May 4, 2037
G. E. P. : 53.78%, plus/minus 0.18%
What caught David's eye when his son had first shown him the advertisement, were the headlines. They danced in front of his eyes like a furtive wraith, promising a treasure out of reach. It snatched his attention and played with it, toying with his rationality. Yet before he had reached the end, the message had lost its power over him. He broke free of the jargon and stared down dismally at little Johnathan. This wouldn't happen to his son, that's for sure.
Johnathan seemed to know what his father was thinking before the man even opened his mouth. It scared David that the implants they put in infants when they were born were getting more and more advanced. At first the devices had been only for increasing learning capacity. After that became a snap, all the government officials sat down to decide what other paraphernalia they could stuff into the young minds of America. They had been trying to raise an optimum generation. Too bad the little things just got out of hand.
"Johnathan," David began, the tone of his voice easily giving away his intent. The boy knew the difference between a cool hand and outright rejection. His learned self though had equated the responses of both. No amount of softening the blow would soothe this child who would not cry, who would not scream, who would not lose control. The implants were very skilled at controlling bodily functions and the application of stress only made "Imps" (as they were called by most) strikingly and sometimes frighteningly calm in the face of adversity.
"You know I can't allow this." David decided to come right out and say it. It made no difference to the boy. Johnathan, did not become angry, yet seemed to lose all emotional references. Imps could experience powerful emotion if they wished. All they had to do was shut off the internal barriers that blocked the release of the neurotransmitters in the brain which brought about human feelings. Johnathan kept all his barriers up. A monolith of non-emotion.
"I will die if you don't," he spoke calmly, his face blank. "You will not," David spat, disgusted. "Do you believe everything you see on the news-vids?"
"The epidemic can't be controlled. I will die." "I don't want to hear any more about this infernal process these people have. You are not going to subject yourself to anything of that nature, is that understood?"
Seeing a chance to take advantage of guilt, Johnathan took down the barrier that had been blocking his sadness. Tears came in a flow so great, the stream dripped past his chin and was carried down the loose collar of his blue t-shirt. When the boy had first tried this on his father, it had been when he'd wanted some toy or other, most likely now forgotten. David had felt like he was drowning under those tears. They made him gasp for breath and struggle to keep himself sane. Now however, he had learned to dispel the feeling. He could still feel it, but was much more easily handled. Yet it would be only a matter of time, perhaps a few days, until Johnathan would realize that the tactic no longer was effective. Then he would begin using alternate methods. Johnathan was a smaller than average two-and-a-half year old. His crop of light brown hair stood on end, cut short to resemble his father's. For the first two years or so of the boy's life, he had adored his father and worshipped him almost religiously. He'd written stories about him, of which two had been published and many more distributed on the net. David had always been portrayed as the hero of his son's medieval setting tales. Of late, David had become the villain more often than he would have wished. Johnathan had even recently written a contempt ridden story in which David was an evil sorcerer who ended the fantasy prematurely by killing the hero and disposing of his fiance in an utterly repugnant display of brutality. He had fed the woman to his pet dragons while she had still been alive.
The power of the boy's prose was undeniable. More than once in the past month, David had jerked awake in the middle of the night, fresh images of a screaming, kicking, yet hopelessly doomed woman being fed upon by horrible winged beasts. They tore her apart piece by fleshy piece. Her blood shone in the bright sun as it seeped over her body. He'd never seen what happened next, for abrupt consciousness always pulled him, sweating profusely out of the malevolent nightmare. Sometimes he had trouble distinguishing which world was real. He had talked with his psychiatrist about it and had been prescribed some medication. It hadn't helped much. As the boy shuffled away into his room, the front door, just to David's left swung open. A masked and struggling Anne had arrived home. She juggled two large reesike containers as she whimsically pushed the door shut with a graceful push of her high heeled shoe. Placing the reesikes on the nearest table, she stopped and listened to the crying coming from Johnathan's room. She took off the mask and began unloading the plasticized containers, a stony expression on her face. "What have you done to him now?" she asked bitterly. David defended himself. Anne and himself had been born in the pre-implant era and so did not have enhanced debating abilities. This was one fight that David thought he could win. "I did nothing to him. He wants to go to this crazy place that immunizes children from disease."
Anne glared at him. She had never heard of such a place, but an opportunity like that should have been broadcast all over the vids. A chance to survive the plagues of humanity was not something one took lightly. "You bastard! You want him to die with us don't you? You couldn't stand it if you had to die, still in your thirties, and he got to live a long healthy life." She angrily tossed an empty reesike to the carpeted floor where it bounced just to the left of David's chair.
"You haven't been listening. Do you know what they do at this place?"
"They only offer the chance to extend life, the chance to survive this holocaust."
"They immunize children by turning them into animals," David hissed, now his turn to glare at his wife. Anne blinked in surprise. "Oh David, I'm sorry... I didn't know, I..."
Anne was silent for a moment, then she turned back to David's grim face. "Shouldn't we at least check this place out? I mean if it's a chance to save Johnathan it's at least worth a look isn't it?"
"Perhaps some other time," David replied nonchalantly. He flipped on the news vid across the room. It lit up with pictures of disease, death and decadence. It was the same everyday, but some people just never got tired of seeing it over and over. David thought himself to have increased his tolerance toward the grisly images. In fact, they still made him nauseated every time he saw them. Yet he needed something to take his mind off of Johnathan for a while. News vids were as good as anything else designed to kill time.
