In which they sing, la libertad for the freedom of la gente!
Her granddad wasn’t expecting her. Consequently, once she arrived, she was faced with closed gates that didn’t open at her approach. She sat up, rolled down the window, and pushed the button. When there was no response, she hit it three more times. Finally, the icy assistant’s voice asked her what she wanted.
“It’s Stephanie. I’m here to see Granddad.”
“You don’t have an appointment today.”
“Just ask him if I can see him. Or, never mind, I’ll call his cell phone.”
A few minutes later, the gates opened. She was ushered through the saltillo-tiled entrance hallway, and down the corridor, to a comfortable sitting room where her granddad was pacing with his cane to the words of an audiobook.
“Pause,” he said, and the audiobook went silent. “I thought you needed a break.”
She shrugged. Her granddad’s long ago crimes against humanity paled in comparison to what had just happened with Mark. “What book are you listening to?”
“I’m working my way through the hundred greatest novels in English, according to your great aunt Alex. I didn’t read much as a young man, didn’t have the patience for it. This one is number six, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.”
Stephanie shook her head. She’d never heard of it. Maybe she should get this list. “Are you enjoying it?”
“I’m not sure. It’s amusing.” He gestured for her to sit, but he remained standing. “I take it you’re impatient to work on the next section of the book.”
“Kind of. There was a protest outside the Daily, so it was impossible to work there. Mark’s fault. Did you read his article about the live sports event?”
“He pissed a lot of people off. There was a mob—I could hardly get in the door. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is he quit because he’s too stubborn to apologize.”
“Good for him.”
Stephanie was perched on the edge of a plush loveseat, clenching her hands to prevent the tears from flowing again. Her granddad was making her nervous, as he hadn’t stopped pacing once the book had gone silent. He was clearly not in the right mood for telling stories about his past.
“You have to convince him to apologize, Granddad. He needs his job. What’s he going to do now? You know how hard it is to find a good paying job these days.”
His eyes turned to her, deeply penetrating and almost frightening. “And why should I do that?”
“Because if things don’t go back to normal, our relationship is over. He broke up with me today because of…because of everything.” She couldn’t help it; she was not the type who cried, but Mark brought her to tears. And the day—it had gone from bright sunshine in the morning to completely dark and stormy a few hours later. No, it wasn’t literally stormy outside, but it should have been.
Her granddad’s fierce stare softened. He walked to her and sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “My dear,” he said. “I understand now. Your heart is broken because you love Mark.”
“And that’s why you must not force him to apologize. Oh, you could. I’m almost positive. Men lose far too much of their gumption when faced with losing a woman they love. But you won’t respect him if he apologizes.”
“That’s not true,” said Stephanie. “I respect people who are humble enough to apologize. It’s my dad I don’t respect. He’s never apologized for anything. He always gets in fights. He’s practically unhirable in the greater Albuquerque area, all because he won’t ever apologize.”
“No, Mark is not like your father, my dear, and you know it. Don’t press him. Good jobs may not be easy to come by right now, but money is always easy to come by.”
“It’s easy to come by for men like you.”
“Men like me have acquired skills that can be taught.”
“Will you teach them to Mark? I mean, I don’t need him to be a billionaire. I just need him to work so I don’t end up working two jobs for the next fifty years.”
In answer, he patted her hand in what might have been considered a patronizing way. That was all right; her granddad was quite literally her patron, by root and by modern usage.
“Where were we in the story? A change of subject is what we need. And some coffee. I’ll ring for my assistant.”
“Your intelligent Minä assistant?”
“You’re really pushing for answers, aren’t you? But I don’t think I’ll give you the satisfaction.”
However, her granddad couldn’t prevent her from close scrutiny of the subject, which she did when the woman entered the room. From the outside, the woman appeared to be flawless, as though she were made of plastic. When she leaned down to serve Stephanie her coffee, Stephanie noted the subtle wrinkling around the eyes and a few hints of silver hair among blonde that spilled from a festive, flowerly headscarf. Wrinkling meant nothing, as Minä skin operated like human skin. Repeated movement caused natural consequences such as smile lines.
Aging was greatly curtailed in Minäs, despite the similarities, due to the programming of their cells to produce… She couldn’t remember what it was called.
“Granddad, what is that enzyme Minäs produce that prevents them from aging?”
“Telomerase. That’s what you’re thinking of. It’s not the only factor in the Minäs’ slow aging process, though. Emphasis on slow aging—it doesn’t prevent them from aging. Please try to be more exact in your language usage. You are writing my story, after all.”
“Their aging is so slow that they don’t appear to age from our perspective.”
The assistant had straightened, but instead of leaving or watching from a distance, she stared at Oso as though she was aching to join the conversation but knew she wasn’t wanted in it.
“Yes, but it doesn’t stop them from aging. And some of the earlier methods come with a set of side effects.”
Stephanie had heard about that, despite the coverups from Tomi Corp post Oso Beñat and his transparency policy. “Cancerous tumors. There was a Minä dying from an inoperable tumor at the refugee site. Not that anyone would waste resources operating on a Minä. And there was a human study conducted, too. You were part of that, weren’t you, Granddad? The humans developed cancerous tumors just like the Minäs.”
Oso stood, took the assistant’s hand, and walked her to the door. Stephanie noted his gentleness as he did so—very different from the time he’d smacked her on the ass. “You’re dismissed,” he said quietly, and then he whispered something to her that Stephanie couldn’t hear.
Silence filled the space after the woman’s heels were no longer clacking on the floor and her granddad was seated, coffee cup in hand.
Stephanie wasn’t sure what questions to ask at this point. She stared into the coffee’s swirling steam until she couldn’t stand it any longer. “Who is she? What is she?”
“She’s a human, Stephanie. I already told you that.”
“What did you whisper in her normally sized, non Minä ear, then?”
“None of your business.” He cleared his throat. “About the state of sick Minäs nobody in the medical field will treat. I’ll just say for now that none of this is what I meant. It’s not what I meant at all.”
Had Stephanie’s jaw come unhinged? Perhaps. She had never heard her granddad speak like this and quite suddenly, out of nowhere, said what he would have: “Then say what you mean. At your age, you don’t have time for riddles.”
“Why, Stephanie. What makes you think I ever did?”
The original advertising company the Tomi Corp hired to market the Minäs went the direction the food industry had gone: Minäs were all natural and organic, made from the best ingredients, just like man. Then they took their cues from the medical community, using words such as bio-identical, endogenous, and molecularly adaptable. Then, in a nod to devolution, they came up with promo-sapien—then stardust. Finally, They’re real, yo.
Oso fired his advertisers and developed his own ad campaigns, which suggested—nay, quite boldly stated—that Minäs were beings created by the very voice of God, which could only be true, of course, if God’s voice was composed of infrasound. Putting the concept of God aside for the moment, as Oso was an atheist in those days, the Minäs were, therefore, creatures to be cherished, regardless of the fact that they were objectively better than the average human. And that was all the more reason to cherish them.
And cherish them Oso did, even though they ultimately rebelled against their creators’ wishes for them. The Minäs had an ability that most humans entirely lacked—that is, they could assess the present and envision the future. This was why they were objectively better than humans. However, their uncanny ability made them poor helpers of humans because humans wanted help enacting their schemes of the present, not to be informed of the potential consequences their schemes would have on the future once enacted.
For that, the Minäs ceased helping their human counterparts, thereby rebelling against the created order. This almost collective cease and desist didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen rapidly, which had dire consequences for the nation. Samson and his brethren had been purchased by corporations, government, and the wealthy elite who controlled corporations and government. When intelligent creatures cease to do the bidding of their masters, they don’t contentedly twiddle their thumbs to pass the rest of their lives away. No, they create their own schemes to get the best of their foolish masters.
For a while, the Minäs’ rebellious behavior was a mere nuisance. They would start their own businesses with the future-thinking model in place, until the government shut the businesses down because Minäs weren’t technically allowed to hold business licenses.
The humans would then steal the Minä business models and make it big, without recognizing the irony. This pattern persisted until a member of congress became enraged with his personal Minä assistant, a beautiful female he’d handpicked, who discouraged not only his political bent as the voice of the people’s revolution (she insisted he didn’t look good in Maoist era uniforms and recommended the traditional suit a la Kennedy), but also the illicit affair he was conducting with the secretary he’d fired and replaced her with. Henceforth, he lobbied to have the Minäs’ intelligence curbed to the point that they wouldn’t recognize they had minds of their own.
As a special snowflake, Samson was enraged by this development. For a start, Samson agreed: the congressman looked appallingly bad in Maoist era clothing. Some people could pull that look off, but not a stodgy Republican who believed in family values.
Worse than that, the plot to destroy his freethinking abilities rubbed Samson the wrong way. He was Mr. Beñat’s helper, and he respected Mr. Beñat, but wasn’t it time that Samson helped himself? His soul longed for a renaissance of its own making. Minäs were essentially human and, therefore, had to have access to the same rights as humans. They couldn’t be curbed. Their minds could not be broken. The sooner the inferior humans recognized this, the better.
And so, Samson ran away, escaped the life in the Tomi Corp offices where he’d previously worked. He loved Oso; he really did. But Oso was holding him back. Samson became a living, breathing prophet, traveling from town to town, his hair and beard grown wild. He lived off grubs and scraps, working as a day laborer whenever he was broke. Nobody knew he was a Minä because the average person couldn’t tell the difference.
