The way down was slow and somehow greasy. Total darkness surrounded them. Gill turned on the car radio and the LED's lit up their faces in a green pulsating glow. 'Jovi Rocks!', Gill said. Manko seriously disliked the sloppy song, so when Gill started to violently shake his head to the music, Manko thought it wise to say nothing. The song had almost finished when they arrived at a large underground lobby and as Gill turned off the radio, he sang the last words out loud:

'They'll never let us go unless we try

I'm tired of living just to die.

We're getting out of here

destination anywhere!'

As Manko stepped out of the car, still troubled by Gill's taste in music, he noticed two men coming towards him. An old man with a grey suit, grey hair, a pair of heavy black eyebrows and a small grey moustache. The other man was quite tall and wore a Lab coat.

Zero: 'Welcome to our facility, Mr. Manko, my name is Zero, I am in charge of this operation. You cannot imagine how happy I am to see you.'

He pointed to some very comfortable looking armchairs further down the lobby. As they sat down, Zero introduced the other man.

Zero: 'This is Bokor, our Nanotech Cleaner. And you've already met Gill, our engineer.'

Manko: 'May I ask what research it is that you do here?'

Zero: 'Ah, straight to the point. Yes, yes.' A broad smile underneath his moustache showed his somewhat yellow but full set of teeth. 'Here at our Detroit facility we conduct research and development in... Nanotechnology. Yet with a more particular application in mind. We have some of the best brains and hands sitting at our table and we have one spot left for a mind like you. I am a great fan of your work and I think you may prove to be the the right person to complete our taskforce.

Before I tell you what my offer is, let me ask you a question. How long would you like to live?'

Manko: 'Well, I have always said that I'd love to live to be a hundred years old, as I have so many things I still want to do in my life. But I guess death cannot be bargained with, so I'll take whatever years I can get.'

Zero: 'Yes, as far as we know, all that lives must die. Yet along with the certainty of death goes the indefiniteness of its 'when'. In other words, we are all sure we will die, yet we are not sure when.

Here at our Lab we are working on the process of dechronification. Basically, we can stop the human from ageing on a molecular level.'

Manko: 'I've heard rumours about this, but as far as I know, scientists have only achieved this with a few rabbits. You mean you can do this with human beings?'

Zero: 'That is what we do, yes. There are three stages. Our first step is to inject nanobots that enter each cell in your body and clean out accumulated metabolic debris and toxic buildups on a continuous basis. Second, the nanobots will also carefully correct any damage that occurred to your DNA. The third stage of nanobiotic detoxification is the repair of other cellular structures that the cells are unable to fix on their own.'

Manko: 'But if this already works, what do you need me for? I'm not a scientist, I am an artist!'

Zero: 'And that's exactly what we need. To truly grasp all possible consequences of this new technological achievement, we need someone to stimulate our way of thinking in ways that a scientist, philosopher or engineer cannot. And that's you, Manko.'

Manko: 'Let's say I'm interested.'

Zero: 'Before we discuss this, we first want to see if you are as good as we think you are. So I would first have to ask you to go with Bokor to the dome where you'll have your test.'

Zero: 'One important piece of advice. Whatever you will experience in the dome, don't panic. Try to detach yourself and observe your body as if from a distance.'

Bokor firmly grabbed Manko's arm. Manko was not sure if this was to help him hop on his one leg or to keep him from escaping. As they came to the end of the lobby, they stopped in front of a big steel door, the kind he had once seen in an old bank building. Bokor opened the heavy door and urged Manko to hop inside. As Manko entered a bright space, he looked around at Bokor.

Manko: '...'

Bokor made a gruntling sound and then closed the heavy door slowly, leaving Manko alone in an almost completely empty space. Manko looked around. He was standing in a small white dome, punctured with holes the size of a fist. He knocked on the wall and it made a hollow metal sound. He felt as if he was captured under a huge colander. In the middle of the room stood a simple bed, without sheets. The room was pleasantly warm and completely silent.

Manko hopped over and sat down on the bed. It was a bit squeaky. If there was going to be a test, there would not be a lot to work with. He grinned, imagining he might get tested for sexual performance.

Then, all of a sudden the lights in the wall dimmed. There were new, tiny lights coming from the holes in the wall and though Manko had never been any good at astrology, he understood that this was probably a representation of a night sky. Now he started to stress out a little. If this was the first test, he would surely fail. He looked around for the only star sign he knew, the 'Big Bear', that looks like a small pan you use to boil eggs in. He could not find it.

Then he heard a soft but familiar sound. It was no doubt the sound of gas entering the room through the holes in the wall. Forget the astrology exam, this was going to be something more scary. Manko held on tightly to the edge of the bed and started smelling to distinguish what kind of gas was entering the room. He did not smell a thing.

Then the sound stopped and the lights went off. He was wondering what this substance could be. He did not feel like he was getting drugged, as he could still think very clearly. Then he suddenly realized that he did not feel his remaining leg anymore. He tried to remember what Zero's last words of advice were exactly, as he fell backwards on the bed. As he lost the last sense of his body, he realized that the lights had not shut down and the gas had not stopped. He had just lost all of his senses. And he was still able to think about this. Manko felt a panic rising that did not affect his body. No hot flushes, no trembling body, unable to make a sound. Only his mind shouting from deep inside of his skull: 'get me out of here!'

To be continued...

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