I am fighting a war. It’s a war I’m losing. I wage it every day and have for the last two years, since I recovered my memories from what really happened on Flight 305. I have seen the future, and I have been fighting it.
Each morning I awake at 6 AM. My breakfast varies. A meal service delivers fresh-cooked, healthy entrees for the entire day. The carton is always waiting outside the door of my two bedroom apartment in San Francisco. I retrieve the box, open it, and tip the contents of the tray into the glass blender bowl and press the button for liquefy. I do fifty pushups in my living room while the chainsaw noise rages in my simple kitchen. The exercise spikes my cortisol, increases my blood flow, and focuses me. Gelatinous breakfast in hand, I take my seat in the second bedroom, where eight screens await, white text on black backgrounds flashing updates and traffic logs.
In this ten by twelve room, with the curtains drawn, I drink breakfast and watch for signs that the world will end. I would rather eat my breakfast but digestion consumes too many calories and would require more exercise to maintain optimal weight (and thus more time away from monitoring). This is my life: waiting, watching, hoping that no one will follow in my footsteps.
Two years ago, I made the discovery of a lifetime: a method of transmitting data faster, farther than ever before. I called it Q-net because the technology uses quantum entanglement to join sub-atomic particles, using their states to alter data in remote locations. What I didn’t know at the time is that those sub-atomic particles exist not only in our universe but in others as well—an infinite number of other universes, realities like ours in which people much like us make very different decisions. I saw those decisions in 2147, and I fear we will repeat them. That is the war I have fought: to keep anyone else in this universe from discovering Q-net. I have subverted, obfuscated, and sabotaged. I have succeeded.
But this morning, the message I have dreaded, the reality I have feared for two years waits for me on the screen. In Hamburg, Germany, someone has accessed the Q-net. They’ve sent a successful packet, bypassing my quantum firewalls. They’ve broken through. I imagine they’re celebrating. It’s 3 PM in Hamburg. I wonder if they’re at a beer hall toasting how they will change the world, how their discovery will be a turning point in human history. It certainly is. We are all passengers on the Hindenburg, and they’ve just lit a match, the cigar hanging in their mouth. I don’t blame them. I was thrilled when I discovered Q-Net. But I have seen the eventuality. Linking our world with others leads to ruin.
My great limitation in life has been asking for help. I have always been a loner. I have always preferred to be alone and to work alone. I am uncomfortable around people. I am horrified by the prospect of telling someone that I need them. But now, too much is at stake. I take my phone out and dial someone I haven’t talked to in a very long time.
I’ve found it. For fourteen long years, I have researched a cure for progeria syndrome. It is a horrible disease. When I was sixteen, I watched my younger brother, my only sibling, die from it. He withered away before my eyes. My family and I were helpless. We were forced to watch time take a bite each day, not the kind of aging we all experience, but months gone from his life every week. We buried him twelve years after he was born. He was bald, the veins protruding from his forehead, his skin wrinkled, yet he was happy and loving until the day he died.
I swore that I would do everything in my power to make sure no one else had to bury a brother, son, daughter, or sister because of progeria. Today, I have succeeded. In my lab in Heidelberg, we are celebrating. The three lab techs are drinking cheap champagne from Styrofoam cups typically used for coffee. They offer me some, but I pass, and they erupt in objections. I concede that this is a special occasion, but there’s still work to do. They know I don’t drink alcohol, so they let it go. When the bubbly is gone, they sheepishly suggest going to a bar to continue. I give my okay and assure them that I will be there soon. Steven, my senior research tech, lingers behind.
“You’re going to review the data?”
He pauses. “You’re looking for something.”
“You think the data is bad?”
“No. It’s good.”
“It’s nothing. Just a hunch.”
He steps closer and searches my face. The tension has built between us for months now. At times, I have found it hard to concentrate at work.
In 2147, I recorded a message to myself. Much of it was practical information for the task at hand: saving the survivors of Flight 305 and the inhabitants of 2147. My future self also imparted some personal words of wisdom to me. One directive was to promptly ask Steven out—to coffee. Nothing serious, just coffee after work as friends. My future self advised me that in three years he would marry another tech in my lab and that he would never be happy. It has been two years since I watched that message and vowed to heed my own advice. When I got back, I told myself I would ask him to coffee on Monday. Every Sunday since, I have reminded myself. But I’ve never gotten around to it. There’s always been a little bit of work to finish. In that time, he’s repeatedly reached out to me, dropped hints. But I’m his boss, and he’s as shy as I am. I’ve also seen him grow closer to Liesel, the tech waiting on him at the bar. I know the future. The question is whether I have the courage to change it.
Not today. There’s something far too important I have to do.
“You go ahead. I’ll meet you there.”
“Promise?” he asks.
“Yeah. I’ll be there. I promise.”
In my office, I pull up the data and scroll through it, searching for what I fear I’ll find. We’ve tested numerous gene therapies. We have the advantage in that progeria is a rare disease and there are currently no cures on the market. Regulators allow us to fast-track promising therapies and get to human trials much faster than if there were safe, effective alternatives available. Patients are informed of the risks, and most take them—for their sake and the sake of future patients.
In 2147, I learned one thing above all others: the road to disaster is paved with good intentions. During my time there, I memorized the Titan therapy for immortality, especially the genes involved. Progeria is caused by a mutation in the LMNA gene. In patients with progeria, the body ages at an accelerated rate, but the mind remains vibrant and young—LMNA is not expressed in brain cells. The Titan immortality therapy essentially targeted LMNA and a number of other genes—a specific combination, like a complex locker code that turned off aging.
Scrolling through the data for the successful therapy, for the first time in two years, I see that code. It’s not exact. It’s a variation of the Titan therapy, but I know that our progeria cure will lead to another immortality therapy. I have held out hope that we would find a different cure—something far afield from the Titan solution. I was wrong. Perhaps the future isn’t written, but it has a certain course, and we are constantly pulled toward that destination. Again, it becomes a question of courage—courage to change the future.
My dilemma, however, is not that simple. In one hand, I hold my life’s work, a cure that will save a small group of helpless children. In the other, I hold the fate of our world.
As I trudge to the bar where my colleagues are celebrating, I come to a realization: the most haunted souls on Earth are those who must choose between killing a few innocent people to save the guilty masses. That’s my choice.
At the bar, it’s all smiles and toasts, but I don’t share any of them. Steven sees it. He corners me and asks what’s wrong.
“You should be thrilled. This is your life’s work. What’s wrong with you?”
“Is it about tomorrow?” he asks.
“Your TED Talk.”
I’ve completely forgotten—I’m giving a high-profile talk that will be filmed and put online. It’s a thought-leader type talk that I had hoped would shine a light on progeria research and the cause. I got about half way through my notes before getting distracted with research.
The after work crowd is filing into the bar now and the place is growing louder.
“Are you nervous?” Steven shouts.
“No. That’s not it.”
“It’s the perfect opportunity, Sabrina. You can announce the cure. It’ll make headlines.” He holds his hands up. “Obviously we’re not ready to publish, but no one else is working on anything like it and the lab is air tight. I say we go for it.”
Leisel leans over his shoulder, her mouth inches from his. “We’re getting another round,” she yells. “I got you one.”
He turns to me. “Want anything?”
I shake my head and turn to leave. He catches my arm.
“Where’re you going?”
“I have some work to do.”
“You want some help?”
Instinctively, I almost say no. Then I say what the future me would have said. I do the thing I should have done two years ago. I say yes. And we leave together.
Alice is here. Well, she’s not actually here. But she’s arrived. She’s alive. Dumb joke. My first draft of Alice Carter and the Secrets of Eternity has been polished, edited, and pruned to smithereens. Nothing remains but beautiful prose, clever similes, and a glimpse at the next book—just a tease. Hopefully there’s a decent story in there somewhere.
And that’s my worry. What if it’s terrible? I have always subscribed to the idea that it takes you half the time you were with someone to get over them if the relationship ends. Two year courtship? One year in mourning. My relationship with Alice? Well, it’s been going on a while. Since uni. We’re talking over a decade now. I will be catatonic for the rest of my adult life if she dies a lonely death on the back aisles of second-hand bookstores, never known, never appreciated, never loved.
That used to be my fate too, in fact (I live in a flat similar in size to a small bookshelf aisle). Then, on a bizarre evening two years ago, a gentleman named Nick Stone crashed into my life (another really poor joke; I hope the Alice bits are better than this). But lately, he’s only been flying away, literally. For someone who has had some bad flights, you would think he would want to stay put. But it’s two nights in London, in the flat next door, sleeping mostly at my place, then off to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, or Seattle for a week at a time. Two years ago, he said he would wind down his business and that we would start anew—together.
It hasn’t happened. We’ve both continued on the same course, as if fate won’t let us go. I’ve been absorbed with Alice. My fear has driven me—the fear of finally releasing something I’ve worked on for so long. He has drifted away. He says that the investments he’s made were about more than money—that they were about supporting young entrepreneurs much like him, people pursuing a dream who had invested everything and only needed help. I know what that’s like, and I have encouraged him be there for those people. But I need him now. I need something solid in my life. I’m about to take a big plunge and I might need to be rescued.
I’ve been working on my web site. I’m ready to release the first chapter of the novel there—to give readers a glimpse. Maybe it will tell me if there’s an audience or if I should go back to biographies. I’ve procrastinated, made up excuses not to go forward, but tonight, on a raining, gloomy evening in London, alone in my flat, there’s nothing left to do but put my work out there for the world. I also need to make a decision. The old me—the one in 2147 let life happen to her. I swore I wouldn’t be like that, that I would live life on my terms. It’s time I started.
Adrift. That’s my life—in a word. I drift from one city to the next. I have the same meetings, over and over again. It’s like I can’t escape it.
In 2147, when the proverbial crap was hitting the fan, I was terrified. I was also at my best. I was driven. I felt compelled to do something. Here, now, I simply react to the world around me. I always have. I realize that now. I believe there are two types of people: those who act, and those who react. I’ve always been reactive. Now I’m going to act. I’m going to make something happen. I’m going to do what I’ve wanted to do for two years.
In a conference room in a three story building on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, I say what I should have said two years ago: “It’s an exciting opportunity. But it’s not right for me.”
After the meeting, the lead investor corners me. “You out of your mind? They’ll be the next Google.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“You don’t like the valuation?”
“I liked everything about it. It’s not for me.”
He exhales. “I don’t understand you, Nick.”
“Join the club. Look, I’m going to shut down my fund.”
“You’ve been saying that for years—”
“I’m serious this time.”
“To do what? Sit at home?”
“I’m going to spend more time with my family.”
He grins as if I’m making a joke, then grows serious. “You don’t have a family.”
“Exactly. I’m going to work on that.”
* * *
I cancel my other meetings. The whole itinerary. There’s only one destination for me: London Heathrow.
In the hotel room, with the evening news on and the sun setting over San Francisco Bay, my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number, but it’s in California, likely a meeting I canceled.
“Nick. It’s Yul.”
I sit up and wait. He says nothing, so I say, “It’s good to hear from you.”
“I need your help.”
He’s to the point, I’ll give him that.
“The same thing that happened before.”
* * *
Yul’s apartment looks like the home of a serial killer. It’s dark. There’s very little furniture. More computers than a server room. Charts I can’t begin to understand. A stench I can’t put my finger on (and don’t want to). He is the palest Asian I’ve ever seen. I had to fight to hide my reaction when he opened the door. If whatever he’s doing goes south he could audition for the next vampire movie—no makeup necessary.
He leads me to a room filled with computer screens that scroll white text. He talks for fifteen minutes, pointing at the screens, bringing up graphics, explaining what he’s been doing. I comprehend very little of the specifics, but the bottom line is that he’s been monitoring the Q-net—the quantum internet he created.
“Someone else accessed it?” I ask.
“Four groups have been very close. They’ve sent packets, but I intercepted them and spiked them, making it look like their technology didn’t work.”
“But someone has figured it out. They’re sending a steady stream of data. They know they have a viable conduit. My guess is they have multiple terminals at different locations or... or they’ve made contact with a router in another brane.”
“Dimension. A different timeline.”
“Either way, they know they have a working prototype. I can’t stop them now. I need help.”
“I’m glad you called me, Yul.”
“What do you want to do?”
“We’re going to do what we should have been since Flight 305 landed.”
I pull out my phone and dial someone I haven’t talked to in a long time.
“Oliver. It’s Nick.”
* * *
At my hotel room, I go through my emails. Most relate to the string of cancelled meetings, but there’s one very important one.
FROM: Harper Lane <email@example.com>
To: Nick Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hope your trip is going well. Just wanted to say hi. Would like to chat when you get home. Don’t take Flight 305 on your way back :)
PS: Finally took the plunge and posted the first chapter to my web site. Be gentle!
I quickly scan the email again, my mind turning over one phrase in particular. Would like to chat when you get home. Sounds like a prelude to a breakup. I hope it’s not too late. I click the link, and for the first time, I read Harper’s work—the words she has hidden from me during the two years I’ve known her, the labor of love she has jealously guarded and worried over for so long.
It’s amazing. It’s magic. Another world created from words and only her imagination.
London is eight hours ahead of San Francisco—it’s almost 2 AM there, but I dial her anyway, expecting to get her voice mail.
“Hello.” Her voice is groggy. I wonder if she saw that it was me calling.
“I thought I’d get your voicemail—”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” I wait, but it’s only silence on the line. “I read it.”
“It’s not, Harper. It’s great. You should be proud of it.”
A few seconds pass.
“How’s your trip?” She sounds more awake now.
“It’s over. I’m coming home.”
“Everything’s fine. I’ll explain tomorrow when I get there.”
I wait a few hours, then call someone in London who can help me show Harper I’m ready to change.
While I’m waiting, I scroll through my news feed. It’s buzzing with a TED Talk from someone I used to know: Sabrina Schröder.
I click the link and listen as she speaks mechanically about a subject I haven’t thought about for some time: immortality. She’s found it. She doesn’t come out and say it, but it’s clear—she’s found a cure for aging. And the most surprising thing is that she’s arguing against the very research she was doing. She’s seen the future, just like Yul, Harper, and I have. And she’s decided to fight it. I bet she could use some help.
* * *
On the flight to London, I write the letter that will end my career. On the train, I post it to my web site and send a quick email to Harper.
Landed. On train home. You shared your writing with me. Here’s my best. Hope you enjoy it.
See you soon.
At her flat in Hampstead Village, the door flies open after my second knock.
“Hi.” She says. Her eyes sparkle. A grin forms at the edge of her mouth, as if she’s using all her will power to suppress it, as if she could smile or laugh at any minute.
I step inside and set my bag down. “I sent you a link—”
“I read it. It’s great. I hope you didn’t do it because...”
“I did it because I should have done it a long time ago.” I want to tell her that someone is coming tomorrow who will show her how serious I am about changing, but I want it to be a surprise. In seconds my clothes are off. And so are hers, and it feels like the first time I walked through that door, two years ago, when we said hi, and we discovered that we could change the world.
* * *
The knock at the door wakes us both the next morning. I’m jet lagged, and I forgot to set an alarm. It was that good.
I pull some clothes on, and tell her she should get dressed.
“They’ll have to come in here.”
Her eyes grow wide. “Who?”
I simply smile.
She looks concerned now. “For what?”
After the tour, when the individual is gone, Harper looks at me wide-eyed. “You could have just told me.”
“I wanted to show you that I’m serious. Same as posting the letter on my web site.”
“It’s a bit more expensive than I imagined.”
“True. We can shop it around. But I’ve realized one thing: building walls is sometimes easier than tearing them down. I think it gets harder as we get older. I haven’t had anyone like you in my life in a very long time. I’ve built walls around myself. I should have torn them down two years ago. I didn’t. But I’m ready to now. If you want me to.”
She smiles. “Oh. I’ve been wanting to take a sledge hammer to you for a while now.”
* * *
Everyone is here: Yul, Sabrina, Harper, as well as Oliver and Grayson Shaw. Two years ago we made the decision not to tell anyone outside of our circle of four (Yul, Sabrina, Harper, and myself) about the events in 2147. We’ve decided to break that rule today.
In the cramped living room of Harper’s flat, I recount what happened. Grayson is incredulous, disbelieving at times, but Oliver is reflective.
When I’m finished, Oliver asks a simple question. “Assuming it’s all true. Why tell me now?”
“Because I think history is repeating itself. Someone has accessed Q-Net, just as Yul did. Sabrina has unlocked the key to aging. Others will soon follow. These are just a sample of the coming changes. I believe we’re at an inflection point in human civilization in which a few key inventions will determine our fate. We need an organization that understands the consequences of what we’re creating.”
Oliver raises his eyebrows. “A technology police?”
“I’m talking about a group that can educate and steer the people who will create the next version of the world.”
“Like the people you invest in.”
“Yes,” I say. “And like the Titans you want to bring together. We’re going to do things differently this time. We’re going to try to understand how new technology will shape our world and we’re going to educate the world’s brightest minds about what impact their inventions will have.”
We talk long into the night. When we’ve finished, Harper takes the notes and begins typing. We meet the next day and review the draft of what she’s written—the Titan Foundation Manifesto. She’s nailed it. It’s perfect.
We post it to our new web site: TitanFoundation.net
And we wait, knowing that the future isn’t written. We’re writing it right now.