The sickness hasn't left. I sit in my box wondering what it is that has me cooking like a roasting hen. Names of diseases stream through my mind, seeking answers and leaving me with more questions. Maybe the sickness is a result of biological breakdown instead of an invading pathogen, something organic, coming from a rotting organ maybe. I haven't been to the doctor to get scanned. At this point, I don't see any need to. It might be a new strain of flu, a hybrid, something I picked up. A doorknob maybe, a toilet seat, maybe it was lodged in some food, some small insignificant thing like a piece of soy cheese or meat or maybe even a piece of fruit. Who knows? It's been five days now. The fever seems to come and go, leaving me in a pool of sweat at times. The cough is rough and dry. I constantly drink glasses of ice water to cool myself from the humid suffocation of the symptoms, only to have it pour out of me in sweat.
The phone rings. "Tunk, that you?" It's my work supervisor.
"This is Grim."
"Just want you to know that your sick time is all used up. Tomorrow we start debiting your account."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Maybe the flu."
"Are you coming in?"
"I'll be there."
In the morning, the sky is gray with a layer of dirty cotton-ball clouds. The handlers like it that way. Now and then, they let the sun shine through. For most of us, though, it doesn't make any difference what color the sky is. As I drive to work, I can feel the fever drying up in me. I take this as a good sign. The fields of produce flank me to either side. On my right are the wide flat fields of soybeans; to the left are the equally open fields of human heads growing like eggplants, covered with protective foliage with the spines growing in the ground like carrots, real carrots, of the sort the overseers eat.
On the radio, the announcer says, "Today and everyday all citizens will bow to the east at noon and give thanks to the gods for your existence. As usual, the chant will be required. Even if you are by yourself in your box, you will bow and give thanks to the ever-powerful gods. And later on, dear listener, you will be treated to the fourth chapter of Gubb Krumpton's Dizzy Man Running. But now, for your listening pleasure, we play the Groundhog's Love Song by Rumple Eckman. "
The electronic music that comes through is reedy and monotonous, geared no doubt to strum certain neurological cords in the listener. Personally, I feel nothing. The handlers do everything for a reason, though, whether we like it or not. Music is especially useful to them in keeping our moods at an acceptable level. Sometimes for my own amusement, I compose melodies and rhythms in my head and honestly believe that they are far superior to what we are given to listen to on the radio. I've been thinking of purchasing a keyboard to compose my own creations. But the debit count for such a buy is at present beyond me. Of course, even if I could afford it, I would still not be able to play it for anyone but myself without running the risk of being taken to the Farm for processing.
In the distant sky, I see a saucer glowing over the Biological Assembly Institute. It looks like it might be landing. The reptoid handlers no doubt are curious to see how we're coming along with the autumn production of their game species, the humans they construct exclusively to hunt as if they were rabbits in the woods. I don't work in that particular line of production but there was a notice posted the day I left stating that all construction was to be triple checked before activation of the assembled humans. This notice was posted in all departments. Something was evidently not satisfactory to the overseers. My department was not worried about this. As far as we knew everything was coming along as it always did. We were still getting our debit bonuses. A good sign we were doing our job according to specifications.
At the gate of the Institute, a bot is standing ready to check me in. The difference between us is that he is all circuitry, metal and plastic. I am synthetic flesh from head to foot thanks to the miracles of soy and nanotech.
"Good morning, Tunk." His voice sounds squeaky and artificial. "Haven't seen you for a while. Everything okay?"
"Don't know what that's like."
As I drive forward, the saucer over the Institute is still hovering, glowing like an orange ball in suspended silence. In the lobby, to my surprise, I see five hampers full of harvested heads, their spinal columns still encased in their protective wrappings, not unlike cornhusks.
"Morning, Tunk." Gick Larp sits behind the reception desk. We've coupled our genitals a few times, but I don't think we're a match. I was hoping we'd hit it off, but I wasn't about to commit to life partnership with someone I wasn't completely compatible with. The sex was okay, but our interests lay far apart. I sometimes wondered why the overseers don't do this for us; find us a suitable mate, thus eliminating a lot of frustration.
"Feeling better?" she says.
"A little." I look at her nipples sticking out of her leather breast harness. They're brown and swollen. "There's a reptoid ship hovering over the plant. What's going on?"
"They're here to pick up those heads," she says, looking at the hampers.
"What's the matter with them?"
I walk to my section and pass my left hand over the time scanner before entering the chamber. There are a bunch of others waiting to be inserted with the corporate snakes. I get in line and wait with them. Grim sees me and waves, then walks toward me.
"You made it."
"See the ship outside?"
"They found a mutation in the brains."
