“And the rest will follow,” sung Arthur, under his breath, strapped to the chair inside FYM Industries. The office was located in a confusing warren of business park streets and avenues, drives and lanes. Nestled between highway overpasses, in the suburb of a suburb.
“Hmm?” asked the FYM tech, as she lowered the halo apparatus over Arthur’s head. Behind him, the Mind/Body Bifurcation machine hummed, powering up.
“Just this song I’ve got in my head. Streaming an Oldies’ channel this morning.”
Next to Arthur lay the immobile body of the mannequin-like prone, waiting for Arthur’s consciousness to arrive. Prones (as in “People Drones”) were the latest new gadget to hit the open market. Humanoid vehicles for the emancipated mind. No longer slave to the body’s wants and needs, human consciousness was, thanks to technology, finally able to be set free.
Arthur coughed, blushed. “Listen, I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“It happens,” said the tech, her professional visage impossible to read. “It was your first time.”
First separation or not, when his case manager had showed Arthur the footage earlier this morning, he was extremely embarrassed. Given its first taste of pure freedom his body had urinated in the corner of the lab and then humped the technician’s leg until two burly security dudes rushed in and took batons to the back of his body’s knees and pepper sprayed him into submission. “But, really…”
“Apology accepted,” she said. “A lot of freed male bodies exhibit root behaviour in the early stages. Baseline aggression, marking territory, that kind of thing. But not to worry, with some training I assure you your body can be trusted on its own as a productive member of society.” She rolled the chair to Arthur’s side and patted his arm reassuringly. And tested the straps holding Arthur down, satisfied with the result.
Arthur, relieved at being forgiven his body’s trespasses, smiled, settled, as the technician inserted a needle of sedative into the IV trunk line in his wrist and pressed the plunger down.
Separation separating pulling thick sticky taffy pull pull finally releasing backwards backwards through a tunnel made of black mud strobe light flashes fleeting flickering as Arthur opens the prone’s (his) eyes to see the technician smiling then turning its (his) head to the right to watch his body (it) fighting against the restraints back arching off the chair neck muscles straining screaming screaming as the prone’s (his) hand lifts and moves its (his) carbon-tipped fingers and Arthur realizes the screaming is coming from the prone (him) and
Arthur-Prone couldn’t find goddamned Arthur-Body anywhere. Figured. And of all mornings, this one. The first day flying solo and the one when Arthur-Body was scheduled to return to work after two weeks of intensive training for both mind and body. The daily visits to the laboratory where they each spent the day learning/re-learning the skills they would need for life going forward. For Arthur-Body that was to not pee in the corner and hump legs, to behave, to follow direction, and for Arthur-Prone it was how to control his new body, mastering those simple tasks–walking, opening doors, etc.–that he took for granted.
The Intelligence Balance, as FYM called it, had been tweaked for optimum output so his case manager fully expected his body to have no issues with work performance. As part of the Integration Protocol, Arthur had described his daily tasks and responsibilities and after some trial and error it was determined that 12.8% intelligence allowed his body to perform them equally, leaving Arthur with 87.2% intelligence to play with.
That morning, when Arthur was ready to go, bag packed and at the door, he sat down in the home bifurcation unit in his living room and separated. What had previously been a difficult, confusing transition had become, with practice, a quick, manageable exercise. Still, it took him a few minutes to get oriented in his prone, by which time he discovered his body had disappeared.
Arthur-Prone began searching the house, room-by-room, eventually finding his body hiding in the hall closet, backed against the wall, but legs visible, poking out from underneath the hanging jackets.
“Body, is that you?” asked Arthur-Prone.
“No,” said Arthur-Body.
“Remember, it’s our big day today. What we’ve been training for.”
“It’s your first day back. Don’t you want to see everyone?”
“No care. No work. No.”
Eventually, after a bit of coaxing and a promise to go for ice cream later, Arthur-Prone was able to get out of the apartment and escort Arthur-Body to work via subway, making sure that his body had a valid monthly transit pass and remembered how to get from the station to the office and vice versa.
After all the hard work, it was a proud moment for Arthur when he waved goodbye to his body as it queued for the rotating entrance door, stepped in with another person, and disappeared into the office building. His body was all grown up.
The day opened in front of Arthur-Prone like a flower in first bask of sunlight. Anything was possible today. Just like in the glossy FYM pamphlet, holographic images extending from the page, 3D slogans dancing in the air.
LET MIND LIVE THE DREAM WHILE THE BODY DOES THE WORK! SHAKE OFF THE SHACKLES OF THE PHYSICAL!
BE THE AUTHENTIC YOU!
