by Sasmito Yudha Husada
From roof to roof and door to door. My one dusty suitcase was the only thing I kept around. I convinced myself that I never felt lacking at all. Rejoicing at the good nature of my fellow men; reciprocal altruism at its best. Granted, sometimes circumstances refused to be on my team. Those were the nauseating nights when I cringed at my reflections and thought, “Parasite.” But in the grand scale of my quiet hell, I pranced as if it were a warm, friendly summer.
Rumors roared, that I lived in terror. In my hands, a suitcase. On my back, a cosmic despair. Waltzing around in the narrow circle of my thoughts. As narrow as what will be laid down to me for the structural collapse in times ahead. As wide as the space between commuters’ dreams in a train car at rush hour.
There was not a thing to deny. I dare not to claim that I knew myself better than them. It is not seldom, that people breathe their life in such ignorance, yet are able to ace some of their goals. My sole remaining goal was neither intricate nor anything fancy. I wanted to die alone and free. Uninvolved in politics, religions, and movements. Coupled with old age and a dozen bodily inconveniences, the end seemed so near. Yet, there was always a reason for the reaper to postpone his blessing; what had happened in the past, came back on the stage with a blast. I couldn’t block their noise assaulting my ears.
The stories of my extended family members were neat and humble. They consist of cushioned happiness, wrapped up in conservative fashion. One of their customs was to apply for government jobs. I had failed to avoid such a fate; since graduating from middle school, I already had a government collar on my neck; it was my parents’ decision for me to enroll in a state funded scholarship. That didn’t last long. Eventually, I fell into a disaster. Everything changed. The curse started to unfold when the government sent me back to uni for another scholarship after a few years of work.
We often went to a park not far from campus; feasting on flattened meatball dish. I was the freshman among them, though not exactly the youngest. They also regarded me as the most endowed because I was subsidized by the state. It was not surprising that they often asked me to pay for their food.
One day, after I paid the flattened meatballs, the most senior student among us put his palms on my shoulders and stared at me. His eyes wandered for a while before he tightened his grip. It hurt me. The thick moustache on his lips convulsed as he whispered, “Fall. Flat.”
As I went deeper into their world, the reasons for their extended stay in college unveiled. Those images of them in class, slouching at their desks with blackened eyes and dripping saliva, were replaced with images of fire. Their fiery enthusiasm made me curl into a ball. I feared passion. In the steps I have taken in life, it is my principle to doubt anything that is imbued with such fervor. Enthusiasm blinds people, and it dies quickly. Yet, I decided to walk deeper. Not out of passion. I had to know!
The world was changing in a swift manner. The Pirate Party that I once thought as mere satire, conquered the Scandinavian politics. Meanwhile in North America, an unlikely television show figure managed to put his ass on the throne. Surrounded by armed conflicts, people of Kurdistan decided to abandon the state; forming their own direct democracy. These fueled my colleagues into frenzy. They accelerated our projects in hasty manner. Such speed must be paid with the fact that cautionary milestones were skipped.
As far as my petty senses could absorb, our movement had never indulged in violence nor any evil deeds. We were just trying to hop on the train of technological advancement to realize our vision for the future. Said future will involve the replacement of current government structures with automated systems steered with efficient and effective AIs. But before major changes could be implemented, our struggles were halted by the rise of a bigoted regime. They wiped out any form of organizations they thought as a threat; including us.
I was clever enough to put some distance and safety measures the whole time that I was able to clean my hands and escape a cruel fate. But I was already deep enough that I failed to avoid guilt and pain from the fact that my friends were kidnapped, tortured, jailed, and have their lives transmogrified by the state. At nights they visited my slumber and I drowned in their moans and groans. During the days my mind turned into something akin to nuclear warfare between grotesque abominations; most of the participants though, decided that I was not supposed to be free, that I didn’t deserve it. Torrent of torments built up. I destroyed things that were not my own. Anger engulfed my guts all the time. I choked my boss into coma and lost my job. I sold all my assets and moved. I hid in remote places until I was stable enough to start over.
I clung to life between hope and despair. Many times I thought I had those moments of clarity. But changes never actually happened in an instant. I realized I had to work; slowly. Crashed, and burnt, tried again, and burnt again; I screamed the whole time. In a place of unknown people and language, I suffered two failed marriages and multiple bankruptcies. I was only able to build a home for my descendants in my third marriage. But I had to leave all that when I found out something about my great grandchildren. They were involved in flames that devoured my old friends.
It happened on my stargazing schedule. The night was clear. Atop a mini-tower I built on my backyard, I was feasting upon the flirtatious sky-dandruffs. That was the time when my ears captured the growl of choppers. I adjusted my telescope and saw them coming. I recognized the symbol on their fronts.
I killed my cigar and kissed my telescope. I hurried down and got inside my house. I took only my suitcase. I was ready to leave everything else behind. But my pace wasn’t quick enough. I shut down my emotions when I walked past those kids in the living room. My steps were bold and sure, as if I didn’t hear their words: MONSTER, THIEF, ABOMINATION. Yet before I closed the door, several of them kneeled, grabbed, and kissed my boots; begging me to come with them.
The reign of such a bigoted regime wouldn’t be free from international scrutiny. Soon after its rising to hegemony, various acts of resistance and international interventions decided to chime in. Exploiting the opportunities, many allies of past projects of my old movements resurfaced and regrouped. I had been a part of either the violent oppositions or the diplomatic efforts. The nations broke apart. People were desperate for orders. We grabbed our chance to install our massive automation systems. People didn’t like it at first. But it worked out.
People lived in a just and politician-free society guided by our intelligent systems. Our artificial intelligences were able to adapt and develop its connected infrastructures according to the needs of the people it served. But it didn’t last long. Many nations were outright hysterical by such blasphemy. Many of those nations that once had opposed the bigoted regime, now assault us from every directions. Under such a threat of defeat, I decided to save the system with my own method. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.
“It’s hard to believe really. That this wasteland, wherever I set my gaze upon, is not, the end of things” I mumbled to myself, looking through a cracked and dusty window.
She told me, “This wasteland is actually healing. With the hands of our allies’ new systems, people are surviving and thriving in the world charred by the war waged before.”
In this very train route I was on, I used to commute back and forth every day to work. It was always crowded and hard to breathe and even sometimes gave me cramps. I guess the current population wouldn’t make any train nowadays overcrowded.
I sat there embracing my one and only suitcase. The sun already set and I needed charges. A cable plugged to a terminal hidden at my armpit was connected to the suitcase. A girl sat before me. She was wrapped in white latex, shaking her head. She scratched her head with the barrel of a gravity gun on her hand.
“Do you have any clue regarding why they let you get this far in life?”
She tilted her head closer. Her exhaled carbon monoxide reached the tip of my olfactory sensor. I grinned. She was nervous. She blinked fast. Sweat flooded her eyes because she had neither brows nor lashes.
I chuckled and tried to answer her.
“It isn’t hard for me to deem that everything was in vain. There was greed indeed in what I did. I wanted to be essential. Important. I wanted to be the key. But I was eventually too afraid to do shit, and so, I hid. I hid as flames burned civilizations to the ground.”
The train suffered a heavy turbulence. I sat, still supported by my iron grip to the nearest bar. Meanwhile, the girl fell. I smirked and helped her back up and continued my words.
“My old flesh wasn’t up to the task. Such a fragile complex of tissues wouldn’t handle the overload with mere basic augmentations to support it. I convinced myself I needed more. I craved crazier and more comprehensive parts. So, as time walked past me, the thing that used to be alien and strange, slowly took over the wheel. I never felt enough. I tried to fight the urge, but failed for most of the time. I was impulsively replacing my flesh for machines over several decades and counting. But I’m still myself, am I right?”
“You didn’t. No. Crap. This doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t programmed to act that way. Granted, I was informed it had the capability to learn and adapt to accommodate the dynamics of society it intended to serve. But nothing invasive would ever be permitted by the measures put in place. Such a loophole would put the fate of the people at risk.”
“Don’t blame me. I was not involved in its code development. But I admit the possibility that it was all probably just my insanity at fault. You know, the consequences of overwhelming loads on my augs. Imagine, a system designed for national scale compressed and crammed into my petty augmentations! No matter what, it was indeed my fault. With all the just and goody-goody stuff lies, I persuaded myself to commit that act. It was greed. It was a very human thing to do. A thing done by a person fraught with weakness. I desired its computational feats, its analytic and extrapolative performance. Yet, I was never sure whether or not I ever got what I wanted. Yes, I had built several giant entrepreneurial feats over the decades, but was it actually just me? Or it? I don’t know. I’m feeling blind, lost, and cornered inside my own self. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t.”
The train stopped with a quake. The girl didn’t fall this time. She held on to me. She showed her metallic teeth at me.
“They let you be. They even protected you. They thought the system could learn from you. It could learn all your inner algorithms as a human. They wish to see it grows in its capacity to understand and govern humans. Come, let’s get off this train and see your throne. You and it, shall replace the tentative system. Perhaps, for the rest of your life.”
“Why am I being involved also?”
“Are you kidding? You can see this as your punishment. Justice has to be served. To be honest, the majority of us already thought of you as a non-human.”