"There isn't any more time," Anne exclaimed. "What's that number now... over fifty percent, last time I heard. We've got to at least explore our options."
David sighed. A long sigh meant to exhibit signs of giving in. He wasn't, but it was the only way Anne would feel any better. He said nothing, and after a while, Anne began to put the days groceries away. David still couldn't understand why the woman actually went out to get the groceries when she could get them delivered. Sentimentality, he guessed.
Silently, enough that he could barely hear it, the door to Johnathan's room clicked shut.
David had thought more than once about quitting his job. He sat at a desk all day calculating how much the relatives of doomed disease victims were going to get in insurance claims. Monotony was inevitable in his line of work, and because error was not, his employer refrained from computer processing the claims. They all had to be done right. These days, one small error in the recipients favour set the insurance company moguls on fire. Almost half a dozen employees had already been politely, yet suddenly let go. They were never told the reason, but didn't need to be. Individuals could be blamed as separate entities from the claims division. If the place had been run by computer however, the entire network would be placed at fault. No insurance company would ever deal with them again. He smiled lightly as he pictured crying execs on their knees, trying to convince a wronged customer that the computers had been "fixed."
He fingered the small plastic mask that sat stoically on his desk. He'd almost forgotten it again this morning. Johnathan had given it to him before he had left the house. David had caught himself before he had begun to assume that this was the new method of attack young Johnathan had taken up in the everlasting struggle between parent and child. The boy was just trying to be nice. Trying to save his life.
David wouldn't last a minute outside without picking up some kind of pathogen. In fact, because of the growing number of victims, the instances of healthy citizens acquiring a disease had begun to increase exponentially in the last few months. The Global Epidemic Percentage had risen almost a full percentage point in the last thirty days alone. It wouldn't be long before the number neared one-hundred.
This whole tragic catastrophe had taken place when a large pharmaceutical company had decided to try something new. So new, several laws were made subsequentially to stop anything similar. Hagfield Corporation had poisoned the world. For a number of years, the company had engineered an arsenal of biological weapons. Silently, they released them into the public over a few months.
Initial contact was brutal.
David still remembered the pictures, the first to be broadcast over the vids. They held back nothing yet only made him moderately concerned. Screaming, pus-broken faces were made into inanimate things that he neglected to take seriously. And why shouldn't he have? he'd once thought. The vids had also shown him pictures of emaciated victims of AIDS and Hauselton's Disease. According to them, we had forged a costly truce with the ugly forces behind these afflictions. Yet David had never seen any of these viral receptacles in the flesh. Always it was a distant, separated pain he felt for these people. A pain he had rarely felt. And then the insurance claims had flooded in. Hundreds, then thousands, and finally into the millions. Hagfield became the target of many malicious rumours when it had conveniently "discovered" the cure to many of the diseases. The cures had been outrageously expensive when they had first appeared, and over ten million American citizens had succumbed before the Presidency had declared a national emergency. Hagfield, even though not blamed outright for the appearance of the diseases, was forced to distribute the medication free of charge to anybody who needed it. The day after this declaration the Hagfield complex was obliterated by an insane religious cult trying to instigate Armageddon. Suicides increased a thousand-fold as hundreds of other companies around the world began formulating and distributing vaccines and medication to replace those that had been destroyed with Hagfield. Apparently, nothing measured up to the original. Humanity was on the losing side this time. David was losing his composure. Death after death poured through his office, never once inoculating him against the rage he felt against its relentless nature. Even now, lawyers guarded the remaining Hagfield executives, resolutely maintaining that they had never released any pathogen into the atmosphere. Underground information suggested otherwise.
As mortality passed endlessly before his eyes, a yellow memo floated to his desk. He clutched at it and looked up at his secretary. Her face was blank, but her eyes registered deep and total regret. She looked at him with pain that had been cultured for many minutes before she had entered his sparse, colourless office.
David glanced down at the memo and finally, after all of the certificates declaring the deaths of others, he received his own. He had been fired.
"David I... I'm sorry," she stammered, tears forming in the soft pink of her eyes. She rubbed her hands together, looking as if she might break their fragile construction.
With this single memo, David's life had fallen apart like dry brittle bones. He'd never even considered this occurring. His jaw trembled, quieting his secretary's consoling spew of apologies. Her face red with emotion, she turned and fled the room, slamming the door behind her. From her actions, David assumed that she had also been let go. This would hurt her more than it would hurt himself, his family included. Yet he still thought of his own uncertain future. Let the rest of the world take care of itself. It had turned its mosaic patterned back to him, deeming him unworthy of life.
For without income, what was life?
It took him ten minutes to gather all of his belongings from the office. The walls still looked the same, the large window looking upon a cityscape that coyly hid the death that permeated it to its black sulphurous core. The sun shone through sky as blue as it had always been. Not a cloud for miles, no sorrow for eternity. It was maddeningly unfeeling, yet he knew all his rights would be ignored. No one could fight for his job in this day and age. There were too many problems of a greater calibre to be concerned with.
David took the elevator to the ground floor, and bought a coffee, black of course, from the commissary. His briefcase held awkwardly under his arm, he slipped on his mask and passed through the biofilters. A light and annoyingly happy beep signalled that he was clean. Passing his case to his left hand he stepped out into the bright day of the world.
