Every day the same thing. Nearly. Day in, day out, very nearly the same, without any recollection of the last day's dreams or nightmares. I wake up at 5:30am after a long night's sleep. 28-year-olds require 8.75 hours of sleep a night, 5 glasses of water per day, 6 hours of exercise per week and big breakfasts with sufficient immuno-proteins and vita-mineral doses. More for men, slighty less for women.
I roll out of my comfortable Stability-Pod refreshed as ever a human was. I walk to the bathroom. What an archaic description of a room. Bathroom. Shower-room is more accurate. Or shit room, or pee room. Who has the time to bathe any longer? The tiles crisscross in hexagons on navy Italian marble. They barely register on my mind but they do register. I'm clean by 5:38. I walk to my boudoir to take out the day's clothes; it's a Saturday so I need to dress conservatively. As I sift through my drawers I notice my reflection in the stand-up mirror.
I never really stop to look at myself because of time constraints, but I look good. Silver eyes, olive skin, dark features, full perky breasts and the curves of my body seem to be lined in ink, drawn from some collective unconscious archetype of perfection. I guess that's what Gilaad loves about me. I look over to him, asleep on the pod, eyes furiously seeking out something in a rapid-eye reverie. Those eyes that once open, demonstrate the most gorgeous golden irises. He's been my longest relationship; we've been dating for almost three and a half weeks! The sleepyhead doesn't need to wake up until eight since he's an urban engineer and has a later shift.
After ingesting a kale-based nutrient shake, I leave the apartment to walk to my grandmother's place, just 10 blocks or so away. She's very old but she looks good. She was born in the 1980s! I guess that makes her about 100; she doesn't really talk about her age since she looks as healthy as I remember my mother looking back when I was in my single digits. Grandma gets regular treatment to repair and maintain the integrity of her DNA so she never looks any older than 45.
Time flies and technology runs away with it, the both of them eloping. It balloons exponentially every year as Moore's Law gets followed to the letter. My parents died in orbit from an unusually strong solar storm when I was young. The federally-mandated shielding was in place but it was inadequate for such a powerful burst of radiation. A few more years and they'd have had the luxury of a magnetic shield around their orbiter. "Innovations save only the survivors", indeed. That old Burt Wallman saying.
I had some green chamomile tea with her as we sat and played some chess. We discussed politics, how crude and Neanderthal-ish the idea of government is in modern times. As things advance, we cannot deny our basest instincts, those that inflame our passions such as politics and love. They are contorted, twisted, perfumed over, but still, we are ruled by the limbic system. It's what makes us human and colors our experience.
We talked about things that made us happy, memories we shared, the usual pleasantries. She wanted to wish me luck on my laureate defense and I thanked her profusely for her unwavering vote of confidence. At 12pm I was to defend my new laureate of Medical Practitioner. The defense included a patient assessment in front of a panel of three practitioners and a written test. I was very good at what I did and worked hard all my life. This was my intended path, my purpose.
My grandmother, who likes me to call her Rose, was a raucous supporter of mine since I was little. Throughout math team, debate, fencing, soccer, gymnastics, she was always the voice in my head cheering me on. I was unnerved by her last words to me before I left her, "Don't come back if you fail, dear," she said with a smile as she closed the door to me. I had to wonder at her mental status for a second before I shook my head and resolved that she was kidding. You never know with people who get DNA repair.
Some of the older people who had DNA treatments got side effects, unlike the rest of us who take in smaller portions of the chemical with our dailies. It was 7:03am when I left her and went to the university pool for a morning swim. Swimming after taking a shower can be considered silly but I can't stand waking up and not being clean. It's usually two showers and changes of clothes for me before lunch. I chose to take a shuttle to head to the school. It came at 7:07, perhaps a half minute late.
On the fast ride over, I noticed a shuttle artist, drawing on a pad with unlined, thick paper. She must stay on the shuttle pretty much all day as it goes back and forth so quickly. Some artists do that, trying to be slick enough to etch a straphanger before they exit, spending their days noticing, writing, reading, creating, doodling. It's all the same I figure. She wore a purple sweater and beret and had a beautiful face, with diamond eyes and lips that looked laden with oxygen-rich hemoglobin, as if it could be a new sanguine lipstick. I looked down to her pad, noticing the quick, light motions she made as she assembled a face together. The face of a man.
