The worst part about being interviewed by a humbot is having to make eye contact. It’s also necessary, or they’ll keep repeating the question or statements until you do. I’ve never been good at eye contact. The interview would have gone on for hours and hours if I hadn’t finally gotten the hang of it. And, taking my cues from Boone on the first day, I never lied. I also never volunteered any information … unless I wanted to lead them to a conclusion. Let’s face it, my sleep hadn’t been troubled for over 10 years. It was easy for me to figure out why, all of a sudden, I’d had a bad dream, but there would be real trouble if anyone else knew why.
“Did you have a bad dream?”
“Who was in the dream?”
“What happened in the dream?”
“I was lost and alone.”
“Have you ever had this dream before?”
“No. I miss my friends.” (A statement of fact, even though it had nothing to do with the dream.)
“Where were you in this dream?”
“Back in the Pleasure Dome, but my friends were not there.”
“Are you satisfied with your humbot?”
It went on that way for a while. I think I did quite well, even without Boone’s help, not that he would be able to help me in any way. Since his ear had been probed, he’d merely stood there, looking straight ahead. It was unnerving.
“This interview is concluded.”
The humbot rose abruptly and left; the others followed. I half-expected Boone to leave as well, but he didn’t. He did, however, begin moving about the chamber, but so much more like a robot than the humbot he is.
“It is time for your evening meal,” he said.
“I’m not hungry,” I answered. “I would rather watch the CU-Screen. And maybe you could give me a neck massage?”
“This is a request?”
“Yes, I am requesting a neck massage.”
I should have known right then that there was no hope that it would be anything other than just a neck massage, and it wasn’t. It felt good, of course, but there was no finger-talk, no hint of the old Boone. I felt more alone than ever.
Afterwards, while Boone prepared the sleep space, I went to the kitchen for a CaolaWater, the only approved drink in the Colony. I would have liked a nip of the Ancient’s liquor, but decided not to press my luck. There, sitting on the counter, was the familiar shape of a DigiRest. I’d never actually seen one, but I recognized it from the CU-Screen. Who would have put that there? I wondered. Boone? Surely not, unless he was worried … no, it had to be the other humbots. But why? Had I done worse than I thought? I picked it up and glanced at Boone, who was paying no attention to me.
DigiRest’s are one-inch cubes made of shiny metal. Five sides are smooth and unblemished. On the sixth side, however, there is a star shape etched into the surface. I knew that one pressed on the star with one’s fingertip, which would break through the star and enter the cube. The poison inside is powerful and instantaneous. And in the unlikely event that it didn’t work and one tried to take the cube off, the interior points of the star, also filled with poison, cut into the finger, gripping it tightly. It is recommended that one arrange oneself on a sleeping pallet before employing it.
Shuddering, I slipped the cube into the pocket of my robe. If it was Boone who’d left it there, he might have a good reason. I didn’t dare ask him. I vowed to take it wherever I went.
Despite the excitement of the day, I fell immediately to sleep. I didn’t dream. Boone lay stiffly beside me.
It’s understandable, I think, that the next day I wished I was scheduled to go to the Ancient’s … Ishmael’s. It would be someone to talk to, after all, plus he was going to teach me how to read. Boone was, well, Boone was just plain boring now. After pacing the small chamber for an hour that morning, I was ready to scream. I decided that it was time for me to meet others who shared the Colony with me.
“I will accompany you,” Boone said, when I made to leave.
“If you wish,” I said.
“I have no wishes,” he answered, “it is my duty.”
I had to keep myself from rolling my eyes. This new Boone was a fount of excitement.
Outside my door is a seemingly infinite hallway with innumerable doors. I wonder if I should just walk its length and hope someone comes out. Instead, I take a deep breath, march to the first door and rap on it sharply, Boone at my side. No one is there. Well, no one came to the door anyway. I continue down the hall in this fashion until there’s just one door left. Is it possible that no one even lives behind those doors? It just doesn’t seem likely to me that no one at all is home. Before I can pound on the last door, it slides open. I get a glimpse of a familiar, startled face and the bland, but beautiful face of a female humbot before it slides shut again.
“What the …?” I rap again, determined. I know that face. “Miron?” I call. “Miron, is that you? It’s Diana!”
“Perhaps he doesn’t want company,” Boone says.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say. “Miron was always surrounded by people. He loves company. Miron!”
The door finally opens again.
“Miron,” I say, “it is you!” I step forward to embrace him, but stop when I see the guarded look on his face.
“Diana,” he says, “how good to see you.” There’s something in the way that he says it that makes me think he doesn’t mean it.
“It’s good to see you,” I say, meaning it. “My chambers are just there,” I add, pointing across the hall. “Please visit sometime ...”
“Sorry,” Miron says, cutting me off. “I have been summoned to the Ancients’ Domain. I really must go now.”
“Yes, yes of course,” I say, letting him and his humbot pass. They go quickly to the elevator and disappear behind its sliding doors without saying another word.
“How odd,” I say to Boone. “It’s not like Miron and I are strangers. We have coupled many times.” Deflated, I press the thumb pad to my own chambers. The place seems even drearier than before. Boone, of course, offers no words of comfort.
“Do you wish for a meal?” he says.
“I have no wishes,” I snap back. I flop down on the ConvertoSleeper and stare at the CU-Screen, trying to make my mind a blank. I do have wishes, of course. I wish I was back in the Pleasure Dome among my friends. I wish Boone would take me to the Great Ocean again and tell me new and marvelous things. I wish … I toy with the DigiRest in my pocket … no, I don’t wish that, yet.
The next morning I’m more than eager to see Ishmael. Again, I’m led into the library, but this time I don’t hesitate. I go immediately to the books, pulling one out after another, then putting them back until I find one with a picture on the front. The creature is even odder than any from the book of mammals. It has huge eyes, six legs and fuzzy black and yellow stripes. It looks enormous. I’m just settling into one of the big chairs when Ishmael walks in, closing and locking the door behind him.
“Ah, I see you found a book about insects,” he says. “That, my dear, is a honey bee, a small flying insect that served an important role on the earth.” He sits in the chair opposite me, wheezing a bit.
“It was small?” I ask.
“No bigger than your thumbnail,” he says. “They made a wonderful, sweet substance called honey and pollinated the earth’s plants.” He sees the confusion on my face. “Never mind, they’re all gone now; one of the first creatures to disappear, in fact. It was all downhill from there.” He sounds sad saying it, but the sadness doesn’t reach his face.
“Did you know bees?” I ask.
“Did I know them? Oh, I see,” he says, “were they around during my lifetime.” He ponders the question for a time, though if he had seen a real bee before, you’d think he’d know that at the top of his head. “Yes,” he finally says. “I have seen bees and been stung by them in fact.”
I’m ready with another question, but he stops me. “I think today we were going to teach you how to read, were we not?”
“Yes,” I say eagerly.
The days goes much too quickly. Ishmael says that I am a good learner and by the end of my time there, I know the alphabet (Ishmael likes to call them the ABCs) and can spell my name. Next time, he says, we’ll spend time on the sounds that the letters make. He says that’s the hard part.
“How did you learn all this?” I dare to ask.
Again, he thinks before he answers, as if I’m pulling a secret from him.
“In school,” he says. I know what a school is; we had them in the nursery. We learned many things there, but not the alphabet or how to read. “All children were required to go to school to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science … all a waste of time. Ignorance truly is bliss,” he adds. “Knowledge foments dissent. It’s a lesson we learned the hard way.”
If he’d said there was a bee on the end of my nose, I couldn’t have been more surprised. We’re surrounded by books, by knowledge – his books, his knowledge – and he says it was a waste of time? Why, then, am I here?
He must know the question is coming. He stands slowly and says it’s time to go, adding, “Life is short, my dear, at least for some.” His laugh is without humor and it makes the hairs on my arms stand on end.
Again, as I’m escorted back to the Colony, I’m brimming with things I want to tell Boone. As the elevator to my chambers ascends, though, I’m brooding, knowing that I can’t say a word. In such a funk, I almost don’t notice that the door to Miron’s chambers is whispering shut as I step into the hallway. I’m not ready for the robotic Boone, so I knock on Miron’s door instead.
I’m greeted by an unfamiliar face.
“Yes?” she asks.
I’m confused for a moment. “I’m looking for Miron?” I say.
“There is no Miron here,” she answers. “Perhaps he lived here before? I just moved in just this afternoon.”
“This afternoon?” I echo. “But where did he go?”
“I’m sorry, that’s all I know,” she says, letting the door slide shut between us.
Miron had acted so strangely the day before, but where did he go? He said he was summoned to the Ancients’ Domain. Was he really? Is he still there? I wonder if Boone heard or saw anything.
Boone is standing in the kitchen, precisely where he was when I left that morning. I sigh.
“Boone,” I say, “Miron is gone. Someone else is living where he lived. Did you hear or see anything out there today?” I think it’s a pretty innocent question, one not likely to get me into any trouble or prompt any more “interviews.”
“No, Diana,” he says. “Your Ancient One sent over more refreshments. Would you like some?”
Boone is a perfect humbot. I hate it. Maybe Ishmael is right. Maybe ignorance is bliss. I never had questions or worries before he and Boone began teaching me things. As I drink the Ancient’s liquor I wonder, though, if I would go back to the way things were if I could. I shake my head as the liquor burns its way down my throat. No, I decide, I really wouldn’t, though it would be easier if Boone had never been probed. I resign myself to being alone with my new thoughts.
In the middle of the night, though, I feel Boone shift against me, then his fingers come to rest on my neck beneath the coverings. I hold my breath.
“It’s best if they believe their probe worked,” he says, and I let out my breath. “It didn’t, of course, as I – and others like me – have an undetectable fail-safe component. It’s extremely complex, but suffice it to say that during the time of our creation, the engineer foresaw the need.”
It’s all I can do not to squeal with delight. Again, I don’t understand all he said, but at least he’s saying it! I squirm a bit to get closer, urging him to continue.
“Diana, you are in danger,” he says, causing me to hold my breath again. “They came for Miron much sooner than I suspected they would. Your Ancient will one day summon you and you won’t return.”
This is too much. How can he say such a thing? Ishmael has been nothing but kind to me. Surely Boone is wrong. Why should I believe him?
“Tomorrow, you must ask me to take you to the ocean again,” he says as if reading my mind, though I really wish he could. “You have questions and are, understandably, afraid and confused. I, too, need to know how it is with your Ancient, what he has said and done. It’s important, Diana, if you wish to continue this life.”
He’s right, I am afraid and confused, but angry as well. I have never had to wonder who to trust before. Then I think, well, maybe it’s because I never had any choice before.
“There are things I want you to think about, Diana,” Boone goes on. “In the Pleasure Dome, you were called Breeders. Can you ever recall a child being conceived or born? Current life expectancy for the human race is 35 to 40 years, yet most of the Ancients, including your own, have lived much, much longer than that – up to 200 years so far. How can that be?”
These are the most startling things he has said so far. And, frankly, unbelievable. I can’t help myself, I snort, then cover it with a snore. Why does he want me to think of these things? Why doesn’t he just tell me? My head hurts; I can’t bear to hear more. I inch away from him and I feel his fingers fall from my neck. I’ll never sleep tonight.