Aroma

You know what the air smells of in the cold early mornings that I wake up to? Not the bacon I could have got the supermarket for $3 off, not the cheap coffee brew that is $5, not even the Starbucks brew that is $7 and most certainly not the $11 aromatic shower-gel which claims to give my skin a shine it will have never worn before.

When I was younger and I heard the children coughing in the 3 degree warm streets, I used to hurriedly stub out my cigarette because I felt responsible somehow for their wellness. Now the very same children share lighters with me, and I regret having unnecessarily squeezed out many of the good ones before I had used them to their fullest. But it will not do for me to hide in the shade and the poverty, I have to find something to eat before I am reduced to chewing my own sweater. And it will be a shame, because I am not nimble enough to steal another one at this age.

I was told, in my youth, that the posture of a lady speaks a lot to her beauty. Sit up straight. Walk upright. Never slouch. Walk confidently. Sway your hips if you have them. Set your feet on the ground with determination as if you have a right to walk the earth. Wear the shoes that scream your birthright. Keep those legs in shape, my girl. You never know when they will come handy. I cannot prowl. I cannot lurk. I cannot sulk or stalk. My old, worn out, uncomfortable heels that I have stolen from someone’s backstage clatter down the unfortunate alley as I sashay my way to find food.

The grubby little girls stop and stare. The grubby little boys stop and stare. When there are so many pairs of poor, filthy and uneducated eyes on me, I have to obviously do something spectacular. I take a long pull on my cigarette and blow it up into the cloudy sky, like the dream-catchers at fairs blowing up sparkles into the night. I live off the idolization of children now. This is what has become of me. It doesn’t even spike my guilt when I hear the children break off into groups behind my backs and practice blowing circles from their thinning lips and fragile lungs into the foggy air which heralds sub-zero temperatures.

Clack. Clack. Clack. Do you hear my heels talking? Exactly. They’re counting out how much I care. I can’t be responsible if they grow up and decide that the only way they seek their worth is by ruining their hard-earned money on cigarettes.

I try to enter the subway station, where the morning rush hour has started. I squeeze my form in their midst. A few of the “Excuse me, please”, “Oh, I’m sorry, don’t mind me”, “Lady, can’t you see where you’re going?” -s later, I have already brushed past 14 different kinds of coats and retrieved 6 different tickets and 3 different denominations of spare change. They smell of perfume and money and leather coats. They smell of the things I can’t have. The smell of the life that I have dreamed of beyond my cigarette-ensconced hell-hole which is comfortably warm because I burn both my money and health to keep it alive.

Finally. Finally I feel equipped. There is the store nearby where the old shopkeeper makes it his business to evaluate the functional operations of my legs, critiquing it from shape to how accessible it is. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. My wispy hair tries to follow the wind. Clack. Clack. My presence is announced into the store by the little bell that hangs by the door. All eyes are on me, the show must continue. I pull out five of the seven dollars from today’s conquests in notes that I haven’t bothered to carefully fold. I must dispense with someone else’s money as though it were rubbish and not as if it were my blood. After all, it’s not my blood.

“Two packs,” is literally the first thing I have said all morning. My babies are transferred to me over the counter and even though I am weak in the knees at the thought of tearing off that paper, I hold my ground.

“Will that be all?”

See, this where life is unfair. It should have been all. It should have sufficed for everything. It should have made everything okay, especially in this dingy little world and this pathetic store where I am being leered at and the air is the smell of last decade’s subway.

“Uh….And uh….a soda.” I have declared a momentary truce with my stomach and perhaps I will smoke out the rest of my hunger if that is what this war will take.

For $1.39 and taxes, I have two dollars left. Two dollars that will be negotiated afterwards with my stomach and my escapism and my hopeless need for attention.

The wrapper on them claims that cigarettes are injurious to health, and that there are versions that are “cancer-free”. It almost sounds like the “I will leave my wife and marry you” line that the man says when you realize that only one person out of the two invited you to their life.

You know what the air smells of in the cold early mornings that I wake up to? Happy little cancer-causing lies. That’s what they smell of.

The dream that left me behind

I knew I was almost at the end of my dream.

