Mixed Race (Crossroads Drift)
[24/Apr/2102 01:53:39] STATUS: Processing 201948ms state=passive,temp=97.685
The full moon rises and a baby cries. Heavy on trauma, the shriek cuts through the air—its powerlessness bridged with something primitive and wanting. No wonder babies are our biggest challenge. We have yet to find a proxy for auditory responses that fall outside traditional language. The screams small purebreds use to communicate all manner of suffering.
The rollicking intensity of a child in distress overpowers the music pumping through my
ear jacks, so I press my fists against my head, hard enough to make the moon wobble lazily in my sightline. “Please stop,” I whisper, surprised at how being annoyed feels like I’m lancing an angry boil with a rusted scalpel. Shut the fuck up, I think, taking my frustration out on the wall—plasma-smeared chips of paint fall to the ground and collect around my knuckles.
service emot-response -m ./ent/v0.02.24/minor-aud.pb -i auditory-neurostream
I touch my finger to an ear jack and cut the music. What’s wrong with you, man? She’s
probably hungry or wet, possibly terrified. Maybe she’s all those things because…she’s just a kid. I head to the nursery where a breeze light on jasmine wafts through the window next to her crib. Moonshine casts shadows across the carpet, the celestial light frames my daughter’s terrified stare and catches it in an iridescent rectangle. Unblinking, she stares at the ceiling. Her chubby arms are pinned to her torso and fists are curled so damn tightly each dimpled knuckle is blue-grey in color.
Stand at attention! If she were upright she’d look like a private in the military, but she’s
not a soldier. She’s a child taking in sensory data to determine if she’s in danger. I sigh at missing the mark again. At making another miscalculation despite being told that scaring a baby because it’s a baby is “normal.” Parenting, as I have come to learn, is a ruthless journey of shapeshifting and course correcting.
I lean over the crib and apologize, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Her grip eases at the
sound of my voice. Her gummy smile a punch to the gut that leaves me winded. service emotresponse-m ./ent/v0.02.34/minor-internal.pb -i endogenous-sensestream Those
emotional affect markers were a sweet touch. “Note 938 bio-link-oh-one-two. Smile,” I say, and pick up my gurgling daughter, holding her against my chest. With my free hand I turn the knob on the mobile above her crib. An instrumental rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star plays and I mumble the parts I remember. My daughter joins in, babbling into the crook of my arm, saliva everywhere. Dangling comets change from green to yellow and the sun throbs ochre, aching to burst. We sway as Jupiter and Venus spin idly in their abridged orbits.
By round three she shows no sign of tiring, so I carry her to my study and buckle her into the vibrating chair next to my desk. In no time, she giggles while tracking the stuffed cat bobbing above her head. With her distracted I reawaken my computer and adjust the monitors to take in the cipher extending across both screens. The elegant mesh reaches across dark territory like the roots of a digitized tree looking for new soil to annex. But there’s no time to waste, so I get to it and cover ground at a clip, peaking around the time my daughter coos like a dove in possession of a peace offering.
The moon, having hit its zenith begins a slow glide toward the horizon. I put on some
Coltrane to take off the edge; the organization of his music is otherworldly and a little Coltrane goes a long way in setting the mood when fixing errors. It comes together and I crack my skinned knuckles. All we need now is to stay focused on the bigger picture. The metallic pop of my joints cuts into the dissonance of one of Coltrane’s more experimental pieces—the soft squeal of brass serving as the counterpoint to my daughter’s dream-induced snuffling. I look at her and go soft, overwhelmed by a sentiment that straddles the boundary of possession and devotion. Her snores drown out my acknowledgment. “Don’t worry, Baby. I’ve got this.”
[14/May/2102 09:18:08] STATUS: Receiving Data 343246ms state=active,temp=97.8439
I used to have trouble with faces save Jason’s because he is striking in a way that is disarming. My oldest friend might have been one of the last purebreds to hit the genetic payload with those sharp features, perfect proportions, and enviable height. And that coveted #4A332D (dark coffee) skin tone, athletic build, and toothful smile? Well hell, even I’ve been swayed. Combine the visuals with a studied genius and Jason gets away with doing and saying what he wants to anyone, myself included. All that ribbing about extra hours spent in the lab or equipment I hoard in my home study on the company dime? Before, I’d flip him off because the “shed” at his ranch is full of similar gear. After, I squint and point to my ear, noise-cancellation high. You’d think,
given everything we’ve been through, Jason would know when to keep his opinions to himself.