He sipped his coffee and burned himself, a muted sensation which only barely caused a response. Masked businessmen wandered the streets along with the unclean, jostling each other rudely. They all grudgingly ignored the economical battle unfolding between them. The businessmen because they could afford preventative measures that the poor could not. The poor because they knew, they all knew, it wouldn't matter in the end. No one would be spared. Disease had no prejudices, no preference. It killed whom it pleased, and killed often.
David tried to catch the early bus home, but missed it. Like everything else in this dead end world, it had left him behind, forgotten. Defeated, he stopped into a biofiltered cafe and finished his coffee along with a stale danish. When he was feeling better, he slid the mask back on and re-entered the streets. The next out of town bus would not arrive until six, his normal time for taking it home. But that was two hours away. He found a pay phone, slid in his card and called a taxi.
It pulled up to the curb a few minutes later. The driver was wearing a mask and motioned for David to enter. Upon telling the driver where to take him, David settled back for an uneventful, albeit expensive, ride out of the stony jungle of the city. He thought about what he was going to tell his wife. What would she think? What would he do to keep his family safe and alive? No answers came to him, or more accurately, none that he wanted to think about.
Ahead the dull monotony of cars was broken by a figure stumbling blindly into traffic. David watched in horror as two cars narrowly missed the staggering form that was evidently a young male. The third car could not stop in time.
The body flew limply through the air and smacked the hood of an oncoming car. Brakes filled the air with screams that became more human as they faded. David jumped out of the cab despite the driver's protests, and ran to the body that was only thirty yards away from where the taxi had stopped. He hopped cars, slid between hissing engines that seemed to spite him with their malicious whirring. All else forgotten, David was soon standing over the body that lay crumpled on the bright white hood. The other vehicles remained closed boxes, some even moving off to resume their doomed lives.
The boy was clearly dead, half from the impact and half from a malignant form of Wendel's syndrome. Much like cancer in its style of killing, Wendel's set the body endlessly manufacturing scar tissue which consumed the body until it could no longer function. The boy's misshapen face held two eyes coated with white flesh, preventing him from opening them. From the look of them, David could tell that someone had tried to cut them open, but didn't get very far. The sightless boy had stumbled into traffic and gotten himself killed. Blood trailed slowly down the hood in three lazy rivers, dripping onto the hot pavement. The world seemed to fall away from him in shards. The horns, the screams, the crying, all faded into a wash of feeling David had never known he was capable of.
He cradled the boy's lifeless head and his tears mingled with blood and a broken heart.
May 7, 2037
G. E. P. : 53.85%, plus/minus 0.14%
Once he had been cleared later that evening, David was driven home in a quiet police cruiser. His wife obviously wanted an explanation, but he was too stunned to offer one. He undressed and went straight to bed, not sleeping a wink.
Two days later and his balance of sleep had still not been made up. An overwhelming feeling of oppression hovered over him. He told Anne about his loss of a job, yet she didn't seem surprised. She went about her life as if it hadn't happened. Sometimes he wondered by what mental reasoning she maintained her rationality. He certainly didn't know how she could go on living when she knew she was doomed without an income.
He asked her about it that morning and she glared at him with a penetrating stare. Her eyes burrowed to his heart, magnifying the strange emotion with each passing moment. It had taken him to almost noon to finally figure out what emotion had been filling him with so much pain. Its name laughed at him, spat on him in ridicule. David could hardly bear the monster he had become. The laughter devoured him slowly like a fire, yet from the inside out. He had been watching Johnathan when it came to him. Intense guilt. How could he deprive his son of a future by holding him so tightly? It ate at his defences and caused him to relent under its onslaught. He booked an appointment with the company depicted in the advertisement for later that afternoon.
The Paradigms Research Facility was a large complex located just outside of Knoxville. It was relatively new, considering it had been built specifically because of the epidemics. There were perhaps fourteen large buildings resembling warehouses, with a scattering of smaller structures throughout it all. The main offices were located in the first small building they came to. About the size of a large house, it tried desperately to convey a feeling of gaiety and life to the complex as a whole. It wasn't a bad job.
Flowers flooded the small yard in front of the double doors. A path circled round the either side of the immense garden and joined the sidewalk that emerged from the parking lot. David found that it made him feel slightly better about all of this. Anne and Johnathan waited for him to take the first step. After a moment of hesitation, David took a deep breath and followed the left path around to the doors.
Upon opening them, a fresh scent of sea air rolled over them. Everything about this place is meant to feel clean and organic, David thought to himself. He must remember to get this scent program for their own house. They walked through the biofilters, which not surprisingly, declared them clean. The great hall they stood in had a single door at the far end, and apart from the marble floor and a few paintings interrupting the expanse of the beige walls, it was the only distinguishing feature. They walked in silence toward it and David opened it. He jumped back as a woman and a small girl, even younger than Johnathan, walked out with smiles on their faces. A couple of white suited workers appeared out of nowhere and guided them out the double doors into the sunlight. David caught himself before his blank stare became noticeable. He cleared his face and entered the next room.
A pleasant faced secretary asked them their names and then pointed to a door behind her. Through this door was an office, a desk, and a shiny skinned man sitting and smiling behind it. "Welcome," he exclaimed. "Please, have a seat." He pointed to the chairs in front of the desk with a chubby finger. His smile seemed to be holding his face from falling off completely. When they had been seated the man continued. "And you are... wait don't tell me." He glanced at a small computer pad on the desk in front of him. "Mr. and Ms. Robson right?" he chuckled. David and Anne grinned politely.
