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The latest project from digital publisher NeoText heads into a future where technology can predict when you’re going to die, creating an entire industry of process servers — or “reapers” — whose job it is to inform the soon-to-be-deceased on behalf of the Death Notification Agency. Straightforward enough… until a reaper named Ram gets notice of his own death, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Welcome to the future-noir world of DNA.
The new project, to be serialized as six installments beginning later this month, is the creation of screenwriter Julian Meiojas, who has worked on television shows such as The CW’s The Flash.
“DNA has been a labor of love for me from the moment Ram’s juicy, expletive-laden voice popped into my head years ago, urging me to tell this story about a guy who only starts valuing – and living – his life once he gets the news he’s going to die,” Meiojas said in a statement. “Ram’s world where life and death has become a government-regulated business captivated me so much because I’ve always been fascinated by the rapid growth of technology and the drastic effect it has on our lives. Why not our deaths, too?”
The series will feature covers and spot illustrations by Michah Dowbak — better known as Mad Dog Jones — in each edition, with the artist adding that he’s “trying to find the inevitable beauty within a dystopia. Even when all else seems lost, there will always be light, color, and hope in the chaos and despair.”
DNA launches with its first volume, The Reaper, Oct. 13. Read on for an exclusive excerpt, as well as some of the illustrations from the first volume.
It’s a muggy Friday night.
Wrong. Very fuckin wrong. The call comes in around ten, so my shift don’t start for another two hours. I just crammed a buck into the tunes machine at Nasty Nate’s to hear a little Clapton. “Knockin On Heaven’s Door.” One of my favorites. And there I go again, slappin you with the big dick of irony. And I know what else you’re thinkin… a few drinks before work, uh, Ram?
Well, fuck off. This job ain’t like many others.
So, I get the call from Les Edley. He sounds more shaky than usual, so I ask him if everything’s kosher. He says, “Yeah, Ram, everything’s copacetic.”
Copacetic? What the fuck is copacetic?
But Les is one of those guys, you know, rather use a hundred-dollar word when a dime word does the job. Might be a new-generation thing, who the fuck knows? Les tells me Mr. Dukes wants to see me. His office. ASA-fuckin-P. And that ain’t a good thing. The last time I saw Lionel Dukes “ASAP” he tore me a new starfish ’cause I accidentally served the wrong guy a death notice. Sue me. It was one fuckin time. And it was during my divorce, so my head was all grenades and shit.
I down my Kentucky brown and dip outta Nate’s Tavern pretty quick. I get in the company car and boost it up. The maglevs on the undercarriage glow blue – or turquoise as Les Edley calls it – illuminatin the asphalt sea of cigarette butts and shattered glass on the blacktop below as I elevate my ride. I don’t boost too high ‘cause I fuckin hate heights. Wasn’t enough to have four tires strapped to a combustible engine, they had to make ’em airborne, too?
Why couldn’t we leave well enough alone? Guess it ain’t in our human nature. Sometimes, I get the feelin I was born too late into this freak-show. Lotta folks say the best is still to come or some greeting-card shit like that, or that we’re divin head first into the fuckin future. Sure… if that future’s a cement-filled pool. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like all the good shit’s come and gone already.
But here I am, here in the now, cruisin toward the DNA offices. And I got a lotta things runnin through my mind, even thinkin about the goddamn divorce.
God, Barb did a number on me.
I’m not the kinda guy to get all sentimental and shit, but it dented me pretty bad. And the kids, Sam and Olivia. Great fuckin kids. Miss ‘em like nothin else. They live out in Indiana with Barb and her new hubby, Gerard. Fuckin Gerard. What kinda prick’s named Gerard anyhow?
The kind inside your ex-wife every night.
That’s me remindin myself losin her was my fault.
As I ground the company car outside the DNA offices off Harrison Street, I spot Frank Harlow. He’s leanin against his grounded company car, in his company suit, lizardskin boots crossed at his ankles, relaxed as always. And like always, he’s got a soaked Montecristo clenched between his canines. As I kill the engine, my dashboard screen beeps with the first case of the night. I let it go for now, mostly ‘cause I ain’t on the fuckin clock just yet, but I’m also more concerned with why Mr. Dukes wants to see me in person.
“How goes it, Rambo?” Harlow asks.
I’ve told him a million fuckin times to stop callin me that. I don’t even like Rambo. The ol movie was stupid, buncha rednecks hasslin Sly for just walkin around? Then Sly kills ‘em all? Justice served I guess, but just wasn’t my shot of gin. And yeah, I shoot gin, don’t judge. Only when I really gotta get the job done. Besides, the throat burn reminds me of nicotine. Sweet, orgasmic fuckin nicotine. Had to slice out that particular joy after a blood clot hit my lung. Pulmonary somethin or other, I don’t fuckin know. Anyhow… if I had to be nicknamed after one of the ol action hero boys, I’d go with the big Austrian motherfucker… he always knew how to walk into a room.
