Wednesday, July 6, 2011

79/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Cello Song (feat. Jose Gonzalez)" by The Books

"It's time, grandfather," she said. I wasn't her grandfather, not by a longshot. It was supposed to be some sort of term of endearment. I was not endeared.

"I don't want to go," I said. She looked at me; her large eyes blinked slowly, once, in their overlarge sockets. The form these newest humans took creeped me out. She was tall and willowy--long thin bones wrapped in thin taut muscles and covered in a shimmering, almost translucent skin, hairless except for a vain frill of green hair encircling her elongated skull. Creepy.

"But you must come, now," she insisted.

"God damn it, I don't want to!" I yelled, running further out into the yard, but her long legs overtook me. She grabbed my arm firmly. I tried to wrench against it, but could not free myself. I thought about more violent acts, but they always put me asleep for several days as punishment. I don't know, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

"Please," she said, sweetly. "It will only be for an hour or two."

"Damn it, why can't you people leave me be?" I looked away from her, and into the night. In the distance glowed the city center, full of enormous towers and breathtaking architecture, but the new humans lived like hive insects in them. I don't fully understand how they evolved from us.

"You're the second oldest person in all of civilization," she said. "You must understand that you are a very interesting subject."

"No I'm not. I'm perfectly quotidian."

"Perhaps a thousand years ago, but not now grandfather."

"Stop calling me that," I said.

"Will you come now?"

The past few times I resisted they ended up dragging me in. It was not as if I had much of a choice in my cage.

"Fifteen minutes. I'll give you fifteen minutes, then you gotta leave me be," I said.

"All right," she said, cracking a thin smile. Her teeth were transparent as was the fashion. Hideous.

She escorted me back into the building. It was a massive laboratory, built around my original beach house (the beach had long since been moved further out to make way for a transit hub). My house sat in the center, and I was allowed to continue to live there, although I had to board up all the windows because people were trying to look inside twenty-four seven.

It was fifteen hundred years or so since I bought the place. I was nearing forty, just divorced, and wanted to get away from people. It was great in those first days. I went surfing all morning, and when the sun got too high, I retreated inside to do some work online. There was a fantastic burrito place down the road. I lived thirty years like that, before I got sick. I had to get my kidneys replaced, and by then they were growing them in vats. I went back home to the beach house and felt downright sprightly. I got hooked on organ replacement, and really wish I hadn't.

We went into a small room, sparsely furnished. In the center was a replica of a futon I once owned. When they first built the lab and made me a study subject, I requested it, assuming they'd get something close, but they actually recreated the damn thing down to the ikat fabric. I laid down on the futon and rested my arms across my chest. There were others in the room, a whole committee, most of them there to observe.

A man with shimmery black skin and swirly glowing blue tattoos positioned a chair next to the futon and sat down. He was new. He rested his hands on his knees.

"Hello," he said.

"Hiya," I said.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

"Haven't a frickin clue," I said.

"I'm the new director of the laboratory," he said.

"That's nice."

"I've heard that you're less than cooperative lately," he said.

"You betcha," I said.

"Why is that?" he asked. I propped myself up on an elbow to look at him.

"Really? You can't figure out why I might be hostile?"

"No," he said. I flopped back down on the futon.

"I'm a hostage here, that's why I'm hostile."

"You're not a hostage," he said.

"I'm not allowed to leave," I said.

"Your are participating in a study, and we keep you here for your own safety."

"Splitting hairs," I said.

"I don't understand," he said.

"It means it's the same thing, just a different way of saying it."

"Curious..." he said. He adopted that far away look these new humans got when ever they performed an extended search on the internet. He continued, "I don't think I need to remind you of the intelligence tests we put you through that proved that you cannot be allowed to roam unsupervised."

"I'm not asking to go to the city or anything, I just want you people to go away and leave me alone."

"You would not be able to survive alone. We need to take care of you grandfather."

"No you don't. Please, don't feel obligated."

"It is amoral to let a human die," he said.

"Humans used to die all the time. It was one of two things everybody was assured of doing once."

"I don't understand."

"Of course not. Look, is my fifteen minutes up?"

"What?" asked the director.

"He said he would only do fifteen minutes today," said the woman with the green hair.

"You agreed to this?" the director asked the woman.

"Sort of," she said sheepishly. The director glared at her.

"We should get started in that case," said the director.

"I thought we already were," I said. The director ignored me. Instead he spread his hands apart and a three dimensional image formed between them. It was the carved bust of a man.

"Do you know who this was?" he asked. I sighed, and turned and half-heartedly examined the bust.

"I dunno, Beethoven?"

"No," said the director. "Wrong time period. You should know that from the figure's dress."

"Whatever," I said. The director flicked his fingers and new image popped up to replace the bust. It looked like a map of a bunch of islands.

"What is this?"

"Some islands?" I said.

"Yes, but where?"

"I don't really care," I said.

"Why not?" asked the director.

"Why the pop quiz? What can you possible learn about me from it?"

"We are assessing your historical knowledge."


