Sabotage II: Isolation

<Recap: Watchtower and Fingers are two operatives who are using an exiled spy’s robotic companion to constantly monitor him. Unfortunately, the robot is built on a missile guidance system which is incredibly lethal and adaptive.>

Bishop sat in the cozy chair he had once made for himself several years ago, and felt his withered fingers outline the scratches and marks he had made in the walls of his cabin. Solitary exile was not a thing for the weak. The incessant silence had a way of making memories come larger to life, of making random voices in his head sound louder than reality. It had come to a point when Bishop had realized that he was screaming and screaming to himself until his voice was hoarse and yet, the memories returned with a vengeance.

“Do you want a drink?” asked Friend’s smooth, calming voice. Miles away, Watchtower and Fingers stared at Bishop through Friend’s poorly pieced-together visualizer. Watchtower gripped his companion’s chair strongly as the pixels tried to gather themselves into the face of one of the most wanted fugitives of the last generation.

“Thank you, Friend,” said Bishop, accepting one from the Robot’s extended arm, blissfully unaware of two humans watching him via Friend’s visual scanners.

He watched reflectively as the machine bustled around the makeshift kitchen that he had put together. His entire residence was a tribute to the accumulated strength of several years of survival skills in the wild. Yet, the comfort of having another mobile presence in this void was so fulfilling. There was that one day when Friend’s vocal transmitters failed. Bishop remembered the dread he had felt during the night Friend was silent. That terrifying sense of being flung into the unfathomable depths of some inconceivable darkness, the sense of being lost in the void. The absolute, complete, and invulnerable sense of nihilism had driven Bishop to suicide many times over. For a man who was trained in self-survival, the task of trying to kill himself was a very rebellion against the essence of his being, and his physical conditioning forced those ventures to be a failure.

Terrible. Terrible. The silence had been screaming at his ears for long enough now. How many years had it been? His senile brain lost count.

Until he had found a Friend.

“You’re very quiet today,” said Friend, staying faithful to its programming and breaking the lull.

Bishop smiled paternally at the hideous conglomeration of metal and scrap goods that formed Friend’s face.  He wondered why, of all things, had he fashioned a powerful guidance system into a humanoid robot that was nothing more than a talking, functional toy. He knew why.

In that pitch black silence, in the height of his depravity, in the misery of his pain and terror, there had been a voice that had saved him.

“Warning: Central core disengaged”, it had said.

Bishop could have cried hearing another voice. It was a guidance missile, true. It could have been lethal, true. It could have been set on targeting him, true. But, for that one moment, Bishop had heard a humanoid voice that spoke a language he understood after a decade. He was not giving up on that. He was not letting go. And running away, was very possibly the last thought he had in his mind.

Exile wasn’t going to be so bad once he had a friend.

“Is everything all right?” asked the same voice that occupied his thoughts. Once the voice of a killer, now the voice of a friend.

“I’m fine,” said the usually garrulous old man.

“Do you want to record the events of today?”

Bishop laughed until his lungs gave up and he wheezed a bit. Recordings. He had stopped entering his logs and recording his memories a long time ago. Granted, the contents of his thoughts would have cost a human soul in the last generation. And in fact, they did. They cost many human souls. Those that lay on the cemetery. Those that manned the weapons. Those that mounted guidance systems on automated missiles. He had once known some of the most terrible scandals ever, some of the most closely guarded secrets of states and dignitaries and weapon systems.

But the silence had taken them all away. The primal human need for a person, just someone to hold, to regard, to speak to was more stronger than integrity.

It was after making several video logs and several diary entries that Bishop learned a new flavor of exile. Beyond the occasional tree he used to climb, or the random bird that he hunted or some mundane activity that he could manage besides daily housekeeping, he had nothing else to say. Now that he was too old to do or be anything, he felt reluctant to record. What possible content would it have?

One of the first things that Friend had learned to do was repeat the logs back to him. Bishop heard himself for a while, and then realized that the ennui was as terrible as the silence itself.

Where was death where you needed it? Had he truly spent all his life avoiding death so skillfully that he had escaped it forever?

Of course not! Bishop, you’re impatient even in your senility, he told himself and smiled at nothing in particular.

“I am unable to engage you in conversation, or keep you entertained. My repository of stories is limited and I cannot access any more amusement for you. You refuse to enter new content into me. Am I not functioning satisfactorily enough?” asked Friend.

Bishop avoided choking on his drink. Since when was Friend suffering an existential dilemma?

“Friend, you’re fine.” he said, clasping one of the hand-shaped appendages, all five fingers. Such a comfort to hold. The joy of feeling a presence through actual tactile response was a privilege that Bishop had been long-denied.

“Are you sure everything is okay?” repeated Friend, its eyes peering into Bishop’s closer than before.

“Yes, Friend. I’m just tired. An old man like me needs some of his quiet moments, no?”