"No one seems to know what's going on."
"What does it mean?"
"Don't know yet."
The doors slide open and we walk single-file into the insertion room. Something that looks like a long bench rests against a wall. We stand in front of this and look at Grim walking up and down the file. He does this every morning, looking at us as if we were being appraised for processing at the Farm. The walls are painted gray, like the sky outside. Our clothes are made of gray fabric. Gray is the color of my world. This is not made any better by the white lights in the ceiling, giving us all a pasty look. I sometimes wonder what it was like before the change, before the earth passed through the gigantic photon light-cloud that transported the biological humans to another place, leaving the reptoids in charge of a vacant earth, leaving them without sustenance. There were enough abductees in their care to begin a biological farming process using advanced nanotech procedures. In time, they had replenished the world with soulless, synthetic humans. I'm not really sure what a soul is. Something airy and un-seeable that resided somewhere in the body, is the usual explanation. But nobody really knows. Our memory receptors are programmed to acknowledge the reptoids as our creators, our gods. The process of our own creation and harvesting has been put into our hands for their benefit. We farm the components for assembly, keep records and make sure that everything runs smoothly.
This is the year 900 A.C. After Creation. My label is that of bio-engineer. But in reality, I'm a trained lackey like everyone else. I was taught the recipes and procedures. We are all only an extension of the reptoids. They are in charge of everything. I'm told that they always were, even during the time of birthed humans. The controllers, the beings that govern us, are human, or a good part human. It is believed that that they are human, unlike us, in the natural way. What's without doubt is that they are in a position to dictate our everyday agenda as approved by the reptoid handlers. Again, I'm told it's always been this way, even before we were created.
Grim stands in front of the line and says, "You know the procedure. Unbuckle your pants and bow."
In unison, we do as he says, exposing our posteriors to the gray bench behind us. We all hear the lid of the bench open and rise before we feel the corporate snakes wiggle themselves into our rectums. Once in, we lift our pants and walk into the work area.
Jank sits next to me as the first high alkaline resistant bodies come by and we pull them off the conveyor belt and check the neck rims, making sure there are no distortions or contaminants on them. Then we reach behind us and take a head, insert the spinal column into the cavity and seal it with a low-density laser. After this, we apply a liquid protein solution and wait for the cells to meld. Feeling the coupling is secure, we send the body off to the next procedure until they finally reach the stage where the nano mechanisms will be activated that will give life to the form.
"Heard you were sick," Jank says.
"I felt anger yesterday," he says. "Real anger."
I look at him. He's not constructed to feel anger at any degree. "Why?"
"I don't know," he says, keeping his voice low.
"What were you angry about?"
"I'm not sure."
"Anyone else know about this?"
"Keep it to yourself or they might send you to the Farm."
"We'll be going to the Farm sooner or later anyway. They can garnish me and put me on their plate anytime they want. I don't care anymore."
The next body has come by for assembly. I feel a mild heat from the corporate snake in my rectum. No one has ever explained to us why they do this. All they tell us is that "it's procedure." It's one of the things I didn't miss while I was away.
We work until the bell tells us it's time for a break. I go to the vending machine and insert my debit card for a carton of soymilk, noticing that Grim is talking to Jank about something. Neither of them looks happy.
After the break, I ask Jank what they were talking about.
"I was asking for a leave of absence."
"I need to get away from here."
"Call in sick," I tell him.
"I've used up all my time. And I haven't got enough debits to hold me over, not even for a few days. I asked Grim if he could arrange some credit."
Jank's attendance record is the worst of the lot. I was once over at his box where we had some beer and watched some old digital movies he had composed himself. He always used the same male character. It looked exactly like him. In all of them, the female was different. He created for himself penises of various sizes that he inserted into the fantasized females. They certainly indulged in some heated coupling. I've never seen anyone couple that passionately before, not even at the local sex bars.
Jank's movies were mildly erotic. He asked me if I wanted to masturbate while we watched. I told him I really wasn't in the mood.
"I have stimulant pills," he said.
"But what for?"
"Just to do it."
That wasn't much of an answer. "I don't feel like it," I told him.
Nevertheless, he extracted his penis and began to jerk it. When he finished he said, "Do you suppose it's true that we were once created this why?"
"No. By coupling."
"That's what I'm told."
"I don't believe it."
"To be honest, neither do I."
As the story went, the required liquid that was needed for this type of conception was lost to the reptoids after the birthed humans vanished. Though they could replicate them by other means, the original method of conception was lost to them. This is all lore to us. We don't know that it's true. Our history seems to be cloaked in unsubstantiated myth.
At noon, we hear Grim's voice over the amplifiers. "Everyone will bow to the east and chant to the gods."
Turning in the right direction, we all bow and begin to chant loudly.
The gods are everything.
The gods are holy.
Bless them all.
We chant for five minutes before we're told to resume our work.
When it's time to leave, we go out to the insertion chamber and line up like we did in the morning, hear the bench lid open, drop our pants and bend over to feel the snakes drop out of our rectums into the long open box. One by one, we walk by the time scanner and pass our hand over it. In the lobby, the five hampers with the defected heads are gone.
Outside, the saucer that was in the sky this morning is no longer there. I drive with the car radio off, looking at the flat soy fields and the long stretching fields with heads and spines growing in the furrowed rows. Off to the side of the road I see a fuel station and pull in. When the attendant comes to the window, I tell him to fill the tank with premium fecal meth. After he debits my card, I continue until I arrive at my box where I go out back and toss treated fecal pellets at my chickens, watch them peck the ground, and wonder what it might be like to come into the world out of a woman's vagina. It is not easy. No matter how much I try to visualize this, it is completely foreign to me and in some vague way even repulsive. It would seem to me that it would be a very painful experience for the woman. Pain is avoided as much as possible in my world and, certainly, no one volunteers to experience it willingly. During the time that we hump, there comes a brief period called the "apex" when we feel a mild pleasurable sensation located in the region of our genitals. It's a sort of reward built into our biological code by the reptoids. It is rumored that during this explosion of pleasure the man's penis injected some kind of fluid into the vaginal canal, fertilizing the female "egg." Frankly, I don't see the benefits with this form of conception. It would put many of us out of work. We would have nothing to do. We would be phased out. Also, it does not sound practical. A case in point: my hens. I have a choice of going to the market and buying eggs that will hatch and those that are meant for consumption. The Ministry of Poultry is in charge of all this. It is out of my hands. The seeds are planted in the ground, the eggs grow, I buy one or the other of them, to eat or thatch, and everyone is content. As it should be.
Also, I cannot imagine a woman wishing to walk around with a swollen belly simply to give birth to another human. Why should she when that human can be grown in a field and assembled by people like me? It is because of this that I have difficulty believing these rumors. It's just simply too bizarre. What kind of a world would that be?
Later that evening, while I eat a soy paste sandwich, the phone rings. It's Gick Larp. She wants to know if I'm watching the tube.
"Turn it to station 4," she says.
When I do, I see Jank standing naked in the street holding a club of some sort in his hand, facing the camera with a disobedient, unlawful anger.
"What's he doing?" I ask Gick.
"I don't know," she says. "He seems to have lost his mind."
On the tube, Jank is heard screaming, "The reptoid gods can suck my chunk! Prime their anus, ugly lizards that they are! If they want my adrenals, let them come get them! I'm here!"
A law regulator is walking toward him with a shockgun in his hand.
"Stick it in your hairy vessel, you rump kissing fecal slop!" Jank runs toward the regulator, holding the club back to swing before the regulator lets him have it, sending an electrical current through him that leaves him shaking on the ground. I can hardly believe what I see. Jank is not programmed for violent behavior. Very few people are, and even then, they are not allowed into the general population. They're used for some kind of secret activities that only the reptoids are aware of.
On the phone, Gick says, "What's wrong with him?"
"I don't know."
"You think they'll take him to the Farm?"
"They'll probably have him in the human meat section by next week."
"No doubt," I tell her.
"Strange to think he might end up on my dinner table."
"It doesn't bother me," I tell her. "Nothing goes to waste. Everything is useful."
Strange, I think, to witness such aberrant behavior from a man who's worked side-by-side with me for the past twenty years.
"Why don't you come over tonight, Tunk? We can couple."
"Maybe tomorrow," I tell her. "I'm a little tired."
Later on, I watch a new digital show called Latex Love. I smile a few times. It was just another attempt at insipid humor.
In bed, I lay reading a magazine article about people living in Houkland, across the Acktoka Sea. It is said they have invented a game that entails kicking a ball across an empty field into a narrow wall with a red painted square in the middle. Sounds like something we might want to try in our vicinity. Although, to be honest, I don't see the purpose in it. As I look at the magazine pictures, I see that they look exactly like us. They even wear the same gray clothing. This is not unusual. It's said that in the time of the birthed human, there was a variety of people with different skin colors, different cultures. I find this hard to believe. Everyone in my world is the same color. We might have different colored eyes and hair, but our skin in the same—a white-yellow shade.
After I finish reading, I close my eyes and bless the gods for all they give us. I know my place. I am here to serve and provide. There is no other purpose.
Bio:Navarro's latest book is "The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories." For more info visit his website.
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