2037, Lujiazui, Financial District of Shanghai, People’s Republic of China
The moon seemed a wonderous orb that night; an illustrious possessor of Heaven painted on the canvass of a sleek sky. Joseph felt Shanghai’s night chill, traversing The Bund, taking refuge in a black oilskin coat. He was in a gloomy mood, in disrepair, but revered the moon above the Lujiazui skyline as if it were cosmic skylight disco ball affixed in the velveteen rafters by God. A smile flitted across his face but quickly dissipated, for cloud cover partly veiled the visage above and brought forth an inner turmoil bred from overreaching cynicism.
His stock price, from the Shanghai Stock Exchange and halfway around the world to Wall Street, had been plummeting over the last few month, proof for Joseph Phoenix’s detractors that hubris is a specter unseen and unheard by those under its spell. And so now he flitted in and out of the mill of denizens the likes of which centuries ago would have been agronomists. Not daytime professionals in filial admiration with megalithic constructs built for posterity.
Joseph removed his hand from the right pocket of his jacket and tugged at a jade ear piercing, the evening moon crystallizing the emerald jewel in optic strobes; a virtual broadcast in concurrence with his marigold lion mane that he was indeed the muse of finance. The captain of glittering castles made of numbers, the seventeenth century agronomist cultivated through a nineteenth century industrialist, alchemically smelted and extracted to assume his psuedomorphic final form: the twenty-first century thunderhead overlord.
Joseph leaned against a rail overlooking the river sparkling under angled streams of light and smoked and inhaled the wafts of gray gas from his burnished cigarette as if the cloudy mist, noxious and foreboding, was a vital nutrient advertised to stave off death. Beyond the readout of his bio lens, shuffling through news stories and figures with his left forefinger, the Huangpu River drifted in imperceptivity, the surface’s sheen like ribbons of white phase shifters oscillating. The Lujiazui Financial Area never ceased to give him hope, despite the recent shortcomings, despite the surge of catecholamines revving his engine. It was an easy way out of the pain. Easy and free.
She sidled gracefully behind his figure, her hair lustrous and shining under that gravitational crater goddess. It was as if Denise reflected the ebullience of every lunar deity, but Joseph’s senses were electric and wired, and most people and things and testaments to the bounty of humanity sung rhapsodies, the effect of which were like eclipses against Neuromodulation.
“It’s serene, isn’t it?” Joseph said wistfully. He flared his nostrils and smelt the alloyed air despite the fact that Shanghai’s level of air pollution had dropped significantly over the past decade due to the emergence and success of clean energy companies, sprouting biotech firms, and continuing infrastructural and vertical development across the megalithic sprawl.
“Serene when you’re doped up, Joseph,” Debra said, her sweet voice euphonic and fiery all at once. Maritime vessels like magnetic maidens of the river churned along the water’s brilliant surface; saintly vesicles phosphorescently neon like evolving symbiotes. Joseph kept a watchful glaze, rose his shielded arm in a ponderous arc, and regarded the time. A bio enhanced Horus watch strapped around his thin wrist extended its gold hands at ten and two as under the impetus of something unknowable. Ten minutes past ten. He softly spoke to it like a brimming relic. Said some sort of command. A holographic display then rose from nothing, blue and calming.
“Haven’t seen that one on the market yet,” Debra said, trying hard not to be fascinated by the blue light’s beauty, keeping her stately gaze steady on the waterline but occasionally stealing a glance at the conjured lively animation.
“Prototype,” Joseph acknowledged, his tone absent of the pride one should feel when showing off a creation of such timely magnitude. The Oriental Pearl Tower was stark and lit brightly. Joseph rose his wrist and the translucent display was superimposed on the Tower and financial center ahead. The hologram undulated wildly and disappeared for a few seconds and then reformed.
Debra gasped, her eyes widening and bulging in awe. It was as if perplexities from myth had been made incarnate. Joseph seemed to sense her reaction, for he very slowly swiveled his pale face in her direction, flitting a subtle smile, alluring.
“Joseph,” she managed to say, her voice quavering, “what have you done?”
The crowd, hundreds if not thousands spreading in either direction on the Bund, hadn’t noticed the spell conjured being before them. It was like nothing Debra has ever seen, a cornice of holographic tendrils alive, omens of amazement and horror.