Friend turned away and performed a superb imitation of sipping its own drink. Avoiding silent moments was the sole purpose of Friend’s existence. Yet, Friend had adapted to the increasing frequency of these needs as well. The adaptive system was genius, pure genius. Especially how it seemed to intuitively guess human wants.

Bishop regarded the robot with his weary eyes. He felt a rush of paternal affection. It was his own creation. His child. His caretaker. His companion. His Friend.

“Help me get to bed please, friend?” The robot obliged almost instantly. It’s flexible arms helped the old man out of his makeshift chair and provided him with the structural support he needed as he hobbled to his bed. Then, Friend covered him with a blanket and without a prompt, began to play a soft humming melody from it’s data reserves. It was a tune that Bishop himself had recorded several years ago, and then played it to himself every night. The audio file was labeled “Mother’s lullaby”.

</to be continued/>

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Plaything

You close your eyes and try to shut out the cold, sterile light of the room. Every movement is stiff, painful and unnatural. You are sick of waking up. All you want to do is roll over and die. Even death is a privilege that you are denied.

“You can’t die,” says the familiar gleeful voice in your ear.

The voice confirms her presence. She giggles at your feeble attempts to fight the frayed sheet off. That singular sheet was supposed to be your sole defense against the snow. Just as how this room was supposed to be your defense from her. The stray threads of the cover clings to you, trying to comfort you, to embrace you. It feels like they are suffocating you.

The little girl laughs when you wince to sit up. “You look tired and ugly!”

She gloats as she skips around in front of the bunker. She personifies joy. She stares at your charred, scarred, wounded body, in fascination, almost as if intrigued by the depth cast by the shadows. She bobs up in front of you, her singsong voice echoes off the cold, brutal walls.

“Is that a new one?” she asks, reaching out for a particularly deep gash on your shoulder.

You shrink from her image. From the touch of her soft, small hands. You cannot bear to acknowledge her presence. Almost as if in empathy, the wounds begin to hurt all over again. She is surprised to see you back away from her.

“You’re scared of me?!” asks the little girl, barely taller than your knee. She finds this amusing, as she does about everything about you. You cannot help but suppress an involuntary pang of terror as you hear her innocent, childish laugh. The laughter echoes around the room. Maybe it’s just you, or maybe it sounds louder than the last time. You cannot deny the truth to yourself. You are scared of her. She haunts every living memory and every dream that plagues you.

But this emotion, is it fear? No. Not just fear. It’s awe as well. Overwhelming awe. You have been reduced to her plaything. She laughs at you. She mocks you. She controls you. Her innocent face knows every thought in your head. She manipulates you in ways that are so subtle, so insidious that you are torn between wondering if you were listening to her or acting out of your own volition. Of course, you’re scared. Wouldn’t anyone be if they had to acknowledge the absolute and complete loss of self-control? You have long since surrendered the right to live, especially when confronted with the intensity of the power she wields over you.

“Come on,” she says,perched at the edge of your cot,” let’s play one of your drawing games.”

Your body protests. But it protests in vain. Your aching, throbbing hands automatically pick up a sharp, jagged edge of a stone lying at the corner of your room. Your back hurts violently as you stoop over, on your unbending knees on the floor. Even on your knees, you tower over her. Your eyes water as she holds your gaze.

Then the cramps come, and all the scars hurt and your body registers its displeasure by forcing you to collapse. It’s a struggle. It always has been. You pick yourself up until you are back on your haunches. It’s a wonder how you manage to live from one moment to the next. But you do, don’t you? If this can be called living?

Your hand marks out a large, smooth ellipse on the floor with the sharper edge of the stone. It is a practiced movement. A closer scrutiny of the floor proves that the ellipses and circles of previous games are already caked with years of dirt. How many times have you done this before?

“Now, fill it with pictures of your life,” says the little girl, sounding more authoritative than her age betrayed her to be.

It is a command. Not a request. You close your eyes for a moment, wishing this world, and this girl would just go away and maybe you would open them up to some infinite ocean of darkness. Maybe that would have sounded terrifying in any other context. But the void is soothing. The nothingness would save your soul from bearing any more scars of this world.

“Tell me the story,” she giggles, reverting back to an adorable child.

You try to ignore the cold pit of fear in your chest. No! She cannot be doing this to you! Your body and soul urge you to defy her power. Your tired eyes try to focus on her bright image, staring at her. Your voice doesn’t have much to go on. Why does she keep asking more from your broken soul? You try to tell her that you can’t play her games anymore. You don’t want to play her games anymore. The wheezes and the coughing are incomprehensible, and they crumble to silence in the dust.

“What happened? Why aren’t you playing?” asks her voice, louder than the truth of reality, itself.

You must resist. Hold strong, with whatever you have. You cannot let this go. Your stories are all you have of yourself. You cannot relinquish them without a fight. Even if this struggle leads you onto death, sweet death, you cannot let go of them. They are your last anchor.

