Archive for the ‘Short Fiction’ Category

Sailing out of San Diego Harbor

The sleek sharp hull of the sailboat cut easily through the gentle swells of the Pacific. Francis enjoyed skippering the boat himself and loved taking others out with him. Today his nephew Anthony was with him and was obviously enjoying the wind, water, and views of the Southern California coast. Francis kept the boat in nearly perfect condition. Although he worked occasionally, his focus for the last few years had been experiencing the things he had missed out on. Sailing was one of the things he had never had enough time for in the past. He had spent decades pursuing a single goal and then he spent more years dealing with the unwanted fame and attention that came when he achieved his goal.   His company no longer needed him guiding it full time and he was no longer interested in managing it day to day. The research the company was involved in was still cutting edge, and well funded by the profits his successful research brought in. But he had been too focused for too long. He had set out to cure old age, and he had achieved that goal. He had no desire to try to do something even bigger, in fact he couldn’t think of anything bigger to pursue!

“You know Anthony I envy you your youth.”  Francis said in all seriousness.

His nephew gave him a puzzled look.  “What do you mean.  I don’t think anyone would be able to guess that I’m 35 years younger than you.”

“I don’t mean how old you or I look, but there is more to youth than appearances.  It just seems like you have more choices than me.  I’ve made so many of my choices.  I’ve grown used to being independent and beside the obvious things like fame and money, I think a lot of women prefer men who still have choices ahead of them.  Well at least the women who still have choices ahead of them.”

When it came to women and relationships Francis actually like to tell people that he had not chosen to never marry and not have kids… that it had just worked out that way. But he knew that wasn’t true. He had his chances over the years. Some of the women had not been right for him, and sometimes he had not been the right person for the woman, but there had been a few that could have worked out.  Those opportunities were the ones that caused regrets.  Maybe he could have still achieved his goals even if he had focused a little more on making one of those relationships work.  So regardless of what he liked to tell people, Francis knew he had made choices that led him to his current place in life.

Anthony got a strange smile, “Are you talking about dating younger women?”

“It’s more complicated than that.  I think it’s a generational thing.  When I was your age, everyone knew they would grow old and die some day.   They expected their choices to be permanent.  They didn’t expect they would stay young indefinitely. Your generation knew what was coming and they have planned for it.  Most younger women have frozen their eggs for ‘future use’.  Have you planned for “having kids later”?”

“Sure I have.  Almost my entire generation is ‘never married and no kids’.  But most of us want to have kids someday, once we’ve had some fun and are set financially.  Population growth would be even more out of control if everyone had kept being fruitful and multiplying like in your day.  Marriage, though I’m not sure how that will work for me, the whole ‘until death do us part’ thing sounds pretty crazy when that could be hundreds of years.  Maybe a 20-30 year commitment?”

Francis nodded and warned Anthony that he would be tacking.   Once the boat duties were out of the way he thought for a second then continued the conversation, “The difference with my generation is they either got married and had kids or they didn’t.  They didn’t “plan for kids later.   Although I feel most comfortable with women of my generation, I don’t think many want the same things I do.  I know I’m 68, but I never planned not to have kids, work just was more important.  I have plenty of energy and probably plenty of time to raise a family, just no idea of who I would do that with or how to meet them.”

“I don’t think 68 is too old to have a child, age really is just a number now.” Anthony interjected, ” You know more about this than I do, but… we just don’t have any idea how long we can live.  Not enough time since you came up with the treatments to rejuvenate the body at a cellular level to know what the new average life span will be.  Old age is a thing of the past, but we aren’t immortal are we?”

Francis had spent nearly 30 years of his life working on the cure for old age.  At the beginning, he had not thought much about it.  He had wanted his friends and family to be with him always… to be immortal, that’s what drove him.  However, long before the end of his research he realized that his work would not give him that.

“No, we are still mortal, our bodies are still fragile things.  We all still face death someday, we just won’t die of old age or the classic old age diseases that used to kill so many.   There are still accidents, violence, and disasters.  Based on theory the treatments should continue to restore youth indefinitely, but there is really not enough evidence to know for sure.”

Francis could tell that Anthony was thinking about something, so he gave him some time to put his thoughts together and took care of some of the sailing tasks he needed to do to head back toward the harbor.

Eventually Anthony framed his question, “Uncle Francis, did you know that your work would have such big impacts on our society?”

