A.R.I.

Wow, last story of March already. Time really does fly. Anyway, to the point. This week it is a Sci-Fi story, but one where no one is really the hero. Some characters you might like more than others. However, none of them are meant to be heroes. They are meant to be ordinary people. Apart from that I’ll say its a bit of a tragedy, sort of, and that it involves the idea of age regression. Not getting anymore than that. Want to find out more, you’re going to have to read the story. Enjoy!

The room, if it can be called that, Marin finds himself in is not at all to his tastes. Truthfully it is little more than a series of temporarily erected partitions inside an expansive hangar type building. Looking up, as Marin does, is all that is needed to prove as much because there are wide flared white lights hanging from long cords which finish a good four metres from the hastily covered floor.

If there is one thing the one hundred and eighteen year old bald man sat in a wheelchair hates most of all it is being kept waiting. Alas, scientists, as brilliant as they might be, are not the best timekeepers. In fact, in Marin’s long life he thinks they might be some of the worst. Perhaps a harsh criticism that not all deserve, but one he feels fitting.

And who is likely to argue with one of the wealthiest men in the history of the world?

He doesn’t keep track of such things, though if he did he would find himself third currently, not that the ranking does much to convey the sheer magnitude of his wealth.

Many publications will claim a net worth of this number or that. None are ever correct. Even close to the real value of what he possesses. It makes him chuckle again thinking about it, as it always does. Still, as yet he has not established how it is these journalists come up with the figures that they do. True, not all his earnings are publicly available, but even with those numbers it is as if they have never done maths before in all their lives.

An unsteady wrinkled paper thin skinned right hand rubs at his stubble lined chin. It’s a habit he adopted in his youth when he’d first started to grow facial hair.

Part of him regrets having never grown a beard, regardless of the fact that he continues to detest them in no small part because of the scale of maintenance required to keep them in a manner that avoids the owner looking homeless. A problem he witnessed firsthand when his first love, Paolo, battled daily to maintain the beard he had cultivated to frame his jaw line.

And it surely was a process similar to cultivation from what Marin had seen of it.

Realising his mind has wandered off track from its previous pathway, something that he has found to be more and more common in these last few years, he switches back. Though, not before taking a quick, for him, glance at the exquisite watch which is fastened around his bone thin wrist. His arm falling back into a resting position across his lap as a sigh escapes his thin dark lips.

What is taking so long? He queries mentally without hope of receiving a response, which is just as well as one is not at all forthcoming.

Back to my fortune, he thinks only for a sly smile to creep across his face. Clearly these publications do little in the way of fact checking. If they did they would reach a fortune estimate of more than 900 trillion dollars, still a tad short of his true fortune, but if they came out with such a figure he would at least be mildly impressed. Still, all the money he has doesn’t stop some from wasting his time, unfortunately.

In his youth time wasted was annoying as; in his eyes it meant a loss of money, revenue, fortune. Nowadays he despises waiting for wholly different reasons, chiefly the scarcity of time he has left.

A turn of his head reminds Marin what the décor, if it can be called that, around him is. At the sight of it he shakes his head, barely perceptibly, prior to taking note once again at how the reflections of everything are heavily distorted in the face of the cold stainless steel surfaces that are the cupboards, drawer sets and tables. To him they are placed in a fashion he would call anarchic but he suspects, more hopes really, their locations mean something to those that use them.

Continuing his observation of the room around him he wonders what the space is typically used for. As far as he can see, his eyesight might be failing but he is far from blind yet, there are none of the expensive pieces of tech he would expect. And he should know seeing as he is the one who forked over for a good number of them; all in hopes of this bearing some fruit.

At one time he hoped this facility, he isn’t sure he should call it that really but can think of no better moniker, would prevail before he got to a point in his life where his health would be in constant decline. No such luck. You see, Marin Alexander Wren’s health is in altering rapidly and not in a positive manner either. It’s why he is wheelchair bound with only limited, for wholly different reasons, movement from a little above his midriff upwards.

His doctors, the best money can buy, did explain to him what had occurred, the reasons, the cause. He recalls none of it. Didn’t think it was necessary to make room for in his old head. After all, isn’t that what medical records are for? He thinks so, which is why he asked what questions felt most prudent at the time and then discarded the information which seemed irrelevant.

At the end of the day normal people, none medical types, would not understand if he explained his ailments in the proper vernacular and so what was the point in being able to regurgitate them? None whatsoever was his determination then and still is now.

Bored of surveying the cold hostile looking furniture of purely boxy utilitarian design, Marin considers checking his watch once more when all of a sudden he hears footsteps. A grumble escapes his lips about having been kept waiting, not that it stops him from ensuring, to the best of his limited capabilities, that he is presentable.

