television came on and Ben knew it was time to go. It was another
one of those ridiculous talk shows, a male and female host in their
late sixties and undoubtedly Enhanced. The show, like all the shows
that appeared on Ben’s screen, always managed to be about the Asylum
Flight, and today’s guest was a ‘pilot’.
the fuck do they find these people,” Ben said to himself as he vainly
tried to turn the television off. It was no use, but Ben always
tried to turn the set off before leaving his two-room apartment,
where he lived alone in a crumbling senior citizen high-rise apartment
building on the edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan.
watched the program for a brief moment, but couldn’t hack it for
very long. The pilot also seemed to be Enhanced and Ben had no love
for the Enhanced, especially since his own son had joined their
great thing about the Flight,” the pilot said in a way Ben found
to be condescendingly smug, as if everyone Ben’s age were stupid;
unfortunately, it was almost true. So many of the residents in his
building had been brainwashed through their television sets that
were turned on by satellite and forced on for fifteen hours a day.
“The great thing is, is that you always wind up with someone you
love and with someone who loves you.” The pilot, a man in his fifties
with broad shoulders and a military style hair cut, crossed and
uncrossed his legs. “You know,” he continued, his face suddenly
anguished, “so many of our passengers have been living alone for
so many years, and this world isn’t the friendliest place in the
universe, in fact it is quite cruel.”
are so right,” the female host said, her face forcefully sorrowful,
as if she felt deep pity and compassion for those lonely people
who lived alone, people just like Ben.
“It is so
sad the way some of our seniors spend their last days in this world,
I mean, it’s too bad they can’t take the Flight sooner.”
many try, but the age is still eighty-five, now that may soon change
for extreme cases of desolation and illness or as the burden on
our health care system increases, but for right now, unfortunately,
you have to be eighty-five.”
would be eighty-five in a week, and he had no desire to take the
Asylum Flight, even though it seemed inevitable.
drained his cup of coffee and headed for the library- the only place
in Royal Oak and probably the world that was remotely sane and the
only place he could leave his age behind. He walked to the library
every morning, leaving his apartment once the television was remotely
turned on, and he would leisurely walk across Royal Oak’s small
downtown to the library that had changed precious little since his
library was the only place where one’s senses weren’t assaulted
with corporate logos. The downtown Royal Oak of the twentieth-century
was like any other Main Street in America. The clothing stores,
banks, butcher shops, bakeries, hardware stores and barbershops
were all locally owned, but they all disappeared in a corporate
onslaught that started decades ago. Ben decided the end came when
Starbucks came to town, in 1990-something, changing the Royal Oak
landscape forever. In the thirty years since the close of the twentieth,
many of the buildings that Ben had known all of his life had been
razed. Gone were the ornate storefronts built in the 1920’s and
30’s, replaced by loft-style apartment blocks of glass and steel,
monstrous cubes casting huge shadows over the downtown streets.
would start his trek to the library by taking the elevator to the
lobby of his building, where other residents his age would sit open-mouthed,
drinking coffee and watching television, watching the same program
he would be forced to watch if he remained in his apartment. The
programming was inane, tailor-made for those in their eighties,
all in an attempt to prepare them for the Flight they would have
to take on their eighty-fifth birthday.
Ben knew better. His mind wasn’t massaged all day and evening long
by the flickering images on the television screen. The library kept
him sane, it kept his mind active and sharp in his constant search
for the truth.
was summer, and the aerocars hovering in the sky and the older cars
cruising on the street shot little wisps of exhaust that hung in
the humid and warm Midwestern air. Ben loved the summer, walks to
the library in the winter would often be grueling as his body couldn’t
take the cold anymore, and no amount of clothing could keep the
chill from penetrating to the marrow of his bones.
scene outside was as mind numbing as the foolish stories on television.
