Michael remembers books.., p.1
Michael Remembers Books 1, p.1
(A Novel in Three Parts)
By V. W. Smith
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS BOOKS
Copyright © 2010 by V. W. Smith
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. Note that this material is subject to change without notice.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All characters are totally from the imagination of the author and depict no persons, living or dead; any similarity is totally coincidental.
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS BOOKS
Berryville AR 72616
Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth.
This nightmare came upon me:
It seemed to me that then
I’d somehow been born over
And had to live again.
April 8, 2301—April 30, 2356
My name is Michael Tadlock. I am a historian. Some would tell me to put that second statement in the past tense or the future, since I cannot officially work as a historian until I am an adult again. But I am still a historian. Nothing else quite so interests, indeed fascinates me as human history. It seems ironic, then, that I don’t remember my own childhood—my original childhood—very well. It’s not that I have bad memories of it, just very few from that time, thanks to the Retrogression Procedure.
One of those memories is a gift from my uncle on my birthday when I turned nine. He gave me a fine, gold-plated, old-fashioned writing pen and a green, leather-bound book of blank pages. He told me that, though few people do so nowadays, centuries ago cultured people would keep a written record of their daily activities, even of their thoughts and conversations that they wanted to preserve for reference. They wrote such things down every day, or nearly every day. The book was called a diary or a journal, after the Latin and French words for a daily record.
It seemed like a neat idea at the time, so I tried it—for about three days. It wasn’t that I didn’t like writing. It was just that, for a nine-year-old, most days are so much alike, for one thing, and, for another, it’s hard to distinguish the salient from the superfluous. Within a week the beautiful pen and book that Uncle James had given me lay unused in my desk drawer.
This time I’m determined to keep a record, to preserve the story of my life, or, to put it more accurately, my lives. This time I’m writing on a computer disk, and I’ll make both backup disks and hard copies. I’ll keep them somewhere safe. I may look like the same little boy who started a diary on the day he turned nine years old. But that day was over 45 years ago.
I was born April 8, 2301, the only child of William and Margaret Tadlock, who were both biochemists, research scientists for the Proteus Corporation. I remember my Mother reading rhymes and stories to me at bedtime. I remember constructing models of buildings and spaceships with my Father. And I remember my Uncle James and that diary with the gold-plated pen.
But most memories of my original childhood are gone—obliterated by the Retrogression Procedure. I’m in not my second, but my third childhood. I’ve been retrogressed twice. And though it’s worse in other ways, at least subsequent retrogressions cause little if any memory loss. Even that first one doesn’t erase all one’s childhood memories, just most of them. Somehow the memories from the mid-teens onward aren’t affected.
It’s hard to realize that retrogression has been applied technology for only a little over forty years. I was ten years old when the news of the first successful Retrogression Procedure was announced in the media. It didn’t take long to see the far-reaching achievements that could be attained through this new development. But, like the results of so many scientific breakthroughs, the blessings foreseen proved to be mixed blessings, and the “salvation” expected through its application came at a terrible price.
Global conditions used to be worse, a lot worse. The world was overcrowded and dying from the ravages of sustaining a human population of ten billion. The oceans were nearly out of fish. The forests were being cut down so fast that they were in danger of disappearing altogether.
Before the Bad Time there had been an Age of Enlightenment, when people had thought that Reason and Technology could solve all problems. They were sadly mistaken. Instead, each faction used Technology for the advancement of its own people, and each group put its own agenda ahead of Reason and the common good of the human race. Finally, there was the War.
In the Twentieth Century there was widespread fear of a nuclear war between the superpowers, a holocaust that would destroy all human life or at least all civilization. Instead, while Russia, China, and the United States managed to resolve their differences by diplomacy, late in the Twenty-First Century the nations of India and Pakistan did go to war, literally threw everything that they had at each other—including missiles with nuclear warheads.
This “exchange of hostilities” destroyed both countries, annihilated most of their cities, and rendered the rest of their territory uninhabitable for decades. The deleterious effects were not limited to their intended targets. Fatal levels of radiation were carried throughout southeast Asia by winds and rain, decimating the population of that region. The catastrophic effects indeed were global, but in the larger part of the world—roughly, from Australia eastward to Kazakhstan—the disastrous ramifications were considerably less severe.
Contamination of the food supply and disruption of trade were everyone’s immediate concerns. Even in Europe and North America people had martial law and food rationing for the next three years. In this same time plagues ravaged Africa and China. The riots and civil wars that erupted in these regions killed nearly as many people as the diseases themselves did. But conditions gradually improved. In most places life eventually got at least closer to normal again.
