliar. The usual faces and odors of his commute had reached their respective destinations hours ago when the Performance Efficiency program was bashing him over the skull with its insufferable obtusity.

Not that he knew any more about the passengers from three hours ago than he did about the current batch. He couldn’t associate a name with any of them and had never engaged one in a conversation that went beyond “Excuse me” or “Sorry,” but there was a familiarity to their presence that was mildly comforting. Together, they formed a predictable, closed eco-system, each inhabitant of their artificially established confines mindlessly co-existing like single-celled microbes clustered together upon a Petri dish.

He did not belong here. The people around him started when they bumped against him and their normally sightless gazes regarded him with extra scrutiny. Removed from his native environs, Lyndon was noticed and he did not like the attention.

As the monorail car pulled clear of the office building and the firewalls that kept its occupants cut off from the outside, his contacts’ retinal displays were bombarded with messages. Most of them were meaningless, advertisements from various corporate affiliated retailers, political groups, and utility service providers or status updates and comments from strangers in his various networks. The rest were scarcely more important. A few friends going to the bar in their residential block or planning some work related event.

After spending a day sifting through antiquated data files, sorting out his personal messages seemed like an even more thankless chore. He fished his phone out of his pocket to access the information sprawled across the outskirts of his vision.

With a few quick swipes upon the touchscreen, he deleted everything and shut off the retinal display.

The ride to his flat was mercifully short, lasting only about ten minutes. He pushed his way through the mass of unfamiliar bodies as the car slowed, each one of them moving away at his touch as if remaining in contact with him might pass along some virulent contagion. The doors hissed open just as he reached them and he lurched out onto the station’s loading platform so quickly that he nearly crashed into the woman standing at the head of the throng waiting to board the car.

He took an awkward sideways step to avoid her and almost fell over.

A lilting, delicate sound rippled through the air around him and Lyndon felt the blood rushing back to his head.

The woman was laughing.

“Watch your step, there,” she said.

He turned to face her, but she was already moving towards the car. Her curly brown hair bounced with each step, the tips brushing against her shoulders. The hair obscured her features now, forcing Lyndon to reconstruct an image from the brief glimpse he got as he exited the car. He quickly lost sight of her as the mass of commuters on the platform shuffled through the exiting crowd to fill the spaces left behind.

The door slid shut and the monorail car slipped away quietly along the magnetic track. 

Lyndon stood alone on the platform watching the train shrink into the distance. By the time it vanished, he had forgotten her face.

His solitude lasted for nearly a minute before someone walked up alongside him. Another person joined them before another minute passed. The flow of commuters increased steadily until a small crowd formed on the edge of the platform. Most of them kept a pronounced distance from Lyndon. Although some probably lived in his building, he was not a familiar aspect of their daily routine.

Lyndon turned and moved through the gathering crowd. The strange faces gave way before him without any resistance.

He felt lightheaded again.


Lyndon dreamed about the woman on the platform all night.

Although he couldn’t remember the details of her face, his lucid subconscious was quick to fill in the blanks. Sometimes her features were long and sharpened; a cold, statuesque beauty chiseled out of the most precious stone. But just as often her face was round and warm, her smile and plump cheeks happily driving away his worries. She ranged from inhumanly gorgeous to endearingly homely without warning, but Lyndon cherished her company in all its forms.

No experience escaped his slumbering mind’s hallucinatory attention. They hiked along wilderness trails, drank coffee in streetside cafes, made love in their wedding bed, and shared their deepest secrets with one another beneath the glimmering stars. But the joy of her company was marred by pain as well. She mocked him with his mother’s words and struck him for forgetting something important to her. He caught her in his bed with another man. She overdosed in his bathroom. He killed her when she threatened to leave him.

The images and events flashed through his consciousness without any semblance of structure. She was everything to him in those moments: friend, tormentor, lover, victim, mother, prisoner. He could feel her at all times, sometimes warm, sometimes cold. It was a dream more vivid than any reality he had ever experienced.

When he woke up, he cried.


“I see here that you’ve been having some difficulties with your job.”

Lyndon didn’t look up.

“That what my file says?”

The diagnostic machine let out a wheezing huff of air.

“You’ve been falling short of your benchmarks since we last met. Is there something going on that you’d like to talk about?”