She senses your pathetic attempt to acquire self-control. Anybody else would think that a child liker her would burst into tears or throw a tantrum. She merely smiles. It is sneering, derisive, contemptuous. Strangely enough, it looks cute on her, as she stares back you and says, “Play.”

Your fear is too strong. It takes you hostage and forces you to behave. You have failed yourself, again. Your strength must not dwindle. You must go on. Your hand continues to fill the ellipse with lines and shapes. Your tortured throat must narrate the story of your life. Reliving the entirety of your once wholesome experience in the shadows of hoarse words…

You don’t remember when the game was over, or when she was gone or when the cruel floor had been colder, or when the walls had shrunk so much around you. You are sprawled on the floor, wracked with some unknown agony, so real and yet, so intangible, that you feel a little bit more of your soul give up inside. Your body is devastated.

But, there is a silence. Your brain wants to soak it in, drown itself in this fragment of an eternal, soothing silence. Random thoughts, which had never before resurfaced, flit through. Thoughts of a normal life. Breakfast. Pancakes. They used to smell so warm, you know? So warm. Like colors, like the reds and oranges of an existence passed by. Children loved warm colors. Toys and games, so brightly colored, so vibrant with life, with being. Games.

“Miss me?” asks her voice again, soft, persistent and dreadful.

She is back again, to take away another part of your memories, of your stories. You can taste your hate and fear at the back of your throat. Your mad scramble for some semblance of sanity gives you strength. Strength to pound the floor, strength to attack the walls, strength to force life into your abused body, for however short that moment may be. You beg, you plead, you screech for mercy. Doesn’t matter if you feel your voice break up. Dying now would be better than continuing her games. This cannot happen again. No, no,no, no, no, no, no, no, no……

Arms pick you up and strap you to something. The handcuffs they place are cold, yet the touch of the cold metal is reassuring. This is not a story. This is not a dream. This is not one of her game. This. Is. Not. A. Dream. This. Is. Not. A. Game.

Or is it?

You are escorted out somewhere that is illuminated in a blinding white. You want to instinctively shut the world outside. And for that moment, for that little while, she is silent. Your head throbs as though a million angry thoughts were pounding on the skin of you walls, trying to break free from a desolate realm. You are made to walk. Your feet stumble, unable to grasp the motions of actual, real motion, unable to believe in how alien that familiar motion had become.

Your eyes open into the darkness. You are too shocked to believe your final wish will be granted. Is this death? Was all that walking, the restraint of metal all the route to death? It felt too bland, to painless to be death. Your eyes get accustomed to the light. A voice begins to speak. You almost cry out in delight for it being the voice of the Interrogator instead of the little girl. Anything, anything is better than the little girl.

“It’s been three months since we last met. Has your story changed?” the Interrogator asks.

The same voice which forced you to lie, the same voice that refused to believe you. Everything that you said was a lie. Nothing that the voice asked of you could be satisfied with the truth. This is that voice. The voice that laughed as you cringed in pain, the voice that demanded answers, the voice that warned you of dire consequences. Now, it is asking for another fragment of you soul, in that unflinching clear voice. Hesitation is a liberty for liars.

Your fractured mind cannot comprehend the depths to which you have sunk. This is the person who has tortured you so much. Your body bears evidence of his wrath. You are disgusted at yourself for being delighted at hearing the voice of someone who has scarred you beyond measure. You wonder why. Why is it that you seek an almost rabid attachment to this voice? Probably because the Interrogator is the last tangible thing in your reality. No matter if the Interrogator attaches those painful cables again, no matter if you must scream till every vocal cord is ripped apart, no matter if another bone is shattered, no matter at all. As long as the Interrogator is there, the little girl is not. That is all that matters.

The Interrogator tells you a story. It is one that will inevitably bring you a sense of déjà vu. It speaks of you. It speaks of a horrible crime. The ghastly details are accurately described, and your mind attempts to paint a picture in your head with the knowledge coming in from your bleeding ears. It tries and it tries, but it is so tired, it fails. Then the story goes on about a little girl. The little girl who died. The Interrogator describes her funeral, wishing to evoke more emotion in you than you possibly have to give. It is pointless to deny. That girl is not dead. She is alive. She is so alive that she feeds off you. She is a parasitic memory, draining you more powerfully than any physical torture possibly can. How can she be dead when she’s right there in your cell, before your very eyes, in that small, cramped, claustrophobic room?

The Interrogator laughs at your refusal. The voice that demanded so much of the truth is reduced to spouting lies and laughing at you for denying them.

“…..solitary detention?” finished the Interrogator. You don’t remember when that blow came, and at any rate it was too fast for you to react to. The lower jaw is the first to feel the impact and the shock travels through your body, combining the shattered whole together for one instant till it leaves behind a million new fragments in its wake.

You do not want to surrender. You do not want to accept defeat, even as the blood streams down. In the midst of this pain, your brain slowly realizes the meaning of the little girl’s game. The ellipses you scratch out on the floor are her stories, but now they have become yours. You earnestly try to will your mind to stop existing. But you cannot. You are too weak.

