The doctor told me I had been in suspension for a hundred and forty-two years. It took me a while to process the answer against what I recalled of my instructions, then more time to remaster the control of lips and tongue to speak my first words.
“That’s too long. I instructed between forty and sixty. That was a conservative estimate on them finding a cure.”
“The cure had been found in twenty-five years, but other factors came into play.”
“All reawakenings were suspended. People began to argue over the ethics, some stirred up fears and it became very political. One government fell for the argument that bringing the bodies out of suspension would amount to restoring the elite of past years, so it imposed a ban; but it stopped short of terminations, worried it would amount to murder. It took at lot of changes of government and attitudes, then a lot of legal wrangling, before it became legal to bring you back to the world.”
“So we’ve all been kept here, despite our instructions.”
“Most of you. The reawakenings are being staggered. You were not in the first group, but you’re lucky, it hasn’t worked for everyone so far; a handful died. Others will have to wait a long time because there’s still no cure for their conditions.”
“What about mine? Are they sure the cure will work?”
“It has. They were able to treat you while you were still in suspension. It was a success.”
That was my moment. The doctors had given me no more than six months, but my wealth – I was part of the planet’s richest 0.0001% – had bought me the chance for a second life. It had paid off, even though it was later than expected. Then I had another thought.
“Does this mean none of my children or grandchildren are alive?”
The doctor shook his head.
“Life expectancy has increased, but not by that much. I’m sure the government archivists can produce the details of their lives, although I would recommend that you give it some time. Begin by getting used to the world around you. However, I understand that you do have descendants who have taken an interest.”
I suspected a good number. I had five children and two grandchildren when I had been placed into suspension. That provided scope for dozens, maybe hundreds, to come along in a hundred and forty-two years. The thought was overwhelming. The doctor looked as if he could guess what I was thinking.
“You need time,” he said. “We recommend weeks of quiet lessons and conversations for you to learn what type of world you’re in now. I’ll leave you for a while. Get some rest, but if you want some gentle stimulation just point at the screen.”
He nodded towards a thin sheet of glass fixed on the far wall that seemed to exude a mild shimmer, then began to leave.
“One more question,” I asked. “What do you know of my assets?”
“I couldn’t tell you in detail, and there have been disruptions in the world’s economy, but I understand you’re still an extremely wealthy man.”
That was enough for me to smile as he left the room. I pointed at the screen and it showed a movement of shapes and colours accompanied by an ambient sounds. They slowly settled into what appeared to be an unearthly landscape with strange buildings, enough to make me anxious and point again to turn it off. He had been right; I needed to rest.
Over the next few weeks I learned, slowly at first but then with my old mental agility, about the world into which I had been brought back to life. Its borders had changed, the result of armed conflicts, natural disasters, population movements and a couple of serious ruptures in the world economy. Britain had given up pretending it could go it alone and was now a semi-autonomous region of Bloc Europa, which extended to the fortified line with the anarchic wasteland that used to be Russia. There was no more USA, but a Republic of North America in which much of the population, economy and political weight had shifted north in what had been Canada. South America was just Brazil, Argentina and the Chile-Peru Pact. Asia was just China and India. Australia had dried up, causing a big movement of people to and a lot of trouble in New Zealand. Africa and the Middle East was under the control of a conglomerate that had once been the Gulf States, and with half the population of the previous century was doing OK. It seemed that the world had been through a bad patch but in the past fifty years had begun to control its populations, climate and technology and steadily improved.
