Y 2 Can Play

a short story by K. A. Grakkl

From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)

Jered C was a lonely man. But of course he was conditioned to be that way by his mentors at the OU camp in the remote Laurentian wetlands. Less suspicion that way. It was all part of their plan to repopulate the Earth with humans who felt both joy and pain, both love and despair, and who understood what life and death were all about. But what the courageous rebels of the Organick Underground didn't realise is how cruel it was to plant their precious creations back into the sterile and lifeless society that had so long ago purged the planet of the irrational and dangerous organicks...or so they thought. However, Jered understood that this clandestine effort was the only way to retake the planet from the humanoid cyber-race, and so he accepted his role.

The ersatz cybernetic implants that he sported were truly inert, but were part of the disguise that Jered needed to live amongst his enhanced neighbors. Just as his Regeneration Booth was hardly that, but rather an ingenious device that neglected to feed his veins with vile artificial fluids, but did manage to suppress his most active dream state and keep him from straying entirely into his own fantasyworld. This was at least one favour his OU progenitors dealt him.

Years earlier, upon finding him aimlessly wandering around the perimeter of a Geothermal Power Conduit, Jered was apprehended and classified as a Rogue-Unit Reformation candidate. Another successful OU planting. Soon the Automind dutifully commissioned his C status, and assigned him to duty at Vorticity Compensation Station #3. That was no surprise...the OU had long since understood that the normal evolutionary state of human intelligence fell at about the C level decreed by the Automind. (Of course that meant the poor D-level humanoids were equipped with implants that subjugated their natural intellect.) There Jered manned the Albedo Modulation Array within VCS3 and successfully controlled the radiation balance of the atmosphere such that the pre-determined weather events (nary a violent storm among them) became reality 1000 km away. His supervisor, Ileama B, hardly noticed Jered - which was just as well. His secret infatuation with her was the greatest threat to his being discovered as an organick.

Jered looked forward to his night shift duty, as he felt secure enough to act as his human self with only the minimum crew of D drones on-site. Isolated and forlorn, Jered often ventured out under the stars for long walks amidst the giant reflective panels of his Array, and wondered what it would be like to be with his own kind again. It was during one of these walks at the outset of another benign winter that Jered noticed something was different. His human senses, suddenly alert, focussed on his surroundings and soon he realised that the subtle vibration of the ground beneath his feet had gone absent. He turned back toward the central outpost and gone also was the luminous green glow that had until then perpetually bathed the intervening hilltop.

Jered panicked. As he ran back to his post, constantly tripping and falling in the extreme darkness, he wracked his brain for what he had done to have caused a malfunction in the system's operation. Because it had never happened before. So there was no doubt it was his own 'human error.' Frightened and exhausted, he dashed in through the outer corridors to the Operations Room where he would attempt to locate the problem before the drone workers arrived. Luckily, the emergency training that he once found laughable came into use as he felt his way along the wall to the proper compartment and extracted a handful of light crystals.

Even when illuminated, though, the display panels failed to indicate the source of the problem. In fact, they failed to indicate anything. It was as if time itself had frozen. He stood still and listened for activity in the surrounding corridors. There was none. He gazed at the motion-sensing optisonic transmitters and saw that they failed to track his movements as he walked. Eschewing then the idea that the error was his, he relaxed somewhat but still dreaded the consequences of a larger mechanical failure on his watch. Thoughts of truly invasive mental recalibration passed through his mind.

It was several hours later that Jered first discovered the first drone frozen in place - bent over a junction port to the underground thermal transport network, the worker gave no hint of activity or respiratory function. And his optical sensors seemed even more vacuous than normal. By mid-morning of the following day, Jered had a bag full of ID chips from additional drones succumbed to stasis and even the geolocator cell from a fellow C unit (Melym was his name...and an odd chap he was) that had gone silent at the controls of the Humidistat Manifold. Stunned, but conditioned to duty, Jered forged ahead intending to report to any living creature he could find.

The entryway into the VCS3 Central Cortex was unrestricted, though Jered still insisted upon inserting his right thumb into the scanning device. Shrugging his shoulders at its refusal to respond, he walked slowly into the structure, glad to finally be insulated from the unusually strong and cool breeze. After depositing his collection of scrap material on the main console of the Nexus, Jered's mood grew darker, now missing even the companionship of an emotionless automaton. Confused and desperate, he roamed the bowels of the structure searching for any signs of life. Nothing but motionless faces stared back at him as he passed room after room...until he heard a woman's voice, faint but instantly recognisable.

Jered paused, gathered himself, and prepared to confront his superior with the usual feigned indifference. His deliberate and hasty entrance into the room startled Ileama, though she quickly righted herself and turned to face him. He sensed anxiety in Ileama's face, something he'd never before witnessed in her. Or anyone for that matter. She gazed intently in his eyes, long enough for Jered to grow self-conscious as his contradicting emotions welled up inside him. Jered was then shocked as Ileama suddenly came to life and exclaimed, "My God, you're one of us! Jered, we're free!"

Instead of trying to comprehend the meaning of her words, Jered's eyes instead turned towards the bank of instruments that supported Ileama as she nearly collapsed. He let down his guard and quickly ran over to help her to her feet.

"You see," Ileama said excitedly, pointing to the archaic-looking device labelled 'Chronometer.' On the display panel, an odd string of numbers read: 00:00:00 01-01-0000.

"What does it mean?," Jered asked.

"It means," she said, tearing off the phony prosthesis from her right shoulder and clutching Jered in a passionate embrace, "I can say 'I love you' now."

And on that day - once again, ancient soil kissed the sky.

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