1: Summer Casual, New York City, July 2115
At forty Dr. Kyle Birdin fell in love with a woman half his age. His rival for her affections had just turned 120. His name was John Alex Willis, one of several corporate Shoguns known as the Immortals.
As an undergraduate, Kyle had read the article that coined the term. The piece gushed over the Immortals’ successful investment in longevity technology. Willis appeared in a group portrait that illustrated the cover. All of them had already celebrated their one hundredth birthdays. Not one looked over thirty.
But money, not love, pre-occupied Kyle when he met Willis. The good doctor always needed new funding for Chrysalis, his hyperreal holographic resurrection of an Australopithecus afarensis fossil he had discovered in East Africa a decade earlier. Because of her success, he had become the youngest director of Evolutionary Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History.
But Chrysalis ate up grants quickly, even if she was pure light. Willis chaired the HolbergTyne Foundation, the philanthropic arm of HolbergTyne Group, maker of pharmaceuticals and designer drugs. (Recreational drug use had become legal a decade before Kyle was born.) So when Kyle got the call saying that Willis wished to meet with him, he was elated. He had no idea why Willis’ office called — he had never applied for a HolbergTyne grant — but by then Chrysalis had become quite famous. He had to assume that Willis just wanted to get on the Chrysalis bandwagon.
While waiting in reception, Kyle remembered why he loved New York: the women. One after another passed by looking more beautiful than the next, almost all bare breasted in the Minoan style dresses that had become popular summer casual wear since the City’s climate had become Mediterranean. (Public toplessness had been legal for women in New York City for over 120 years.)
The chill of the air conditioning didn’t seem to deter them. If any men passed, Kyle had no eye for them. He forgot how these big shogunate corporations liked to keep plenty of gorgeous women around. “Geishas” was the epithet their critics liked to use, implying they prostituted their looks rather than ply their professions. Kyle thought it an unfair judgment on women who had no more power than anyone else. To be honest, he wouldn’t have minded a few “geishas” at the museum.
At that moment quite possibly the finest example of feminine perfection he had ever seen in his life stepped through the door and walked right up to him.
“Dr. Birdin, I presume,” she said, smiling and holding out her hand.
“Present!” he said, jumping up and shaking it.
“I’m Margot, Mr. Willis’ executive assistant.”
She stood couple of inches taller than he and had what he could only describe as blazing green eyes. Too green, like a cat’s. Her hair shimmered like spun gold, swooping across her forehead into a ponytail that glowed down one shoulder. She wore a long purple dress that swirled about her knees. Despite the fashion trend at HolbergTyne, her clothes actually covered her torso.
“Glad you could make it on such short notice,” she said, taking her hand back. “We had a little trouble finding you.”
“Someone with your qualifications. And there you were…” She suddenly wheeled around, her dress pirouetting to reveal a pair of Barbie Doll slim legs.
“Let’s go to my office so we can talk.”
Kyle turned to say goodbye to the pretty receptionist, but she had her head down and didn’t notice him. By the time he turned to follow Margot, she was already through the main door, which he caught just in time. She had a good twenty steps on him, but he didn’t rush to catch up. For someone so elegant, she had a provocative walk. Evolution, he thought, that lovely swivel deep in Homo sapiens’ DNA.
She stepped into a room, her office presumably, and sat down at a glass conference table for four. He took a seat adjacent to her. She crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair.
“This is what he looks like,” she said and gestured. The holoprojector hidden somewhere in the room fired up, and Kyle found himself facing the substanceless but opaque bust of a man he recognized immediately. Clean-shaven with dark eyes and a full head of thick black hair, he struck Kyle as boyishly handsome. The nose was perfectly aquiline, the chin pointed, a little weak even. The whole effect reminded Kyle of a Manga character.
“He hasn’t aged much in twenty years,” he said.
“He hasn’t aged much in a hundred years. He’ll turn 121 in the fall.”
“He looks younger than me.” Kyle felt very aware of the lines around his eyes and paunch pressing against his belt.
She smiled patiently. “You know, of course, that Alex is both an investor and a user of a wide range of longevity technologies.”
“He’s pretty casual, really. Quite personable, too.”
“Then call me Kyle.” Kyle smiled. “I don’t put much stock in academic titles.”
“Okay, Kyle.” She smiled back. “What you may not know is that Alex has long had an interest in human evolution.” With another gesture, she brought up holograms of several black stones and waved them in front of Kyle.
“Australopithecine mandible and six molars,” he said and sat back. “Over three million years old if they’re real.”
“Oh, they’re real. Alex owns the largest private collection of hominid fossils in the world.”
“So you know about hominids?”
“I do my homework.”
“And these are his?”
“Yes. Just a small sample of his collection.”
“I have to tell you, I have an ethical problem with private collections. These things belong to the world, not to old rich guys.”
“That’s what Alex believes, too. He ended up with the collection when he acquired one of his many European holdings several decades ago, before you were born.”
“So why doesn’t he give it away?”
“Precisely. He wants to divest of these assets. That’s where you come in.”
“He wants me to peddle them?”
“No. Curate them.”
“At the museum?”
“He knows your work, and I’ve seen your Chrysalis. She’s quite the star.”
Margot held up a tablet showing Chrysalis on the Newsweek homepage.
“The credit goes to some brilliant holographers and AI designers.”
“I’ve also seen your TED Talk at the Hayden last week. In person.”
“Alumna diligens,” he said. “What did you think?”
“You really believe monogamy was the key to hominid success?”
“And the key to Homo sapiens’ success.”
“Do you practice what you preach?”
“I’m a scientist, not a pastor. I don’t preach; I observe, and I see twenty billion humans and maybe two-hundred wild gorillas left. In evolutionary terms, the monogamists have beaten the polygamists into virtual extinction.”
“But nobody takes monogamy seriously in this day and age, not even gay couples.”
“Hominids did, and Homo sapiens ought to. You and I belong to a very successful genus, and in a very real way love has played the key role in our survival. Papa hominid fell in love with Mama hominid and took care of the family as long as Mama hominid could convince him junior was his. Paternity enabled her to have more than one baby at a time. That deal increased the chances of her genes and his surviving to the next generation.”
“Love doesn’t sound very scientific.”
“The technical term is epigamic differentiation. Owen Lovejoy called it over a century ago in the work he did on Donald Johanson’s discovery of Lucy, the first Australopithecus afarensis. I’m really just harking back to discoveries made by Lovejoy.”
“A romantic name for an expert on the hominid heart.”
“Actually, he was a leg man. Johanson specialized in hominid teeth.”
Kyle shrugged. “I guess I’m the soul man,” he said and grinned.
“Interesting theory, I’ll give you that.”
“And I’m sticking to it. Listen…” Alex leaned in closer to her. “How about you and I meet for drink later. We can talk hominids.”
“Business before pleasure, Dr. Birdin.” Margot stood up. God she is long, Kyle thought. “Alex is anxious to meet you — and talk hominids.”