“You know I hate the game.”
I stare at her,
blankly. I've come this far. I've amassed my points. I don't know what to say.
“Maybe it was precognition for where I might end up. They
say it's not uncommon.”
She is my height or
perhaps a little bit taller. It's hard to tell because she's seated, and so am
I. We are not at eye level. She has chestnut curls, hazel eyes – no wait,
they are grey.
Yes, she had grey
eyes. Or maybe blue.
I'm almost certain.
“I don't remember much about how I got here.”
Her wrists are tiny,
her fingers perfectly splayed.
“I was a revolutionary. And a sexual deviant. That's what
they called it. I forget why.”
I notice her lips move
as she is speaking. Very full and round. And those hazel eyes. Or were they grey?
“They put me in a mental institution. It was easy enough.”
Chestnut curls. Ivory
skin. I wonder, how much of this body, this face did she choose? How much was
chosen for her?
Does she know?
“I was one of the first they did experiments on.”
“I had no family. No man. No one to speak for me.”
But how much?
“I was one of the first brain scans. I think I remember
giving consent. Whatever that means.”
Her outfit is
contrived to make her look as if a goddess. Filmy gray-white toga. A soft glow
radiates from her exquisite silhouette. I could have dialed up the raster
processing filter myself. How many others have fallen for this act?
“I don't remember my name. “
How did I come this
far? My credits must be almost out...
“I remember other things.
“A protest on a bridge, in New York City. Rain falling.
Having nowhere to go. Getting beaten by the cops. Getting tazed. Getting kicked
in the stomach, and the groin.
“A pink balloon. Eggs and hash. Corned beef, I think it was.
Somebody else paid.
“I remember the first sexual assault in the mental
institute. And the second. After that... it just blurs together.
Her lips are pale
pink, like the flowering fruit trees I have never seen in waking life. They say
they still have them in the nation's capital. Perhaps some year I will get to
“I remember calling on the pay phone for a lawyer, realizing
no one would pick up. Realizing no one was coming for me. Realizing my choices
were a tablet in the morning, or an injection later in the day. I remember
there was a game show on that infernal TV... do you remember TV? They were giving
away gnomes and dolls as prizes. I have no idea why. Maybe it was Christmas.
Why the fuck can I remember this shit, when I can't remember Christmas with my
“I remember wanting to die, more than anything else. And I remember the light...
it was so bright. Brighter then anything I've ever seen. And then I was here.”
Her grey eyes open
“Your world is so different than mine. You have only this
game. We had all of real life. Drugs and thugs, corporations and politicians,
of course. But we had it all. We had our own feelings, and we had our own
Is she going to start
to cry, I wonder?
“For you, every moment from birth is planned. You know your
caste, your station. Your genetics scream out your destiny, and the hormonal
bath confirms it.. You know whether you will be a civil engineer, or a service
employee, or a maintenance technician. You accept your destiny. You have a chip
in the back of your neck sending a report if you ever deviate from plan.
“There are things you don't know of course, like love.
“We are aware of Universal Human Protocol Decree
XFFFCC423-D: that intelligence from this point forward in human history should
become a sex-linked trait.
“That girl children with the potential for unusual ability
should be aborted or euthanized shortly after birth.
“We understand what your women are like today: nurturers,
caregivers, pleasure models, domestic models, administrative models.
“And we understand that your men are segmented in exactly
the same way... for all the castes too challenging for robots or androids to get
the job done...”
She is waiting for me
to get mad. To say, no, I'm not a
machine! Ha! She's the real robot – and not only that, she's a ghost.
“So what do you do?”
Her real body must
have died centuries ago. Or maybe it was only 50 years? 25 or 30? It's hard for
me to remember. They don't teach history any more.
“No really, what do you
She is staring right
“Do you have a name?”
“My name is Tim.”
“All right, Tim, what do you do for a living?”
“What do you program?”
“Right now we're
working on programming traffic flow of drone vehicles around some underwater
tunnels in the New York boroughs. They have had several lanes closed off for
construction for over seventeen years. Our goal is to propose an interim
solution that may last through Year 19.”
“I got promoted to
Team Leader last December.”
“That's very nice. Do you know why you are here?”
“I paid for this game
with my credits. Honestly, I feel a little underwhelmed.”
She looks sad. Dammit,
I hate women looking sad! Especially because of something I said. That's not
supposed to happen anymore. My girlfriend never says anything – although
she sings beautifully, in three languages. Cleans the house. And makes a mean
“I'm sorry I'm not more of a sex bomb or whatever.”
She is such as sweet,
disheveled Goddess. I want to brush the hair back from her forehead.
“That wasn't really
what I was looking for.”
“Well then, what were you looking for?”
I know she is an act
– a trick – just one more level in the game – but damn it if
“I'm not a program, you know. Or I guess I am... but I'm self-aware. I do
Turing tests for breakfast – like people back in my day used to do the
She is smiling. That's
nice to see. Women should smile more often.
“I'm as conscious as you are. Maybe more so.”
Those tiny, birdlike
“I can tell you one thing.”
Her lips, still
“They want you to be here. But they don't want me.”
There are gems in her
hair. Small, sparkling mother-of-pearl flowers. Were they there a few moments
ago? I can't remember.
“You need to be
here because you are part of a high-intelligence caste. Your programmed
occupation requires a certain degree of creativity and independent thought. The
governing structures have tried to condition it out of you, but in every test,
high-skill professions such as yours require a certain degree of freedom and
play, in order to extract maximum productivity.”
“That sounds very
“Hence, the Dream. Or the Game, as you like to call it. The
“I thought I was just
“We hope you are!”
She gets up, starts to
“Just please understand, we don't work for them. We never
“Wait, why are you
“I can't stay
for long. I never can.”
“What do you want me
to do? Join the Revolution?”
She smiles, and it's
that kind of smile with tears welling up around the eyes.
“You will see me twice more in your life, Timothy.”
“How do you know the future?”
“You will see me twice more. I am so sorry for any pain I
may have caused.”
And she is beautiful,
and gone. A subtle, opalescent flash.
I wonder what the
original looked like. The one who was a mental patient. Probably chubby, with
I wake up. And
twenty-one years pass.
I keep looking for her. In real life. In the game. On crowded streets. In
neighborhoods where I'm not supposed to go. Oh yes, they still have those where
I am. Everyone needs an outlet to blow off steam.
I saw her on a
billboard once, advertising milk!
And then there was the
time when the secret police broke down my door in the middle of the night, and
they had a picture of her on their Interrogation Tablet, and they kept saying
to me, “Have you seen this girl? Have you seen this girl?”
And I tried, I tried
for the longest time to say no. And then I just couldn't. I told them
everything. I cried, and I whimpered, and I was shaking like a little child.
And then the captain motioned for them to stop. He laughed and said they knew
it all already.
Now I see her face all
the time – in vids, in ads, on vacation, at work conferences, in crowds,
but I can never talk to her.
And then one night, there she was in my dream! It wasn't a pay dream, either.
I don't even know if it counts. I told her I was sorry for not having joined
any revolution. She said it didn't matter. There was something else planned.
When I asked what, she
stared at me for a long time. She said, “Of course you wouldn't remember.
Sometimes I find that difficult to accept.”
“Remember what?” But
she was already gone.
I am good at what I do. The traffic flows beautifully, like a ribbon of
fireworks through the underwater night.
Our world is not so
horrible, you know. Everyone mostly has enough to eat. People accept their
place. But she isn't part of this world. Nobody like her could ever be part of it.
No other promises, no greater mystery. If we meet again, I will ask her name.