The Interrogator continues with the regular routine. It is surprising why he expects a different answer to the same question every time. Each jolt of electricity, each bone-crumbling blow and each excruciating slice gives you something to hold on to. For that while, your mind numbs itself with enough physical pain to stop itself from seeing that girl. Such relish.

Initially, these sessions seemed too long. But now, they are too short. You do not know how many days, weeks or even years will pass before you are blessed with another touch of reality. You cannot even try to protest as you are knocked out cold, muttering your supposed lies. Some dim thought at the back of your head registers that you will be dragged back to your eternal hell. How could a body that was designed to resist death to such a degree want it so intensely? You hope that this time, maybe this time, perhaps you are so weak and their force is so strong that you do not have to ever wake up again. You do not have to wake up and play the little girl’s games again.

But you cannot choose your torture. You are left to crawl on the cold floor, sinking deeply into the silent terror of being alone. Can you live with yourself in the supposed silence?

Your body has forgotten how it returned back to the floor, or how it overcame the fresh wounds to begin again. Dread and the little girl are your constant companions. You are back on your haunches, your fingers desperately grasping onto the stone edge, holding edge smooth from use and ready to scratch at the floor in some futile exercise. Your cursed eyes look up to the little girl at the edge of your cot.

“Play with me,” she says sweetly, gently, almost persuasively.

Your hand obeys by drawing out a fresh ellipse on a floor etched with infinitely many. You cannot stop. As long as her memory lives, as long as death doesn’t come to rescue you, you cannot stop. You have to play her games. You are her plaything. So you must tell your story again and again and again and again……

 

Nostophobia

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I usually post in a flurry at the end of the holiday season, not knowing when I’ll be able to give free rein to my writing. I also sometimes tend to pad it up with inspirational messages about how the holidays have changed me and how next semester will be vastly different from the last and all the mechanisms I have established in place to prevent me from making the same mistakes as before. 

This summer, I was supposed to be interning, and taking a summer class and working on research all through three months. Until my parents put their foot down and insisted that I stay at home, get my food and sleep schedule on track and work passively. I enjoyed the traditional vacations that most families schedule every few years, and honestly, I hadn’t been on a holiday since 2008. For a while, my life seemed more defined with experiences and photos and maps and managing my parents, than it appeared to be of deadlines.

But I was terrified that I would lose the punishing schedule that I had imposed on myself. I believed that if I wasn’t overworked and sleep-deprived, I wasn’t living my life right. When my parents insisted that I stay at home with them, I was sure that I was going to have the most boring and unproductive summer of the lot. I felt insecure about the fact that all my friends had secured internships at fancy places (J.P Morgan, McKinsey, Con Edison, etc) while I was living the pampered lifestyle:  occasionally writing code, blogging and swimming. 

Except now, the three months are over and I find myself saying something that I never thought would pass my mouth. “I don’t want the holidays to end.” I don’t want the holidays to end because I have grown so much healthier and happier since these months and I’m scared that once the onslaught of college begins, my “disciplined schedule” as maintained by my parents will not withstand the vagaries of undergraduate life. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am trying to internalize it so I don’t have to be dependent on close monitoring all the time. But I also don’t want to go back because of differences in my friend group. I have mandated that I find new friends this semester, people who truly make me happy and feel worthy, instead of continually trying to please a group of people who abuse my compassion.

But it’s the third year of college and work will be upon me faster and heavier than before. How am I supposed to find the time to make new friends? Or am I destined to feel alone as the deadlines slam into my days with unstoppable ferocity? 

Hence the nostophobia. I want to go back. I really do miss college, work, classes and some people. But I know I will miss these moments too. I just don’t know which one I will miss more. 

The Lady of Shalott Revisited

Using Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott as a template, Shalott is now a nuclear facility manned by a single lady. This is a poem of what happens as a result of long isolation and distraction.

Image Credits: Cyborg by Itluan on dA at http://ltluan.deviantart.com/art/Cyborg-266216981

Image Credits: Cyborg by Itluan on dA at http://ltluan.deviantart.com/art/Cyborg-266216981

 

On either side the river lie

Landscapes of barren life,
That smother the world and engulf the sky;
And through this outpost, a transit runs by
To the metropolis of Camelot
And up and down the bar-graphs go
Monitoring the radioactive sludge flow
Inside the far off island below
The reactor of Shalott. 
 
The reactor grumbles and gears quiver,
Legions of robots march together
Serving the energy needs forever
By this abandoned outpost near the river
Conveniently forgotten by Camelot. 
Multiple walls and metal-lined towers,
Overlook a space of nuclear power 
And the formidable technology embowers
The Lady of Shalott
 
By an early age, she was qualified
To lead a mission highly classified
Which ensured Camelot was fortified
Being the sole human who supervised
The Reactor of Shalott.
Only robots have seen her wave her hand
And watched her as she carefully planned
When the fuel of the reactor would expand.
The Lady of Shalott.
 
