CHAPTER 2. SAFE HAVEN

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Several hours past midnight—he’s not sure exactly how many—Hal stumbles through the formidable front desk security at Haven Tower. The guards purposefully turn their heads down as he walks into the complex, as if they are embarrassed for him—as if they might be able to wipe away his sorry condition by wiping away the record of it. It’s a small show of kindness, as they have known Hal since he was a sweet little boy and they choose to remember him that way, even though he has grown up into an asshole. And tonight, like many other nights, he’s also a drunk asshole. It’s a sadly familiar scene. The only thing unusual about tonight is that tonight there is no girl, nor posse of equally drunk “friends.” Tonight Hal is alone.

As he heads to the elevator, he turns around and yells—“Eyes up, pussies! You’re guarding my building!” It forces them to look up, and when they do he laughs and grins, before the elevator door closes and thankfully removes him from their unhappy sight.

Then, for a few moments, Hal just stands there in the elevator waiting for something to happen. He leans against the wall to control his dizzy balance, aggravated by the Universe for not simply delivering him somewhere—until he realizes he needs to pick a floor and press a button.

Eventually he finds his way to the penthouse he shares with his father on the 75th floor. It’s the only apartment in Haven Tower, perched high above all the labs, research and development centers, conference rooms, and so on that define the core of his family’s company. The apartment was designed so his parents could always be close to their lab and their research.

As he enters the foyer, Hal almost knocks over the priceless Japanese vase that his parents bought during their ReHoneymoon, renewing their vows on their 15th anniversary. Hal used to be more careful and quiet on coming home. When his mom was well, she would usually stay up for him, and sometimes she’d fall asleep waiting. And more than fearing Lianna Haven’s waking wrath, Hal liked watching her sleep. He always thought his Ma looked beautiful and peaceful while she was sleeping.

But Lianna isn’t sleeping here—she’s in a hospital bed across town, lost to her son in the mysterious sleep of a coma. And his dad never waits up for him. In fact, Hal’s never sure if Alec Haven is even home when Hal gets in late.

When Alec is not in the hospital at the bedside of his dying wife, Alec is in Primary Lab 1, the workspace he used to share with Lianna in the bottommost basement of Haven Tower, the same lab where they first invented GAIT, which was in some ways their “perfect child” (as Hal puts it)—the merger of Lianna’s formidable coding and engineering skills with Alec’ formidable understanding of biology and neuroscience. “Making the world a better place through science and technology” as it says in HavenCorp press releases. PL1 has achieved mythic stature by geeks everywhere. Hal hates PL1.

To be fair, Alec spends more time in the hospital by his wife’s side than in the lab or on their research. His grief for Hal’s mother is palpable—you can literally feel it in Alec’s presence. It occurs to Hal that loving Lianna Haven is one of the few things he has in common with his dad.

But walking down the long corridor that passes the living area, Hal is shocked to discover that tonight Alec Haven is neither in PL1 nor at NY Hospital. Tonight Alec is not only here, he is waiting up for his son.

Hal’s first thought is that it’s a tiny mercy that he didn’t bring a girl home.

Dr. Alec Haven sits on a comfy chair in their living room. The lights are dim, and grand floor-to-ceiling windows behind him reveal New York City looming, vibrant and daring and full of lights that illuminate the handsome features of Alec’s rugged face. He begins talking slowly and purposefully, and for a second Hal wonders if his Dad has been drinking—which is ridiculous, because Alec doesn’t drink. In fact, except for the rare glass of champagne to celebrate an accomplishment, Hal doesn’t think he’s ever seen his father with alcohol.

“Hal… How are you, son?”

“I’m ehhhxcellent.” Hal responds, overly exaggerating his drunken state under the misguided hope that it will somehow make him seem less drunk than he really is.

“Hal, I’m not here to lecture you about anything. Not tonight. I’m here because… I need your help.”

“My help. That’s a first.”

“You knew your mother better than anyone. And I think she was found something… and then hid it. I’m hoping you can help me find it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Her research. Our research.”

“Mom would never hide her research.”

“Well… There are factions within HavenCorp who’d like to monetize our findings before we’ve had a chance to fully understand them. As scientists, you know we’d never allow that…”

Alec pauses, considering his next words very carefully—

“Your mother and I may have found a path to immortality.”

A brief moment. Then Hal bursts into genuine laughter, as this is the most ridiculous thing he’s heard in an evening that has grown increasingly ridiculous.

“Immortality, huh? Guess that’s not working out too well.”

“This isn’t a joke, Hal! Have some respect. Your mother is on her deathbed in the service of our research!”

“BULLSHIT!” Hal spits out with a vitriol that surprises even himself. “‘In the service of your research?!?!’ Ma is dying because of a fucking lab accident! She’s dying because of your research—not for it!”

Alec merely scoffs—“Of course. The accident.”

He spits the word quietly back, but with no less vitriol than his son. And just like that, doubt is implanted in the back of Hal’s mind—was it not an accident? Even in his drunken state, Hal knows this doubt will not be forgotten. He may forget parts of this evening, but that doubt will take root like a stubborn, hungry tree clawing for the light. It is the kind of doubt that will grow slowly and surely, and could consume him if allows it. So all Hal can do to suppress it in this moment is to try to dismiss it.

“Whatever. Ma was working on Grid tech.”

“You know your mother didn’t simply work on Grid tech.”

“OK. Grid tech, sometimes as applied to increasing healthspan. That’s still pretty far from immortality.”

“Is it? Your mother and I believe that the very Grid tech she pioneered might be the missing link that Biogerontologists have been searching for for decades.”

Hal pauses as he considers this, surprised to find himself connecting the dots. After a moment, his father adds—

“Biogerontologists are scientists who—”

“I know what a biogerontologist is.”

And Alec smiles for the first time all evening.

“Of course you do. You’re my son. Well, their anti-aging research has always been fuelled by breakthroughs in genomics, with an eye to a pharmacological solution. The hunt for the so-called ‘Immortality Drug’. But what if the key to immortality is more cybernetic? What if the answer lies not in pharma—but in the very Grid tech your mother designed.”

“You’re talking about the ability to upload your conscience.”

“NO! I’m not. I never believed in that rubbish. But with the proliferation of Grid tech and implants, what we are doing is connecting many individual brains directly into a shared digital network—and obviously, that’s going to have long-term effects on the very nature of consciousness itself. It’s going to effect how our brains work. So your mother and I have been studying those effects. And we’re finding… biological implications to using GAIT.”

“Like what?”

“We don’t know everything yet. But it’s clear that using Grid tech has effects in ways no one could have anticipated. And not just in the brain. The effects are undeniable. We’re seeing accelerated neurogenesis, automatic cellular repair, telomere extension. All things tied to possible immortality.”

Alec pauses before adding—“And all things which could bring your mother back to us.”

Hal is surprised to find he actually understands all this, even in his current state. The implications are overwhelming enough that Hal’s instinctive reaction is to turn it into a joke.

“So you and Ma were looking inside the Grid for the Fountain of Youth?”

“Hal!”

“Or is it the Holy Grail? Shouldn’t you be exploring, like, Da Vinci’s tomb? You need to get out of the lab more, Dad.”

“Hal, your mother actually discovered something—maybe something that could even save her life! Her last research is missing, and it wasn’t lost in the accident.”

That word again.

“If that were true—why would she hide any of it?”

“Because if your mother figured out why or how exactly Gird tech is having these biological anti-aging effects, HavenCorp could in theory make an advanced version of GAIT that accelerates them. An immortality device.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“No! But it’s far too early to claim we have anything like that! Not even getting into the moral implications—that’s a whole other can of worms that the Board would likely ignore—but we don’t have the full picture yet! That’s the very point of doing scientific research, and doing it over time. We know that using GAIT has anti-aging effects. That much is clear—and incredibly significant—but we don’t yet know what other effects it might have!”

“And you think Ma did know. Not just how it works. But something about the other effects.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what your mother discovered. But whether or not you believe me on her possible findings, she definitely hid whatever she was last working on somewhere secret. And, you must see that your mother would only have done that if she found something important. Something she didn’t want the rest of HavenCorp to have access to.”

“Including you. Maybe she doesn’t want anyone using her findings.”

It’s the first words Hal speak that truly upset Alec—their intended effect.

“I’m going to ignore that comment, Hal.”

“Of course you are. You always ignore the things you can’t face, or can’t just fix in the lab. Well I’m not going to help you, Dad. Even if I did understand a word of what you’re saying. Or believe in… immortality.”

“Forget about immortality! Wouldn’t you want to help bring your mother back to us if you could? Wouldn’t you do absolutely anything for that?”

“Of course. Of course I would.”

“Exactly. Of course you would. Because you’re our son. And I love you. So just… think about what I’ve said.”

Hal is pretty sure that’s when the conversation ended. Whatever the case, the next thing Hal knows, he is alone in his bathroom, staring at his toothbrush. He does not find the capacity to brush his teeth, and that’s another thing he will regret in the morning.

Trying to hold onto key details of the exchange with his father, Hal remembers how his mom never made him have serious conversations when he came home late and drunk. Instead, she would help him into bed, and tuck him in as if he was still five years old. These days, Hal passes out on top of the sheets, which particularly sucks because winter is approaching and it’s getting cold.

Then, as much as he wishes his stream-of-consciousness didn’t leave his mother and go this place instead—Hal remembers the girl with the big tits at the party, and for a moment he regrets not bringing her home. He’s horny, so he considers pressing his Grid Access Button and trolling the Grid for VR porn. Wisely, he realizes that since he hasn’t the capacity to brush his teeth, he probably wouldn’t be much good at getting off either.

As he lies down on top the sheets, he reaches behind his neck and considers prowling the social networks instead. But he doesn’t really want to do that either. He wishes he knew what he wanted.

Then his mind takes a different tact, and he’s suddenly filled with pride that he didn’t bring Big Tits home. That somehow this act of omission makes him a good person.

Hal desperately wants to go to bed proud of something.

And before closing his eyes and fully passing out, he remembers a fleeting moment at the party where he broke through the haze of Big Tits’ smoke—she wasn’t even inhaling properly—and he found his way to a girl with kind, curious eyes that met his own with what seemed like the thrill of momentary solidarity and recognition.

2a. asha party 079

The memory of this girl and her eyes brings him to a safe place from his childhood—although he can’t recall the specifics of place itself, only the feeling of it and a sense of timelessness. It’s a good feeling, so he does his best to hold onto the image of this girl with the kind eyes as best he can, and he drifts off, finally surrendering to sleep.

He will wake up surprised to feel full of energy, bathed by a sense of warmth and security in the light of the sun.

But like many key details from this drunken evening, he will not recall the eyes that brought him there.

 

You’ve been reading CHAPTER 2 from the new young adult illustrated novel ASHA ASCENDING, ­­­­written by Vivek J. Tiwary with art by Sara Richard. Please FOLLOW this blog to read previous and future chapters, serialized here for free.

Please also LEAVE A REPLY below and let us know what you think– we take our fan feedback seriously! Thanks! – Vivek + Sara

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