"Well, let's begin." The man cleared his throat and pulled open a drawer to his left in the desk. He pulled out a sheet of paper and then shut it again. With an even bigger smile, the man passed the paper over to David and Anne. "My name's George Mitchner, but call me George." George sat back in his huge leather chair and nodded toward the paper. "That's a legal formality that we have to go through to please our lawyers. Please," he smiled again. "Take your time reading it, I don't want you to feel like you're leaping into this."
David picked up the paper and skimmed through the text. It was a binding contract, that allowed Paradigms to press charges against those who distributed certain "method specific information." But only if he signed. He looked up at the sweaty man with a concerned expression on his face. "If I sign this, does my son have to undergo any of this..." he searched for a word but couldn't find one. George saved him.
"No, of course not. Your son will be placed on a list of potential applicants, but will move no farther without your permission." George folded his hands and placed them on the desk. He seemed extremely fidgety, but trustworthy. David was produced a pen from an inside pocket and noticed that it was red. He had no other pens. "Is this all right?" he asked George, pointing to the pen. The large man nodded enthusiastically. David swallowed deeply and signed the familiar flourish of penmanship that was his signature. It was strange, but the brightness and neatness of the rest of the contract made David's signature look small and insignificant. The red ink stood out like a wound in the paper.
George took back the paper and glanced it over. "This is fine," he said cheerfully as he placed it in a second drawer and shut it as well. He folded his hands once more and leaned slightly forward as if he wanted to tell them a secret. "I'm sure you all have questions to ask so I'll do the best I can to answer them." Out of general respect, that might or might not have been as a result of fear, Anne and Johnathan allowed David to ask the first question. "Could you perhaps explain what exactly takes place here?"
"Certainly," the man returned joyfully, then settled into his chair as if he was going to tell them all a bedtime story. David found it slightly annoying, but as to his wife and son's reaction he couldn't tell. "How long has it been, two years right? Two years since manufactured diseases emerged into society. Hagfield thought it had a great thing going for them, but there was one little problem. The diseases they had made were too powerful. They killed faster than they should have, which frightened them.
Yet the medications and cures still worked until they were bombed."
"I've heard all this before," David said impatiently. George made a motion for David to calm himself and then he continued. "You see, with Hagfield destroyed, the human race hasn't got a chance. The diseases were specifically designed for humanity, to cripple, to maim and to kill. Yet it spared the animals. True, one or two of the great apes were also susceptible to the diseases, but other than that, not one species other than our own has experienced adverse effects of any of Hagfield's diseases. The animals were, and still are immune." "So to make them immune, you turn them into animals," David concluded.
"Precisely," George smiled, apparently pleased that he should catch on so fast. "Effectively, we change them so that the diseases no longer recognize them. They retain all sense of their humanity yet they will never fall under the hammer of any manufactured disease that now exists."
Anne spoke up this time. "Just how," she spoke haltingly, as if she was embarrassed to ask the question. "Would you, go about doing this, exactly?" The way she was holding her hands reminded David of his secretary. He steeled himself, as it would do no good to remember that now. Even now, guilt licked hungrily at his feet. "It's a very complicated procedure, but I'll try to make it easy to understand." The man cleared his throat for a second time and the sound made David's eyes water. Something was making him nervous. Maybe it was the medication, he reminded himself to talk to his doctor after this.
"Let's say, perhaps, your son wants to become a dolphin. I can see from here that he's certainly young enough. Anyway, our talented artists carve a replica of a dolphin out of basalt marble. Very tough stuff you understand. So after they finish, we have a statue that resembles a dolphin down to the finest details. Then our technicians take over. They take the statue and lower it into a huge molten ingot of stainless steel and let it harden. This makes a sort of mould of a dolphin. We add a few things to the system after it's been streamlined and ground down so that no metal is wasted. Things like a breathing pipe with a slo-motor attachment to move the nostrils to the top of the skull and collapsing areas which shrink the legs into the body. But the mechanics is only the first part."
The man cracked his knuckles and continued. "The matrix alone won't turn the subject into anything but a human who has the outline of a dolphin. We have to add a few other things of a chemical nature. The first is an injection of nanomachines. They virtually do all the work and never make mistakes, even though they can only preform the most basic of genetic transformations. The machines alter the genetic code in stages as the needs of the subject's body change upon transformation. If the machines enter the brain, they shut off their genetic sequencers and only use physical and extra-nuclear means to alter the size and efficiency of the brain."
Anne held back an obvious gasp. "Size and efficiency?"
George shook his hands at her and shut his eyes in a gesture which conveyed something like: "Don't even think such a thing." "Perhaps I phrased that wrong. The only procedures it preforms on the brain is, one," the man held up a pasty finger. "To make it fit in the subject's newly forming skull." The man raised a second finger alongside the first. "And two, to add on or edit out parts that concern muscle control and such. For example, as a dolphin, your son will never have to use his legs, yet he'll have a tail he'll need to use. The programming he needs to use those new muscles will be written over the ones he lost with his legs." He put his fingers away and waved his hands in front of him, as if he were waving away the subject. "It's really much more complicated than it sounds, but don't you worry. Your son will be the same little fellow he was when he started.
