At this point in time the international ban on interspecific genetic synthesis is not yet abolished, and with no hope of growing wings, mankind is still limited to machine based flight. Thus so am I.
I’ve never been a fan of planes. But wrapped in a seatbelt I’m waiting for the pilot to land, but when he decides to make another round, I contemplate choking on one of those complimentary peanuts. Fortunately, it’s not long before the wheels start screeching, bouncing off the runway, and I’m finally safe on the ground again.
They process all arrivals taking their time, inspecting us for even the smallest trace of infection. The process is sterile and completely automated, so at least racial discrimination is no longer a factor. Machines scan and probe everyone in the same manner, regardless of skin colour, and afterwards you get to enjoy a rejuvenating cocktail. Helps with the jet lag, but also does wonders for shy bladder issues.
The urinary tract’s the best way to flush out all those drugs with which they spike you pre-flight, meant to keep you docile in your seat during the trip. Personally, I’m rarely agitated, so in my case it’s as pointless as handcuffing a quadriplegic to his bed, but rules are rules, they apply to all, don’t they?
“How was the flight, sir?” a smiling face inquires.
It wants to appear friendly, as it’s designed using prerecorded emotions of some nameless airport staff member. The gestures, the dialect, and the overall mimicry is quite impressive for such an unsophisticated puppet.
I breathe into the identification apparatus to validate my passport.
“Damn long. That’s for sure”, I mumble.
A happy beep from the machine confirms I’m not a wanted criminal or terrorist.
“Anything to declare?” The face is curious, but still amiable.
“We are all going to die soon.”
The face stares at me perplexed.
“Sir? You didn’t answer my question. You didn’t answer me, sir. Sir? Can you hear me?”
“I’ve nothing to declare.”
“All right, thank you so much! Please report to the adjacent security checkpoint for further processing. Next in line, please.”
The airport customs office android waves its artificial limb and smiles with a prerecorded smile. Funny. These slaves to the human race posses no actual emotions, but are capable of expressing some nonetheless. Thus to mankind they’re more in their image than any of my kin. Not being able to perceive or read emotional responses of my species, a human would be unable to feel empathy towards it.
In their eyes we’d be lesser beings than the artificial lifeforms they spawned themselves. They wouldn’t admit it, but I’m certain they do consider themselves godlike to their puppets. Won’t be long, til they deceive themselves completely, seizing to realize that artificial lifeforms have no sense of loyalty. That they have no obligation to morality. No concept of respect. And that they do not believe in gods.
I successfully pass through the next security checkpoint. There’s no way to conceal anything during the scan. It’s sensitive to any variation of matter. Every cell of my body has to be confirmed with the digital fingerprint in the global database. Implanted devices or biological modifications of any kind which haven’t been reported make you subject to questioning. Anything could be a weapon. A very thin line exists between having suspiciously high blood cell counts and wielding a cardiovascular explosive substance. Between an undiagnosed tumor and a weaponized parasite. Nonetheless the full-body scanner picks up on these slight differences. All changes to the body, all received medical procedures, even on a microscopic level, have to be legitimate, properly registered in the database and a license for acquisition of such had to be issued.
“Very well, Mr Ball. Everything seems in order.” The brown eyed woman at the security checkout desk looks at me up an down, admiring. “I must say, I’m impressed. No cyberprosthetics. No biotectronic augmentations. The body you have, it is… flawless. I’ve got to ask, what’s your secret Mr Ball?”
“A very strict and healthy diet.”
“Oh, surely.” She smiles and flutters her long eyelashes. “And that’s all there’s to it, right?”
Under the desk she presses her soft bare toes on my ankle and with her foot she begins to explore what’s beneath the fabric of my black trousers. Moving her foot upwards very slowly. She then starts unbuttoning her shirt.
But it’s just a flash from her imagination.
An involuntary reading on my part. She’s really into me, I guess, and I must have been staring into her eyes for too long.
“I also exercise,” I say firmly, to break the unwanted contact. I kind of wish I could smile back at her, but she wouldn’t even be able to tell. They can’t perceive our true emotions and I wouldn’t be expressing them half as well as the android at the gate. “Also, my name is pronouned: BHA-AL.”
The taxi awaits me. I instruct the android driver to take me to the Lastfall Bridge. The machine registers my request, processes it and responds with a preprogrammed attempt at a humorous routine about the origins of the bridge’s name.
“…and I don’t know for a fact, but the large number of suicide jumps,” it informs me, “which have taken place there, might have had something to do with that name, eh?”
The android winks. It seems, this one operates using some kind of repugnant personality AI template. Welcome to the capital. Even our AI here are assholes.
He goes on about the year the bridge was built and goes on about things I don’t give the slightest fuck about. But the android doesn’t even care, if I don’t laugh. It’s an old model. Not designed to handle the driver-passenger interaction that well. His conversation options are limited and he goes on and on about the architect and the river, and the modernization works the authorities approved for the next year and so, and so…
I order the taxi to stop at the middle of the bridge. I get out and the autonomous driver bids me farewell with a preprogrammed punch line:
“Don’t do it, sir! You’ve got your whole life ahead of you! Ha, ha!”
It takes the android exactly three more ‘Ha, ha”s to finalize expressing his false sense of humor and finally fuck off.
Not wanting to waste any more time on this crude planet I climb over the railing and spread my arms. Beneath the bridge black smoke gathers.
Then a surprising hesitation paralyzes me.
Surprising, because I know my duty. I failed here on Earth. There will be a trial. I will be marked and banished, though being on this planet feels like I already was.
Shit, I’m standing on the wrong side of the railing for too long. People are gathering around me. Taking pictures. Gasping and looking around for cameras. Trying to figure out if this is for real or just a scene from some reality show.
I don’t care. I came this far. I can take my time. Maybe I’ll figure something out. The smoke under the bridge starts to form a diamond shaped cloud. A plum of blue light from below hits my eyes.
“Stop!” I hear a loud cry from behind. Some woman jumps out of a black car. “Get down from there!”
She’s next to me in a heartbeat, grabbing me by my coat and pulling me down. I flap my arms in the air, trying to regain equilibrium.
“Let go! You don’t understand!”
But she’s exceptionally strong and pulls again, harder. I fall and land at her feet.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Her voice is almost sympathetic.
“Why did you do that?!” I scream. “Let go of my fucking coat!”
“That’s a little bit rude of you, ain’t it?” She lets go of the coat but presses down on my arm and shoulder, keeping me firmly pressed to the ground. “I just saved your life.”
“Did anyone ask you to?” I still struggle. I get up on one knee but then my leg collapses. “Aaarrrrhh!”
“Are you okay?”
“Holy shit. I think I… I think I twisted my ankle!” I cry in horror and look to the sky. “I twisted my goddamn ankle!”
“Well, it’s your fault, not mine,” she says with only a slight shade of guilt. “It’s not like you broke it. You’ll be alright.”
“But I… I’ve never… Not one scratch, no bruise… Not a bone broken… Pain. I’ve never felt it.”
“Is that so?” She chuckles. “So how does it feel, eh?”
“Not… good. It’s very… not good.”
“Welcome back to Earth, my friend. Whatever shit you were high on, I think it’s wearing off.”
I turn my eyes away from the sky, look at her and realize she’s apparently an officer of the law. I feel a cold touch of polymer handcuffs on my wrists.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m taking you in.” She presses a button on her jacket’s collar and starts talking. “Dispatch, twenty one nine, I’m taking this one downtown, no need for back-up. There were bystanders, so we’d be smart to have techs erase the scene from the feed.”
“What? Why are you taking me in? I haven’t done anything! Take these off.”
“You kidding?” She looks at me honestly perplexed. “Or are just playing dumb?”
“Fucking tourists… ” She shakes her head. “Sir, within the Integral’s borders, suicide is against the law.”
“How many times do I have to…” I’m close to beating my head against the desk. “I was not trying to kill myself.”
“Then I ask you again,” The sergeant stares at me with his tired eyes. It’s obvious I’m not the first man in this interrogation room sounding like a madman to this officer. “What were you doing in the middle of Lastfall Bridge?”
“I’ve already told you.”
“Listen, I’m trying to get on your side here. Please, do not make this harder than it has to be.”
“I’ve given you an answer. It’s the truth.”
“Alright. So you’re telling me, you were not trying to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge?”
“Instead, you were attempting to enter an interdimensional portal located under the bridge. In the middle of the river. That’s your testimony?”
“More or less.”
“Is that the drugs speaking, Mr Ball?”
“The officer who apprehended you mentioned you showed signs of intoxication with a class N substance.”
“That’s absurd. Call the airport. They scanned me not that long ago. Immediately after I took a cab. And the cocktail they give you at the airport is sanctioned, and definately not class N.”
“Yeah… No. You see we contacted the aiport. There’s no record of your scans. It might be a glitch in the system, but I’d say your behaviour is pretty consistent with an addict’s. We cannot prove it, but taking into consideration everything you just told me, It’s quite clear your statement is an effect of the hallucinogen. Are you involved in drug trafficking? That would be extremely serious stuff if you were, Mr Ball.”
“You are out of your mind. I’m no drug mule, for Christ’s sake!”
“For who’s sake?”
“Nevermind. Just please consult the airport database again, it will surely clear things up. I’m not a drug user nor a drug mule, sergeant.”
The sergeant studied my eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and nosetrils, utilizing every bit of information on the subject of human behaviour spoonfed to him during training at the academy .
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“Of course you don’t. You don’t know what belief is, sergeant.”
“Yeah… No. Ehmm. Mr Ball you will be detained for further questioning. And you’re definitely going to need a lawyer.”
“No. He won’t.”
A man in a black suit, dark glasses, shiny shoes and a striped tie walked into the interrogation room and flashed an important looking badge in the face of the cop.
“He will be coming with me.”
The badge must have been important indeed. The sergeant took a second look at it. Then shuddered, grabbed his hat from the desk and left the room.
“Let’s go, Ba’al.”
The tall man escorted me out of the building and instructed me to get in a limousine parked near the entrance.
I looked around and noticed that woman, the police officer who brought me in, coming our way with a lit cigarette. She looked a little bit concerned. Maybe feeling bad for roughing me up at the bridge. My gaze met hers.
And I smiled.
She was smiling back.
For the first time in my life someone noticed.
“Get used to it,” said the tall man. “You’re one of them now”.