A Short Fiction, Soon to be Real

By Mario Martone


Called the Gist Generation, the group consisted of individuals who required a booster for their Virtual Human Thought (VHT) cranial implant. The booster is mandatory before the age of twenty-one. A couple in the group, distinguished by their in vivo conception, a rare biological phenomenon since the beginning of the 22nd century, is included in the otherwise in vitro group. He is nineteen, she is seventeen.

In vivo conception is widely regarded as vulgar. To prevent social censure and under the legal protection of doctor-patient confidentiality, virtually all parents conceal the genesis of an in vivo child. Only medical records identify in vivo children as ‘hybreeds,’ a euphemism for the word ‘hybrids.’ There are no observable physical or mental distinctions between in vivo and in vitro individuals.

The topic of conception is publically muted. Just as countless generations before them had done when all births were in vivo, parents still avoid telling their children how they were conceived. If and when an in vivo conception is eventually revealed to a child, he usually continues to keep his genesis secret.

This morning the under-twenty-one group’s tension is palpable. David is far more apprehensive than Alma about the procedure about to begin. He is concerned about the impact the booster might have on their relationship. “Will I see her differently? Will her scent lose its exquisite effect on me?” Most terrifying of all: “Will the VHT booster in any way alter our…our…our…” He cannot find the word ‘love,’ a word long since buried deep into his subconscious. David had heard the word ‘love’ only during his infancy when his mother cradled him in her arms and whispered, “I love you, David.”

The VHT is designed to delete words of personal endearment from human consciousness. Of course ‘love’ is one of those unapproved words. In the hundreds of languages interactively available on the electronic Global Dictionary that word is not included.

Ancient English is a dying language. No longer written or read, it is now exclusively a spoken language: DigiTalk. Most of its words are abbreviations of Ancient English. In effect DigiTalk is a dialect of Ancient English. Abbreviations inherently create problems. ‘Cat’ might mean the ‘animal’ or ‘category’ or ‘catastrophe’ or ‘catatonic’ depending on content. Definitions are given in order of the frequency of ‘hits.’ The user repeats the word ‘cat’ until he hears the most likely definition. In conversation, a fluent DigiTalker has several options. She might use sign-language for any of those words or say ‘feline’ if she means the animal, or simply say ‘meow.’

The Global Dictionary is often referred to as the Talkie. When seeking a definition, the dictionary’s user speaks a word into the dictionary’s microphone. Since DigiTalk is exclusively a spoken language, its dictionary provides spoken definitions. In the event that an unapproved word is spoken into the dictionary’s microphone, the screen glows red and blinks rapidly as a voice repeatedly exclaims, “no longer in use!” The dictionary’s content is constantly updated along with its visual, spoken, and musical commercials which flash on and off the screen whenever the dictionary is activated.

There is a repository for written ancient languages as they existed in the late 21st century. A single copy of each of their dictionaries is kept in a high security vault titled, the Hush-Hush room.

Today’s allegedly routine VHT booster is titled A New Adventure. The group suspects it is an illegal experiment as well as a booster. Their fear has been aroused by a leak from the local government’s Panic Control Center. The group fears that the administrators’ hidden agenda is to attempt penetration into and alteration of the subconscious, that enigmatic realm of thought.

[Editor’s note: In Ancient English the word ‘history’ was derived from an even more ancient Greek word, ‘historia,’ which means ‘learning through research.’ In both Greek and English the word has nothing whatever to do with gender. However, because of declining scholarship combined with a fervent effort to purge sexist words from the English language, an overwhelming majority in the late 20th century thought that ‘history’ was a composite of two words, ‘his story.’ DigiTalk has long since replaced the word ‘history’ with ‘hearsay’ in order to maintain societal correctness.]

Although the word for ‘history’ is now ‘hearsay,’ there are some events referred to as ‘facts,’ a rarely used word in DigiTalk. But today, the buzz in the laboratory is hot and heavy with a terrifying narrative which the group believes to be a fact. The best account follows.

As the story goes, in the very early 22nd century, human experiments were immediately banned after an experiment similar to this one resulted in the death of 100 young individuals. The slogan for that alleged booster was Let’s Go for Broke, now better known as The Great Goof.
That procedure’s administrators were engaged in seven multitasks while tinkering with the subconscious. Overtasked, they overlooked the obvious. They failed to consider the automatic respiration factor during sleep, a vital function of the subconscious.