Of course, the technology had moved forward – then been reeled back. I learned that every feature of the hospital, like every home, office and industrial building in the world, was controlled by AI system that had gradually programmed itself to make everything efficient and sustainable. But people had always worried about it, then became scared, especially after similar systems had blown up a handful of their own governments’ military bases and poisoned the food of a couple of presidents they had deemed to be a threat to humanity. It had prompted a worldwide agreement that imposed strict limits on the capacity for learning and independent action, backed up by the Global Human Control Alliance with its powers to terminate any company, or individual, caught stepping over the line. There was no such thing as TV or radio, just the InfoMesh that ran on something called air pulse transmissions. People still used screens for communal viewing, but gobbled up most of their information and entertainment on the 3D optical frames that looked just like early 21st century glasses. They also had the Neural Studs pinned inside their left ears, tiny quantum powered devices that monitored signals in parts of the brain to help the user see more clearly, hear sharply, and instantaneously translate any unfamiliar language. The doctor showed me his and explained that English had evolved since my earlier life and he needed it to understand what I said.
“Will I get one of those?”
“It’s already been fitted. That’s why you can understand me.”
What affected me most was that almost nothing was made from metal or plastic anymore. The 2030s saw the development of febro pulp, derived from the fast growing, giant high yield plants and reconstituted into an immense range of materials that could make almost anything, conduct energy and store unlimited amounts of microdata, and they were now the world’s dominant manufacturing material. The carefully managed forests were in temperate and sub-tropical zones around the world, forty per cent of them owned by the Febrik Corporation, for which I had been a founding investor. That was what ensured that I was still one of the wealthiest people on the planet.
After a while I got to meet with two representatives from Febrik, a man and woman in early middle age with identical short hairstyles, heavy glasses and grey jackets with knee length trousers. They explained that Febrik had once gone through a bad patch that lasted decades, but had recovered, survived the climate crisis of the late 21st century, then grown continually. It was now the world’s third largest business corporation and considered the eighth most powerful organisation in the world. There had been attempts to eradicate my stake in the business, with a series of legal battles over whether I should be considered alive or deceased, but the guardians of my estate, and the generations who had taken over from them, had put up a solid defence. My wealth had continued to grow.
They also told me I had plenty of descendants. Most of my grandchildren had their own offspring, and although the global birthrate had sharply declined, several lines of my family had continued to reproduce. They had all received shares of the trust fund I had left in place, and everybody except the spendthrift and stupid were comfortable. But it was it inadvisable to meet too many at once, and a filtering process had begun to assess which of the descendants had the strongest lineage and came from strands of the family that had managed their stakes wisely. The first meeting would hopefully take place in a couple of weeks.
It left me impatient. I had been fond of one of my ex-wives and four of my five children, it had been difficult to absorb the fact that everyone I had known was no longer in the world, and I was eager to find an emotional bond with at least a handful of those who were now here. But I agreed that it could it be troublesome.
“I could meet a lot of them over time,” I suggested.
“That’s possible,” the woman replied. “But the trust thinks that to start it may be better to keep it to a couple of small groups, five or six.”
I was in the house obtained by the corporation, supported by a handful of lifelike robots and a trio of human secretaries working in shifts, when the family visits began. The first group were at various stages of middle age, three men and two women, all first cousins to each other descended from my first wife. I thought the filtering process had worked well. They were all quite formal, respectful without being unctuous, eager to tell me of how their branches of the family had fared without any sob stories or grievances. But I also sensed they were wary of each other, and holding something back in the way that their great grandmother – or was it great, great grandmother – always seemed to do. No-one made any pleas for support or pitched for a role in the business, but there were mentions of issues with which a huge injection of cash could help. One of them, a guy with glowing skin and an unnatural smile named Ram, mentioned said he was involved in a programme trying to equip children from deprived communities with an educational device he described as a quanto box. Apparently they were soon to become a necessary asset for a decent start in life but were too expensive for many families. I listened carefully then asked a question.
“Do you have a stake in their manufacture?”
He paused and touched the neural stud in his ear, indicating that its translation function had stuttered.
“That thing’s worked perfectly until now,” I said. “Don’t pretend it’s just failed.”
He smiled awkwardly then replied.
“I don’t have a personal stake in any relevant business.”
“Personal; that’s a convenient word. What about your wife? Or maybe one of your kids?”
He tried to smother a frown and stopped short of a lie.
