Amid mounting evidence of the success of their Chulel formula in 2040 – the year Max and Emily Feldman both turned 100 – the two researchers had decided to retire. It would be another decade before the concept of retirement gave way to the ten-year sabbatical.
The Drs. Feldman watched from afar the unfolding of the new world they had helped to create. When people had started turning 120, it was kind of a big deal. When their offspring started turning 100 it was an even bigger deal. When people were still around to celebrate their grandchildren’s century mark, they began to wonder where it would all end. As the Drs. Feldman began to think that they would easily reach their 200th birthdays, they started having second thoughts about the great gift they had bestowed on humankind.
The big question that began to occur to observant and thoughtful people like the Feldmans was whether this present trajectory would end at all. It wasn’t that people had become immortal; they were still vulnerable to physical violence and the few remaining infectious diseases that could kill you if not treated in time. But the medical professions were as diligent as ever in defending against all of these potential calamities. If anything, they had become even more adept at keeping people from dying of all kinds of things. Even violence, whether intentional or accidental, rarely resulted in death. Many of the tragically mutilated survivors of the last great wars were still alive, reminders of an incomprehensible time most people preferred to forget. Increasingly, death required deliberate intent. The new normal – the kind with Chulel – was for all the intact cells and organs of the body to continue regenerating in an orderly and reliable fashion, staying perfectly healthy and youthful indefinitely. The decline of cancer had been a pleasant side effect.
Reproduction had declined. As the generations piled up one after another, it seemed unnecessary. Or at least it had seemed unnecessary to the plutocrats. Fertility was near zero in all the primary corporate hub regions. The few children who were produced were seldom seem, being generally sent away to boarding colonies where they could be raised by professionals.
The pharmaceutical industry had been impacted rather severely by the decline in demand for the lucrative drugs that had addressed the chronic maladies of old age. There was a concomitant uptick in demand for mood drugs, and then after the so-called “War on Drugs” was finally brought to an end with the legalization of almost everything, big pharma found its new calling in the manufacture of all kinds of designer recreational drugs, which merged imperceptibly with the mood enhancers.
The Feldmans closely monitored their own health as well as that of the small colony of bonobos that had been receiving Chulel treatments longer than any humans, even Max. The bonobos occupied a forested reserve near the Pharmakon labs outside Atlanta, where they were cared for by one of the Feldmans’ former assistants. The bonobos had been largely forgotten by Pharmakon, but the assistant continued to faithfully cater to all their needs and to provide their annual Chulel infusions and physical checkups. It was in the bonobos that Max and Emily first noted the slight deterioration in the beta chains of hemoglobin. A few years later, they detected the same deterioration in their own blood. The changes were very small, but they bore an odd similarity to sickle cell disease. Max and Emily also noted that the effects were cumulative and that they were most pronounced immediately after an infusion of Chulel.
The health and demographic implications of the new order had been superseded in the Feldmans’ minds by concern over an apparent side trip into memory management via cognitive photonic therapy. Max and Emily knew perfectly well that the widely touted memory loss that had come to be associated with Chulel was a fabrication. They had been taking the drug longer than anyone else – entirely self-administered – and they knew exactly what its effects and side effects were. Memory loss was not among them. And yet, in 2045 there had been a worldwide panic as FlixNews and Corporate News Network suddenly began reporting alarming memory loss associated with Chulel, stampeding people into enrolling in a digital media corporation called Your Journal and receiving Chulel exclusively in spa-like clinics that promised memory maintenance and restoration. Max and Emily knew that Chulel maintained the brain in peak health, the same as any other physical organ. Their own memories of both distant events and recent occurrences remained remarkably clear. However, their interactions with people who were availing themselves of the “memory restoration” treatments that were offered at the Chulel spas caused them growing concern. It seemed to be producing some form of collective dementia.
The Feldmans had been more than happy to leave Pharmakon behind. They had felt some solidarity back in the early 2000s with what was originally called the “Occupy” movement, which had briefly tried to rally people against the domination of society, culture, and politics by big corporations and plutocrats. There were rumors that their movement had precipitated a clandestine reaction within the corporate world under the code word “Preoccupied.” If it was real, it would indeed have been a clever tag for a project designed to keep people so self-absorbed and emotionally dependent on entertainment, novel material goods, and selected, media-hyped “causes” that they had no interest in real political involvement. They might even be convinced (as indeed they had been) that less government was best government. It was easily recognized by anyone who paid attention to such things that corporations and corporate alliances had become the only meaningful centers of power. Most people complacently accepted the idea that corporations were more reliable than governments in giving them what they wanted and needed for happy lives. As the true elites had become fewer and more powerful, they also had become more brazen. The advent of Chulel and, fortuitously, cognitive photonic therapy had been all they needed to solidify their hold.
There had been a campaign back in the late 21st century: “The best days of your life haven’t happened yet. Make room for what’s to come!” This had encouraged people to get rid of their last remaining boxes of mementos and artifacts from past eras. It was a cooperative venture between Your Journal and the recyclables manufacturers. The real estate corporations were also on board, as they were squeezing more and smaller residential units into limited urban space. Naturally, these smaller residential units had less and less storage space. The leading home décor company had followed up with their own campaign: “Why live in the past when you can have today’s most gorgeous home?” So people had tossed out the last of the Tiffany lamps and the Hepplewhite dining room sets in favor of the latest limited-lifetime items from 3Dec.
