I’ve been paying sporadic visits to Valentin. He’s become a complete troglodyte; he never leaves his cabin at the riding hall and, on the few occasions he can meet by chance the riding trainees, he goes out of his way to avoid crossing their paths. Only once in a while does he exchange a few words with the other horse caretakers and the trainers, but even this is not really necessary for his job, so no one dares to bother him; no one except for me. I even dare call myself his only friend, so I couldn’t think of leaving him alone during this difficult time of his. I admit that for the rest of us, a breakup is never a big deal, and it doesn’t need much comfort from friends or psychological help, so I can’t know how he feels, but his sadness is so pervasive that I feel sad for him.
The last time I went to visit him, his beard had grown at least five centimeters. It was pitch black, wavy, and soft as his hair, which had grown almost to his shoulders. I had never seen a beard like that in real life. I must admit that, together with the genetic editing out of chronic diseases and undesirable traits in general, genetic engineering also took care of shallower things such as body hair. Most women today don’t grow body hair at all, but some men are still born with beards. It’s a racial thing. As I mentioned before, there are no cultural differences anymore, we all share the same global culture, but there are still racial differences among us. Globalization blurred all races into one long time ago, but thanks to genetic engineering, some recessive genes not only remained phenotypical, but they became prevalent among certain groups. Because nowadays, when it comes to social and political values, we favor homogeneity, but when it comes to entertainment, art or sexual selection, we favor heterogeneity. In practice, this means that people generally choose to pass on a mutated gene that would make the child more unique. The mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor, which gave some people red hair, or the various mutations of the oculocutaneous albinism gene, which gave some people albinism or blue eyes, tend to be passed on to progeny when they appear recessively in one of the parents. This means that practically ninety-nine percent of fertilizations are done in vitro, and only one percent of people decide to have natural babies today. This one percent occurs only in the safest places on Earth, where naturally born people can be easily treated for the eventual illnesses they might inherit. Being naturally born is also sexually appealing today, the same as regression, but the latter condition is a wild card, since there’s no way to treat it or eradicate its negative features, so few people dare to establish a relationship with the regressed.
Among the different prevalent races, such as the redheads, the melanos, the mezomelanos, the albinos, the mezoalbinos, the mongols, the biliverdinos, and the blondes, there are different predilections when it comes to body hair. Among women of all races, there’s a predilection for total lack of body hair, although, some people choose to pass on the lipase H protein coding gene responsible for hairiness to their babies to make them unique. In the case of men, there’s a higher predilection for body hair, especially beards. Around twenty percent of men have subtle facial hair, but only five percent is able to grow beards, and most of them are mezomelanos, although there is also a high number of blonds among bearded men.
I never asked Valentin about his parents, but they must be wonderful people if they gave him such a beautiful trait. It must have been difficult for them to deal with his regression, and I understand why they’re estranged now. It’s not easy to sustain a friendship with Valentin, so I imagine how difficult must have been for them to raise him. He told me only that he’d left his home when he was nineteen and that he visited them once a year. They exchange messages, but they only make small talk and he tells them positive things about his work, he never shares with them anything related to his personal life. “They are the best parents a normal kid could have asked for,” he told me once. “I just don’t want to worry them with my ravings. They accept me the way I am, but they don’t understand me completely. I don’t understand myself completely at times.”
I must confess that I didn’t see it coming. I thought I could handle myself and remain neutral. What I did falls into the category of aiding and abetting regressive misconduct, a misdemeanor penalized with a fine and the interdiction to have further contact with the regressed person. I couldn’t bear abandoning Valentin: He gave me the uncomfortable responsibility of being his best friend when he confided in me so recklessly. Mind you, it’s not a matter of loyalty; we don’t believe in that today. We don’t even believe in unconditional love. A friendship, the same as any other relationship, can easily fall apart today if one of the parts crosses the lines of healthy social interaction. That’s exactly what Valentin did when he begged me to tell him what would be of Milena in the future. I wouldn’t have known about it, were it not for the recordings received from Conrad, so I feel I was tricked into this situation. If I had known about Conrad’s feedback in advance, I would’ve made a greater effort to keep a healthy distance from Valentin. I just simply wasn’t expecting this encounter with him to be so relevant to my book. I had meant this novel as a tool to better your society and inspire you to achieve harmony with nature and each other, but Valentin came into the narrative, twisting it out of any recognizable shape. Now I also understand the important role Conrad plays in this event. He’s also an accomplice, and he’ll pay his own moral debt in the future, but I have more to lose than him, so I’ll commit a felony. I won’t confess to anyone that I gave Valentin information about Milena, that is, I tampered with their future. This secret will die with me, or otherwise, I’ll be condemned not to see Valentin for a period no shorter than two years. I’m cowardly hiding behind the same law I broke, which means that no one who has read this book can reveal this felony I committed. This is no loophole, but simply a symbol of the trust on which our current law is based. The same as a doctor trusts his patient to take the medicine he’s prescribed, the law enforcers trust us to be honest about our actions, since the penalties are only fair to make up for the damage inflicted, and not exemplary or retaliatory. I’m aware of the karmic imbalance I’m creating with this action, which may seem to you just a ripple on the sea. But a small ripple may unchain further chaotic reactions and provoke utter chaos.
I told Valentin that he was abusing our friendship by asking me something I was obliged to keep secret. I explained to him my difficult situation, since I didn’t want to abandon him, and that’s why I risked revealing some sensitive information to him by keeping contact. On my part, I begged him to respect our friendship and to avoid risky subjects about the future, but he insisted. He argued that friendship is above the law and that he wasn’t asking me to give my life for him, but to break a silly law that could save his life. He was right and wrong in his argument. He’s right in the fact that the law is arbitrary, because non-regressed people are allowed to know about their future. It may look silly, the same as a wild deer looks to you when it runs away desperately at your sight. But the deer doesn’t know of your intentions and their reaction might not be that silly if instead of you they saw a hunter. We simply don’t know enough about regression, so this silly law is nothing more than a precautionary measure, which I was forced not to obey. I told him something which to me had seemed irrelevant until that moment, but which took full meaning when Valentin mentioned it. The revelation came when he asked: “Will she keep faithful to me, even if we can’t be together, or will she abandon ship and meet someone else?”
I hadn’t thought in those terms before. Indeed, by rule we abandon ship when it’s sinking; it’s the most reasonable thing to do. But when Valentin pronounced it, with his meaningful expression, I understood that it’s not the only way; that we still have an option: to sacrifice ourselves. Bear with me, because to me what Valentin had just said sounded as incongruous as the hunger strikes organized in your era. In today’s society, euthanasia is a human right, so you can announce it and dramatize it as much as you want, but it keeps being your individual choice. No one interferes, although inside the cities nanobots are always inclined to save your life against your will, just to be on the safe side. It’s therefore customary to perform suicides in the wilderness, so as not to take away nanoresources from other people who may actually need them. As I mentioned earlier, those who commit suicide either no longer have the will to live or have some neurological condition that doesn’t allow them to function properly anymore. But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that I decide to become a tyrant and oppress someone. I know they can kill themselves, so I need some other leverage than mere violence. I need to give them some allurement, such as comfortable enough conditions and the possibility to fulfill their biological needs. This is the system that Marx called: the proletariat. In such a system, if some people decide to kill themselves by cutting their veins open or stopping eating, I will still have control of the mass, which will remain as comfortable as frogs in warming-up water. Also, as a means of protest, killing themselves is the worst choice they have, because it’s equal to giving up and taking the coward’s way out. Hunger strikes were the result of badly implemented dictatorial plans, which means that they were an erroneous reaction to a distorted reality.
I told Valentin that Milena would have a lover in two months, but it would be just a fling because Valentin will eventually end up with her. I thought this news would calm his anxiety and that he would come up with some outdated romantic theories, such as: If you love something, let it go, and if it comes back to you, it’s yours. But Valentin’s reaction showed me that regression is really unpredictable and untreatable. He became furious the moment I told him that. I thought that this would be proof to him of his fallacious romantic idea that they were “meant to be.” I thought I had understood his way of thinking and that this was what he wanted to hear. I really thought I was giving him a sedative, but instead, I gave him a stimulant. He said, to my astonishment: “If she dared be with another man, that actually means that we aren’t meant to be together.”
I was dumbfounded because I’d read the reports that indicated that they would end up together, but then I tried to soothe myself, thinking that Valentin would change his mind later and forgive Milena for her indiscretion. However, I wasn’t able to calm myself down. A chill immediately ran through my spine when I considered the possibility that I had ruined their happy future; that maybe Milena would have decided not to tell Valentin about her affair with another man, and that that would’ve been an indispensable reason for them to up together. I didn’t know what to say, but I started crying, which I had never done, except during films and when my favorite grandfather died:
“Forgive me, Valentin,” I said “Please hate me instead of her. I shouldn’t have told you about her personal life. I had no right.”
“Being a good friend doesn’t need forgiveness. And I still mean that Milena and I are meant to be. The fact that you revealed her intended actions to me before it’s too late assures me of it.”
Only then I understood the full scope of my mistake. Valentin would try to change the future, messing up the fabric of reality: free evolution. He would try to skip one step: The lover Milena needs to finally choose Valentin. Without this step, it would be tantamount to kidnapping someone and forcing them to become his lover, just out of the conviction that they’re meant for each other. To rush the natural course of something is such a grave mistake that we haven’t created laws against it, the same as no laws against genocide existed before the Holocaust, or the same as you don’t have laws against drinking in private or performing cosmetic procedures on yourselves, because you believe that people can be allowed to use their own discretion and that they know better than ending up in an alcoholic coma or looking like plastic monsters.
I tried to dissuade him from confronting Milena about this, but to no prevail. I gave Valentin the sad ultimatum that, if he tried to interfere with the natural development of Milena’s life, I would be forced not to see him again. He stoically accepted this fact and didn’t try to change my mind. He even said: “I know I’m going down a dark and hopeless path, and I wouldn’t ask you to follow me. As much as I will miss your soothing company, I’m glad that we’re parting now as friends and that I can say, in my last days, that there was someone who really understood me. Take care, Efrain, and if destiny puts us together again, I hope it will be in merrier circumstances.”
“Let’s not say goodbye, then Valentin,” I said, “if there’s really nothing I can do to stop you. Maybe you’re right in everything, then, and I’ve been wrong all this time. Maybe I was a tool of this destiny you strongly believe in. I’d be glad if that was the case. Then the only thing left to me would be to wish you good luck and hope for the best. Let’s say goodbye for now, but not forever.”
“Yes, my dear friend. Goodbye for now, then.”