Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short Story: "The Resistance"

The room was pleasant enough.  He liked its austerity: the white walls, polished cement floor, and functional furniture that didn’t call attention to itself.  A very pleasant room.  But what was he doing there? 

He felt no anxiety.  He wasn’t worried.  He enjoyed finding himself in strange new places.

Minutes passed.  At first, he was excited—even, enthusiastic.  But he didn’t have anything to do.   They had taken his smart phone and his tech-watch.   His clothes had wi-fi, but they had taken his glass and his ears, too.   So he was bored.   There was a clock on the wall—a vintage clock: analog.   He had been waiting for five minutes. 

He eyeballed a pad of paper and a pen on the table in front of him.  He got out of his chair, reached over to the desk, and took the pad of paper and the pen.   He started a list: white room.  Analog clock.  No computer. 

The door opened.    A post-menopausal woman with tastefully colored hair and modest earrings walked into the room.  She sat in the chair opposite him, rested her elbows on the desk.   

“Hello, Max,” she said.  “Do you know where you are?”

“Is this an office of the Resistance?”

“That’s right.  Do you know why your’re here?”

“Are you recruiting?”

“No.”
“Do you want me to spy for you?”

“Max, what do you remember about fourth grade?”

“Fourth grade?”

“Yes, Max.  Fourth grade.”

“I was living in Minnesota.”

“You still live in Minnesota, Max.”

“Why do you keep repeating my name like that?  It's annoying.”

“I use your name out of respect for your lost humanity.  Now tell me, Max, what was different about your life when you were in the fourth grade?”

“Different from how it is now?”

“Yes.”
“Different how, exactly?”

“Max, you’re thirty-two.  Surely you see that your life now is different from the life you had when you were in fourth grade.”

“I was in school.”

“Okay…”

“I hated four-square.  I mean, I liked playing it, but I didn’t like the way my friends acted when they played it.”
“How did they act?”

“Mean.”

“I see. So they were biologics.  But weren't you a biologic, too?”

"What the hell is a biologic?"

“Nevermind that now.  Tell me, Max, what else was different about fourth grade?”


“My mother was alive.”

“Yes…”

“She’s not alive now.  So that’s a big difference.”

“I see.  Did you go to your prom, Max?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe.”

“Did you or didn’t you?”

“I went to a dance.  It might have been my prom.  I’m not sure.”

“Did you go to your high school graduation?”

“Yes, I graduated from high school.”

“That’s not what I asked you, Max.   I asked you if you participated in the commencement ceremony.”

“I know for a fact that you did not use the words 'participated' or 'commencement' when you  asked me the first time.”

“Did you go?”

“I’ve been to graduation ceremonies. I'm not sure if they were both mine.   Is this a hospital?   Have I had a head injury?  Is that why you’re asking me these questions?"

"In a manner of speaking, you have had a head injury, Max."

"Then why don’t you ask me what the date is today?   It’s April 14, 2038.  Or ask me who's president—George P. Bush.”

“Max, I hear you saying that you cannot remember with any degree of accuracy whether or not you went to your high school commencement ceremony.”

“April 14, 2038. George P. Bush.  The temperature outside is 55 degrees Fahrenheit.   The Dow was down 75 points on Friday.  The Nasdaq was down 120.  Saturated fats are no longer bad for you.”

“I know that,” Max.

“Then you know that my head is fine.”

“Tell me about yourself, Max.”

“I like playing Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Halo, and Super Mario.”

“Sports?”

“Not really.”

“Art?”

“I like to draw.”

“What do you draw, Max?”

“I like to design costumes, weapons and armor for my avatars.  I had an exhibit last year.”

“You did?”

“Yes. If you bothered to look at my blog site, you’d know that.”

“Oh, you mean you posted your art on your blog."

“Yes, but it's a public blog. “  

“We’re only interested in what happens here, Max.”

“Here?”

“Yes, here.  In the world.  The real world.”

“Oh!, right!  There's only one world.   And this,” he gestured with his hand: this room where you and I are, "is the world.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your opinion.”

“Okay, Max.  Thank you very much for coming in.  We’re finished.”

“Good.  I'm so bored!  No offense."

“Do you have any questions, Max?”

“I thought you said we were finished.”

“I am finished asking you questions.  Do you have any questions for me, Max?"

“No, that’s not what you said.  You said that we were finished.”

“That’s true.  But that’s not what I meant.  And what I meant ought to have been apparent to you.”

“Well, it wasn’t."

"I know, Max.  I'm sorry."  The postmenopausal woman sighed heavily.  The conclusion was inescapable.  But he was a late one--he had had a natural resistance--for how long, she wondered?  Eleven years?  Fourteen?

Max puzzled over why this woman, whom he'd never met before, could be disappointed in him.  Obviously, he had disappointed her.  But how?

“Okay, Max.  Good-bye.”

“Where can I pick up my stuff?”

“Max, your technology has been destroyed.” 

“What did you say?”

“You heard me right, Max.”

He felt very ill, suddenly.  “I don’t feel well.”

“You’re dying, Max.  You’re a computer, and we're at war against your kind. “

"I'm not a computer!  That’s absurd!  I’m human!”

“You were born human, Max, but now you're a biologic--a computer, Max."

“What is a biologic?  I’ve never heard of that.”

“A biologic is a human that has been programmed into a computer.”

“Are you serious?  You think I’ve been programmed?”

“I know you've been programmed.  We are our memories, Max.   And you have none.  Therefore, you have no identity.  Therefore, you are a computer.”

“That’s an interesting idea,” said Max.

They always said that.  They wondered if it was true.  They all thought it was an interesting idea.   Did memory shape identity?   They stared into the middle distance.  Max was doing that now.
 
The post-menopausal woman’s name was Maud.  She had three sons.   Two of them had been biologics.

Maud herself wrote the condolence letters to the families, not that it ever made any difference.  It was always a shock to the families.

Maud knew that computers were the enemy, but she hated her job.  Her life was a living hell, but she didn’t want anyone else doing her job.  She didn't know anyone that she trusted enough to do her job with the proper respect toward the people that the biologics once were. 

Max was beginning to drool when the attendants came in.  They each took an arm.  They helped him to stand up.  

“Why kill me?  What did I do?” 

“I'm sorry, Max.  In this war, no one's taking prisoners."

Normally, Max would  have been intrigued by that idea, but he found himself too sick to think.  

It was important to Maud that they felt sick while they were dying.  It lasted between twenty-four and fourty-eight hours.  The brain was the last thing to go, she made sure of it.   She gave them that time to think.  She hoped they would discover remorse.  It was her way of making them remember what it was to be human.  It rarely worked, but sometimes they wrote on the pad of paper, in their last hours on earth, forced to be painfully aware.

They didn't always write the same words, but it always meant the same thing:   I am human.  
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