I’ve never been convinced that a man should know the future. There’s something unnatural about it. Even the small peek at your own personal future that the Destiny chip provides always raised more questions than it answered. I’m glad my father died before all of this happened. He used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow; there’s plenty enough of that for today.” And he was probably right.
But a job was a job. And when you are a public relations professional like me, sometimes you end up sleeping with strange bedfellows. I was thinking about just that as I rode the elevator up to the 150th floor of the Destiny Tower for that morning’s meeting. It was the meeting that opened my eyes to what we were really involved in. It was the morning—and the meeting—that opened everyone’s eyes.
As I thought about the Destiny chip embedded in my own body, I unconsciously scratched my left forearm where it had laid under the skin since I was five. These days everyone got theirs embedded at birth, but the Destiny chip didn’t exist when I was born, so I caught it at five when the chip became mandatory.
The elevator doors opened and I stepped out into the usual busy office setting. I left the quiet of the elevator for the bedlam of noise in the office. Margie was sitting at the receptionist desk. She winked when I stepped up to the desk, and I winked back. She tilted her head toward the conference room, and whispered: “They’re waiting for you.”
I nodded and made the left turn into the massive conference room with its picturesque view of the Manhattan skyline. The custom-made mahogany table was made to accommodate 40 people at a time, which always amazed me, especially since the day I heard it was a solid piece from a single tree. Today I saw that there would be only four of us. At the far end of the table sat Brennan Sheldon, CEO of Destiny, Inc., and our corporate attorney, Emily Watson. I didn’t recognize the fourth person, who sat fidgeting next to Emily.
I paused for a second, caught off guard.
“Jonathan, come in,” I heard. Mr. Sheldon waved me over, and I hiked over to the other side of the cavernous room.
“Just four of us?” I asked, still surprised.
Mr. Sheldon nodded. “When you hear what I have to share with you, you will understand why.” He gestured at the fourth person. “I don’t know if you have met Dr. Handley Brookings. He’s from Quality Control.”
I sat down across from Emily and to the right of Mr. Sheldon, who turned to Brookings and gestured for him to speak. He cleared his throat and started his story.
“One week ago, Heinrich Saars, one of our technicians in the nursery at a hospital in Berlin noticed an abnormality. Four out of seven babies that he was responsible for tagging registered the same date, August 12, 2133, seventy-one years from now. The other babies had earlier expiration dates. He reported the abnormality to our department, as he is required to do by policy.
“It was the first time we have had such an issue,” Brookings said. “Curious, I logged into the mainframe and did a query on how many babies had been tagged with the same expiration date: August 12, 2133. Since the beginning of the year, we have had 106,352 babies with that date.”
“So?” I asked. “We tag a lot of babies. There are bound to be some that will expire on the same date.”
“Statistically, it’s something of a speedbump,” Mr. Sheldon said, finally speaking up. “Those things happen.”
Brookings nodded. “It’s similar to having a lot of births on the same day. There are days when a lot of people are born, and there are days when a lot of people…expire.
“And so I didn’t get alarmed at first. Then on a hunch, I asked the mainframe to list the number of babies who were scheduled for August 13, 2033. There were none. I asked for August 11, and there was an average amount. I asked for August 14, and there were none. I went on and asked for total amount of expirations for the rest of the year 2133.“
He leaned forward as if sharing a secret. “There were none.”
I raised an eyebrow, still not understanding the implications. “A software glitch? Something wrong with the mainframe? How about the chips?” I asked.
He shook his head, and I could see that he was upset.
“I ran a diagnostic on all three of them. And then I ran it again, and then a third time. Finally I looked at our entire database—all 3.3 billion tagged people. There was not one single person scheduled to expire after August 13, 2133.”
He stared at me. “In the end I could come to only one conclusion. The world ends on August 13, 2133.”
I stared back at him with his white face, sweat beading on his forehead. Then I looked at Emily, her mouth drawn into a fine line, and finally at Mr. Sheldon, who had the same bland expression he always wore. I stared at them for a long moment, then laughed.
“This is some sort of joke, isn’t it? I mean, it’s got to be. The end of the world? Come on!”
Mr. Sheldon leaned forward. “I am taking this very seriously, Jonathan, and I think you should too. I also have a hard time believing that what we are witnessing is a prediction of our last day on earth. More likely it is some sort of malfunction. But in any eventuality, we need to do some crisis management.”
“I agree,” Emily said, nodding. “Government and industry jumped on to the Destiny bandwagon 25 years ago because we could prove that our chip accurately predicted how long each person would live. Our whole reputation is built on allowing our client base to know without a doubt which day will be their last day on earth. If news of this discovery comes out, it would ruin us and open us up to any number of lawsuits.”
I looked back at Dr. Brookings. “What about this technician in Berlin, this Heinrich Saars?”
Brookings shook his head. “He won’t be a problem. He a loyal corporate man, and we just gave him a hefty raise and promotion, along with a non-disclosure agreement. He won’t open his mouth.”
I looked at Emily. “Do we have any legal obligations to tell Washington about this? I mean, if we really know the day the world will end….”
“We don’t know when the world will end,” Mr. Sheldon said. “That’s just preposterous.”
“Well, what do we know?” I asked. “We know that our chip, which has been 100% reliable up to this point, is now telling us that the last person to die will do so on August 13, 2133. What that tells me is (a) our system is not longer reliable; (b) the world will end on August 13, 2133; or (c) something else is going to happen that we don’t know and can’t foresee.”
I stood up and stared out at the skyline.
“In any of those cases, we have a major public relations challenge on our hands.”
For a long moment, I forgot the others in the room and stared out at the busy New York streets below me. My Destiny chip told me that I was scheduled to die five years before this all happened. Did it really matter when the world ended if I didn’t live long enough to see it end?
For some reason, I felt like it did.