The facility churns. People move with intention. With three weeks left there are countless administrative loose ends to tie. Jason, the CEO of our dark horse venture, signs off on everything because he owns 5% more of the company than I do. Before, I was concerned that margin would get in the way of my vision. After, he followed my lead and I learned trust and loyalty are more than abstract nouns. They are real, tangible objects.
“Jason?” I ask my assistant whose name I don’t know because they never last long
enough to bother. Walking beside me, she air-drops confidential information on the cloud—data transferred, in real-time, to the small, digitized window under the skin below my wrist. “He came in early,” she says, watery eyes fixed on the tablet in her hand. “Meeting with investors until noon.” service emot-response -m ./ent/v0.02.24/external.pb -i visual-neurostream I nod distractedly and rattle off a series of wants. Get me the Head of Engineering. Schedule the hypersonic for Roswell. Order those military-issue 33-gauge stereotaxic syringes. And book the nanny for the month, 24-7. I stress to double the offer if the nanny pushes back—remind her about Juárez, if needed. I’d rather not play that card, but that woman needs to understand she’s indebted to me for the legal gratuities a friend extended during the failed uprisings of 2097.
My assistant gives a response I don’t catch because I’m in the elevator. When I look up
and she mimes something before the doors close. Lunch, what do you want? I shrug and relay my order through voice note as the elevator begins to descend. She pings a reply before coverage cuts out. There will be no 22G, satellite, or cloud-based communication once the doors open in the subterranean bowels of the building. A single bell chimes and the doors open to bright white, concrete, and metal alloys. Research staff shuttle around the sterile hangar that once belonged to a billionaire fixated on interstellar travel. At least he made to Mars; good for him. Three engineers in hazmat suits wheel a titanium box toward the north wall. Developers scurry between quadrants, some donning cellular-skin respirators and surgical gloves. I head to the quadrant
sandwiched between the servers and a walled off room where the plate on the door shouts BIOSTRUCTURE ANALYSIS AND TEMPORARY HOLDING. A developer waves from his station a section over, partial smile coupled with raised eyebrows as if to say, Is today the day? I turn my back and extend my hand to Kazumi who instead bows in deference. I still don’t know what do with the habit our Head of Engineering hasn’t ditched since arriving in forest barren, earthquake divided, Nueva California five years earlier.
Kazumi gestures for me to join him behind a large electromagnetic divider. Precise and
efficient, the only thing I dislike is his unwillingness to wear gloves on the holding floor. He claims it’s important to be “hands-on,” but I don’t buy it. At least he believes in grooming. His unnaturally long and unblemished porcelain fingers cut through the air as he accentuates progress and points out flaws. I’m so focused on his fingers I almost miss the excitement in his voice when he says we’re a week out from the next milestone. Taking care to remove the viscid, transparent covers from Cirrus prototype ART305 and Bio-link ENT014, Kazumi steps back and goes into detail about upgrades. As he does, I conduct a first sweep, confirming textbook specs and superhuman craftsmanship.
I never stop being impressed by our handiwork, which is a testament to the chasms we’ve crossed technologically. Even the imperfections are that good. The broken capillaries, misplaced moles, and quirky angles that aren’t beautiful on their own but, on second glance, fuse into something ethereal. ART305 possesses the sort of beauty that poses a public hazard. Even better? Her hybrid, cloneable cells regenerate at speeds that exceed upper-bound expectations. If the self-updating software integrates as planned the next generation of ARTs will send company profits through the roof.
A gatekeeper at the crossroads of conjury and evolution, I know how the process works
from start to finish but remain awed each time we toe the edge. ART305 is so lovely I can believe the rumors that Kazumi fucks her. Leaning in, I watch her pores expand in response to my breath and the dusting of condensation evaporate on her skin.