A very familiar face in fact- with a mustache and stubble on his cheeks, and a very grimy look about him. He was unlike the people I knew- he was ugly. His eyes were brown. In 2081, no one has brown eyes any more. Except for the Lower Class. For the Lowers, the trade-off to being provided for by the rest of society was the promise to do good and seek little, society always extending a path upward but with few taking it. In a way it's a negative feedback loop, a continuous spiral, and so there is more pressure on the Elite to come through. My personal opinion is that it's our duty to provide- give everything we can for everyone, especially those unable or unwilling to provide for themselves. The gene sequence for altruism is well known- and those born without it have a failure to thrive. There must be something to that. And yet some parents choose not to spring for the gene for a few extra bucks.
The girl in purple had a real talent. My parents did not choose art for my talent but rather science and medicine. I approached her softly and said, "That's a great job. You have a knack." Without acknowledging me or my compliment she, eyes intent on her particular canvas, said, "I don't think it's a knack, or a gift. I think it's a commodity. It's always a seller's market."
"Is that someone you know?"
She spoke matter-of-factly. Her tone was cold as a supercomputer's conducting units.
"Yes. He killed my best friend in front of me over some money credits he wanted us to transfer to him. I will never forget his face." I had that same strange nonplussed feeling as I walked out of the shuttle, glancing back at the pad and that face. I shivered. I hated that face and those brown eyes.
I headed to the Olympic sized pool, 100 meters by 50 meters after squeezing into my red one-piece and pulling a shower cap around my head. The entire time I was in the locker room I thought about the girl in purple. A murder? These days? People hardly even die any more, and even then it's by accident, something untreatable or unpreventable. Not murder. Blood runs warm in our slice of paradise. I took several laps, mingled with some friends, Janet and Rob, Lacey and Randy. They knew about my upcoming laureate defense and wished me well. We all finished our exercise at around the same time so we walked to the lockers together and showered.
I was eight when changing areas and restrooms were mandated to become co-ed and at the time it made no difference. I found it interesting how big a deal it was in my teens and how little it matters now. Even so, Randy always waits to ask me out when we're naked, and I always decline as I'm dressing. His parents refused to genetically alter him, so I lay it out for him daily, "You're not Enhanced, and I am. It would never work out." I smiled and kissed him on the cheek as I left to grab a little something to eat.
I had some delicious Britonfish sushi in the cafeteria and then observed the time. 11:23am. I would have to make my way to the lecture hall in my white lab coat, fully prepared for the final phase of my metamorphosis. The next 37 minutes flew by and the panel convened at noon precisely.
"Miss Tahira Stevens. You have been lauded by your peers and our faculty and have been bestowed the very prestigious honor of Medical Practitioner by Future Hope University. The defense of your laureate is the final step in your current academic journey and it begins now." The professors stood at their dais and clapped, encouraging the few onlookers to do the same.
There were Professors Bergman, Lani and Eckart in a row. Bergman was to lead the interrogation. "First off, can you tell us the name of the equipment you will be using to assess Patient X?"
The patient was sitting in a chair in a blue gown, lightly kicking her feet back and forth, with a distant look in her visage. Her eyes were brown and she was several pounds overweight. Certainly not Enhanced, and certainly belonging to the Lower Class.
Bergman began: "Ok, so let's discuss the equipment." The machine used to diagnose, treat and derive a prognosis was a General Electric Diagnosis and Treatment (D&T) Apparatus. My grandmother tells me that back her day, doctors only needed to know medicine, no programming or hardware repair or anything like that. Doctors were as primitive and ineffective then as politics are today.
"Due to the stipulations in chaos theory, the greater the possible arrangements in a closed system, the greater the chance of anomalies and 'ghosts in the machine'. What does the GE D&T Apparatus employ to mitigate the effect of such permutations in its high number of parallel processes?"
