The Debtby Nick Kuvaas / Science Fiction
Chapter 1: 59 days
Midas watches the most beautiful sunrise he’s ever seen. Forest fires in Canada have created a haze to help, but he takes it as an omen. Bright oranges, yellows, and reds permeate the skies as he watches from a large ridge. He relishes the moment. There will only be a few more. He holds out his arm to wrap it around a wife that isn’t there. Midas sets his hand on the ground. Death is not far now. It is not a frightening prospect but an inevitable event.
For sixty-five years, this planet has been his home, and, yet, he could pass for fifty. His hair is just beginning to gray and bald while his build is lean and defined. His eyes are a bright blue while his nose and mouth are small. In two months, it will be his 66th birthday. For 95% of the population, this is the date that they will be euthanized, an event ironically known as retirement. He contemplates how he will spend these two months and has even briefly considered suicide but decides against it. He sighs and releases the thoughts racing through his mind as he looks towards Earth’s nearest star. After a few minutes, the sun is fully above the horizon, and the colors that entranced him fade. Standing, he stretches out his back and legs. He wears shorts and a light shirt with running shoes. Within seconds, he takes off.
Striding out down the hill, he lets gravity do the bulk of the work and reaches the bottom at a quick pace. He covers four miles in less than half an hour, not including the sunrise, and is barely winded when he finishes. His house is the finish line, and it is modest but rundown. It needs a new coat of paint among many other things. He heads to his front door and says: “Enter.” The door unlocks, and he walks inside. Upon entering, his gray and black cat meows at him.
“I know, I know. You’re hungry,” he says to the cat.
Midas picks up the female feline who purrs with appreciation after being hugged and petted. After putting her down, he enters the kitchen. It is covered in cupboards and has a small refrigerator, oven, stovetop, microwave, and automation system. Midas digs in a cupboard and pulls out a can of cat food. He pulls off the lip with a pop and places it on the ground. She eats it with ferocity. Midas sits on the next to her and pets her as she eats. After petting the cat a few more times, his stomach rumbles. Midas stands and turns on the automation system dubbed Boris.
“Boris, three egg ham and cheese omelet and a bowl of fruit.”
“With pleasure, Midas.”
Boris turns on the stove top and starts cooking. Midas moves a few steps to his bedroom and throws his shirt on his king-sized bed, pulls boxers from his dresser and a shirt from closet, and kisses the picture of his wife on the bed stand. Without grabbing a towel, he heads towards the shower.
“Shower on. Tepid, please.”
Midas steps in and begins washing himself. He lets the hot water massage his back and his head before he cleans quickly and addresses Boris again.
“Shower off. Dryers on.”
A blast of air engulfs him and dries him in less than thirty seconds. He opens the shower door and heads back to his bedroom. He puts on his clothes, shorts and a t-shirt. Then, he heads back to the kitchen where his breakfast waits for him. The food is still warm when he picks it up. He moves to a small table where he sits and enjoys the breakfast. It is cooked to perfection, as per usual. The aroma entices the cat who jumps on the chair next to him. He gives the feline some ham that she consumes happily before he pets her again. She meows again, and he pushes her away. The cat accepts the verdict and wanders away. Midas finishes his meal and places the plate in the sink where it is moved into the dishwasher by Boris.
Midas heads for the bedroom and grabs his cell phone and wallet. After heading to the bathroom, he brushes his teeth and applies some deodorant. Finally, he says goodbye to his cat and heads out the front door.
After checking his cell phone, he says to himself: “Right on time.” He walks to the curb. A bus brakes in front of him and the door opens. He steps on and swipes a card past a sensor. An open in the second row calls his name, and he sits. No one sits next to him or across from him. The large vehicle is barren, except for two other passengers. He gets lost in thought for a time while others climb on and off. Finally, his stop arrives, and he jumps off.
A modest house stands before him, but it is immaculate in every way. The grass, shrubs, paint, shingles, garden, and everything else are flawless. Midas marvels at this accomplishment before a young man enters his vision.
The young man is handsome with a lean build. He received most of his mother’s features including her bright smile, sharp nose, and great skin. The noticeable attribute from his father is a pair of bright blue eyes.
“Caleb, how are you?”
The man responds as he hugs his son. He clings to him and squeezes him hard for an extra second.
“Great. The house is done. I think I’m more relieved than Cindy. It certainly took long enough.”
“Where is my daughter in law?”
“At work. She wanted to keep working as long as she can. Babies are expensive.”
“I’m aware of that. What’s your plan for that? After he’s born.”
“Cindy’s going to take a year off. Then, I’m going to take the second year off. I’m excited.”
“You should be. There is nothing more wonderful than being a parent.”
His son smiles at him and invites him inside. They enter together and the usual niceties are exchanged. Caleb offers a drink, and his father declines. Midas sits down and his son soon joins him.
“I believe that you wanted to discuss something with me. What’s on your mind?” Asks the father.
“Look, Cindy and I as well as Amanda want you to consider exemption again.”
“Caleb…” The son hushes his father.
“Let me finish. We want you around. We want our grandson to have a grandfather.”
“Caleb, I wasn’t a good father. I was barely there. What makes you think that I’d be any better with your son.”
“You’re a great father. You taught me so many things, and you’d be an amazing grandfather, and you can be here, now, for him.”
“I don’t want to lose you, and I guess that I just don’t understand why you feel like you have to do this. I don’t think you’d be doing this if Mom were around.”
