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From Inside the Flap
1. The Statistician
Life is a quest and love a quarrel. - Edna St. Vincent Millay
Davi looked out the window down eleven floors to the street. The day had only barely begun but already a crowd moved below. A big, sullen lump of humanity, lumbering towards − what?
"Oblivion." He whispered and hoped his wife didn't hear.
She seemed to know every thought that flitted through his mind. He turned away from the stranger reflected in the glass, a stick man with tangled hair and droopy eyes. Why had his parents chosen such a cut-rate gene package? Anyway, while that might be how he looked, it didn't make him anything close to those people out there.
"I'm better than they are."
"Who are you talking to?" His beautiful wife Lara, fresh from a shower, entered the room. "Oh, Davi, are you moping again."
Her sweet scent cut through the stale air of their apartment. How happy they'd been when they'd moved here fifty years ago, a place not much bigger than a closet, one all-purpose room, an eat-sleep. Size hadn't mattered. They'd laughed all the time, crazy in love.
"I can talk to myself. It's not a crime," he muttered.
"Not yet," she snapped.
She had a point. Tomorrow muttering could be declared a felony and the GROD would come and haul him off to the bin. He turned back to the window to watch the crowd. Humanity? He raised a fist.
"I'll leave you then - to rage." With a sigh of disgust or maybe weariness, Lara slipped behind a blue curtain, her dressing nook. He pressed his cheek to the glass. I'm not one of them. One of 30 billion souls, all damned, living their long lives of tedium and mediocrity - at best.
Around 2100, there'd been 13 billion and that was supposed to be the upset limit. Not even close. Three hundred years later, that figure had more than doubled. Two and a half times, at least. He thought about how LIV had stuffed them all into these megalopolis bands, development that looked like giant strips of lit up bacon on the map, one after another across the globe with thin threads of buffer in between. The idea was to keep delivery of services manageable. Keep all the people in tightly controlled population centers. Let the buffers serve as landfill, barrens that didn't need monitoring.
As the sun began its rise over Man Mountain, Davi made a quick calculation. Math came easy as breathing for him - he expected to be promoted soon, to head statistician at Far Mortality Management Company.
A cold sweat clung to the back of his neck and his breath condensed on the glass.
If he'd calculated right - and he always did - he'd seen the sun rise 51,100 times in the last 140 years. He'd started this ritual when he'd turned 60. Watching the dawn used to make him happy, but lately it had become an irritation. So he'd stop. Break the habit before his next birthday.
One more month would bring him to Round Three. The final round. His last century.
He dragged his fingers through the knots in his hair and wished he could find a bit of decent shampoo and clean water. He always let Lara use the good stuff first while he took leftovers. All these advancements in technology and yet his daily life had become downright primitive.
"La." He sang the syllable, but it didn't sound right so he tried another. "Va."
The time had come to choose a new syllable to represent his last century and he needed to get serious about his choice.
LIV had already sent several reminders to his UNI. The government kept close track of these milestones.
Remember, one syllable is chosen to begin each century. This is our great Extender tradition; not a rule, but a choice. While sur-numbers are assigned by the government, as a practical matter, all Extenders can choose their own syllables.
This birthday had come so fast - 200, how could it be here so soon?
A nice, smooth sound.
No, la came across as blah.
He'd go with va.
Much better. A sound with energy. Daviva.
If only all decisions could be as simple as the syllable-century system.
Lara stepped out from the curtained nook and Davi turned to look at her. Like all Extenders, her aging process had been turned off at peak age, 50. Not at all the same as 50 in the olden days, but a well-preserved youthful, sexy 50. Mature and wise enough, but not a dull, half over kind of age.
What a pretty girl, he thought as admiring his wife. A petite blond with blue eyes and a trim figure. Somewhat boring choices, true. Now most everyone went for exotic combinations. People liked to make a statement. At the moment, green hair, gold eyes and pure white skin topped the list of popular features.
But, she still looked good at 175. And why wouldn't she? She enjoyed the best treatments ugs could buy. He gave her best of everything, as best he could.
A new popLIV song, he heard piped throughout the city, could've been written for her.
Beautiful girl, frozen in time, never grow old, always be mine
"What are you staring at?" Lara said. She wore the blue robe he'd given her, 20 years ago, at Winter Holiday. The color matched her eyes and the fabric caressed her curves.
He hated that robe. Just once, he wished she'd wear something else.
She glared at him. "What?"
He shrugged. "I wondered. Do you think la or va?"
She pulled the robe closer, an insulting gesture, did she think he might snatch it away? "It's a bunch of rubbish," she said. "Syllable-century stigmatizes people. I don't appear to be going on 200, why should I have to advertise it?"
She enjoyed any chance to aggravate him. Took the opposite side to be contrary. To answer her would mean starting an argument and what a waste of breath. But he tried anyway. "People should be proud of their centuries, it's something to celebrate."
"Being proud is not the same as advertising." She always said that.
He fixed his gaze on Man Mountain. A reclamation project of grass on trash, it grew higher every day. The sun had crested and now splayed its golden orange light across the rooftops of Little City 447.