“I’ll investigate and give it some consideration,” I said, immediately resolving that he would get nothing from it.
The second group was mixed, from twenties to fifties in age, and descended from my second wife. Maybe that’s why I found them agreeable; she was the only one of three who left fond memories, partly because she had it in her to walk out on me because I had cheated on her. There were six of them, more casual in their dress and language, more ready to laugh, and more interested in me. They all knew why I had decided to go into suspension but were curious about how I had felt about retreating from the world, whether I had worried that I would never be reawakened, and how I could manage the adjustment to the new world. They agreed it was better for me to come out gradually, and made some suggestions about experiences – visiting a robograpple pit or having a virtualised fur wipe – that were clearly tongue in cheek. A woman named Aleezia asked if there was anyone from my previous life that I missed. I named my second wife, quickly adding that I regretted my misbehaviour, and our two daughters, and was surprised to feel a mild choke of emotion. They all seemed impressed.
I enjoyed the conversation until the young woman named Zanda – whose head was shaved bald on her left side and grown shoulder length on the right – took advantage of my standing up to fill my teacup to place herself beside me and speak quietly.
“How do you feel about the decisions you made?”
“I’d need to know which ones.”
“The febro pulp plantations in Canada, in the native people’s territory.”
I had to think for a moment. I recalled the investment in Canada, when I had persuaded the provincial government to clear swathes of existing forest for the first major plantation of febro plants. I told her didn’t recall anything about native peoples.
“It took time,” she said, “but it did immense damage.”
An older man and woman came to her side and told her it wasn’t the time to raise the matter.
“He’ll have to know soon,” she said. “And take responsibility.”
“Responsibility for what?”
“There were consequences. Fifteen years after the first plantings the toxic moss appeared and spread along river banks and into the foothills of the Rockies. The damage was immense. And the remaining communities couldn’t survive.”
The woman stood in front of her.
“Zanda! Not now!”
“And those who managed to migrate were tainted and disfigured. They were isolated and kept on reservation prisons for decades.”
“Zanda! You know that’s unfair.”
Another man appeared and she was gently pulled away. All I knew was that I had been placed in suspension before those things had happened.
“I don’t understand.”
“So you haven’t been told?”
“Maybe you should have been.”
It created a discomfort that lingered after Zanda was led from the room, even though she turned to me and said: “I didn’t want to spoil the occasion, but it had to be said.”
A few embarrassed murmurs and apologies followed, but I insisted that if there was anything bad around me I would have to know sooner or later. The older people tried to play it down and divert me from the subject, but the younger man quietly asserted that now something had been said I should know what was happening. I had already taken a liking to him, as his name was simply John and he was dressed in what could have been a sports jacket and shin length slacks from my younger days.
“There’s some truth to what Zanda said,” he told me. “For a few years everyone was happy with the febro plantations, then the toxic moss began to appear from a reaction that nobody understood. Over two years it did a lot of damage, not just in Canada but in plantations around the world. It took about five years for the scientists to develop a chemical compound that could kill it off, and another five for it be sprayed around all the infected zones. And by then there were populations around the world who had suffered. What happened to the native people in Canada was among the worst cases.”
There was a moment of quiet, concern on all the faces around me.
“And people blame me?”
“You among others, but all of those are dead now.”
“But if something was wrong, they must know that we didn’t understand at the time. The science, at least the science that was understood, was on our side.”
There was another quiet moment in which I noticed some uneasy glances.
“That’s the reasonable point of view. But there are people out there who want to attribute blame for all their problems.”
“But it was such a long time ago. Surely the world moved on.”
“It did. The local environments recovered and the survivors of those who were affected in different parts of the world were cured and rehabilitated. Most of them have found a place for themselves. But there are lingering grievances. And once the news of your reawakening got out they found a focus.”
“So they want something from me?”
“They want everything from you.”
Aleezia assured me it was only gossip and John let the subject drop, but it planted my first real worry since I had been brought back.
In the following weeks I met more of my descendants – liked a handful, felt neutral about most, was irritated by a few – and learned more about my business. The other major shareholders visited individually, behaved respectfully, gave their perspectives on various strands of the business, didn’t push anything too hard and never mentioned any trouble in Canada. My representatives were equally respectful but more direct. They were led by Eleza Cru, a tall, severe woman with a sharp mind and a sense of duty to the corporation. She visited every day for a week to enlighten me on how the scientific and business worlds had evolved, what it meant for my personal wealth and possible strategies for the future. On the fifth day I asked her about any legal problems, especially with Canada.
“It’s still speculation,” she replied. “But I’ve heard that some of the people have been in discussions with one of the major law firms in Winnipeg. I believe something could happen.”
I had learned that Winnipeg had become the economic and legal centre of North America. That made it sound ominous.
I shifted the focus of the conversation, telling her that I needed a few more weeks to understand the intricacies of the business and its markets, but I would soon feel ready to take an active role.
“Are you sure?”
“Are you saying I’m too old?”
“You’re a hundred and ninety-seven.”
She smiled for the first time, and I realised that I liked her.
“I’m fifty-five, and I’m reckoning on staying active for another twenty, twenty-five years, at least. I know the average lifespan has reached a hundred.”
“Forgive me, but there have been assumptions that you would just enjoy your wealth.”
“I enjoy my work. I’m not retiring. And the doctors have told me I’ve made a full recovery from what nearly killed me.”
She smiled again, impressed. I realised I was attracted to her.
“Then maybe I can arrange a series of visits so you can meet key people, see some of the operations. It’s easy to fly across the Atlantic and back in a day.
“Without the jet lag?”
“They found a way of dealing with that eighty years ago.”
I did try out some of the world’s pleasures, usually accompanied by one or two of my descendants. One took me to a concert of naturo music, a type of electro jazz with artificial birdsong and ambient sounds of the natural world. It was popular among highbrow types but it bored me. I was taken to art galleries in which every image changed in shape and colour in a long cycle, or I was led into immersive rooms that either caressed or flipped my senses in a way that was initially unsettling but became amusing. Plays were basically what they had always been – actors on stage in front of an audience – and the couple I saw left me with the same so-so feeling as in the past. I let John take me to a robograpple pit, which entertained me more than any sport during my earlier life, enough to prompt a return visit. And I had some private sessions in a virtual sensations parlour, with simulations of two or three women at a time, imagining faces similar to those of my second wife and Eleza Cru. Overall there was plenty for my hours of relaxation.
I was pleased with what I learned about the fortunes of my business. While the febro pulp had provided the foundation for its growth, it had also built large holdings in wind and wave energy, included solid investments in the electro-neural technology on which Neural Studs were based, and a worthwhile stake in a major service provider of the InfoMesh. The people in charge while I was in suspension had not taken opportunities to get into quantum intelligence or biofusion in a big way, but they had now died and I was assured the corporation was slowly extending into these areas. It had all prompted jealousy among business rivals and anxieties among governments, and there had been noises from China and in North America about forcing sell-offs and imposing special controls. But my representatives had played a series of clever hands with legal defences, promised investments and occasional bribes to keep the threats at bay. The big irony, given the damage caused by the early plantings for febro pulp, was that the corporation also had a major role in providing the environmental cleansing and agricultural technology that had renewed the polluted regions. It had made me even richer by cleaning up the mess my own business had created.
But the new mess wasn’t going away. A few months after my reawakening I was told the rumours about the Canadian natives and the Winnipeg lawyers had been correct and they were preparing a major action based in the city’s Global Business Court.
“How can it be global?” I asked Eleza Cru. “You told me the continents had their own legal structures.”
“They do, but there’s a vaguely worded international memorandum that they’re all required to respect, within the bounds of how they interpret those vague words. It depends on how their governments are minded from one decade to another.”
“So if we lose the case, we might or might not have to pay up.”