Every building was plastered in advertisements, mostly for software
for the Enhanced, financial services, soft drinks and casinos. At
night, when Ben walked home from the library, it was worse; the
sky was lit with holograms – gigantic billboard-like images that
littered the sky, blocking the moon and stars from view.
the sidewalk had been taken over for advertising. Ben used to love
staring at the ground when he walked. Sidewalks had character. He
used to study the flaws and indentations in the concrete ever since
he was a child and he missed the sight of grass struggling to grow
through the cracks.
recently, the downtown sidewalks had been replaced with a sort of
hard plastic walkway. They served as a sort of moving television
screen, where scenes would change as one walked and in time with
one's pace. Advertisements were shown, tailor made for the individual
walking. The whole population had been given neuro-transmitters
in 2020, chips inside their brains where memory could easily be
one saw on television, and what ads one saw on the sidewalk, were
all selected based on the data retrieved from one’s memory.
ad was particularly pointed. It was an ad for luggage, that special
luggage that so many in Ben’s building bought for the Asylum Flight.
makers of this ad keyed into Ben’s transmitter in a hurry. They
knew that Ben was a veteran of the Vietnam War and assumed he was
patriotic. Images of suitcases wrapped in the Stars and Stripes
flickered in front of Ben, though he desperately tried to ignore
in style for the trip to the other side,” the ad blared from the
sidewalk, showing a picture of Ben, flag-waving luggage in hand,
getting off an airplane, an airplane that landed on a beach of some
tropical sea. In the picture, Ben looked quite tan, healthy, muscular
and full of energy, quite different from the way he really felt
- old, pale, thin, weak and frustrated with the insanity of the
world, a world run by the Enhanced.
The ad finally did tug on Ben’s emotions though, when, as he walked
off the runway, he saw himself being greeted by his wife, his wife
who passed away from cancer just a decade prior.
saw himself being hugged by his wife and then kissing her long and
passionately in a way that he hadn’t done since they were in their
thirties. His wife looked good too, her figure was fuller than it
ever really was, and her face glowed just like Ben’s.
bastards,” Ben said to himself, closing his eyes and walking as
fast as he could the rest of the way to the library.
sight of the library around the corner brought Ben blessed relief,
but it was premature. A policeman who had been hovering in the air
above him descended, blocking Ben’s path.
the hurry there pops?” the policeman asked.
hated the police, theirs was the first profession that was forcefully
Enhanced and in a very specific way. The computer relays wired in
their cerebral cortexes were networked with all the crime computers
of the world, they could instantly translate any language and be
able to speak it, albeit crudely, and they were wired to not let
emotion play into their police work. They weren’t friendly, they
weren’t mean and they absolutely never felt empathy for any victim
hurry,” Ben said sullenly. “Is that illegal now too? An old man
trying to run?”
course not Mr. Bosworth,” the policeman accessed his neuro-transmitter
and instantly knew Ben’s name. Ben had been stopped quite a bit
recently, as his eighty-fifth birthday drew closer. It seemed like
the police had become suspicious of him, as if he would try to miss
just want to make sure you’re okay,” the policeman continued, smiling
at Ben in the way a grandparent would talk to a small child. “Do
you mind if I see your ID?”
retrieved his wallet and showed him his state issued identification
card; his driver’s license had been seized on his eightieth birthday.
policeman gave a low whistle. “Wow, aren’t we about to be the big
birthday boy! Congratulations Mr. Bosworth, you must be very excited.”
shrugged his shoulders and shuffled his feet, staring at the library
door with anxiety.
know, Mr. Bosworth, those of us at the station have heard about
you, the old man who walks to the library everyday. What do you
do all day, sitting there in the library?”
read, I hide.”
policeman nodded, not really understanding Ben’s sarcasm, even with
his Enhanced intellect.
I guess you can go Mr. Bosworth, you go in there and hide.” The
word ‘hide’ confused the policeman, there was no hiding anywhere
in the world these days, not with neuro-transmitters placed in every
American’s brain. “Maybe I’ll be the one to escort you to
the runway. Wouldn’t that be something?”
shrugged and walked towards the library as fast as his arthritic
knees would allow.
interior of the library soothed Ben like the effects of a narcotic.