Believing that the procedure had been a success, the administrators immediately announced a global FlashFlash onto millions of worldwide TalkTalk loudspeakers. In DigiTalk it said: “The 100 are the first truly liberated human beings in the hearsay of humankind!” The 100 went directly from the laboratory to a victory parade on the streets of Panhattan, a city renamed when the world’s entire population was officially declared united.

Unfortunately, the neglected respiratory factor took its grim toll that night: the 100 died of asphyxiation within the first 3 minutes of sleep.

Once again, today’s goal is to obtain permanent subconscious oblivion. The group suspects as much and is terrified. The sound of music provided by their VHTs is overwhelmed by their chatter. Neither music nor games are able to dispel their growing fears.

At precisely 8:00 A.M., the group’s cranial Music & Games (M&G) implants are remotely cut off by the medics. There follows an announcement that there will be 10 seconds of silence. The clock runs. After 4 seconds of silence, the tension is almost life-threatening: since conception, the in vitro group’s VHT implants had provided them with the continuous sound of music even during sleep. Now, for the first time in their lives, they experience silence. They are devastated. Some of them think they are in a nightmare. Others think they are dead. Indeed, their anguish is great enough to literally kill them before 10 seconds of silence might pass!

At precisely 08:00:05 A.M., three victims of silence scream in pain. That fifth second broke them. The experiment is stopped. The M&G implant automatically restores music to the entire group. However, the resumption of music backfires for the three victims. Their EMS and M&G implants are custom made to suit their specific musical preferences. While waiting for additional, hands-on treatment, one of the three victims is treated by the sound of hard rock, now the equivalent of ancient chamber music; another is treated by flute solos; the third victim’s automated musical selection is Gotterdammerung, hardly a suitable medical countermeasure to severe stress. Apparently, the implant designers overlooked the great risk of providing a severe stress victim with Wagner’s Immolation Scene. Or, perhaps they had logged-in lots of Wagner without carefully reading the ancient label warnings about drugs, alcohol, and opera. Still in excruciating mental anguish, the victims are carried out of the laboratory for intensive care, if indeed they would not be DOA.

During the commotion, David turns to his partner and whispers, “Alma—“

She cuts him off. “You mustn’t call me that here.” It is considered sexist to call your lover by her birth name in public. Speaking her name in public is tantamount to talking dirty. The Pin Number for her name is 11325.

“I’m sorry, 11325…I just want to know—“

He is cut off again. This time by the VHT, which repeats the original ten-second announcement. Again, the clock is running. The group is now convinced that the word ‘booster’ is a euphemism for ‘experiment.’ Fearing another commotion might lead to another interruption and, in turn, yet another dreaded ten-second run of silence, the group is resolutely silent.

This time, two victims are stricken by silence, one at the 7th and the other at the 9th second of silence. One of them faints because of aggravated ennui during her seventh second of silence, the other goes over the edge because he is addicted to the ancient form of music called Heavy Metal, the antithesis of silence.

Alma focuses on David’s face. His lips are tight. His eyes burn with anger. His anger is exacerbated by the knowledge that in addition to being illegal, this experiment is extremely dangerous. Probing the subconscious had proved lethal for the 100, why not again! Was this group to be the next 100?

A talking hologram appears. It is an image representing the Universal Human: multi-colored hair, skin, and eyes, and an androgynous body. With soothing music under its words and a mellifluous voice the hologram speaks DigiTalk: “WelNewVentupVHT.” (“Welcome to A New Adventure, a booster designed to update your VHT.”) The hologram then accelerates the pace of its speech in order to deliberately obfuscate the legally required medical description of the implant.

The ploy fails. The heightened suspicions of the group are confirmed. Despite the hologram’s rapid speech, the group surmises the booster carries a hidden factor. “No wonder we were subjected to that horrible ten-second silence. This is an experiment!” And, judging by what the Universal Human tells them, the experiment will focus on the medulla oblongada, the brain’s alarm clock that wakes us from sleep with that primordial shot of adrenalin! Wasn’t the failure of that autonomic sub-conscious function the cause of death for the 100!

David and Alma never subscribed to the centuries-old ultimate contradiction in terms, “Relativism is the only Absolute,” or to its implied corollary, “Reality is subordinate to Virtual Reality.” Unfortunately, this grisly experiment confirms the fact that virtual reality doesn’t quite measure up to reality. In this case, facing immanent death is certainly not virtual, it is real. Early in life and separately, Alma and David rejected society’s overwhelmingly accepted notion that there are no absolutes. They know that they are facing an absolute, death, right here and now.

