I wasn’t just an only child; I was supposed to be progenated. Pasteurized, homogenized, progenated. New word for a new time. Humanity can be perfected. We came out of the slime and if we don’t plan to stay friends with what made us forever, then progenation is needed.
Now don’t start saying that I’m in league with the antiprogs, just because I didn’t complete the treatment! I have a perfectly good reason for that. It’s true an antiprog came to me and got me to quit. She was my own mother! What would you do? Besides progenation wasn’t mandatory like it is now. So, I’m a freak, I guess. Not that anyone would say that to my face. That would earn them a strike. And why would anyone want a useless strike for no reason?
But that isn’t my problem right now. I can’t hack the system the way I want to. I’m neither this nor that. Neither hot nor cold. Sometimes my attempts to manipulate the system works and sometimes it doesn’t. But what use is it to be lukewarm? If you can’t do something one hundred percent of the time it’s that off moment, that unexpected result that screws up everything.
“Nathan, what’s wrong?” She’s hovering over me. Hot cocoa, is it? I can smell it, eyes opening, wiping away the tears, so many regrets.
“Mom shut the lights at least.” She switches them off, or are they turning off on their own? I slowly sit up on my bed. My actuator starts up, that devil’s box of possibilities. I feel like throwing it across the room.
“I stayed home today.” She yawns.
I think that my mom is so pretty, even at forty. Here she is trying to make me feel better. At least I can appreciate that. I take the steaming cocoa cup off the bedside table, one big swallow, followed by another.
“I’m not going to try it again!”
“That’s fine. No need.”
I look at her and shake my head. How can she say that? The actuator is the gateway to everything. Gotta get dressed. Maybe there is still hope if Deezer can hack through somehow. There’s no recovery from interrupted progenation. But run an actuator through a hack and who knows? It might work.
Deezer’s all happy, greeting me at the door to his family trailer home. “Hey, there amigo! Did you bring it?” He’s smiling. The hack must work.
“It’s all I got!” I throw my payment card down on the table near this gizmo that he has hooked up.
I sigh. “Why do you do this? We agreed on eighty!”
“Just testing! Why? I can’t have a little fun with you?”
He gives me a big bear hug, stinking a little of sweat and beer. He must have been up all night.
“Were you playing cards or working on my hack?”
He got serious. “What do you take me for? Do you think I will rip you off?”
He’s explaining and explaining but I’m not listening. Pseudo progenation through his gizmo. The actuator is fooled into thinking that I’m fully functioning. It starts up. I start up. It’s a video game, except the video output is in your head and it’s also like ballet, you know, follow the moves. Swerve, keep up, slow down, stop for a moment. Then the more you are in tune, the more others “tag” you, opening more and more possibilities. The penultimate moment comes with a sudden rush. That’s when everything gels and into the neural nets you go with everyone who has tagged you. But I had never been there yet.
Deezer is laughing. “Are you one with the universe?”
I couldn’t speak. Soon I wouldn’t be able to listen.
Mom is so upset. “What did you do?”
“Nothing! I’m just really tired that’s all!” She lets me go, but that look on her face breaks my heart every time. I know she worries constantly. I’m the only thing in her life since Dad died.
“Don’t you want something to eat?”
“Sure, but I’m really not that hungry.”
I sit down in the kitchen while she gets me a sandwich. Money is a bit tight. We must live off the universal basic income, the money you get when you are useless. Mom never liked it when I talked about how sad it is that we have no say in anything. We aren't the "movers and the shakers." Her back is turned to me, while she makes that sandwich.
“Mom, I want to be honest with you.”
“I can’t give up trying.”
Progie Paradise! Those fine buildings and statues. The infinite vistas of absolute perfection. You could visit. No one stops you. But they all know that you are not one of them.
So impolite these machines! You must wonder why they bother. Me, I would just let us freaks be. It’s not like we’re organizing or planning an insurrection.
I take the card, my pass for the day. Got an appointment. They know what I did with the hack. Now they want to see me.
Douglas is sitting in his office with this wan expression. Hooked up, obviously. His actuator starts winding him down when I enter. Then he stands up and wants to shake my hand. I refuse, of course.
“Nathan, pleased to meet you.”
“I sense hostility. Just want to let you know that I’m Alpha One scaled. Microaggression free. I’m sure you know what that means.”
I explain it to Mom later. They think the gizmo is great. I have the money I need to buy it off Deezer. Super generous amount too, a whole 1000! I’m supposed to come in on a regular basis and get checked out. It’s like a job. They’ll pay me every time I visit! But Mom is upset again.
“I don’t want you going there.”
“I don’t have to go, you’re right about that. But I want to be useful, to have a job!”
“We don’t need the money.”
I sigh. She has an answer for everything. I let it go. I’m an adult. I’ll make my own decisions.
It got to be routine to go in amongst the progies. There were so many of them. On my breaks from using my actuator and explaining Deezer’s gizmo, they would gather around, so politely. Karen was the one who made the most effort to “help me” as they called it.
“You are so unrestrained,” she started one day. “You can gossip, tell lies, and cause all sorts of trouble. We have evolved beyond you.”
“Great. Good for you.”
I must not have answered her correctly. She tried again. “What I mean is that we only talk to you because you need our help.”
This annoyed me. “Shouldn’t I be asking for your help first?”
The ten or so progies gathered about and listening to us were so expressive with their facial features mainly. They said absolutely nothing. But clearly, they disapproved of how I was behaving and answering Karen. I wished they would at least speak up.
I looked around the room, making eye contact with each of them. “What about all of you? What do you think of a freak being amongst you?” Now that got them going!
I had a meeting with Douglas the very next day. This time he wasn’t on his actuator when I went into his office.
“Sit down Nathan. We have serious business to discuss.” I sit, but already I sense this is not going to go well.
“Now I must inform you that your discussion with Karen and her work detail went very badly. Most of them got strikes. Some received several multiple strikes for improper discussion and those on my enhanced program to eliminate microaggressions were seriously set back!”
“What did I do?” I asked.
“You refused our help!”
“Wait, what? I was not offered any help and I certainly didn’t ask for it!”
Douglas stopped momentarily. It was like a video was skipping, the internet was buffering, or something was glitching out. Maybe he was getting instructions from the mother ship, for all I knew!
“Correct. I’ve logged a tech order to investigate this communication breakdown. Until our investigation is complete you are suspended and not allowed to visit our facility.”
And that was the end of the meeting! He spun up his actuator and bugged out.
Mom and I were relaxing. Or trying to. She had just come back from evening Mass. I never took much interest in religion, but I was thinking of going. I knew Deezer would go to Mass now and again, but Mom never pressured me to go.
“Were you able to get a seat in the church this time Mom?” I asked while taking a sip from my tea. She seemed lost in thought.
I snapped my fingers. “Mom! Did everything go all right tonight?”
“Yes, dear.” She looked at me with this lost expression. “Nathan there were so many people there. It seems that more and more people keep coming. I don’t know why.”
I knew why. Was it because it was a microaggression tolerance zone? Or was it because you could live strike-free? Hmm, maybe it was just because freaks could just be?
I drained my cup and gave my mom a hug. “Need some help in the garden tomorrow? I’ve got lots of time.”