The new government was generously taking responsibility for a person’s right to life. Babies were assets. Every baby had the innate right to be born. Society was built from the life-blood of babies.
For the first twelve years of his life Daniel Wrightridge was supported by the government. When he turned thirteen he graduated. A farewell party was arranged. Daniel was granted the legal responsibility of caring for himself. Mom and Dad, Thelma and Sidney, were on Ice. They could no longer afford to pay the rent necessary to stay alive. Ice was cheaper than life. Ice was hope (dim as it was) providing the possibility that things might be different after they were defrosted in thirty or forty years. Mom and dad barely knew Daniel. They chose Ice when he was three years old. Rent was going up. Each new living-day had to be paid for. Sidney was out of work. He used to work as a Hack Inspector at Robards Security Agency, but AI replaced him. AI was cheaper and better than human inspectors.
Thelma made jewelry at home. She sold some of her wares at flea markets on weekends. The money she earned was not enough to pay for life and provide for Daniel. For the next ten years the boy would be supported by the government and cared for by virtual nannies. He lived in a solitary cell with computer generated walls that provided views of the surrounding city. His social life was virtual.
Everything was rented under the new economy. The very rich used digital currency. They rented everything on a generational basis and passed their accumulated assets down to the lower ranks of family. Cash was not owned, it was passed along and only the very wealthy had that kind of cash-flow.
Dahlia Pennyworth was living on borrowed time; but she didn’t know it. Her parents were life-brokers, insurance actuaries. They calculated an individual’s most likely span of life. They bet on their statistical results. The markets were booming. Life extension was shrinking for people in the middle and at the bottom of the well of mortality. Digital cash was hoarded by family hierarchies. Some family members lived into their hundreds and longer due to life extension procedures most people could not afford. The super-rich could pay for the accumulation of days and years. Hierarchies were extended through time with the introduction of clones. Clones were fake humans, therefore illegal, but no one could tell a clone from an original.
The Bellhop at the Tramador Hotel was only 23, but he only had four days to live. He relied on tips. Hotel salaries were minimum. Lately tips were scarce. Most people paid to stay alive. When the Bellhop first got the job the hotel catered to wealthy patrons. Money meant nothing to them and tips were generous. Good times didn’t last and the hotel became a disheveled ghost of better times. Now, the Bellhop was reduced to paying for a few hours at a time, just to see the light of day, just to breathe the air. He obsessed about robbing a store or even killing someone to get money. He soon realized he didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t a killer. He would die instead.
Zachary was a very old man and very wealthy. He had extreme cash-flow backed by the family Hierarchy. He rented his life at Golden Horizons Chateau. He lived in an elegant suite. His main bathroom featured gold trappings with a marble spa. He had personal attendants night and day. For the last forty years Zachary exhibited symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His mind was gone. He had to be fed. An attendant helped him in the bathroom. He no longer had an identity, but he refused to die. He left a will backed by cash flow. He wanted to live forever. He wrote the will fifty years ago at the age of 110, before he had symptoms, before he was diagnosed. The law was on his side. His will was iron-clad.
Abraham sat with his partner, Mike, at a café on Monteith Street. They met to discuss the situation. Living together was not working out as planned. They were being watched by government agents. Time was running out for both of them.
“Mike,” Abraham broke the silence, “How are you? I think the house is bugged. That’s why I wanted to meet here. I saw the news. They are talking about Time Shares.”
“I know. I can’t get my head around it. The whole rent thing is crazy. They are out to get everyone, put us in a cage and let us rot.”
“I’ve heard there is an underground. Mikey, we have to reclaim our lives.”
Mike looked surprised, “What’s happening, Ab. You were never radical.”
“I can’t take it any more. Life isn’t something you buy and sell. I have to take a stand, do something.”
“Now you sound like me. I told you this would happen.”
Abraham coughed and spoke up, “What do we do?” The question hung in the air like a deadly fog: fumes from the near-by coal factory.
