Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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Lineage and Legacy

by Gregory Cioffi





21st Century Earth

Walter Koke was undeniably elderly. The few strands of white hair, that only a few years ago covered the multitude of brown age spots on his scalp, had all but disappeared. He had a chronic cough and many claimed they had observed the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Despite these speculated setbacks however, he remained alive as ever.

Walter had spent his life further growing the empire that had been bestowed upon him and did so with conviction and success. Now, as the reigns of the company had been passed down, he looked forward to only one particular semi-annual meeting he hosted at his estate. And one such meeting was about to occur.

His assistant, through the labyrinth of halls and rooms that comprised the manor, was wheeling Walter at a moderate pace. This was a usual happening, although people often questioned why Walter did not purchase a more modern wheelchair; a battery powered one for example. Some said he was simply old-fashioned, others believed he enjoyed the servitude of making others push him around all day. And then there were those who suggested that he feared losing the company of his oldest friend and adviser, despite their blatant difference in social status.

Walter had a blanket spread across his lap and still dressed business casual; he wore a dark blue suit with a light gray button-downed shirt underneath. The top two buttons were open, something you would have never seen from Walter Koke thirty years ago.

The pair found themselves in front of a massive wooden double-door. Walter’s assistant let go of the wheelchair and walked over to the entrance to the next room. With a modest degree of effort, he pushed the large doors open and walked back to the wheelchair to push Walter through to the other side.

The room was a study, classical in nature and style. A roaring fire abided in the center wall, opposite the entrance doors. Surrounding the mantle were bookcases as high as the ceiling allowed, which continued to adorn the room along all four walls. Multiple patent-leather armchairs garnished the room and it seemed as if each one had a glass table to accompany it. Neither the tables nor the chairs were vacant. Each table was embellished with a lowball glass and each glass was enhanced with a brown liquid. Each chair was being sat on, and each person who sat, did so with a smile at the sight of Walter Koke being rolled in.

The assistant placed his boss in his usual spot, closest to the fire but angled in a way so he faced all his guests, and made his way back to the exit. He pulled the two doors closed simultaneously, leaving the men secluded for their private gathering.

*****


26th Century Earth

Braylon Koke was evidently enthusiastic. He was a youth filled with wonder and ambition with an ever-present smile chiseled from curiosity itself; but more often than not he distracted himself to the point where he hardly finished what he started. But today was different. Today was a day he could not turn back from, not at this point anyway.

He was also running late, not a foreign concept to those who knew him. Braylon sped passed people and robots alike until he came to his destination - Shaft 3. As he entered the lift, he was simultaneously scanned and approved to proceed. Shaft 3 was far from empty, with perhaps a dozen adolescents present. The gate closed as Braylon took a deep breath, thankful he made it on time, albeit barely. He felt the platform activate as the lift departed from ground level.

Braylon looked out the surrounding windows, transfixed by the experience as he had never been on a space-line before; he found it smoother than expected and thought it interesting that the entire transport was monitored and maintained by Artificial Intelligence.

Braylon couldn’t help but think of the uncharacteristic affection his parents had displayed that morning, something extremely uncommon in his household but chalked it up to the possibility that he was going to be gone for an extended period of time. Braylon’s parents had continually urged their son to accept the advancements of the nanotechnology and biotechnology of the day and encouraged him to upgrade himself to trans-human, as the majority of people had done. But these aides did not excite Braylon; he treasured the ability to require sleep because he treasured the ability to dream. Although he indeed did have numerous enhancements, which were rudimentary procedures, and often engaged in mind-uploading, he chose to maintain a minimally updated human body, making him one of the few who remained more biological than non-biological. He believed, contrary to nearly everyone else, this provided him with a primitive edge, something he believed was lost in transition.

Even without many of these advancements, he kept up in school and in life and currently found himself anxiously embarking on the next phase of his journey, although he had no idea what this step actually was as he, for lack of a better word, was ordered to be on this shaft.

He looked around at the other youths in the elevator and wondered what they inferred about him, being though he was relatively different, biological and all. He then pondered if they knew where they were all heading, something Braylon couldn’t wait to find out.