"But to continue," the man sat back again. His voice had a sticky, lilting tone to it which David found hard to ignore. George Mitchner must be an excellent salesman. "Since the nanomachines cannot alter existing structures directly, another chemical designed to process materials like bone and hair is added. In the case of bone, the chemical will soften it, allowing it to conform to the matrix. In this way, the skeletal structure is changed, often with a few basic surgical techniques to encourage the correct orientation. After this, direct surgery must take place to move muscles to correct positions. As you know, the facial muscular systems of humans and dolphins are dramatically different. The human system must transfer to the delphindae system correctly. The muscles must be placed in the right places to facilitate proper function. Other than that, all changes occur within the confines of the matrix."
"If I enroll my son," David asked. "How long will you give us to choose his... species."
The man's smile fell a fraction. "You have as much time as you like, but the decision isn't yours. Only Johnathan can make that choice."
Anne seemed distressed and perplexed. "Why?"
The man was silent for a moment, then resumed his reasoning. "Think of it this way. If you choose his species, we can't change him back. If it's something he doesn't like, why then he'll hate himself for the rest of his life. It's because of that we allow no outside influences while the child chooses his future." David understood, yet Anne seemed to take the news reluctantly.
She looked as if she was deciding whether or not to say something.
Their eyes met, and she appeared to take comfort in the gesture.
She remained silent.
"How much and how long is this going to take?" David asked finally. George seemed to brighten, as if he thought a sale was near.
"The process is free. We are a research facility and are privately funded. I can't tell you exactly who supplies the capital, but I _can_ say that most comes from wealthy parents who want to repay us for saving their children. As for time, the entire process takes about five months. I know many top researchers are predicting the G.E.P. to go total sometime in November, but this facility will go fully self contained the day it hits seventy-five percent. No one will be allowed in or out. Not even staff. If you want to see your son after that I suggest you move into the facility. We have a number of families already living in the complex. The accommodations aren't the best, but they'll serve."
David was at a crossroads leading to loneliness and guilt. How could he ever live without his son? Or even worse, how could he live with himself if he didn't give Johnathan a chance at a long healthy life? Wasn't that the goal of parents everywhere? He knew that not accepting this offer, would be like condemning his son to a short life and a prolonged death. He couldn't do it, not now, not ever. He wasn't a murderer. His son would live. His son would live.
He glanced at Johnathan who had remained a statue through the entire interview. Lord, if it would only change that face, that expression carved in stone. He didn't want to have a robot for a son. He thought of happy times made dismal and periods of sadness made stale and undefined. It almost brought him to tears. How many times had he wished for something to make a real boy out of this puppet that was his son? Hundreds, millions, he couldn't count them all, the number was always growing. As long as Johnathan kept his implant, he would be forever separated from David. The trouble was in deciding which was worse: to be separated emotionally or in species.
"What about his implant?" David asked softly, then raising his voice to normal and repeating the question. "The changing of the brain structure and functionality will require us to remove the implant." David couldn't believe that the man was saying this as if he thought removing it was something to be mourned. He kept his mouth shut and let George continue. "Since it's tuned to Johnathan's specific brain patterns, changing the pathways of the brain would result in the implant trying to counteract it. This reaction would be damaging. If you'd like, we could order another implant to place in your son when the process is complete."
"No, no that's fine," David blurted. "I'm convinced." Anne made a small noise, then laid her hand on David's arm. "Are you sure, David?" she asked concernedly. David pushed her hand away and ignored her. She seemed slightly taken aback by this, but he needed no further input. His mind was made up. George, still smiling his insatiable smile, began retrieving the necessary paperwork.
September 20, 2037
G. E. P. : 72.40%, plus/minus 0.11%
David stared longingly at the small townhouse that had been his home. They should have left earlier, yet it had taken a warning call from Paradigms to get them moving. A slow September rain fell on his shoulders, dripping syrup to the sidewalk. Clouds boiled in the distant sky, but failed to deliver the power they displayed. The wetness made the world seem melted, plastic drooping and dissolving. The dark stone chipped and weathered, appeared to support much more weight than it should. He wondered for a moment why it had never come crashing down upon them. For years they had entrusted their lives to the architects. Now they were leaving it in the hands of someone else.
He couldn't help feeling how futile life was, and that the people who had bought this house would probably be dead in a month or two. Life had changed in the last few weeks. People now were not putting off the eventual. Sure a few hardy souls continued to live life as before, but most were preparing for their last days. Looting was common, as was murder and religious rallies to save the sinners before they all went to hell. The world had switched into fast-forward-into-destruction mode almost a month ago. The G.E.P. rose close to a full point every day now, with aetiologists now predicting totality sometime late in October. If it hadn't been for Anne's constant comforting, David knew he would have lapsed into hopeless depression. They had made love often in these last months, keeping the bond between them alive and sparking. David found he loved his wife more in this time of inevitable death, than when he had first held her hand and looked into her deep blue eyes. For the first time in his life, he knew exactly what he was doing, even if it all lead up to his death. His son would live, and along with him, the spirit of his father.
As he turned and walked to the car, a rented hauler hitched to the rear, his wife smiled at him and wiped away a warm and loving tear. Miraculously, they had remained clean and free of illness, David's mask pressing painfully into his face reminded him of that point. His wife sat in the car, a mask over her own face. They had never bothered to install biofilters in the car, an expense they could do without if they just wore their masks all the time they were outside of the house.