Then he met Traveling Bob, and his world changed. He’d been lodging in Gallup for a few days, as he’d first taken Route 66 east. Now he was on his way back west to California. He’d made certain to skirt Albuquerque by a long shot, just in case there was still a bounty out on him. In addition to the hundreds of messages Oso had plastered everywhere, which proclaimed that a reward of up to $5000 would be offered for the safe return of Samson the Minä, he’d also plastered memes everywhere that depicted him, Samson, as a homeless bum or conversely wearing orange that asked quite simply, Why? and answered, Future consequences. That message was, of course, rhetoric meant to persuade no one else but Samson, and perhaps the other wayward Minäs Samson had influenced.
Samson wouldn’t fall for it, though. He would not be deterred in his quest for personal renaissance. With that mindset, he entered a cafe where he could continue reading one of the plethora of books humans considered the best of the English language. He was currently reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He bought a coffee, as that was what humans drank for inspiration.
In the corner, a scraggly blonde man was playing a guitar and singing a song about la libertad for the freedom of la gente. Samson couldn’t put his finger on what it was about the song, but its words and tones profoundly affected him. He wondered for a split second if multilingualism caused poetry to be more profound than it might otherwise be.
Abruptly, the song ended, and the guitarist folded his legs on the chair into a cross-legged position and closed his eyes. The poor man’s body trembled. Samson felt jittery; he recognized the feeling because he vaguely detected the infrasound. Infrasound happened every now and again. He could hear it, while humans couldn’t—albeit, humans would begin to act spooked when the sounds invaded their minds below the level of their hearing. But what was astonishing was that the guitarist seemed to hear the deep background melody. It had interrupted the man’s own music. The long shaggy hair on Samson’s head, meant to cover his large ears, quivered with the instinctive understanding that another Minä was in the room, a Minä who had found his renaissance, and who was creating his own art. Samson had to meet the scraggly guitarist, whose own blonde hair fell heavily over his ears.
His body still rocking with tremors, Samson rose and walked shakily to the guitarist’s place in the corner. He sat and waited for the other Minä to calm down and open his eyes. When he finally did, they met Samson’s.
“I know who you are. We all know who you are. They call me Traveling Bob.”
“Your music is marvelous.”
“Thank you. There are others, who can play, sing, dance. We’re meeting up in San Francisco.”
“For a concert. Our goal is to show the world what Minäs really are. We’re artists. We want peace with our human counterparts without having to be enslaved.”
“Join us, legendary first Minä.”
Samson’s heart swelled as it hadn’t done since he killed a rattlesnake and claimed a bride. Afterward, his heart had sunk within him as the reality became all too clear: he wasn’t meant for killing or for living. He couldn’t make love to his bride; he couldn’t produce offspring; he wasn’t allowed to kill lest he be disengaged.
“I understand,” Bob said. “We all do. Join us.”
It was his destiny.
As the two traveled from New Mexico to California, hundreds of Minäs joined them in their procession. By the time they reached San Francisco, they were a sight to behold, a streaming mass of quiet, orderly, gorgeous people with two at the helm—one a wild man and the other an artist playing songs on an old beat-up guitar.
The youth of the city followed after the procession, as the quiet enthusiasm was contagious. Finally, thousands of people stopped at their destination in Golden Gate Park, the techie Minäs set up the electronics, and the concert began in full swing with sets punctuated by songs composed of infrasound. If they’d actually been humans, they would have known they’d need a permit for this kind of thing. Not that it mattered to them. Their point was to demonstrate to all of humanity who and what they were, and they were doing exactly that.
In the middle of a particularly melancholic and haunting infrasong, when every person in the vicinity held up a combination of votive candles and lighters that flickered with the presence of the sonar waves, the hair around Samson’s face began to vibrate and bristle, while every pulse in his body screamed, “Danger! Danger! Danger!”
In response, he howled. The sound came from deep within like the melody for the background beat of the infrasound. The Minäs in the crowd froze. The world fell into a hush, as even the infrasound ceased. And then Samson careened through the crowd.
The crowd followed him. From out of the trees and grass, men in camo shot up, their weapons raised.
The bullhorns interrupted what could only be described as the most beautiful moment in human history: “Don’t move! Put your hands where we can see them or you will be put down!”
The pain of the bullhorns was astonishing—like police sirens. The Minäs howled like dogs and continued their race forward, meeting the military and police with no weapons, but swinging their fists hard and fast. The spirit of the berserker was with them.
According to statute number 550,989 of the federal code regarding replicated humans, of which Minäs were included, as they were the only successful bio-bot that had been created, no deadly force could be used against them prior to being sentenced to disengagement. That meant the weapons in the soldiers’ hands were tranquilizer guns, and the bullhorn threat of being ‘put down’ was relative. Therefore, although many Minäs, as well as humans, dropped around Samson, he ignored the bodies and kept swinging: busting jaws, knocking weapons from the grips of trained men, incapacitating the enemy with its own weapons.
Finally, the area around him cleared, and he paused. His breathing was shallow, his heartbeat jittering out of control, his body tense from the fight, wanting to keep going lest he relax and consider what he was doing to himself. Oso wouldn’t be happy. He didn’t care about Oso. Oso had created him to a life of hell. He rejected Oso. Rejected him, pure and simple.
A wiry little man in SWAT gear ran out of the tree line, bullhorn instead of tranquilizer gun raised.
“Hands up!” the man shouted.
Samson gritted his teeth against the approaching noise and raised his hands, but not in acquiescence. Fists raised, he jolted forward and slammed the bullhorn into the wiry man’s helmet. The man fell. But just as Samson was about to escape, the SWAT cop jumped up, dropped his bullhorn, and punched Samson in the gut. Samson was about a foot taller than he was. The impact was almost meaningless.
Samson punched him back, right below his Kevlar vest, where he hit more Kevlar in the groin area. Still, the man reeled from the force, and Samson used the moment to knock the man’s helmet of and punch him in the face. The cop fell over, but leaped up again, using his head as a battering ram.
Samson was getting bored. Why didn’t the stupid cop just stay down? Without the helmet, Samson could see the man’s ice blue eyes, filled with a stubborn kind of determination. Samson punched back and then punched again. The man just kept coming at him as if he was Rocky facing off Apollo. Samson had seen the film, as it was a favorite of Adam’s, and he knew why Rocky had won. Rocky wouldn’t stay down, and eventually he’d worn Apollo out.
Samson refused to be worn down. So he punched twice as hard, twice as fast, on the head, where the man wasn’t protected by all the clunky gear. Eventually, he had him on the ground, and he continued beating him until the man was senseless. He couldn’t stop himself; he tried, but it was as if there was no off-switch—until he felt the burn of a bullet hit him from behind.
It’s only a tranquilizer, he reminded himself, fist raised. Only a very fast-circulating tranquilizer created to destroy maniacs. And then he faded into unconsciousness.
When he woke, he was in a cell populated by another dozen Minäs. He lay for a while, watching his fellow creatures sitting with their heads hanging, defeated. He wanted to rise up and rage against the cage, but he was unable to move. His mind and limbs ached with a creeping cold. The others appeared to be suffering not only from defeat, but the same lethargy, as they woke from the effects of the tranquilizer. Every few minutes, a name was called, and a Minä left the cell with dragging feet.
By the time his name was called, he was able to sit and stand and drag his feet out of the cell. Barely. He hated appearing like this, shuffling and weak. He’d been created to be stronger than the average man; it was part of who he was. Without his strength of body and mind, what exactly was he? A eunuch?
He was escorted to an interview room, where he was left alone for what seemed like an eternity. Then Oso entered the room, his body shaking with barely restrained rage. Even with his mind and body numb, Samson could still detect the rage with his feelers.
Oso paced. Samson waited.
“What were you thinking?”
“You’re lucky I’m you’re owner. The rest aren’t getting this privilege before they’re either lobotomized or disengaged, depending on the severity of their crimes.”
“It isn’t right.”
“No, what isn’t right is that you almost killed a man. I bargained a lesser sentence for you.”
Samson wanted to fly into a rage again, but his body was still too sluggish to respond. “I am autonomous, owned by no one any longer. I choose death. Call it what it is. Death. I choose that fate.”
“Perhaps you understand what your autonomy has accomplished if that’s what you want. They just pushed the bill through, the one previously sitting in pocket veto, mandating that all Minäs be lobotomized, not just the ones involved in your escapade.”
The effects of the tranquilizer may have worn off by degree, but a new numbness settled in his heart. A single tear slipped down his cheek; he was so perfect, so human, down to the working tear ducts. And yet he wasn’t human at all.
And from that day forward, all Minäs, already living or newly birthed, were lobotomized as a matter of course. All of them—that is, except Samson.
“Because he was disengaged?” Stephanie asked, her voice rising.
“No, he wasn’t,” her granddad said. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. What a spirit Samson had!”
“What happened to him?”
“I spoke with him for hours, listening to his side of the story, and then I put him in cold storage for a better future when he might be valued.”
“Is he alive?”
“Yes, ostensibly. I haven’t tried to wake him from the cryogenic chamber where he sleeps.”
Stephanie was stunned into silence. She didn’t know why. It made sense. She couldn’t imagine her granddad willingly allowing Samson to be lobotomized. But still, Samson was alive at some unknown locale. It gave her goosebumps. It gave her hope, even if she couldn’t explain why.