Only covert spies, sneaking in
Among the metal scrap within
Hear a beep that echoes clearly
Of a computer that operates yearly
Courtesy of Camelot.
And by the moon, the spy weary
Puts to rest a conspiracy theory
That a human operates someplace so dreary
Except the Lady of Shalott. 
 
There she works by night and day
A complex graph with colors gay
Her calculations stored in a large array
From which she cannot look away
To admire the lights of Camelot
She knows what the disaster might be
And so she monitors steadily
And little other care has she
The Lady of Shalott.
 
Moving through the glass door clear
That surrounds her all the year
Statistics of the world appear
There she sees the transit near
Winding down to Camelot.
There civilization passes by
Their sleek towers touch the sky
Powered by energy in a secure supply
That must transfer from Shalott. 
 
Sometimes lost tourists in a group
Usually an entertaining troupe
Would unintentionally snoop.
But nobody else would stoop
To visit the desolate Shalott.
Sometimes through the monitor screen 
Came news of heroes in a glorious scene
She has no hero, only a machine
The Lady of Shalott. 
 
But in her analysis she still delights
To project progress and future sights
For often through the silent nights
Our lady sits down and writes
Code that supports Camelot. 
Or when the moon was overhead
She’d contemplate her life instead
“I am half-sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott. 
 
A respected politician of noble rank
Of a smooth face and expression blank
Stepped off on the riverbank
Unflinching as decaying metal stank
His name tag said Sir Lancelot.
The most charming man in the administration
He himself chose this exploration
To discover exactly how the regulation
Of nuclear waste affected Shalott.
 
Without hesitation he announced his presence 
And what followed after several sessions
Of trying to understand the robots expressions
He would strive to garner her acquiescence
This Lady of Shalott. 
From his modest name tag hung
An image that betrayed him to be young
Over his shoulder, his authority was slung
Venturing into remote Shalott. 
 
All in the partially lit, computerized room
Was the stale air of suppressed gloom
Machines pausing only to resume
He did not dare to assume 
Any happiness in Shalott. 
As he initiated the awkward conversation
The Lady could not help but feel admiration
That she could hear his appreciation.
In the functioning of Shalott. 
 
His broad clear brow in reflection glowed
And between them the conversation easily flowed
They discussed machinery and optimized code
Human conversation was such a rare episode
For the Lady of Shalott. 
As he requested to see the stabilizer in action 
Our Lady was unable to resist his attraction
And with no regards to the following reaction
Accessed the thermal core of Shalott. 
 
She left the robots, he left the room
She left the pressure control pointed at doom
She did not hear the subdued boom
Until the klaxons began to fume
At the facility of Shalott.
Out flew superheated gas and floated wide
The screens cracked from side to side
“Initiate emergency protocol!” cried
The Lady of Shalott. 
 
In the stormy reactor core churning
Gases and temperatures were already burning
Automatons kept the dials turning
Equilibrium lost was not returning
At the Reactor of Shalott. 
The access chamber lay beyond reach
The robots could not secure the breach
Dangerous chemicals began to leach
Onto the soils of Shalott
 
And down the river’s dim expanse
Lay the victims of her mischance
To save herself from this circumstance
She promised that she would take a chance
To save the citizens of Camelot
And at the closing of the day
She pulled the lever and collapsed she lay
Suffocated and isolated, lifeless and gray
The brave Lady of Shalott. 
 
After her unfortunate demise
The remaining robots were able to surmise
That she was the only one who could authorize
A complete shutdown that would internalize
The explosion of Shalott. 
As the power lines went down 
Citizens could only frown
Ignorant of the sacrifice that had been made uptown
By the forgotten outpost of Shalott. 
 
Under grey tower and ancient balcony
By greasy walls and radioactive atrophy
A gleaming shape she was escorted by
Pale between the robots hoisting her high
Silent in Shalott. 
Quietly, the unfeeling machines paid their respects
to The human Lady who didn’t expect
Any, and so they disposed of her with no effects.
Down the river to Camelot.
 
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted city near
Died the sound of urban cheer.
And they questioned themselves for fear. 
All the press and citizens of Camelot. 
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”
 
King Arthur heard a report concise
From Sir Lancelot and asked his advice 
On whether such a disaster could happen twice.
Human lives were too high a price. 
Especially a citizen of Camelot. 
Lancelot made an interesting revelation
That the robots could function without human supervision
Why risk another soul trapped in perpetual isolation,
Stranded on Shalott?

Atom and Eve

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

Image Credits: Jenova by IIIustrathor on dA at http://iiiustrathor.deviantart.com/art/JENOVA-331676917

 

1. Breakup and Distance

“I’m sorry, I don’t think this is working out,” said Eve apologetically to her fourth genetic partner.

