“Come on grandma,’’ Liam said as he tugged gently on his grandmothers’ arm. “We have to get there before it closes.’’
It was a scorching hot day and Liam was a bag of nerves. He went through every detail in his head. He had no other choice.
“Where are we going?’’ Margarette asked her grandson.
If you had to guess, Margarette had to be at least ninety. It was a miracle she was still around. The world was no longer welcoming to people like her, not to any human her age. Humanity had moved on after the Third War. The divide in resources of the late 21st century had culminated in a war that had ripped the human race apart. Most didn’t make it. Those who did, suffered the consequences of the damage made to the planet. Famine was rampant. Climate and shelter, uncertain at best. Life expectancy had dropped back down into the 50s. For all, except the rich, who had found a way to thrive, aided by technology. It helped them overcome everyday difficulties, allowing them to conquer sickness, ageing, everything and anything; those who could afford it became more. The human race had evolved, leaving their predecessors to die out. You had nothing to worry about, provided you had the funds. With wealth, you could be Homo Deus.
“They found grandpa, I’m bringing you to meet him,’’ Liam told her.
Margarette’s eyes widened. “Eugene…’’
Liam looked at his grandmother and swallowed hard. His grandfather had died in the war twenty years ago. She didn’t remember.
It had to be done.
Seeing the hope and recognition in her eyes made it hard. He smiled sheepishly at her and looked away.
It would do.
At a snail's pace, they made their way down the street towards where the Deus Corporation building should be. Liam reached into his pocket and grabbed the piece of scrap paper his brother had given him. The address was jotted down on it. They should be close.
“Eugene…’’ Margarette mumbled as if hypnotized.
Margarette didn’t hear. As they neared the corner, Liam saw the sign on the front of the building. They were there. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at her. “Grandma,’’ he said a bit louder.
She turned to look at him with a soft smile. “What is it honey?’’
“Before we get to see grandpa, the nice people who found him will want you to sign papers and ask you if you understand the terms and conditions. Just tell them that you want to see grandpa, ok?’’
“They found Eugene?’’ she asked with a hopeful smile. “Where are we going?’’ Liam sighed, took her hand and squeezed gently, lovingly.
“Yes grandma, they found grandpa.’’
They walked towards the Deus Corp. building. It stood out starkly against the rest of the buildings around it like it had been unaffected by the war, by the hardships of the current times. The surrounding buildings were falling apart; largely overtaken by nature, they faced the threat of collapse minute by minute. The building they were heading to looked like it was built yesterday, emitting an unnatural glow, made of materials uncommon to most. In a way, it looked like it repelled the world around it. A perfect representation of the wealth divide between humanity and Homo Deus: the new humans.
As Liam grabbed the handle of the door, he stopped one last time.
“Grandma,’’ she looked at him patiently, “what are you going to tell the nice people inside?’’ “I’m here to see Eugene,’’ she replied. Liam nodded. It would have to do.
“Exactly, we’re here to see grandpa.’’
And with that, Liam pushed the door open and they both walked in.
It would have to do.
The pair walked into a seemingly different world. Nothing was out of place, the temperature was pleasant, Liam had never seen anything like it. He had only heard of what it was like from others. Nothing they could have said would prepare him for this though. He felt like they didn’t belong here.
“Can I help you?’’
Liam snapped out of his musings. A man dressed in a white uniform stood before them. He wore an eerie smile, his eyes were empty, not a single feature out of place. It made Liam uncomfortable. He searched his pocket for his scrap piece of paper.
“Yes, we’re here for…’’ he pulled out the paper. “We’re here for the...’’ he looked at the paper again.
“Project Vigour,’’ said the employee, looking both of them up and down and pausing for seconds to give Liam a chance to explain himself.
“Yes, for my grandmother,’’ he said, nodding in her direction. He felt a knot forming in his gut.
“Is this where Eugene is?’’ Margarette asked, looking at the door to their right. Liam nodded reassuringly to her. He couldn’t let her say too much.
The employee surveyed Margarette. Liam thought he caught a glimpse of disgust on the man’s face.
“Very well, follow me, we need to fill in some paperwork before we can proceed.’’ The three of them made their way over to the front desk. The contrast between the trio was shocking: the Deus Corp. employee seemed almost artificial, hand crafted by an artist, while Margarette and her grandson looked like they had hand crafted their clothes out of trash they found on the wasteland. The man set a tablet on the desk and handed Margarette a pen. “You will need to read this documents and sign on the last page.’’
