Everyone is Rising
By Gregor Hartmann
AT THE PARTY, TOM AND KATE responded to the news by saying what they were supposed to say, but back in their apartment, where no one else could hear, they let rip.
“Did you know Jules and Claudia were getting bisected?” Tom burst out.
“No! Did you?” Kate said.
“Of course not. I was as surprised as everyone else.”
Tom stomped around the tiny apartment, collapsed on the sofa. It was the most expensive piece of furniture they owned, and proof of their commitment to Transhumanist self-improvement. The sofa fabric was made from macromolecules engineered in a lab, not randomly produced by some scruffy plant that once grew in dirt. In addition to never needing cleaning, the fabric converted air pollution into cognitronic ions that enhanced thinking.
Seething with envy, Tom remembered Jules’ performance at the party. Modification of the man’s corpus callosum had eliminated bilateral redundancies, thereby splitting one mediocre brain into two specialized ones. With the left side, strong in math and logic, Jules predicted when the next idiopathic vortex would hit the City. With the right side, strong in music and creativity, he spontaneously composed a funny song about the coming disaster. How the switching was controlled, Tom didn’t know. But Jules had a cute trick of tilting his head from side to side, as if pouring more blood into the hemisphere that was showing off.
“Honey, can we get bisected?” Kate pleaded.
Tom took out his phone and eagerly researched the procedure. His expression turned glum. “Our insurance company says no. It’s considered experimental.”
“That’s not fair! How can they say that?”
“Most people are Saps. They don’t want to pay for someone else to evolve.”
Kate designed rendering algorithms for online games. Tom was a corporate metaphor strategist. They made good money. But not bisection money.
“How could Jules and Claudia afford it?” he wondered.
“Her family,” Kate grumbled. “They’re loaded. That’s why she volunteers at that goody-goody non-profit instead of working.”
They took revenge by mocking the hors d’oeuvres Claudia had served. Weddell Sea krill? Sure, it was expensive, but did their hosts really believe there were no mutagens in the ocean around Antarctica? Please.
The next day at work, Tom was summoned by his boss.
When he walked into Sharon’s office, Jules was sitting there, looking smug. Cautiously, Tom settled in the other chair in front of the desk.
“If this is about the Gaoduan account—” Tom said.
“You read my mind, buddy,” Sharon breezed, in the faux-macho style Tom loathed. “Jules here has been pitching some great ideas.”
Jules? Tom tried to hide his contempt. Jules didn’t know a metaphor from a simile. His idea of intensifying a piece of writing was to add “very” or “really.” Still, an overt display of hostility would not be strategic.
“If Jules has some ideas, I’d love to hear them,” he said, trying to sound sincere. There is no I in TEAM, and all that guff.
Sharon cut to the chase. “Actually, I’ve decided to give Gaoduan to Jules.”
Tom felt punched in the face. “What? You can’t do that!”
Sharon raised her eyebrows.
Tom backtracked. “Of course you can. But I’ve been working on that account for months.”
“And, how far have you gotten?”
“I’m making progress. I’ve defined the battlespace. Quantized the variables. I’ve found three heuristic triggers we can pull.”
“Only three?” Sharon looked sad. “Tom. You’re a smart guy. Everybody knows that. But you’re choking. You need a change. A little work break to refresh yourself. Restore the creative juices, get a new perspective. I’m putting you on Hesselkim.”
Tom tried not to gasp. Hesselkim had a tiny budget. It was a retro company, selling banal products to the Sap masses. The kind of account usually sloughed off on an intern because no one cared if the client stayed.
Sharon and Jules were waiting for his reaction.
He had to say something.
Jules tilted his head to the right.
Erudite sentences burst forth. Words meshed in seductive tangles that had never occurred to Tom. Mental fireworks, leaving an afterglow of feeling: Compassion. Challenge. Fortitude. Adventure. Pain. Camaraderie. Joy. Triumph. Tom knew he should resist, but he was as helpless as a caterpillar being injected with soothing chemicals by the spider who was preparing to eat him.