Francis thought for a minute then replied, “I really didn’t think about it while I was doing my work.  I was completely focused on the problems we all faced as individual’s.  The reality of growing old and dying was not a pleasant personal reality.  I really didn’t expect that I would be blamed by some for turning our society upside down.  I guess the “circle of life”, a nice euphemism for growing old and dying, was the foundation much of our society had built on.  Behavior, laws, and even religious belief systems were set up to work with the fact that we all were born, learned, worked, married, reproduced, got old, retired, then got older and died.”

Anthony jumped in, “Yeah, it is amazing how tied to that cycle everything had been.  People had to make big changes in the way they thought or we would be in a very bad place today.  If the birth rate had not dropped, population growth would have been unmanageable.   For a lot of older people the thought of giving up social security was huge!   The government and large corporation fixed retirement programs also collapsed as soon as they had to recalculate reserves required based on the new actuarial calculations.  Your ‘cure for old age’ was an awesome discovery but it also caused a lot of turmoil!”

Francis remembered all of that all too well.  Even now it was hard to think about the problems his work had caused.  He fought giving in the anxiety and feelings of guilt that came with thinking about the bad things that had happened.  As the memories washed over him, he was glad he was out on the water and had the sailing chores and the beauty of the water all around him.

At first he was viewed as a savior, but it did not take long for all the positive attention to turn to anger and blame.  The problem was most people really didn’t care how the system worked, they felt entitled.  The Social Security Administration had been the first system to find a way out.  Luckily they also provided the health insurance for a large percentage of people through Medicare.  Everyone was demanding that the treatments be covered.  When Medicare required that people sign away their retirement benefit after a period of transition back to the workforce, some jumped on it.  Francis was surprised how many refused to sign away their benefit.  Some just delayed the treatments, but eventually decided to give up retirement and get the treatments.  Some were either more obstinate, or miscalculated how long they could delay and they died of old age.

Most corporate retirement plans, even if they were fixed benefits had clauses in them to cover the overall plan against bankruptcy.  State and local governments had much bigger problems especially since many of their plans were very generous.  As cities and states started to go bankrupt, and the overall economy started to crumble, emergency actions were taken and people started to understand the problem and most of them accepted the solution.  Some fought against the change though.  The CalPERS riots in California had been the worst example of this.  Thousands died and the damage was in the billions from the violence that broke out when the California legislature passed the law that limited the length of benefits after a person took the treatments and completely eliminated lifetime benefits for existing and future employees.

Eventually new plans emerged that allowed periods of sabbatical after a number of years of work.  Retirements would not be forever unless you saved enough money so you could live on the interest for a long period of time.

Francis navigated back into the San Diego harbor as he continued the conversation, “People still aren’t sure if I am a savior or the guy who caused an apocalypse.  Things have seemed to settle down now, but I’m still not sure we are out of the woods yet.”

 

Moonrise above San Diego skyline

Anthony was transfixed by the view of the moon rising above the San Diego skyline as they glided back into the inner harbor, but he managed a reply.  “Definitely a savior of the individual in my opinion but I agree society still has some rough patches ahead.  So much of what was considered good behavior before is now now causing society problems.”

Francis jumped in, “Yeah, they used to harp about the low saving rate and how bad that was, now they are worried that the savings rate is too high and that there will be a ‘capital bubble’ that will cause economic instability.

“Yeah it seems like everyone in my generation came up with the same plan.  Since we could have such a long lifespan the way to beat the system was to save, save, save and once the pot was big enough we would be able to just live off the interest.” Anthony said. “It doesn’t look like it is going to work out exactly the way we planned.”

Francis looked at Anthony sympathetically, “Yeah, on the surface that sounds like a good plan, but when you step back and think about the reduced birth rate, the reality is not everyone can just leave the work force permanently.  The capital markets are going into a bubble due to the extremely high personal saving rate.  Too much money looking for a place to grow.  Capital accumulation has outpaced the need for capital, driving the interest rates lower and inflation higher.  Since the return is lower than the inflation rate, people’s savings are shrinking instead of growing.  Because this is due to personal savings the government has lost a lot of the control of the capital markets they used to have.”

Anthony didn’t look happy about any of this.  “Well Uncle thanks for messing up the whole world!”  He put on a halfhearted attempt to smile and added, “Just kidding.  I know we’ll eventually solve these issues and things will settle in to the new reality.  Luckily we all have more time to wait for things to settle down thanks to you.”