Liam grabbed the pen and placed it in his grandmother’s shaking hand. He took a deep breath. His heart was beating hard. The employee looked at Liam suspiciously. Liam smiled a tight lipped smile, the kind you do when you pass a stranger on the street.
Margarette took the pen. “Where are we?’’
“We’re here to see grandpa, you just need to sign the papers,’’ answered Liam. Margarette started writing her name, satisfied by his answer.
Liam could feel the sweat dripping down his back. He was so close.
The employee cleared his throat and Liam and Margarette looked up at him. “Excuse me ma’am, do you understand what this procedure entails?’’ He glanced back and forth between the pair.
Liam opened his mouth to speak but Margarette spoke first. She looked up at the strange man.
“Yes of course, it’s to give me permission to meet my husband Eugene. Did you know he fought in the Great War?’’
The strange man looked over at her grandson for an explanation. Liam simply gave him pleading, expressive eyes and he hoped the man would read his mind.
“Excuse me a second’’ the man told Margarette and pulled Liam slightly aside. “What is this?’’ the man asked in a stern but hushed voice.
“Look... my grandfather died during the war, she thinks she’s going to see him again.’’ “She needs to agree knowingly, we can’t just take anyone off the streets, volunteers only. She’s barely lucid.’’
“I swear, we walked her through this a thousand times,” Liam lied. “She’s old, we needed to simplify the terms for her. She’s too old to understand how this tech works.” He was sweating bullets at this point. There was no going back, this needed to work. “I promise that she’s willing and she understands.’’
The strange man looked Liam straight in the eye and held his gaze for an uncomfortable amount of time. The man took a deep breath. “Very well,’’ he turned to Margarette. He took the tablet and addressed the old woman. “Please, if you would follow me,’’ he extended his arm to her. Margarette grabbed onto the man. Liam followed.
The man turned to Liam before going through a glazed door “Please, wait here, it won’t be long’’
Liam stopped in his tracks.
The man gestured to the sitting area. “You can wait there, I will be back with you when it's over.’’
Liam sat on the chair facing the door, his mind racing. He was breathing hard and he could feel his heart pounding. A headache pressured his head. He felt his stomach grumble, the quiet room made him more aware that he hadn’t eaten a proper meal in a long time. He sat and tapped his foot, unsure of how to get rid of his nervous energy. There was no turning back now.
The clock on the wall facing Liam seemed like it had slowed to a crawl, like time itself had stopped. Only half an hour had passed and he couldn’t stay still anymore. He got up and made his way towards the door the employee and his grandmother had gone through. He stuck his face against the glazed glass and tried to see through.
The doors slid open and the employee came through, holding a little box in his hands. Liam jumped back startled. The man was professional, uninterested to common people’s feelings. “It’s done. This is for you,’’ he presented the box.
Liam grabbed the box tentatively. It was light, cold.
“She didn’t have much, you’ll find your payment and her personal effects inside.’’ Liam opened the box slowly. Inside there was a small heart-shaped locket and his payment in credits. He counted the amount. He furrowed his brow.
“There’s been a mistake,’’ he stated, “there are only enough credits for 1 month of rations. I was told me and my family could easily eat for a year if we brought in a volunteer!” The employee’s stare felt cold and emotionless. He barely reacted to the rise in tension. “This is what a brain that age is worth, it will not last long and will not provide much energy. We can’t do much with it. It’s a fair payment.’’
“You’ve got to be shitting me! You, scum! You think you are so much better than us! I hope you burn in hell!’’
An armed man came running through the door. “Is there a problem?’’ he asked the employee.
Liam looked at both in succession; were they the same person? How could this be? “Is there?’’ the employee asked Liam.
Liam glared at the pair. His face was hot, he was ready for a fight, but of course he was no match for Homo Deus; they were genetically improved. He needed the credits to feed his family for a bit longer, long enough to find a solution. He took a step back. As much as he wanted to hurt them, it wouldn’t be worth it if he ended up dead in an alley. Not now, not after what he had done. He turned and slammed the door as he left the building.
“F*** you! Thieves! You’ll see not to mess with us!’’ He shouted, then spat at the front door. He walked a few buildings down and sat on the front steps of an abandoned building. With the box on his lap, he opened the lid. Maybe the heart-shaped locket was worth something. Maybe it was made of gold. He might be able to sell it at the market. Maybe it was enough to buy them more time. He took the locket in his hand and opened it.
His eyes welled up with tears that blurred his vision. His throat got tight and he did everything he could to not start sobbing.
Inside the locket there was a picture of his grandmother with him and his brother hugging, smiling carefree. This picture was the last evidence from a time when he was too young to worry about the world around him.