One young woman with pale blonde hair caught Braylon’s eye. He smirked at her with that vast smile and the efficacy of causality responded in kind as a minute grin formed on her face as well. The small gesture eased Braylon’s apprehensive stomach as he found a fraction of hope and alleviation. The group traveled upwards in Space-Line 13, the intergalactic elevator that would, in a few hours time, bring them to Space Station 10.

*****


Walter looked around the room to find familiar faces. On the table next to him was a pre-poured glass of alcohol, which he picked up. Before he spoke, he looked over at the fire. The flames danced irregularly, impossible to predict yet, at the same time, they behaved as they always did. He watched in fascination.

“Funny,” he began. “Fire.” He became entranced by the brightness of the blaze for a moment before continuing, “I wonder: when fire was discovered by man, if that particular Neanderthal was burned at the stake as a result.”

A few chuckles echoed throughout the room but Walter did not break his meld with the scintillating luster.

“How is everyone?” he said, finally addressing each guest in the room.

A few positive choice words reverberated in the space and he nodded his head. Walter picked up his drink and gave it a swirl, looking at the color of the liquid in the glass. While transfixed he asked, “Well, what’s going on? Updates?”

A man with thinning pale blonde hair responded, “You are now looking at the CEO of the largest company specializing in flood mitigation and defense systems.” After a round a claps and cheers, he continued, “We were able to close a few deals already, about $20 Billion each, to build new levees and sea walls in coastal zones of various cities, and to study the construction of additional structures. And this is now; imagine what our prices will be as the sea levels continue to rise. And the best part is private citizens aren’t selling because there is way too much money already invested in coastal real estate.”

“That’s where I come in!” an emaciated looking woman declared as she pointed her finger up in the air. “We will soon reach the apex of what I can get for coastal real estate properties. I’ve constructed a long-term plan where we buy up cheap inland territories at a rapid pace while slowly selling off landholdings that eventually will be inhabitable. Those inland territories will become invaluable to say the least.”

“Who would have thought the mid-west would have beach front property,” Walter jested, the rest of the audience subsequently following his lead. “Anyone else?”

A young man raised his hand. “I’ve got something. It sounds a little more on the obvious side but I think it works nonetheless. As it gets hotter and hotter, we will need to get cooler and cooler. Heat-related deaths will be on the rise. Blatant solution? Air conditioning! In the last six months, my team has launched an air conditioning distribution company and our goal is, in five years time, to become the world’s largest ventilation and air conditioning distributor. Soon these products will no longer be an amenity but a necessity.”

Nodding heads could be seen scattered around the room, including Walter who seemed very pleased. “Good job. Nothing like a little common sense is what I always say. Bill, stock talk?”

William Headley was a plump man with glasses as thick as the books he read. He nodded in acknowledgement and answered, “As the world debates the politics and validity of this natural disaster, I suggest we do a little long-term investing. The first obvious choice seems to be water. We’re talking about a fund that has about $1 billion in assets and is designed to invest 90% of that money in stocks that create products designed to conserve and purify water for homes, businesses, and industries. I’d also keep my eye on electric vehicles, as automakers are inevitably moving towards low-emission and zero-emission vehicles. And, of course, the one I’ve been saying for years: nuclear energy. We will be forced to move away from fossil fuels and this event we have been discussing will only increase the shift.”

“Thank you, Bill,” said Walter. He looked around the room. “Very impressive, very impressive indeed.”

“Those in propaganda wish to know if they are to proceed as planned,” said one of the younger members of the group.

Walter looked at the young man, almost in disgust before catching himself and putting up his jubilant façade. “I suppose so. Although, I have to admit, people seem to be doing the work for us or so it seems. Perhaps they really will accept the truth only when it is too late for them. So, yes, continue to deny the natural disaster and its impending approach. Unless a technological breakthrough occurs that would not be a preventative measure, but rather a reversing one where the damage we have done could be undone, we will continue to deny it all.”

A multitude of mutters could be heard from the group.

Walter continued, “Anything else?”

*****


Braylon’s first thought of the briefing room on Space Station 10 was that it was drab and overly pragmatic. The biggest oddity and overall disappointment for him, however, were the windows out into space, which were all covered with a tarp-like material, a futile action or so it seemed. Braylon was looking forward to the view as it always reminded him of his infinitesimal nature in the grand scheme of things, a thought he felt curiously comforted by.

“Everyone take a seat,” ordered an authoritarian voice.

Everyone did as was told and a middle-aged officer walked to the front of the room. Braylon sat so that he would have a clear view of both the instructor and the girl who earlier sanctified him with but a grin.

“Welcome to Space Station 10. You will not be kept here longer than needed but it is important you are briefed at once. I am Instructor Xander and it is my job to,” he hesitated for a moment, “Prepare you. So, let me give it to you straight. This morning was the last time you will have ever set foot upon Earth.”

An uncomfortable energy suddenly loomed in the room. Some bickered to their neighbor but Braylon remained silent, unable to speak even if he wished to.

“All of you know that the terraforming of Mars, which began construction nearly 400 years ago, has been nearing completion. CO2 has successfully been converted into oxygen. Nitrogen is being produced. An artificial magnetic field is up and running, and seas and oceans are forming on the surface. Fish, birds, mammals, and reptiles have just been successfully introduced. It is now also safe for human beings, on some areas of the planet, to walk on the surface without the use of any extraneous technology. Mars is almost a habitable planet; we are only a few steps away from essentially creating a second Earth.”

“We know this already,” interrupted an adolescent with fiery red hair and a freckled complexion. “Anyone who has plugged in, in the last hundred years knows this.”

“True,” the instructor matter-of-factually stated. “But that is not everything. There are things your precious updates do not tell you. Certain knowledge is blocked, concealed under the guise of total free-flowing information.“

“Impossible,” objected Braylon’s infatuation with pale blonde hair.

“If the last few hundred years have taught us anything, it is that nothing is impossible.”

“But why would knowledge be withheld?” Braylon asked with a complete and utter lack of confidence.

“For the same reasons knowledge has always been withheld. Although such a measure was once strictly a human characteristic, one cannot deny a certain degree of logic to well-intentioned untruths and artificial intelligences, even the ones in government, concur.”

There was in air of disbelief in the room and no one dared question the instructor further, eager to hear, perhaps for the first time, unadulterated truth.

“Are you all familiar with Project Swarm?”

“The sphere that harvests all the energy output from the sun,” a girl in the back answered.

“Correct. For years, vast swarms of automated, self-replicating machines have been building the mega-structure needed to encompass our star, which would provide us with the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of our technological civilization. We were near completion when very recently, an incident occurred. The extra mass of our structure has increased the Sun’s gravitational pull just enough to pull in the incomplete sphere and as we speak, Mercury along with it into the sun itself. This will essentially refuel the sun, causing it to burn brighter. The sun’s luminosity was not due to increase until the year 1,000,000,000. As a result, Earth will very quickly become too hot to support liquid water and subsequently, human life. You are going to Mars because that will soon be the only livable option we have.”

A hush silenced came over the room accompanied by a palpable tension.

“But we’re trans-human,” squeaked out an adolescent girl.

“Advancements aside, we still require water to live at this stage of our evolution. Perhaps one day we will not, but those discoveries will not be made on Earth.”

“Why are we here?” asked Braylon, this time a little more forceful. “I mean, why us specifically?”

“Mars’ settlement cannot yet sustain the entirely of human civilization as the terraforming is still incomplete. Therefore, only a percentage of our people can go. We have already transferred the best men and women from all occupations needed to preserve a society. You are here because the tickets to your seats were bought and paid for long ago. The specifics vary, and at this stage, they are irrelevant.”

“What about our parents?” asked the red-haired boy.

“There will be a lottery conducted in secret. It is possible that they may join you still.”

Instructor Xander observed the young faces as he tried his best to ensure that the emotional mess that was transpiring inside of him did not sway his calm demeanor.

“I understand that what I have told you is the hardest thing you have ever had to hear. Feel free to adjust your emotional manipulators accordingly. Know that you are our future and our existence will go on because of the advancements you will make in your lifetimes. Tomorrow we will head to Mars. You will receive host families, perhaps some you may even recognize. Are there any questions?”

Xander waited but the magnitude of such news made it undesirable for further inquiry. He concluded, “You all have quarters if you wish to visit them; you have a lot to take in. Dismissed.”

As the group scattered, Braylon nervously meandered up to Instructor Xander.

“May I help you, Mister Koke?”

Distracted by the fact that he even knew his name, a series of questions entered Braylon’s thoughts but all he could get himself to ask was, “Will it be safe for me too? I’m more biological than not.”

Xander smirked and nodded. “It will.”

A very slight degree of assurance came over Braylon. He turned around to walk out of the briefing room but suddenly stopped, turned back to face the instructor and with that contagious smile he had all his life asked, “See you on the surface?”

Instructor Xander grinned as best he could, clearly holding back a wistful impulse, and with the slightest of movements, shook his head.

The smile faded and Braylon knew he could do nothing but turn around once more and join the others who had departed. He recognized immediately that although he was sure he would smile again, the expression would never be quite the same.

*****


Walter looked out at the vast array of cultivated plants and flowers in his garden. He came out to observe his nursery every so often, although as of late he had neglected the intrinsic beauty of the sanctuary. When he was middle-aged and under far more stress, he made it a point to come here once a day, no matter what. It provided him with what he believed was perspective and harmony.

He currently found himself engrossed with one in particular – a neon green colored plant he was told was called Flypaper, at least for the layman. The plant was covered with mosquitoes, each one trapped perilously in a sticky digestive enzyme. Walter admired the plant, which grabbed hold of anything that landed on it and immediately attempted to digest it. He felt strangely connected to the multicellular Plantae; they were opportunists, unafraid to grasp what they felt was theirs.

Walter heard the French door close and his enchantment was broken. He looked over to see his assistant.

“Do you require anything, sir?”

Walter shook his head without looking at the man while motioning for him to sit.

“As you wish.”

The assistant sat on the bench next to where Walter was parked.

“How long have you worked for me?”

“Over thirty years, I believe.”

“Thirty-four. Thirty-four years. How haven’t you quit yet!?”

“I tend to think you would fall apart, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“I don’t mind anything that you say. You know that by now.”

“Yes, sir. How was your meeting?”

“Depressing.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Walter hesitated, as if weighing whether whatever was about to come out of his mouth was worthwhile. Finally, he asked, “Do you think I’m wrong?”

“Sir?”

“Cut the crap. You know who I am and what I do. You know who those people are too.”

The assistant thought before answering, something he always did that Walter admired. Finally, he shrugged and simply said, “I don’t know.”

“That makes two of us.”

“What are you doing?”

“Playing both sides. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the specifics and what will be. What I know is that there will be challenges. Eventually there will be less land, less food, and more people. The individuals in that room today will control 90% of virtually everything in tomorrow’s world. These people, if you want to call them that, are prepared to capitalize on chaos. Some might even want disaster to strike sooner rather than later, war profiteers is what they are. You have real estate moguls in there, whose legacy will flourish when the sea levels make many areas of this world uninhabitable. You have agricultural guys whose lineage will control the food supply years down the road. And while I am apart of them, I am also in the business of aiding life; something they cannot fathom. I’ve been concentrating on creating artificial self-replicating systems for machines.”

“Pardon my ignorance, sir, but what does that mean precisely?”

“It means, my friend, self-replicating robots. Robots that can go out and do the things we cannot – or perhaps should not.”

“Like in factories, things of that nature?”

“No, no. Far greater things. Robots that can go into space and build things that are too dangerous for us to attempt. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know a damn thing about the technical side of it all, that’s just where my money comes in. But that’s where it’s going. Those people in that room are adjusting for a very different future than me, but the difference is, I’m preparing for both. Might we figure out an answer by then? I hope so. But if we can’t, war will be inevitable and the only certainty out there is that money will still be the key to one’s prosperity.”

“War seems to never go away, sir.”

“You know the old phrase, the poor fight the rich man’s wars?”

“I’ve heard it.”

“It’s the sad truth, you know. It’s the reason I do what I do, what I’ve always done: protect. Protect my lineage and my legacy. That’s where true immortality lies, don’t let anyone tell you different.”

“And why is that so important to you, sir? Especially when you’ll never actually know any member of your future descendants? Who is to say for sure, that the surname Koke will go on?”

Walter let out a deep sigh and looked up at the sun as its rays beamed down to warm his face. “I don’t know. It’s intuitive, perhaps even primal. It’s simply part of who we are. Don’t get me wrong; I feel a deep bond with our kind as a whole. I just feel a deeper one for my own blood.”

“Blood being thicker than water?”

“Something like that.”

“Well I’m sure the middle class you are inadvertently destroying might disagree.”

Walter looked at his assistant with heavy eyes but the man did not falter nor back down in his poise.

“The truth is, sir, I don’t know what the long-term outcome will be of this race to wealth your family has embarked upon, other than in the end, a small number of individuals will have a privilege to survive because of the family they come from, which is no different, I suppose, than the rest of human history.”

“Discouraging, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

The two sat there in silence, simply looking at the beauty that encompassed them. Eventually Walter turned to his assistant.

“Do you have any children?”

With a little chuckle, the attendant answered, “Yes, sir. Two boys. All grown up as well.”

Walter nodded with a certain degree of shame over not knowing this information. He looked over at the man who had been at his side for decades.

“Do they have that fiery red hair of yours?”

“Indeed they do, sir.”

“Poor bastards.”

The two laughed.

Walter took a deep breath and stated, “I’m dying, you know.”

“Aren’t we all, sir.”

Walter smirked at the answer and replied, “Skin cancer. Probably from being out here so damn much.”

“To be honest, I am aware of your condition.”

“You are?”

“Of course. I handle all of your affairs. Even the ones you don’t want anyone to find out about, including me.”

“Well that’s comforting,” Walter replied with a mocking jest.

“Can I ask you something, sir?”

“Always.”

“All this business of stashing your assets all the while investing in future technologies, yet keeping certain information out of the publics’ eye – all to ensure a Koke will be able to go on elsewhere, seems like a heavy price to pay, no?”

Walter carefully observed the man beside him. He retreated back into his wheelchair and looked upwards while closing his eyes. Walter enjoyed the all-too-brief serenity of silence, basking in the shine of our bright star. A few moments later he let his face fall to his side, facing his finest assistant. He opened his eyes and belatedly answered, in the softest of tones, “Make no mistake, my friend - it is the ultimate price.”


THE END


© 2017 Gregory Cioffi

Bio: "As a writer, Greg's short stories The Catacombs of Truth, Sleeper, A Peep at London Life, Plot, and Cuisine Aquatic have all been published by Feral Press and subsequently archived at Yale Univeristy’s Beinecke Collection (Rare Books and Manuscript Library ), while Faceless and Dark Circles have been published by Blood Moon Rising Literary Magazine. Two of his poems (Love Verboten, and The Interlocking) were published as a part of a poetry anthology entitled Paumanok Interwoven. His original play The Letter was chosen and produced as part of the 2010 Long Island Fringe Festival and his next play, The Interim was selected to the 2011 New York City International Fringe Festival, the largest theatre festival in North America.

Other original plays that have been produced include Cul-de- Sac, Ménage a Twat (which won Most Popular Production at the Midtown International Theatre Festival), Death by Peanut Butter (Producers Club, NYC) and Qualia: Origins of the Undead, which ran for three seasons on Long Island. His screenwriting credits include The Interview (Nominated Best Comedy Short: Central Florida Film Festival), Evening Class, Silenced, Sex in Literature, To Wonder If…, and The Museum of Lost Things. These films have had numerous official selections at various film festivals such as: The Friar’s Club Film Festival, The Long Island International Film Expo, The Big Apple at Tribeca Film Festival, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival."

E-mail: Gregory Cioffi

http://www.gandeproductions.com/

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