Russell Fusco 0000-00-00 00:00:00
I leaned forward so that my tie pointed in a straight line toward the dull metal floor and said my name into empty space. It was a needless ritual. Invisible sensors had already scanned my body and probably sampled my DNA from the betraying filaments of dead flesh that floated in the air around me. Voice recognition was almost as obsolete as I was, and the metal cage doors began unfolding like steel jaws before I finished speaking. Beyond the security checkpoint was an ordinary wood-paneled door with an old-fashioned pull handle. I opened it and entered into a place that was dark and cold. The first thing I saw as my eyes adjusted was a two-foot-wide indigo band that ran the length of what I guessed was a wall. I came close and discovered that it was a window into an enormous tank of milky liquid, lit from somewhere behind by blue-purple light. I leaned in so that my nose almost touched the glass and saw that the milkiness was in fact turbulence on an infinitesimal level: millions of tiny bubbles swirling in vortices, driven by some invisible energy. “That’s them in case you’re wondering.” I knew that someone else would have to be in the room, so I did not react when I heard the voice. “I know,” I said. I straightened my back and watched a young woman materialize from the darkness. She was about a foot shorter than me, with a wave of dark hair and eyes lustrous as washed pebbles in the strange light radiating from the tank. She wore a hooded University of Texas sweatshirt and clutched a transparent tablet to her chest. “Have you seen an injection?” “Seen and experienced.” “Oh,” she said, quieting. “I was in the military in ’22,” I said. “Iran.” “Oh,” she said again, this time nodding an acknowledgment that I wasn’t a convicted criminal. I took a perverse pleasure in the fact that she had labored under that misperception, if only for a second. “You were a soldier?” “A Marine.” “And now you’re a lawyer.” I was sure that the security scan had told her everything from my occupation to what brand of underwear I wore. I shrugged. “It happens to the best of us.” She smiled and I could see that she was very pretty. “You the one keeping an eye on the inmates?” She gave a quick nod. “Well, me and Betsy.” She pointed to the wall adjoining the tank. It too was transparent, revealing a room full of servers stacked in a row like giant dominos. “You do okay in the dark like this?” “You get used to it.” I looked back at the tank. It had been almost two decades since they’d injected me full of the invisible particles that roiled the water into a uniform foam. Tiny things that I now knew as cybermolecules, a complex fusion of organic compounds, ceramics, and who-the-hell-knew-what-else the boys in lab coats had cooked up inside unwilling long-tailed test subjects. To the body, they were just more bits and pieces to build and play with, lined into the lungs, pumped through the arteries, fed to the brain. To the operators on the other end, they were millions of moleculesized computers networked to provide and receive information on a scale too vast even for my present enlightened comprehension. The dimensions of my understanding as a grunt Marine had been far less, though I’m sure somebody tried explaining it to us. I had a gauzy memory of a khaki-uniformed naval officer giving us a holographic presentation, which beckoned a slightly more defined recollection of the part of the presentation where a “seed” molecule, represented as a Death Star-like metal orb, pounced upon a smaller, vulnerable-looking organic molecule represented as a framework of blue rods connected by red balls. The “Death Star” chomped on the blue rods for a while before transforming into a sparkling, perfect white sphere. Ta-da. Cybermolecule. Welcome to the new linings of your cellular walls. The “cybershot,” when it came, was just the next in a long line of drugs, vaccines, vitamins, and other war-fighting nutrients pumped into our bodies on the way to killing the enemy. I remember thinking it looked like pulverized Smurfs as the plunger dropped, pushing it into my bloodstream to begin its work of making me a better Marine. I guess it hadn’t taken a genius to figure out that what worked for keeping grunts in line would do just as well for criminals. Maybe they’d figured out the side effects by then and decided they liked them. Or maybe they just didn’t care. “Do you want to see him?” I looked up from the glass and remembered that the pretty young doctor — that’s what I decided she was — was still there. I nodded. “Let’s get it over with.” She seemed uncertain about this response as she led me to the other, even darker side of the room. She touched her tablet and a lemony hemisphere of light materialized, illuminating an egg-shaped chair that hovered six inches above the floor. It sat before a large alcove that looked like it had been scooped out of the wall. The space could have fit two large refrigerators side-by-side. “Have you ever communed before?” “No.” “Just one rule.” She patted the back of the chair. “Don’t get out of your chair.” “Sounds easy enough.” I eased into the chair. I found it surprisingly comfortable. She touched the pad again and the light disappeared, returning me to darkness that I could almost feel. “Will it hurt?” I asked, suspecting that I was crossing a line into playfulness but not really caring if I did. “Not unless you fall out of the chair.” I sensed the chair sliding into the alcove. I had expected my night vision to return almost immediately, but instead the darkness seemed to deepen. I heard a sound like the rushing of water past my ears, and then silence. “You still there?” No answer. I sensed my vision returning, or someone was turning the lights up. I heard a soft slapping sound that grew louder. A bouncing ball. The darkness reddened, then yellowed, approaching something close to daylight. I supposed that the curve of the alcove would be about six inches from my nose, but sensed nothing but space before me. The light bloomed into full day. I sat at the far end of a concrete basketball court. Around me rose high stone walls. Overhead was a blue, fathomless sky. At the other end of the court a man stood with his back to me bouncing a basketball. He rose with a jump shot. The ball sailed in an arc and sank through the rim, rattling the chain-link net as it passed through. The ball bounced back to the man and he readied to give it another toss. “Jason?” My voice sounded muted. I realized that the alcove wall was right where I supposed it to be, but replaced by an illusion that had fooled my other senses. No wonder I wasn’t supposed to get out of the chair. I could imagine busting my head against the wall trying to stand up. The man stopped and turned toward me. He was young — 22, I knew — with blond hair shaved close to his scalp. He was sweating, but his face, which I knew flushed easily, showed no trace of redness. He sneered. I took that to mean that he could see me. “How’s it going, buddy ol’ lawyer of mine?” The words were mashed together insensibly. But I knew what was on his mind — if you could call it that. I spared a thought to note how I heard his voice as if he really were outside and wondered how he heard mine. “You doing okay?” I asked innocently. He snorted and raised a hand like a waiter holding a tray, his other arm clasping the ball against his side. “Yeah, man. I’m doin’ awesome.” “You sound angry.” I didn’t know what else to say. “You can tell that, huh, mister lawyer-man? You give some great advice.” He dropped his arm and squeezed the ball between his hands, staring at it with what looked like a mixture of malevolence and frustration. “Jason — ” “I should have taken the cybershot.” He raised his eyes to mine. There was still no color in his face. “All that about privacy, them knowing when I crap and eat and have sex. Who cares? Like they don’t do that now?” The hand went into the air again. “Except the sex, which there ain’t any in here, in case you didn’t know.” “Trust me it’s better this way.” The words had a metal taste. “You lied to me.” He pulled his arm back and hurled the basketball. It came at me like an approaching meteor. I gave into instinct and leaned hard over the side of the chair, swinging my arm wildly and nearly toppling out. My fingertips grazed the side of the alcove as the lights went out and I once again plunged into darkness. I felt the chair slide backward and the halo of light came back on. I blinked a few times and turned my head to see the woman whose name I still did not know standing beside me, the tablet again clutched to her chest. “Did you see that?” “We’re not allowed to.” I nodded. Good to know that the state respected privileged communications between an attorney and his client’s virtual doppelganger. I got shakily to my feet. “How’d you know to pull the plug?” “That was Betsy.” “Smart girl.” I glanced at the server wall. “Let me guess. Parole denied?” She nodded. “We’re going to watch him for another six months, see how it goes. So far he hasn’t gotten into trouble in the real world.” She sighed. “I’m sorry.” I shook my head. “It’s all right. The real version knows I recommended the cybershot. He’s grateful, I think.” We looked at each other for a moment, until she tipped her eyes demurely to the floor. “You know the simulacra are a side effect. A reflection of all the data that pours in.” “I did know. But you’re still the first person who’s told me.” I pulled my jacket straight and tightened my tie. “It was nice meeting you.” I started toward the exit. “You say you had a shot in the Army?” I turned back. “Yes.” I didn’t bother correcting that I was a Marine. “I can probably find your simulacrum.” I felt a numbness, both uncomfortable and exciting. Like holding an envelope with a make-or-break test score inside. “Can I talk to it?” She shook her head. “No. But I could let you see him — it.” It took her about 15 minutes to find what she was looking for on her tablet, and then I was back in the alcove, swallowed by darkness that turned into red pre-dawn light. I was floating 100 feet above what looked like a vast prairie. I followed the black wrinkles of windblown waves through the coppery grass up a hill to a house surrounded by a gapped plankwood fence. The door opened and a man stepped from the inside, a blue earthenware mug in his hand. I imagined the coffee that was in it, real or not, with just a little milk and no sugar. He walked to the open gate and leaned against it, cupping a hand under the mug as he stared off into the golden horizon. Another figure appeared in the doorway, a woman a few years younger, with walnut-colored hair and a strong, pretty face. She was in a bathrobe. She stepped carefully up behind him and locked her arm in his. They both looked off at the horizon, something like smiles on their faces. I watched them stare into the sunrise until the darkness shrouded over me and I was back in the real world. RUSSELL FUSCO is from upstate New York. He served eight years in the U.S. Navy before moving to Texas to commence his law practice.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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