I knew the answer, except when I opened my mouth to speak, and my mind went blank. My mind never went blank; I don't remember that ever happening. My body and mind were at the peak of human capability. I was perfection. I was indestructible.
I was flummoxed. The trio saw my expression, and Dr. Bergman sought to put me at ease. "It's okay Miss Stevens, we know that you know. I understand this process can be nerve-wracking. The answer is that the D&T uses a sophisticated 2:1 string-level buffer to mitigate anomalies. Let it be known that Candidate Stevens failed to answer correctly. Now, if you will walk to Patient X. She is complaining about fatigue, a loss of interest in her daily activities, and insomnia. She gave birth three weeks ago to a boy. Please begin."
I was completely off my stride; my mind sought to be present but all I could gather was a big "file not found". "Okay. I'm Tahira Stevens, I'll be your MP today." I spoke to the dais. "I'm noting no…um, no central cyanosis…"
"Excuse me, Miss Stevens, but why is that relevant?"
"Beg your pardon?"
"Indeed she doesn't display central cyanosis but based on her symptoms, what does that have to do with anything? What relevance does it have? I'm just curious. You are at the top of your class, so as long as your reasoning is sound, we can accept this as a fair assessment. Is your reasoning sound?"
"Um, no. No, ma'am, I apologize." Murmurs began to grow like a shrill concerto of crickets and I started to sweat. To the patient, "Ok, ma'am, I'm just going to palpate your chest, so if you'll just pull down your gown—"
Dr. Lani chimed in, "Miss Stevens, Patient X is not here for a biannual physical, she's here for something very specific. Why do you feel the need to palpate her chest, given the indications she's reported to you? It's okay to do so if you suspect something specific, but it is out of the ordinary." A slight pause. He jotted something down. "Ok, please go on."
I palpated her chest, around the clavicles, down to the sternum, past the…the…I forgot what it's called…to the ribs. I took out my pen light and shone it in the patient's eyes. "The patient has alert and reactive pupils and her conjunctiva is an appropriate color."
Dr. Eckart was quiet; it was Bergman that spoke up. "Reactive pupils, conjunctiva? The patient didn't report having a traumatic injury to her head or anything that might be liver-related. Miss Stevens, are you completely here with us?"
Without fair warning to them or myself I began to cry, for the first time since I was a girl. "No, I don't know what's wrong."
"What you don't know, is what you're doing. In the Unenhanced, patients can get post-partum depression after giving birth. Your evaluation should have been a psychiatric one. This was a very obvious diagnosis, Miss Stevens and as an MP, you would need to know how to treat the Unenhanced. They would make up the bulk of your patients. I'm sorry to stop you where you are madam, but I'm going to have to decline your laureate."
"I as well."
"Me too." And like that it was over. The laureate defense was adjourned.
The next hour was a blur and I found myself outside, still crying. I looked out to the colossal skyscrapers in the distance and wondered at my fate. Everything my life had been building up to is gone in this flippant, fickle world. It was like carefully constructing a sandcastle for 28 years, only for a rogue wave to wipe it all away.
I could not feel worse. All my hopes and my dreams, everything I meant to ever accomplish, all collapsed to a singularity. A five minute mental hiccup guided the path of my journey for the rest of my days. I won't be able to help people or make an MP's substantial income; I have no future.
On my watchphone I saw that I had one message awaiting me from Gilaad: "Hi hun, I heard the news. I'm so sorry about your laureate. I'm going through some problems too right now, and I think we should just be friends. We had fun, but I don't think we're meant to be together."
I couldn't stand being in the tangle of twisted metal in the city any longer. I needed to be in and among nature, so I headed towards Glennie Hill Park. Though something in me didn't want to notice, I observed how generic the scenery was as I walked by. Building, building, tree. Building, building, tree.
The apartments all looked the same, with the same basic blocky setup for the businesses that I passed. There was a similar look about the people that walked by. They were similar to each other; generic. Although I wasn't quite myself, I was sure that that wasn't the way people tended to look.
I stopped at a particular red door which led to a little espresso shop that was closed. Something drew me to it. I knew, I just knew, that there was nothing behind that door. If I were to open it, I'd see only blackness, or bricks, or maybe a grid pattern etched in green ones and zeroes, or something else completely out of the norm.
As I turned back around, unable to will myself to reach the door, I heard a whooshing sound. Everyone who was walking stopped dead in mid-stride and the entire world seemed to skip like a broken 150 year old record. People stutter-stepped several false starts over and over.
With another quick whoosh, time moved back at its regular pace with the entire world back in gear. I shook my head violently in response to the strangeness of what I'd just witnessed. Turning, I saw the coffee shop with the red door was no longer there.
I'm cracking up, I thought. I needed to be away, needed to go to the park and sit. In a city of 13 million people, the park seemed very sparsely populated by comparison. There were few people on benches, some couples here and there, but they came and went. By 7pm, it was just me in the gathering autumn darkness, feeling oddly empowered by the sting of the November cold.
It was just me and a man in a dark coat. With a mustache, grizzled, grimy face and brown eyes. My sympathetic nervous system kicked in fully. "Hey girl." He had a gruff voice, very different from most men. "Transfer your money credits to me. Hand over your NAT. Now. I'm not asking." I had learned strategies in school to defuse situations like this, with people that could not be swayed by reason.
One technique was to use logic, although it was counter-intuitive, like giving a stimulant to an Unenhanced child with ADHD. What did an emotional person with no sense of reason need with my logic? "I physically can't transfer credits to you without getting approval by the bank. They dig into things like this. Unless the purpose of the transfer exists within the law, the bank simply won't let me do it. It's like asking me to turn into a balloon. I just can't, no matter how much I want to or how much you want me to."
He smiled behind dark glasses and lifted some metallic object. "Turn into a balloon." He paused and stopped smiling. "Turn into a balloon. Right now." My heart beat to a gallop and I began to sweat from my hairline to the palms of my hands. "You look like you don't recognize this from the movies," he said. "It's a gun."
I wondered how he was able to acquire such an antique and then I figured he must have stolen it. At knifepoint. I didn't know what to do or how to handle such wild Unenhanced creatures. I'd always been taught to pity them for their crude animalism. So I decided to appeal to its…that is his, baser emotions.
"Look, sir, I'll give you whatever you want, I promise. I'll do favors for you, I'll sleep with you. I'll do anything for you in bed, anything. Just please put that thing down."
His grin stretched wide again. The man waved me off with his gun hand and pretended to wretch. "No. I don't want that. The thought of it sickens me. You failed your laureate today. Not even Randy would touch you now. You're dried up, you're done, your world is over and now your life is going to be."
Stunned I began, "How did you kn—" and then there was a bright flash along with a thunderous echo as the hammer of the mechanism came down. He laughed as he skulked away, a modern-day Jack the Ripper. I'd make him famous, in all likelihood.
Blood poured from the entry and exit wounds and I nervously saw myself pooling on the floor. I was filled with absent hope, with the realization that I would not achieve anything any more, ever, as my heart beat away the last of my strength in the park I had come to visit, my eyes seeing no longer yet staring into the sky more intently than a living person ever could. Those last moments take a long time to process as you feel your body go cold, face first, then ice reaches closer and closer to your heart as extremities drain out through whichever path gravity guides them.
Life. It takes a lifetime to build but mere moments to collapse.
Poof! That's when the computer simulation ends and I exit, groggy and confused. The guards say nothing. Then they throw me half a steak and dry potatoes with some piss water. I get an hour to myself after dinner, and they tranquilize me again. Back in 2056, some people were up in arms when the government abolished the death penalty. They don't know that this life penalty is worse. It's the same fate for everyone on "life row." To relive the last day of one of your victims as one of your victims.
The only customization built into the program is that they use your face, your voice as the murderer. That girl is made up, she doesn't exist but every day I'm always her. The simulation disengages your hippocampus so you don't recall your own actual memories. Then it exchanges your real ones for her fake ones. And you feel what she feels. You feel what you made others feel. And when you go to sleep you fall asleep with the fear that tomorrow it happens all over again and you won't remember it until the simulation ends. Then the steak. Then the potatoes. Then the piss water.
Every single fucking day the same thing.