While it had escaped a total apocalypse, the human race faced some critical challenges. Cases of cancer and other diseases attributable to radiation exposure increased alarmingly for a decade; then their numbers stabilized and eventually declined. Ultimately, the most pernicious and insidious effects of the catastrophic Twenty-First Century were twofold:
First, there was a precipitous decline in human fertility, compounded by a corresponding rise in incidences of birth defects. All life was affected by the radiation from the War, but the higher mammals more noticeably, and humans most of all. Babies were still conceived, carried to term, and born, even healthy ones more often than not. However, (1) it took most couples a year or more of frequent attempts before they finally achieved conception; (2) the probability of having a child with some moderate to severe birth defect, while still less than 50%, was higher than ever known before. This fact applied not just to congenital problems with vision and/or hearing, not just to skeletal and muscular disorders, but also to autism and cases of Down’s syndrome, which rose to unprecedented frequency. Thus, for the couples who were not infertile and chose to have children, the risks were not sufficient to deter them altogether, just to make them think long and hard about having any more, once a reasonably normal and healthy child was born to them.
A few brave souls managed to have two or even three children. These were extremely rare last century—not so rare any longer. Still, the number of terminated pregnancies and stillborn or moribund births would have created a panic centuries ago. Now it’s just accepted as the way things are.
The world’s population seems to be holding stable at three billion. The decline was more gradual in Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Everywhere, though, the “economic adjustment” was horrendous. As in the aftermath of the bubonic plague in the Fourteenth Century, there were suddenly more land, houses, jewelry, and other valuables available at a fraction of what people had been used to paying for them. On the other hand, this could hardly compensate for the negative impact of the decline. Within years the “baby bust” precipitated widespread closings of schools, huge layoffs for schoolteachers and even for school administrators, and bankruptcy or profound redirection for toy manufacturers and other companies whose products were marketed primarily to children and families with children.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how this ripple effect spread to affect goods and services for the rest of the economy. A shrinking population usually results in a drastically shrinking job market. Massive unemployment drives more people to commit crimes. The government may, on one hand, attempt to provide substantial economic and financial aid, but on the other hand, it is just as likely to pass more draconian laws. In this case it did both.
So, the second, nearly universal complication faced in the aftermath of the War was that, though the world’s human population had been drastically reduced, the number of people incarcerated still increased. This development presented politicians with quite a dilemma: The existing prisons and other correctional facilities now were full; there was no money available for constructing more prisons; yet, there was no foreseeable end to the influx of inmates sentenced under the new laws. Everyone was deeply concerned—could not help being so—about the future of a world with too many criminals and too few children.
Suddenly a scientific breakthrough was announced, one that would radically reduce these problems.
In 2311 the court dockets throughout the United State of North America were filled with cases of people charged with robbery, assault, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and other criminal acts. Some believe that these crimes actually were committed as charged. Others maintain that the law-enforcement establishment—the police, judges, prosecutors, etc.—found ways to arrest, try, convict and sentence “questionable” individuals in order to convince the citizenry that its “guardians” were protecting the community from a real and present danger and thereby justifying and insuring their own redundant jobs and exorbitant salaries. In any event, the bloated legal establishment and countless, hopelessly overcrowded prisons had become a cancer on the State and Federal budgets, preempting funds badly needed for hospitals, the remaining schools, public works, and everything else.
The development of retrogression technology brought about a radical change. Applied after a regimen of gene-altering medication, a device called the retrogression chamber or retrogressor effected an extraordinary physical metamorphosis in the person put through its procedure. He (or, in considerably fewer cases, she) was transformed into the body that he (or she) had had at one tenth of his (or her) present chronological age. Result: More children, far fewer criminals.
A very young person would be transformed into a baby or toddler. Even a middle-aged person would then become a child barely old enough to enter kindergarten. Like so many inventions, it was developed partly by accident—in this case, as the result of a project to reverse the growth of cancer cells and counteract the aging process, by the removal of free radicals from all tissue. Instead, this procedure (which I’ll describe later in greater detail) transformed its first subject from a forty-year-old man into the being that he had been as a four-year-old child. The dynamics of the Procedure were such that, once begun, it could not be halted—not without fatal effects on the subject.
The use of retrogression as a means of saving the terminally ill was apparent at once. Yet, this option was both quite costly and patently undesirable to many. No, the single sector of the population upon which the most Retrogression Procedures were performed was convicted felons, both those already in prison and those sentenced to terms of ten years or more. That’s why, at the age of 54, I was again in the body of myself as a nine-year-old.
