"You can tell by the way they act - as though their likes and dislikes are already deeply ingrained. The way they move - with the absolute certainty that comes only with age and limb enhancements. Of course, there's always the ancient slang they let slip once in a while. That's pretty much it. To all outward appearances, they're like any other well built twenty five year old. Only their insurance companies know for sure how old the sentinels really are." The white-haired man leaned back in his chair and smiled, a slight touch of something sinister in his perfect teeth. His faint accent reminded me of the few times I went hunting with a few of my coworkers from Pittsburgh.
"I thought they all look old. You know, with old skin and wrinkles and that kind of stuff." I set my drink on the table - a prohibitively expensive bottle of mild amber intoxicant that tastes nothing like beer. It took me a month and a half to get this far. Now I was determined to relish every minute of it.
"Not always. Those are the easy ones. The ones who either can't afford a full body makeover, or, even worse, the ones that take pride in their aged appearance. That last groups are the ones you got to watch out for. Next to the sentinels, that is." The man took out an ultra thin briefcase and opened it up to reveal an enk pad, and started pulling information. I bet he had me pegged as a rich kid who wanted more than the usual thrill and was just verifying.
"I don't understand. How did the data get so convoluted? What happened to their records?"
"Changed. Many of them faked their funerals. Some vanished from their homes. Heh, imagine their families coming to visit and finding grandma and gramps missing - no trace of their whereabouts. Remember Social Security?" The man gave me an intense stare and then smiled. "Nah didn't think so. You're too young. Well, it used to subsidize the old people's income when they couldn't work anymore or had retired"
"That had changed, didn't it?" I finished the bottle and nodded in appreciation to my host. "No reason to retire from arthritis or whatever if you can just get your skeletal structure upgraded."
"Exactly! That's why we need to know where and who the old ones are." His eyes watched me intensely once again
I almost chuckled - remembering a different; lovecraftian meaning for 'the old ones', but that would have given me away for sure. No one reads Lovecraft anymore. With all the cultural desensitation, they have shows on primetime that would send old H.P. hiding under the covers, shivering - or give him a psychotic episode. Either or. Kids seem to like them, though.
"Do you know how the sentinels came to be?" The white-haired man asked and snapped me out of my memories. I shook my head in a negative. "You know, first, how they all have money, right?"
"I guess all of the ones who couldn't afford to, didn't make it to today."
"That's right. There are some that are even a hundred and sixty or seventy that are still running around. They all have stocks, you know. Man.. If I could have bought Microsoft stock back in the days when it was double digits.. Of course, then I'd have to be over a hundred. Not a fair trade, don't ya think?"
I shook my head 'no' once again. "So what do they do with all these body upgrades and such?"
"You know why they're nicknamed 'sentinels'? It's because they reportedly watch over their families and friends from a distance and protect them from harm. Well what about those of us who didn't come from a rich family? I see that your family got most of their wealth from your mother, is that correct?"
"Yeah. She was a teacher. Became head of the private school network." I answered without hesitation and shrugged.
"Well, there are those of us who didn't get all our money from our parents, or even more commonly, our grand or great grandparents. And the sentinels have more money than most. They can afford to upgrade their bodies to look anyway they want. They change skin and hair color, even sexes. Some even went in for a brain-trans into a new cloned living body. What's twenty years waiting to them while the brainless clone grows up?" The man said, leaning back in his chair. His office was sparse- emphasizing that he could afford the space and leave it unused. It was decorated in the modern style. All of it digitalized to show the outside view of the city - as though the walls didn't even exist.
"And that's why there's so much animosity against them?"
"No no! Think. If you were a corporation, who would you rather hire - a fresh snot-nosed grad student, or someone with a century of job experience who can think faster and remember more than any unmod person because they could afford quantum gel? And the worst part of it is, the sentinels don't ask for any more money than the newbies. They all are just happy to be working. Not like they need the money, or anything. I mean I have a double degree. You know what I did for my first five years out of the Institute? That's right, waited tables."
If I didn't have an internal regulator, I would have had a splitting headache right about now for sure. This guy is the same old whiny type I've seen a thousand times before. Crying about why the world's been so mean to them to anyone who would listen. That kind annoyed me the most. Instead, I focused my eyes on the enk pad.
"Aren't there knowledge enhancements out there? I heard companies would hire you if.."
"Do you know how much those cost? It might be easy for you to buy one, rich boy, but I'd have had to wait tables for ten years before I could save up enough for one of those. And I don't even like the idea of having someone else's memories stuck in my brain. They say they manage to clean off all the personality, but I've heard stories."
His repetitive complaints were beginning to bore me now.
Instead, I concentrated on my memories of Mandy. The way she looked a century ago. Her bright eyes taking in everything as she danced. Dark short-cropped hair swaying to the music as she moved her slim figure close. Married didn't work out for us, though. Well, it didn't agree with her. The first time I could forgive. The second and third indiscretions (both at the same time), well, that was too much. Still, I watched over her. Regularly scanned the net for any mention of her, and called once in a while. We remained friends for a long time.
I snapped out of my sunny-day thoughts and meet his gaze. Have to watch how long I reminisce. "So what is it you do exactly here at the Global Aged Alliance?"
The man examined his enk pad once more. I zoom in on his eyes. In those big dark pools of hate and fear, I see the reflection - a mirror image of the names of people who work for him. Perfect.
"Well, here we send out teams to collect what is owed to us by the geezers. We pretend to offer them a job or position or something so they'll let you come into their home, then whammo. We'll provide you with any of the latest armaments you need, though most of my people prefer.."
"Magnetic limpet bomb. I'm familiar with its effects. Guess what they found traces of among the bits of brain and skull that was once Mandy?" I stand up and start walking with a speed and certainty of motion that only comes only with age and massive limb enhancements, and I smile ominously as the white-haired man mouths a silent explicative.
"Mandy, my ex-wife, or Mrs. Williams to you." I grab the enk pad out of his hands, just fast enough to avoid breaking it, and download all the data into my head. The quickly defeated protective viruses were almost pathetic.
"Bu.." Whatever last words the man had, were forever lost in a spray of red and black.
And now that I finally had the personnel data, it was time to go hunting for real.
This story is Copyright © 2001 and is reprinted with permission.