Not like me and Frank Harlow, shufflin along half-loaded (well, me at least) through the office building’s rundown lobby, past the entrance holo-ployee sayin “Welcome to the Death Notification Agency” in broken, static-chopped words. Goddamn holo’s been on the fritz for years but of course, this no-budget agency of mine ain’t about to drop a nickel.
As we get into the elevator, I glance over at Frank, wonderin why the hell he’s even here. Frank says he don’t know, he got the call from Les Edley just like I did. I hit the holopad for the fourth floor, and I realize my palms are wet. Body must be heatin up. Armpits all pitted out and shit. Even got a tingle in my skull. Probably just the Kentucky brown runnin the races in my blood gutters, but I don’t feel right. And on top of that, Harlow stinks of those goddamn Montecristos. Good thing the ride ain’t long, or I’d probably retch all over his lizardskins.
We get off on the fourth floor to find that big bastard, Tomahawk, waitin for us. He’s wearin his company suit, too, so now I’m startin to feel a little stupid. Everyone in their company suits and here I am in my goddamn aloha shirt, goin to see the honcho himself, Mr. Dukes.
“Where’s your company suit, Ram?” the big bastard asks.
“Fuck off, Tom. I ain’t on duty yet.”
The big bastard just shrugs his massive fuckin shoulders. Like I said, not much of a wordsmith. And that’s fine by me. Better than Les Edley and his hundred-dollar word bank.
We get to Mr. Dukes’s office and his new associate sent from corporate, Camille, walks around her desk to tell the bossman that we’re all here.
And it ain’t no secret… I got a thing for Camille.
Somethin about her perfume, the way it sticks to your nostrils. Or maybe it’s the flawless body she’s hidin under that blouse. Jesus Christ, I’d take a bullet in the fuckin retina for a taste of that. But she never goes for company men. Guess every gal’s got their policies.
But there’s somethin different about her today. I notice she’s hidin a ripe bruise under her left eye with some of that flesh-colored make-up shit.
“Where’d you get the plum?”
She’s embarrassed, tries to turn away from me. But how could I not notice? When there’s a scratch on a Rolls Royce, you notice that shit.
“I’m such a clutz, Ram, woke up in the middle of the night to get some water and ran into a goddamn door. You believe that?”
Nope. Sure don’t.
I nod though, makin her feel like I believe her. But we both know that ain’t from a fuckin door. I can feel myself gettin angry just thinkin about the sonuvabitch who took his bones to her.
“Carnes, get in here!”
That’s Dukes hollerin from his office. We all get up, and head into the boss pit.
Me? I’m wonderin why he only said my name.
I give Camille a glance on my way into Dukes’s office. One of those glances. The kind you’d laugh at if you saw some other asshole doin it. Sometimes women don’t even notice me. Hell, most of the time. But here’s Camille, throwin me back a glance, doin a solid for my little porcelain ego. But what do I know about women? My queen left me for a soft prick named Gerard.
Mr. Lionel Dukes sits where he always sits, behind that hideous glass desk of his. Everything’s glass in his office. Feel like I’m in a goddamn igloo. I swear, this guy thinks he’s fuckin Superman in his fortress or some shit.
“Sorry, Mr. Dukes, didn’t have time to throw on the company suit,” I says.
“Not a problem, Ramsay. You’re not technically on duty yet, are you?”
Least he’s got that fuckin right.
Suddenly, I feel a lot more relaxed than I did in that elevator. Not Frank-Harlow relaxed, but calm. I sit down as Mr. Dukes pours out some brandies for us.
“So, what’s goin on, Mr. Dukes?” I ask.
“First, a toast.”
Dukes lifts his crystal glass. We all do.
“To Mr. Ramsay Carnes, thank you for all your hard work and dedication to the Agency over the years. I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but you’re a damn fine employee, Ramsay, and I want you to know that.”
Right there. That second. The sky must’ve cracked open and rained down a whole storm of dicks on me, ’cause I look to Frank Harlow and Tomahawk and they got this pathetic fuckin look on their faces. And I know immediately…
I’m gettin fucked.
“Everything runs its course, Ramsay. And you’ve had a good run, old friend. I’m sorry it had to be so soon.”
I don’t even realize it, but I’m frozen. My feet ain’t movin, my arms, nothin. I’m a fuckin snowman who just got told summer’s comin early.