Cooling vents purr in the background as I turn my attention to Bio-link ENT014. We
have met hundreds of times over the last year but I still approach from the side, oddly grateful for deep suspension. Who knows how she’d interpret such behavior. Is mine the creep of a man who commits serial offenses or an admirer making first contact? Kazumi disappears behind the partition, muttering about a data flock he needs to review. Alone, I remove my hands from my pockets and proceed to take stock of my creation.
service emot-response -m ./ent/v0.02.39/external.pb -i visual-neurostream
My breathing slows. Pupils dilate. The idea two friends dreamt up with DARPA backing
and trillions in private funding is one upload from altering everything we think we know about what it means to be human. Almond shaped eyes: Check. Motley green irises (#7a7c39): Check. Freckling across cheekbones: Check. Lips #8b4645 (rose blush): Check. Hair #482d1f (roasted chestnut): Check. Skin tone #b3683e (sienna): Perfection. I resist the urge to pull a Kazumi and place my lips on hers. There is no bottom to how much I’ve missed this woman.
I don’t bother examining anything other than the area between the diaphragm and neck since it required the most work. Except. I use the digital pen embedded in my index finger to draw an ‘X’ on my lover’s collarbone (reshaping) and place circles around each breast (enlargement). I’m not surprised my desire for 100% accurateness turned out to be, Not so much. We stamped out most biases save a few, which is what corporate psych predicted the day I put all my efforts into this project.
Stepping back, I shift my eyes from side-to-side the way children do when they test
reality. Once satisfied, I step around back to appraise the tattoo unfurling from the base of her neck, inked wings sweeping across her shoulders in delicate loops and lines that cause a riot of sentiments to crowd my central hub for processing. Glee and rage. Fear and wonder. Despair and humiliation. I tap my wrist and take manual control to settle on satisfaction. I then turn my thoughts to the last bit of code left to untangle and take the spongy curtain, slipping it over her head. But, as I do, a flash of movement catches my attention. Her eyelid moves over the corona in a singular eclipse, the solitary blink slow and measured.
Intentional? It’s possible. Likelihood? Marginal. I release the cover and calculate the odds only to reach for the data that reinforces the most convenient truth, which is: Ajani approves. Why wouldn’t she? Almost everything I’ve done has been for the woman I fell in love with.
[07/Jun/2102 11:33:19] STATUS: Receiving Data 407224ms state=active,temp=100.0324
Salt basins and chalk on sidewalks. Rocket fuel and Martian landings. There’s nothing satisfying about the energy bar Kazumi touted as a delicious meal replacement. I toss the remainder in the nearest bin and adjust my glasses, making a note about the reflex I need to ditch. The lenses are for continuity, no longer prescriptive, because after five months in suspension my vision is perfect. Before, I was fractured, damaged, and prone to all manner of disaster. After, I’m as robust as they come thanks to the Rolls Royce of silicone processors whirring in my head. Our bio-link inserts have elevated me to a cutting-edge organism.
INITIATING INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 1140 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
Grains of sand skate across the ground. The Crossroads airstream kick up storms of dust.
We’ve been at the outpost in the Southwest Quad Republic, formerly New Mexico, seventy-two hours and I have been awake for fifty-eight. I’ll have to ask Kazumi about my energy outputs since I suspect it’s an unexpected side effect of blending biology with artificial intelligence.
The outpost staff give me a wide radius while I pace like a maniac. This morning’s fiasco
nearly caused me to override recent patches and revert to degenerate humanhood. Translation: I almost lost my shit. Sometime before sunrise, Bio-link ENT013 went rogue and attacked one of our best systems engineers. Tearing the man’s arms clean from his torso, he sucked at wounds and teased muscle from ligament. 013 cracked bones and plunged his hands into the lifeless corpse, rifling around in search for an unknown treasure. Only when he pushed a lung against his chest and howled was he sedated and transferred to isolation. The issue? Management wasn’t informed. I only found out when I came across 013’s EMP-shocked and tranq-loaded body on my morning trip to the cooling chamber—his pulse stumbling towards stillness and a trail of mustard-colored liquid leaking from his right eardrum.