The elderly suit wearing wheelchair bound mega wealthy man adjusting himself in his electric chair seconds before a pair of white coat clad figures glide into view and announce, “Apologies for the delay Mr Wren, we were in the middle of…”

A swift wave of the hand is followed by, “I don’t want your excuses. I have no time for such things. The matter is what it is. So, get on with your report if you would. My time is short. I’m well aware of that.”

The older of the lab coated pair, a man in his late thirties with greying black hair, goes to speak.

“Do not give me an update on my expected longevity.” Spits Marin with glaring hazy amber coloured eyes that have affixed the would-be speaker with what can only be termed a damning stare.

Throats are cleared soon after. Something Marin is overly familiar with when conversing with those who work for him. He cares little if their egos have been bruised or feelings hurt. Results are all that interest him. Though, he’d be lying if he did not admit his belief in this project is waning. Which is, perhaps, quite unsurprising when you’ve been waiting patiently with baited breath for eight long health declining years. Yet, in the beginning he had not been aware that why he felt light headed or weak was his body finally starting to succumb to its advanced age. In that regard Marin Alexander Wren had been an incredibly fortunate human being.  Many of his peers, apart from those who succumbed decades earlier, managed only into their eighties before significant declines in health drastically altered their lives. Made them, Marin is not so delicate as to feel adverse to declaring, shells of their former selves.

All but a small few of them are now dead. Tragic, he supposes, not that he cared for any of them. They were competitors and in true business terms; them dead meant those able to muscle in on areas which drew his interest became seldom. He thinks that might’ve been the point at which his investments multiplied most. After all, with no opposition bidders it became a quick slam-dunk to purchase what he felt served his portfolio. And no, Marin has never allowed anyone to invest on his behalf. Ultimately, it is his money and so why would he wish to have someone who it does not belong to inject capital somewhere on his behalf? He wouldn’t. He doesn’t.

Nevertheless, you are likely wondering; but how has Marin had no competition for he is neither the richest nor the only one with pockets this deep? Well, the answer to that is simple. Young rich people don’t invest in the areas he does, or will. They want quick returns. The old businessman on the other hand cares little for such things. Patience is key, he always says and with age his patience has only grown better. Plus, in his long history of business quick money is generally short-lived; often made from fads that quickly come and even more swiftly depart.

The real money meanwhile is made from long-term investment. Where you buy cheap, ride the wave of uncertainty, then watch them prevail; ascend and then keep climbing. Sure, it’s not really any less risky, but the payouts are so much more when they come, and they do come. However, to claim every investment unfolds in such a manner would be fallacy, they do not. Those are simply the successes, that which generate the most capital. The smaller return investments, long tailed ones, are principally from niche markets or products. Absolutely, the returns from these will never be huge, perhaps they will be barely more than was put in, but success of any size is still success. It adds to the pot, especially when you’ve invested in tens of thousands throughout a lifetime. And that is tens of thousands of successes, not failures.

“Mr Wren…” The younger of the pair of lab coat wearing scientists, a woman with short brown hair in her mid thirties, begins only to trail off far quicker than anyone rightly should. In doing so she suggests to Marin that they are no further forward than they were on his previous visit. He sighs, disappointed. Then he demands, “Get on with it. No need to drag this out. You’ve got nothing. Is that right?”

Defensively the greying man exclaims, “We have plenty Mr Wren, you’ve seen what this project has the potential to achieve. To say we have nothing would be…”

A fresh hard stare of cloudy eyes from Marin are all it takes to quieten the protesting scientist, Colin. For whatever reason Marin has always had a knack for remembering names, most of all those belonging to people he does not get along with. Colin falls firmly into that column, that camp.

Sure he works for Marin and is brilliant but the old tycoon would love to forget his name, if only so he can fumble around dubbing him things which are entirely incorrect. He thinks that would be funny. At least it would to him, but alas that is not how his brain works, even as his body continues its slow shutdown. The inevitable decline to what all living things must one day face, death.

“You might have time to mince words and wax lyrical but I do not, Colin. Remember that and that I am the one who pays your wage as well as for all that surrounds you.”

A single gulp from Colin is the sum total of his reply. Marin does not hear it but from his lower position he does see the man’s Adams Apple leap up and down, as if doing a dance.

Resisting the urge to smile, knowing he has won this argument which is not, Marin draws in a long breath. Yet, no words are uttered in the seconds which follow. Rather, there is silence and only silence. Colin finds it uncomfortable but dares not say a word. If he were to speak right now, break the peace and quiet, he is convinced Marin Alexander Wren would destroy his life. He has the power to do it, easily, and is certainly the sort that would enjoy it. It wouldn’t take much, for Colin is an already disgraced scientist who is shunned by his colleagues for exactly what the old business tycoon has employed him to make a reality, age regression.