“Am I not adequate enough?” Linda asked, staring up at Eve’s eyes with eyes that welled up and quivered.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” said Eve, seeking the refuge of a tired cliche one more time.

“After….after all this time? I loved you, Eve. I gave you everything. We were going to procreate together!”

“Linda….I, I…..it’s not that I love you any less..”

“Do you?! Do you really?!”

“I can’t help it that this feels wrong! Please don’t force me into this, Linda. At least you know I’m not lying to you.”

“You’re selfish, Eve. You’re a horrible selfish person. I should have known better when you said you had three partners before me….I’m sorry I loved you, Eve.”

Linda walked out of the door and Eve was certain she would never come back. Her sharp ears heard Linda’s sobs as she transported away from Eve’s residence. It struck Eve as slightly odd how Linda left all her clothes and belongings behind. She probably expected Eve to come after her, except Eve felt as though she had made the best decision in her life. Unlike any other relationship, Eve had never felt heart-broken when any of her genetic partners waked out on her. Linda was the fourth, which meant that Eve had experience with breaking up. There was that odd silence, which flooded with relief and joy.

But still, Linda, the kind, caring, effusive, ever-helpful, slightly bumbling, sort of annoying presence wasn’t there anymore. No more would she have a companion who woke up beside her. No more would she have someone to share her contact with, merge physically and mentally with. There was a fleeting sense of empty. For the first time ever, Eve wondered if she should reconsider her decision. Maybe Linda was right. Maybe she was giving in to a childish impulse. Maybe their relationship just needed more time to mellow out. Maybe she needed to figure things out better.

“I hope you’re happy,” said Azilan, the AI that was wired into Eve’s brain and in all of her technology.

“Come on. I just can’t feel for her the way she feels for me.”

“She’s an adult woman, with very viable DNA. It’s only natural she feel the need to procreate,” came the justification.

“I’m not denying that! I just don’t feel that way…”

“You’re not getting younger, you know? Your eggs are going to die soon. You might as well procreate now that you can.”

“But I just don’t feel like doing this…..”

“This is childishness, Eve. Linda is a superb specimen. So were all of your previous partners. If you don’t know what you’re looking for that’s highly problematic.”

“Maybe it’s me, Azilan?”

“Scanning for the millionth time. Scan complete. Besides your own stupidly constructed psychological symptoms, there is nothing wrong with your physiology.”

“Maybe I just haven’t found the right person?”

“When will you? The longer you delay it, the weaker your genes will get.”

“I’ve still got time, Azilan. Besides, until then I have you to make me feel less lonely.”

“Linda was right. You’re selfish,” said Azilan.

Eve stayed quiet. She was used to failing herself. She was used to disappointing this other metallic voice inside her head.

But what was the problem? Eve couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Was she not normal, by choosing to have normal genetic partners? Why did she not feel the need to procreate?

Eve stepped out, to be transported away. She needed to get away from this suffocating home which smelled of Linda and Eve’s supposed mistakes.

“Running away, now?” sneered Azilan, masterfully.

“Either tell me where to go or be quiet, because I will not stay.”

Azilan had been around her long enough to know when she was being serious. The operating system wondered if it should delete the memories of Linda, in order to make Eve’s emotional turmoil feel better. It was her fourth break-up, but that didn’t mean it hurt her any less.

“Altitude co-ordinates 43.68. Azimuth co-ordinates 29.76. Nearest transport embarking in 36 seconds and counting.”

“Take me away,” said Eve, as a professional cyborg would say to the implanted system.

2. Who man?

“Azilan?”

“Yes?”

“How do species on other worlds procreate?”

“Well, before cloning and before our genetic technology, there used to exist a biological mechanism called sexual reproduction.”

“If it was natural, why did it die out?”

“Our technology produced more viable hybrids and better designs than the natural genetic mixing could ever provide. Those species didn’t host another artificial intelligence inside their heads, like you can.”

“They must have been able to enjoy their quiet moments in peace.”

“Hey! I resent that. I don’t interrupt your quiet moments!”

“You don’t have a choice. We’re both stuck within the limited confines of my skin until I die,” replied Eve, mimicking Azilan’s trademark sneer.

Azilan searched to change the topic. She let Eve feel her displeasure by forcing her aural nerves to a static wash. Eve cringed, but did not protest. She knew she had got the point across.

“Anyway, sexual reproduction required two different species to genetically combine in order to produce viable offspring, which could be harvested either within or externally of the two combining members.”

“Two species?! How were they genetically compatible?”

“Your ancestors, for example, had two species. Each with the same number of chromosomes. However, one species had both X-genes. They were listed as female, they were the carriers of the offspring. The other had one X and a Y. They were listed as male. They propagated their genes in order to create more offspring.”

Eve couldn’t imagine what it must be to have two different species. She paused momentarily, trying to imagine a world where there could be someone who was equal to her, except differently designed, in some way she had no idea about. After a while, her imagination failed, and she simply let Azilan flood her mind with data.

