Short Story: Bright Futures

Rain slicked roads shine from countless headlights of rush-hour victims, jam-packed in carpool vans. Faces of every age and origin stare in sordid envy; the auto-car lanes and their continuous stream of traffic. Never the same people, yet always the same car, and somehow always moving, passing. The spite in onlookers, palpable as their own lust for the speed they lack. The irony, not one of them having anywhere remotely important to go.

Certainly, not important enough to justify the strength of such emotions. Collectively however, Humanity had nowhere more important than where they were headed.

Jackstaff was the sort of city that made people believe in reincarnation and resurrections. It had lived and died, then lived again; all more than once. It was the American west-coat’s Phoenix, sinking into the decay of old age only to burn and be reborn newer, more beautiful than ever.

Its most recent rebirth, from a social standpoint, was still occurring. Arguments could be made the birth had passed and infancy had begun, but truly, the umbilical to the mother-event had yet to be cut. That metaphorically-great, burning bird, was the advent of a technology that had literally begun to revolutionize the world.

Like auto-cars, this tech everyone wanted, for one reason or another. And for one reason or another, few could afford access to it. At least, outside certain black markets still largely specializing in its prototypes.

The tech, known officially and “Integrated Optical and Aural Control Heads-up Displays,” was well-known in some circles (and fast becoming known in others) simply as HUDs. The first in a new generation of elective, assistive augmented implants, these “augs”were civilization’s first, true-to-life step toward post-humanism.

On smaller scales, that evolution had already been in human hands for centuries now. From Pasteur’s discovery of vaccines to Fleming’s creation of penicillin, to the gene therapies fighting or righting defects and deformities (however confined to the upper class). Until now however, nothing Humanity had done had quite crossed the boundaries, or blurred the lines of, what made one human.

Few knew this truth as well as Kayla Lexington.

At just over five-feet tall, Kayla was the perennial odd-child out. Since birth, Kayla had been too small, too smart, too mature, or too something to fit anywhere. In school she got by on a relatively dull and stable home-life, and eventually, recreational drug use.

She attended state college on scholarships and grants, too focused and overloaded with work to do much else. College ended and she found herself too inundated with job offers in various C-S positions to do anything but dive straight into work, responsibility, and adulthood.

That all changed at Arc Systems. Software Titan and recent partner to long-time Med-Tek demigod Cameron Mobility, hired Lexington in with a slew of others as part of Arc’s expansion into the same type of R&D that made Cameron a Trillion-dollar Mega-corp.

In effect, Arc needed programmers to help create, update, and secure the increasingly emergent field of bionic prosthesis. This new era of bionics, investors were assured, would revolutionize medical technology.

Kayla Lexington knew otherwise. She saw then, as others did later, that the field was uneven. Too closed and isolated between Cameron Mobility and its main competitor, Byrne Corp, the field could never thrive. Simply, the corps had rigged match after rigged match of an entire sport, andin a slow but certain destruction of the very game they relied upon to survive.

Conscious or not, it was done through various cost-cutting decisions, by myopic executives with hard-ons for money yet possessing no fiscal sense.

Fact was, no innovation had come from Med-Tek that wasn’t somehow connected to either company in over a century. Prosthesis R-and-D suffered as a result. The patients dreadfully so. The designers, engineers, coders, all of them were– had been— building off one another for generations.

Not an original idea had come about in more than twice Kayla’s life-time. For tech, that level of stagnation was as good as extinction. What it and everyone else involved, needed, was complete revitalization.

Lexington approached her superiors with a request; a small team of coders, designers, and engineers for less than a month, on a radical redesign of several well-established prosthetic models all-but-perfected, decades ago. Her aim was to show the proper talent in the right space, could do anything.

The request was granted on the grounds of her obvious intelligence, and the company’s possible gain, as well as the short time the diversion required. In short, because Kayla offered them the perfect cost/risk/time ratio.

With only a week of prep beforehand, she assembled her team and the various detail. She and her chosen few took to isolation, spending three uninterrupted weeks of meetings, brainstorming, and spit-balling in a mountain-ski resort.

The twenty-four year old woman without a place took to carving one out.