Finally Jules stopped. Tom felt like weeping. Why, he couldn’t articulate.
“See that?” Sharon beamed. “He ran some numbers for me too. This quarter, our team is going to kick butt.”
Dinner that night was not jolly.
Kate had met Claudia and three other women for lunch. Her book group. Someone mentioned the novel coming up for discussion. With her right brain Claudia described an esoteric symbolic subtext no one else had noticed. With the left side she spotted an error in the check, which resulted in the restaurant manager giving them a free chocolate bonsai torte. An impressive display on every level, Kate said.
Dinner was a stir-fry of organic tofu and hydroponic cabbage, guaranteed to be toxin-free, and a robust platform for supplements. Before eating, they dutifully sprinkled on KogniMax, NeuroClenz, aXonAlpha, LyfXtnd, CogMorPlus. Molecules like tiny coaches, demanding better performance from every cell, so their physical bodies worked as well as possible despite their unplanned genetic provenance.
Chopsticks clacking, they discussed what upgrades they could afford.
“There’s a gene that blocks melatonin production,” Tom said. “We wouldn’t waste as much time sleeping.”
“Too subtle. They might think we’re over-caffeinated.”
“How about enhanced hearing? Jules is always bragging about his collection of antique CDs. If we pointed out flaws he can’t perceive, I bet that would shut him up.”
“We’d have to wear earplugs every time we went outdoors. The traffic? The sirens? The Sap demonstrations?”
Her negativity was irritating. “What are you thinking?” Tom asked.
“A gene for improved color vision? The ability to see infrared and ultraviolet?”
“That would help you at work. What about me?”
They ate in silence for a while.
Finally, Kate jabbed her chopsticks at the row of bottles lined up next to the isomer-purified, non-teratogenic soy sauce. “Honey, supplements aren’t enough. We have to get bisected.”
Tom had reluctantly come to the same conclusion. It was the only way to keep up with Jules and Claudia.
“How can we afford it?” Tom asked.
They were still paying off the mortgage on the apartment. Membership in the Transhumanist gym was expensive, but vital to keep their bodies overclocked.
Financial strain left only one possibility.
They looked at each other, neither wanting to go first.
“The egg money,” they said, simultaneously.
Although their Transhumanist lifestyle had made them extremely healthy, they had decided not to take any chances in reproduction. They were saving to have Kate’s eggs enhanced. When the time came, they wanted her ovum to be a super-egg that would intimidate or repel or destroy all inferior sperm, and embrace only the one that presented the best bouquet of DNA.
Bisecting both of them would drain the egg-money account. But they had to keep up with Claudia and Jules.
The consent form was long, detailed, scary. Kate pored over hers, tried to negotiate, reluctantly signed. Tom just signed.
The day of the “procedure” came. As a metaphor strategist, Tom appreciated the ploy of avoiding the word “operation.” Procedure was bland. No scary overtone, like “dicey new experiment that might backfire and leave you with the intelligence of an eggplant.”
Lying on the operating table, clad in an embarrassing paper gown, head clamped in a ring, Tom tried to chat up the nurse. Odds were, she was a Sap, like most people. If he pretended to care about her as a person, perhaps she wouldn’t resent the advantage he was buying and spit in his open cranium while he was unconscious.
Ignoring his overture, she twisted a valve on the clear tube running into his wrist.
In the elevator going up to Jules and Claudia’s apartment, Kate rehearsed how she was going to describe her day. The right side of her bisected brain had composed a beautiful anecdote. Every word, every phrase, produced orchestral echoes.
Tom, meanwhile, was playing with his new head. Now he understood why Jules tilted. He wasn’t pouring blood back and forth. He was activating the hemisphere he wanted to use by cocking the dominant eye—which was on the opposite side from that hemisphere. Tom stared at the numbers on the elevator panel with his right eye, thereby priming his left brain. On the elevator inspection certificate, a serial number erupted in a burst of mathematical epiphanies.
Jules and Claudia kept their space at positive pressure to prevent contaminants from infiltrating, so the armored apartment door opened with a puff of wind.
