To Live for the Future
By Caden Hill
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire.
Inside my mind, a forest went up in flames….
Have you ever wondered about your future?
What it will be like?
What does future you look like?
How do you dress?
Are you married? Engaged? To whom?
Do you finally like that vegetable you never liked as a kid?
Do you understand what you’ve lived for?
You see, these question are precious, more precious and valuable than you can ever know.
Questions like this are life itself. Because what is an answer without there first being a question?
Some people say life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. The magic is in the question, you see?
Those purveyors of trite sugary analogies are correct...in a way.
Your life is a box of chocolates.
Mine, on the other hand, is more comparable to the steel-plated exterior of a nuclear warhead. I already know what’s inside. My question was answered for me before I could even say my own name.
Karina Richeson, that’s my name.
And my sole purpose is to live for the future.
Can you imagine having to write your will?
Maybe eventually, when you’re old and gray and crotchety and just a codger in general, you’ll decide to write one. Most of us think of wills in that way—something you do when you’re dying.
I wrote my will at the age of sixteen.
You see, it’s the year 2112. Freezing people and bringing them back alive is old tech, hardly worth mentioning. Neural networking is child’s play.
But what is worth mentioning is the Generations Virus.
It was created back in the 2090s to attempt and end aging forever. It failed.
And now, we are a ‘thrice-blessed’ world:
#1. The absolute cutoff point for life is the age of thirty-two. At thirty-two, it’s lights out, no matter what. Some die earlier
#2. Until the age of thirty-two, we are young and strong, buoyed by the potent cocktail of artificial proteins added to our genome to keep us afloat.
And #3. In an attempt to preserve our most crucial assets, the World Council passed a single standard upon humankind: the top 0.000001% of all babies born thereafter would be put into cryo at age twenty-two, a canned reserve of hyper-intelligence to balm the wounds of our broken world.
The top 0.000001%. About one out of every billion, if the statistics don’t lie.
Those numbers make me one of the smartest people in the world by a margin greater than Mt. Everest.
In all the universe, there are only 15 other people who can match me. 15 with whom I share my fate.
I turn 22 tomorrow.
And this is why I wrote my will at such a tender age.
For while others will live on, even to the petty, repugnant age of thirty-two, I will lie cold as moonlight, in a vault freezer a thousand feet below the surface of the earth.
Not that I have anything to will away, anyways.
I was raised as an object, and objects do not have possessions.
Instead, I wrote for my family.
My parents envied me. My older brother hated me. Nevertheless, I still wrote for them.
I wrote in surrender to my fate, as if expressing how I feel about my destiny would somehow make them understand.
It was a child’s fantasy.
Things got so bad after the will that I was removed from my home, and placed into a government run facility. “For my own protection.” they said, “To keep you obedient.” their tones told me as clear as day.
It’s one thing about being hyper-intelligent; I’m almost impossible to trick or fool. The words hidden between the lines come to me as easily as if they’re really there.
It’s my destiny to serve in this way, I’m told. A great honor to serve in this way, I’m told. And I believe them, because they believe themselves.
If you cannot believe someone’s sincere word, then what can you believe?
At least, that’s what I’m told.
I sat in the easy chair, eyes trying in vain to focus on the blurry pages of the report.
It’s 3:00 AM, rest is a thing of the past for me. When sleep does occasionally befall me, it is a panther pouncing on its prey, full of tearing teeth and rending blades.
Who cares about rest anyways? I’ll get plenty of it tomorrow.
Eternal sleep as a frozen corpse, existing only as an answering machine for humanity’s dilemmas.
I thrust the report away from me, tossing the jargon-riddled economics paper clear across the room. It hits the corner of my twin bed and the sheaf explodes into a ream of fluttering statistics and diagrams.
I’ve made a mess.
The childishness of that thought makes me laugh, because I am anything but.
The life of a Generate removes the child from you early.
I’ve changed even more in the past few years.
The thought of the past few years reminds me of my purpose here. I live in a tiny steel cube, inside a government facility, inside some mountain in South America, all so that I can train myself with no outside interruptions.
I got up, collected the papers, and resumed forcing my way through the report.
This is my training: memorizing the world’s economic patterns.
One thing we learned early is that not every Generate is the same—we all specialize in a different area.
Some are masters of the arts and creativity. Some are masters of science and research. Some even produce great philosophical marvels every time they speak.
I predict the future.
No, I’m not psychic. I’m just really, really good at guessing what’s going to happen.
I can predict every clothing trend a decade in advance.
I can instantly tell which new products will fail, and which will skyrocket.
I can also watch someone for ten minutes, and then lay out their thoughts and actions for the next hour on a spreadsheet. With 90% or above accuracy.
The government used me like a human lie detector.
I finished my mindless absorption of the report, then got up from the easy chair, which also happens to be the only other piece of furniture in this tiny room besides the bed.
Some halfhearted decorator attempted to soften the steel with a fluffy pink rug, but it only makes the brushed metal stand out even further.
My watch reads 3:10 AM.
I have an hour and fifty minutes before I’m supposed to be awake.
I went to the bathroom, which adjoins the bedroom through a small door to the right of the bed.
Brush my teeth.
Brush my hair
Use the toilet.
On the left side of the bed and next to the easy chair is the only exit from my chambers.
There is no lock on the door. No restriction. Freedom at the twist of a knob.
Why keep your assets locked in tiny rooms when you can keep them locked under a mountain instead?
The government is not very clever.
My mind spins through hundreds of hours of interaction with government employees—everyone from drooling janitors to strategic assets in the FBI—to see if I can ever recall a moment of wit or cleverness.
No such luck.
I stepped out into the hall, softly closing the door behind me.
Ceiling cameras roved these halls with beams of synthesized vision, intent upon descrying every inch of the sharp-cornered halls. Operators observed behind the machines, constantly checking and rechecking to avert any error.
I was technically allowed to be out and around the facility any time I wanted.
Technicalities are a lie.
At the very least, me moving around at this hour would raise suspicion.
So how do you beat an unbeatable system?
You show it what it wants to see.
I turned left down the hall, and emulated the sleepy, sluggish pace of someone who’d just woken up.
A few hundred yards of hallway and a single fork led to to the kitchens, which was brightly illuminated by the same white LEDs as everywhere else.
The stark cafeteria consisted of little more than a few tables, a coffee machine on a metal shelf bolted to the wall, and an empty food counter.
I plucked a foam coffee cup from the waiting stack and filled it with water from the adjoining tap. Took a sip.
Flat and lukewarm, but I didn’t need the water for a drink.
I retraced my steps, still walking like my mind was foggy.
The door to my quarters remained where I had left it on the right side of the hall, bringing to mind the image of a faithful pooch waiting for its master.
I stopped in front of it, reached out, turned the knob, then hurled my water down the hall.
“AAAAAH!” I yelled, faking an angry scream.
Then I pushed the door inwards, and pulled it back hard and darted to the left.
For just a moment I held still, clinging to the wall, then I ran, bare feet stepping softly, until the hallway made a made a hard 90° a few dozen yards past.
The way this trick worked was simple, if one happened to be me.
The cameras were programmed to automatically react to loud noises and fast movement, and focus in on the source. This narrowed their field of vision.
By making a loud noise with the door, and then stepping away, I placed myself outside the vision field at the same half-second the camera was focusing. Watching the video feed would reveal a convincing facsimile of myself entering my room.
A cleanup crew would be sent to mop up the water from my thrown cup, and the cameras would be concentrated upon the janitors.
No one would enter my room.
No one would even touch the door.
Benefits of being a priceless asset.
I was free, at least as far as freedom goes in my situation.
4:30 AM found me hiding in a cleaning closet.
The door had a padlock on it, but people are predictable in what four numbers they will automatically choose for a password.
I was concocting one final trick for the pigs who controlled my life.
One final defiance.
Because today was the day.
I wasn’t scared of being frozen. Wasn’t scared for my own life.
I was scared about what the world might look like when I saw it next.
What will your world look like in the next fifteen minutes?
What about the next hour?
What about tomorrow?
Do you know what you will do tomorrow? How you’ll react? What your life will look like?
Chance are you know, because you’re an ordinary person.
I am a Generate.
Once I’m frozen this morning, my next fifteen minutes could be a decade in the future.
I could be woken up for a day, to solve a problem a hundred years later.
I could be unfrozen a millennia from now to the planet being obliterated in a nuclear showdown of interstellar forces.
Whereas as everyone else in the world will live a short but happy life in the now, I am eternal, doomed to live out the final ten years of my life in a patchwork of the world’s worst moments, until I either go insane or someone slits my throat as I sleep.
Suddenly I felt a wave of revulsion for what I had planned to do. Petty pranks meant nothing in the face of the virtual obliteration I faced.
I kicked open the door to the closet and stalked out like a wraith emerging from the shadows.
I sprinted down the hallway at top speed, my dark hair flying out behind me.
Whatever I must face, I would face it head on.
I had been in this room many times. Seen, been told of it’s function. I had even seen another Generate being frozen here.
But nothing was the same as standing silent, waiting for my time to come.
I was twenty-two.
In this vaulted chamber, I was about to be frozen for years untold, another weapon in the arsenal of the World Council.
“Karina, are you prepared?” a voice called into my mind from somewhere out in the abyss.
Without opening my eyes, I analyzed his words. I had met him before—a certain Lieutenant Samuel Gray. He was not asking a question. He was regretting having eaten glazed donuts before coming here.
And one final thing in his voice made me pause—a minuscule quaver as he said my name. This government man was afraid of me. Maybe not even consciously, but it was there. I laughed bitterly inside myself.
I wanted to play on that fear.
“Prepared?” I barked, “How could I EVER be prepared?” I let my eyes open, and a wild cast fill them, “What could ever sooth my wounds?”
Samuel stammered, drawing back the merest inch.
“From the moment I was born, I was predestined. Predestined to be a slave. The very brightest of humanity, forced into slavery because of my mind!”
Then I got quiet. Tilted my head a little. “Have you ever wondered how many of us go insane before we ever get to this stage? How many lose our minds before they ever get used by you? I bet it’s an awfully high percentage.”
To each question Samuel stammered a tremulous ‘no’.
“What if I were insane? I’m brilliant. No question. Do you think I would ever be stupid enough to let my madness show?? I can predict your every move before you even think it.
My voice rose to a crescendo. “I’M ONE OF THE FIFTEEN SMARTEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO ISN’T IN A FREEZER.” Then I whispered, “’Prepared’ is an understatement...a mockery.”
Ol’ Sammy was mortified, no doubt trying to the limits of his pitiful intelligence to decide if I really was insane.
To be honest, I wasn’t too sure myself.
What is the definition of insanity? A relatively permanent illness of the mind.
The difference between brilliance and illness is small indeed.
Even now I could feel threads of chaotic energy unraveling within my mind.
I reeled them back in, and forced myself to observe my surroundings.
The chamber was constructed of flawless white stone rising to a vaulted ceiling, its fluted architecture belying the rest of the subterranean compound.
One large wooden door was set into the wall behind us—the only entrance.
In front of us, on a raised dais, was a king size bed, outfitted with silky flowing sheets and a tall pale headboard.
The subject to be frozen would lay on the bed and be administered sedatives to slowly put them to sleep.
Gentle cruelty, I thought.
All went silent.
When I deigned to look at Sammy, he flinched away in fright.
The door behind us opened.
A host of men in suits entered, escorted by soldiers bearing heavy arms and composite armor.
Each one looked to be in their early twenties or even late teens.
And behind them entered an even tighter bundle of decked out goons clustered around someone.
A flashing gap opened, and through it I could see a tall, slender man with Indian coloration, wearing fitted black clothing.
His eye caught mine, and for a moment it felt like a direct channel had opened up between our minds, a language only we could understand, composed of facial expression and body language.
You’re another Generate. He said.
What’s your name?
I’m James. You are not alone.
And then James was again enclosed by green and black.
They began to lead me up the shallow steps to the bed, more soldiers joining Lieutenant Gray so they could completely surround me.
I wanted to fight, to scream, to kick, but I could see that there was no plausible way of escaping.
I got to the bed at the same time as James, and the realization hit me. They were going to put us in at the same time.
Our eyes met again. Once again creating the link of brilliant inference.
He grinned with such kindness and trust. Do not fear, Karina. We sacrifice so that others may live. That one day there might be an answer to this mess we have found our way into.
My features gave him an answer. Sacrifice I am aware of, but what about us? Should we not have a chance to live too?
Sister, we shall live. We shall live together, in the fleeting moments we are given, working together for the greater good of humanity. This is glory and honor! It will be our names in the history books, given as immortal heroes to the children of generations eternal!
His face softened, and he reached across the bed to take my hand. I let him. We sacrifice because we are better. We sacrifice because out of our frozen ashes, the world will be given hope.
I don’t agree with you...but I trust you.
I was vaguely aware of a baby-faced doctor motioning for me to lie down. We did.
A cold needle slid home into my arm, and I squeezed James’s hand tighter.
This was it.
The culmination of my silly, petty, brilliant, childish life.
And all I could thing of was this: I am not alone.
Dear reader, what does your life look like?
How old are you?
Are you married?
Where do you live?
These questions are everything.
Questions are life. Questions are what makes us human.
My name is Karina Richeson, and my life is one question: “What is my purpose?”
I asked James one time, and this is what he said, “To live for the future.”
I’m not quite sure of the answer yet, but I will be.