The perpetual quiet and the quaint and familiar dusty smell of aging
books were a welcome relief from the overwhelming and confusing
it was nearly Enhanced free.
the Naturals, people without computer-aided intelligence, still
seemed to use the library. The Enhanced had no need for it. Depending
on their software and depending on their accesses, one of the Enhanced
could be networked with a variety of computers – biotech labs, universities
and hospitals – having access to any bit of information that they
could possibly need or desire.
the Enhanced didn’t read for leisure. The programs downloaded into
their brains had eliminated some aspects of joy. The Enhanced had
no use for music or much appreciation for works of art.
were, however, avid watchers of their own television programming.
Ben had seen shows that would never be shown in his own apartment.
He had seen one of their television shows once, at his son’s house.
The show seemed silly to Ben, nothing too intellectual, but his
son and his Enhanced wife both chuckled at the slapstick nature
of the program.
preferred reading, he always had. He had always been able to read
for long periods of time without becoming fatigued. And that’s how
he had spent each day since his eightieth birthday, ever since he
was removed from his little bungalow in Royal Oak’s north end and
planted in the crummy little apartment in the bleak and soulless
high-rise building he now had to call home.
it wasn’t really home. Home was still in his memory; home was the
place where he raised his son and lived in marital bliss with his
wife for so many years. Home was a different world, a world where
the elderly weren’t forced to take a flight god-knows-where upon
the occasion of their eighty-fifth birthday.
like all of his neighbors, thought for years that the Asylum Flight
really would take them to some sort of paradise, some part of the
planet that the government had set aside for the elderly to finish
up their dying days.
his reading in the library gave him clues to the true nature of
had always been a fan of history, all periods and from all parts
of the world. He had been reading a book, about a month prior, sitting
at his usual table in the far corner of the library, practically
unobserved by the library staff who viewed Ben as another eccentric
old man, one of many eccentrics who rifled in and out of the library.
It was a book about World War II, and specifically about the Nazis.
there was no mention of the Holocaust.
retrieved another book about World War II, and it too, made no mention
of the holocaust, it was as if the German’s attempt at exterminating
the Jews was of no importance during the war.
then went to the computerized encyclopedia. He typed in the word
‘Holocaust’, and clicked on the search button.
results were found.
starting to panic, he looked in the encyclopedia for other points
in history, events in his lifetime, where he knew an attempt at
genocide took place, Rwanda and Bosnia to be specific.
nothing, there was no mention of a Holocaust or even genocide.
seemed apparent to Ben - unless his mind was playing tricks on him
and his memory was failing - that something or someone was trying
to hide history, trying to sweep it under a rug. He couldn’t be
the only person who remembered learning about the Holocaust.
then, panic stricken, he realized that only a powerless Natural
would have the same memory as he. The knowledge of the Enhanced
probably matched what he found on the library shelves, and the Enhanced
had all the power in this country and most of the world. Naturals,
like Ben, were people who eschewed altering their brains for religious
or aesthetic reasons. Ben didn’t want his mind to be at the mercy
of some corporation operating a computer, some corporation who had
apparently been altering history.
then Ben, in an instant, realized the true nature of the Flight.
It was a geriatric holocaust; anyone eighty-five years old would
board a plane and be exterminated somehow, in ways that Ben could
only guess at - probably poison gas that would circulate through
the cabin of the plane.
Why? Why would the elderly be discarded in such a horrific manner?
Ben could only come up with one answer, the burden of Ben’s generation,
the baby boomers, on the long fragile health care system.
take care of them? Why spend billions upon billions of dollars caring
for the elderly who typically needed constant medical attention
when it was much more cost effective to get rid of them?