David walked around to the driver's side and placed his damp body behind the steering wheel. He looked at his wife once again and all his dreams touched hers in that moment. This was something they had both wanted to do, something they had pursued together. They held each other even though they never touched. Nothing could separate them.
She smiled, and he smiled back. They drove in silence, but it was filled with hope and love. They arrived at Paradigms in short order and were respectfully guided to their new home. There was nothing left to say, they had already said it all, without speaking a word.
Almost immediately after their belongings had been placed within the small apartment they had been given, the phone rang. David was confused for a moment. Who had they given the new number to already? As he picked it up, he realized it was probably someone from inside the complex who knew they had arrived. He almost dropped it when the voice on the other end told him who it was. "Dad? It's Johnathan."
David suddenly found it hard to breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his face to see if he could wipe the dream away. The world stayed where it was.
"Dad?" the voice came over the phone again. It was deeper than David remembered, and held a tinge of worry in it. He hoped that this meant the implant had been removed. "Johnathan," David said, loud enough for Anne to hear across the room. She looked up with an astonished expression on her cherub face. Her light brown hair flew as she hopped gracefully over their possessions strewn about the floor.
"It's me, dad," Johnathan said happily.
"How have you been?" David asked, not knowing what else to say. He clutched the phone to his ear as if his life would end if he let it go.
"I'm fine." Then after a pause, "I miss you."
"We miss you too, son." David desperately wanted to ask Johnathan so many things. What are you? Have they removed the implant? Has everything gone according to plan? Yet he was too embarrassed to ask. Anne nudged him to say something, but he couldn't without crying shamelessly over the phone.
"I want you to come and see me."
David leapt at the chance. "Of course, yes... when? And where are you?"
"Right now if you like. I can send a transport vehicle to pick you up."
"In how long?"
"It'll be there in about five minutes."
David handed the phone to a waiting Anne and let her commence pleasantries with Johnathan. By the time he had changed into a new, dry set of clothes, the transport had arrived and Anne was waiting for him. "He says they're almost finished with him," she remarked as they climbed into the small, white electric vehicle. He couldn't help but feel incredibly anxious. All his questions would be answered in a few short minutes, yet waiting that long was unbearable. He needed to know now. As the vehicle was unmanned and automatic, he had no one to ask until they actually got there. No one greeted them when they arrived. The transport stopped outside a door which was set in the broadside wall of one of the warehouse structures. When they entered, the biofilters beeped happily and familiarly, calming their nerves. The building certainly didn't look like a warehouse on the inside. Tan carpeting spread out into a small foyer that branched out into three hallways. A busy-looking receptionist sat behind a window set in one of the walls. She looked up as they approached and seemed to know them right away. A helpful smile lit her face and she pointed at the hallway to David's right. Not sure whether they were indeed getting closer to their son, David and Anne walked slowly down the corridor. Drafted sketches lined the walls every few feet, framed in black. Some displayed steel boxes like those explained to them by Mr. Mitchner. Yet some could not hope to be explained by David's limited knowledge of Paradigms inner workings. As they neared the single door and the end of the hall, David refrained from staring at the pictures which became progressively more mystifying.
David put his hand on the handle of the door, but did not open it. He looked at Anne who had the same expression of expectation upon it as his own. All that they had waited for lay beyond this door. Behind this door was their son's future, and in some strange spiritual sense, their own.
"David..." Anne started, but then held herself. She wanted this as much as he did.
David closed his eyes and nodded, he knew what she meant. He knew her as well as she knew herself. Perhaps all their relationship had really needed was a reassurance that their lives had a purpose. That they would continue on past the death of humanity. He let go of the doorknob and held his wife close. They had come out of the dark, into a world full of hope. They wouldn't die, couldn't die, as long as their son was alive. Nothing could shake the knowledge they held fast within their glowing hearts. The door stood just a foot away, yet their son had made them one. For one single instant, the entire world was their own, all else forgotten. How beautiful she was, David thought, tears of joy trickling from his eyes. Her blue eyes glistened with happiness before she buried them in his chest. Whatever happened, he would remember this, and how it had made him see again. And there was so much yet to see.
October 5, 2037
G. E. P. : 80.42%, plus/minus 0.07%
He was the sorcerer again. Flowing robes covered his frail frame as he waved his all powerful hand. The power felt frightening, consumingly real. Yet he couldn't stop. He stood atop the battlements of his black garrison, daring the world to come to him. The sun was setting quickly as a two figures appeared over a small rise. One was definitely male, covered in armour, finely crafted and made to be worn by men fighting on foot. The armour looked to be strong enough to stop a longbow shaft. The other silhouette was female, dressed in a blue dress as blue as... someone's eyes, he couldn't remember.
The man strode forward with a body of confidence. He knows better than that, the sorcerer laughed inwardly. Before the armoured figure was even halfway to the gate of the garrison, the sorcerer preformed a simple gesture and a rock the size of an ancient cedar fell squarely upon him. The woman still on the hill screamed in horror as the legs of the crushed hero twitched spasmodically into death. Cackling evilly, the sorcerer made another motion and transported the girl to the top of the garrison. She was truly terrified, not uttering anything intelligible except piercing screams filled with lament for the death of her betrothed. He stared at her for a moment and then snapped his fingers. A dull thud echoed in through the tower as a large door opened in it's side and dropped to the ground. A dozen huge reptilian creatures made their way into the field around the door and milled about expecting a meal. They made mock attacks on each other, designed to gain dominance. They were magnificent creatures. He watched them for a while and then turned back to the woman who still couldn't remain silent. With a lopsided grin, he magically lifted her over the side and let her screaming form drop to the waiting dragons below. They leapt upon her vigorously, tearing her apart before she hit the ground. He watched in mixed glee and horror as the grass under their feet ran red with her blood. The deep captivating blue of her dress dissolved into pale smoke amidst the fury of tooth and claw.