Francis slowed the boat to a crawl as he navigated toward his slip, Anthony stepped on to the dock and helped tie in the sailboat.  After the boat was secured, and all the covers were in place the two men stepped on to the dock and walked toward the exit.

As they parted Anthony gave his Uncle a hug.

“Get out there and find the person you’re looking for Uncle Anthony.  You deserve to have everything you want in life.”

“Thanks Anthony and thanks for going out for a sail with me.  Maybe next time we can make it a double date instead of a boys night!”

As they turned to walk in different directions to their cars Anthony waved and said, “Sounds great.  See you soon Uncle Francis.”

As Francis walked to his car he wondered if he would ever meet the right person and have a family.  He decided to keep trying.  Unfortunately when you’re the world’s first trillionaire, meeting someone was not as easy as signing up for a dating site.  He couldn’t just go online and arrange a first ‘date’ at the local coffee shop.

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San Diego Harbor View

For nearly as long as he could remember Francis had thought regularly about old age, death, and about finding a way to overcome it. The big difference between Francis and everyone else who had these thoughts was that he actually acted on the thoughts. In his high school Advanced Biology Class he wrote a research paper on “The Genetic Factors in Aging” and he set his mind to learn everything there was to learn about genetics and aging. Francis considered his undergraduate degree in Biology a distraction, but a necessary one. He knew that he would not be taken seriously until he had the degrees: bachelors, masters, and doctorate. Still there were so many courses that he “had to take” that just did not interest him! He spent all of his spare time continuing his personal research in areas that fascinated him. All that effort had paid off. He had his own laboratory, his own company, and the resources to focus completely on the leading edge research he had spent his whole life preparing for and dreaming about.

At times the feelings that drove Francis felt more like obsessions than ambition or determination. The thoughts of his work were always there… and even more persistent were the thoughts of his reasons for the work. Memories of the people who were important to him from a very young age, his grandparents, family friends seemed to be just below a very thin layer of immediate life. When Francis was not working, there were so many triggers that seemed to bring these memories to the surface. Catching sight of the moon would always bring to mind memories of his grandfather and the hours that they would spend talking about astronomy, space, and wondering about what it would be like to be out there. Walking through the produce section at the grocery would bring back memories of eating fresh raspberries or strawberries directly from the plants in his Grandmother’s garden. It was more than mere memories for Francis it evoked the feelings of connection, of joy, and love that he felt for the important people in his life. It also triggered a surge of anxiety, because these very important people were getting older and Francis could not imagine life without them in it. The anxiety would only go away when Francis turned his attention back to his work. That was the only thing that calmed him, gave him peace and hope. He had to find a way to prevent the inevitable.

This drive was the key to Francis’s successes, but it came at a cost. Relationships were the most important thing in his life, but in spite of being a friendly, loving person with intelligence and good looks, his social life was a complete disaster. The constant drive to find answers before it was too late made it hard to stay engaged in most social situations. He was completely lost when it comes to current events, current culture (TV and movies), and really doesn’t “have a life” to share. Only through the connections he made at work, and good old friends did Francis have any opportunities to socialize.

The evening got off to a good start, Evelyn was smiling and talking to Bill and Rose as Francis walked up to the bar area of the restaurant. Although the reservations were for 8:00 everyone had agreed to meet after work for some happy hour socializing before dinner. Francis had found it difficult to disengage from work even though the lab had started to empty out around 5. It was a beautiful summer evening in San Diego and the weather was perfect. Francis finally finished reviewing a report on the ongoing clinical trial when his calendar dinged at him again… so he ran to the dressing room, freshened up and changed into casual attire appropriate for the coming event. As usual, traffic heading south on the 5 on a Friday evening was frustrating! He found the commute even more frustrating because he was still processing the information from the last report he reviewed. The full moon hung low and huge above the horizon, finally drawing Francis away from thoughts of work. He wondered if his Grandfather could see the same moon. He missed his Grandparents! He needed to make time soon to get up to Julian to see them.

The late departure was turning into a very late arrival. Getting into downtown, finding parking, and walking to the restaurant allowed Francis to let go of the tensions of the drive. He had met Evelyn before, she was successful, beautiful, and had a terrific work life balance. He really enjoyed the stories of her adventures and misadventures, and wished he had the time to do more than work, work-out, eat, and sleep. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure he would even know what he would actually be interested in doing if he did have more time.

Evelyn smiled at Francis as he walked up. She slid off the bar stool and gave Francis a warm hug as he negotiated his way through the crowd to a seat they had saved for him at the bar. She leaned in close to his ear during the hug, “Nice to see you again Francis.” “You too Evelyn, it looks like I’ve been missing some fun.”

Bill’s expression was less understanding… “Hey man, what took so long! You need to get out of that lab more often.” Francis and Bill had been college roommates, and Bill had single-handedly saved Francis’s college years from being a complete social disaster.

“Yeah, Yeah, don’t I know it. Things are really starting to produce results there though.” As much as Francis knew he needed to live his life, he could not hide his enthusiasm for his work. “Hi, Rose… sorry for interrupting the conversation, great to see you.”

Rose smiled and reassured Francis, “Just warming up, glad to see you Francis. We were just listening to Evelyn’s story about her trip to Yosemite last month.”

“Well I hope I didn’t miss all the good parts. I need to live vicariously through someone.”, Francis responding glancing Evelyn’s way.

Evelyn happily went back over the highlights of her backpacking trip to Little Yosemite Valley to catch Francis up before continuing. “We met a family with two teens while we were camping in Little Yosemite. They were having a great time. I’m really looking forward to sharing my love of the beauty and peacefulness of the outdoors with my kids. Camping is a terrific place to bond with friends and family.”, and looking right at Francis she continued, “Of course I need to meet the right guy first.”

As they ordered dinner Rose and Bill talked about their trip to San Francisco that had included some time to explore one of the most historic large cities in the United States, a bike ride across the Golden Gate, and some time in the wine country nearby. Francis enjoyed the conversation, but he started to feel a little pressure to share some of his life. Unfortunately, work was his life.

The best he could do was, “I would love to have better balance in my life, but I love my work and I’m not comfortable when I’m away for more than a day or two. There is some many things that need my attention. I feel like everything will grind to a halt if I don’t keep pushing everyone! I should take some time to get out to Julian to see my grandparents, or up to Seattle to visit my sister soon though. It’s been too long since I’ve seen them.”

Bill didn’t hesitate, “Do it Dude. Take a weekend trip, get out of the lab. I know you man, you need to get out and live a little. We’re going to do the Torrey Pines hike again next week. It’s right out by your lab…”

Francis felt everyone’s eyes turn toward him. He fought off the urge to pull out his Android to check his schedule, and took a deep breath to fight of the anxiety he felt any time he scheduled anything outside of work.

“OK, sounds like fun? I can’t believe I’ve never even been to that beach. It’s only about 3 miles from my work. What time will you be going?” Francis said as he felt the anxiety rising in an attempt to regain control of him.

“Where will we meet?”, and then he blurted out, “Will you be able to make it Evelyn?”

“Of course I can make it.” Evelyn said without a second thought, “I love that hike. We should do it around sunset, then find a place in Del Mar to get a quick bite to eat.”

Bill gave Rose a look and a smile, “We can work out the details and logistics later. How about dessert!”

Francis felt the anxiety recede, he’d work it out. It was his company after all. He could just go in early that day.  The rest of the evening was relaxed and Francis barely thought about work until after the good nights.  As soon as he was back in the car all he could think about was work.  He was glad he had signed up for the hike, but he also knew that he would need to put in some long days the rest of the week to keep up with the pace of the lab.

Francis realized as he drifted off to sleep that balance really was not possible at this point in his life.  Yes, he was going on a hike, but that was not “balance”, it was a token event.  He wasn’t going to be able to live a normal life, he wasn’t going to be able to have anyone special in his life, not until he was successful, not until he found a way to significantly lengthen human life.

Paused my run to enjoy a sunset-001
Steve always started Monday mornings by reviewing his automatic payments. One in particular continued to bug him month after month, year after year, century after century. His first marriage had ended on Earth in the state of California in the early years of the twenty-first century. He had been married for 22 years, had 3 children, and his wife had chosen not to work during the marriage. Although he had encouraged her to work, when she refused he chose to support her rather than rocking the boat for most of their marriage. Because the average global life expectancy at the time of their divorce was under 70 years, the 22 year marriage was considered to be long term and the state of California law required the courts to retain jurisdiction for long term marriages. So Steve had an automatic payment to his ex-wife twice a month to pay her the required support.

As Steve did his daily ritual in front of the sink he was thinking about it again. This morning while checking his monthly bills he noticed that his bank was kind enough to provide a total paid for this automatic payment, $3,024,000 over 7560 payments! Although it have been 365 years since Steve divorced his first wife, he had only been with this bank for the last 315 years. The $400 dollars every two weeks did not have much of an effect anymore… if the United States had not changed to the Kilowatt Standard to value its currency in 2070, setting the dollar to the cost of 2 kilowatts of electricity, inflation would have completely devalued the payment by now. Although the payment was only the cost of about 8 fast food meals, it still aggravated him to see it go out every two weeks. As Steve looked in the mirror he realized he was going to need his ears worked on again soon, it had been about 60 years since his last reduction. You would think that if they could find a cure for aging they could stop the cartilage in your nose and ears from growing too! If he just had the last 10 years of alimony payments back in his account he’d have enough money to cover a good earlobe reduction surgery.

As he and his wife walked together toward the transportation hub near their condo sipping their Monster Triple Caffeine Lattes he could not shake the thought of this annoying payment. He hadn’t seen his ex-wife for over 320 years and hadn’t even lived on the same planet as her for 250 years. He did get a message every time she changed banks so he would know were to send the money! How could anyone think he still “owed her” anything. What did she owe him? He had taken care of her throughout their marriage. So when they got divorced, he got to continue providing her support… what a deal. As he kissed his wife goodbye he noticed how cute the small downturn on the end of her beautiful nose was. Way nicer than her siblings noses… genetics were weird things, and of course the doctors had managed to keep the same shape as he remember through all 8 nose reduction surgeries.

Once in the underground Steve reached the same conclusion he always did when thoughts of the alimony came to mind. First, his ex-wife would never agree to modify the original agreement to eliminate the payment. He had tried that before leaving Earth. He had been required to leave Earth as part of the contract required to receive the age elimination treatments. Although he had been paying her longer than they had been married at the time, she had ranted and raved about how much more alimony her friends got and how he owed her more than he was paying – she deserved this money! Secondly, it would cost more than 5 years worth of alimony payments to try to modify the payments in court. Besides the current judges didn’t like to be bothered by ancient law cases. No one had been married on Earth in well over three hundred years. The decline in marriages that had started in the early 2000’s had exploded at the of the discovery of the cure for aging.  Marriage had completely stopped shortly after that. With no one getting married the states stopped modifying the marriage laws. So as always, Steve concluded that it was time to think of anything except his “Permanent Spousal Support”. As he walked up from the underground transportation he couldn’t help admiring the terrific  sunrise over the Armstrong Sea.

I’m planning to post a series of short fiction stories. I would like to give myself a schedule, but I’ll be realistic. It’s been a long time since I wrote any fiction (college) and I only have a basic idea of what I plan to write about. I would like to post at least four short stories a year (not too ambitious am I?), but I’ll have a better idea of the time involved once I have one done.

I’ve always been a huge reader of Science Fiction so I plan to write in that genre. The basic idea goes along with my blog celebrating a full life. The premise for each of the short stories will be that a cure for “death by old age” has been discovered. What I will try to investigate in the series are the troubles that this would cause for society.

This is not the first time I’ve thought about this topic, but a return to it came with a single thought a few weeks ago. The thought… “Death, what a waste!” You have a person with 70-80 years, or more of experience, memories, and wisdom. This person is irreplaceable and full of life, and then they are just gone! There were a whole series of thoughts that led to this thought, but the thoughts I had after this thought were more interesting. Why? What if old age was cured. What would this change? It was easy to figure out some of the changes and more importantly the challenges. The easiest to predict would be the population explosion problem. The current worldwide population over 65 is less than 10% of the total world population. That would change very quickly!

I plan to develop this thought with a series of short stories. The situations and choices that could be made are unlimited. By just changing the world situation at the time of “the cure” and the choice made to deal with the resulting population change I think I can find the premise for several interesting stories. The challenge for me will be to write the type of story that I love to read. A story that “tells the story” through the characters. I have not done that before, and I will not be satisfied with a story that simply reads like a new article, setting up the situation and then laying out the plot… I want to explore the impact on the people in the stories. This means I will have to develop the characters.

I have a couple stories already in the works. Well one is actually very short… and ready to post. I have always found Science Fiction to be very liberating. It is also a way, through exaggeration, to point out those things that given the right circumstances don’t pass the “giggle test”.