Originally published in Tales to Oddify, 2011
I'm not exactly sure what is happening. I think there's been accident. No, I'm sure now. The taxi cab I was riding in crashed. I remember, I caused this. I can't remember how or why I decided to walk away from the cab. From this distance my Ethiopian driver can be seen inside. He seems to be gently asleep on the air bag. He doesn't look like he's bleeding. It is difficult to tell because it is dark in the car because of the strong morning light. My view into the car is a badly lit image nearing a silhouette. There is a part of me that is welling with curiosity, maybe even a sense of obligation to check on the safety of the driver, but that would be for someone who actually felt something, and that is the problem.
In many of the old films there would be plumes of steam or maybe smoke rising up from an engine after a wreck. How frantic the whole ordeal would be. Instead, this real accident is so quiet. A smashed child's toy posing as a car with all the plastic pieces shattered and strewn across the street. No hum, no hiss, nobody is even talking. On the pieces strewn but still affixed to their durable LCD coating play advertisements with very minor glitches, commerce is still working efficiently. The person who hit us is frantically pressing the send button on his Riveo to download and forward the street video to his insurance company. I'm walking to the side of the street to get to the park and I see a real tree for the first time. The tree looks organic and surprisingly to me, unruly. There is no plastic shine or waxed marble reflection on it. It is so new and unusual compared to my usual daily landscape of artifice. It's an Apple tree. A nice park Apple tree. I can't remember if I have their network pass. I can't remember if I'm allowed to be in this park owned by the Apple company. It is difficult to remember which companies my corporate pass card allows me to be in, since the pass is rarely used by me. I am fretting over things that do not matter. The only thing that is important now is lying under that tree before they come for me. The soft dampness of the ground feels so nice under my feet. The grass is real, I bet this tree is real, I bet this park is mostly real except for the genetically modified logo that appears directly in my line of sight on the tree trunk. I am going to lay down under here and worry about everything in a few minutes. I now realize that my head is wet, no, my head is bleeding. I'll be okay as soon as I take a nap here.
I wonder what my father would think of this right now. I call him my father, but that'sinaccurate, but it's the best word I have for him. He was my lead designer and tester. He was most often a very determined and focused individual which spotlighted his glimpses of emotion. His face lit up at moments revealing cracks in his wall of professional gravity. When Pangenea would perform the EQ tests, or emotional quotient tests, I would exceed the expected results unfortunately. Countless virtual scenarios involving human and mechanical interactions, relationships, and compulsion were enacted upon me as probes transmitted my information to the database. An algorithmic graph of my soul tabulated and stored from the data flows of my pulse rates, brain activities, and metabolic fluctuations. My father would oversee the more important tests, and through the screen, I could see beaming forth from his eyes, the wellspring of unexpected pride. I was never meant to do well on those tests. Pangenea spent over a decade of research and meticulousness in order that I would feel a little less, or ideally, not at all. I am a Meta. I am one of the early ones, and an anomaly who was tested and analyzed so that I could be sold to businesses as part of ahighly efficacious and profitable workforce.
Pangenea's geneticists early on made breakthroughs in artificially isolating epigenes and phenotypes that were related to a more primal state of humans. This in turn would shut off the uglier traits of humans or least humans that they would want to be good laborers. Instincts of defiance or ambition would be weeded out and this first breed of Metas would be more suitable workers for the upcoming decades. We were to be systematic beings always focused and on task. We would not be have the trappings of personal dramas that usually plagued the Simians, as we called them. No longer would we complain of pay raises to our bosses. We would not feel the insecurity or jealousy of the Simians. We would be complicit and efficient.
At the time, I seemed like a reasonable risk option to a prospective employer. My test results had been somewhat disturbing because my EQ assessment ranked slightly above the curve on emoting tendencies, however, there were no behavioral outputs that matched the dubious scores, so I wasn't discarded. Through every simulation, I did not behave inappropriately, although my pulse rates would occasionally rise during those tests. Regardless, it was all attached to my profile marker that Pangenea transmitted to every employer to be aware of risk I posed of acting out. Chase Manhattan was eager to acquire a handful of Metas even though we were still in the beta testing stage. The acquisition seemed more appealing I imagine because we were offered at discounted prices.
They quickly set me up in my four by seven foot habitation room and three by six foot work space. I was good in the beginning. I did my work in my office walked across the lobby and arrived in my home to sleep. I started all over again the next day.
One day on my travel to my habitation room from my work place, I saw some Simians visiting in the lobby of the office. They were watching an old vid screen and for some inexplicable reason, as I passed them, I briefly glanced over their shoulder. It was the first time I had seen a film or a glimpse ofone. The image looked like a view from the ground looking up at a sky and with flowers swaying in the wind. I don't know how long I saw that image, but it was barely a second I'm sure, and for some reason that night in my habitation room, the image perpetually replayed in my mind. I closed my eyes and sawthose beautiful flowers sway and swing. For the first time, I felt this sensation in my body that I cannot explain or describe, but it emanated from my chest whenever I would think of those few seconds.
In the weeks to follow, I tried to place it out of my mind, but I would find that my thoughts would continually return to the image. There was the sun shining in the sky and a lens flare diagonalizing from it while the entire scene was matted against a bright blue sky. The flowers and stems were saturated with bright, deep, yellowish-oranges and greens, with abreezing wind tottering the florets.
After a month of laying in bed thinking of the image again, staring up at my comm screen five inches from my face trying to connect to central services and I requested film access. Central services quickly responded with a survey testing my reasoning for wanting film access along with the addendum for my preferences of either Coke or Pepsi. My years of testing had made me very good at faking tests. My answerers were set up to create the idea that the films would be used and researched for frame rates of image processing. I quickly received a response telling me that my request was granted. So I began to watch films every night before going to sleep. I wanted to find that image and I set out to search all the films in the database until I found it.
The nights became filled with thousands of images of a foreign world. Different actors and scenes began to decorate my mind, intoxicating my brain with things so foreign to my sterile and monotonous environment. I studied the images with such care and detail that I began to pick out the image manipulations where they had inserted a Motorola phone into an actor's hand or inserted a Gap label onto their clothing. This intoxication became so complete that I began to do something illegal. I started to become sleep deprived. My particular type of Meta is required a full six hours of sleep during my prime. We are held accountable because otherwise, our work efficiency was shown to empirically decrease without our food and sleep quota. I can't explain why, but I didn't care. I made a calculation that if I could concentrate on production, it would go unnoticed.
That was the theory, in practice, I began to reflect on all the different images and stories that began to fill my mind from the films. It didn't take long until Chase was alerted to my drop in labor efficiency. I was informed that night through the comm screen. The best reason that I can find to explain things at this point was that the flip-side of not feeling desire and ambition also left me without a feeling of fear of repercussion. My calculation of work efficiency was wrong, but I didn't really careat that point about the retaliation that would follow. Instead, more warnings were issued to me and my inefficient pattern continued, until finally they caught on and terminated my film access. I stared at the screen that night repeatedly sending re-access requests for a long time, each time the request was denied. A soft female voice accompanied by texts in three languages emanated from my com screen explaining my request denial and violation.
That night, I slept over my limit as the comm screen continued to blare the wake up alarm at me. I was pretty sure what would happen soon, I would be sent back to my creation place. I would be sent back to Pangenea. They would either try some genetic medication modification or I would be terminated. In either case, my corporate pass card would soon be canceled as my workplace was preparing for my capture and return. Most likely Chase would be refunded back to the point that my efficiency began to fluctuate taking into account equipment devaluation.
Once again, I didn't care.
All I wanted was to feel that image again. I made a determined decision to take a taxi cab to find a park with a bed of flowers so that I could lay in it while the early morning sun shone in the sky. I ordered a taxi cab from a remote T-Mobile location and requested drive service to a park. The taxi driver seemed confused as he indexed his map asking me which one. I told him it didn't matter, one with a flower bed. This seemed to frustrate the driver as this was clearly not how things were ever done. Once the corporate pass was read by the America's Best cab scanner, the door was remotely unlocked and I was allowed to enter the backseat. Relief swept over me because the corporate pass was still active, hopefully long enough for me to reach the nearest park, but the feeling of relief held with it the implication of fear. I was becoming unhinged..
There was no separation grid walling me and the driver. Looking at the driver from the backseat, I began to wonder why companies hadn't replaced this kind of job with a Meta, it seemed remedial enough. The driver did something that was unexpected and left me feeling confused. He smiled at me. His dark skin contrasted a beautiful row of ivory teeth. With such a pair of straight and perfect teeth, begged the question if in fact he was a Meta. I asked him if he had sold his sequencing of teeth replication for credits before. A quick fire oflaughter projected from his mouth as he came to a realization that I was a Meta and he seemed childishly curious about me. The Simian driver told me about his history growing up in Ethiopia. He told me about being raised by a mother before the days of Metas. I heard a sadness in his voice as he explained that we were lucky, that we would never know what it would be like to not have a father or mother around, or what it was like to long for and desire something that had long been gone or impossible to retrieve. His dash board then lit up and blared with contrasting sounds. My pass had been canceled. The driver was given instructions to return me to Chase immediately and that failure to do so would result in subjection to criminal violations of theft of property, and that he would reimbursed for his fees of travel.
I knew it was done. I knew I was done. The modification medication would not work on me if I was returned. Things had progressed beyond that point. On top of everything, we were nearing a park when he began to turn the cab around. A switch had seemed to turn on inside of him, his face began to focus in concentration and his lips compressed tightly as if to retract all his earlier camaraderie This was visible through the rearview mirror from the back seat. I calmly reached over his shoulder and grabbed the wheel from him trying to force the vehicle back around. There was a cacophony of beeping noises, a piercing screech, andthen a plastic popping sound. I knew I was deeply flawed/