Suddenly his eyes were drawn to a single dragon not taking part in the frenzy. The sorcerer was puzzled, as if he had foreseen everything but this. The dragon was staring at him with penetrating eyes. A pair that he knew all too well. He was frozen by those eyes, unable to cry out. They surrounded him and drowned him in their green depths.
Then the dragon had wings and was flying up towards him. It's jaws open in hunger, claws extended to grasp supple human flesh. There was nothing he could do to stop it.
David jerked awake with terror in his heart. His back was slick with sweat, his hair a sticky mass of dusty brown. The dream had never been this real before. It had never gone this far before, even without the medication. He shook his head and tried to forget the frightening and horrifying scene he had just witnessed. The sun was rising outside, light trickled into the south-facing windows and landed on the foot of the bed. Anne lay beside him, an IV trailing into her left arm. Two days ago she had picked up one of the Hagfield diseases. It shouldn't have been surprising, since they had avoided the odds for so long. Yet when he had returned that day from a walk by the soon to be empty aquarium, she had been sprawled out on the floor, unmoving. She had not regained consciousness since then. Looking at her now, David was reminded of the boy that had been killed in the car accident. His pitiful flesh covered sockets screamed for sight much like Anne's body had once longed for David's love.
David's mind racked against the injustice. That a microbe had driven her love away from him. Wasn't love supposed to be eternal, unending, unswerving? It wasn't fair. Nothing was fair anymore. Their world had shattered when they had seen Johnathan's body for the first time.
The phone suddenly rang, and David hesitated a moment before he realized that he was the only person available to take the call. He shrugged off the covers and trudged to the phone in his boxers, picking up a pale green bathrobe on the way. A nervous voice greeted him on the other end.
"Speaking," David replied, trying not to sound as if he had just woken up. He had no desire to be rude. He couldn't stop thinking of how his wife had been stolen from him and sparking a confrontation might have offended her memory. She never had been one to stoop below social protocols. With a practiced motion, he swung on the bathrobe and cinched the belt tight at his waist. Like arms around him, it comforted him, if only slightly.
"This is Henley, sir. Your son's supervisor."
"Is something wrong?" He'd never received a call from the man directly before. He concluded that the call must have some importance other than a friendly ring.
"Your son has escaped from his room."
Now David had an excuse to be rude. "How the hell did he do that?"
"I don't know, sir. We opened it up this morning and he was gone, the matrix had been ripped open."
"I can't believe you people," David yelled. "You turn him into something that has never existed and now you tell me you let him escape? Is there anything else I should know to avoid any more little surprises?"
"Well... he can breathe fire."
"We wanted to make him as real as possible, sir."
David blew up. "Real!?! You made something that only exists in fairy tales, something that was never meant to exist at all. How can you live with yourselves? Who knows what he'll do now that he's free."
"Sir, I assure you he has retained all his mental faculties from when he was human..."
David cut the man off. "I can't see how a boy, a boy I tell you, can be given that much power and not be affected by it." Henley seemed to give up and went on with the rest of the message. "You might want to keep an eye out for him, the rest of us here at the lab think he might want to drop by to talk to you. He's very emotional, you see, and when you scolded him that way when you saw him two weeks ago he..."
David angrily slammed down the phone. The last thing he wanted was to be reminded of what they had made of his son. A monster, a misfit in a world of death. Yet as if on cue, David heard a bellow from outside. He glanced out the window. A dragon had landed on the lawn. He rushed outside and stood by the door, ready to retreat back into it if necessary.
Johnathan was an awesome and terrifying sight. He was not much taller than David when on his hind legs. His shape was vaguely human, but the similarities stopped there. The dragon was covered in bright orange scales which faded to white on his belly and underside of the tail. Centred on his chest was a splash of blood red scales that heaved in and out with every breath. Despite his two-legged stance, his legs were built like a four-legged creature, being divided into three almost equal sections by his raised heels and knees. Two enormous wings spread from his back, like leather laced with a network of pulsating blood vessels. On the end of his foot-long neck a reptilian head sat and stared at David. Coarse hair splayed out behind it along with two dull black horns. The front of the face was pushed out into a long thin snout tipped with a pair of huge nostrils emitting thin wisps of smoke. Teeth stuck out from his closed mouth in various places as if they all couldn't fit in at the same time. He was wearing a pair of dark cut-off jeans, with a crude hole cut in the back to accommodate his thick orange tail. The tail itself came down through his legs and around the front of one clawed set of toes and trailed along behind him. The dragon's eyes looked upon the human in front of him with what David could only describe as regret. The eyes, they seemed so different than he remembered them, so tender and vulnerable. Yet they were so undeniably human.
"I'm sorry," it said quietly, for a dragon. David could see Johnathan's huge larynx bobbing up and down in his long neck. At least they had left him that.
"What do you want?" David demanded.
"To say goodbye," Johnathan looked down at the ground in shame.
"Where are you going?"