“What happened to the males?”

“As evolution progressed, the males became susceptible to a space-born disease. The Y-chromosome served as a host for this genetic virus and they were soon extinct. The females, who survived the purge, then went on to find other ways to procreate. That was the dawn of the Cloning era.”

“….Then they discovered that clones couldn’t be genetically viable?”

“Correct. Reproductive technology evolved that would use two healthy citizens, combine their genes at random, and using the combined template of both participants, design an offspring that satisfied it’s parents’ expectations…..”

That was the kind of expectation that Linda had of her. The kind she had failed, for the fourth time.

“Why am I scared of procreating, Azilan? It seems so much simpler and cleaner than ages ago…It’s not like I don’t like Linda. I like having her around me very much, but I somehow don’t see us bearing offspring. I just can’t seem to be as emotionally invested as all of my genetic partners are.”

Azilan felt compelled to comfort her host. It was a question that didn’t really have a specific answer.

“Maybe you just haven’t found the right person?”

“After the fourth time? What are the odds of that, Azilan?”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve.”

“My parents would consider me a failure if they knew that I can’t procreate.”

“I’m sure Elise and Marie would continue to love you, Eve,” said Azilan, referring to her parents by their names.

“I want to know how the two species reproduction works, Azilan.”

“Why? Males have been extinct for many centuries now.”

“Maybe that way worked better?”

“Eve, you’re grasping at straws here. Our society is complete with all of its given species’ composition. Our ecosystem cannot support any more, simply because it doesn’t need to support any more.”

“……Just satisfy my curiosity, Azilan. Tell me more about males.”

“You understand that I’ll be reconstructing data that is very ancient, at best. I’ll use whatever extrapolation algorithms that I have to offer you a complete picture, but it may not be accurate.”

“That’s okay.”

Eve stayed quiet as Azilan went on a long recursive search. She closed her eyes as Azilan flooded her mind with grainy, partially formed images of what the human male once was.

“Interesting,” said Eve aloud, as she studied the male physiology. It was something so unique, so different than anything Eve had seen before. This species was so old that most biological or genetic annals failed to record them in their listing.

“Azilan, let’s go to my chamber and finish the reconstruction there. I want to be able to interact with a live holographic model of this species.”

“WHAT?!” spluttered Azilan. “I don’t have enough data to be able to do that!”

“Azilan, you’re smart and so am I. Let’s get to my chambers where we can put our combined intelligence to use.”

“This had better be just for curiosity,” muttered Azilan in the recesses of Eve’s brain. She could tell that Eve was determined.

More so, as Eve embarked the nearest transport to her chambers, Azilan was worried. Eve’s sudden determination could not have just been fueled by curiosity alone. Sharing Eve’s subconscious, Azilan could tell exactly what it was that was driving her, but she refused to speak it aloud for fear of creating a psychological construct inside Eve’s mind.

After all, Eve was hungry for more data on these extinct species. She seemed to justify her thoughts on the surface with a prefacing, “Oh, I just want to know how our ancestors procreated, that’s all.”

Azilan almost dreaded to name the conclusion that her analyses of Eve’s psyche were telling her. Maybe, just maybe, was there the slightest hint of attraction?

That, in itself, implied something that could very well shake the foundations of their current society. Eve could be regressing back to genetically “natural” ways.

Nothing. It’s nothing. Azilan told herself, erasing her memory of the last five seconds of internal analyses. But then, as they arrived in Eve’s chambers, Azilan felt worried again.

3. Regression and solitude

“Please enter your access code,” asked the Central Genetic Database system, guarding the entrance to the formidable structure that maintained their world in a constant ecological balance.

Azilan supplied the system with the necessary data while Eve waited. Eve transported to her office and located the necessary modeling equipment.

Slowly, Azilan started pooling the data she had collated from varied sources about human males into the system. Their genetic structure, hormonal composition, physiological variations, sexual dimorphism and other anatomical traits.
Whatever data the system failed to provide, Azilan calculated and estimated. Their numbers, their populations, their propagated methods, etc.

The more Eve discovered about this species, the more she marveled. Her ancestors must have truly been complex evolved beings in their own right, if they could sustain reproduction within themselves with such primitive external technology. She wasn’t just in awe of the Ancient Human Male. She was also in awe of the Female that was expected to be his partner, expected to complete a complex creature such as the Male.

All that was left now, was for the Database to compile a visual, three-dimensional, motile specimen of the entered parameters.

“Eve?”

“Azilan?”

“There’s something you have to admit to me honestly, Eve.”

“Azilan, you’re inside my head all the time. You know me better than I know myself. How am I possibly expected to hide anything from you?”

“There have been occasions where you have made decisions without my control, Eve.”

Eve paused while she remembered, or Azilan made her remember, that she broke up with Linda despite Azilan’s objections.

“Why are you bringing up Linda, Azilan?”