I’m not a murderer, rapist, arsonist, psychopath, or anything like that. I just like living well. The problem is, some of my skills to make me rich make some people poorer—less wealthy, at any rate. They don’t like that. The courts don’t, either. I was smart enough to skirt the laws rather than break them—until I got burned by Jerry Brodie.
Years later a friend who knew my personal history expressed some curiosity about Jerry Brodie, asked me to tell him more about him. There’s really not that much to tell. He was a nobody, a pissant, but—like so many insects—could wreak a world of havoc and annoyance. Specifically, he was the investment broker who substituted for my regular, reliable broker, Jordan Brown, when Jordan had to take a three-month leave for medical reasons. In his last week at work, Jordan introduced me to Jerry with his highest recommendations, something that he did not give lightly.
There was quite a bull market at the time, and for the first month since meeting Jerry, we talked occasionally, but I felt like riding the wave, with no changes to my portfolio. Jerry did not pressure me to do otherwise. The second month he called me a couple of times to express concern about the future performance of certain stocks and to suggest desirable alternatives to these investments. Each time, I researched the companies in question and within several days had concurred with and acted upon his advice. Subsequently, my new holdings continued advancing, while the ones I’d sold on Jerry’s advice soon underwent a severe correction. I never thought him very personable, but for a while there he had me convinced that he knew his business and was looking out for my best interest.
Then the little bald-headed, foul-breathed bastard had the nerve to lie to me, to sucker me into buying a huge block of stock that he knew was going to go south. The brokerage firm and the courts alike basically told me, “Tough shit!” when I sought redress by legal means. Both Jerry and the brokerage firm were laughing out of the other side of their mouths when—a week after getting the verdict in their favor—someone had hacked through their firewalls, transferred overseas all the assets from Jerry’s personal accounts and a hundred million from the brokerage house. Plus, I’d planted a supervirus in their computer system, causing even greater havoc. I thought I’d done a perfect job of covering my tracks, too.
I was wrong. Never mind what they had done to me. I was the criminal in the eyes of the press and the court. I was convicted and sentenced to be retrogressed. At that time I was 25 years old.
Under the old law I might have been incarcerated for up to 25 years. Instead, I was retrogressed. Once that had been done, I was listed to be placed with a couple who had been approved as foster parents and, potentially, adoptive ones for me.
Quite a few people are opposed to retrogression. Some would ban it altogether. Others are only opposed to its use as a punitive measure. Both groups are decidedly in the minority.
Of course the proponents claim that retrogression makes perfect sense. For a brief time in the Twentieth Century, society had tried to reduce or eliminate crime by reforming and rehabilitating wrongdoers, not by simply punishing them. So, now (besides the fact that it costs a great deal more to feed, clothe, house, and guard a prisoner without violating certain humanitarian standards) what better way to give someone a fresh start than to make it possible for him to begin life anew while retaining the benefit of most of his knowledge and experience?
Since most aberrant behavior is thought to arise from negative conditions in one’s childhood, it stands to reason that obliterating those early childhood memories and placing the retrogressee in a positive environment would set him on the path to a productive, constructive life.
Second, though some objected that criminals did not deserve such a boon as rejuvenation (a return to the Garden of Eden, as it were, and a substantially lengthened lifespan), others aptly observed that these boons were offset by other considerations. Foremost is that, besides the loss of the size, strength, and other advantages of an adult body, a “retro” usually faces at least ten years of severely curtailed personal freedom and limited to nonexistent privacy.
Another question raised by opponents of retrogression was why on Earth anyone would risk taking into their home a child with not just a few years, but a lifetime of personal history. In response the psychologists generally concurred that, since the first retrogression erases more than 80% of the subject’s early-life memories, the adjustment of bonding and orientation was actually easier both for the child and for the adoptive parents than had been the case with many adoptions in previous eras.
Of course no one welcomed the advent of retrogression as much as those who sought to become adoptive parents, especially those who found cloning distasteful or beyond their means, and for whom all other kinds of assisted pregnancy had proven unattainable. Even centuries ago, adopting a child had often been a lengthy, difficult, and costly procedure. After the effects of the War, it had become nearly impossible. Now there was suddenly an abundance of adoptable children—mostly boys, but some girls, too—whom the State was only too willing and helpful to place in the homes of qualified applicants for foster or adoptive parenthood.
So, it became the prevailing assumption that, through an additional childhood—one with diligent and consistent guidance and instruction—the retrogressee would learn the lessons he had failed to grasp the first time. And usually that was the case, but not always. My case was one of those exceptions. Once I was again grown and on my own, I reviewed the matter and concluded that the worst thing I had done was not the financial manipulations, but getting caught and convicted.
Michael Remembers Books 1 by Vassar Smith / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on33 votes