Daniel Wrightridge was homeless when they picked him up… homeless, disheveled, unsightly and poor. He had no phone, I-pad, or tele-screen; that was reason enough to incarcerate him… But, he exhibited other symptoms as well. He was mumbling, talking to the people who lived in his head. They took Daniel to the Eugenics Clinic where his symptoms would be burned out of his brain. With less brain, Daniel would become the ideal citizen. It was part of a new program that crept into American Society. Eugenics was the wave of the future. This time there would be no turning back from the ideals of a Greater Society, a more homogeneous society. The debates had no effect on the outcome. The economy looked good and that won the election. Citizens were conjoined to consumerism. The new manifesto was “Art of the Deal.”
Milton Farbin dreamt he was “the Fast-moving Man.” It was a recurring dream, part of a campaign to promote particular products and services. The Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman were cultural icons, pop stars with the highest appeal-rating according to the new, Trump Index. They were loved and adored. They slipped into people’s dreams by means of a new phone app given out for free. The glorious couple demonstrated new, American-made merchandise that was on sale for bargain prices.
In the dream, Milton was a charismatic leader with blistering eyes and orange hair, a man of wealth and power. When he awoke he was penniless and depressed having spent all his money on goods and services he did not need or want. Once he left the Virtual Dream, Milton was a rag man, no longer capable of keeping a regular job. In the past he was a beautician. He was in high demand and he loved his work, but everything changed once he fell in love with the Alluring Woman. Milton wanted to please her so he bought whatever she sold. He became desperate and sought the services of surgeons and therapists to gain the looks and appeal of the Fast-moving Man.
Corporations invested in the business of “Addictive Proprieties” whereby individuals were subliminally seduced to become the Pop Icons they worshiped. Lots of people desired to be the Fast-moving Man. Other consumer apps were developed to hound consumers with ads targeting individuals based on their past choices and personal histories (privacy no longer existed). The Hounds-of-consumption were let loose regularly and continually. There were Hounds for cosmetics, fashion, and real estate — emulating the lifestyle of the Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman who lived together in perfect bliss. Face creams and fast-food promised the consumer a better life. New cars and luxury apartments were the ingredients for true happiness.
Milton Farbin lived in an abandoned bookstore. He couldn’t break the cycle of desire. He was tormented by dreams. The Hounds were relentless, barking like banshees, wailing like sirens. The Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman lived with Milton in the bookstore. They were everywhere, wrapped in each other’s arms, trying out the newest deodorant or the best hair depilatory. They had sex in front of Milton just to torment him with their obvious bliss.
He tried everything to escape. He starved himself hoping the Hounds would die from lack of sustenance, but they were invincible. Milton went on long hikes, trudging through the worst areas of the city where drug addicts and murderers hid from spying eyes. He was hoping he might be murdered… hoping the Fast-moving Man and the Alluring Woman would not follow him, but they never left his side.
Milton was driven to distraction. He knew the drugs he collected for the last five years were deadly. He sat down against the moldy wall at the back of the abandoned store. Looters found his body and proceeded to dismantle the corpse and recycle the parts.
Milton was dead. It was very dark. He could sense icy fingers caress his body. He felt peaceful and began to drift away like a cloud of dust. But, before the dust could disappear, Milton heard the shrill barking of the Hounds. He saw the neon glow of the Alluring Woman and the Fast-moving Man. They followed Milton Farbin into death and they would never leave.
The last time Joey saw his therapist he cried. He never shed a tear again. He wasn’t the person he used to be — the compassionate, young man who wanted to change the world. Joe was something else entirely — he grew up! He traded his therapist for a mirror, a very old devise that had answers no therapist would dare contemplate. The mirror was a wise, old beast that crawled into Joey’s brain and turned him into a mangled reflection of himself, but the boy had no complaints. The mirror projected a sense of freedom Joey always lacked — a direct action, no nonsense, kind of freedom. The mirror gave Joe the confidence to do whatever he wanted, to whomever he wanted. He was infected with the belief he would never be responsible for the consequences of his actions. To that end, Joey became a man without any of the squeamishness of the boy he once was.
