Better Off by Lyn McConchie

Better Off
Lyn McConchie

Joe was a nice man. Everyone said so. After all, he paid for his wife’s grandfather to live in a nursing home, didn’t he? They conveniently overlooked the fact that the old man hadn’t wanted to be there. They politely overlooked that Joe made no secret of believing the old would be better off out of it, and he didn’t just mean his life. But then, Joe had money and influence in a small town. It was wise to overlook some things. Joe’s wife’s grandfather had no choice. With a broken hip, no real savings after a lifetime in engineering because his wife had died long and hard, and no employer interested in an old man, he had to overlook a lot until someone new arrived in the expensive home for a short stay. Then he found a friend.

“So why are you here?”

His new friend smiled. “I overdid things a bit. The old ticker isn’t what it used to be.” He sighed. “I’m close too.”

Malcolm looked a question.

“To a scientific breakthrough,” Max told him.

Malcolm Carthew listened with interest. Anything was better than the television but soon he was genuinely caught up in what he was hearing.

“So with this new drive even us old folks could leave earth?”

“Right. It isn’t just the drive. It’s the whole system. No more crushing three or four gravities as we take off. You’re cushioned from all that. I’d been working on the other end of things too. We can build an underground colony for relative peanuts. Have you ever considered just how much knowledge is going to waste in old people? It’s a crime. People junked like old cars when they know so much, have so much experience that could still be of use.”

Malcolm Carthew looked at him. “I know, Max. But old age catches up with all of us.”

“That’s my point. On the moon, the gravity is one sixth that of earth. You weigh about a hundred and sixty pounds, right? Well, up there you’d weigh only twenty six or seven. Your whole system doesn’t work as hard. You’d be rejuvenated, Malcolm. You were an engineer and a good one. Wouldn’t you like to get back to work. Find something interesting and get your teeth into it again.”

He grinned at the suddenly eager look on his friend’s face. “Thought so. Look, I’m leaving here very soon. Come with me. Stay at my place.” No.” he held up a hand as Max mentioned his granddaughter’s husband. “Forget Joe. He’ll just be happy not to be paying for you in here. If he tries to prevent you coming with me, I’ll talk to my lawyers.”

Malcolm Carthew left the home with Max. Once clear of the place he’d hated, he discovered more. That Max was the head of a combine. Men and women of vision who felt that age was no barrier to intelligence. Since many were rich, they were backing Max in his research. Max too was pouring his wealth into his laboratories. Much had already been worked out on a very special project. Over the next six months, more was finalized until at last, two men stood looking at a magazine. Malcolm Carthew found his knowledge and experience had paid off in strange ways.

Max smiled. “Will they go for it?”

“I think so. We’ll take only those with money or some useful training at first. The initial advertising has already started.”

And in a thousand magazines headlines urged families to consider the advantages of the MOON RETIREMENT HOME. Every comfort and care… with the subliminal message of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and ‘up there they can’t criticize how you raise the kids, or handle the business.’

From the deluge of applications, Malcolm’s team weeded out those suitable. The wealthy, the clever, the lateral-thinking aged poured up to the moon, in a trickle at first, then in a flood. Feeling better under the low gravity than they’d felt in a long time, they were easily convinced to work on their specialties again. And work they did… with the fervour of people long denied any usefulness. While on earth thousands of families congratulated themselves on having lost an interfering older member painlessly.

It was barely noticed that so much of the new research, so many of the new devices, came from Moon patents. After all, everyone knew the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It caused hardly a ripple when those on the Moon declared it to be corporate property and under company security. After all, there was nothing up there. Just bare rock and thousands of old folk – most of them senile no doubt. Joe Carthew laughed when he heard about it. He laughed harder when he heard that Moon Inc. was being granted status as a country in its own right.

Quietly Moon Inc. moved on. Longevity research, improvements into the ‘easy lift drive’, studies on the health of the aged. They burrowed deeper into the crust of their world, adding new personnel – all old – by the thousand. Quietly siphoning off the wealth of earth with a hundred patents developed above earth’s head. In half a generation, oldsters out-numbered youth by ten to one. Youth lasts only thirty years at most. With the research of Moon Incorporated, the old now lived far longer and in good health. Un-noticed, the balance had tipped again. Age ruled. Joe Carthew stopped laughing when he realized. But by then it was too late.

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