“Your death notice came in an hour ago. And it felt right that we were all here to serve you with it.”
Dukes hands me an official document on the company letterhead. It’s got the stamp and all the necessary Hancocks to make it legit. In the middle of the document, in bold fuckin type, is the name my mother gave me right before she died givin birth to me:
RAMSAY OSWALD CARNES
This, my friends, is a death notice.
A subpoena from the Beyond. It’s usually what I hand out to the sad-sack bastards I give bad news to, but now the tables are all upside-down and shit. I’m the sad-sack tonight… the jerkoff who walks into a gang bang dick in hand only to realize I’m the party favor. The entertainment. And this show’s comin to an end in twenty-three fuckin hours.
I can almost hear the clock tickin.
“I’m so sorry, Ramsay,” says Dukes.
If you’ve ever been hit with a length of pipe, right upside the ear, that’s how this feels. Next thing I know, I’m whimperin, “Mr. Dukes, there’s gotta be a mistake. There’s no fuckin way. I’m forty-seven years old…”
Frank Harlow puts his hand on my shoulder, handing me the glass of brandy. “Drink up, Ram. Makes it easier to swallow.”
I chug down the brandy. It tastes like the gasoline news I’m being fed. I look up at the sonuvabitch, Harlow, and I know immediately…
He already knew.
And Tomahawk, too.
They all fuckin knew.
“We gotta change this, Mr. Dukes, there’s no way this is right. You know this ain’t right,” I plead again.
“I’m sorry, Ramsay, but you know better than anyone… this is not something you change. The Machine is never wrong.”
A million fuckin things flash through my mind. Must be true what they say, about your life’s movie playin right when it’s time to go. I see Barb and the kids. They’re standin over my grave. Gerard, one hand on Barb’s beautiful backside, the other pointin his grubby finger at my kids’ chests, at their hearts, sayin “Your dad will always be with you, kids, right here.”
No. No, fuck this flick.
“This is wrong, Mr. Dukes, it’s all wrong,” I mutter.
Dukes opens his desk drawer and pulls out a plane ticket. “You have a flight to Indiana in two hours. First class, direct. Go see your family. Tell them the news. Be with them for your last hours.”
My last hours.
I wanna bash in his fuckin septum.
Harlow and Tomahawk, too. They can all get bent. I ain’t takin this lyin down on some firstclass Barcalounger in a tin can six miles above the earth. No fuckin way. I grab the plane ticket and storm outta the office.
“Carnes!” Mr. Dukes yells out after me. “Leave your J-gun and company ID with Camille.”
I barely hear him over the blood swishin around its little water slides in my neck, poundin like the red rum’s gonna flood outta every hole in my skull.
“Ram. Ram!” Camille yells after me.
But I’m in a real fuckin state. I don’t want her seein me like this. I look back at her from the door. Can’t help it. And this time, it’s not one of those looks. It’s a tragic fuckin look that says I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you better. Sorry I wasted my life getting synthed-up or browned-out at Nasty Nate’s. Sorry I killed people. Sorry I was never a good husband to Barb, or a good dad to the kids. Sorry I was never even close to good enough. For anyone. I’m fuckin sorry.
For all of it.
“This isn’t right, Ram. I’m so—”
I cut her off before she says it. No more goddamn apologies. Save ‘em for my funeral.
“The next time a door hits you, Camille… you kill that motherfucker.”
Her perfume stalks me outta the office. I imagine that’s what Heaven smells like, or how it oughta smell. Like love, or happiness. Pretty sure all that good shit smells the same… like roses and fuckin angels. Not like I’ll ever know, I’m on my way to a place where the angels got halos made of broken bones and shotgun craters for eye sockets.
But for some reason, as I get in the elevator, I got a feelin this ain’t the last time I’ll tangle with Camille. Hell, that’s probably just the goddamn brandy talkin.
Downstairs, I jump in the company car.
My aloha shirt’s soaked with sweat. I run my hand over the little screen that’s beepin on the dashboard — the fuckin Machine — and that first case of the night pops up again. This time I look at it:
“Ramsay Oswald Carnes.”
That’s me. Can’t escape that. Not in life, not in death. Suddenly, it becomes real. The pain. The fear. All of it hacksaws through me, the jagged blade doin a fancy dance number on my soul.
Frank Harlow and Tomahawk burst outta the lobby doors, shoutin my name. But I flip the keys, boost up the car and fly outta there. Fuck this shit.
I’m on my own now.
I got less than twenty-four hours.
And I aim to save my miserable skin.
It’s funny… you never really feel alive till you get the news you’re gonna die.
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