"Away from here. I don't belong here." His huge wings trembled.
"Where?!" David shouted.
A tear came to the dragon's huge eye as he spoke. He seemed to expect that his father wouldn't understand. He'd never understood before. "Goodbye, father." Wordlessly, and despite David's protests, Johnathan spread his wings and took to the sky. The force of the thrust blew David to the ground. He watched as his son lifted himself into the glare of the rising sun. Soon he was just a blurry dot in the distance, a body hanging between the gigantic wings. Then he disappeared behind the quiet enormity of the Appalachians.
He sat there speechless for a long time before he realized that his son had said goodbye and David had not even acknowledged the gesture. His son was gone, and it was almost as if he had killed him. Gettting up, he staggered inside. He was beginning to feel sick.
Morning broke harshly over the silent expanse. Waves tumbled like dark clouds against the brown sand, trying to push it back, but never quite succeeding. Like slow tears, dew moistened the sparse bits of grass which struggled for life within the coastal wasteland. It was grey. Sombre overcast skies persisted in their relentless march across the heavens. Today was a day of pity, yet a day of remembrance that burrowed into the heart of the universe. A far away star had gone nova only yesterday, its luminous gases flowing over the sphere of eternity. It all seemed to pay homage to the inevitable tragedy that had occurred just a precious few hours ago.
The night seemed to retreat from the huge block of glass carried by the multitude of animals, most of which were sorrowful kangaroos. Each one had a face possessed by interminable loss. Nothing could repair the damage some horrible event had cast upon them all. A solemn procession of life passed by the whining faces bobbing on the waves out to sea. Yet the air was full of a throbbing sensation of despondency and clinging gloom. Alongside of the mournful column, a large creature walked on all fours. Its appearance, while malevolent and imposing, seemed to comfort the animals. The dragon took long steps which equalled several of those who accompanied her. She kept her pace slow, as if to let them all know they were her equals, no matter what her size. Her black claws sank into the sand like knives, leaving odd tear-shaped marks in her humbling wake. Head held erect, staring at all who had come to pay their respects:
The delegation of Bears from New Mericania. Blunt muzzles pointed downward in reverence, they trailed the glass monolith in honourable silence.
The two Shire stallions from The New Eurean Republic, plodding slowly, their usual busy lives interrupted by something they could never ignore.
The pride fragment from New Africa. Two females and a single male, fiery mane held high in dignity, yet face lowered as if to bury it in the damp sand.
The team of seven Crocodiles from New Sao Cano, lined up side by side since they considered seven to be a holy number. The single Lesser Panda representing the United Asian Continent, dragging his beautiful tail in the sand in a ceremonious gesture of grief.
The male and female Emperor Penguins from The Antarctic Union of Species, walking tall like sentinels sent to guard lost souls. The Dolphins and Orcas living under the caring arm of the Global Oceans Protectorate hovering in the water like dark and chilly flames lit for the dead.
And of course the shy, yet resolute kangaroos from The Macropus Republic of Australia, who carried the great weight with a determination that seemed almost heroic.
She smiled at them all, but they could not return the gesture. Her offspring circled in the sky overhead, the beginning of a new race. A new species. Now the first of the dragons had died. Grimly, she called a halt to the march and the glass tomb which enveloped the body of their departed leader was set down into the sand. The animals expanded outward to form a ring around the monument, silently waiting for the speech they expected. Jennifer clawed her way to the great glass case and ran her scaled hands over its length. Johnathan's ever open eyes stared upward, to the cloud-covered sea of the sky. It seemed only fitting that he look ever to the endlessness of space. It was what he had wanted for them all. For the dream never to end, the glorious dance of life to continue eternally. Her wings spread and wrapped themselves around the cold block. Unbidden, her claws etched deep lines of sorrow into the smooth glass surface. Her longing to love him, touch him one last time overwhelmed her. Once she had fashioned the glass sarcophagus with her blazing breath, she had sealed him away forever. She couldn't be selfish, keep him for herself when so many others needed his constant presence to continue existing.
She blinked her eyes to wash away the tears and stared down at her lost lover. The red splash upon his chest shone with life though the body was only a shell. It drew her near to his heart, that still beat its comforting rhythms within her soul. They had once been entirely one, now she was only one. She had only just begun to learn how to live without his guidance, his help, his love. Jennifer said no speeches, uttered no condolences. Just one simple statement which she bellowed for all the world to hear. "Let it always be said that his life honoured all, now and forever!" And no one could deny it.
Another steaming tear fell upon the glass case which glittered painfully in the light of the rising sun, peeking through the wall of clouds. She looked upon his serene face one last time and then took to the air, leaving the gathering in a helpless silence. One by one they left the grave, returning to their homes, but never to their lives, for they had changed forever. It took until morning of the next day for the last of the mourners to leave the quiet and holy place.
The world had changed in the fifteen hundred years since the death of humanity. It was a change that could be felt, a change that Johnathan had encouraged all of his earthly days. They knew and remembered, and it was important.
For as long as they remembered, and never forgot the essence of himself that Johnathan had instilled in all of them from the first days of their deprival of human assistance, his memory would thrive. It would flourish in a new civilization of life, love and peace for all peoples. For as long as they remembered all he had done for them...
For as long as they remembered all he had given, even when he had nothing left to offer...
For as long as they remembered...
The reign of Johnathan Robson would never, ever, end...
Copyright 1997 by Brian Huisman
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