Joey was always fascinated by the neon skyline of the city always flashing temptation at people who acted like automatons moving from one consumer outlet to another seeking bargains galore. He was beyond all that. Joey helped create the Immersion-Jungle of Desire — he was an executive for a cutting edge advertising firm. People called him “Mister” Joe. He created the chip-strip, a decal that stuck to skin and sent waves of digital data to the brain. The strip also captured desires, ideas, and experiences. The information was used to direct specifically tailored ads to consumers. There were no holds barred in the world of product promotion. Everyday was a fire sale.
Joey smiled, sitting in his leather-supreme Captain’s Chair in his executive office while the office boy was under the desk giving him a blow job as required in the job description. Joey would have an early cocktail lunch at the Reavers Club downtown. He felt like taking Amanda, one of the secretaries, so they could indulge in a brief “relief session” after lunch in the hotel above the restaurant where Joey kept a permanent suite of rooms. Later in the day, he’d leave work early and order the limo driver to take him to the estate on Long Island (it was a sign of great wealth to have a human driver when everyone else used robot cars). At home he’d spend some time with his wife, Eloise, and son, Sammy, before going out for the evening to hit the clubs always on his own seeking some new thrill and excitement. Life was good — the mirror told him so.
The good years accumulated like mountains of cheap burgers sold at McDonalds. Another Christmas, another New Year — more sales and promotions — strip induced greed and over indulgence. No one spoke of Jesus anymore. People accepted new gods — gods who shopped at Wallmart and online. Black Friday and Super Saturday replaced the old fashioned holidays. People sang, “Come all ye faithful to Santa’s shopping mall.” “Silent Sale. Holy Dollar Night.” The mirror reflected a world of drones linked with computer strips and digital tattoos. Everyone floated in a virtual cloud, trying to accumulate more of everything. People who couldn’t afford More were left behind, unrecognized by Social Media as they lay dying in the streets. Joey didn’t notice the changes. He was content living the life of super abundance. He enjoyed the power he accumulated. He got divorced and remarried several times. He lost track of his son. He wasn’t concerned. His life was a never ending party.
The change was sudden. As part of his everyday routine, Joey checked the mirror. He couldn’t see himself in the reflection. He’d been replaced. He immediately felt a pain that wrenched his body as if he was shackled to a medieval torture rack. A strange thought leaped into his mind — something about torture being condoned as legal; but that had nothing to do with him or his current situation. Something else was happening. Something horrible. The reflection in the mirror was like a corpse come to life. Then, it hit like an exploding terrorist: Joey was an old man! It was beyond his comprehension. The consequences of his life shimmered in the mirror like terrible visitations. His life’s worth shrank before his eyes.
Everyday Joey woke to a new consequence, etched on his face like a weeping sore. The wounds grew like leprosy. The scares and wrinkles on his skin were symbols that revealed the story of his life — his lack of compassion, his overwhelming avarice. Joey was in pain, mild at first, but the pain grew more pervasive with time. His mind became dim as his energy waned. He could no longer remember names. His hearing was failing along with everything else. He took hesitant steps, walking slowly, afraid to stumble, fall, and break a hip.
Joey misplaced items. He left the stove on and a paper towel caught fire. He saw the flame just in time and burned his hand while trying to snuff it out. He could no longer manage his business affairs. People came to help – they were vultures. His lawyer swooped in on the prey — he’d been taking money for years, off the books tied to one scheme or another until Joey was bankrupt. Joey’s arthritis burned through his joints like hot pokers. His hands shook with palsy. The changes were slow and steady turning Joey into a wraith, a weak and fading shadow of himself. He was constantly constipated. Sometimes he lost control and peed his pants.
His situation steadily grew worse. He lost his wireless connection and all the services that were provided online. He was cut off from the world. Alone. He was driven into the street when his home was put up for auction. He wandered and begged for food. Everyday he lost another part of his mind. Joey was aware of the holes, the missing parts of himself — the awareness drove him crazy. He wanted desperately to remake his life. He wished he had never found the mirror, but it was too late. His life was set. Joey had to live and die with the consequences he wrought.