Gold-flecked, hazel eyes locked with Dave’s and he felt like his blood had been replaced with liquid electricity. The man was sitting back in one of the massive, high-backed seats, one leg swung over an armrest.
Dave heard the soft, melodic ring of his preference holo turn on and felt himself blush. A crooked smile spread across his admirer’s face and the gold in his eyes seemed to shine a little brighter. Pleased, Dave figured, at the bioinformatics app’s timing.
Steeling himself, Dave took a deep breath and walked over, mindful of his shaky legs, and sat down in a twin armchair across from the beautiful man. The proximity made him dizzy with expectation and more than a little uncertainty, but he was determined to show Golden Eyes — and everyone else at Phosphoruz Habbitz — that he wasn’t intimidated. Dave had, after all, just been granted the status of Scientific Luminary after his patent was approved that morning. He deserved to be there, like all the other men and women, and was ready to enjoy the perks of his new station: luxurious evenings with men of similar inclinations that represented the pinnacle of the human race; the brightest and most beautiful that the entire Central Priority Region had to offer. Their brains had gotten them there; their access to the legendary cocktails that only Luminaries enjoyed explained their unmolested perfection.
“You’re new,” Golden Eyes said, making a quick gesture over his head with one hand. A server seemed to materialize on Dave’s right with a drink a moment later. Dave smiled, taking it, and admiring the brilliant, turquoise liquor the delicate flute held.
“A toast,” Golden Eyes continued, sitting up in his plush armchair and brushing Dave’s legs in the process.
Dave smiled and chinked his flute against the man’s elegant stein, then drank deeply. The liquor tasted both sweet and minty. And burned his throat. He managed not to gag, barely. It helped to remind himself that — aside from the blissful buzz humanity had enjoyed and never truly found a replacement for — it would prolong both his life and youth as long he knocked down a glass every night. A clear upgrade from the standard health-calibrating tonic employed citizens drank.
Golden Eyes hadn’t taken his gaze off Dave while they toasted, nor while he took a long drink. His stein was empty when he put it down again.
“Why don’t you finish that so we can head to another floor?” Golden Eyes’ preference holo flashed on just as he finished the sentence. It told Dave that his name was Jafar, amongst other things. It was a good proposal. So good, Dave nearly spilled his drink standing up.
Dave let out a long breath and opened his eyes to find the man looking into them. Strange. Sentimentalism was as much out of practice as it was out of fashion. So what in the seven civilized regions was Jafar doing? He felt the usual post-intimate calm slipping away like a blanket being tugged off of his body.
“That was a nice welcome,” Dave said, trying to break the suddenly awkward silence.
Something seemed to ripple and waver in Jafar’s golden eyes, as if their depths were flooding with an ocean of shadow. “What earned you your seat in eternity?” he asked.
Dave described his pattern-mining algorithm and watched as the golden flecks seemed to dim and the dark spaces between them grew.
“You’ve stopped speaking,” Jafar said. Dave had been so caught up trying to understand Jafar’s reaction that he hadn’t even noticed. “So you’ve figured it out too.”
Dave gave him a blank look, his mental gears still spinning without effect.
“I guess you won’t recognize me if we bump into one another again,” Jafar continued. “Retirement is a pretty fast process when you’ve lived as long as I have. The cocktails won’t burn your throat so much the next time, by-the-way.”
Then it hit Dave over the head. Hard. No — how could this be happening? He’d never heard of a Luminary being retired by a patent. Of course some people would inevitably be retired — that was kind of the point of automating a task: to decrease the population burden on the Priority Regions. But Luminaries weren’t just anybody. And Jafar…
Jafar frowned. “What do you care? ‘Save your concerns for the day and your thrills for the night’,” he quoted. “Besides,” he added, sliding off of Dave with surprising gentleness. “There’s no reason that the man who retires me can’t be the same one I think back on as my last Illuminati companion, is there?”
Dave heard the shower come on in the adjoining room a moment later, but couldn’t move. His social instincts demanded that he haul his butt out of there. If Jafar was right, the association was a toxic one, socially. Damn it.
He closed his eyes.
A line from a classics course popped into his head: ‘every victory has its ripples.’ He had never thought much about anything beyond getting to the big victory. And there he was. But so were the ripples that he had only ever thought of as subtracted numbers: anonymous men and women who would save resources through a retirement process he had given just as little thought to. He imagined Jafar — a million Jafars — fading and then shriveling with that dimming look in their eyes.
His head spun and he found himself walking toward the shower. He didn’t know what he wanted to say — whether there was anything he even could say to Jafar.
Halfway there he stopped dead and tapped the bio-interface feed on his wrist. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to save Jafar, and however many others, from being nothing more than the wake of his voyage to paradise.
He bit his lip. Okay, copyright had been transferred, but executive access to the metafile hadn’t. A few frantic swiping motions later it was done, sabotaged, and Dave turned back to the mist coming from the shower.
Jason M. Harley is a professor of educational technology and psychology. He spends his days hopping between university labs and lectures and his nights hopping between fictional worlds. Sometimes it’s tricky to tell where his days end and his nights begin, however, given the nature of his research. He previously published “Fingerprints” in Every Day Fiction and has had other stories appear in Perihelion Science Fiction and SQ Mag. Check out his fiction and research on https://sites.google.com/site/jasonmharley/ and follow him on Twitter @JasonHarley07.