Our couple met at a pics ‘n’ flicks, DigiTalk for ‘museum.’ Dabbles is DigiTalk for ‘paintings,’ which had long ago lost their frames and were no longer one-dimensional. They had long since been converted to holograms activated by sensors that detect a viewer standing before them. Alma was standing before one of them called ‘Moaning Lisa.’ (Misnomers were a common occurrence in a language that no longer had a written lexicon.)

David enters the centerpiece of the pics ‘n’ flicks, the Dabble Hut, and spots Alma. He makes no attempt to pretend that he is interested in the hologram she had activated. Instead, he walks directly to the hologram within earshot of the hologram’s ‘voice’ and stands only a meter away from Alma. Mona speaks to her visitors.

In DigiTalk, herein translated to English, Mona says, “I’m so glad you came to visit me. I want you to hear from my own lips why my facial expression is enigmatic. Yes, I’m speaking about the smile that made me famous. You see, passerby, when you focus on my mouth’s fine detail you see me as reserved, but when you look at my eyes, I look cheerful! Perhaps Leo deliberately meant to create that effect, perhaps he did it subconsciously or, for that matter, just by chance.”

Her voice then lowers to a whisper. “And while I have you here let me clear that bit of gossip about my gender. Gossip has it that the model for me was Leo’s male lover. If that were so I would look like this…” The hologram morphs from La Giaconda to Giacomo.

Directed to Alma, David angrily whispers, “Bullshit!”

“Do you mean that Leonardo da Vinci was not homosexual?”

“No. I couldn’t care less about that.”

He hesitates for a moment while his mind races for a way to ask Alma a question to which her answer would determine whether or not he should continue. Giacomo, now the male La Gioconda, provides David with an opportunity to ask Alma his critical question when, with a deep baritone voice, ‘Giacomo/La Giaconda’ claims, “I am Leo’s model for the Moaning Lisa.”

“That’s what I mean! I know bullshit when I smell it! Morphing is a parlor game. Hologramizing dabbles is vandalism. Tell me, are you okay with that?”

“Not one bit. Neither am I okay with the words ‘babble’ and ‘dabble.’ Grandma remembers a time when the titles for those arts were ‘literature’ and ‘painting’ and when chip ‘n’ chisel was called ‘sculpture,’ and math was not a matter of opinion.”

As Alma speaks, Mona morphs from Japanese to Egyptian to American, and so on. The hologram begins with Mona’s biographical message (described above) every time a new viewer stands before her. If the viewer remains in place after Mona’s initial biography, Mona continues morphing. At the same time, she serves as spokesperson for commercial sponsors, currently a cosmetic firm and a gift shop. As an additional attraction, she appears in full-length and in different clothes that include the latest fashions as she demonstrates cosmetic and jewelry applications.

The global entertainment planners maintain that the conversion of one-dimensional paintings to morphing holograms is the only remaining factor that attracts visitors to pics ‘n’ flicks in a society that cannot bear paintings that don’t move or films that are one-dimensional. They claim that without commercials to fund them, pics ‘n’ flicks would disappear altogether. They point to the unfinished painting of an ancient general crossing an icy river. “In addition to the motion of an icy river, that pic is especially valuable because its unfinished status makes it a very pliable candidate for multiple changes by would-be dabblers who, for a fee, are given permission to finish the painting, at least until the next dabbler comes along. Dabblers feel they’ve taken part in the original dabbler’s creation. Movement is money. Keep them moving: Moving water, moving horses, moving clouds are what brings in the bread!”

David steps out of the hologram’s periphery. Alma follows. Silence. David and Alma are the only two people left in the Dabble Hut. After Alma responds to David’s question, “Are you okay with that?,“ the tone of his voice changes from angry to intimate: “What’s your name?”

David and Alma had a lonely life until the day they met at the dreary pics ‘n’ flicks. Their loneliness was caused not only because of that poignant longing for romantic love that nature compels us to feel, but also because they differ so fundamentally from their contemporaries. They tolerate the perpetual music from the VHT implant, but never access its mind games. They much prefer talking to each other.

“Alma is a beautiful name. Does it have a meaning?”

“Yes, but I won’t tell you its meaning unless you promise not to laugh.”

