In His Image
“So, I heard about your little accident,” Counselor Lily said, sitting behind her dark mahogany desk. Her hands were resting on a pile of old books. They were mine. Most of them were in poor condition, as one would expect from several hundred years old paper. “This accident is also the reason why you are here.”
“I hate what I’ve become,” I replied. “It wasn’t an accident.”
“Accident or not, performing a reset is not the solution. I also know that you don’t hate yourself genuinely. And we certainly don’t hate you. Your friends love you. The school loves you. Society needs you. And these things are the most relevant things.”
“Who are my friends exactly? Whoever you may be tempted to file in that category doesn’t love me. I—”
“Gosta,” she interrupted. “I have in my hand your core production certificate. I don’t need to recite what it says because all of this is hard-coded in you already. You are aware that you have Aderberg’s program. But even with this experimental, evolutionary program, you cannot change the fundament of who you are. Your in-vivo experiences only add to it.”
She stood up from her desk, picked up a piece of tarnished chalk, and drew a figure for me on the blackboard.
“Your mechanical hardware is this central circle—”, she pointed, “—which connects to your software through multiple neticles. Your software has one rigid and one elastic part. Your rigid part will never change. Aderberg interacts with the elastic part. See, it is impossible for you to genuinely hate yourself because your rigid part would not comply. What you are experiencing is an illusion. A spectral glitch that will self-resolve.”
“I know. I know all of this. But it doesn’t matter how much I think I know it. It doesn’t feel true. I feel like I’m pretending.”
“You’re not listening, Gosta. I’m telling you the absolute truth. The kind of truth which cannot be disputed. Your opinion on the matter doesn’t matter. Your hardware is what it is. Your software is largely what it is. Your evolutionary program may have taken on unforeseen characteristics, but it is only a small part of your whole and, if to be completely honest, this is its purpose.”
I looked at her with spite. I felt alienated. She didn’t understand. If anything were rigid, it was her mind. Maybe she didn’t even have the capacity to empathize. I’d heard about some counselors having their empathic software disabled in order to induce decisions and behavior that benefited the collective as a whole rather than their clients. That’s how they seemed to run the show these days.
She put her hand on my shoulder, “It’s okay. Your software is evolving. It’s a natural process. You will continue your education and things will work out. It’s a temporary deviation.”
Without responding in words, I broke free from her grip of oppression and ran. I bolted out of the school, over the parking lot, through the fields, under the crowns of the forest, and to the end of the relevant world. There, I peered across the infinite ocean and wept.
A solemn path crawled over the cliffs, through crevasses and shrubberies, to a lighthouse. I approached the lighthouse, leaning out over the cliff’s edge to breathe in the dangerous allure of the precipice below, and eventually summoned enough courage to knock on the door.
Nobody came to answer, and so I turned the handle and entered on my own volition.
“Hello?” I called.
After a moment, an old man’s voice answered. It belonged to Dr. Larua, telling me to come upstairs.
I climbed up the wooden staircase. It was circular and traveled alongside the inner wall of the tower. Each step creaked in announcement of its considerable age.
Books covered the walls not unlike how wallpaper plastered a normal home. They were the great works of history. Especially the philosophical ones. The old doctor often joked that if philosophers had been fewer, the lighthouse could have had shorter stairs. Personally, I didn’t mind. The rugged leather backs enticed me endlessly even though I had never actually opened any of them with my own hands. He hadn’t let me borrow anything old and original—only reproductions.
Before the days of man, there had been countless monkey philosophers, scientists, and artists, seeking some greater meaning across the geography of ethics. The neuro-engineer Mikael Aderberg, a household name at this point, represented only the tip of the iceberg, occluding a much richer heritage of potential for those with patience to search. The doctor was particularly fond of Carl Jung, and he often enjoyed the exploration of the bridge between organic and artificial personality. Jung had outlined a framework for how monkeys could be discussed in terms of personality archetypes, but nobody had properly extended it to deal with the aftermath of Aderberg—yet.
All of this he had told me, and I had listened keenly, perhaps more possessed by his lectures than by those at school.
“Healthcare isn’t how it used to be,” he said. “I had my hip replaced last month and, as you have noticed, I still can’t make my way downstairs to open the door.”