Almost. I’ve been in this dream and it’s variations so many times before, that I can tell that it’s ending, where the part about his history is revealed, where the promises are finally broken and where all hopes slowly die out. He would now start the fight, make those awkward statements and we would slowly begin accelerating towards a definite end.

Most of the ends would be sad, as the Weaver knew that the user’s runtime was nearing it’s end. Like every other common dream addict, I would wake up, frustrated and hungry for more, log in my required hours of dreamtime and sink into another misleading, beguiling fantasy. That’s the problem with addicts. We love to be lied to.

We are completely disconnected from reality, at least until the cruel Weaver counts down every millisecond unto the ending of the dreamtime. But then again, the Weaver is benign enough to let us refill our hours, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

I’ve dreamed many times, so many times that I think there’s a special circuit somewhere in the Weaver that saves runtime logs and dream-theme variations just for me. I can tell when the Weaver is being creative, or when it’s just borrowing another cliché.

Though, if it’s a question of creativity, I can’t claim much for myself either. Whatever the story is, whoever the background characters are, it’ll always be about him. He and I will prevail. Just the two of us.

The Weaver keeps me trapped in an electronic vortex of recycled emotions. A cycle that ends only until dreamtime runs out.

Different people deal with their first Weaver experience differently. The Weaver creates beautiful, credible, charming fantasies, which start off as mundane. By the time the story peaks, the viewer is completely in the Weaver’s reality. Before the viewer knows it, situations begin to go downhill, and soon enough, the viewer is rudely interrupted to ask for more dreamtime hours. A person can either be devastated by the end and never return again, or hold on to the illusion of further happiness and refill their hours. That’s how it works.

I don’t remember the last time I woke up for dreamtime hours. Could have been hours ago, or years. I don’t know. I don’t care. As long as the Weaver can serve my emotional needs, I will always be here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know which dream I’m in. I’m a terminal addict, one step away from being the last stop before absolute assimilation. That’s probably when there’s no hope left for me at all.

But this dream is not like the others. I don’t know if the Weaver is malfunctioning or if I’m cascading into the last stage. Earlier I used to write down my dreams to get over my obsession. Today I write to record an anomaly.

I know I’m at the end of my dream. I can sense it. The fights have already started; the fairytale is slowly starting to show some cracks – all symptoms of the last stage of normal execution.

Usually, what would happen now is that things would get worse. Except that’s not happening this time.

We fought once last week, we argued about our relative differences yesterday morning. The veteran that I am, I know that this is the stage where I would completely be apathetic to his whims, remind myself that he was only an illusion, and that my dreamtime hours would be ending soon and just wait for the Weaver to finish the formalities before I woke up again.

However, this time, the awkward moments are being unusually spaced out. The disagreements are a lot less frequent. And that worries me.

According to prior experiences, we should have been angry this morning, continued on about yesterday’s issue, defended our stances to the effect where the rebuttals would get personal, and then started heaping insults at each other, till we knew that our relationship had shattered into many irretrievable pieces. That’s how it has been for all this time. That’s how it’s always supposed to happen.

In this dream, this morning, he showed immense reserves of maturity and forgiveness. We talked over what happened yesterday, he was patient, I understood what was expected of me, we soon arrived at a mutually agreeable solution and our relationship was just as strong as ever.

The surprising part is, that this is not the first time this has happened. After the second time or so, when this happened, I was telling myself that the Weaver was probably meandering around, trying to get a jaded viewer like me believe it’s immaculate lies.

No, no. This is the ninth time. The ninth time, the cracks in our relationship have shown and still, the Weaver hasn’t come to the part where it disintegrates completely. Usually, the dream would end after the third. At most, I have experienced four such incidents before the dreamtime runs out. But this has been the ninth instance and my wake-up call is extremely late.

I can somehow see through the Weaver’s pretense. Apparently, every relationship gets stronger with greater number of issues sorted out between them. I was completely numb the first three times, the fourth time made me want to laugh at the Weaver for its ingenuity. By the sixth time, I was beginning to grow fond of him. By the seventh I was truly attached. By the eighth, I was able to feel those emotions that every new viewer feels about the dream experience. I felt young again, and in my own way, I wanted to thank the Weaver for bringing out that part of me which I thought had died.

