“I have chosen a team in collaboration with the mentors, commanders, and directors. We have a proposal that we would like you to consider, Peyton. Both the team and the proposal have the necessary approvals to submit for a vote. We will send our team to the vicinity of a culture … surreptitiously,” Wynne uses this word with some hesitation. “—release an update—a fixed amount of nonreplicating nanites programmed to deactivate in a certain time frame to allow for the examination of the culture. Once we’ve examined and deduced if the society can be approached, we will proceed either to open diplomatic conversations or continue…monitoring.”
She was gone most of the day implementing a strategy. I have a feeling that this approach was already planned regardless of me. Wynne probably designed this entire scheme when she stumbled onto Subject Reciprocity and perhaps even before then. Her brain, perpetually in motion, continually works towards unlocking the next labyrinth in her maze of mysteries, I imagine. The maze is of her own creation. It’s a puzzle in a riddle in a problem in a spiraling mass—all locked and loaded awaiting course. She lives in a world of theoretical possibilities and chooses which ones to implement usually in the form of many moves ahead—like thirty-sixth century five-dimensional chess, she strategizes all moves. Never a pattern or order to her methods; at least not one I’m privy to. Some of the time she includes me. It’s amusing and takes my mind off my other obligations.
This is what I see, but is it real? Is that who she really is? Or is this an illusion she wishes to portray and she simply tries to make her way through this maze as much as any of us are?
She hasn’t spoken more about her friend. I don’t know if this is her way of finding her. It sure is an elaborate plan to find one person out of a galaxy full of people and I’m curious as to why the nanites cannot find her.
A pause before she asks: “Would you consider this proposal?”
“You need my approval to move forward?”
“Yes. You will be on the team. We need approval from all members before presenting to the Anderan and Saturnian society for a vote.”
“Anderans will vote on this?”
“Anderans and Saturnians vote on all tasks and submit ideas and motions along with their votes.”
“Everyone votes? When do they vote?”
“Several times a day and week. Anderans are given the day for belated proposals like this. Motions are submitted before the subsequent vote.”
“Crowdsourcing government policies? That’s…interesting,” but is it effective, I wonder, thinking about the horror of past populist movements and the repercussions of their policies. Voting, though, for everyone, shouldn’t such a novel and radical concept as much as history proves otherwise. Yet, here we are.
“Merely a part of the Saturnian government and civic responsibilities.”
“Am I a documented alien or migrant and not allowed voting status because I haven’t been voting?”
“You will spend time with Ami and Beni for accelerative learning on Saturnian Civic History and Responsibilities. Project Reciprocity will be your first vote.”
“I thought I was Project Reciprocity?”
“You are Subject Reciprocity, a task and subject within Project Halcyon and in the newly created Project Reciprocity.”
Wide-eyed, I nod my head yes understanding. “Civic responsibilities are more involved here?”
She pauses looking at me. “Did you not perform civic responsibilities in your era?”
“Yes, I did, but it wasn’t mandatory. Although, it definitely should’ve been. For everyone. But then again, I echo the sentiments of whoever said the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” I chuckle; Q is silent—I could feel her grimace. I note Wynne’s hard stare.
ECHOED BY WINSTON CHURCHILL, THE ANCIENT PATRIARCHAL JINGOISTIC COLONIZER? OH, PEYTON, admonishes Q.
I clear my throat and return her stare appropriately enlightened. “Apologies. The stink of the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy is hard to wash off.” I continue. “This is mandatory?”
“These duties are mandatory and very important to our society and its progression and cohesion.”
Another interesting choice of words and I recognize that participating in their government is not only a critically important civic duty, but an honorable one. I wonder if there’s ever any crime here and Q flashes a big NO.
NO WONDER THEY’RE BORED, I think then I realize what I’ve thought and shake my head in chagrin. Surely there can be a world without crime and it not be boring? And there’s got to be a bigger story behind the no crime.
IS THERE VIOLENCE?
We look out through the dome. The haze is especially dense today. Nothing to see other than lots of thick soupy fog beyond the city.
“Does this plan meet with your approval?”
I nod absently.
“There is something more you need to know, Peyton.”
Her shift in tone suggests a more serious conversation is about to take place and I sober and brace myself. “What?”
She sits down. Her proper posture drives me to sit up straighter and pay attention.
Five minutes is all it takes to describe a 300 year war and millions of lives lost.
“You’re telling me there’s an ongoing war and what? You’re Switzerland?”
A pause and minuscule facial quirk and she moves on without response. “We will meet with Commander Mitra after,” and she leaves me sitting there mouth agape in silence wondering what else she’s not telling me.
“Saturnians vote at birth.”
“How can babies vote?”
While Q flashes information in perpetuity, I gather bits and bites and drill my instructors with questions as they program and upload my accelerative Saturnian civics update.
A dull blank look between them and back at me.
“Are you telling me that babies are obsolete?”
Another flat look. Ami turns towards Beni and says something in Saturnian. Q barks with laughter.
THE THIRTY-SIXTH CENTURY EQUIVALENT OF ANCIENT WHITE PEOPLE ARE EDUCATIONALLY STAGNATE AND UNIMAGINATIVE.
A snort and snicker and shrug in silent agreement. NO ARGUMENT THERE, I tell Q.
BIRTHS ARE AT FIVE EARTH YEARS, SO YES, BABIES ARE OBSOLETE HERE.
I’m not sure how I missed this in my review of reproduction in the thirty-sixth century. It seems a rather prominent piece of information.
No babies. I don’t know what to do with this information. I file it accordingly until I have time to think about it. More stuff to ponder.
“Since I’m getting the civics update, I should get the history update as well, yeah? One is really no use without the other.” They give me a short glance. “I guess we should go ahead with the Saturnian language upgrades too.” I sit in the chair and it reclines. “Four years of college packed into a few hours,” I let out a hard short laugh at the ease and luxury of this process. “I went back to college at night, on weekends—hell, I got a job at the damn school so I could take free classes until they arbitrarily denied me even that—over the course of fifteen years. Fifteen years, and I still didn’t get to finish my degree. Here y’all are hooking me up and in over an hour I’ll have a stunning amount of education just plopped into my head like a thought and without all those awful student loans too. What a world.”
They stand over me looking down awaiting my point. When I shrug speechless, Ami speaks: “We dispense this data to you; wisdom, integrity, and responsibility determine how you regulate it.”
I hesitate before replying: “So says every teacher, professor, and philosopher I’ve ever known and straight from the mouths of the keepers of the largest data archive in human history. Okay, hook me up. Wait”—I sit up—”what if it doesn’t take? It’s not like I’m the brightest person here.”
Blank looks and silence.
I want them to be perfect. I want them to surpass what me, in my ordinariness, lack; I wish for them to be absolute, impeccable. They’re still human deep down and flawed and fucked up just like me, only in different ways, and maybe in the same ways. I see that when I glimpse the uniformity in them; the predictable force that drives them to be flawless is the flaw in their so-called perfection.
What I first thought was a lack of sentimentality was more like a suit of armor. In their unequaled strengths, there are patterns of vulnerabilities and that is where I empathize with them. I doubt they truly lack genuine sentimentality; they’ve probably not shown me that side of them yet; like everyone, trust comes slowly and boundaries are protections to those that would harm and destroy.
As a woman, I can definitely understand this, but I’ll continue to poke at Wynne till she opens up to me. It seems fair since I’m spilling my mind and all its dark chaos to them.
And what about that? Is it wrong to not want to do the brain merge? To not want to share that part of my history that hurt me? To repeat the ugliness of the past and have it reverberate like an ache in time? I cannot help but wonder if they were in my shoes, they wouldn’t want to sit idle while watching the same scenes play out again and again.
Is this my penance?
Q pops off with smartassery and I do believe I’ve had enough. “Can you just…go away.” I say it not as a question, but a statement. “I’m no longer interested in having an artificially intelligent smartass know-it-all in my head. Either be who you are or be gone. But, mostly, be gone. Unless you’re absolutely needed, I no longer want your assistance.” And with that, she’s gone. Reduced to a tool and I feel immensely more like myself already.
I sigh both contentedly and dissatisfied into the room. That’s when the pang of loneliness hits—a short panic and drop. Just briefly before I stifle it. Looking out over Anderas, I sit and wait to be summoned.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins