Alec Reed was at the end of his rope. At age 62, he could no longer keep up with the younger software developers at Intellidrive and accusations of “ageism” or not, if his performance fell too much further, he’d be out of a job.
Before the divorce, he’d have just put in for early retirement, but when Neena left him, she took just about everything including a non-trival percentage of their savings. Now he needed to keep working another five years at least if he hoped to maintain even a halfway decent portion of his current standard of living once he decided to retire.
Getting older was a curse in an industry of the young. Alec’s thinking, reasoning abilities, problem solving skills were all lagging behind the twenty-somethings that were being hired at a startling rate by Intellidrive.
Seniority and a generally good work record kept Alec at the company for the past twenty-two years, but his new, young supervisor wasn’t letting him rest on his so-called laurels. Alec was supposed to produce on par with his junior peers and if he couldn’t, he was easily replaced.
That’s why he had stolen his son’s supply of New Brain.
Technically, it was only a caffeine supplement that was processed through a proprietary method by PharmaCorp, but the results as reported by the science and news media communities were nothing less than phenomenal.
Concentration, alertness, spatial memory, productivity were all enhanced. His son Mike said that taking New Brain for even one week gave him the reputation of being a mental “Superman” at the office.
It eliminated anxiety, energized and focused his thoughts, maintained high energy productivity all day long, and even had Mike bouncing out of bed before the alarm went off eager to start his day.
Too bad the enhancement could only be legally prescribed to people ages 18 through 35. Although there were no recorded side effects for people in that age range, the older you were, the less effective New Brain was supposed to be.
Alec figured that was bullshit and since he had nothing to lose anyway, he got into Mike’s medicine cabinet while visiting him and the family for dinner last Sunday and took what he needed.
He’d tell Mike eventually, but he had to try New Brain first. If it worked, he’d do anything to get more, even beg Mike to share his supply. Alec had to keep going, get his pesky little supervisor Tom off his back, and show the rest of those punks at work what it was like to program alongside a guy who’d been coding when their parents were still in diapers.
After the first week on New Brain, Alec felt twenty years old again. Oh, his body still had the usual aches and pains, but his mind had never been clearer. He noticed every detail around him without letting himself become distracted from his main tasks. He coded almost twice as fast and without any errors. He had time left over each day to help the younger guys with their unfinished work.
The confrontation with Mike had been ugly and Alec hated betraying his son like that, but Mike was thirty and couldn’t understand his Dad’s dilemma. His wife Grace got him to grudgingly forgive Alec since after all, Mike had already established a good reputation at his job and he could afford to coast for a while.
Alec gained a four-week reprieve and had that long to convince Tom that he was still a valuable member of the team.
After that, he wasn’t sure what arrangement he could make with his son. He only hoped they could work something out or Alec would be out of a job and living on dog food.
At the end of the fourth week, Tom actually shook Alec’s hand and said he was proud to work with such a talented and experienced programmer. Alec was amazed himself that New Brain had worked so well since it wasn’t recommended for older patients. He was living proof that the drug was just as good for older people as for youngsters. PharmaCorp could make a fortunate marketing the stuff to the over-50 crowd, so why didn’t they?
It was four weeks since Mike had stopped taking New Brain but aside from reporting some increased fatigue at the end of the day and lessening of focus, he seemed to be doing well. No withdrawal symptoms from stopping the drug cold turkey and he kept most of his amplified cognitive abilities.
But Alec’s supply of New Brain was exhausted and Mike said he was taking the first two weeks’ dosage for himself to get his boost back. He’d give the second two weeks to Alec.
Two weeks! How was Alec supposed to survive for fourteen days without New Brain? He hoped he could coast a bit. After all, Mike did. The lessening of the effects for his son had been very gradual and only at the end of the four weeks did he experience noticeable loss of concentration.
Alec, on the other hand, discovered his mental confusion beginning to return after being off of New Brain for just two days. By the end of the work week, his productivity and concentration had fallen off to their original levels. Not only that, but his feelings of anxiety and despair had skyrocketed and he still had to live through another week before Mike would give him more New Brain.
It was Wednesday morning of the second week without New Brain when Alec became suicidal. He’d been through a lot over the past year…the divorce…Tom the micromanager being assigned as his supervisor. It was a lot of stress, but Alec had never felt like killing himself.
Now it seemed to be his only viable option. Sure, Mike, Grace, and his little grandchildren Jimmy and Heather would miss him, but let’s face it, he just wasn’t worth it anymore. He couldn’t concentrate, he could barely remember the most simple coding methods, it was like he had the brain of an eighty-year-old, and the contrast between how he was working now and just two weeks ago wasn’t going unnoticed.
Worst of all were the feelings of rampant paranoia. He felt like everyone knew he had taken a cheat and that New Brain was the only thing Alec had going for him.
Tom had actually come up to him and asked if he was having any personal problems he’d like to talk about. He said that maybe Alec should take a few days off to get some rest. Maybe that was the answer. Take a few days off until Mike gave him his two-week supply next week.
Alec had to hang on just a few more days. He had to keep believing in himself, or if not in himself, in New Brain. Why did he keep having dreams of slitting his own throat with a knife or driving his car into Shonash Ravine?
It was almost two months after Alec had disappeared that hikers had found the car wreck at the bottom of the ravine. The toxicology tests made during the autopsy found residual traces of New Brain in his blood stream and brain tissue.
His son Mike was a registered New Brain patient and when the police confronted him, he admitted what had happened and swore that his Dad had taken the drugs without his permission.
It was illegal to provide your prescription drugs to someone else but given the extenuating circumstances, the County Prosecutor declined to press charges. PharmaCorp said they wouldn’t sue Mike if he would give a public testimonial of what happens when New Brain is taken by someone outside the recommended age range.
In his panic, Alec hadn’t done enough research as to exactly why New Brain isn’t prescribed to older men and women. Too much of most stimulants, even caffeine, can sometimes result in a heightened sense of paranoia and even suicidal thoughts, and while a younger person can go cold turkey off of New Brain, the older you are, the more dependent you become on the drug.
Alec Reed thought he found a miracle in a pill, but once he stopped taking that miracle, all of the fear he felt about life as an old man in a young world had been amplified a thousand times. Instead of rejuvenating his brain, Alec had become a hopeless addict and without a constant supply of New Brain, the withdrawal killed him.
Inspired by the NBC News article Is This Smart Drug The Most Powerful Brain Enhancer in the World? by Maggie Fox.