I wasn’t good for much actually. Maybe a few hundred years ago when humans eked out a living by growing their own food it mattered but in a modern world where schooling was a matter of tissue programming and jobs were provided for everyone without question being useful for something wasn’t necessary.
The entire purpose of my life was to exist. To fill a slot created in a government program decades before I was born.
I was born into money, which was nice. It meant that my family could afford to own land here on Earth. It bought me a modest education so that age ten I spent three hours having reading, writing, and basic mathematics programmed into my cerebrum. When I was fifteen my parents bought me a secondary education allowing me to discuss classic literature with everyone else of my social strata. They’d all been programmed with the same six lectures so our conversations usually became a game of seeing who could recite the pieces best.
At eighteen I was tested, found intelligent enough to receive a basic civilian file that was programmed into my head in fifteen minutes, and then I was shunted into Slot 37B-12D5: housewife.
If my parents had been poor we would have been relocated to Prima, the main lunar base that hung like a golden star on the moon’s surface. If they had been wealthier I would have received a fuller education, maybe one that prepared me for more than balancing a checkbook. If I had been more intelligent I would have earned a place in the ranks of scientists who filled Stellar base on the far side of the moon and who would be the first chosen for any new colonies in the stars beyond our own.
In the secret watches of the night when I stepped away from my cold bed to watch the stars that is what I secretly wished for, a chance to do something new. A glimmer of an opportunity to be someone else. To remove the choking grip of societal norms and replace it with the heady sensation of not knowing what would happen next.
But here, in the noon light, under a moon pale as the clouds I knew I would never have those things. I knew it now. I knew it as a child. I will faithful to that truth until the day I turn ninety-seven and report to the hospital to be humanely put down without pain or fear, sure in the knowledge that some young girl will arrive at my house the next morning to wear my clothes and walk my dog because that is what Citizen 37B-12D5 does three times a day rain or shine.
It’s not a real dog, which would be cruel. It’s a Canine Companion with FeelReal-Furr and a life-like bark. None of my schooling included information on dogs so I have no words to describe it…him…her…It… that bothers me. I wish I knew what words to say if I ever brought my pet up in conversation, but I didn’t. I never would.
It was black. It came to my knee. It was programmed to need five kilometers of walking every day which ensured I received the necessary exercise for my age and metabolism. With one last wistful glance at the moon I checked the mail (nothing) and returned to the house.
As I did every day I watered a bowl of dead petunias on the front step, swept the wooden floors, and checked that the computer had ordered dinner for us. We were having pot roast. Everyone on the block was having pot roast. As far as I knew, everyone in my social strata was eating pot roast tonight. With slightly overcooked carrots and a choice of water or apple juice to drink.
Something clicked in my head. Some trigger was pulled. I didn’t want pot roast. I didn’t want to water petunias. I didn’t want to wait for another hour until my lawfully wedded husband arrived home from work at his government job to eat dinner.
I went to the door, twisting the handle even though I knew it was futile.
A melodic chime signaled the end of my rebellion. “This door is locked for your security. Please state the reason you wish this door opened at this time.”
“I want to go outside.” My hand dropped to my side. I knew it was fruitless. I knew I couldn’t go. It wasn’t in the script. Citizen B37-12D5 never went outside in the afternoon.
“Did you forget to check the mail?” the computer asked.
“Would you like to watch some television?” Unbidden the television in the corner turned on to a popular comedy about life in the corporate world. “Your friends and neighbors all enjoy this show. Why not join them in a light-hearted laugh as Randi and Co try to make Mister Meeker forget his glasses?”
“I don’t wish to watch television. I want to go outside.”
“Perhaps you would like to call a friend?” the computer suggested.
“I would like to go outside.”
“Why don’t you log in to your social network and plan a picnic. Everyone loves picnics.” A screen on the kitchen table shimmered to life and showed a running stream of my “friends” thoughts. They were all very similar, we did all have the same twenty thousand word vocabulary.
“Thank you,” I lied to the computer. “That sounds engaging.”
I sat down and watched as people typed the lines from the show they watched as it played behind me in the living room. As Mister Meeker outsmarted Randi and Co once again a gray car drove up to the house. My husband exited it, checked his tie, locked the door, and counted forty-eight steps precisely.
The door unlocked for him and he stepped inside. “Hello, dear. You look well. Did you have a good walk with the dog?”
“Yes.” The word was past my lips before I even considered another option. “Dinner is ready.”
“Good. I had a busy day. I’m hungry.”
I mouthed the words with him. In our four years living together our conversation never varied. Sometimes I wondered if he was as robotic as the canine companion now laying inactive by the fake fireplace. “What would you like to drink?”
I stood, and again rebellion flared. I arranged our dinner plates and gave us both apple juice. Instead of taking the seven carrots allotted to me I piled all sixteen carrots on his plate and took both slices of meat. “Dinner is ready.”
My husband took off his tie and looked at our plates. “D..d…d…”
“Your line is, ‘Dinner looks delicious.’” I folded my napkin on my lap and waited for him to sit.
After a minute or so he sat beside me. “Dinner looks different.”
“I tried something new today. You’ll like it.” I hoped I was lying. I hoped he hated it. I hoped he threw his plate and broke a window so I could run through the grass and watch the moon set in the darkness.
He ate his carrots. “Dinner was delicious. Thank you.”
And it was over.
Now he would go to shower, change into a bathrobe, and watch two hours and thirty one minutes of television before yawning once and going to bed.
I sat at the table staring at the two slices of meat on my plate.
I was only hurting myself by not eating. No one else would notice. No one else would care. And if by some small chance I was able to resist food for days on end until I made myself sick I would only be transferred to the hospital and be reprogrammed. Or put down.
I dumped the meat on the canine companion’s food bowl on top of the fake kibble I put in a bowl for verisimilitude. The canine companion could only eat on command and I’d never ordered It to eat before. Now I did. “Dog. Eat.”
Wagging its tail the robotic construct chewed on the real meat, and choked. Its eyes sizzled for a moment, flashing red, and then it fell over with a hollow clang.
My husband laughed at something on the television.
I walked over, standing in front of the screen so I could block his view. “The dog is dead.”
My husband struggled. This wasn’t part of the script. This is not what we did every day. This was new.
I nearly clapped with joy. This was new! I didn’t know his answer! I didn’t know what came next!
“Why is the dog dead?”
“The dog ate food. The dog chocked. The dog is dead.”
My husband stood up and turned to look at the canine companion. “Dogs should not eat people food.” He sat back down and laughed even though the television was showing a commercial for toothpaste. Everyone loved that commercial. When I ordered groceries online on Tuesdays the screen always told me it was the one my friends all liked.
I wondered about that. Was there any other kind of toothpaste? If I wanted to buy something that none of my friends had tried would the computer let me? Would I like it if I did? There was no way of knowing.
I sat beside the dead dog. My husband watched his television shows and went to bed. The lights in the house turned off. The steady hum of electronics died as the computer decided we were asleep.
Why it followed his schedule and not mine I wasn’t sure. The computer would remind my husband to go to bed, but never me. Once he was home and I was safely locked inside nothing else seemed to matter. Proof that the computer was just as dumb as everyone else.
I watched the moon set, Prima shining like a gem.
Was there someone out there who wanted to be me? Did that person have a number like I did, a place in society like mine? Or did they have a name?
I showered after the moon set, dressed, and lay in bed waiting for sleep to come. It never did. I wasn’t tired. I was bored. I wanted… something. I wanted to go outside.
When my husband woke up early I picked up the dog and followed him to the door. This wasn’t in the script. Fear filled his eyes.
“I’m putting the dog outside.”
“I think the dog wants a walk.”
We both looked at the spot where the canine companion should have been jumping with its tongue hanging out.
“Yes. I guess I should walk the dog.”
“Have a good day.”
As the door closed I shoved the dog’s body in the way. The lock clicked shut and the television turned on to the morning news. I stepped outside as the reporter detailed what a beautiful morning drive it was.
A canine companion can’t walk on grass so we always followed the sidewalk on a loop through the neighborhood screened by pine trees. On the way I’d see glimpses of the highway in the distance. At one point you could even see the spires of the city buildings. I didn’t know which city, geography cost extra.
This morning I walked on the grass, watching in bend under my heavy tread. Each step smothered to death countless plant cells. I was incautious. Uncaring. I reveled in their tragic demise.
I twisted the toe of my shoe into the turf, relishing the feel of grass dying under my feet. I imagined little screams of plantae terror echoing to the cold stars above. I imagined the gasp of shock and denial as someone from Prima looked down and saw me savagely destroying a plant they could never touch because they were banished from the very planet of their birth.
The sweet scent of cut grass invigorated me.
Over the lawns and past the pines to the edge of the highway where auto-piloted cars flew past, their passage whipping my hair up.
My heart raced as I realized I could end it all here. None of those cars could stop. None of the drivers even knew how to stop. I could leap in and in a moment of blinding pain everything would be over.
The cars stopped. They hung in the air like frozen hummingbirds, almost unreal.
Tentatively I reached out a hand to touch a bright red cruiser. The car was hot. The driver inside looked back at me, confused, uncertain. We were off script. Off the script. Off the page. Off the writing desk and floundering.
I stepped through the space between cars. Skipping. Almost dancing. They moved around, resumed their flow. Everything was as it should be except here and there – where I stepped – they froze. I was the queen of chaos. Suspending the birds in their flight.
Life happened around me as I wandered down the lines of the highway.
People went to work.
One car I stopped had an old man with a dark face, somber and sad. I knew without a word that he was on the way to the hospital. He was going to die. When I stepped away his car moved on, rolling with the tide of humanity to the ever present future. Inevitable. Unavoidable. Inescapable.
It was that or find my way back to the pine trees and the quiet suburban house where my canine companion lay dead. If I went back the doors would lock. If the doors locked I’d never escape again. If I never ran I would never know how far I could go.