Mady, or Madeline, on the other hand has not been disowned by the scientific community for she made sure to keep her beliefs on such a topic a closely guarded secret. Still, she leapt at the chance to investigate the possibility of making age regression a reality when it was offered to her.

And we are not talking about the kind used in commercials to sell cosmetics. No, we’re talking about the actual reversal of physical age, decay. Something that has been largely laughed into obscurity by the rest of the scientific world as being nothing but a cheap trick, a way to con money out of those willing to invest because mortality doesn’t suit their world view.

Marin would never have counted himself amongst such a collective until the day he had to face the reality his end was drawing near.

Staring death in the face, knowing that it will take hold and cart him away, but feeling he has so much left to do flipped a switch in the old man and made him a convert. From there it had been he who had pursued those capable of making it a reality, potentially. They generally were and are still the staunchest of believers in the field, like Colin. Though, Mady is unsure as to how Marin discovered her secret allegiance with age regression as she had never spoken nor written down a single word about it. Then again it should not have surprised her that a man with the money and life experience of Marin Alexander Wren could seek out those who believed but dare not speak for fear of a ruined professional reputation. Why Colin Jameson had ever thought it reasonable to speak publicly his views continues to baffle her even after all these years of knowing him.

He freely admitted then, and likely would still now if he were asked, he knew the field was ridiculed but pinned himself to it all the same. Some, those they work with, call him brave, but her take… Truthfully, she cannot say what her take is. Part of her feels as though she should praise him for his conviction while the rest of her declares he should’ve been wiser, smarter, more cunning.

Alas, the past cannot be changed. If it could Mady would not have slept with Anderson Stone, another member of their team.

Whatever had possessed her? The drink, she’d had far too much and honestly thought it was a good idea, she thinks looking back. It hadn’t been and anyone who had not consumed liver threatening volumes of alcohol would’ve known it.

Blinking away her thoughts, Mady realises Colin is looking to her. It seems the brilliant disgraced scientist and her partner, in professional terms only, thinks he must defer to her to get him out of this hole he finds himself in. She wants to sigh, exhausted, because more often than not this is what she is called upon to do because Colin does have a tendency to blindly blundered his way into a position he should’ve avoided, seen coming but did not, somehow.

She believes it is principally due to his ego being the size of a planet. In fact, it might rival Marin Wren’s. But unlike their largest backer, Colin has no filter between brain and mouth. Yet, he so rarely fumbles in the presence of his colleagues, which is why Mady has come to wonder if this disconnect is due to some inadequacy Colin feels being in the presence of a man like is sat before them currently. She is no psychologist so cannot say for sure, though is very much feels like that must be the answer. If she ever finds out for definite, who knows how she might, then continual rolling of her eyes shall follow for a dick measuring contest really should be beneath Colin. Especially against their employer, who there is potentially no one that measures up to.

Yes, a couple people in the world are richer. Many are younger and of significant wealth too, but none have the kind of long proven successful track record in business that he does.

Generally the rich rise and fall. Some persist, until they don’t. But through all of that there has been Marin, bucking the trend, blazing an untouchable trail.

If Mady was not an employee she would ask him to tell her stories of what he has seen. Yes, she is fully aware she could read about it in books and likely has, but firsthand accounts from the mouth of someone who was there will always trump other options. Alas, Marin’s health is deteriorating at an increasing rate and they are no further than they were eleven months ago, which is only marginally further than they were two years prior to that. Yet, Mady is aware Mr Wren was not expecting a miracle. Though at this rate Colin and the rest of the team she works with won’t succeed in their lifetimes either, which will almost definitely be shorter than Marin’s. That is why she fixes the old man in his electric wheelchair with a look she doesn’t have a name for and then states, “We are doing all we can Mr Wren but you have to be prepared for the reality that we might not…”

“I know.” The businessman says cutting Mady off midsentence with an expression on his face that is more resignation than irritation.

In that moment Mady doesn’t think one of the oldest men on Earth has ever looked more frail and elderly than he does right now, in this moment. Seeing it shocks her as up until this point Marin has always been a belligerent multi-trillionaire, about what she would’ve expected from someone with his wealth. Now however, all she can see is a desperate old man who is pleading for more time while simultaneously aware he likely isn’t going to get it. From anyone else she would expect a hint of; I have never been refused anything before in all my life. That isn’t what she gets from Marin however. And then it’s gone, replaced by a steely determination that is married with, “I’ll be back in three weeks and there will have to be results, however small.”

Hesitantly, Colin queries a couple notches short of full-blown panic, “And if there isn’t?”

The response offered is not verbal in any way. Rather, it comes in the form of a look. A long, hard one with what the greying scientist takes as; you don’t want to find out, so get back to work.