“You would definitely have to hand over all the holdings in North America and probably Europe, then the legal battles would begin elsewhere. And I should warn you that sentiment has been running against you since the reawakening. It had been agreed – grudgingly by some parties – that nobody living had responsibility for any of the disasters. But now you’re back they have a target. If you lose it would mean years, even decades, fighting battles in courts around the world. It could go on for longer than any of us survive.”
“And I assume they want a major piece of my business.”
“The earlier rumours were also correct. They want it all.”
I gave myself ten seconds and went through a familiar flash of anxiety, then anger, then graphene-hard resolve.
“So we’ll throttle them. Quickly.”
It proved a harder process than I expected. In my previous life I had a good grasp of any law affecting my business, but there had been changes, with more fluid lines of legal reasoning and ambiguities. I had one line of defence that there had been no scientific evidence that the febro plantations could cause harm when they were planted. The other side’s lawyers had found records of early experiments and claimed there were uncertainties and risks that made the whole operation reckless. My lawyers also argued that nobody affected by the environmental disasters, or any of their children, were still alive. Their side claimed that generations had suffered and there were still dispersed populations suffering all kinds of privations from the damage inflicted on their great grandparents. There was a lot of exaggeration involved but the Winnipeg lawyers were making it serious, and other legal teams in Berlin, Beijing and Brazzaville were preparing to use any judgement in their favour as a precedent. And sentiment on the InfoMesh was against me. Eleza Cru had quantum monitors tracking every news, discussion, chat and entertainment nodule for comment and found sixty per cent against me worldwide, and over seventy per cent in North America. A lot of people wanted me to lose.
I went to Winnipeg for the court hearings, and on the first day the protesters were out in force. We expected a group of native Americans and angry radicals around the steps to the Justice Citadel, but the crowd was large enough to fill the pavements of the final two streets on our route, and they made an angry noise that pierced the reinforced glass of our vehicle. As we walked the fifty yards from road to steps they jostled the security robots, yelled abuse and threw miniature febro moulds of a twisted dead tree, the symbol of their campaign, into my path. I was more than unpopular; I was hated. I entered the courthouse, sat with Eleza Cru to one side and my two senior lawyers to the other ,with the full complement of ten others behind us. A glance to my left revealed that the opposition had a matching number of lawyers, including a man and woman with the dark complexions of native Canadians, all of them poker faced and smartly but not expensively dressed.As we sat I managed a quick scan of the public benches and noticed the selection of senior Febrik employees along with John, Aleezia and two more of my descendants. But there were a lot more unfamiliar faces, many of them natives, and they all appeared hostile. The jury was obscured behind glass – frosted on our side, clear on theirs – to one side of the courtroom. I had been told it was there to prevent any manipulative eye contact. Then the judge entered, a middle aged woman with oriental features, a shaved head and a hard glare, and I sensed it was directed at me.
After nine days my lawyers were acknowledging that things were not going well. Both sides has laid out long, complex arguments, equally complex counterpoints, questioned the relevance and credibility of each other’s evidence, and injected degrees of indignation or appeals for sympathy at appropriate times. As it went on my ears told me the other side was feeling more confident, to the extent the two native Canadians in their legal team allowed themselves a few satisfied smiles. The judge held a neutral expression but I could detect changes in her voice, stiffening as she spoke to our side, softening a little with theirs. It was frustrating that I couldn’t see the jury. I was particularly worried after their team had pulled up evidence that children in the Canadian regions, as well as in parts of South America and South-East Asia, were suffering a hereditary anxiety disorder that could be traced back to the traumas suffered by their great grandparents. I thought it was nonsense, even let out an irritated sigh, then Eleza Cru banged her knee into mine and I noticed that the judge fixed me with a disapproving look. We were losing.
That evening I took solace in one of my chef’s specialities, spiced sea proteins in a guava and breadfruit mix with pilau rice, along with bottle of Norwegian Chardonnay. John and Aleezia had joined me, correctly sensing that I could do with some sympathy and whatever encouragement seemed realistic. I had invited Eleza Cru, feeling she would ensure the discussion remained realistic, but she had pleaded an urgent meeting. John and Allezia both acknowledged the bad turn in the case and were disappointed that I couldn’t tell them that my lawyers had new rounds of ammunition in store. But they were both good at emphasising what I would retain if I lost the case.
“They won’t be able to touch the investments with origins before febro pulp,” John said. “There have been other cases and a principle that they can’t be related to profits from the plantations. Some have become irrelevant, but others are still in good shape.”
“And you’ll still be a wealthy man,” Aleezia added. “You’ll have a comfortable life, three homes, opportunities to travel. You can get out an enjoy the world.”
“That makes sense,” I told them. “But it assumes that I would be fulfilled by whatever pleasures you have in mind. That’s not me I’m afraid. My fulfillment comes from work, and making my business ever more successful.”
I could see from their faces that they were not completely surprised but a little disturbed by my response, and guessed they cared something for my wellbeing – as well as their own self-interest. I assured them that if we lost I would be deeply disappointed but not miserable, and I would find another sense of purpose. We ate a dessert of vegan ice cream with caviar and followed it with large glasses of Newfoundland brandy. I was touching a state of inebriation and decided it was time to end the evening. Then my steward informed me that Eleza Cru had arrived with another guest. I felt a twinge of irritation but agreed to see them. John and Aleezia were on their feet when Eleza Cru entered the room, accompanied by a tall man in a sharp suit who was unmistakably a native American.
“This is Makwa,” she said. “He has something important to say.”
We had to sit through two more days of evidence and argument before we could bring Makwa into the court. There was an opportunity after the other side had presented the statements of those who thought they had been wronged, the stories from native Canadians of how they were still suffering from the handicaps that my recklessness had inflicted on their earlier generations. We had the right to respond and presented Makwa. Plenty of the spectators were obviously surprised to see one of the natives with us. The judge looked puzzled but said we could go ahead. The other side’s lawyers showed little reaction, although I noticed a glimmer of suspicion in the eyes of the one of their front men. Makwa was asked to state his relevance to the case.
“I can remember when the forests were cleared,” he said. “When they made way for the febro plantations. It was on land close to where my family, all my people had lived for hundreds of years.”
Eyes widened around the court. The judge looked as surprised as anyone and asked him to explain.
“I spent a long time in suspension,” he said. “Like the defendant.”
“So how old are you?”
In my life, forty-six years. In terms of the world, one hundred and fifty-one. Not quite as old as this guy.”
“I was in an accident, electrocuted in the maintenance room of a giant casino. It threw me into a coma and the doctors said I was unlikely to survive. I was rich, I owned the casino and four others, and my family wanted me to have another chance, so they paid for the process, the cryogenic suspension with the nerve stimulants, on the understanding that I would be brought back if it became safe. That’s what happened four years ago. So now I’m back. Nowhere near as rich as I used to be as all the casinos are long gone, but alive again, and my brain’s as sharp as ever.”
My lawyers took over, asking what he could remember about the febro plantings.
“I remember it was on land that had been deemed a common holding of our people. There was a big round of discussions, community meetings and online forums, and a vote was organised. They voted in favour, by about five to one.”
I remembered that. I had been highly satisfied at the time.
“There must have been some opposition.”
“There was, but they were always in the minority. As far as most of us were concerned we were getting a good price for the use of the land – it was mega money over fifty years – and we had a cut of the profit. That was going to bring in a lot more than the trees cut down for timber and the fishing rights in the rivers. And it wasn’t all of the land; there was still plenty of forest left untouched.”
“Were there any concerns about the risk to the environment?”
“A handful of people tried to raise a stink, but they never brought any of their own evidence. I remember the corporation gave us access to all of their scientific data, and we took it to teams in two universities who checked it out and said it was all solid.”
I remembered that as well. I had worried that those scientists were going to come up with something that got in our way, but they saw it the same way as our scientists.
“Did they say there was a risk to the environment?”
“They said it was tiny, and that was only if there was something in the science that nobody knew about, exactly as the corporation claimed. We didn’t have reason to think there was anything we hadn’t been told. It was an easy choice for most people, a lot of money against a tiny risk.”
There were mumbles in the background. I looked at the other side’s team and noticed uneasy expressions. The lawyers asked Makwa for more detail, asked about how the money was spent, led him to tell everyone that all of the local population became wealthier, lived better, at least for a few years. He couldn’t say anything about the reactions when the toxins appeared and began to poison swathes of the North West, as it happened after his accident, when he was in suspension.
“So you learned about that when you were brought out of suspension, four years ago. How did you feel?”
“Sad, it was bad to hear that most people had to leave, and a lot of them struggled. But it was a relief to know that they had been able to clear up the mess, even if it took a long time.”
“Did you feel any guilt for agreeing to the plantations?”
“A little, but it was shared with most of the others of my generation; and we did it because we thought that was the best thing at the time.”
“Do you feel any anger towards the corporation that put in the febro plantations?”
“Anger? They were out to make money, but so were we. I wish their scientists knew more than they did, but I wish the same of the ones that we hired.”
“So you all the share the blame?”
“I wouldn’t use that word. We all did something that turned out wrong because we didn’t know enough.”
I could sense more unease on the other side, and noticed that, after holding a stern look for days, the judge was softening her expression. I hoped the same of those hidden jurors. Then our lawyers switched the line of questioning.
“You’ve been back in the world for a few years now, and must have been aware of the case some of your people’s descendants have raised against the corporation.”
“That’s right. I went to the early meetings.”
“But you haven’t supported it.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“No-one did early on. I had already got to know plenty of my people’s descendants and got to know how they felt about what had happened, and it was pretty much what I felt. Their great grandparents had made a decision because they wanted the money, and been surprised when it went wrong. We’ve been recovering over the past fifty, sixty years, more people making money again, and some moving back to the region as it got cleaner. It was only a handful who wanted to make a big thing about it.”
“So what’s changed their minds?”
“That bunch of lawyers.” He nodded towards the other side’s team. “They came to us, told us we had a big grievance, talked up how much money we could get. Didn’t say much about how much they could get but when I pressed them it would match our share. That convinced me it had nothing to do with justice, just money, and I didn’t want to be part of it.”
There was an objection. The judge turned it down and our lawyer quickly wound things up. Then the other side’s lawyers questioned Makwa, went over all the same ground from different angles, questioning the credibility of what he had said, trying to cast him in a bad light. He played it straight and didn’t give them anything. It culminated in a decisive question.
“So while all your people believe they have a right to be given back what they lost, you disagree. Why should your position count for more?”
“It’s not all our people, it’s the ones you’ve brought along. And as for me, I’m the guy who was there when it happened.”
The following day the jury found in our favour.
Everybody respected the etiquette of the courtroom, but I could see the frustration and suppressed anger of the other side’s lawyers, and the despair on the faces of the group of native people behind them. Our side allowed ourselves smiles and handshakes but were careful to keep our elation under control. We allowed the other side to leave first, avoiding eye contact and hoping they could control their emotions. One of my team said the crowd outside the building, all supporting the other side, had been told the news, voiced their disgust but were not creating any disorder. I felt a sense of release, knowing I had retained control of all my assets and could get on with new plans, new investments, further expansion of my empire. It was a moment to savour and, despite my mental shuffling of business possibilities, I resolved to treat all around to a big party that evening. As we stood to leave I noticed Eleza Cru tapping the corner of her optical frames, blinking at the message only she could see, then tapping on the screen of her wristband. I slid through the bodies to speak quietly.
“Are you passing the news to our friend?”
“I am. I’ll send the first of the codes later this week.”
