Peyton – Future
“This won’t work if they can’t hear it, feel it. Isn’t there scientific evidence that music is beneficial for the brain?” The answer reveals itself to me immediately. “Because now you have nanites. Nice,” I add sarcastically. “I’m in a real life Greek tragedy and have my very own deus ex machina. What happens when the nanites break? Wait, I know, they never break or is it redundancy or in addition to the required military training, everyone here is a nanite programmer?” Every time I ask a question, the answer pops into my display at the same time I think it and it aggravates me. Where’s the effort and fun in figuring things out for yourself anymore and thinking and discovering new things?
“Yes, nanite programming is mandatory. Music is not a form of entertainment for us. We would not be able to feel it regardless.” Wynne says it indifferently like every other time she speaks.
“How unfortunate for you,” I say sincerely, mocking her and rolling my eyes. I want to poke her till she counters. I don’t want to be a puppet for them. “So the only accomplishments you and your minions are good for is nanite maintenance? Sweet.” My cheekiness is blatant. How could anyone live without art and music?
“Music has not been important for centuries.” This doesn’t bother her as much as it does me. “I am an expert in all areas of medical science, physics, mathematics, and chemistry as well as nanotechnology.”
I cannot help but laugh at her. “And so humble.” If only I had a third of the confidence that this woman has. “I still don’t understand your culture’s ability to make obsolete something so very important and lovely. Religion and competitive sports, yes, I can understand why making those obsolete, but music? Art? No, no way.”
“You relate one to the other?”
I feel my frown and aggravation and remove it forcing myself to focus so I can articulate the importance of something so essential.
“Music and art—some would say sports, personally, I wouldn’t—are like religion in many aspects; they are stories; they inspire. They’re the cause, nature, and purpose for life for some people. Or was.” Another glance. They don’t have religion either; will the comparisons relate? “My people, my time. Music elicits emotions.” Something they have in minute quantities. At least on the surface? It’s a cultural and biological byproduct? Nothing shameful or harmful, right? This no art and music thing is disturbing to me though. I’m failing miserably at explaining this. I sound more like one of those self-help gurus pandering for coin. “Here, no one’s creating music, at all. It’s bizarre to me. I hope you’re not expecting me to live by that doctrine or you may have a one-woman-revolution on your hands.”
She overlooks my rebellious declaration, but I see the glint of approval before it disappears in an assertion of blankness. “Music was another art that became superfluous. Anything new was derivative. Imitation upon imitation. Original pieces were things of the past. Everything new was trite. Every idea, every art form exhausted and one only had to search for it in the archives.”
“I get it. Reboots, right? Reboots and more reboots. Some good, some awful. And all this depends on what your definition of ‘original’ is. I’m not a brainiac scientist but isn’t that what evolution is? Building on … building blocks? Kind of?” She says nothing and I flash back to my many failures in science class. Frowning while swallowing my intellectual inadequacies, I shove on. “Isn’t every idea a complex creation of a bunch of ideas? Have an idea, take it down the rabbit hole and make it your own?” Still, no recognition of the reference. I continue. “Regardless, I refuse to believe that every musical, artistic, or literary art form is exhausted. I cannot believe it. It’s—it’s depressing.” I let out a long sigh. “Lucky me. Yanked out of the past into a future without any kind of art,” I mock. “And here I thought this was utopia. Not including, of course, the sending me back in time reliving my nightmare of a childhood again and again. Mustn’t forget that lovely whirl.”
“Art is in the archives. It is available when we need it. Enough to last a lifetime. Even our extended lifetimes.”
I have become accustomed to her ignoring my sassiness. “Yes, but do you? Need it? And you don’t create new art. It isn’t a need for you. I doubt you even look or listen to any of it, yeah? Y’all are very clinical and scientific.”
Wynne looks directly at me unsmiling and I think of the many memes I could make of her deadpan facial expressions: “We create.”
I laugh realizing my error. “I stand corrected.”
“Even scientists are artists, Peyton. You of all people should understand that. Especially now.” That she admits this is somewhat profound to me and totally unknown and unawares to her. Or is it? Are these more tests?
“And technically, I’m not an original, but a derivative, right?” That seems to make her pause. I move on pushing my cause. “I’m saying these … trips would be more effective if you got to listen to the music I’m referencing. Like a soundtrack. Have you ever watched any of the movies in the archives from my time?” I turn to her hoping my indirect enthusiasm is contagious. It isn’t. “The Bodyguard? Now there’s a movie with a soundtrack. Purple Rain? Best movie soundtracks ever.”
“What’s a story without a soundtrack?”
“Just another story?”
Another reply that surprises me. The rare smile, tilting my head, my eyes soften in compassion towards her. Maybe we can teach each other something after all. I’ll be the mad artist foisting art onto them and they’ll be the brainy scientists guiding me through the universe and time. I pause realizing what she said. “Wait a minute, ‘our extended lifetimes’? What does that mean?”
“We have much longer lifetimes than humans of your time.”
“How much longer?”
“200 plus Earth years.”
Mouth agape, eyes wide, I stare at her: “How old are you?”
“The equivalent of 128 Earth years.”
Shocked into silence, my mind starts roaming: “How old is…my body? Or… what age am I?”
“After your three-dimensional biological creation, your nanomatter gestational period was longer than expected because of your transfer of consciousness. I chose this method because I wanted your entire consciousness till the moment of your departure.”
“Gives new narrative to emerging from the primordial goo.” I think on what I remember. “The last birthday I recall was 45.”
“Here 45 Earth years is level 2. The equivalence of a teenager.”
I swallow hard moving right past ‘the equivalence of a teenager’ remark. “And you’re level…?”
“Commanders and directors are level 4. Mentors occupy level 5.”
This entire conversation gives an interesting twist to our earlier conversation on the political contentiousness of terminus. I wave it away and feel the force of my disappointment, anger, and frustration. I don’t wanna be stuck in a world without any new art or music, and subjected to relive my childhood over and over again for another 200 plus years. As a freaking teenager no less. That makes me queasy. I am here, in this place and time with these people, this technology, this unique environment and I want to take advantage of it.
I’ve learned to compartmentalize, to transmute certain emotions—anger and fear to name a few—and certain emotional states into lessons in understanding and empathy and a search for hope, for wisdom even as cynical as I am. It’s self-preservation and often difficult as hell. Angry opinionated women have always been scorned and feared. Assimilation is forceful and painfully necessary at times; however, individualism prospered during my time and empathy suffered. Some sought symbiotic communities established in science where compassion, empathy, and understanding were the key to survival of the human race. This is one such community. So far, I’m fortunate. That is a positive and I aim to benefit from it. There are a few things that will need to change for me to be at peace and to live comfortably, to thrive. I’m not living in a world without art and music. I need to write. I need to create and not some derivative three-dimensional clone either. I’m no scientist; I’m an artist and damn proud of it even if I was a poor one. I hear Q snicker at the pun. I smile then frown: It isn’t that funny.
I miss the tactile feel of paper and pen in hand. The way the pen point loops through the letters and flourishes across the page building words into a crescendo of characters and narratives. I miss looking at a blank white canvas, sitting and staring for long moments that turn into hours and days, formulating a visual story through abstracts of colors and lines, balancing the warm and cool, the complementary and the analogous, and the complexities of color harmonies that represent distinctive emotions and histories. I miss the blood reds of passion and poetry, the gentle greens of grass and groves, the soothing blues of oceans and orbs. I miss the way the soft black charcoal slides across the gessoed grey canvas skipping over bumps and bits connecting the chaos and contours.
They don’t write here, they dictate. There are no pens, no paper, no paints. No one creates new fictional characters, new make-believe stories. The nanites collect and gather. They only document that which is: biographies, histories, scientific observations, hypotheses, and experiments. Emotions serve no purpose for any of these. The recording of all events is the objective. Nothing more, nothing less. They are a blank canvas, an untouched page.
Or so it appears on the surface.
I don’t have the answers to why this happened. Why, as a culture, we rid ourselves of these things as we evolved. I assume the technology did that. Through reading excerpts of the archives, it gives me only what it can and only what I seek. I continue to avoid it mostly and search it sparingly when needed while Q continues to drop hints and ease into abstract particulars recounting details delicately for fear my biosigns will soar and send me into a panic and anxiety I can’t escape. Apparently, I have the trauma of my last few years in the twenty-first century to thank for that and I realize I’ve gone from one bubble of avoidance to another.
Did technology do it or did we purge our culture of these important disciplines and ideas? The subjects of humanities? Philosophy, literature, arts, religion, and popular culture archaic, products of a bygone era where the complexities of humanity and society were reduced to the cold clinical facts of science and data. Detached details and dispassionate observations remain. I don’t know how any society could advance without philosophy or any of these ideas. It doesn’t seem possible and yet, here we are.
I want to write about them. The complexities of their evolution into their new updated and advanced state. They’re obviously brilliant. Can we really have evolved if we’ve given up large parts of our humanity? To technology?
Another thought occurs to me: Is this whiteness at work? Are these consequences the cultural artifacts of systemic racism in the tech world? If that’s the case, wouldn’t there be fewer women? I groan and rub my temples. The nausea has returned.
I used to write in a journal every day to make sense of complications and questions about life in general. To rid myself of the shadows of my past. To philosophize on the big questions and complexities of life. I haven’t since I arrived and it’s starting to percolate into my personality and emotional reactions. It’s eating at me. A fifteen-hundred-year leap and I still can’t rid myself of some habits. Creating is beneficial to my health; if I don’t create, I’m not healthy. I become one irate unhealthy bitch. I’ve been urged to make a video journal; for me personally, making video journals isn’t the same. I never was one to bloviate in front of a camera. I’m not gonna start now. I suppose I could…
“About Earth’s planetary restoration, we—”
“I don’t wanna talk about Earth,” I rudely interrupt her then send her an apologetic pleading glance. Thinking of Earth gives me a throbbing headache. I avoid that conversation. For now.
Wynne watches me. I ignore her. “What would you like to talk about?”
“I want some paints and canvases.”
“Can you get them for me or not?” I turn towards her. I try not to allow reactionary emotions to control me, but I’m tired of explaining why, why, why. My emotion, my anger, would not impress them. Their cultural impassivity has gone beyond another level of calm. The fire and passion bred out of them? The aloofness underscores their personalities so much so that each of them are like the other. They are a collective personality of one. Conformed to the approved set of standards that immortalize their society as a whole now. Any emotions are subdued at their birth and during their development. Experiencing emotions is a flaw; displaying emotions is an affliction to be corrected. I see glimpses from Wynne, but nothing more. The nuances are slight. Without art and music, I can see why. Maybe they compartmentalized emotions until they went away? I dunno. As a woman, I should be more empathetic. Maybe this is why this happened? Women, in a veritable struggle to advance and sustain, suppressed emotions till this dispassionate nature became the norm? Women of color, so often criticized heavily for being angry, have even more reason and yet, this is where we are? Men repressing their emotions did not go well at all back in the day thinking of all the mass shootings and misogyny. Wonder if men are still the same here or if they’ve found a way around all that toxicity?
Nothing from Q. Only a question mark. I’m left feeling even more frustrated. Apparently, the questions don’t compute or, if they do, I’m being challenged to find them on my own.
During my life, I’d tried to lessen my emotions because they hindered my thinking, obstructed my path. Now that I’ve seen the stoic Anderans and their calm orderliness? These emotions motivate me. Especially now. Can you trust people without emotions? Am I overreacting? I’ve spent time around stoic people before and I can be stoic; why is this suddenly bothering me? Am I losing it? My frustration folds into me and makes my mind feel like yellow jello covered in a layer of crumbling concrete.
“Do you understand I need these things? That these things help me be who I am? They help me live? They help me survive? Be at peace? That without them there is no point in living?”
“I will get you what you need. Anything else?”
“I need pen and paper.”
Wynne looks at me. The only emotion is the tick of one of her eyebrows. It twitches for a microsecond. I no longer find it annoying, but humanizing. I know there’s something within her struggling to emerge. I’ve seen it. Only briefly, but it’s there. It flickers beneath her surface.
“You’re not going to ask why?”
“You need it. I learn fast, Peyton.” Wynne doesn’t smile. It’s a calm smirk. A slight crinkle lines the corner of her eyes and the subtle sarcasm? I latch onto it.
“Yes, I need it. What do you need? Have you ever asked yourself that?”
“I supply myself with what I need.”
“Nutrients, water, sleep—” There’s a long drawn out pause before I move onwards. “Is that all you need? All you want?” We sit on the bench looking straight ahead waiting for the cloud of haze to slide by. “You want more, right? I can feel it inside you. This need for adventure and discovery. Not so much the others. Maybe Lalita, but the others? I’m rarely around them. You? I feel it. Our wants often become our needs. Without them is to be without life and I think that’s why you brought me here, isn’t it? Some excuse to break out of the boring culture you’ve found yourself?”
“While these philosophical meanderings are … entertaining to me, you seem to be seeking more from me. Things that you will not find. Personality habits that have been bred out of us over centuries. And what makes you think bringing you here is about you?”
Entertaining? “Have they? I wonder.” I feign thought. “And yes, you’re right; I should stop making this all about me. Sorry.” I say this sincerely.
Another tick, then confusion. The emotion seems to baffle Wynne and it’s amusing to watch. I don’t allow it to show. I know this situation needs sensitivity and compassion and I hope I have it. If not, I’ll learn. I know Wynne needs something more and I hope we can find it together. Doesn’t she need something more? Don’t we all? Why else would she bring me here?
Not everything is about you, Peyton, Q purrs echoing Wynne’s statement.
© 2018 Pamela Gay Mullins