“We’ll get it done, Mr Wren.” Are the promises which leap from Colin’s mouth without thought.

Right now the greying man would say anything to escape the looks he’s getting. Not only from Marin but now from Madeline Gough-Ince who has murder in her eyes, but evidently wants to keep it hidden from their employer. It’s why Colin does a swift about and then begins to hurriedly scurry away. Mady follows in hot pursuit. Unlike Colin she is not at all fearful, no she is angry. She wants to shout, scream, demand to know why Colin has promised the impossible and how he plans to deliver it. After all, in making the promise he has, at the very least, damned himself and her to failure, but may also have condemned the remainder of their team as well. They too won’t be impressed when they learn of this, she thinks barely able to contain her rage.

When finally they are far enough away that she thinks it safe to exclaim she fills the empty air with, “What the FUCK was that? Why did you make that promise?”

“What else was I supposed to do?” Colin counters watching Mady’s face turn a dark colour somewhere between red and purple.

“Not that! It was a test. You failed it. But worse than that, you handed him a loaded fucking gun!”

“We’ll crack this, I know it.” Says the greying man trying to bluster his way through but failing as Mady can see in his face he doesn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. Rather, that he’s spouting them solely in hopes she is stupid enough to buy them.

If she were not already redlining with anger that would put her over the top but she is and so Colin’s belief she is somehow dumb enough to believe his bullshit will be filed away for another time, a later date.

“Are you going to tell the rest of the team?”

“No. Why would I do that?” Exclaims Colin with a genuinely confused expression carved into his face.

Has it not dawned on him that he might have damned us all to the same fate as him if we fail?

“Because Marin will likely boot us all, kill the programme if we don’t present him with a breakthrough in three weeks! Not even the usual month!”

“Oh.” The sudden drop of Colin’s face as well as the instant disappearance of his usual flush complexion informs Mady that he had not considered the potential ramifications. Or at least hadn’t until she’d pointed them out several seconds ago.

An urge to wring his neck sits at the forefront of her mind. It’s a battle to resist, her hands even twitch as she mentally acts out the process in her head. Then it vanishes leaving her cold and empty.

“We need to get back to work.” Are the last words out her mouth prior to her marching off in the direction of the main labs they’ve been squirreled away in working diligently.

“Mr Jameson…” Hearing his name shouted from behind sends Colin cold, icy. He hopes more than anything he’s imagined the voice calling to him. Yet, there is no choice but for him to check. Still, his shoulders sink in the seconds prior to him turning and finding that yes the voice was real and that Marin Alexander Wren in his electric wheelchair is behind him.

“Mr Wren, what can I do for you? Do you need directions to the ex…” Colin begins trying to act as if he is not gripped with terror and wondering if Marin has heard all that was said with Mady.

“Don’t be a dunce all your life Colin. I need no pointing toward the exit. This building is a hangar not a maze. A blind chinchilla could find its way out of here walking on only one leg.” The tone is exactly as you might imagine it, chastising.

Again Colin gulps. To say he is afraid of the paraplegic businessman is an understatement. Especially now he’s promised something on behalf of his team who, as Mady has pointed out, may all have their lives ruined for the price of failure.

“Miss Gough-Ince…”

“What about her Mr Wren?”

“She is not to accompany you any longer.” The old man’s tone is hard and monotone.

Colin’s jaw drops, visibly, leaving his mouth agape. It’s not a pretty sight in Marin’s eyes, even if he cannot see the full extent of the greying scientists gob. To make matters worse the expression is not short-lived either for Colin is lost for words, confused. He could’ve sworn that of the pair of them Marin vastly preferred Mady to him and yet…

“Are you removing her from…”

“No, I’m not. She’s brilliant. And if you fail to produce results will be given full ownership of this project.” Colin’s feathers ruffle at hearing that, though he does not dare interrupt to protest.

“But she can’t keep digging you out of the holes you make for yourself. She is not your nurse maid regardless of the fact that she does it because she is well aware that you and I don’t see eye to eye. Truthfully, we both know it, but her job is not that, so I’m removing the issue of her covering for your mouth. How you inform her is up to you, I care little except for results.”

Without pause Marin slams one of the sticks of his electric wheelchair hard to the right, the wheels angle and spin turning the chair a little under a hundred and eighty degrees. It’s enough and just as Colin is shaking himself free of his disbelief and closing his mouth Marin is racing away. He does not look back, nor call out any final parting words. In his mind the meeting is over. It was as he expected, fruitless. Or had been until the point at which the chief scientist on the age regression project, perhaps the most brilliant of all, in regards to said field, agreed thoughtlessly to his ultimatum. It had been a fifty-fifty as to whether he would. Either way Marin would consider himself the winner. After all, he’ll either get results or won’t. It changes little, other than who might head the project going forward three weeks from now.

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