Montrose limped on his cane the several blocks to the transit station. It was a fine fall day in the 'burb. He would not have gone out but his presence was required at the Actarius-RAND Institute up the coast.
Crossing the flatlands of Hillside Community Park, he looked at the changing colors of the leaves. A slight cool breeze stirred. He stopped for a moment and watched a single golden leaf fall and reflected on his hidden past and then shook his head. That past was safely buried. He plucked a bit of lint from his corduroy sports jacket.
He arrived at the station a little early. He paid for his fare at the kiosk. His leg began to hurt. He sat down to wait. "Should get this thing replaced." He muttered to himself as he rubbed his knee.
A tall, young athletic woman with a slightly provocative walk came and sat down beside him. Her manner and looks seemed vaguely familiar. Light brown hair. Long jaw. Grey eyes. She struck up a conversation. Her voice was pleasant but tinged with a vague drawl.
It was nothing more than passing the time to him, but her words were insistent and slightly intrusive. She seemed to be flirting with him, but he wasn't sure. She was pretty and intelligent, yet something about her set him on edge.
Just as the train arrived, his cane slipped and fell to the marble tiles of the station. He fished around for his cane. When he rose after retrieving it, he found that the young woman had already rushed to the train. He shook his head and limped through the still open doorway to the transit car.
As he crossed the open doorway, a teenaged girl slammed into him, spinning him around. The doors closed and he saw her clearly. His heart leapt.
The girl appeared to be a typical homeless urchin: A petite 153 cm tall. Thin. Straight blond hair, cut off short. Large, pale, blue eyes. Pale, white skin. Round face. wide mouth. a touch of Freckles. Her baggy, ragged, bell bottom jeans had not been washed in a while yet she wore a new issue oversized regulation pea green NuArmalar ballistic weave bivouac jacket several sizes too large.
"Probably stolen." He thought to himself. She was not really unusual yet these features conveyed something dark and gothic about her. It seemed as if for a moment Montrose had bumped into the Angel of Death.
The girl's eyes opened wide when she saw his face. She ran back toward the now closed transit car doors. Too Late. The train lurched into motion and Montrose staggered and nearly fell, at the last moment grasping a chromed safety rail.
He caught his breath and shook away the visual image of the girl. He limped to a seat. He found the woman he had spoken with on the platform was watching him. He ignored her glance and tried to push away the memories which swelled up.
* * *
"Montrose, we've been looking over your research notes on longevity and... uh, shall we say augmentation? We find your statistics quite interesting."
The speaker was Kolazonta. He was Vice President of Marketing for the insurance company which owned the Actarius-RAND Institute. Some folks said, behind his back, he was a demon if there ever was such a thing.
Bell, the younger of the two men who sat across from him, was a clever Harvard MBA.. He nodded at his boss then asked Montrose. "Do you have proof?"
"It's all in the reference section." Montrose replied. "Before I submitted this, I cross referenced our data to the Globe- Consolidated Actuarial Database and also to the one at DeutscheUberStats. The numbers indicated reflect a growing trend."
The older man asked, "We'd like you to summarize your conclusions for us. Just for the record."
Montrose slid into presentation mode and began calling up from the console in front of him numerous charts and graphs. The charts and graphs extruded themselves on the wall while he summarized the report.
"As you can see, the numbers indicate that after the age of one hundred years the death rate has been falling off for the last fifty years and the population of Centenarians is growing."
A new chart popped out from the wall. "There is also a growing failure rate in Insurance companies with annuity funds which these Centenarians have invested their money."
The younger man interrupted, "Is this a significant trend?" Montrose put up another chart. "As you can see, the failure rate has been growing. The profits of these types of funds are predicated on the participants dying before there is an negative cash flow. Review of the pertinent data indicates that all of these failures were precipitated by participants living longer than normal."
Montrose changed the graph. "There have been six failures in the last three years. To make matters worse, preliminary data suggest we may see another two, or possibly three failures in the next six months."
A new chart extruded from the wall. "Long Term Healthcare facilities, what they used to call old folks homes, are failing on a daily basis. The industry has almost reached meltdown."
"These events got me curious as to what might be causing them. I reviewed a statistically significant number of the centenarian's medical records." Another chart extruded itself from the wall. "This is what I found."
There was silence in the room. Finally the older of the two men said, "That seems to indicate that all of these centenarians are significantly augmented with bioware and electromechanical enhancements."
"I checked the data and, yes, that is what the data indicates. One additional piece of information I have discovered and attached as an addendum is that the centenarians have begun to protect their descendants."
Montrose paused to let this sink in, then continued, "After checking several sources of a, shall we say, pedestrian nature, these old ones are rumored to be called Sentinels, or in some odd cases, Angels. I do not have any hard data about them other than these street rumors. Due to the apparent operations of these Sentinels, my projections indicate that they have reached a critical mass and there will be a significant increase in the average age of death in the next twenty five years."
The older man looked startled. "Are you saying that people are going to stop dying?"
"No sir. I am saying they already have."
Replied the older man, "Do you realize what this will mean for the insurance industry?"
"Yes, Mr. Kolazonta, I do. Almost total industry collapse within the next ten years. The descendants of the Sentinels seem to be terminating or turning down their policies. The rate is growing."
"Do you have any recommendations?"
"I don't see how we can do anything, short of killing them off that is." Montrose looked at the two men. "Are there any more questions?"
The older man shook his head. Montrose left.
A moment later there was a discrete knock on the private entrance to the conference room.
"Come." said Kolazonta.
The young woman that had spoken with Montrose at the train station entered the room.
"Ah, Satrina, glad you could come. Let me introduce you to my associate, Lee Allan Bell. Lee, this is Satrina Taltos."
The younger man shook her hand and Kolazonta indicated she should have a seat.
"I have spoken with the gentleman I told you about. I have decided that your services will be required. The information he has discovered must not reach other hands."
"I have already begun observation." The look on her face was tranquil. "The usual fee will be required."
"No problem. There one stipulation. It must look natural."
"That will cost extra."
"Of course. I understand he has a weak heart. A fact a young woman such as yourself might find useful."
She smiled. "Well, then *that* should be easy enough. " She jutted a hip to one side and said, "I have just what an old man with a bad heart needs."
They all had a good laugh.
After Taltos was gone, the older man said to his associate, "We're not so much concerned with the old ones, you know, the 'Angels' or 'Sentinels' or whatever they are called. I did some checking, discretely of course. Montrose is correct. They are protecting their own."
Kolazonta was lost in thought for a moment then said, "We've got to do something. Something with the young ones."
"Young ones?" Replied the other man,
"We don't want to add to the population of the old ones... That will reduce our income. How can we make money if no one dies? Death is an incentive to buy insurance. Death and Money-- That's what makes the world go round! Hmmm..." The older man muttered thinking aloud for a few moments and finally said, "Eventually with the proper, shall we say 'pruning' we can control the old age market."
"Huh?" Said the younger man.
"We are going to begin an aggressive campaign to control how many reach their centenary year. We'll need to get somebody in the Stats department to do some additional research. With what I have in mind, they won't be able to get there except though us. Our first operation is to trim the next generation. and then we can begin marketing." Said the silver tongued V.P..
"Marketing? I don't understand sir. What is the product going to be?"
"Old age of course. we'll bring back all those 'fun in the sun and viagra too' resorts but require our members be at least a hundred." Kolazonta pause for a moment then continued
"Then we start knocking off the young ones and then collecting protection from the survivors on the side. We will make life risky again. Why we'll even twist some tails in government and get some kind of boondoggle just for oldsters. You know like social aide or medical security or a free F451k account or something. What do you think?"
"Sounds real good sir. But..."
"But... but what about the angels or sentinels or whatever? Won't they...?"
"Not to worry. We won't touch them. Yet. In fact, We'll even protect them for now. After a time we will take them head on. But not just yet. First, we need to get control of our market. That will require direct action. We must create market forces. The death of Montrose is the first step. Then we'll give them a new rendition of a F-U-D campaign."
"Yes, Classic Gates. "
The older man began to pace. "Our targeted customers will be the young ones in the prime of life with sufficient disposable income. We will offer them protection. Eventually this will bring us in to head-to-head competition with the Sentinels. But with a superior product, proper market execution, and a little F-U-D, our customers will gladly pay us so they too can live a long time."
"If they live so long." The younger one paused for a moment then said, "You know if we play this right people will be just dying to get old."
The Head Demon of Marketing laughed. "Bingo."
This story is Copyright © 2001 and is reprinted with permission.