The leading 22nd-century economic sectors entailed the manufacture of recyclables, renewable energy (which had been wrested away from the off-grid delusionists and placed safely in the hands of the plutocrats who knew how to make it generate wealth), entertainment providers of all kinds (a category that included foodstuff producers and pharmaceuticals), and advertising. Of course all of it was done in the context of electronic/ digital/ computerized wizardry, but that had ceased to be considered an industry in itself. It was simply how corporations did business. And really, the less the populace knew about how it worked the better. Digital communications and information sharing had been on a dangerous trajectory around the start of the 21st century, with ordinary workers having access to almost everything across what was called the internet, as well as the ability to communicate with one another in an unregulated manner. They had tried to argue that this was their right. Heroes had risen up, disclosing the ways in which corporations and governments were attempting to manipulate and intrude upon these communications. Fortunately, the corporations had been able to consolidate their control by convincing people it was the governments that were the greatest threat. Before long, governments became practically irrelevant, conceding all authority to the corporations.
Max and Emily Feldman’s first stop post-retirement had been Buenos Aires, where they intended to indulge their lifelong love of the tango and other things Argentinian. They had a fondness for old paintings and books and owned a couple of small works by Argentine painters such as Carlos Alonso and Xul Solar as well as books – physical books printed on paper – by Argentine writers including Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Silvina Ocampo. In Buenos Aires, they discreetly pursued the possibility of acquiring a few more precious books and possibly even a new painting or two. They adored Buenos Aires and, although they lived briefly in many more places over the next seven decades, they kept returning to Argentina. They thought they just might stay this time. They had well and truly fallen in love with the porteños of Buenos Aires.
By the time they settled there for good in 2125, Max and Emily had been witness to many changes in their beautiful city. For one thing, the underground tranvía subterraneo or “subte” had been closed after the devastating floods of 2077, replaced by a solar powered elevated monorail winding its silent, serpentine way through the city. Its exterior was of an alloy that reflected back the colors and forms of its surroundings, but never the glare of the sun. The buses known as colectivos had been done away with. The corporate-owned tranvía alta was much more satisfactory, generating wealth as it did for the corporations and the plutocrats.
Max and Emily were pleased to find that their favorite little Buenos Aires art gallery – the Galería Picaflor – was still in existence, occupying a modest store front on a side street near where the now defunct Contemporary Art Museum had been.
All the public museums had disappeared. As weakened governments found it increasingly difficult to extract revenue from the globally peripatetic corporations that monopolized wealth, public institutions were put on austere budgets. Naturally, the corporations had come to the rescue. National parks went first. In Texas, California, and the USA, park lands had been sold off to corporate interests. Then the artworks of the major public museums, including the once venerated collections of the Musées de France, had been “deaccessioned” at cut rates as even corporate collectors and plutocrats lost interest in the so-called “old masters.” The great libraries had been corporatized and subsequently reduced to mere facades for digital collections.
When Max and Emily first encountered the Galería Picaflor in the 2040s, many of the paintings were already being printed in unlimited editions on the increasingly popular recycled and recyclable canvases, but there also had been some traditional oils and even a few bronze sculptures. Now the gallery’s inventory of paintings and sculptures appeared to be entirely of the recyclable type. Max and Emily were delighted to find that the woman who had taken over the Galería Picaflor shortly before the Feldmans’ last visit to Buenos Aires in 2105 was still there. She was a sprightly woman by the name of Isabel Hernandez.
Isabel’s English was as fluent as her Spanish and Emily’s conversations with her tended to make use of both languages in about equal measure. “Where did you learn to speak such good English?” Emily asked one day, as she watched Isabel hanging some new pictures for an exhibit.
“Oh, you know,” Isabel answered brightly. “Just around.”
“No, really, Isabel. Your English syntax is far more sophisticated, your vocabulary much more extensive than what we hear from people who have learned from casual interaction with tourists and sabbaticos. Did you attend University in an English speaking country? You have a bit of a North American accent, you know. Kind of California even,” Emily said. Languages and dialects were a hobby of hers.
Isabel’s shoulders dropped a bit and she spoke without turning toward Emily. “I honestly don’t know,” she said quietly. “I guess I’ve just… forgotten.”
“Oh, well,” Emily said. “Probably not important. I was only curious.”
Isabel finished straightening the painting she had just hung and turned to face Emily. “Actually, it is important. I wish I knew. They say it’s the Chulel. I’ve never been able to get the treatments at the clinic where they give you the memory restoration. Some foreigners seem surprised that I haven’t lost my memories altogether.”
Isabel took a few steps back to look at the paintings she had hung. She shook her head. “Estas pinturas que se reciclen… ¡Que mierda!” Isabel glanced quickly over her shoulder at Emily, although she was pretty sure Emily would not judge her for this outburst.
Emily was laughing. “You used to have some real paintings, too,” she said softly. “¿Que pasó?”
“Oh, I still have some. I’ll show you once we get this exhibit over with.”
That evening, over their usual restaurant dinner, Emily told Max what she had learned on her visit with Isabel. “The woman has always self-administered Chulel,” she told him. “And yet she seems to have some huge memory gaps. What do you think that’s about?”
Max looked thoughtful. “You know, there were rumors back in – oh, maybe around 2030 or so? – about some experimentation with photonic memory restructuring going on here in Argentina. Do you think maybe she could have got mixed up with that?”
“Could be,” Emily replied. “I think she might be amenable to some assistance in finding out where she lost her memories.” Max nodded thoughtfully, and Emily could see that he had already begun plotting a research strategy.
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