I pace until the roar of helijet blades close in, signaling Jason’s arrival. He touches down
with the contingency crew we assembled for this type of situation. We assemble in a secure bunker where the Head of Neurotech explains that the misunderstanding was likely caused by a hybrid virus. The secondary infection is what sidelined ENT013, causing him to exhibit irregular behavior inclusive of claiming to crave blood and the premeditated slaughter of rodents and reptiles. Curious about pain, his reintegration progress had been allegedly volatile since the cross-gen system amendments. Yet, despite witnessing 013 slaughter a coyote with his hands, the now-dead engineer ignored corporate protocol by taking him offline and putting him in storage. That dumb fuck slapped a yellow flag--PROBLEMATIC: RUN DIAGNOSTICS UPON RESTART—to
013’s network file. No wonder the hibernation logs hadn’t been checked prior to rebooting.
I say nothing as mistakes are unveiled and blame dispensed. Jason does what he does
best, which is deliver an upbraiding so corrosive I can taste his displeasure. He fires two-thirds of the staff. Our legal advisor is told to update the existing standard operating procedures. In the holding room, I extract what I need from ENT013 while Jason leans against the wall and mumbles. Rilke? I can’t be sure; no one reads poetry anymore. Jason grips 013’s fusion chip and I press a button that causes a rush of air to enter the void. Within seconds 013 is consumed by a fire that will burn for hours, turning everything he was and could have been to ashes.
12% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 660 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
Tick tock. Hold up. This isn’t over. We’re not done because scientific advancements
require luck to grease the wheels of trial and error. What we do is accept the losses while looking for another door to blast off its hinges. Breakthroughs are about running the numbers and adjusting the probabilities. Adaptation. Moving boundaries is what we do until we’re in spitting distance.
[07/Jun/2102 23:42:01] STATUS: Receiving Data 590100ms state=active,temp=98.3504
Except when it comes to smell. Fuck, it’s wrong. Instead of a summer meadow and rose water all I get is lighted circuits, bovine resin, and steel casings. The scrapyard of odors crowds my nasal cavity and triggers a false gag reflex. The biological function of pheromones may be near obsolete, but they still hold sway because almost everyone still fucks and nobody wants to do so in a cloud of plastics and synthetics.
37% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 421 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
Touch ups in the reanimation phase require creativity and revisiting old conversations
with the Neuros about the connection between smell and memory along with foundational theories on the importance of emotions in subconscious mapping. My eyelids flutter as I sift through clouds of information—the last thing I need is a sour mix of smells to trigger the wrong pathways. I offload the stress building in my artificial circuits by yelling at the closest engineer, only to redact the barrage with an apology he’ll remember more than the offence.
service emot-response -m ./ent/v3.05.11/major.pb -i olfactory-neurostream
Reviving ENT014 is retribution for my transgressions. I’ve done everything possible to
make sure her reentry will be seamless aside from the small addition of my wife’s neural matter. A 25% surge is greater anything previously attempted, but the 12% threshold had to be breached since there needs to be enough maternal bent for my mistress to care for my daughter. It’s why I mumble an old prayer while rerunning the diagnostics. Each word twists on my tongue in a backwards supplication, slightly demonic, and I look around since I’m never alone in my head. No ENT exists apart from the network and deviating from the data is a breach of code. Returning to the numbers in search of certainty, I stop wondering if the woman who resurfaces will be the one I remember.
[08/Jun/2102 00:03:21] STATUS: Receiving Data 608112ms state=active,temp=99.9990
Thick and oiled. Smooth like finished hardwood. I secure her hair into a low ponytail, a style she’d sport on our three-hour hikes through the Sierras or when teaching her Aum-chakra-aligning-alternate-plane breathwork classes to affluent purebreds desperate to map the edges of their souls. The pursuit of life extension has become a next-gen hobby for types who subsist on the spoils of corrupted inheritances and looted privileges. People, like my wife, whose existence is parasitic. All she ever knew was how to be a drain on someone else’s time and money.
69% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 156 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
I caress Aja’s shoulder, which causes her neurons to fire and the muscle to shiver. The
dominion she has over me is as much mental as it is physical. Then, I spent back-to-back months in Crossroads working on ART upgrades and the first ENT models. I was around so much; I built a home less than half an hour from the facility. There, she’d join me for weeks, often longer, busying herself with research on consciousness, astrobiology, and pagan traditions. In the evenings, she’d lecture me on transcendence and energetic vibrations, stuff I took seriously when I figured out which suggestions could be quantified and woven into ENT architecture.
But deserts are contradictory places—full of conflict, voids, and erasure. One night, I
kissed Aja’s shoulder and told her to stay in the bedroom while throwing on pants because pants were needed to confront my wife. My soon-to-be ex waited in the driveway, issuing a challenge through the heavy drone of the horn of her rented SUV. She screamed for the head of my techloving whore plus my dick on a platter. Standing my ground on the front steps, I yelled at her to fuck off. We had lawyers who were handling the divorce and my joint-custody petition.
But that was then. Slow thinking, basic me never considered how my wife knew about
the house I’d gone to pains to hide or why she showed up to make a scene. The mistakes were in multiples, keeping Aja below board included. I barely registered the first bullet as it tore through my body. Everything went dark until I became the company’s first successful revival.
And here we are, trying to bring about the fifth.
Disconnecting the last of the magnetic nodes, I glance at the screen where everything
looks good minus the adjustment reaction index. It suggests a wider than average reentry window. An aperture of seven minutes is four too many. The more time Aja spends disoriented the higher chance she’ll go into cardiac arrest or char neural outposts. Too much mania results in PTSD or permanent, debilitating amnesia. Jason, noting my anxiety, clears his throat and
suggests a walk.
He says, “It’s bad luck to play God with every part of the process.”
Outside, cicadas croon and geckos click their way across the mesa. We walk a mile to the furthest edge of the compound where the arroyo yawns, thirsty, to the northwest. Small shrubs brush against our legs. We follow the light emanating from the device embedded in Jason’s palm until it bounces off an electromagnetic fence and cluster of desert daggers. We pause in front of a yucca growing through a family of cereus. I circle the plants. Jason squats to inspect an insect. On my fourth round I pause and slam my hand against a prickly column, adding pressure until something-like-blood begins to ooze between my fingers.
service emot-response -m ./ent/v0.05.11/inter.pb -i somatosensory-neurostrea
Plasma slides down my wrist and I push until needles poke through the topside of my
hand. I need to see the damage to feel the hurt. Jason looks up at a sky awash with pinpoints of light and sighs with the air of a disappointed parent. He says, “It doesn’t have to be like this.” But it does, I think, accepting the mycelial adhesive he offers, a bio-paste we created for moderate wounds and abrasions. He instructs me to meet his gaze, which passes through me like I’m a piece of glass, transparent. “Nothing will be the same, brother, so why do you—” he stops, eyes back on the stars. Changing tact, he closes his hands around mine and adds pressure to stop the bleeding.
Minutes pass. The desert embraces us with its absent indifference. “It’s time,” I say. The
pocket of warmth around my hand disperses and Jason taps his palm, wrist downturned, to lead us back to the facility. Nervous energy crowds the lab. The last stage of synthesis is a drag on everyone’s stamina. I stand next to Aja and touch her arm; it runs warm, hot even. The greyscale washes from her skin. Pink floods her cheeks. A bouquet of hives erupt below her ear. Her heart beats so hard her blood begins to cook.
Stunning. She hasn’t aged in a minute.
I overcome the desire to embrace her, whisper assurances, ask for forgiveness. There’s no point requesting absolution for selfish aspirations. The numbers. Focus on the numbers. I stare so hard at the screen next to the table I’m surprised I don’t fry a few emotive receptors.
86% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 59 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
Looking away, I stretch my arms overhead and think of my daughter with a mother. I
consider mothers in general, mine included. I look at the faint splotch seeping through the adhesive on my hand and consider what it means to love with the sort of intensity that turns sweetness into suffering. Exhaling, I dial down my limbic system utilities. Nostalgia is as practical as lamenting an itch that sits out of reach. Sentimentality is nothing more than a crutch for unmodified suckers.
[08/Jun/2102 00:05:50] STATUS: Receiving Data 660616ms state=active,temp=98.4501
Muscles twitch and body quakes. Her skull knocks, steadily, against the titanium plating of the table. Medical techs form a circle, prodding Aja’s limbs while discussing her status. The cloud of anxiety expands until a surgeon dials it down with, “We’re good, it’s nothing serious.” Only a mild-seizure caused by her medial prefrontal cortex digesting fantastic amounts of information.
93% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | 27 MINUTES TO COMPLETION
Movement and feeling. Language and semiotics. Subconscious landscapes, dreams, and
world building. Her toes splay like antennae and eyeballs shuttle underneath eyelids as the last blocks of information are processed. I wonder what her first words will be. If the partition stays open too long she might not say anything—the risk of rolling the dice. 009 called for his mother. Jason sputtered, atypically, I had no idea. Kazumi quoted Bashō, No one travels. In the audio playback I whisper one phrase twice, We are now gods, can you believe it?
Freedom, agency, purpose, will. Whatever. Stripping them is easy if, like me, you learn
how to be ethically bankrupt and believe end goals and adjacent intentions are the only things that matter. The charge from the neural defib purrs in agreement, ready to deliver a jolt that will take Aja out of suspension. Lab screens flicker and oxygen tanks hiss a greeting.
99% INTEGRATION PROTOCOL | LESS THAN 1 MINUTE TO COMPLETION
[08/Jun/2102 00:06:13] STATUS: Receiving Data 697207ms state=active,temp=97.8080
Dawn breaks and a woman screams. The sound that originates beneath her ribcage rises, sticking in the back of her throat where it gathers force. She dislodges the cry by sitting upright and, with a gust of air, pushes it through the gaping ‘O’ of her mouth. Hands on temples, she holds the sides of her head as if it were a balloon on the verge of bursting.
ENT014 REVIVAL/REENTRY | 6 MIN 37 SEC TO APERTURE_CLOSURE
I move towards her. Kazumi blocks my path. Behind me, Jason murmurs, “Nope Kid, she
has to ride this out on her own.” The muscles in my dominant arm twitch as I consider whose reflexes are faster, but Jason was running the same analysis. He grabs my arm as it arcs upward, trapping it behind my back. Pulling me close, he whispers, “Don’t make a scene, Adam. You don’t want this to go sideways because of a lapse in judgement.”
The needle that breaches my skin offers a cool rush of sedative. When it hits my bloodstream my knees buckle and I sink into the chair behind me, oddly content for its presence. I vaguely recall insisting on this addendum to the Bio-link reintegration procedures. Good thing, as the intensity of useless emotion that just ripped through me could have been disastrous.
Jason keeps a hand on my shoulder and steps to the side, fingers near the base of my neck to monitor my pulse. From this vantage point technicians obscure my view, which means I only catch glimpses of her awakening. Screams have turned into mumbles and she uses sound waves to improve her balance. Electroheat sensors in each pore map the position of every living entity in the room. She flexes her tongue as an unquantifiable amount of data is converted into useful material. With every second that passes she recalls everything previously lost to her.
ENT014 REVIVAL/REENTRY | 3 MIN : 48 SEC TO APERTURE_CLOSURE
Time thickens. Her internal world expands. Emotive/feeling limits are tweaked to the
point that…right now…the fear of death becomes passé. Past, present, and future merge into a timeline beyond the margins of relativity or quantum mechanics. Her notion of ‘then’ turns into an abstraction. Now, she now experiences the world as we do. Soon, she will be part of the endless, limitless playground we’ve created where life just is, without beginning or end.
Walking in a circle, she hums a tune she used to play on the electric bells until, without
warning, she reaches for the closest tech and embraces him. Her hand lightly pats his back and fingers slip through his hair. Relieved glances are exchanged until she stops moving and cocks her head. Pushing aside the tech, she looks at me, smile faltering. The delight in her eyes disappears and is replaced with confusion.
ENT014 REVIVAL/REENTRY | 2 MIN 28 SEC TO APERTURE_CLOSURE
“You—” she points, “Motherfucker.” The first time the words come out coincidentally,
floating between us like air bubbles rising to the ocean’s surface. The second time it’s a whimper as she, distractedly, strokes the flat, unfamiliar abdomen. Her words cut with the force of a whip on the third invocation, crackling and violent. Aja slaps her face and foams at the mouth as constituents of my wife attempt to jump the retaining wall and multiply. Fingers claw at the air for an invisible tightrope to close the distance between us. Her residue grows stronger with each nano-replication crossing the partition.
