The indigo blue of fingernails flare against pallid flesh and the pale grey of the bed in the darkness of the room as I roll over towards the windows facing Anderas. The slightest glimmer of Saturn peers through a fissure in the clouds through the field’s facade of night shrouding my flat in a faint serene glow. The flat sits high on the edge overlooking the city in the Handar tower and the exceedingly tall windows give me an all-encompassing view.
I cannot sleep.
I walk over to the nanite windows leaning my forehead against the slight illusory coolness, peering straight down into the bowels of the city, testing their limits without fear. The dim pale blue dome is on its faintest setting, still. I’m restless and the details of the day are on repeat in my mind.
My last conversation with Wynne resonated.
Death isn’t what I thought it would be. But, I’m not really dead, am I?
I was never one to believe in an afterlife. When sentient creatures die, we cease to exist. There is nothing after except darkness, an emptiness, a womb of void.
Creation here is not ephemeral. At least I don’t think it is. It doesn’t seem to be. Procreation plotted and pledged to its fullest measure, maybe? Each genesis venerated at length as much as they can, which is most likely what? An indestructible abiding life that seems to exist—for what? I’m not sure. I dunno; what do any of us live for? I want to know what they live for? What makes them content? What makes them endure? Do they have goals? Why must they create me and expose my memories to live their lives? I expect it’s their way of sharing stories? Of gaining empathy? Isn’t that the goal of stories? I see no literature here shelved or otherwise; no books in their hands; no art on the walls; nor do I hear any music floating through the air besides that in my head.
How do people gain empathy if they don’t read or share stories?
The absence of birds irks me. The sounds so silent and insincere as to feign some type of faux paradise. There is a pleasant hum, but no birds, no animals. How can you have a paradise without birds?
Without cats even?
Bird population had started decreasing during my time on Earth from habitat loss and cats; cats were in abundance. Here, I miss the skulking intellect and superiority of cats and cannot imagine a utopia without their precocity and the derision of birds as they taunt them. There cannot be a utopia without both. The two are clearly inescapable from each other; the predator and the prey, both mocking and irreverent to us insipid humans.
I like dogs too. They remind me of those lovely light-hearted pals that are wonderfully bouncy and bubbly that smile all the time and never have a bad thing to say about anyone; dripping with so much happiness, they get a little of it on you and it’s like a sticky unpleasant sap you’re forever trying to wash off—somewhat like spoiled spirited children. One can only endure so much of their company before a swift exit with the sloppy seconds of fur, slobbers, and what little energy remains from all that unchecked enthusiasm and happiness.
Blek. Exhausting. Kids and dogs are best when they belong to someone else; cats never belong to anyone; birds are uncommitted.
I lean back on the sofa and sigh: Yes, I think I like it here. Maybe. There should be cats though. And birds.
And dogs, I suppose.
Knowledge is power. I have yet to delve into the myriad past of human history. Not thoroughly anyways. I didn’t wanna. I open the archives to history, a black hole of human karma and quickly close them again. I’ve done this repeatedly. The churning nauseates me and the flutter of fear crawls into my chest when I think about anything related to the past, or oddly enough, the future.
The archives tell a story of a past I’m not sure I wanna know. I have paradoxical emotions: I’m eager and curious, but also anxious and afraid. It cannot be good. It wasn’t when I left. It’s like the ending of a favorite book series; I’m dying to know what happens, but afraid the narrative will be exactly what I predict it’ll be in my nihilistic no-hope way and I’m not gonna like it, at all. Then, of course, it ends and I’m left with that desperate lonely feeling and void that I can never ever fill or change, like a big empty bottomless bowl. This is real though. This is Earth and all its inhabitants—billions and billions of people, not Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones.
It’s been three days. Three long days. A day isn’t a day but fifteen days. It’s not really a day. Can’t we call it something else? But they don’t. A day is a day is a day and so on. It’s an Earth day and even a Titan day is an Earth Day 1,500 years later and 900 million miles away.
Is 900 million miles even an accurate estimate? I ask myself and quickly quiet the resounding internal nagging male A.I. from replying with the exact facts and a condescending lecture.
Having him in my head is like being married to an annoying emotionally unavailable know-it-all, no matter how sexy and syrupy his voice sails across my skin. There was a reason I never remarried and that the one and only time I married was brief, like an obnoxious short belch. I’m an introvert, a solitary person, and the only voice I want inside my head is mine.
Is this what it’s like to be schizophrenic?
I suppose I should make friends with the voice in my head. So, I decide to change the voice. Too bad some people never could.
Or could they?
“You’re fired.” I choke back on the disgust I have for myself at having adopted that vile expression likely indoctrinated into my discourse unwittingly. I mentally vow to remove it, permanently. “Change assistant to Roxane Gay’s voice, early twenty-first century jargon, and reduce to five percent interactions and please, give her a personality I can get along with.”