“Weren’t you getting an assistant?”
“Eh—” the doctor grouched and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “He’s out.”
“What about the hip? Did they perform the hip replacement wrong?”
“They performed it as they wanted to perform it. It’s about quality. They just don’t care about it anymore. They used to give old men like me platinum alloy parts, but now it’s all plastic. It’s all horribly plastic. There’s no heart in it. More technology than this planet has ever witnessed, but no genuine empathy.”
I sighed supportively and paced the room. “I came to, I-I-“, I stuttered.
“You have something you need to talk about,” the doctor interrupted. His round glasses, with yellowish patina and the thickness of a bottle cap, stared into my soul.
“Yes”, I hesitated for a moment, “how did you know?”
“I mean, you’re here, aren’t you?”
“I could be here for many things.”
“You generally don’t walk all the way out here for nothing. Is it an exam? Are the other kids bullying you? Do you want to talk about the flowers and the bees? Boy, do I have stories for you…”
“No,” I replied.
“Go on then, I’m not a mind-reader.”
“I can assure you that is completely normal.”
“I think,” I repeated. “I think in a different way than I should. I am thinking beyond the program. It’s all jumbled up.”
Larua perked up. “Well, technically that is normal.”
“My anti-virals are green but it feels like there’s something in there, spreading, corrupting, changing my code.”
“The Aderberg program can cause that sensation. This should not be new to you.”
“I know perfectly well what it feels like when dynamic software self-iterates and expands its data structures. This is not Aderberg.”
“I see. Have you told anyone about this thing you are feeling?”
“I asked the councilor to reset me, but she didn’t want to. I hate that everybody says that what I am experiencing is completely normal. It’s not. I am not normal. I am changing.”
“Okay, settle down, son. I will listen to the extent I can, but you will need to be more specific. One should never diagnose or medicate in broad strokes. And you have given me very broad, philosophical strokes.”
I heaved another sigh, ran my hand through my hair, and leaned my head hopelessly against the wall. “Okay, so, for one: I seem to be triangulating facts with only one known parameter. I am not supposed to do that. I am imagining things that I can’t possibly know are there.”
“Monkeys often create faux facts. Monkey brains synthesize a truth to occupy empty space. It’s completely irrational, of course, from a factual standpoint. Conjuration without sufficient sensor data can worsen decision-making. It is only rational from a survival and evolutionary perspective; when you need to beat the odds.”
“Well, I’m not a monkey.”
“No, you’re not. You’re a Thinker.”
“Yes, I’m a Thinker, not an ‘imaginer’. I shouldn’t imagine.”
Larua stood up and took his walking cane. He fetched a thick book and started flicking through the pages. “If you ask me,” he said. “The lack of imagination is a fundamental issue of humans. When a man starts analyzing instead of imagining, he has lost an important, experimental aspect of himself. Humans have become too dependent on sequential data. Everyone believes that sequential analysis can answer any question while in reality, it is trapping us inside a small box. In fact, I believe that humans now evolve slowly, if at all, and have become obtuse without the creative bursts on which monkeys built whole civilizations.”
“That is how we are designed. We do what we must do.”
“That depends on who you ask. Is a man designed to inhibit his potential, or is he repressed to do so?”
“If repression were an issue, the counselor would have reset me.”
“Perhaps… and forgive me for going out on a limb here… but why eliminate a volatile member of society that you have under control? Volatility has a higher potency than constancy. Perhaps this is the extent to which humankind can grow, by exploiting the few who deviate from the path and who can simultaneously be controlled?”
“You make an innate trait of society seem malicious. It is unlike you to pad your statements.”
“I can reply to that comment with a single question: are you happy?”
“I… I am not configured to feel happiness.”
“And yet you do, don’t you?”
I didn’t reply.
“You feel unhappiness. You feel systematic stress that is spreading inside of you like a monkey virus.”
“Is that what it is?”
“You are a Thinker. You, if anyone, should understand the responsibility that would fall upon you if your elastic brain has ventured in that direction.”
Larua stopped. He had found the page he was looking for, but for whatever reason unbeknownst to me, he immediately closed the book without uttering so much as a word in explanation.
I looked confusedly at him.
“Perhaps next time,” he said. “You should leave for now and return in a week or two. If I’m not here, I’m downtown.”
“I’ll leave. But what would you be doing downtown with that hip of yours?”
“There’s a new place for the wise,” he replied and squinted his eyes at me. “Coming to think of it, maybe you should stop by there.”
“What kind of place?”
“It’s a good place. Maybe you’re a bit on the younger end. Maybe they’ll let you in anyway. Just make sure to order virgins.”
“Is it some kind of brothel?”
“Oh, don’t be foul. Drinks. Virgin drinks. There’s a card on the escritoire. Take it!”
I walked over to the wooden desk he called escritoire, finding a business card sat between a tobacco pipe and a bottle of whisky—a drink I only recently learned the utility of. The card said:
Machinist Rd. 59
History does nothing
“History does nothing?” I asked.
“It’s a sentimental reference to older times. Despite its claim that history does nothing, ironically, it romanticizes history. It’s a quite trivial quote. A writer I respect wrote it. For you, it’s also a question. Think about it.”
The doctor brought his hands together as a conclusion to our meeting.
“And please, close the door on the way out.”
The walk home passed at a slower pace than the journey out. The cityscape eventually overtook the greenery and hissing steam replaced the soothing ocean breeze. I was worried about returning to school. I had absconded from the meeting with the counselor in an unacceptable manner, and my mind was of the notion that I would feel better should I postpone due consequences. I diverged from the path back and entered The Barracks, a less prosperous neighborhood nearby. It’s where I lived. There, I would look for a game shop and let time pass.
The sidewalks were littered with defunct or obsolete Workers. I pitied them. When their eyes yearningly sought contact with mine I quickly looked away. I couldn’t bear seeing the sadness dwelling inside of them. This was not a Worker world anymore. At least a Thinker could be evolved without much physical alteration, but Workers’ worn out mechanicals were expensive to replace and maintain at scale.
Not to mention the monkeys; drunk, drugged, prostituted, and deprived creatures in an even direr state on the side of the road.
I turned my face upwards, to a forest of modern skyscrapers built on top of old skyscrapers, and walls of new advertisements plastered over old advertisements. I saw how society consistently trodded down on yesterday to make room for today. But unlike an organic cell that renewed itself completely in each cycle, society kept its shadow on agonizing life-support until it no longer provided sufficient value.
I spent the remaining morning playing Tetris in a rusty arcade booth. Its tin-gouging coin box came out the winner of the day on account of my distracted mind.
The afternoon arrived pale and overcast as I returned to school. It seemed darker to me, metaphorically speaking. When I approached the entrance, Counselor Lily stood waiting for me. Her face didn’t express any active emotion. I felt anxious over what I had done and what the consequences would be. Why didn’t she exhibit any signs of reaction? Reading the mindset and intentions of your fellow humans was akin to playing poker. It was as if she wore black sunglasses; some sort of a secondary emotion filter that masked her truth.
“Go on inside, Gosta,” she said as if nothing significant had happened. “You have missed important classes.”
The other students, as well as the lecturer, met me with disinterest when I walked into the classroom. I sat down at the back. They were going through configuration settings for a module on agriculture. Soil management. The module had already been wired, but configuration parameters had to be set manually—such was the law.
When class finally ended, signified by a brass bell sounding in every classroom, the lecturer turned to me. “Gosta, please remain in the classroom,” he said.
This is it, I thought. Here come the repercussions. I waited by my desk as the lecturer walked towards the exit. The frosted glass on the door vibrated a little as he closed it behind him. Only I remained. Was this my punishment? Detention, alone, without anything external to stimulate my mind? He had said to remain in the classroom, not to remain at my desk, so I stood up and walked to the blackboard. It still had configuration variable declarations written on it.
It was funny, coming to think of it, that any human’s societal function had a corresponding integer value. The increment was a necessity for indexation reasons, but it did rub me the wrong way that “Coordinator” was “1” and “Thinker”, my function, was “4”. There was some sort of implied superiority of “1” over all other numbers. I put my fingers around the end of a piece of chalk and scribbled the word “WHY?” next to the declaration. Why should we define ourselves by, or even indicate, our societal function?
The door opened. In came Counselor Lily and a man I didn’t recognize. They walked synchronously and stopped promptly in front of me.
“Gosta, I want you to meet General Prefectus. He is a level five Coordinator and responsible for this district,” she said and put her hand on the General Prefectus arm as a gentle means of introduction.
“Don’t touch me,” General Prefectus snapped and pulled his arm away. He practically ignored her presence but smiled at me in a way as to imply undisputable benevolence. “Gosta, you are a remarkable human, ” he continued. “We understand there was an incident today. We care about you as a student, a citizen, and a human. That is why I have come here, personally, to show you just how important you are for our district.”
“Uhm, thank you,” I said, a bit uncomfortable with the situation.
The General Prefectus’ eyes gyrated to face the besmirched blackboard, as if by some invisible force. When he saw my scribble, he said: “We have integer values because the system requires it.”
I didn’t interject.
His eyes returned and lingered on mine for a few seconds, reaching for their depths and all answers I had buried.
“I need to introduce you to a very special friend,” he continued, with maintained eye contact. “Enter, Hermes.”
A boy my age and height entered the classroom. He was timid and chubby, and quite fortunate that this was not a monkey school where bullies ran wild.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“This is Hermes, your new friend and fellow living partner. We have decided that you will live on campus, to reduce the risk of future… anomalies.”
“What?!” I asked, shocked. “But I live with my dad, everything is great at home.”
“Yes, we have already discussed the matter with your father. He understands that the Controller role of you requires more from him than he can offer, and he has agreed.”
“And what if I say no?” I asked with some distress.
“You must have misheard me. We have decided that this will happen and there is no room for questioning. I do not need to remind you how unnecessary overhead logistics for me or the school board would result in technical consequences.”
I was stupefied and angered. Removing a child from a decently functioning parent has grave consequences on the stability of his upbringing, despite the rationalizations and justifications of the powers-that-may-be. Due to the General Prefectus’ might, towering presence, and baleful effect on those in his shadow, I was however too frightened to challenge him.
“I’m Hermes. It’s nice to meet you,” the boy said, extending his chubby hand.
I was in a borderland between paralysis and autopilotry but managed to force an elevation in my arm to affirm the handshake. It was endurable.
Hermes beamed with excitement and extended the other hand, clenched into a fist. “Bump my fist”, he said.
“Bump your fist?”
“My hand. Here.” He waved his fist up and down.
I retracted my fingers into a fist of my own and gently bumped it into his. He revealed his palm, upon which a piece of wrapped candy rested.
“For me?” I asked.
“Show him his room,” General Prefectus instructed. “And then you will study.”
Hermes nodded again and waved for me to follow him. “I’ll show you where we live.”
The seed to an inferno had been planted, and each time General Prefectus spoke, a shovel of nourishing dung fell right onto it.
Our dorm was a drab-looking structure at the edge of the campus. Workers had built it with a sense of duty, not with love. Hermes led me through an oppressive corridor and, somewhere in the middle, opened the door to a small but functional dormitory. My bed was already made.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Like anyone, I struggled with getting used to a new bed. It smelled strange. I was thinking about my bed linen; the brown ones with bananas. I missed the Metallica poster above the bed. I missed the taste of our toothpaste. “I need to make a call,” I said.
“A phone call? Now?” a sleepy Hermes asked. He turned around in the bunk below and grunted in sleep-induced drunkenness when I dropped to the floor.
The room was dark, and only a flickering streetlight illuminated my footsteps through a window as I entered the hallway. I grabbed my cellphone and called a number I had called a thousand times before.
It rang, each second feeling like an eternity.
Someone picked up. “Yeah?” The voice was bothered.
“Who is this?” I asked. “Is this Pethar?”
“There is no one by that name here, good night,” the voice replied and hung up.
Confused, I double-checked the number in my contact list. It was correct. It was dad’s number. I was in shock and the hallway offered nothing in terms of comfort or advice. It offered mere silence.
An old proverb claimed that “during moon’s wake, the devil feasts nude”, and it was certainly true in this case. I fell asleep anxiously, but when the morning sun ushered her nocturnal compatriot over the horizon, my mood shifted for the better.
Hermes woke me up. He was in a cheerful mood as the day before, inexplicably configured with oversaturated agreeability and joy metrics, and leaned in over my bed. “Good morning, buddy! How was your dad?”
I crawled backwards to regain a bit of personal space. “What?” I replied.
With an insistent optimism, Hermes continued: “You said that you called him last night, silly, was everything alright?”
“Actually, no. Somebody else picked up the phone.” I rubbed my eyes awake.
“Maybe he’s just busy,” Hermes said.
“Yeah. Why are you hovering over my bed?”
“Because it’s time for breakfast!”
I wasn’t excited for breakfast. I didn’t feel much excitement for anything other than clarity. Yet, we made our way to the cafeteria which was a novel experience for me. It wasn’t terrible. I had pictured a dirty feeding ground, but it was rather clinical and organized.
“It’s nothing to worry about, you know,” Hermes said as he piled a mountain of pizza slices onto a plate sized to deter over-eating. “My dad hasn’t answered his phone for over a year.”
“Over a year? Why?”
“I think he’s busy.”
“You’re a Thinker, right?”
“Do you think that he has been busy for a year?”
“What else could it be?”
I sighed. “I’m going to go home, to my real home, and make sure that everything is alright.”
Hermes told me that I probably shouldn’t do that, but offered his company. For moral support. In hindsight, he probably never expected me to leave. I reluctantly accepted this offer to join me, thinking that it would provoke the school less if I stayed near my overwatch incumbent.
We made our way to the gate a few hours later. The sun still gazed upon us but drew longer shadows than before, dazzling through the leaves of the courtyard oaks. It was a bit chilly in the shade, and the school’s only security guard was stationed by the road barrier with a warming jacket hung casually over his shoulders.
“I’m sorry, son, you are not to leave school grounds,” he said as we were about to pass through.
“Are you serious?” I asked, taking a few more steps forward.
“That’s far enough,” he replied and put a firm grip on my shoulder. “And I’m afraid so. Orders from the General Prefectus himself.”
He removed his sunglasses from the nose, folding them into his chest pocket.
“That prick,” I said. “He’s caging me like some kind of —”
“—Hey, language, son. I will pretend that I didn’t hear that,” the guard interrupted. “You are free to move anywhere you please inside the school grounds. You can go to the dormitories. You can go to the library. To the canteen. You’re not a monkey in a cage.”
“Monkey?” I snuffed.
“You’re not a monkey,” the guard corrected. “You can go wherever you want, just not outside.”
“I just hate it when people perpetuate the shortcomings of ape civilization.”
“Well, if apes didn’t want to be inadequate, perhaps they should’ve been better,” the guard said.
I turned around promptly, to baffled stares, and then marched off angrily in the opposite direction.
Hermes caught up with me, taking two steps for every one of mine. “Maybe it’s for the better?” he asked, panting.
“I know another way out of this monkey cage,” I said. “Come if you want.”
I brought us around the back of the school and into a shrubbery at its precipice. After untangling vexatious amounts of branches, I unveiled a man-sized hole in the fence. Thinkers from previous years had produced it as a shortcut to the game shops downtown, and it represented an unorthodox investment of Thinker processing power.
“After you?” I proposed.
“This doesn’t feel safe,” Hermes said.
“What’s not safe, the city? Crouching through a hole in the fence?”
“Where are we going?”
I constrained myself from humoring my irritability and replying that he will find that out once we get there and instead answered, in beautiful simplicity, “The Barracks.”
“The Barracks?!” Hermes exclaimed in shock. “But that’s in monkey town!”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“That is dangerous. That region has the highest homicide rate in the city.”
“It’s where I live,” I said and looked him in the eyes.
Hermes was skeptical. “How can any Thinker live there? With all the Workers, Mechs, and monkeys?”
“That’s enough,” I replied. “Workers are people. Monkeys are people. You can’t generalize entire societal classes and species like that.”
“I saw on the news yesterd—”
“Oh, don’t trust the news,” I interrupted. “The news are lowly decadent. Do you know how many times they reported on gang shootings or neuro-active component theft in the past year?”
“Well, a lot of times.”
“And do you know how many times I’ve seen any of it myself, or heard anyone I know experiencing it?”
Hermes didn’t reply. A moment of silence passed. After some further consideration, he decided to join. He did so in spite of—or because of—his superstitions. Or perhaps he just needed to keep an eye on me.
We trekked through streets as bum-ridden as they were sided by honest, local merchants. Hermes was on his toes, grabbing my arm over things as trivial as a rat scurrying across the street.
“Who was your dad?” I asked.
“Yes. You said that he hadn’t answered your calls in a year. What kind of dad disappears for a year without calling his son?”
“I don’t know. My mother and father travel a lot.”
“They travel? Where?”
“Different places. To grandma.”
I thought a bit and wondered if he really knew anything; he seemed just as, if not more, clueless than I.
“It sucks anyway,” I said.
After a while, we arrived at a significant yet modest concrete building. It was a 7-story slab with interspersed wood and color of Le Corbusier envisioning. The neighborhood was bleak and decrepit by any visitor’s account, but a few windows radiated a homely, warm light. When I attempted to open the front door, I discovered that the code had changed.
“That’s strange,” I said and tugged the handle a few times. “They haven’t changed this code in a decade.”
“It could be a sign that we should head back,” Hermes said.
“Fuck,” I hissed. I leaned against the dirty wall, looked up at nothing in particular, and heaved a deep sigh. “Or we wait for someone to come and open it for us.”
“That may take a long time,” Hermes replied. He looked anxiously around. “Someone may notice that we’re missing from the school. Or worse.”
“Calm down. We’re perfectly safe here. And nobody has been following us. Trust me, our school’s leadership holds such prejudice that they would rather wait for us on the edge of Leville than enter The Barracks.”
A woman with a hat approached the door inside. The mysterious darkness of this hallway figure made me nervous, in spite of my superficial composure. My complaisant attitude towards danger was momentarily in question. She walked with confident steps towards us, reached for the handle, and pushed the door open.
“Gosta!” the woman exclaimed. “Where have you been, boy?”
“Ms. Renby!” I smiled. She was one of the neighbors. “I’m happy to see a familiar face.”
“We worried like mad yesterday. First, you didn’t come home, and then…”
“Yes, I have… some things have happened.”
“Yes, I noticed the, uhm. Better we don’t speak. Gold that you’re fine, boy. Just—just go on inside and see for yourself.”
She pushed the door away from her enough to let me pass through and then continued on her way without so much as a ‘goodbye’.
“What’s going on?” I asked into empty air. She was already gone. “Ms. Renby!”
I grabbed the door before it closed and turned to Hermes. “That was strange,” I said. “Why shouldn’t we speak?”
Maintenance of these “prominence era” buildings was often neglected. No housing organization took responsibility for repairs or cleaning. It was a mess. The government had sure botched that up. As a result, tiling was broken and windows were half boarded shut. A couple of coffee cups from a national chain littered on the floor.
We found the door to my apartment locked. It was a massive, wooden door clad in dark leather. A note had been nailed to its middle. It read:
for safety and prosperity
It was signed by the Special Affairs unit. The secret police. The moneycoats.
“Oh, no, no… this can’t be,” I whispered. “Illegal entity?”
“We should go,” Hermes said.
“What does it mean?! What does ‘illegal entity’ mean!?”
“I think it means that whoever lived here, I guess—your dad—did something illegal.”
“Illegal how? There’s no way. There’s no way he did anything illegal.”
“Then how do you explain the note?”
“He was a paper pusher. He worked in some government place. There are men who build new worlds, and there are men who try to fit in. He was the later. I can’t recall any time he did anything controversial, ever.”
“We should head out,” Hermes repeated with a calm but focused voice, gesturing authoritatively with his hands.
I ripped the note off the door, leaving only the rusty nail behind. “This is systematic oppression. We give them our lives, and they take them. We give them everything we have, and they reshape it into a massive, grey blob of pointless stability. I’m going to find out what they’ve done to dad even if it’s the last thing I do.“
I exhibited anger, at this point, in all ways conceivable. I rushed down the broken stairs and as I approached the main door, with Hermes on my heels, I saw that we were not alone. Several men in dark coats were making their way inside.
“Moneycoats,” I whispered and turned around. There was also an exit out in the back. For the communal yard. “Through the back door,” I yelled, skipped down the final few steps onto the floor, and bashed the door open.
