I listen to her without words or response. Wynne pauses occasionally, a lurking question in her eye, gone within a blink, acknowledging that I have no questions for her before continuing in her discussion of what it is I will be participating. I silently observe what is around me, I imagine, listlessly perched on my seat like a cat, wide-eyed with a tentative uncertainty. My imagination has gone beyond this point—so far beyond that I’m lost in the confines of my own stupor and drifting in some cloud-like haze of nothingness and everythingness. I float here and there then return to reality focusing on her and her words trying to grasp the validity of what and where and when and who, and lastly, why—why in everything that is that I know, of science, of the physical world, of anything tangible—why am I here? There is no logical explanation for me being here in this place.
Yet, here I am.
This is not a dream.
This morning I woke up dazed and startled and temporarily unaware of what happened to me and where I was until Q started instructing me on the day’s activities. Waking up to Idris Elba inside my head ordering me around was disconcerting, until I recalled the previous day’s comical episodes. When I was messaged that Wynne would be late in joining me—the blaringly intrusive video message popped into my head scaring the bejesus out of me—I was being instructed—or more like lectured to—on making my incredibly dull algae breakfast that tasted like liquid chalk and the other usual morning rituals by the condescendingly British male assistant with the sexy voice. Nothing fascinating really, mundane details, beyond the obvious, I yawned through while I thought about the broader implications of why and glancing through the archives trying to extract the ‘how tos’ of this environment. All this while fearing I was imported into some sort of alternate 1984-Brave New World-type universe, or even worse. I could name at least a dozen books and movies where this didn’t end well for someone like me.
Overwhelmed with information, I muted Q shortly thereafter not wanting him to disturb my thinking process and forgotten to unmute him. I was taught how to think, I didn’t like to be told what to think; give me the information, the facts, and I’ll make the deductions on my own, not some mouthy AI co-opting my brain, no matter who it sounds like.
Wynne’s skin—a beautiful and flawless deep black—glows gold highlighting those fascinating crystalline green eyes and her short pale blue and white hair. Her skin and eyes suggest a varied result of African and Irish-German lineage—a presumption because of her name. Speculation at most. Where those unusual green eyes come from—I don’t know. They seem an oddity amongst the other anomalies. I’ve only met three of them thus far, two of them synthetics, so how could I possibly call anything an anomaly when I dunno what consists of anomalies in this era? Maybe I’m the anomaly? I had no context for the last fifteen hundred years though I clearly recall the modern history of my time and before.
Those atrocities ripple through time like an unending tsunami. This compunction brings me back to balanced and benevolent thoughts. Still, the socialized unease of the ugly past curls its way into my chest. This continued deliberate examination of these types of thoughts and emotions began long ago and are not likely turned off now. I dismiss the worry pushing it down into my pinky toe where it has no control over me—a technique I once read many, many moons ago.
“You are composed for someone in your position.”
“Really? Have you done this before?”
My eyes widen and I laugh dryly and uncomfortably at Wynne’s nonchalance and try to shrug off my growing concern making its way gradually up from my pinky toe. “What else can I do but enjoy the ride?” I ask hesitantly not really expecting an answer, looking back over my shoulder and around for Ami and Beni to haul me off and start performing painful experiments on me. They hadn’t yesterday, but that was yesterday. Today is a new day.
Or, is it? It seemed like the same day—a very long day.
She pauses in what I assume is confusion and takes a moment to respond. “I beg your pardon while I become acclimated to your colloquialisms.”
An involuntary chuckle eases my tension. “Don’t dumb yourself down for me. Will I need to beg everyone else’s pardon while they become acclimated to my colloquialisms?”
“Dissemination of twenty-first century North American English is readily available and should not be a complication in communication. We are prepared for your arrival.”
“No translator nanites?”
Another pause. “That is a fascinating concept.”
I feel my face contort with bemusement. Is she mocking me? I cannot tell. “Seriously? Shouldn’t I be the one to assimilate since I’m one and you’re many? Seems logical to me? Then again, none of this seems logical.” Her face remains expressionless. And I realize what I’ve just said: assimilate? Really, Peyton? My grimace goes unanswered.
If that was a test, I failed. I shake off my insensitivity and tell myself: do better.
What are the proprieties of philosophically debating the complexities and ethics of cultural assimilation with a new race? Should we do it now or later? Later would probably be better. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever liked that word and how it was forced onto some. It’s always felt a bit…othered.
“Apologies. I’m flustered. When and where I come from there was a lot of forced assimilation and…” I trail off not knowing how to explain it and realizing that anything I could possibly say would be made worse from my own inelegance of words and my obtuse attempt to explain something they’re probably already all too familiar. I stop talking and move on.
I look around at what I assume is a lab and office. Not much here besides a couple of chairs and some counters, clean and free of clutter. Large white and light grey matte rooms with immense windows that look out over the city. The pale blue rim of nanites ever present in the dome, the enclosure of windows, the slight of air—I cannot see them, but they’re here.
“English has evolved over the last fifteen hundred years and our expedition has continually spoken—”
“English? Then you must mean devolve? Are scientists here not multilingual?” The thought of never hearing the beauty and contrast of Earth’s thousands of languages unsettles me. Maybe it’s best not to needle them since they are speaking my language, as archaic as it might be. That’s a compromise and courtesy many visitors or aliens from my time didn’t receive and I am alien to them.
Can one truly be alien if they are, in fact, human? Or, are they human?