“So we can help you feel better about yourself and your work.”

Lyndon leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. He glared at the woman on the viewscreen.

The machine snorted.


“I’m sorry?”

“All you care about is getting me back up to my benchmarks.”

“Lyndon, I’m your therapist, I don’t-”

“Bullshit. The company pays you to keep us productive. Isn’t that why we have these little sessions?”

The machine was rasping heavily now.

She pursed her lips slightly, her blue eyes trying desperately to hold his attention.

“I think you need to take some time off, Lyndon. You just need a little space right now. Did you think about the vacation like I asked you?”

Lyndon felt the soft tips of curled, brown hair brushing against the back of his neck.

A sharp clicking noise sounded from somewhere inside the diagnostic machine.

“What’s the point? I’ll just have to come back when it’s over.”


The client’s request flashed in the center of his screen.

Topic: 2019 federal abortion legislation.

Client: Yale University of Atlantic Technologies Enclave.

Query: Rider stipulations provided doctors financial incentive to perform abortions; please verify.

Lyndon had sifted through the same data for a client last month. It would be a simple matter to recover the results and use them again.

Such recycling could drastically improve his productivity.

He looked at the time counter tracking his progress.

Time: 15 minutes 03 seconds. Files Sifted: 0. Files Collated: 0.

There were several messages calling for his attention on another screen. All of the subject headings had something to do with efficiency.

He closed his eyes.

She was wearing the black dress that he liked so much. The sunlight filtered through the curls of her brown hair, leaving her face obscured in shadow.

She said something. A warm breeze swept over him as she approached. She touched his face. Her skin was soft and cool.

Lyndon opened his eyes.

Time: 20 minutes 48 seconds. Files Sifted: 0. Files Collated: 0.



He didn’t go to the office the next day. A hasty message to his supervisor mentioned something about a headache, but he felt fine.

After the first few hours went by, he regretted the decision.

He got out of bed and paced around the flat for a while before settling on the couch in the living room.

None of the messages on his retinal displays caught his interest. Only a few even seemed to be addressed directly to him, but he wasn’t sure if he actually knew the people that sent them. He caught himself sifting through the backlog of messages and quickly shut the display off.

The rest of the day felt long and empty.

He was already dreading returning to work tomorrow.

The monitor was off when Lyndon walked into the room, but the diagnostic machine sniffed at him as he eased himself into the chair.

“Yeah, yeah. Good to see you too.”

He stared at the screen for some time while the machine hissed quietly.

The door opened behind him.

Lyndon turned to see a slender, dark-skinned man in a cheap, but well-fitted suit enter the room. He strode over to the monitor stand, rolled it out of the way, and pulled up a nearby chair to sit on the opposite side of the table.

“Good morning, Lyndon,” he said, leaning forward to adjust one of the dials on the diagnostic machine. It sputtered briefly as something inside it recalibrated.

“Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I guess you wouldn’t know that, would you? My name is Isaac Vemel. I’m the coordinator of psychiatric treatment for Veri-Finder.”

Lyndon nodded his head in the direction of the monitor.

“Where’s Jenica?”

“I’m afraid that Ms. Ware’s employer is no longer under contract with us. We’re in the process of negotiating with a new counseling provider and there’s going to be a bit of a gap in coverage until we get everything in place.”

“Oh,” Lyndon said.

The diagnostic machine rattled coarsely. Lyndon had never heard it make that sound before. Vemel glanced down at it briefly; he seemed as surprised as Lyndon by the noise.

“I’ve been looking over your file and reviewing your sessions with Ms. Ware. I do wish that she had reported your state of mind to me earlier; it would have made your treatment much easier.”


“Yes, for Type 3 Social-Operational Displacement. Your case is quite advanced at this point.”

“Jenica never said anything about-”

“I know she didn’t. That’s one of the reasons why we parted ways with her employer. Too many serious cases were not being called to our attention.”

 Lyndon felt lightheaded again.

“Given the circumstances,” Vemel said, “I’d like to commence with your treatment right away.”

“Wait, shouldn’t you be going over this with me or something? I don’t understand what’s-”

“You don’t have to understand, Lyndon. You’ve already consented to treatment as part of your employment contract. Once a diagnosis has been made, we can get on with resolving the issue. We’ll have you back on track in no time.”

The machine clattered hoarsely as Lyndon leaned forward in his seat.

“What if I say no?”

Vemel raised his eyebrows.

“On what grounds? Your contract clearly states that-”

“What if I quit?”

Vemel shook his head as the machine twittered. Something inside it sounded broken.

“Lyndon, you can’t voluntarily terminate your contract without company approval.”

Lyndon slumped back into his chair.

“You may not feel like it right now, but you’re still a valuable asset to the company.”

The machine wheezed like a dying cat.


A message icon appeared on one of the touchscreen monitors as Lyndon finished his report on a client’s request regarding a 20th century musician.

Sources unreliable; no verifiable evidence of subject’s association with human sacrifice cults or devil worship; see attachment for filtered results. Thank you for turning to Veri-Finder Systems for your research data needs.

The time counter blinked onto the screen after his reply was transmitted.

Time: 6 minutes 11 seconds. Files Sifted: 18. Files Collated: 204.

He clicked the message.

A review of your recent workload has indicated that your average performance time falls well below the contractually mandated threshold of eight minutes and seven seconds per client. This is a significant improvement on the results of your previous two evaluations. Thank you for understanding the importance of upholding our obligations to the clients who depend upon our swift and accurate services. Keep up the good work!

Lyndon closed the message and looked back to the client list. If he maintained his pace, he might be able to clear out the entire queue for the day.


The man standing next to the monorail car’s door seemed to move according to a carefully delineated script of predetermined behaviors. He read something on the datapad screen, looked up to the ceiling of the car, sighed, looked out the window, and then turned back to the screen. Every third time he looked up, he scratched his nose. After completing the cycle five times in the course of two minutes, he craned his neck around to scan the interior of the car before repeating the entire process.

Lyndon watched the man’s mechanistic habits closely. Such attention to minute details was, he had been told, a side effect of the treatment. It had proven useful to his job, of course, but it created difficulties in other parts of his life. He would often stare out his window for hours. Twice he had been so absorbed by the buildings passing by the monorail car’s window that he missed his platform stop.

It took a great deal of effort to look away from the man, but he managed to divert his attention by sorting through the piles of messages flooding across his retinal display. He wasn’t entirely sure why he kept responding to some of them. Although a part of his mind told him that doing so was a waste of time, he felt some compulsion to interact with these people that he was only vaguely acquainted with. They contacted him and he replied, an exchange that appeared to please everyone even though it seemed relatively meaningless.

A gentle tone sounded as the monorail car slid to a stop at the platform. The sound helped Lyndon to focus and pull his attention away from the myriad distractions surrounding him. He was vaguely aware that he was tired. His newfound singlemindedness made it easy for him to forget when his workday ended and he regularly found himself working several hours longer than he should.

No one seemed too concerned about it.

He fell in with the small crowd of commuters exiting the car. A comparably sized group waited on the platform to replace them. They exchanged places smoothly, their bodies scarcely brushing against one another as they moved towards their respective destinations.

A woman’s large purse bumped against Lyndon’s arm.

“Sorry,” she said.

He looked back and stared at her. She was about his age and height. Her curly brown hair dangled just above her narrow shoulders, framing a friendly but forgettably ordinary face.

She smiled and shrugged.

“It’s a bit of a wide load.”

Lyndon said nothing. Her smile quickly faded, replaced by an uncomfortable, confused expression.

She turned around and boarded the car.


Lyndon ate a small-portioned dinner and took a quick shower after returning to his flat. He watched a news report on the state of the enclave’s market performance and then got dressed for bed.

His alarm was set to wake him up early enough to exercise before going to work. Vemel said that physical activity was an important part of his treatment. Lyndon was not sure if it had any real effect, but he was being more productive at work, so it seemed worthwhile to keep up the regimen.

As he settled into bed, his mind turned back to the work that would be waiting for him in the morning. There would be a new list of client requests and he had resolved to get his average time under five minutes.

It did not take Lyndon long to fall asleep once he set his mind to the task.

He did not dream.


If you enjoyed “The First Price,” you can get this story and others in the Distant Worlds vol. 2 anthology!

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