“It was put in place to….”
“I don’t need a history lesson, dad. I know why it was put in place. I just don’t understand why YOU have to do this.”
“When it was presented, we supported it. Now, that meant our parents would receive this same fate. But, it worked. I guess I feel I’ve done what I can with my life and that to continue living would be a burden. I mean how many scientists do amazing work or even influential work after 65?”
“Guilt? This is guilt? You have tons of value. You’re not a burden.”
“Honestly, I miss your mom. Most of my friends will be gone. Looking at others who are exempt, they appear lonely, sad, and guilt ridden. It’s better this way. If there’s an afterlife, I am ready. If there’s not, well, I never believed in one any way; frankly, it is comforting to know when I’m going to die. I can say my goodbyes and mend bridges.”
“There’s no guarantee that you don’t die sooner.”
“True, but it’s unlikely. This has become the natural order, and, strangely enough, it has made elders more respected, appreciated.”
“I disagree, dad. It says that no one is worth anything after a certain age.”
“Well, I disagree, but it also pushes people to achieve and to not hold back. On top of the other verifiable benefits.”
“I’m not going to persuade you against this, am I?”
“No, son. You’re not. I’m sorry.”
“Fine. Just remember it’s not too late.”
“Anything else you want to talk to about?” Asks Midas.
Caleb shakes his head and turns away stifling a tear. Then, he turns back.
“Has Amanda returned your calls?”
“No, not since our argument.”
“She can be stubborn.”
“She gets that from me.”
“Uh, yeah. You’re calling her, right?”
“Yeah, every day, I’m hoping she’ll call me back.”
“She will,” he pauses, “So, what do you want to do now?”
“Why don’t you show me your garden?”
They head outside and wander through the garden where he grows a plethora of crops. Caleb starts to pluck some weeds from the soil that surround his zucchini and carrots. His father asks for a few vegetables, and the son approves. A few carrots, potatoes, and a zucchini are among the gifts. They chat about general subjects like work and Caleb’s future. Caleb runs into the house and grabs a cloth tote bag. The vegetables are stuffed into it, and the man grabs the handle and drops it to his side.
“Thanks, these are going to be great.”
“Oh, yeah. Make a stir fry or something. Even better, eat them raw. I love them raw.”
Midas stares at his son with a sarcastic glance. “I’ll figure something out. Thanks for the advice.”
Caleb shakes his head and laughs.
“Sorry, you know, maybe you shouldn’t have taught me how to grow, cook, and eat. Then, that last sentence wouldn’t be ironic.”
He smiles and hugs his son. “I love you.”
“I love you too, dad.”
“I should probably go.”
“You don’t have to. “
“I have some things to take care of. Don’t worry. I’ll be seeing a lot of you, whether you like it or not.”
Caleb laughs. “Okay. I’m looking forward to that, and I’m holding you to it.”
Midas checks his watch and strides to the curb. He waves to his son just before he steps on the bus. It is full, standing room only. Someone stands and offers him a seat. Midas waves off their offer, but they insist. Midas sits. A few people glance at him but do not approach him. The humming of the bus catches his attention, and it makes him drowsy. He snaps back to attention when someone taps him on the shoulder.
“Dr. Stanley? You are Dr. Midas Stanley, aren’t you?”
“Uh yes, yes I am.”
“I love your work. What you’ve done with health, energy, social dynamics, and philosophy is amazing. I was actually hoping to ask you some questions. Is that okay?”
“Yes, of course.”
“How did you solve all of those problems? I mean I’ve read your books.”
“You didn’t buy them, did you?”
“Uh, no, sir.” He answers sheepishly.
“Good, that would be a waste of money. But, to answer your question, I broke down the problems to a base. So, every problem has a cause whether it is theoretical or real. Sometimes, a true cause can be found after as many as 10 or even 1000 steps. However, once you find the beginning, it is largely a domino effect after the initial problem is solved. This happens largely without fail. That is how it starts. Now, some problems have many beginnings and become incredibly complex which is where the crossover in my work occurred. Of course, there was much groundwork laid. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.” He pauses for a second.
“Connection and corruption.”
“Yes, those were the problems, essentially. What about you? Tell me a little about yourself.”
“Oh, I’m just a fan.”
“Well, what’s your name? Are you in college?”
“I’m Jim. I’m in high school.”
“Oh, uh, McIntosh.”
“What do you want to do with your life?”
“I’m still figuring that out,” he says with a laugh.
“Well, I didn’t do anything with my life until I was 28. There’s plenty of time.”
The bus stops and someone nudges the doctor.
“Oh, this is my stop,” he stands to leave, “You know this is my house. If you ever want to talk, stop on by. I’m usually home.”
“Okay,” responds the boy with a smile on his face.
Midas steps off the bus and looks at the mess that is his house. He just laughs and thinks that it won’t matter anymore in two months. After using the voice identification unlocking system, he enters his house where his cat runs up to him and rubs his leg. He pets her and heads to the bedroom. Midas pulls a book from his shelf and lies on his bed. He begins to read about new research in social psychology. The feline soon joins him and lies next to him. Reading and petting eventually become monotonous, so he heads to the kitchen and prepares a meal. He looks for the vegetables and realizes that he forgot them on the bus. Midas finds something else to eat. He heads back to the bedroom where he reads for a bit before he undresses and goes to bed early. Before he does, he marvels at how short his time is: 59 days. That’s all that’s left for him. It is more comforting than unsettling.