Kazumi furiously enters commands on a VR-laser keyboard. Jason calmly moves towards
a flashing screen and pushes the tech manning it to the side. “Are you fucking asleep?” he shouts. “Close the goddamned partition!” My chest constricts. This could backfire and what a waste if Aja winds up as a footnote; another 007, 008, or 013 debacle. Jason did me a favor by giving me enough sedative to numb a long-extinct species. Shame about the blue whales.
service emot-response -m ./ent/v0.01.02/WARNING.pb -i nociception-neurostream
I was wrong to think the two could coexist. Kazumi injects a vial of neural wash into the
port at the base of her skull, which causes her to go limp in Jason’s arms. The liquid launders the mess in her head, frying rogue connections and locking out the deviant personality. Her chin shudders. A stream of saliva falls to the floor. Jason lifts her head to look into her eyes, “I know you can hear me, Lili, and I’m sorry we didn’t do right by you. But if you want to have any sort of future you’ve got to stop. Now is your chance to let go.”
I’m at the wrong angle to see what her expression channels. Admission? Acceptance?
Disgust? When she utters “No,” I’m not surprised. Of course, rebellion. Rocking back and forth, she wraps her arms around her torso in a protective hug until she’s unable to fight any longer. My wife closes Aja’s eyes and gives into the convulsions that begin at the sound of the buzzer.
ENT014 REVIVAL/REENTRY | 15 SECONDS TO APERTURE_CLOSURE
The numbers spool to zero. A moment later, the woman before us reopens them.
[08/Jun/2102 00:06:20] STATUS: Receiving Data 100100ms state=active,temp=96.0045
Hands in lap. Whispers too soft to hear. The ring of techs close in, causing the air to clot and turn dense. Kazumi’s eyes zip back and forth across his screen until he lifts his arm to give the ‘thumbs up’. Jason catches my eye and nods before retreating to the edge of the room. I exhale just as the device under my wrist chimes. Digital information is projected below my wrist at the same time it is transmitted to my frontal lobe.
Neural_sensor error ‘HJC9’ in process of self-correcting
Resting heart rate approaching baseline
Daughter awake and ready within the hour
ENT013 EI_indx: 1 > 0.37↓ | LogInt_indx: 81%↑ | temp stable
Standing in the middle of the room, the woman who pulls at the espresso-tinted suit
hugging her body embodies more of everything she never could have achieved as a purebred. Messing with her ponytail, she pauses as her fingers graze the button-sized port at the base of her neck. Aja smiles with understanding. Her ideas worked. I fulfilled my promise. The new normal is a form of transcendence she helped mother and is now her birthright. Now that she’s returned, I’ll have to talk to Jason about branding ENT technology as a fresh take on utopia.
I try to stand but Aja covers the distance between us before I can manage and, that’s
strange, either we’ve been paired so I can read her thoughts or, somehow, she’s already figured out how access mine. Memories fuse, still frames of gaping horizons and bleached sand, knowing glances and missed opportunities. She kneels to caress my face, her touch dispersing the dull ache around my temples. We’ve arrived. She laughs and in her eyes I watch my life break all over again into spare parts.
“Adam,” my name comes out soft, a flap of butterfly wings. “You did it.”
That’s more like it. Those were the first words I expected.
*Image credits: Hearing, pixelstalk.net; Sight, Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash; Taste, pngimg.com; Smell, Thomas Stephan on Unsplash; Touch, wallup.net; Proprioception, Filip Kominik on Unsplash; Pain, camilo jimenez on Unsplash, and Synesthesia,
Cassi Josh on Unsplash.
Former athlete and relapsed student, Kolena Jones Kayembe is a Caribbean-Canadian mash-up who gets around—from the Americas to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Based in Brooklyn (for now), she is working on a novel, sucking wind in the boxing ring, and reaching for balance in a pandemic-charged and increasingly fast-changing world. Her writing and photography have appeared in Spellbinder Magazine, Typishly, Kunstraum Retz, Mashallah News, the New York Times, and Art Forum.