The codes were directed to some of the banks in which my money was held. Over the next few weeks there would be a series of transfers to highly discreet accounts in other institutions, then proceed through stages into a network of accounts held by organisations in which Makwa and his business associates held controlling stakes. He was another businessman who, by coincidence, had a similar personal history and similar outlook to myself, and our understanding had served both of us well.
Our group held back for a while in the courthouse atrium, waiting for the other side’s spokespeople to make a tearful speech to their followers and the press, then for them be driven away and the crowd to begin to disperse. When we went outside and the press was waiting for us and I had decided on a short statement of satisfaction rather than triumph. Then I noticed John and Aleezia were on the fringes of our group, and in a moment of sentiment I gestured towards them to come towards me as we approached the reporters. A few dozen of the other side’s supporters remained and greeted us with a round of angry yells, but there were yards between us the security robots seemed to have them under control. I met the journalists at the top of the steps, my first interaction with the press in my new life, and was surprised, and should have guessed, that they had no notebooks, recording devices or cameras. Everything they needed was embedded in the chips of their optical frames and neural studs. I made a short statement that I was happy that, despite all the changes in the world, the legal process of North America had maintained its credibility and that justice had been done. I thanked my own legal team and those of my descendants who had supported me, and provided a photo opportunity with arms around the shoulders of John and Aleezia. Then came the offer that I had agreed with Eleza Cru and other advisers after Makwa’s testimony.
“I’m aware that people on the other side will be disappointed with the result, especially the descendants of the native communities who have been caught up in this battle. But I wish to hold out an olive branch and say that, when the dust has settled, I will be ready to talk to their representatives about the possibilities of supporting specific projects to support their communities.”
I had planned for that to be all, but we were distracted by a commotion among the protesters, a moment in which two of them broke through and ran towards us, only to be flattened by the security robots’ stun guns. It caused a shuffling of bodies among our group, a moment in which John took a protective step in front of me but I patted his shoulder to move away. The reporters were uncertain whether to direct their attention towards us or the protesters, took steps forward and back, one of them moving backwards then turning to face me from a foot away. I noticed his pale brown complexion and dark hair, made eye contact through his optical frames and thought he was going to ask a question. But instead he spoke in a quiet, hard voice:
“Five generations of my family have suffered from what you did.”
Then he grabbed my testicles, flipped my body and threw me head first down the steps.
Now I lie on a trolley in a room that I guess is in a medical facility, able to hear every word but unable to speak, see or move any muscle in my body. I can hear machines running, bleeps from monitors and mild gurgles through the tubes that have kept me alive, and have a sense of those inserted into my mouth and arm. I’ve been aware of the conversations over recent weeks, that the attack inflicted severe damage on my neural network, effectively cutting me off from the world without actually killing me. The doctors have tried to prompt a reaction from me, and I’ve tried to produce one, to the extent of inward screaming in frustration, but my body is an inactive slab. I’m alive but not alive.
I had picked up shreds of what was going on around me, but it was John who sat beside my bed and quietly explained what was to happen. An ordinary patient in my condition would be regarded as beyond saving, disconnected from the machines that kept them alive and allowed to slide into death. But I’m not ordinary; I have immense wealth and a legal document from my earlier life that says I should go into cryogenic suspension until medical science has reached the stage of being able to repair my broken body. It may be in ten years, or several hundred, but the institutions and the letter of the law will make sure that I endure, and hope that one day I am brought back to life.
It is planned for today. John returns, and I can hear his voice come closer and tell me that he is sorry that we didn’t get longer together, that he feels we could have had a special bond. His words stir up emotions that I have no way of expressing. Then I’m aware of being moved, from my bed to a trolley, through a corridor, into an elevator, then into a room where I hear bodies moving but nobody speaks. The tubes are removed, I’m lifted onto a harder surface and think of a refrigerator tray. Then comes the noise of sliding panels, the hiss of surfaces being sealed, and the fading of all sound. I go back to suspension, not alive, not dead.
Image by David S. Soriano, CC SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons