by Justin Meckes
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The following day, Larson was sitting in his living room, reading from his projection. Pulling at the neck of his skin suit, he said, “Unit, 66 Fahrenheit, please.”
“66 Fahrenheit,” said a voice over his head.
Kim entered the room, moving toward him. “You need to take a break. We should watch some coms.”
Kim said, “Unit, show us our com options.”
The history coms were of particular interest to Larson. He enjoyed seeing what Earth had been like before human beings were forced into towers like the one he was living in. However, he was also forced to learn about many of the Pharmacon’s endeavors in the ads, which were mostly computer-generated. The history episodes featured documentary footage, and Larson spent hours watching and rewatching his favorites.
While viewing a particularly favorite ad — featuring scenes of Earth from the year 2023 — Larson leaned back and said, “Unit, temperature?”
“66 degrees Fahrenheit.”
He shook his head before standing to drink a glass of water.
Kim, who had been watching beside him, turned and said, “You’re still warm?”
Larson glanced over his shoulder and said, “Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening.”
“I’ll order a supplement.”
Larson finished his glass of water and said, “I haven’t had a fever in twenty years.”
“Maybe it’s just time,” said Kim, again peering over the back of the couch. “Do you ache?”
“No, I’m just hot.” He looked up. “Unit.”
“Yes?” said the voice.
“Special permission is required for temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Fine, then 60,” said Larson.
He moved back toward the sofa grumbling and holding a second glass of water.
Kim looked at him and said, “Do you want to watch something else?”
Larson shook his head.
“What about a little work? Would you like to do that?” asked Kim.
The screen opposite of Larson and Kim lit up with a number of game-like scenarios that Larson had performed many times before. The repetitive tasks were sometimes enjoyable, but Larson was not in the mood to tax his mind.
He said, “I can’t.”
“You’re being a bit inconsolable,” said Kim. “I may have to request a supplement for depression.”
“No,” said Larson. “Don’t do that.”
“If I’m feeling something, then maybe I should feel it.”
* * *
After taking a cold shower and running his skin suit through a cleaning cycle, Larson emerged from his bedroom in time to see M1 and Kim waiting for him in the living room. M1 was holding a cup.
Larson approached her saying, “Is this a new one?”
M1 asked, “Do you wish to participate?”
The prevailing belief in the tower was that the price of improving one’s status and living conditions was to be subjected to the trials. While they were optional, they were deemed the most effective method of progressing. The trials often involved tremendous risk, not excluding disfigurement or death.
Larson had been fortunate.
He drank reluctantly from the cup he received from M1. After swallowing the cloudy water, he said, “I didn’t really have a choice, did I?” Without waiting for an answer, he put away the cup and added, “Apparently, I need special permission to get the temperature turned down in here.”
“I told her you were feeling warm,” said Kim.
“I am,” said Larson. “And I don’t think it’s a fever. The only time I had one of those was because a different android gave it to me.”
M1 scanned Larson quickly, then said, “I’m afraid your temperature is slightly above normal.”
“So, I am feverish?” asked Larson.
M1 said, “I have just issued your remedy, LR-091.”
“Then, what do I have?”
M1 only scanned him.
“Fine, I’ll look it up myself.”
* * *
Some weeks later, Larson was sitting at the kitchen table, wearing his skin suit folded over at the waist. This was against regulations, but he hadn’t folded his uniform over until M1 left the unit, after he’d again haggled with her over the temperature. He only stopped when M1 produced a new medication. He took it willingly, hoping the medication would give him some relief.
Later, as he sat eating, Larson considered the fact that he had told M1 he did not want to be part of any more tests. He had also asked when he would move along, and he began to debate whether or not entering a new level required participation.
Among those in the Pharmacon, it was believed that there was an upper level of the tower that allowed complete autonomy. No more experiments. Complete freedom of access to channels or reading materials. Chosen partners were permissible. In fact, multiple partners were permissible. Days were filled with chaperoned excursions outside and only the most agreeable drug therapies. It was for this same reason that many inhabitants subjected themselves to the more risky interventions: experiments that would mean escalating the tower more rapidly.
Larson had been patient, but at 57 years old he was growing increasingly restless even though he still had well over one hundred years to live. Perhaps the sheer number of trials he had been part of had begun to weaken his resilience.
He had been servile and at times even broken by his overseers. He had hope, but now the fact that he was so close seemed to taunt him. He was forced to wonder just how different the upper echelon of the tower could be. Would it alleviate the claustrophobia and disenfranchisement he was now feeling? What crept into his mind next was that it was all a lie. There was no autonomous level. He was only to be tormented until his body yielded to the pressures being applied to it.
Kim entered the kitchen from the bedroom and said, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” said Larson.
“You’re out of uniform.”
“Would you like a sedative?”
“No,” said Larson as he stood and slipped into his skin suit. Just as he was beginning to be surprised that his unit hadn’t alerted M1 to the fact that he was out of dress, the outer door slid open and the android entered.
She moved toward the kitchenette and opened a cabinet. She deposited another disc into a cup, then dissolved it in water before bringing it to him. Larson took the cup and said, “Is this going to cool me down?”
“Your temperature will decrease, LR-091.”
M1 added, “We are investigating your symptoms and monitoring them.”
“You don’t know what it is?”
M1 was silent.
Sweat beaded at his brow as Larson said, “Am I supposed to believe you want to help me? You gave this to me.”
Kim stepped forward and said, “She knows what’s best for you.”
Larson turned. “If she wants what’s best for me, she’ll move me along.” He then turned and asked, “Haven’t I done enough?”
“We will prevail,” whispered Kim.
Larson turned to face her again. He had never heard her give that particular recitation. It was used in the lower levels to encourage those who were striving toward the end goal.
He said, “We will prevail.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Justin Meckes