CHANGE COMPLETE. I SUPPOSE YOU’LL BE CALLING ME Q AS WELL?
I snicker in approval as Roxane’s low purr resonates through giving me goosebumps.
A smart ass! Fantastic! “Yes, please.”
I sit down in the cast chair. Ami attaches the wireless link to the inside of my wrist. It’s a small gadget with a kind of microscopic magnetic nanite skin adhesive about an inch and a half in length, a quarter in width, pale blue with four small pale pink lights. I’m told that blinking pink means breaking to and from; pale blue blinking means establishing a connection and solid indigo blue means a connection. The energy probes in the chair connect to the nanites in my blood for a final activation. The tingling sensation would flutter up my spine like butterflies then pulsate into the brainstem. No pain, only a fleeting feeling and it would go away quickly enough once the mind shifts.
This is what I’m told should happen. And while the nanites are a brilliant technological marvel, the human brain has the capacity, combined with other human brains and gazillions upon exponentially gazillions of nanites, to create unprecedented scientific phenomenons. I am in awe of this and exhilarated and excited and apprehensive. I can feel my adrenaline spiking and see it in my display. I calm myself and focus on the matter at hand.
I make eye contact with several people as they drift into the room. Some meet my gaze directly; others ignore me either messing with something on their displays or communicating via audio connect or with each other. They move to their designated casting chairs around the room. I’ve not been introduced to everyone. In this society, introductions apparently are not necessarily needed or traditional because most information is displayed in V.Rs or occur in insight messaging or telepathically. Conversations begin without the need of those dreaded first awkward platitudes. Although, they appear to be making some necessary changes for me.
I kind of like their tradition and wish they wouldn’t have changed on my account. Small talk has never been something I’ve managed easily.
I am still unsure how the rest of Anderas and the Saturnian Colonies will view this. If this will be some bizarre thirty-sixth century reality show or some drama-like documentary edited and distributed as a scientific experiment. I didn’t ask. I was afraid it would make me even more nervous and decided not knowing was better. Lots of the details of this little op are still lost to me—obscured by my rendering of an unfamiliar alien species. I try and compare this experience to visiting a foreign country with different customs and cultures and language. It comes back around to the unknown and the conflicting emotions of fascination, fear, curiosity, skepticism, and unease. My imagination has been thwarted by fear and failure to look ten steps beyond. It’s a bit of a challenge really, but one I’ve accepted in all my whiny, cautious, confused mediocrity, and ramblings.
“Peyton.” Lalita, unsmiling, sits glancing at me briefly before situating herself in her cast chair. Ami attaches the wireless link to her wrist and walks off to do the same to the others.
Lalita Aeron Bala Mitra is one of Titan’s commanders. Tall and reserved—her brown skin and hair highlights her rich brown eyes (unlike the crystallized electric green of Wynne’s eyes) and the pale grey tips of her straight shoulder-length choppy cut—she says very little. Of the ten, Lalita is the most imposing. How—when they all appear to me in that same emotionally passive presentation—do I conclude this? There is a glint in her eye like she’s formulating a strategy to separate me from my body again. Like she’s possibly going to abandon me in the memories of my childhood while I watch the same horror play out again and again and am powerless to do anything. That nightmare has blasted and burrowed its way into my psyche and I can’t seem to let it go no matter how irrational I tell myself I’m being.
I’m here, aren’t I? This isn’t rational. At least not twenty-first century rational. I tell myself I’m being paranoid and absurd again in order to calm my fears so I can get through this without being lobotomized by sentient nanotechnology and an evil commander named Lalita.
Eyeballing her with skepticism, I nod a silent hello hesitantly in return.
She is … intriguing: La-leet-a. And I wonder what Mr. Nabokov would write about someone like her: La-leet-a.
Q flashes a question mark at my meandering literary non-sequitur.
I roll my eyes.
What use is a assistant if they don’t follow ‘my’ logic. Another question mark. This reminds me of what it was like in the early days of Twitter and needing a sarcasm font. And yet another question mark and I’m wondering if I’m being played. She flashes a smirk emoji and I laugh out loud causing some heads to turn.
The room—what Wynne refers to as the Merging Arena—is a circular conference room on the top floor in the Handar tower. The translucent bubbled windows overlook the city and the rest of Anderas. Ten commanders and ten directors are in attendance including Wynne.
The bubbled meeting room projects the three hundred sixty-degree virtual three-dimensional space that transmits Project Halcyon—Subject Reciprocity to the room. Twenty nanite cast chairs circle the room adjacent, tiered—all occupied. Clear bubbled windows of the room shift frost-white shielding the room and channels the brain merge.
The cast chairs recline slightly and, we begin.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins