“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
On a lovely spring morning, Beth and her family went out to have a picnic. It was a beautiful arrangement. As her children tussled over the plush green grass and her husband gently played along, as Beth bit into a ripened strawberry plucked from the garden, it dawned on her, this was as good as it would ever get. Eventually her faithful husband would grow bored of her body, her children would abandon their naive affection and begin to interact with their mother as a transaction towards what they want.
Beth desperately wanted to hold onto what she believed to be the perfect moment. She submitted a snapshot of their picnic to the 'Museum of Ideal Existence', a place to solidify beautiful moments in time, to render the movement of life still.
Each section of the museum was thematically labeled. Under “Triumph” there were jubilant men and women at the summit of mountains. Under “Prosperity” there were businessmen shortly after finalizing the biggest deals of their lives. An Oil-Tycoon dressed in his finest suit masking inner ecstasy behind a stoic guise as he accepted a check from the commissioner. Both of them recognized nothing would ever trump the moment, that it was best they submit it to the 'Museum of Ideal Experiences' and end their lives on that note.
Submissions were filtered through the head curator, an uncompromising woman committed to her craft. As she flipped through submitted photos, she came across Beth’s and without blinking, tossed it into the waste pile. It was a nice moment, she thought. But there are already so many pleasant picnics.
Overlooking a busy Parisian street, as red-silk drapes blew from outside an open balcony, 197-year-old Susanne watched in envy as the youthful went about their day. When she was young she’d been a star actress, her beautiful face plastered over buildings, as a model of what a woman ought to be. Slim long legs and a porcelain doll face. On her 97th birthday, after a long life filled with love, fame, and adventure, she suffered from a stroke. Susanne was given the choice, to die at the hospital surrounded by what remained of her family, or to extend her life another 100 years. Susanne’s life-long agent was on a nearby hospital bed, waiting to die. Few could afford life-extension but her agent suggested she purchase it regardless, for both of them, despite the cost, they were a dream-team, she could make it work.
Susanne outlived her children and was left with nothing. Living in studio apartments infested with rodents and cockroaches. Over the last 100 years Susanne’s agent only managed to secure two gigs. The first, Susanne was casted as a corpse for a horror film, without any lines, directed to lay still and not open her eyes. Her second gig was more promising, a historical piece on the golden-age, where ancient actors reenacted old scenes from the past. Susanne’s body was nowhere near what it used to be. Her legs were covered in ash, grey and lifeless, withheld from circulation. As she was walking up on stage to re-perform a famous scene, she collapsed on the ground. Both of her knees obliterated into chalk and were replaced with carbon implants. The show managed fine without her, quickly scouting a younger doppelgänger to fill her place.
That morning, Century-Life-Expansion sent a limited time deal. 500 years at half the price. Susanne’s agent sat across from her, “You got room for one more?”
During a lecture on 20th-century romanticism, the silver-haired professor stopped himself mid sentence. “...excuse me, Thomas, but do you have a reason for your pen tapping?” Each head in the auditorium turned in Thomas’ direction.“No professor, I’m sorry. I can’t help it.” The professor dropped his head laughing under his breath, “Ah of course, how could I forget? One of the eternal sufferings of man, pen-tapping!” The class erupted into a venomous laughter. “... I suggest you leave then, if you cannot help it, and allow your more mature classmates the opportunity to focus.”
The class was silent. Frowning faces followed as Thomas walked up toward the exit. As soon as the door shut, the professor resumed with his vibrato lecture, enunciating each syllable, practically chewing on the words he spoke.
Years spent in therapy, with specialists, nothing seemed to help. The experience of a million thoughts, memories, anything imaginably conjured by the mind, bombarding Thomas at all waking hours. Nothing could soothe the explosions happening inside.
There was an ad placed on the university bulletin titled “Do you find it hard to focus?” Thomas tapped the touchscreen and was prompted to fill out his information. Shortly after, he received a call from Dr. Hadan, a leading expert in mind enhancing technologies.
On the phone, Dr. Hadan swiftly ran through a checklist.
“Do you find yourself unable to focus for long periods of time?”
“Do you sometimes involuntarily fidget with objects or shake your legs?”
“Excellent! You’re 2/2, that qualifies you for the procedure. Come to my office tomorrow morning and make sure you skip breakfast.”
Seated at the doctors waiting room, Thomas became transfixed by an aquarium embedded into the wall. Inside, translucent fish swam in geometric shapes.
Their movement were slow, deliberate, purposeful, following what appeared to be an invisible rectangular path. “Are they real?” ,Thomas asked the clerk. “The fish? Yeah, they have the implant.” A blinking device could be seen attached to their tiny heads, flashing green whenever the fish swam out of line. The woman working the front desk clicked a black remote and the fish quickly assembled into another pattern.
“Dr.Hadan should be ready for you.”
The woman led Thomas down a narrow concrete hall, devoid of any paintings or windows. Dr. Hadan opened the office door just before she was about the knock. “Hello, Thomas! Are you excited to be a new man?” Against his temple, a protruding device blinked as he spoke causing him to stop and regain composure.
“This is what you’ll be getting,” Dr. Hadan said as he pointed to the device.”
“If it wasn’t for this thing, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through med school.”
“Hey loosen up...”, Dr. Hadan patted Thomas’ left shoulder, “...this will change your life for the better. You should be happy! Really! The only downside is not being able to sleep on both sides.”
Dr. Hadan chuckled to himself.
Vivid memories of humiliation populated Thomas' mind. Each instance in which his disease became an object of ridicule. The moments he had been disengaged, distracted, unable to fully be there. Thomas signed the waiver and laid flat on the surgical bed as Dr. Hadan strapped him down with leather buckles.
Shortly after the surgery, Thomas awoke confused and in a haze.
“Hold tight, I’m setting you up.” The doctor tapped at a tablet as Thomas' device emitted a sustained red light.
“We’ll be collecting some data for our R&D team... don’t worry your information is safe with us. Each of your thoughts, memories, whatever fantasies you have, will get serialized into byte-sized code, illegible to us humans.”
A jolt of electricity transversed through Thomas’ body. His eyes lit up as he took in a deep breath. For the first time, Thomas was present.