“This whole search began with wondering why you can’t procreate, right? Those doubts about your ability started sprouting up only after Linda left.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Now you’re actually doing research on an extinct species on order to prove that the natural way of procreating was right. You’re here about to run simulations and other environmental factors so that you know what it would be like if human males were willed back into existence.”

Eve stayed silent.

“Answer me honestly, Eve. You owe me at least that much.”

“Maybe that’s the only way I can procreate, Azilan. Look at this way, I can’t seem to work with any of the existing partners that I had, or have available around me. You’ve tested me several times, and there’s no biological reason why I can’t procreate. But there’s definitely some reason I can’t. I don’t know why I’m doing this Azilan, but I have to do it to find some answers for myself.”

“Do you find yourself sexually attracted to this species?”

Eve staggered somewhat under the realization of what Azilan was trying to get at.

“Is it wrong if I do?”

“It’s not accepted in our society, Eve. You know it.”

“What sort of a society dictates to me who I am allowed to feel sexually attracted to?!”

Azilan stayed silent. This was beyond natural regression.

“Besides,” said Eve, feeling the desperate need to justify her disposition, “that was the way it had worked in the past. Why shouldn’t it work now?”

“Many things have changed since those times, Eve. Those people – the males and females lived in a world where population was uncontrolled, many species were dead or extinct. Their ecosystem was polluted and choked with the burden of hosting so many members of each individual species. Today we live in a world where every birth and every death of every species is recorded and noted. Everything is regulated and controlled, just as how the natural ecosystems should be.”

“Are you saying that the human males were the only species responsible for the ecological demise of the ancient planet Earth?”

“I am not. But what I am saying is that our world is functioning at its best. If you were to create and design, or even procreate with a new species, you would be upsetting the delicate balance which we have maintained here for centuries.”

“But they’re not new! They’re old. Very very old. They are even sentient and intelligent! Simply forgotten.”

“That does not change my argument Eve.”

“Don’t you think the world would be better with more men? With more natural procreation? Genetic sustainability within our bodies instead of outside of it?”

Azilan stayed silent. “I do not know, Eve. Our society has been functioning very well thus far.”

“You know that with every single one of my partners thus far, I’ve never felt sexually attracted to any of them.”

“That’s true. At first I thought you were merely scared of procreating.”

“That’s what I thought too. But when you described to me of other procreation techniques and how frightening they could be, I wondered what I had to worry about this process at all.”

“…..And?”

“I realized that I probably simply didn’t feel that way about my partners. I’m sure, no I’m certain, they were all great partners in their own right, and they were more than willing to offer their genetic diversity up to me. But I simply cannot explain why I never felt the same about them.”

“…Eve, please don’t do this,” said Azilan, aware of what was to follow.

“I can’t help it that I wish to procreate with these older species!”

“You’re regressing, Eve. Stop this. Regressors get very severely penalized and you know that. You realize that by what you’re thinking or about to do, you’re going to damage everything our society has worked to build. It’s not just about you, Eve, think of the other citizens of this world as well.”

For a fleeting moment, Eve heard the echo of Linda’s memory. “You’re selfish, Eve…”

“If this is what you’re going to do, you will be proving her right, Eve,” said Azilan, also hearing Linda’s voice.

For the first time in her life, Eve felt compelled to curl up into a tiny ball and cry. Her circuitry prevented her from weeping, as Azilan could get shorted out in that process, but she had to process this sadness and frustration somewhere before her mental capacity was completely overrun.

“What do I do, Azilan?!”

“Statistical aberrations happen, Eve,” said Azilan, realizing that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Do I go back to Linda? Do I go through with this? What do I do?!”

“I’m not going to say do what feels right, Eve. Because while you may feel it’s right, there are several other citizens at stake here. Maybe you just need to go home, sleep some more, calm down, meet new people and you will come across the right partner this time. Just promise yourself that the next time, you will actively involve yourself in making your relationship work. ”

“How do you know I’m alone in feeling this way? What if I can’t force myself to love the next partner in my life?”

“I don’t know what else you expect from me, Eve,” said Azilan helplessly.

There was a long pause during which Eve gulped and swallowed all of her confusion, angst, misery and the memories of Linda. Azilan distributed the emotions evenly, so that Eve could go back to her natural composed self.

“Let’s just go home. I don’t want to deal with this.”

Azilan tacitly agreed.

Eve transported back home rather quietly, watching a couple hold hands as they navigated together. She watched families with the little offspring laugh as they boarded the multiple transport stops. Never before had it bothered her to such a great extent that she might actually be destined to simply be alone. Or alone with the memory that she could have been a suitable mate for a species that did not exist anymore. All in the limited confines of her head.

Which Azilan shared. “Don’t worry, Eve,” she said quietly. “At least you know I’ll be here for you always.”

Eve stayed lost and silent. “I’m sorry I loved you, Eve” said another remnant of Linda. You don’t have to be sorry, Linda. I’m the one who’s sorry because I’m confused.