Ben spent his last days in the library, trying to find a means of
escape, a means to avoid the Flight.
in this world of neuro-transmitters and Enhanced police, Ben had
no means of escape, unless he fled to another country, but that
was impossible. His car had been taken away when he moved to his
apartment, and there was absolutely no way he could buy an airline
ticket and fly away. No airline, no ticket agent, and none of the
airline police would allow him access to a flight anywhere, and
even if he could travel, he couldn’t take his savings with him,
he was only allowed to withdraw a thousand dollars a month. The
government wanted to make sure a soon-to-be passenger left money
behind, rather than spend it away.
on this day, the day he was accosted by the policeman, the library
provided inspiration, a spark of an idea that seemed foolish. “But
what the hell,” Ben said to himself, “anything beats dying.”
was reading the newspaper via the computer screen under the surface
of his favorite table. It was a story about the garbage wars. For
years, Ontario had been sending its trash across the U.S. and Canadian
border into Michigan. But five years ago, Michigan ran out of space;
it had become literally packed with garbage. Now, because of some
environmental agreement signed thirty years ago, Michigan was sending
its garbage into Ontario, northern Ontario, were there was miles
upon miles of uninhabited land.
had a few Enhanced, but not like the U.S., and, more importantly
still, from what Ben could deduce, there was no Asylum Flight; people
could still die of natural causes in Canada.
stayed in the library until it closed for the evening. He walked
home underneath the heavily illuminated sky. He was the only pedestrian
on the sidewalk going to his apartment building, and he was greeted
with an ad about estate planning. Ben had a decent sum of money
left to pass on. He saw an image of his son in the sidewalk screen,
sitting with his own wife and children in what looked like the inside
of a church. Though it was an ad, it seemed more like a governmental
public service announcement, thanking Ben for his service to society,
and what a gift it was to be able to leave money behind to the next
generation, as one would have no use for money after the Flight.
Dad, for the wonderful life and the hard-earned inheritance, we’ll
make sure it goes to good use,” his son said, as he touched the
head of his children, a young boy and a girl already Enhanced. They
always seemed frightened of Ben, as if his Natural intellect made
him seem like a stupid and crude beast.
went home to his apartment, the sound of the television filling
the air in every corner of his two rooms.
would throw himself in the garbage, he decided, and try to go to
hoped and assumed that being under mounds of trash would keep the
signal from his neuro-transmitter hidden, and he hoped and assumed
his body wouldn’t be crushed as it went underneath piles of trash.
what the hell,” he told himself, “I’ve been to Vietnam, I can handle
a little bit of garbage.”
had seen the slow moving freight trains laden with garbage pass
through Royal Oak on a daily basis, usually as the dawn fanned out
across the small city. The trains headed to Detroit, just a few
miles to the south, where the trash was loaded onto cargo ships
on the Detroit River. From Detroit, the trash headed north through
the Great Lakes and into northern Canada.
enough,” Ben told himself as he packed a tote bag with bottles of
water, a few boxes of crackers and cans of tuna. He dressed himself
in layers of clothes and taking all the money he had in his apartment,
(about two grand, money long ago stuffed underneath his mattress)
and shoved it in his wallet.
train tracks cut a diagonal swath through downtown Royal Oak, and
they ran less than a hundred yards from Ben’s building. The train
was forced to move slowly through Royal Oak as it was densely populated.
Ben caught the train the very next morning, painfully hopping onto
a boxcar with his tote bag slung over his shoulders and his arthritic
knees protesting as he climbed the ladder to the top of the car.
The boxcar was open on top with a mound of compacted garbage rising
over the rim.
hoped no one saw him. Though it was early, a few aerocars were traversing
across the sky and Ben was too afraid to look up and see if any
belonged to the police.
no one seemed to notice. Ben allowed himself to drop into the mound
of trash, and he slid into the corner of the boxcar, his body hidden
in the shadow cast by the boxcar’s walls.
smell of the trash was overpowering, almost nauseating. Ben started
to gag, but then he remembered Vietnam where he smelled things much
up Bosworth,” Ben told himself. “It’s just a pile of trash, it ain’t
like a pile of dead bodies covered in maggots.”
made himself comfortable as the train reached the Detroit River,
and the boxcar sat in a freight yard for almost two days before
an ancient crane loaded it onto a large freighter.
had always loved the water. He liked taking his son boating and
fishing in the northern part of the state when his son was a small
child. He desperately wanted to climb to the top of the garbage
and stare at the water and at the shore as the freighter sailed
slowly and surely through the Detroit River, north into Lake St.
Clair and into Lake Huron.
he couldn’t. Even as the boat sailed into the open water of the
Great Lakes, the sounds of aerocars and helicopters and airplanes
littered the sky, and Ben couldn’t risk being seen. He didn’t want
to be caught. He didn’t want a swarm of Enhanced police to grab
him and drag back to Royal Oak and force him onto some airplane.
days passed as the boat headed north and Ben imagined a change in
the climate. The air was less hazy and cooler than it was around
Detroit and Ben could smell its freshness even though he was surrounded
by the odors of petrified food, used diapers and other smells distinctly
boat finally docked, and Ben guessed he was somewhere on Lake Superior’s
northern shore. It sounded as if he was docked in a fairly large
city. Thunder Bay maybe, as his mind recalled the maps he loved
to pore over as a child and lately as an old man.
hoped the journey would be over soon. He had exhausted his supply
of food days ago, and he had only a bit of water left, not to mention
the results of his own bowel movements and urination that lay scattered
around his corner of the boxcar. Ben could hear the busy sounds
of the dockside; the whine of forklifts zipping along the pier,
the hoarse voices of longshoremen shouting directions and insults
at one another and the lapping of the water against the hull of
the boat and the concrete wall of the pier.
at last,” Ben said audibly, impatiently waiting for the boxcar to
be lifted out of the boat.
had never considered his options at this point. How would he separate
himself from the trash? How would he find shelter before he would
be taken on what he guessed to be a train, getting dumped somewhere
in the nearly uninhabited wilderness of northern Ontario?
worked out a rather crude plan. He would climb to the top of the
trash heap as the boxcar was lifted out of the boat. He would then
scan the dockside in an attempt to scope out the lay of the buildings,
and he would drop himself out of the boxcar as soon as it hit the
ground, landing on the side away from the crane, hoping no one would
see him. He imagined himself quite the sight; an old and stooped
man stained with the color and odor of a ton of refuse, a sight
that would be sure to frighten an unsuspecting longshoreman.
boxcar rose into the air just hours after the freighter docked.
Ben felt a tinge of exhilaration as he rose into the air, not unlike
his first airplane ride so many years ago, the thrill of taking
off into the air for the very first time still quite a happy memory.
boxcar rose into the air, and Ben eased his stiff body onto the
pile of trash, and squinted his eyes against the sun. It was the
first time he had been out of the shadow of the boxcar’s corner,
and he tensed his body, waiting for the descent onto the pier.
the descent didn’t come.
boxcar remained suspended in the air for several minutes, and Ben
could hear the crane’s ignition shut off.
rose from the base of Ben’s stomach and up his throat, causing him
to vomit. He wondered if he had been discovered, but he would soon
wonder no more.
black and unmarked and very official looking Lincoln aerocar approached
Ben from the Thunder Bay skyline.
aerocar stopped just above the boxcar, and it’s hatch opened up,
allowing a ladder made of rope to drop to the boxcar.
man in a blue, one-piece uniform climbed quickly and deftly down
the ladder, and Ben thought he looked familiar.
man landed on the trash heap softly and with a smile.
have a ticket for you Mr. Bosworth,” the man said with that Enhanced
leer Ben loathed. The man was fifty-something, squat and muscular
and broad shouldered, with a military style crewcut and silver wings
pinned to his chest.
fear grew even more as he recognized the man.
was the pilot from the talk show Ben watched the day before his
last trip to the library.
backed away from the man, to the edge of the boxcar.
by the way Mr. Bosworth,” the pilot continued, as Ben leapt to the
edge of the boxcar, his frail body swaying in the cool northern
looked at the pilot with hope in his eyes.
Ben answered quietly.
Birthday!” And the pilot rushed at Ben, causing him to fall backwards
onto the concrete dock below.