"Are you all right, Davi?" She asked him that a hundred times a day.
He nodded and his reflection nodded, too. One of 30 billion reflections. Someday he would rise above the others. He tugged at his tangled hair. Va or la?
"I'll get coffee," said Lara as she headed to the kitchen. She'd be back soon with his mug and one tab. The morning dose of True Age Bromide.
He didn't turn when she came back in the room. He heard her set the mug on an end table just as she had the day before and thousands of days before that. Although he couldn't hear it, he knew she'd put his green tab next to the mug. Another technology fail. Why did he have to take a pill, why couldn't LIV install a regulator? Just plain cheap, that's why. Let them eat cake, let them take pills, right?
"It'll be hot today," she said.
Davi nodded. "Yes."
"You're going to work?"
"Yes." As a senior administrator at Far Mortality, he could either go to the office in Little City 449 or work from home. He almost always went to the office. In a mere 25 years he'd reach mandatory retirement age. Then he'd always be home and what would he do all day for those next 75 years?
"You're going all the way to Trap Town?" Her words held a familiar irritation. She preferred for him to stick around the house.
"Yes. To 449."
Back when their life together started, when everything felt fresh and fun, they'd made up names for places. Little City 447, where they lived, became Cheese City and Little City 449, where he worked, they called Trap Town.
"You'll have to walk."
He nodded. Of course, he'd have to walk. The caboose no longer went to Little City 449. The route had been discontinued when the road collapsed around the time of the Last Epidemic.
"In this heat." Lara shook her head in disbelief.
"Yes."He looked out the window into a sun that had become a sphere of fierce orange, a hot poker that stabbed the sky. Every day he watched, even on the rare occasions when the sky shed a bit of rain. He watched and waited as long as he could, until it became absolutely necessary to do something else.
Before his next birthday he'd stop.
His wife went back in the kitchen for more coffee. A brief moment of peace. From the other room he heard the drone of a LIV PSA.
Got the blahs? Don't delay. Call your LIV counselor and chase those blahs away.
Lara stood in the doorway of the galley kitchen but did not come back to sit with him. Her touchy mood sifted into the room, a fine, toxic powder.
He guessed at the source of her edginess. That special time had come again. She wanted to know will we ReNew?
ReNew. ReNew. ReNew.
The whole idea of it maddened him. The government had botched it with this ridiculous and diabolical approach to marriage. But then everything LIV did seemed designed to box them in, tighten the reins.
Oh, how Lara had carried on at the last ReNew - 25 years ago now, but it could have been yesterday.
A LIV memo on his UNI had explained. As if he didn't already know.
A marriage contract lasts a certain number of years. Couples can ReNew at predetermined stages. It's your choice.
Typical contract − 25 years. But shorter terms were trending.
UV - ultra vows - of 50 years. A very rare choice.
Lifetime vows had no popularity at all - less than one percent of contracts.
At their last ReNew he'd wanted a tenner, she'd wanted UV and what a terrible argument they'd had. A 10-year term? How dare you. A tenner is an insult − 10 is going steady −10 is a one-night stand. Don't you love me? Are you bored with me?
"Let's be practical," he'd said. Davi shuddered as he recalled the scene. Finally, they'd compromised- 25 years.
But Lara had been right. Boredom suffocated him, he hungered for something. Something she couldn't provide, nothing in his life did. But what he hungered for − and who or what could satisfy his appetite − he didn't know. But it had to exist.
He did know this marriage had run its course, even with The Virtue and all its wonderful fantasies.
He'd talked to his friend Gemini about this dilemma. Although not married, Gemini worked as a LIV administrator, quite high up in the Life Intensive Venture and Unified Government. Davi treasured the friendship, it filled him with pride, gave him an inside track that might lead to that something.
Davi had confided in his friend about his beliefs. "Marriage is obsolete. Commitment needs to evolve, even more, to fit the extended life span."
"Perhaps," Gemini had said, interested, but not one to take easily to new ideas.
"Society needs a new paradigm, don't you think?"
Gemini had smiled. "I see what you mean. Our society clings to the old ways even as our long lives makes any sort of traditional marriage unreasonable."
"I know something is missing in my life." He'd been unable to find the words.
But Gemini had seemed to understand. "You dream of having more."
"Yes!" Once he'd admitted this, the longing became stronger.
Now another wedding anniversary. While the milestone lay six months away, time would fly and the day would be upon them. They must decide. Unless this tension killed him first.
Perhaps his numbers would save him. When he got to work, he'd start a new project to statistically prove shorter marriages were better, people were happier. People would have more choice. Choice was good.
Choice for one, choice for all. LIV motto No. 3.
"Davi?" Lara came and stood next to his chair.
"Yes?" He smiled. At least he hoped it looked close to a smile. Here comes the question about the damned ReNew. He knew it.
Lara took a deep breath and bit her lip. He'd seen her do this a million times, pretending to be tentative, as if she didn't get her own way every single time. "I've been thinking."
He nodded and took a sip of coffee. Here it comes − ReNew.
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