Joseph clicked a button on the side of watch. The display vanished. All that was left was the watch. He stretched out his hand and offered his wrist for Debra to see.
“Originality must remain ignorant of repercussions. Bio-tech can only advance humanity if those that wield its power assume the risk, however dangerous they may be. Many of the world’s most titanic discoveries and implementations came at a great cost. The industrial revolution left true artisans bereft of work and purpose. But we wouldn’t be where we are without it. Steam powered printing machines increased literacy rates, and this great city in which we live is a direct result of the resultant urbanization thus following those mechanized revolutions detrimental to the livelihood and wellbeing of old ways of life. Handcrafted art and materials are revered today as they are vestiges of a pastoral and forlorn way of life.
“Political participation increased at the expense of the horrible working conditions for children. The business class incepted by the widespread adoption of mercantilism by governments created a class holding wealth to invest in the growing dominance of machines to churn out products quickly and cheaply. Let’s face it. Our standards of life have only increased in the two centuries plus at the expense of others, whether they be cultures, ideologies, or people.”
Debra was nonplussed. Was this the man she had fallen for so many years earlier? Those years of love and bliss and fidelity?
“The unions will fight you, Joseph. You know that,” she said worryingly. “This isn’t straight tech powering your devices any longer. This is almost purely based on biology. On living organisms, many of which are unstable and not properly studied before commercial use.”
Joseph angled his head up, taking to heart Debra’s words of warning but enraptured by the stars dressing the firmament. There was no chance for a change of heart.
“Antibiotics ensured the progression of humanity and civilization as whole where they were disseminated and implemented. Imagine a world without them?”
“Don’t equate the benefices of modern medicine with…that,” she said acidly, pointing a slim, ringed forefinger at the watch. “Bacteria develop resistance, rendering our marvels of modern medicine useless. The coming plague may be insurmountable! We have no viable method of resistant against whatever powers and is molded by the tech in your watch.”
“Well, it’s not as if a hivemind controls it. I mean them.” Joseph reassured her. The blood was beginning to pump more freely, and he felt warm to the touch. Debra’s hair, riotous and winding and altogether seeping sex, made him regret meeting her when in such an inebriated state of mind. Debra’s eyes were beatific beams that cut through the dazzling crystal of Shanghai, a metropolis dendritic with sleek surfaces of connective tissue under flashes of energy like contractions of muscle. A living, breathing, exothermic organism alien to the past, harbinger to the future.
It was now 10:30. The retirement party was about to begin. Joseph tapped at the watch’s crystal with his forefinger and nodded. Debra nodded back.
“Your father expects you there tonight, Joseph.”
“I don’t have a technicolor dream coat for him, if that’s where you’re going with this conversation.”
“I’m saying that it is time for you to surmount those obstacles. The British? They’ve had their way with China for centuries. It’s time for a proper firm to do business in the Orient.”
“I’m not sure I enjoy the tone you’ve taken on, Deb.”
“Your father warned me of this.”
“Of your desire for immutability; it runs in your family.”
“Our family,” Joseph said, and pressed his lips to hers. She kissed him but pulled away as a camera flash etched their moment of embrace for fifteen seconds of fame in a local tabloid.
“I told you never to do something like that in public,” Debra said harshly, breaking the embrace, huddling in her black coat and watching Heaven’s stars light the night. Joseph alighted his gaze back on the watch, a gift for his 21st birthday. It had been fourteen years; fourteen long, arduous years of study at the best institutions: Harvard, Oxford, Columbia, Cambridge. Joseph could recite the money markets in his sleep but preferred to keep to himself, for a dichotomous man such as himself–ever the artisan, reluctantly the intellectual, and contemptibly the scion of a business magnate—ingratiated himself to the powers that be with positive diatribes proclaiming the absolute majesty of forward thought, exclaiming how the past was nothing more than the shade of world gone mad.
Debra dickered with her long locks of golden, threadbare hair that undulated with the polarity of Shanghai, the financial bastion ordaining a hive minded existence where the confluence of profit and ruin blended together in an amalgamation of sordid, and paradoxically, booming nefarious enterprise.
“Joseph, let’s go, babe. Your father beckons.” And as if answering a summons from a demiurge whose deistic, mystic fancies curtailed the capacity for rational thought, Joseph deactivated the watch and set out to claim his fortune, transmigrating an epochal paradigm shift.