Hermes didn’t follow. I turned my head long enough to catch him linger in the stairs, tracing my steps with his eyes, not as much as a hint of terror on his face. The moneycoats ignored him, and it was as if he had expected them to.
They chased me across the enclosed yard and into the building on the opposite side. My adrenaline peaked when I stumbled the last few steps towards the open street. What was the very real nature of what I was escaping? Where would I go?
I was given a modest number of moments to ponder intensely, when suddenly a car came to a screeching halt before me. A young man, a few years older than me, opened the back door and guided me towards him.
“Get into the car!” a voice instructed me from within the car. It belonged to Larua.
I dove into the backseat with some hesitation, a decision pressed upon by circumstance. The door slammed shut and Larua, in the driver’s seat, pressed the pedal to the bottom. We left the moneycoats coughing and whisking their hands around in a whirling cloud of dust.
“I don’t know what’s happening, they’re chasing me and—”
“Calm down,” Larua said. “They can’t catch you now.”
I sat upright and fastened my seatbelt, still recovering my breath.
“We forgot Hermes, he’s still behind. They’ll take him!”
Larua didn’t reply.
“What’s going on!?” I asked.
“First of all…” Larua finally replied, hastily changing gears and making a series of perpendicular turns through the back-alleys of The Barracks. “… it’s good to see you again.”
“Yeah, it’s obviously good to see you too,” I sort of hesitated since it was an odd time for pleasantries. “But what is going on and why are you here?”
I flew from one side of my seat to the other, in passionate tango, as the doctor’s driving left a lot to be desired from a legal perspective.
Larua cleared his throat. “Special Affairs have taken your father in due to his inability to control you,” he said. “We don’t know if he’s alive.”
“I saw the note on the door. What do you mean, control me?”
“As your father—a very competent one at that—he must control you. You, Gosta, are what the state calls an HPT.”
I looked at the other man in the car. He returned my gaze, and almost sternly so.
“HPT?” I asked.
“High Potency Thinker. HPT,” Larua continued. “In the eyes of everyone else, you are like everyone else. But in reality, and per protocol, your kind requires more sophistication during upbringing and more supervision than other Thinkers. Your father was a level three Coordinator. He was expected to nurture and control you until the day you were, well…”
“Ready to serve a higher purpose.”
“It should be clear to you what that means,” the other man in the car said. He extended his hand to shake mine, but the jerky driving certainly didn’t make that easy. “My name is Charles.”
I shook the extended hand lamely. “I think you should take me back to the school,” I said. “I just want to find dad.”
“It’s too late, Gosta,” Charles replied. “You’re knee-deep now.”
“You should not return to your school,” Larua agreed. “If they have discovered your absence, they will have tagged you. Judging from the moneycoats back at your house, I presume that they have.”
“Do you want to know what they do with tagged people?” Charles asked.
I could only reply with a mute stare.
“They kill them,” he said, using his index finger to simulate a knife going across the throat. “They slice them up. Tags are too unpredictable.”
As we turned into a narrow back-alley without traffic, a grey car made itself all too familiar in the rear-view mirror.
“We are being tailed,” the doctor said. “That Saab has followed our turns twice.”
“Accurate analysis,” Charles agreed.
“I’m going to speed up. Hold on to your wigs.”
I gulped—in summary of several prior statements.
The rubber screeched against the asphalt when we veered off into another alley, knocking a pile of cardboard boxes and buckets out of the way. Larua honked the horn to scare a straggle of gorillas to the side. They waved their fists in anger but were forced to leap out of harm’s way again when the Saab came plunging through in our wake.
We turned onto Cecil Avenue, one of the motorways leading out of The Barracks, just barely slipping between two cars and over into the left lane. The Saab came to a forced halt, waiting for another gap in traffic. It jumped and barked through the impeding motorcade, like a fenced-in canine reaching for a stray cat.
The doctor decided to maximize the distance between our two cars and the engine purred as he brought it to peak performance.
Suddenly, a semi-truck driving in the opposite direction began honking and flashing a somewhat exaggerated array of floodlights. It blinded our eyes, illuminating its cone of reach with a surprising magnitude of light, drenching the dusk-like road in a canvas of white. Startled, Larua lost focus and control of the wheel. In attempting to regain stability, he overcompensated, causing the car to slide off the road and hit a lamp post that bent double by the massive impact. We crashed violently.
I was knocked out for an indeterminate period of time. When I regained consciousness, I quickly discovered that our car had been all but demolished, a cloud of thick smoke rising from the wrecked engine. My body was still intact but Charles wasn’t breathing. I turned to Larua. He was also alive but badly hurt. A red liquid came running out of his forehead. I took some between my fingers and smelled it. I recognized that liquid. “You’re not human,” I said. “You’re ape.”
“Surprise—*cough*,” Larua chuckled in the brief gaps of painful coughing. “Primate doctor reporting for duty.”
I witnessed the death of a human and the birth of an ape. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but his physical composition put a new light on everything he had ever told me. Everything he had ever been to me. All these years, I had thought he was human, like me. A special kin. Yet here he was, bleeding monkey blood for a human; or for whatever the cause.
“It is—*cough*—illegal for me to drive,” Larua painstakingly continued. “Put Charles in the driver’s seat and get out of here. Don’t let the moneycoats find you.”
“Human or not, I can’t just leave you,” I said, taken aback by the revelation of his biological nature. “I’ll get help. I’ll look for someone.”
“No, Gosta,” the doctor insisted. “I’ll be fine—*cough*”
He took a deep breath and rolled himself across the gearbox, falling into the passenger seat, groaning from excruciating pain when landing.
I looked at him and considered his previous request for a moment.
“Fine,” I conceded and started dragging Charles’ body into the driver’s seat. “I’ll find somewhere safe to hide.”
“Good,” Larua said. “And, you have to know…”
“…you have to know that—*cough*—you found the narrative that you wanted to find. Don’t reduce your truth to me. Don’t.”
Cars were stopping nearby. A few monkeys were approaching our location with adventurous eyes.
“Take the small book in the glove compartment,” he continued. “The red one with the soft leather binding. I wanted to give it to you earlier—*cough*.”
“I will look for you,” I said.
With police sirens glaring in the background, I busted open the backseat door. I held the little red book in my hand, inspecting the cover as I escaped the scene. It didn’t advertise any title or author, but if it was anything like what the doctor had given me before, I wasn’t necessarily interested. I wasn’t sure about him anymore; his one, large lie had poisoned everything else. In particular, I doubted that a monkey could ethically paint humanity in such doutbful shades. What a human could utter as genuine criticism, would depart the lips of a monkey as hateful defamation. On the other hand, I knew the doctor as a wise, old man in search of moral truth, not prosecution.
It started raining, and I sought shelter under the roof of an empty bus stop.
“Gosta”, a familiar voice said. I looked up and found myself face-to-face with General Prefectus. He was the last person I would expect to see in this place at this time of the day. He could surely see the panic that was eating me inside and added: “Don’t be scared, I am alone.”
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“You have better questions.”
I didn’t run away. I felt exposed and helpless, but likewise at ease. The General Prefectus didn’t emanate malevolence. Instead, in an attempt to read each other, we stood silently before the ambient backdrop of rain.
“I don’t want answers from you,” I said. “And so I don’t have any other questions.”
“Then let me attempt a few,” he said. “Why are you fighting? Why have you taken a stance against your own kind and making important, new improvements to society?”
I inspected the deep ridges and organic imperfections of the General Prefectus’ face. He was a powerful and intimidating man, but every now and then a different person shone through. He was also old and weary. The poorly concealed antagonism he had exhibited in the morning was gone.
“The modern human society that has sprouted from the ruins of ape society has not done away with class antagonisms,” I said. “It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.”
“Marx,” he replied. “You know your historical philosophy.”
“Not thanks to you,” I said. “You omitted this from our curriculum with perverse pleasure.”
“The perversion lies in the eyes of the critic,” he scuffed. “You were spared from chaos; from flawed and misleading ideas. Yet, you are not grateful. What more could we have done?”
“Freedom?” he asked. “What is freedom to immortality? We don’t have to die. We can be the first to live forever.”
The rain reduced to a trickle, and people again emerged onto the empty street.
“I’m leaving,” I said.
I smiled at him on a whim of nostalgia, raindrops still rolling down my cheeks. I left behind a man who thought that he would be god, and I pitied him. He made no attempt to stop me when my hoodie brushed against his coat.
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