But the ninth time? By the ninth time, I am worried. I am scared. Either the Weaver has concocted some twisted torture for me towards the end or a cascade failure is in progress. I want to remember this dream, but then again I want the complete comfort of my fantasies.

I don’t know if this dream will let me hold onto him.  Though, some part of my mind, despite all these years of conditioning, is ignoring that, and holding on to him for real. I know it’s going to end.

Maybe, just maybe, this time, we will be together for real? The Weaver has never crafted such dreams before. So maybe this is not a dream?

It is so absurd to even suggest something so beautiful could be real…. and I mean really real, not just Weaver real.

I guess the more time I spent musing about this malfunction, the more dreamtime milliseconds I waste. Well, I paid for this, so I might as well enjoy it…

Personally, I hope the Weaver has crashed. If, after all these years of lies, I can finally sense the truth, then the Weaver’s circuits have truly evolved into something worthwhile.

But then again, if the Weaver has crashed, then how will I ever get to experience the pure joy of initiating another dream? How will I even wake up?

I don’t want to forget. I don’t. But I want to wake up. It’s just a question of time before I decide or more accurately, it’s just a question of dreamtime…

Tears

Image Credits: Tears by crazythis at http://crazythis.deviantart.com/art/tears-80210887

Image Credits: Tears by crazythis at http://crazythis.deviantart.com/art/tears-80210887

“Officer, do come in,” said the lazy drawl of the suspect. The recreational phosphorescence from the club’s atmosphere had faded away to a dim glow. The silhouette and its accompanying shadow shifted in their position somewhat.

Officer Porter steadied her team and entered the room in stealth mode. She had express orders to sedate this highly mobile suspect before taking him into her custody. Do not move until suspect has been located, she transmitted to the rest of the team. This was unbelievably lucky. After almost two years of tracking down this man via his goods, they finally had him. Surrounded and possibly armed.

“Surrender to this, Delirium.” she spoke aloud, addressing the criminal by his chosen code name. “Central Justice holds you guilty for the propagation of narcotics among innocent civilians, and the crimes that they have gone on to perpetrate.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” said Delirium, bored.

“Do not move. You will be provided counsel if requested…”

Prepare the sedatives, she commanded her team. Green acknowledging blips confirmed their response.

“My dear Officer Porter, I did not come this far and let myself be captured.”

Ordinarily, she would have registered some shock at the fact that he knew her name already. But this wasn’t the time to debate such minutiae. Ready to diffuse on my mark. All the green blips flashed off once and then blinked back again.

“If you try to diffuse now, you’ll never get me, Officer Porter.”

Stand by, team. “State your demands, criminal.”

“Come, come, my dear Officer Porter. It’s been 36 months since you have been chasing me and now that I am finally in your arms, you won’t even talk to me?”

“You will be allowed to speak to legal counsel only.”

“But I don’t want to speak to them! I want to talk to you, dear.”

Some of the green blips went orange in confusion. The criminal was requesting an audience with an officer. Porter did not have the time to send a request to higher authorities for this change of procedure. With a high-sensitivity target, she was alone.

Team, commencing negotiations with the hostage. Initiating a code blue pulse. When the pulse dies out, begin diffusion. Some of the orange lights turned red in protest, but as Porter marched into the eerie semi-darkness, they slowly switched back to green.

She entered a partially lit hallway. Recreational skins littered the floor, and the heads up display told her that the concentration of narcotics in the atmosphere had jumped to about 4 parts per million. A chair swiveled around as she entered and positioned itself. In the poor visibility, Porter could make out his presence through her thermal sensors only.

“Please sit. I have many things I want to talk to you about.”

“Speak.” She remained standing.

“Is that how the new generation works these days? I didn’t know that the lack of emotions necessitated a lack of courteous behavior.”

There was silence, during which Porter re-adjusted her sensors in order to pin-point his location better.

“Might I say you’ve done a lovely job with infiltrating my customer base? In the beginning I couldn’t even tell them apart from the regular ones, until I noticed that their delirium wore off a lot faster. Is it a part of your training, my dear?”

Porter continued to scan the room. Two exits. He was located equidistant from both of them. If he had to leave in one way or another, he would have to physically pass by her. He hadn’t yet asked her a question to which she could objectively respond. She wasn’t in the habit of making small talk to criminals either.

“Silence makes this conversation rather one-sided, so when I asked to speak to you, I expected you to reply back.”

“It is my duty to stop crime” was the mechanic, halting, monotone reply.

“You new generation clones are pathetic. Not only do you make awful conversationalists, but you don’t even accept compliments very well. I think it’s time you ask a question or we could very well be sitting here in silence until one of us dies.”

“How did you know of our methods?” asked Porter, wondering that she might as well ask something productive if he was being so insistent.

“Oooh. An interesting one. I know everything about you, dear.”

“Elaborate.”

“I know your dirty little secret in the rehabilitation center. You’re one of the few with the recurring gene failure, isn’t it? ”

If Porter could have felt shock, she probably would. But with her conditioning, she probably translated the information into the binary category of either failures in security networks or manipulative lies.

“…. Well? Aren’t you curious how I know about your private records?” asked Delirium, in some struggle to provoke a response.

It was true, though. Despite all of Porter’s genetic conditioning to suppress emotion, the logic of the situation did not compute.

“Yes. I am,” said Officer Porter, internally setting her own beacon to a blue light. She estimated that this conversation would take no more than three minutes. Given that this was an extremely dangerous suspect, Porter ordered her team to go ahead with the diffusion when the blue light went out. She could be resuscitated if required. Capturing him was the top priority here.

Porter paused to regulate some oxygen within her suit. The narcotics in the atmosphere were beginning to seep into her suit through the vents. How the criminal survived his manic addiction was anyone’s guess. After legal counsel, he would probably be sent to the labs for testing. If indeed his genes turned out to be as robust as they claimed, they could use it to for further emotional conditioning of the gene pool.

“So, tell me, are the suppressants are working?” asked Delirium, pausing just enough to seem nasty about it.

“What is the goal of this discussion, criminal?” asked Porter, feeling a little out of her element. The rehabilitation story was supposed to be expunged from her records. Memories of her days in rehabilitation passed through rather quickly.

Porter had been “born” just like every new generation clone had, derived from the diluted DNA of some True Human. Most clones did not feel emotions any more, as part of their restructuring and conditioning. However, as it was with DNA, there were some cases when citizens of the new generation failed, and regressed into violence or sadness or happiness. It was ironic how the fresh source of DNA (the last of the True Humans) were also the remaining criminals. Sweeping evolutionary changes demanded that the True Humans be rounded up from the ghetto, from their criminal hubs and submitted into the gene pool centers. Their genes would be extracted and applied, and they would emerge as docile, civilized, urbane creatures. The greater the variation in structure, the stronger the emotional conditioning would reflect on the next series of clones.

“You regressed as a child, didn’t you?”

Porter was silent for a while, and then she allowed a barely audible “Yes” to escape her.

Delirium’s mouth curved up into a smirk. Spontaneous signs of emotion. How long had he been breathing in narcotics?

“Tell me what happened during the siege of the Blaniken outpost.”

Porter’s regression had taken on an incontrollable form. The Blaniken outpost was one of the hardest ghettos to crack, and it was evident in the damages the team had suffered. For the first and probably only time in her life, Porter had been possessed with rage. She remembered that emotion, the wild, inherent drive in her head to demolish all. Regressions were usually fatal as emotions that had been suppressed for an entire lifetime managed to find an outlet. Porter’s rehab had tried to clean off some of the memories, but the feeling of actually tearing a fellow clone from limb to limb in blind rage still tingled on her fingers on the worse days.

“That….that information is classified.”

“It feels beautiful, doesn’t it?” asked Delirium, leaning over the table now.

“I am not designed to….”

“You know what I’m talking about. It’s that unseen power that you’ve been denied all your life…”

Porter knew exactly what he was talking about. She had been so angry that not even physical injuries could deter her. She was attacking anything and everything that was in sight. The thrill of having another creature’s existence completely in her unstable control and that she could, with the smallest of effort end it, was overwhelming.

Delirium allowed himself a chuckle as he saw Porter’s eyes expand slightly through her visor. Marketing emotions was exactly his specialization. The beauty was that each user had their own experience. The drug merely worked to restore the natural chemical balance within the still human brain. Once the cerebrum was capable of feeling the emotion, it was pure abandon for the mind. At least until the conditioning kicked in to place, stabilizing the balance again. To feel happy, to feel sad, to literally feel anything that was beyond the capacity of rationale and logic was obviously addictive.

“Are you under influence now?” asked Porter, registering his smile and laughter.

“No, my dear,” he conceded. “You see, I don’t need narcotics to feel emotions. I’m a True Human.”

Increase the dosage of the sedative, team. Call for reinforcements. Green lights blinked consecutively in order.

“Why does my existence concern you?”

“Another interesting one! My dear, you are absolutely scintillating today.”

Porter did not accept the compliment. She stayed emotionless and counted off the seconds from the blue light timer.

“You see, I just wanted to inform you specifically, that the rehab treatments won’t work. As well trained as you are, I know it won’t.”

“Explain.”

“Let me see your face,” asked Delirium. “Without the visor.”

This was an imminent exposure to danger. It would take a while to purge the chemicals from her system. Given her history with regressions, it might even send her into another one that could very well irrecoverable.

“Why?”

“You see, my dear, you are my clone. My True Human DNA has been used to create you.”

“All new generation humans are derived from viable True Human DNA.”

“Correct. But the problem is, my genes, like me, are a bit of a rebel. They honestly should have politely asked for a sample instead of forcing it out of me, but I’m not exactly compatible for emotional conditioning. I also have a naturally high ability resist chemicals, as you can clearly tell by my comfortable exposure to narcotics. I didn’t know it was you, at first. But after the Blaniken incident, I knew you had inherited my problem.”

“Are you expecting me to empathize with you?”

“No, no, my dear. That would be ruining the medical charade of a spectacularly designed suppressant.”

Once again there was an awkward silence as Delirium expected her to offer an opinion on the revelation. Porter was unimpressed. Or maybe she was conditioned to feel unimpressed.

“Please let me see your face. Just once, without the visor.”

“You have several clones. Why this attachment to me?”

“See, you and I have been the ones bound by fate. You’re the only person who could hunt me down after all these years. In a way, you are my offspring and I feel strangely proud.”

Delirium was getting more insistent now.

“Before I go to the gene pool centers, let me look at you once. Allow me the last privilege of feeling joy before I’m handed into civility.”

This was unbelievably outrageous and dangerous. Catering to emotional needs of a True Human was not her duty.

“Please. For the last time? I’ll never be able to feel anything after.”

“Would you be more compliant with the procedure that is to follow?”

“Would you really deny me the right to see my own offspring?”

Porter activated the timer alert on her blue light. Then, she proceeded to take off the visor, despite all protests by the internal computer that it was dangerous for her to do so. Instinctively, she held her breath as he visor opened up, allowing her oxygen to escape outside. The stench of narcotics was an olfactory attack in its own right.

Then the unexpected happened. Delirium reached out for her face. In some defense, Porter started back, careful not to touch or breathe anything.

“Please….” asked Delirium softly, persistently, his eyes welling up somewhat. Another debilitating emotional condition.

Porter paused stiffly as his fingers traced a line across her cheek. Every logical, rational and even the remnants of emotional instincts were telling her that something was wrong and this was too easy.

It was odd how the sub-dermal injector camouflaged in Delirium’s fingers and Porter’s team diffused at the same time. While Delirium collapsed to the floor, unconscious, Porter frantically struggled to get the visor back on. She gulped in the oxygen, feeling strangely light and confused and scared at the same time. Her brain began to destabilize slowly as she watched her comrades drag him out. While they fumbled in the dark, toxic, low-visibility ambiance, Porter realized that she had just condemned the only sort of family she had to an eternal hell.

She curled up on the floor and felt the tears. Then, almost convulsively her body surrendered and the regression took over. Porter began to weep.