~ Spotlight ~
It’s 2125. Aging is a thing of the past, but personal memories and desires are now under corporate management. At the youthful age of 111, Jenda Swain is content with her life and her career, when an unexpected encounter with an old woman forces her to question her own identity, to try and discover the woman she once was and might yet become.
The café was down a couple of side streets, in an area of Dallas Jenda never went to, but she thought she might have been there once before. She couldn't remember. Without looking at the menu, she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with fried potatoes and sweet tea. It was plain food. She was halfway through her meal, savoring the anonymity afforded by this out-of-the-way eatery as much as the greasy fare, when she noticed the woman who had turned on her stool at the café’s counter to stare.
The woman was old. That in itself was disturbing. Nobody got old anymore, not since Chulel – the drug that prevented aging – had come on the market a hundred years ago. Jenda, at 111, was as fresh and vigorous as she had been in 2035 when, at the age of 22, she had received her first annual Chulel treatment. Jenda’s grandmother was 165, but appeared no older than she had been when she began taking Chulel in her mid-sixties. What was this old woman doing in Jenda’s world?
Jenda turned away, but she could still feel the woman’s dark eyes boring into her, probing. Jenda couldn’t help herself; she looked again. When the woman saw her looking, she smiled.
“Zujo!” Jenda swore, quickly returning her attention to her unfinished sandwich. It was too late. Taking the look as an invitation, the woman dropped down from her counter stool and shuffled over to Jenda's table.
“You're Jenda Swain,” she said, cocking her head to one side and narrowing her eyes. “God, you look the same as you did in high school.”
“Excuse me?” Jenda sat up straighter and used her best business voice.
“Of course you don't remember,” the woman said, dragging out the chair across from Jenda and sitting down heavily. “Nobody remembers much of anything anymore.” She shrugged and looked down at her hands. Jenda looked, too. The woman's hands were wrinkled, misshapen, and covered in brown and red splotches. “I remember you, though,” she continued, looking up into Jenda’s face. “My god, you were a firebrand back then. I idolized you and your boyfriend, you know. Such temerity! The things you did...” The woman refused to turn away. “Do you still paint? You always had your mom’s gift for art.”
“I think you must have made some mistake,” Jenda said quietly, fighting to modulate her voice against the tightening in her throat. “You may know my name, but you clearly don't know me. Nothing you are saying makes any sense at all.” Jenda felt her cheeks warm as she flashed on an image of herself with an easel and paintbrush. Her last bite of sandwich seemed to have lodged somewhere near the base of her esophagus. “Now, would you please go on your way? Leave me alone.” Jenda blinked, shuttering herself away from this intrusive presence.
The woman's face clouded and she leaned forward, looking Jenda squarely in the eye. “You need to ask more questions.”