The days became invariably the same; rising for four-star resort-meals between bouts of meetings finely interspersed with Kayla’s rigid adherence to down-time. In most instances, hot tubs and heated pools amid frigid air; or snowboarding and skiing via the company’s blank-check; lounging and gaming, drinking or drugging in the meantime.

As much as she insisted on that down time, she too, insisted on the rigid adherence to work, meetings, designs, arguments. Even if unstructured, more open-air and brainstorming sessions, she ensured everyone knew their importance and attended. Given what she’d provided, the team obliged.

Even decades later, Kayla Lexington remembered the night it became clear. The night she knew that uneven field was the result of something deeper– the night she first dreamt the post-human dream.

Distant diamond-dust glittered with the first rays of moonlight beyond floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors, framing her temporary wooden balcony. Earthen warmth from wood set off the perpetual winter beyond, hiding even the faintest glow of the resort below. Kayla was nude.The cleaning girl she’d taken to likewise behind her, watching from the fur-lined bed.

Hardly her first or last experience with a woman, Kayla still found something summed up in her– what had caught her eye about her. What it was,really, couldn’t be explained until later.

Cara was pretty but rougher– the type whose potential partners often fled from intimidation before opening up. Kayla was certain she was younger than she’d said, even less experienced than could be mistaken for. Yet, she was an entirely devoted lover. Kayla guessed they could’ve shared a one-night stand and she’d have shown just as much selflessness.

Yet her world– its society– demanded everything about her not only should not exist, but could not exist. And still she did.

The mountaintops dissolved before Kayla as she brokered an image of not only her future, but that of Humanity’s:

Arc’s group had only a few days left. By then the company would sink or swim with Kayla’s budding-career. Unfortunately, nothing they had yet would prevent that. As a result, the pressure was mounting. Her own tension, peaking.

If her choice of partner had been any more or less innocuous, or Cara even a modicum different than she was, Kayla knew history would never have taken its course. Fortunately for the world, Cara was herself

She spoke three seemingly innocent words, “Aren’t you happy?”

Their tone said all; told of constant pain, emotional and otherwise; habitual disregard for I and the knowledge that one day it might very well be all she knew; yet it told how she’d grown to accept that, moved on. Most of all, it told of a lost, wandering creature whom sought only to leave their mark in even one moment of happiness– joy– even if she couldn’t have it herself.

Something deeper stirred in Kayla Lexington then, something that didn’t quite make sense. A flickering film-reel of Humanity joined it; its masses undulating through time through traffic jams, clogged sidewalks, workers in mechanical motions.

It continued on, spiraling backward through eras of history she wasn’t sure she knew. Images depicting society’s evolution, but in reverse. Onward, back through eras of steam-trains disgorging crowds, to village-squares of huts overrun by crowds and haggling and hawking wares.

On and on it went until, perched just below the starry sky that burned despite the vision; two hairy creatures joined at the groin for no purpose beyond sheer, animal compulsion. It was then that she knew; Humans had changed.

And Cara proved it.

The undulating masses were no longer the hunter-gatherers of their ancestry. They were masses of cells amid faceless organisms; corporations, companies, governments, families. They were beyond what Humans had once been. As with all organisms that wished to survive nature, they’d been forced to evolve or die. Not only as one, but as their collective; Humanity.

She could think of no better example than her employers and her retreat; its very purpose was to combat stagnation with the search for vigor, revitalization. She saw only one path forward– for Cameron, for Arc, for society– and it came with two, hyphenated words; post-human.

The rest is history. Kayla answered Cara eventually, and more satisfactorily than the girl might’ve intended. Then, when her rigid schedule demanded it, Kayla left Cara smoldering in her room until she could return and reignite her. That last few days of that retreat were passed with tireless work.

When Kayla finally returned, Cara at her hip, she gave the corps what they’d paid for and demanded a raise. Then, she took control of the new Bio-Augment division of Arc-Cameron.

And somehow, even though it had taken its first steps into its new future, Humanity as a general rule knew only the envy of traffic-jam auto-cars– Ironic given how much brighter each person’s future now was, and how utterly blind they were to the dullness left behind…

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