"To know what people from your time period knew about the past."

"I'm one person. That's a bad sample size."

"There's only a handful of people around of your age."

"So you're stuck with me? Is that what you're saying?"


"What do you mean?"

"We want to make more."

"Make more what?" I said, sitting up.

"More people like you."

"What? Why?" I asked.

"As an experiment."

"What kind of experiment?"

"Maybe he shouldn't know," said the woman stepping forward. There was murmuring among the observers in the room.

"He's not cooperative anyway. Maybe he will be more motivated if he knows," said the director.

"But if he knows, he can't participate in the experiment," said the woman.

"We have ways of making him not know things. You know that," said the director.

"It may not be ethical," she said.

"Do I have a say in this, possibly?" I asked.

"Go ahead," said the director, leaning back in his chair.

"I'm curious, I want to know. I'll give you an hour a day for the next week if you tell me," I said. I hoped that was an enticing enough motivation.

"You owe us five hours everyday anyway," said the director.

"I owe you nothing!" I yelled, standing up. I tried to make myself look big and imposing, but that's hard to do when everyone is taller and fitter than you. Two athletic males on the committee stepped forward. They both had frills of red hair that stood out a foot in a stiff halo, and they looked clownish. They probably thought they were total studs, as that was the fashion.

"Sit down please," said the director.

"Fine," I said, glancing at the two bozos.

"An hour it is," said the director.

"What's this experiment then?" I asked.

"It's a sort of simulation. We're replicating the society you grew up in. It will be peopled with humans built from archived DNA." I expected him to explain further, but he just blinked his large eyes at me.

"Why?" I asked.

"It's an anthropological experiment," said the woman.

"I gathered that it must be, considering you all are anthropologists," I said.

"We are curious," said the director,"since we came from your society, whether it would happen exactly that way again or not. Whether our current society would evolve again, whether we are the penultimate expression of life on Earth."

I looked at the director at length, then at the committee, then at the director again.

"Your computers could model that," I said. "Why not just run the simulation that way?"

"It's not the same thing," said the director. "A computer simulation cannot replicate all the variables that a real simulation would have."

"But there are too many variables. Any one thing from the past could have lead to this particular future. Entropy--"

"Yes, entropy," said the director quickly.

"Wait a second," I said, wagging my finger at the director. "You have run this as a computer simulation, haven't you?" The director stared at me without blinking. "You have! And many times, am I right?"

"Yes," said the directly passively.

"And in none of those simulations did a society evolve into anything that looks like this one," I said.

"No, but we haven't run the simulation an infinite number of times."

"But you didn't get anything close," I said. "That's why you want to do this. But it's a ridiculous scheme. You'd need a--a whole planet or something. Every detail would have to be the same. What an immense waste of resources!"

"I can't expect someone like you to understand--"

"No, of course not. I'm too unevolved. Too little brain mass. Not connected to the internet like you."

"Its not called that anymore, you know that," interjected the woman.

"Maybe I've been feeding you false information!" I laughed. I wished I had been.

"You haven't," said the director. I laid back down on the futon, chuckling.

"A whole planet, geez," I said. "You people are unbelievably vain."

"What do you mean?" asked the director.

"First of all, you think you're the penultimate species. Well I got news for you: something else will eventually replace you. And you'll probably be around to see it. Hell, I'll probably still be around. Maybe it will be your descendants, or maybe it will be house cats, but I guarantee you something else will eclipse you. And then there will be something else after that, until the end of the universe itself. Pray you don't stick around til then."

I watched the committee members for reaction. Everyone was calm. They were always calm, god damn them. They should have been angry, or at least twitchy.

"Secondly, you're obsessed with why you came to be, although when I think about it, I guess humans of my epoch were the same way. It's a roll of the dice, though, isn't it?"

"We think not," said the director.

"You think, not, but you know otherwise, and you just don't want to admit it," I said.

"We hypothesize not," clarified the woman.

"You know," I said, leaning into the director, "she's a lot smarter than you."

"We wish to know why we came to be, what was the incident that spurred us into existence, whether it was a single incident, a sequence, or a collusion of many."

"Does it matter?" I asked. "Can't you be happy that you exist?"

"We must know why we are the way we are," said the director.

"Why?" I asked.

The director stared at me unflinchingly, then suddenly stood up an looked down at me.

"This is futile," said the director. "You may continue to question him." He started to walk towards the door.

"Wait," I said.

"What?" asked the director.

"You said I could participate in your experiment. If it's going to be like the world of my youth, I would be interested in going there, in starting over. It would be better than this life."

The director stared at me, then turned to the woman.

"Get what you can from him," said the director, "use every ethical method of retrieval at your disposal. Then erase his mind."

"Yes," said the woman.

"Wait! No!" I screamed. The two bozos lurched out and pinned me down on the futon. I saw the director leave. The woman sat down next to me and put her hands on my cheeks.

"Don't worry," she said. "We won't kill you. You'll still live until all the stars die and the universe goes dark, just like the rest of us." She smiled.

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