“English is the language of science.”
I frown at this declaration. “Really? I thought science was the language of science? Or math? Or physics?” She says nothing and I continue. “Are you saying that all scientists speak only English? That’s nonsensical. Not all scientists speak English. English is not—” I stop before saying universal while the absurdity of everything rolls around in my head like a bowling ball. I try to dissect what she’s saying in correlation to what was then and what is now, of where I am, and my assumptions.
Is she testing me again? Is that what these are: tests? Scientists cannot possibly think the only language of science is English.
Yes, these are most certainly tests.
“Many languages remain. We, in the Saturnian Colonies, speak Saturnian English and the correlating logograms and symbology. You may find out more in the archives. Would you like to discuss the scientific details of how your consciousness was transferred and how your body was created?” She moves on with such ease from each statement while I’m left vertiginous from the last.
I grimace shaking my head no, feeling my lip curl, and my face sour reflexively. “No, not really. I’m assuming it’s lots of scientific jargon and math and quantum physics type stuff that I find fascinating but am completely ignorant about, so—no”—I pause shaking my head again—“not really. You did import a college dropout and an artist, not a brainy scientist. I’m here and it feels real. I feel real, for now. If I want more info, I’ll look for it in the archives. I can do that, right?”
Another baffled micro-expression on her face fades into that same detached one and I wonder if I’ve offended her. Is not wanting to hear the technicalities of her scientific formula the equivalent of not wanting to eat her food? An ill-mannered slight? Or something even more offensive? I cannot tell. Since I was a kid, I trained myself in detecting nuance of emotions in facial and body languages. With Wynne, it seems I’m going to have to start all over again.
“Yes.” She moves on quickly, again. “Commander Mitra and Commander Nasim are unable to join us presently.”
I sit quietly attempting to dissect that statement. A flutter of fear creeps into my chest again and my toes twist nervously in my boots. I push the angst down and concentrate on this moment—on rational thought. “Commanders? That sounds ominous and authoritarian. Do they work for the Ministry of Truth?”
“The commanders and directors are skilled community managerial administrators and organizers, experts in all forms of supervising and organizing our expedition and the interstellar egalitarian colonies which we live. We, however, are not an absolute authority. Our society elders, known as mentors, have ultimate jurisdiction upholding the Saturnian Code, and we are the equivalent of a modern social democracy of your time.”
I try to place it in terms I can understand. “You’re saying that Anderas is not a corporation, but a government expedition? A U.S.—a United States—expedition?”
“As it were.”
I feel my face pale and fall. As it were? What did that mean? I feel queasy. I’m not sure I’m ready to know yet. I need to concentrate on the present and future right now instead of the past or I’m gonna end up puking on her nice clean boots and floor.
“So, the mentors are … judicial and the commanders and directors are…?”
A brief pause as she tries to assess my comparisons. “Executives.”
“But the executives are … military?” I ask cautiously.
“Military education and training are compulsory for every member of our expedition’s curriculum. This is a precaution and not authoritative.”
“Isn’t that called conscription?”
Another pause and I assume she’s gathering information from her display. “That practice is archaic.”
“Yet, here we are.” My mind races through a series of questions. What exactly do they consider military training? I try not to panic and proceed slowly as images and videos flash in my display. I catch random constructs and muted videos of what looks like specialized endurance and defensive training that has nothing to do with enforcing rules or combating people, but confronting and withstanding the environment. Still, I wonder. “Historically, military forces can be violent and brutal and serve powerful self-interests, usually in the form of nationalist, economic, or religious interests.”
Her casual expression doesn’t change and her silence indicates she awaits my question.
“How do I know if everything you’re telling me is the truth?” I ask earnestly without tone or judgment knowing that truth can be an elusive concept to some. What is her truth? What are facts here? Do verifiable truths and evidence-based facts matter here?
“The concept of trust is familiar to you?”
I frown again. “Trust is as alien as you are. I’ve never trusted easily. Nothing personal.” I pause to gather some thoughts. “Is your society oppressed?”
“How would you even know?” I realize this may be an insult. “I mean, no offense, it’s just that some people during my time were ignorant of and culpable and complicit in their own oppression and that of others.” I could specify white women, I don’t.
She pauses again. The question, I think, waylays her. “No one here is treated cruelly or unjust. This is a free society. The articles delineate the supreme law of the Saturn colonies under the Saturnian Code.” A document—considerably denser than the United States constitution—scrolls in fast forward through my display. I unintentionally wince at the comparison, like seeing an old friend with lots of issues.
“Which sounds like a statement from the government in the era you plucked me from and there is no completely free society. Freedom has proven to be an arbitrary abstraction in the past depending on who you are and who is in power and at the time you plucked me from the United States, the bad guys were in charge. So yeah, I’m skeptical.” I don’t deny my skepticism, I own it, not as a burden, but as an exercise in critical thinking.
“I understand your uncertainty.”
“Do you really?”
A fleeting frown and I feel as if we’ve finally begun to connect. “You are free, Peyton. You will not be oppressed. You will not be treated cruelly or unjust. If you believe you are, you need only voice it.”
“Yeah, like that has worked before.” My sarcasm slides by her—or not?—and the irony of what she says, given that she’s a black woman, does not go unnoticed by me. I decide to move onto another subject since I have many.
“Why am I here?”
“Project Halcyon—Subject Reciprocity.”
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins