Dedicated to Dr. Gleason for reminding me that I had much to learn and to my mother, Dr. Gailyn Howell, who came to me in a dream two weeks after she died and reminded me of my ‘unfinished business’, this book, which I had almost abandoned.
So the Lord God said to the serpent … “You shall grovel in the dust as long as you live, crawling along on your belly…” Genesis 3:14
After the riots of 2073, when I was in the academy, there was a senior classmate whose very name inspired awe. Even among the older andrones who were so thoroughly programmed as not to be so magically entranced by such a counterculture mask, Shay’s notoriety was still prevalent. The jarring and pale face, with dark protruding eyes, and the soft hints of facial hair, all of this seemed magical. Because, out of all the bald, androgynous, and cloned students in our genetically closed society, he was the only one impure enough to grow those wispy brown patches of hair. Our guardian’s cloning program was shown to be less than perfect the day they created this animate and fuzzy face that came to be known as Telemachus Shay.
Shay considered himself much more natural, and less of a hybrid clone than the rest of us – not only in the way he dressed, but also in the way he mocked our surrogates, our programming, and mutinied every time their backs were turned. Secretly everybody thought that was wickedly cool.
Once he even won a look-alike contest pretending to be a local senator (the very senator who forced a gun ban triggering what journalists later dubbed, ‘the redneck riots of 73’). He padded a cheap suit, which he had gotten from a thrift store, and painted a mustache under his nose – then strutted about like a used car salesman pretending to be everyone’s best friend. He won first place. It was on the local news the next day.
Stereotypically andrones don’t have personality, so the senator felt that having an androne compared to him was a testament to the dullness of his character and political convictions. As a result, the fatality of our contest didn’t matter at all to a natural-born liberal bureaucrat whose constituents, that his political career depended on, didn’t care either. Senator Harvey threatened the institutional funding of our academy and Shay was no longer a “senator,” but among andrones throughout the academy, Shay would always be our liaison to the natural-born.
Shay represented our sense of normalcy and the providence of our interactions with the natural-born was of a secondary concern to our more pigmented surrogates. Overeducated and under-burdened, they held telemetric response measurements to be of the greatest importance. To them our desire to relate to a populace concept of normalcy, no matter how it was projected, was a flaw in our programming. How well we communicated with our machines was what our surrogates wanted. Our ‘telemetric response measurements’ were a major part of what determined salaries and advancement at our little academy on the hill. Therefore, whenever Shay interrupted their testing, it only served to fuel their animosity towards him. Seldom would he do anything directly to counter their loathing. No apologies made – just that wide Riddler’s smile ridden by a pair of bulging cheeks. Our hearts seemed to lift whenever we saw that comical smile.
Nevertheless, the effect of Shay’s mockery was absolute – the adoration, the repulsion, all the sarcasm, all the scratching that he evoked, and all the people that he ridiculed, all of these things helped prepare us for the stoning to come. The Academy’s obsessive focus on militant learning programs fed his defiant passion. That’s why his eyes bulged with such determination. His outlandish immaturity was a sign of the internal conflict that kept our self-pity at bay and the comedic relief helped us forget, if only for a moment, our regimented servitude.
Yet, in contrast to Shay’s comic expressiveness and because of our breeding and programming, the only emotive response that people had come to expect from an androne was a small melancholy smile – a simple function of acknowledgement. Lacking in genitalia, sex hormones, and a reduced adrenal gland – we were not expected to show excessive feelings or emotions. People expected us to perform modestly any given task without the expressive outbursts often displayed by the natural-born.
Not to mention whenever those colorful assortments of buyers were given the occasional tour of our hilltop facility and witness to our androne modesty, I’m sure that it was one of our main selling points. And like our surrogates, there was such a variety of them. Especially on the first week of each New Year, when large groups would visit us, I was fascinated to witness so many different flavors of people.
The first buyers that I ever saw, however, were the dark government suits that inspected us at each year end semester. I couldn’t help but notice the intensity of their stares. No one else had ever looked at us that way, not even the doctors obsessed with our health and unblemished looks – not the administration whom seemed so concerned about the effectiveness of our training – not even our guardians whom showered us with words of love and firm encouragement. No one else ever stared at us the way the dark suits did.
Now that I’m out of the academy, I’ve seen the movies and the mothers, as flawed as they’re portrayed, were still so warm and passionate. Repeatedly I’ve seen the natural-born mothers hover over their children – so protective and sincere in their caring. Our surrogates were under so much pressure to ensure that we learned and adhered to our programming. There was always something insincere about their handling of us – something staged.
Sometimes it seemed like the most caring surrogates were the ones let go. The academy paid for results. They were not paid to grow attached to us. When one was let go – the others seemed to stiffen up – to grow more distant. I never fully realized the significance of this until after I graduated from the academy. I thought it was normal for anyone not to have a mother and father. I could tell that our surrogates wanted to be paternal in the way they would try to help us individually, but sometimes they seemed so exasperated in their inability to tell us apart – especially when not wearing our labeled suits. And when we failed any of our telemetric testing, I could sometimes see beyond the disappointment. I could see that they also had a fear of failing their job.
So as you might imagine, our lab-coated surrogates couldn’t help but loath Shay. Although I didn’t realize how little they thought of him until one Monday morning, I overheard two surrogates talking in the hallway.
“Shay will undermine your authority the first chance that he gets, and so what I do is send him on an errand the first day of class.”
As they passed by me in the white fluorescent hallway, I remember feeling guilty at hearing what I thought I wasn’t supposed to be hearing. They didn’t notice me. They were so engrossed in their physical conversation.
As I grew older, our surrogates seemed to notice us less and less as they became more and more accustomed to each new passing generation. All except for one – a freckled surrogate named Gail Irvine. Compared to most of the other surrogates she was a newcomer and she was the only surrogate that giggled aloud at Shay’s jokes.
It became evident later on that, it was she above all others, he was trying to amuse. In the frigid florescent vibrations of those white cinder-block classrooms, where we spent the first twenty years of our lives, her charmed attention was not meant for Shay alone. Her gracious and giggling affection, as unexpected as it was, was meant to garner the warmth of all the bald, albino and genderless andrones that crowded her bright and smiling classroom every day. Nevertheless, the attention that he pulled from her took our envy with it. Her laughter, combined with her flaming red hair, shook our dreary and data clogged minds free of the machines with every digression from the lesson plan. Shay’s spastic energy is what carried us to and from every one of those glowing fluorescent filled classrooms. And for what seemed like a long time, they were a team.
As I stated before though, not everyone was in love with Shay, or his merciful diversions. The natural-born people that we occasionally met on the street, whose smugness we couldn’t help but stare at, whose misshapen children often referred to us as “egg-heads” and “hue-machines,” contemptuously referred to him as “half-bred.” The natural-born feared him because he almost looked like one of them. It didn’t help that he shunned the academy uniforms for the latest style in vinyl clothing. Whenever he could get away with it he always donned the shiny neon colored plastic chic that every fourteen year old adored. But Shay loved the attention, good or bad, and pranced about wearing all of that attention as if it were a warm fuzzy coat full of energy. Whatever perceptions andrones had concerning the debilitating consequences of fearful prejudice, the ridicule somehow appeared to be filling Shay with vigor. Looked upon as proof of a technology going awry, Telemachus Shay – the personification of our desire to be accepted, the aversion, the one we looked upon to represent us – was the absolute portrayal of immaturity without the slightest hint of responsibility.
The exception being – when Gail wasn’t there. It seemed like Shay didn’t know where to direct his attention, or at least he didn’t seem to have any specific focus for his spastic behavior, which was fine if there were plenty of doting andrones about. But what did he do when by himself? As a fellow androne, I couldn’t imagine any other inhibitions liberated. Was he Zen, or still bouncing around like a twittering bird on acid? Because no one knew – he never seemed to be alone. The magnetism of that clown like smile drew a crowd of andrones wherever he went.
Yet, with all the comical absurdities put down like disengaging sidesteps on behalf of Shay’s desire for attention, (the absurdities being the foundation to cover our true feelings and veritably irrelevant to an androne living in virtual time) there was also a very strong underlying desire, felt among all andrones, to have others think of us as being human.
Our timid, selfless, and zombie-like interactions with the natural-born made us appear to be, with the exception of Shay, the mundane new toys of the corporations and administrations that needed our services. In the beginning, they excluded us from the memoirs of humanity. Whether it was in the news, or in movies, the media always treated us as if we were some new invention. Not a subject to be anthropologicalized, but rather a functional apparatus of the writing of history, andrones were thought of as an innovative new tool for the lettering of history – an exclusionary history of the never to be forgotten natives.
Deprived was our sense of humanity without Shay’s diversions. No androne in the academy would have learned to laugh as we did when the cranial dielectric grease was replaced with monkey glue in Dr. Sheffield’s classroom, just at the point when the next generation of Dunhill’s Academy Andrones was emerging from their secondary tele-sensory preparation, and in the process of being assigned their mentors.
Struggling like frightened little dogs hitting the ends of their leashes, two hundred and sixty-two children, all of them eight years old, ran screaming tugging frantically at the black spidery tele-pads stuck to their little baldheads. Even the technicians in their flapping white lab-coats, generally so stoical and in control, ran about frantically waving their hands, yelling, and pulling on tele-pads. Trying to decide whether to call security, the infirmary, and then finally one of them screamed, “Will somebody get something to pry off these pads?”
After that episode, wireless helmets were constructed, and the children were no longer tethered to their machines. I don’t know why they didn’t do that in the first place, even the natural-born walk around with their wireless devices. I guess they were so focused on hooking us up that they didn’t even think about it.
Our surrogates threatened to close down the cafeteria if we didn’t tell them who had played this cruel hoax, but the administration stepped in. It would have left a bad impression on the buyers who were visiting that day, so the whole episode was swept under – even though everyone knew, including our surrogates, that Shay was responsible for terminating the telemetric lesson for that day.
Looking back on my years at the academy, now that I’m older, I realize why they attempted to put GPS tracking in the next generation of andrones. Even though it was almost a complete failure and many of my classmates died from the meningitis infection. It wasn’t simply a communications upgrade as I had previously thought. It was also a method of tracking their next crop – a reaction to the realization that an androne might possibly do something wrong. It’s obvious to me now that GPS tracking was something they may never have thought of if Shay hadn’t come along. Yet, within the next generation (my generation) another androne was coming of age that would soon quell the chaotic distractions of Shay.