How to Meet an Angel

by Rebecca Starks

For the second time, she passed through FIRE, saw her name flash—Lisa Elaoui-Brink—and ducked to enter the plane. Once seated, she adjusted her headscarf as if wanting to widen her field of vision, and looked out at the blank glass terminal where Raphe would be watching her take off, his flight in another hour. He had been approved for one of the new land claims in Alaska, near Bethel, as the country looked to settle the thawing frontier, and though they had contracted as Interdependents he would embark alone on their new life together, farming while she went where her research and reporting took her, returning home to write. They had pared down their minimal possessions other than her books, for which Raphe would build shelves by the time she returned. He found her loyalty to the yellowed pages quaint, the equivalent of plowing with a John Deere. More skeptical of progress, she viewed time less as an arrow than a sieve, retaining not the best ideas but obstructions to life’s natural rhythms.

The sun, only a fist above the horizon, made the air above the tarmac tremble, and she lowered the window shade. On impulse she raised it again, lowered and raised, until she was answered by a frantic wave; behind the smoked glass she could make out the suggestion of a face framed by dark hair and beard. She flashed a message, short and long. Raphe signaled back, fist and flat hand.

She had taught him the code one weekend, early on, as a way of slowing things down, letter by letter, during the instantaneous communion of Porting that had come to them so easily. She had first caught sight of him on a Brooklyn green roof, flinging an onion at a drone that passed too close; had let him lower the escape ladder for her to climb to return the bruised bulb, and had come away with a bag of dirt-rich produce. They had become Inter-Ds within the year.

*

She smiled at the returned signal, then pulled her scarf over her mouth, having become aware of her seatmate’s gaze.

“You cannot make up your mind,” he said.

“I was waving,” she said, almost breaking off halfway when she saw the coldness in his eyes, so that it came out as “wavering.” He returned to looking straight ahead, his shoulders disapproving. She assumed he worked with androids and owed to their influence his slightly frowning cadence, his apparent distaste for idiosyncrasy, that unseemly flaunting of a Soul’s private assemblage of purines and pyrimidines.

The lift-off from the whirring of sails was like mechanical sex, something she tried to help along, until the plane reached an understanding with the air. Other than the eighteen passengers with government-approved business, there was no human presence on board. Briefly weightless, she looked through her window and across the aisle at the long white wings stretching out like an albatross locked in a glide, flying ten thousand miles to bring slurrified squid to a chick. She was flying half that distance to interview the gods. She pressed forward to observe the city below, the skyscrapers and dikes and canals, the turbines connected to giant Archimedean screws, before heading for its forebear, now more floating city than reclaimed polder land. She sat back, in deference to her seatmate.

“My first flight,” she said.

“I hope a happy occasion.”

She made herself nod. He had not been fishing for information; her immersion in the old books made her unnaturally suspicious. She put in ear nubs and closed her eyes to review the only extant interview with Herik Ambrose, dated July 1, 2030, ten years after he had discovered how to reverse cellular aging. At the time of the interview, he had been seventy-nine, with the body and mind of a twenty-five-year-old. Lisa would have been five, living with her grandmother. Her only earlier memory was of her cat’s white tail.

Time: Why now, when people in the parity nations are choosing lifespan limits, do you claim the right to live indefinitely?

Herik Ambrose: Remember what Toqueville said of your early country: Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as a stranger to the destiny of all the others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may mix among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone.

My concern, in contrast, is for society. Human society has progressed from “everyone dies,” to “you, the beloved, die,” to “I die”; now it tries to return to “everyone dies.” I propose instead: “We happy few don’t die.”

Time: Steve Jobs called death life’s best invention, making way for the new.

HA: If I might quote Sappho, instead: the Gods hate death; if not, they would die. Ten billion variations on the human form—how could we possibly need another? Better to end this mad, thoughtless proliferation of life and nourish a few promising specimens.

Time: How do we choose the few?

HA: Do you mean how does society choose? It doesn’t. It couldn’t possibly. I choose.

Time: Aren’t you playing with fire?

HA: Playing, yes. Homo ludens—you are familiar with my countryman Johan Huizinga? Play is freedom; it takes place outside of our usual space and time and involves no material gain. Imagine what would happen if we gave our knowledge to the highest bidder or made our cure publicly available, before we could engineer an environment in which the Agerased might thrive. I experiment on myself and a handful of others to benefit mankind.

Time: The Ageraseds—meaning those whose age has been erased.

HA: The etymology is from the Greek, “without old age…”


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