Kiss-kiss hug-hug. Just four old friends, celebrating Jules’ promotion. Tom hid his resentment. Jules had taken Sharon’s job; she never saw it coming. He obviously was destined for a bigger role in the company. Tom had vowed to rise with him, slipstreaming. Like two rockets leaving the old world behind.
Claudia had redecorated. Transhumanist style. The color scheme in the living room had been purged of boring old green. Green was for Saps, nostalgic for the savannah where they slowly and haphazardly evolved. Transhumans favored synthetic hues that evoked the future, not the past. Every flat surface had been coated with iridescent crystals, as if the apartment were the consulate of a civilization so advanced it used energy as paint.
On the coffee table was a new toy: a machine that distilled water and made icosahedronic ice cubes. That alone was nothing special. No one would have dreamed of drinking the sludge that ran through the ancient City pipes without purifying it first. What was exquisite about this machine was that the ice cubes it dispensed came out perfectly clear, not cloudy. The combination of invisible ice + pure water + crystal goblets = magical effect.
The conversation sparkled, too. If Claudia and Jules sensed the new enhancements, they didn’t let on. Which was cool. Now that they were all on the same level again, Tom was reminded of their college days. The late-night bull sessions where the four of them got high and argued about how best to fix the messed-up world their parents had bequeathed. They’d been so naïve, back then. Now they realized that the world had too much inertia. The smart thing to do was to remake yourself.
A hiatus came.
Their hosts exchanged sly glances that suggested a planned moment had arrived.
“This purifier has a special mission,” Jules announced. “The water it produces is going to irrigate a very special seed.” He paused dramatically.
“We’ve decided to have a baby,” Claudia burst out.
Tom managed to say, “That’s great.”
“Wonderful,” Kate chimed in. “We’re so happy for you.”
Jules nodded. “The chromosomes will be tailored, of course.” He paused.
“Of course,” Tom said, dreading the next announcement.
Claudia said, “We’ve opted to have a pair of artificial chromosomes inserted into the zygote. A platform for future upgrades. When genes for new traits or features are developed, they can be spliced into the twenty-fourth set. That way we won’t have to worry about disrupting a function in the twenty-three legacy pairs. Isn’t that fabulous? There’ll be no limit to how far our child can be enhanced.”
“Fabulous,” Kate said, looking stunned.
All Tom could think was: Jules and Claudia were ahead again! And always would be, with their superior financial resources.
Mechanically, he hoisted his goblet. “A toast,” he said.
Everyone copied his gesture.
Gazing at the triumphant couple, Tom felt like a brutish Neanderthal in the presence of two lithe Homo sapiens who had just moseyed into his valley. They wouldn’t finish him off right away. Why, they might even keep him around, for someone to feel superior to. But clearly, his era was over.
Jules looked impatient. On with the toast!
Tom placed his goblet back on the coffee table. He stood, took a debater’s stance, and began to speak.
He spoke of the egotism of bringing a child into a toxic, dangerous, overpopulated world. How each additional technology-using human made the planet even worse. He cited studies of parental unhappiness. Explicated the tremendous cost, the impairment of lifestyle. Verbal brain and math brain firing in sync, he proved that what they were about to do made no sense whatsoever.
They tried to counter his arguments. Tom was relentless. By the end of the evening he had extracted a promise from them to wait and reconsider.
In the elevator, going down, Kate was pensive. “Gosh, I never realized how selfish it was to have a child.”
Tom embraced his lovely wife. “To hell with science. Let’s make a baby the old-fashioned way. Tonight.”
“Sure. We’re young, healthy, good jobs. We’d be great parents.”
She dodged his kisses. “Are you mad? You convinced Claudia and Jules not to reproduce.”
“Didn’t believe a word of it,” he chuckled. “Just messing with their heads.”
Gregor Hartmann is a Japanese-English technical translator and a member of the SFWA. His short stories have appeared in “Galaxy’s Edge” and “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.” His previous story for us was in 12-MAR-2015.