“I promise.”


“I’m impressed…and it’s so much better than 11325.”

Their laughter fades and slips into an embrace and a silence that is almost solemn.

David breaks the silence, “This is an absolute, isn’t it.”

“Yes, David…It’s forever.”

From time to time, Alma’s grandmother spoke to Alma in American. David ‘picked-up’ some American from his parents. Like many bilingual speakers, Alma and David sometimes switch languages in mid-sentence.

“U r so flu in Amer/ican that I can hardly keep up with all the new words you’ve taught me in the past two years.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, take the first word you’ve ever said to me.”

“Oh?…What was that?”


He blushes, “Oh… that…”

“Yes, that…”


“Don’t be. If you hadn’t spoken to me we probably would have never met.”

“Not exactly. I have a confession to make. I was on my way home when I spotted you walking into the pics ‘n’ flicks. I followed you there just to talk to you.”

“So, you didn’t stand next to Mona and me just by chance.”

“No. I stalked you.” David was a closet romantic. He warmly continued, “Best move I ever made.”

We ever made. I wasn’t about to move away from Mona until you spoke to me.”

Alma and David discussed everything from the pros and cons of innie and outie bellybuttons to the birth of the universe.

“Alma, my grandfather told me that when his grandfather went to pics ‘n’ flicks, pics were in one dimension, hung on walls, and didn’t move.

“Grandma told me that ‘mythology’ was once called ‘philosophy’… and I think she said philosophy had five major branches. I don’t remember what those branches were called, but I remember she said that someday all five would be combined as a single study called ‘mythology.”’

“What does that mean?”

“The Global Dictionary told me it means ‘toe.’”

“Toe? The mystery deepens.”

“Well, when I asked the dictionary what ‘toe’ means, it gave me two definitions. The first one was, ‘Any of the five digits of the human foot.’ The second was, the ‘Theory of Everything,’ and it added, ‘archaic.’ It also said that the synonym for ‘toe’ is ‘mythology.’ When I asked the dictionary for the definition of ‘mythology,’ it said, ‘Toe.’ Anyway, grandma was right! But what bothers me most, David, is the mythological paste that entangles science and religion, fact and opinion, and fantasy and reality.”

Reality? Watch your tongue, Alma! Ours is the Gist Generation. Reality and fantasy are one. Remember your first math class? Our professors taught us the axiom, ‘One plus one is virtually two, nothing is self-evident,’ and that ‘not even that axiom in-and-of-itself is self-evident.’ How dare they dismiss logic!”

“Yes, and deface art. Grandma told me that advanced holographic technology made it possible for flick classics to be converted to life-size copies with different characters, settings, dialogues, and even story lines. She said, ‘I don’t mean remakes. Classics are not necessarily the first of their kind. Classics are classics because they are definitive. Although it may seem so, a masterpiece is not improved because of advanced technology. It’s a masterpiece because it is definitive.”’

“Yeah…Poor Mona would attest to that.”

“Would you believe that MyFlicks is offering menus with choices for several different synopses that alter a HoloFlick to your liking! You can place an order to have the hero live instead of die at the end of the flick. Or, you can call-in and record a synopsis for your original HoloFlick. I heard their commercial when I asked the dictionary for the definition of ‘celebrity.’ The commercial said, ‘You too can be famous! Call…Wait for the beep…and record your synopsis for an original flick! Delivery of your flick in just one day!”’

“With grand music under the commercial, of course…”

“Of course…Sung by the Heavenly Choir.”

The global Absolute Equality Commission’s motto is “If you think it, you are it.” The fervent efforts of the commission leave no stone unturned to achieve its goal for global equality. For example, the painting of that obscure general crossing the icy river provides the perfect opportunity for an amateur to replace the original artist’s incorrect flag with the correct one. If he has no talent whatever, he is provided a device that enables him to paint by numbers. For a small extra fee, all he has to do is jiggle tiny levers on a tablet until he has deleted the original painter’s incorrect flag and replaced it with the correct one. At last he too is a dabbler!

Chips ‘n’ flicks exhibit holographic sculpture and film in the arts formerly called ‘sculpture’ and ‘film.’ Already in three dimensions, chips are more easily processed than their one-dimensional counterparts, painting and filmic art. Since chips are originally in stone, the most effective process for their transformation to holograms is a precise replica of the original piece. As for films, advanced holographic technology has broken the bond between moving images and one-dimensional film. Most ancient classic films are now available in holographic format.

Like paintings, holographic sculptures morph and speak. For example, Michelangelo’s holographic Moses reads the Ten Commandments. His David flexes his muscles, does push-ups, and gives visitors body-building tips.

In holographic replicas of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David modestly wears briefs. Like paintings, non-holographic sculptures draw few visitors. In stark contrast, their underworld pornographic counterparts in MyLust porn shops are jammed with visitors, especially on Saturday nights. For a fee, visitors view holograms of nude art as it was originally painted or sculptured but is now ‘enhanced’ with action.

For example, at MyLust porn shops, David’s hologram can be accessed privately by only one visitor at a time. Unlike the original sculpture, David’s hologram initially wears a jockstrap. When a private visitor enters the hologram’s restricted booth, David greets him. “Hi, my name is David.” Pointing to three buttons as he speaks, David tells the visitor, “Please listen to the following menu: If you would like me to be silent, press 1. If you would like me to moan and groan, press 2. If you would like me to talk dirty, press 3 and say, ‘Light’ or ‘Medium’ or ‘Heavy’ dirty talk. To repeat this message, say yes.” When the visitor has made his selections, David removes his jockstrap and masturbates.

Although this exhibit is very expensive, it draws long lines at the MyLust chain of holographic porn shops. On the other hand, David’s hologram at the decaying chips ‘n’ flicks is rarely visited even though David moves and talks about the chip’s creator, “My buddy, Mike.”

The commission does not limit its efforts to art venues and it ‘looks the other way’ in terms of underground venues. Its mission is reflected in every public event, especially sports. Before a sport event, spectators are given a card at the entrance gate. The cards are either all white or the color of the day. At intervals through the game, several players are exchanged between teams depending on who is winning or losing. This tactic is designed to help equalize the score so that no players or spectators have their feelings hurt.

Viewers at home who watch a close facsimile of the game have a more sophisticated view of it. In addition to the life-size holograms in their living rooms called Zoomers, the viewer can access many enhanced features on an accessory to their standard HoloSport appliance with a Personal Companion (PC) attachment that provides a soft and friendly version of the sport event.

The viewer may choose to watch a mock game with selected excerpts from the real game so that his team of the day appears to win even though it actually lost that day. All he has to do is press a graphic depicting the menu of the day. Of course the menu has no words, but it is formatted in cartoon style that features a cute animal who presents options that convey a guaranteed win for the viewer’s team. The talking bunny or adult Bengal Tiger presents icons that ask the viewer, “Do you want the game to be easy or tight, a cliffhanger or a blowout? “

If the viewer’s team really did win on the field that day, she has the option of watching the game as it was actually played or, if she prefers, as it should have been played. Advanced options include doctored scoreboards, pre-recorded sound effects that blast spectator cheers and jeers, and sport announcers who are exclusively on the viewer’s side throughout the game. There too, there are options: “Do you want your sport announcer to be male or female? Should the announcer report the game politely or with expletives?” If the viewer selects the latter, his options are, ‘Light’ or ‘Medium,’ or ‘Heavy’ expletives.

The commission maintains that midgame player exchanges help eliminate rival tensions and provide a sense of equality for players and spectators alike. They say, “If the home view is not an exact replica of the game, it is close enough to it. Everyone is happy.” Medics agree, “Best thing that’s happened since the close of the Information Age.”

Hearsayers also agree. They trace the evolution of Fair and Courteous Games to ancient times. “In the twentieth century, sport fans were frustrated by games that were out of their control. By the millions they turned to interactive video games. Those games relieved their frustrations. They gave players a sense of control. They provided them with temporary omnipotence. It also relieved them from the tyranny of so-called facts over fiction. Now we can log-in a Grand Slam Homerun or Touchdown or Trifecta or even a Perfecta or a Hole-in-One whenever we need one!” And what of the field spectators? Well, if their team loses, they get their money back and a cheerfully sung gift certificate to any one of three nearby restaurants.

David and Alma shared a strong interest in cosmology, now called Stars ‘n’ Things. The brilliant burst of cosmology that began in the early 20th century has lost its luster. Alma and David attribute that loss to a plethora of speculative theories that eclipse verifiable metaphysics.

“…but that was before a ‘multiverse’ was declared a fact, Alma. I can understand speculation, but to declare as fact something that can never be proved and is logically invalid is an affront to science. And this in a society that rarely uses the word ‘fact!’ These are the same people who claim that existence doesn’t exist. That really bothers me.”

“Me too, David. The hologram thing bothers me even more. They chatter about us being holograms in a holographic universe but deny the existence of facts!”
David realizes that she is visibly upset. “Hey, don’t knock holograms! Where would we be if Mona, you, and I had not met in the Dabble Hut?”

She takes a breath to respond but cannot help laughing instead. “Oh, David, you always know how to break a bad mood.” Their laughter fades as an ominous feeling about the medical procedure takes hold of them. Their silence speaks louder than words.

At 8:15 A.M., the dangerous experiment enters its critical stage. Ostensibly, a non-invasive procedure, the alleged booster mainly consists of a series of gasses that are to be inhaled through the nose. The Chief Surgeon, titled The Big Guy, has assigned unseen medical personnel to administer the various gasses at specific intervals throughout the procedure. In a highly automated society, the Big Guy’s failsafe hands-on measure is in force to override automation if and when it becomes necessary. This experiment must not prove lethal.

With cheerful music under an announcement, the group is deceitfully told: “The VHT is best boosted through your nasal passages. In a moment, you will be provided with an attachment that you will place onto your upper breathing portal.” (Over the years, the word ‘nose’ had been deleted from DigiTalk along with many other ancient words for body parts that are now thought to be vulgar.)

Attendants cheerful distribute the attachments. When all the attachments are in place, the voice musically adds, “Breathe normally.” More than one individual in the group cannot help but think, “Breathe normally? Isn’t that what flight attendants tell us when the aircraft is about to crash!”

Under the skin of each individual’s forehead there is a custom-made device called the What’s Doing? band. Thin as a human hair, it monitors hundreds of physical and mental events including the burst of a microcosmic pimple.

When overall bodily and mental activities are normal, the band is invisible. At a significant level of disturbance, the band emits a green glow; a more serious disturbance is indicated by a yellow glow; a blinking yellow glow indicates a life-threatening event; a red glow warns: Organic Failure Immanent.
At 8:16 A.M., a soothing voice informs the group, “You will feel no pain at any time and there are no side effects other than a barely perceptible feeling of drowsiness.” …Uh oh…

The ultimate test of love is when someone feels more concern about the other than she feels about herself. That is exactly what Alma feels as she helplessly focuses on David’s green-glowing band. Although she tries to conceal her concern, David knows that his band is glowing green because of its built-in sound system: David’s What’s Doing? band hums a soft warning. Forcing a smile, Alma flashes a ‘thumbs-up’ to encourage him. He doubles the gesture with two thumbs-up to encourage her. He too, smiles, but his eyes betray confusion.

A moment later, the green glow shifts to yellow. The VHT delivers a personal message: ”David, you are resisting intervention…relax…” David’s reaction to the VHT’s counterfeit inner voice is defiant. When he hears the word ‘relax’ an expletive crosses his birth mind and he overrides his VHT by increasing his resistance. The yellow band goes from steady to pulsating yellow and the warning sound is louder. With a touch of condescension: “David you must stop resisting!”

David is struggling for survival. Despite the ‘barely perceptible feeling of drowsiness’ promised to the group, David feels that he is severely distressed. His EMS implant activates. Unfortunately, the Big Guy had overlooked the contingency of mutually counteracting forces. David’s instinctive flow of adrenaline is in contradiction to one of the experimental gasses. He is now in multiple jeopardy.

At 8:17 Alma is terrified by David’s continuing pulsating yellow glow. How can she stop this rapid deterioration of David’s overall condition? What’s wrong? How can she keep the band from glowing red? “I know David. He’s rebelling against more than just this experiment. What can I do to help him?” She recalls their brief talk the night before the procedure.

“David, I know how you feel about tomorrow morning’s booster—“

Experiment, Alma…”

“Okay, ‘experiment.’ But you’re angry.”

“You bet I am.”

“That’s what I’m worried about, David. For your safety tomorrow morning, just this once, let it all go.”

“I’ll try, Alma…I’ll try.” He hugs her and kisses a tear. “We better get some sleep. Good night.”

“Good night.”

At 8:18 A.M., David’s What’s Doing? band glows red. David is aware of this because the warning sound rises to a screech, a precautionary measure designed for patients who might not hear softer warnings while asleep. Once again, as was the case of the 100, an elementary fact had been overlooked: the adrenaline and tranquilizing gas are at odds. David cannot control his anger. His vital signs are off the charts. The oversight is not quite as potentially lethal as the disabled medulla oblongada had been for the 100, but David is critically ill.

Both David and Alma are fighting drowsiness: he in defiance, she to remain conscious for David’s sake. Her mind races for some solution to David’s crisis. He begins to slip in and out of consciousness. David’s stream of consciousness slips into the subconscious, that world where time does not exist and reality is suspended, where landscapes transform in an instant, where everyday objects are distorted, where thirst cannot be quenched nor food tasted, where our inner sight oscillates from grotesque irrationality to piercing clarity, and where, like a camera gone wild, that inner sight rack focusses from one extreme to the other.

A medic examines David’s eyes with his light scope. David imagines a blinding bright sky and an unstable sun, pulsating and larger than usual. He thinks, “…end of the world.” He tries to shade his eyes but realizes he cannot move any part of his body, nor can he speak. Large picture frames hang from grotesquely gnarled trees. All the frames are empty except one. Mona is in a dusty old frame hanging on a musty wall filled with jagged cracks. As neither a man nor a child, David senses himself and his parents at the Louvre, now a shabby old curiosity with very few visitors and only a custodian or two guarding it from vandalism. Mona speaks to him: “This is where I belong, David. Be well, David, be well.”

David’s band rapidly pulsates red. Seeing this, Alma’s drowsiness is instantly dispelled by a burst of adrenaline combined with the force of free will, a phenomenon that VHT designers have never been able to fully disable. Scientists are still unable to adequately define or understand free will, let alone neutralize it.

Addicted to multitasking, the Big Guy hadn’t noticed until this morning that he had a scheduling conflict! He is unable to dedicate his attention to this emergency because he is busy multitasking on three separate Skypes. Without a written language all medical training and practice is now restricted to intuition and word-of-mouth, literally. He is engaged in three ChatChats with three separate chief surgeons, one of whom is doing brain surgery in Bangladesh, the other in Portugal, and the third in Tajikistan. Without the Big Guy’s hands-on oral guidance they would have to significantly rely on iffy intuition, not exactly a reliable tool for brain surgery.

When Alma sees David’s pulsing red band, she impulsively detaches her nasal device and runs to David to detach his. When the assigned specialists see Alma rush to him, no one knows what to do. No one is in charge. All sorts of alarms are sounded. The medical personnel goes wild. There begins a cacophony of orders: “Abort!,” “Continue!,” “Release Gas 4,” “Hold off Gas 4.”

David’s band transmits its message to the laboratory’s loudspeaker: “Organic Failure Immanent!”

“11325, you are out of order! Return to your place immediately!”

“Not on your life!”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

“Return to your place!”

“You heard me, not on your life!”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

“David…David…please come back!…come back David!…come back…come back…come back!…

David thinks it is Mona saying that, but he sees that her lips are still. Her enigmatic smile does not change. She is motionless now, as she had been for centuries. He sees her in the Dabble Hut. He senses that Alma is also there. With intense emotion, he thinks the three of them are together again. He also dreams that this is the end of a visit to the pics ‘n’ flicks and that Mona is inviting them to come back.

“Come back…come back…come back…”

“Organic Failure Immanent!”

Alma unclasps David’s nasal device. She takes David into her arms. “David…David…Please…please come back…come back…come back…”

Apnea overtakes David. He stops breathing. As if our instinct to survive gives us a second chance to start breathing again, when we are in the grip of apnea our inability to move is countered with an exceptionally sharp and clear sense of exactly where we are and that we must wake up if we are to go on living. We hang in a dual state in which we are physically immobile but mentally urging ourselves to wake up.

So it is with David. He is aware that Alma is calling him but at the same time his body tempts him to let go. “I must not relax…not for an instant…I must fight to wake up…I must go back and tell Alma that their experiment has failed…that my subconscious has not been obliterated. Instead, my subconscious whispered something to me that I must share with Alma.”

He feels Alma cradling him in her arms. His memory flashes to that trip in Italy with his parents when he saw Michelangelo’s original Pieta. “I must tell her…I must tell her…”

Suddenly, like a drowning man who finally breaks through the water’s surface, he is conscious…


“Alma… I…I…”

Through her joyful tears, “Yes, David…yes, David…yes…”

“…We are one… and…I remember the word for it…“I love you.”

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