The noise in Preen, the all-hours underground prone club, was deafening. The packed dance floor like a coral reef alive with exotic fish, each prone unit more extravagantly outfitted with wardrobe add-ons and skin mods than the next. Not a human being in sight.
A prone in a platinum blonde wig approached Arthur, looking at his new nano-fibre nametag, the programmable, shifting kaleidoscope of colours and designs. Though he regretted using his full name. Everyone in the club was using cool nicknames. Noob mistake.
“Mount any lab techs lately?” asked Miss Behavin’. Her eyes were twin suns, glowing fiery orange. Grey market, expensive.
“Excuse me?” said Arthur.
“It’s me, the FYM technician your body dry humped a few months ago.”
“Oh…right. Again, sorry about that.”
“Just messing with you, Arthur. So what do you think of my prone? I got a sweet company discount.”
“Nice. And your body works at FYM now?”
“No, I really love my job, so I looked at what I always wanted for my body instead. And that’s to be ripped, so it’s at CrossFit, all day, every day. Without my brain getting in the way my body quite likes a regimented diet and exercise program. And how’s your ‘Authentic You’?“
“Well, I’ve started that novel I always wanted to write.”
“Good for you.”
“Well, really it’s like an anti-novel. A deconstruction of story. Beyond non-linear. Eighty-seven characters. Streams of consciousness rambling, grocery lists, bus schedules, random conversations.”
“Sounds…fascinating. Can’t wait to read it.”
Which would be tough, since it was total BS. But it was what Arthur had been telling anyone who asked since, basically, he’d discovered that his Authentic You was a lazy son-of-a-bitch who, given every futurist-nerd’s-wet-dream-opportunity to live each day as a technologically advanced humanoid robot with a consciousness, just ended up watching TV and VR net surfing.
In fact, he barely left the house for months, though this was mostly because of the news stories about prones being kidnapped and dismembered for parts. Particularly unsettling was an interview with a body that’s prone was found stripped down to the frame at a chop shop, consciousness chips removed. The body, a balding middle-aged man with glasses and a porkpie hat, when questioned about a life without its mind, said, “Me sad, no more think.”
While Arthur hid away, the world, as it was known to do, moved forward at breakneck speed. Prones gleamed in the windows of FYM flagship stores in London, Berlin, New York, L.A. Proning quickly became the new “it” thing, #pronelife and #twofietuesday the latest trending hashtags. You weren’t anyone, especially young, rich and beautiful, if you weren’t posing with your body on Instagram, drinking Champagne in an infinity pool or blinging out both prone and body in fancy watches and jewelry.
“And your body?”
“Good, good. Other than that first day it’s been smooth sailing. When we had to re-calculate the I.B.”
“That’s right. It came home with a sign on, right? From the co-workers.”
“Yeah, the one on its back said ‘Kick Me’ and the one on the forehead said, ‘Need More Brains.’ So I called the help line that night and they guided me up through an intelligence increase. Ever since, seems okay.”
“And you’re joining every day or two?”
Arthur nodded. Another lie. His body was coming home at strange hours and never wanted to communicate, only uttering monotone complaints of thirst, hunger and sore, tired muscles. It would drop its bag at the door, heat up a microwave dinner and then plop down in front of the TV, stirring several hours later to brush its teeth and go to bed. Barely a word or a “how was your day?” passed between them. For weeks now, he didn’t even get back in his body at night, instead preferring the solace of his thoughts.
“Because it’s important, for both of you, to spend quality time together. Now more than ever.”
“Sure, sure. But body seems to be doing well. Looking good. Must’ve joined a gym or something and is actually packing on some muscle. I didn’t know I had it in me.”
“You don’t,” said Miss Behavin’, deadpan.
“Well, you know what I mean. And its work is going well. No complaints that I’ve heard. Data entry, mostly, so it’s pretty chill.”
“You sure about that?”
“Well, you’re on a payment plan, set up by your employer, right?”
Arthur nodded. Always eager to adopt new tech, and detesting nearly every minute he spent at his job, Arthur had jumped at the opportunity when the company offered it for a reasonable monthly price.
“You know what they say,” said the technician, winking, twin suns briefly becoming one. “No such thing as a free lunch.”
Arthur stared around at the vast office space. Cubicle after cubicle, empty. He found his boss, George, sitting at his desk, playing holo-minesweeper and swearing as the cube exploded into a bright flash of light and flying debris. A “Play Again?” button hung in the air, vibrating.
“Where does the bus go, George?”
Looking caught, George sighed and swiped the game away.
That morning, Arthur had followed his body after it left the house and was surprised when instead of taking the subway downtown, it took one the other direction, stayed on for several stops and then walked into an industrial area Arthur had never been to before. Once there, his body waited on the corner with some other bodies, a few which Arthur recognized as those of coworkers. Distant and blank-eyed, the bodies paced back-and-forth on the street corner, lobotomy patients on a psych ward. Ten minutes later, a yellow school bus pulled up and the bodies filed on, obediently.
“Well, let me see,” said George. He opened a spreadsheet on his computer, scrolled down to Arthur’s name. “Oh.”
“Well… tell you what, nothin’ going on here so I’ll show you.”
Forty-five minutes later, city morphing to forest and lake, valleys and farms, and down a long, twisting gravel road, George stopped the car in front of a closed gate with a sign that said “Merque-Oressa Mining Corporation” and “Private Property – No Trespassing.”
“This is as far as I go,” he said. “No one but employees allowed.”
“But what about me?” Arthur asked.
“Like I said, no one but employees.”
Arthur nodded, finally getting it. Apparently “easy payment plan” meant “cheap labour for dangerous work.” He said, “So you sold my body to Merque-Oressa.”
“Well not me, per se, and don’t make it sound so seedy, man. Really, you did it to yourself. Always check the small print, my friend.”
“Why, because who wants to elevator down into a dirty mine shaft anymore.”
“And the rest of the office?”
“Like you, prone stoned, their bodies in all sorts of exciting fields: janitorial, fast food, housekeeping. No work at the office. That was outsourced overseas.”
Arthur looked at the thick chain-link fence, the razor wire. “You sure they’ll let me in?”
“And stop a guy from conversing with his own body?” said George, the office manager of nothing, like it was a perfectly natural thing to say.
The security guard that drove out to open the gate didn’t look happy to see Arthur, but clearly the company was wading into murky legal waters using Bodies in the first place and hadn’t quite figured out where the bottom was. So Merque-Oressa had to let him in but they didn’t have to like it.
The guard radioed ahead and gave Arthur a ride to the mine entrance, telling him to wait at one of the picnic tables before driving away, leaving Arthur alone. After several minutes, Arthur-Body appeared from a tunnel mouth dug into the side of the mountain. It was wearing coveralls, a safety vest, a hardhat and steel-toe work boots, face covered in grime. His body sat down across from him at the table, unscrewed the cap on its thermos and poured a steaming cup of coffee.
A bird chirped. A squirrel rooted around in the underbrush.
“So, a miner, huh? What’s it like down there?”
“Oh. Well, I’ll get in touch with a lawyer and we’ll see what can be done.”
“I miss coffee,” said Arthur.
Arthur-Body took an extra long sip, savouring the experience, really rubbing it in.
“Okay, I hear what you’re saying, so why did I prone then? Well, as you know, I’ve always wanted to try writing a novel.”
Arthur-Body gave him a “Dude, please,” look.
“You know, it hasn’t been all rosy for me, either. Got dumped the other day. We met at the grocery store, both feeling up an avocado. Beautiful girl, totally into my mind. We laughed so much. She even invited me over to meet her family. Turned out, she was a tech-fetishist and the parents were total anti-tech luddites. I was the shock and awe part of the evening. Two days later, she dumped me for a prone who drives a Ferrari. A Ferrari, for shit’s sake.”
Arthur-Body dumped out the remainder of the coffee in the grass and screwed the lid on the thermos. And stood. “I go. Break over.”
“I’m just saying, we’ve both suffered. But you do look great, by the way. All that work down…there…seems to agree with you.”
Arthur-Body ignored the compliment. So typical of the flesh. Arthur was trying to build a bridge, make amends. But he also had to ask the question: “Those black bags over there, they what I think they are?”
Arthur had seen the four body bags right away, as soon as the Merque-Oressa guard drove up, but they were stacked so neatly with no effort made to hide them, were so blatantly “there,” he didn’t know what to say. So he said nothing.
Arthur-Body ran a finger along its throat then tapped its head. “Not enough here. Take brain to work under ground.”
“But you’re okay? We can always free up some more, if you need. I mean, my novel is important, but… you know… a few percent… so, see you later at home? We’ll talk more then. Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
“Never went for ice cream. You promise.”
Arthur thought back. “Oh. Really? I thought we did.”
Arthur-Body shook its head.
“You sure? You are kind of forgetful these days.”
Another shake of the head.
“Okay, that’s on me. How about tonight? Maybe a movie. Like a mind-body date night.”
Arthur-Body shrugged, fine, whatever, and walked away, toward the elevator. After a few steps, it stopped and turned around, facing Arthur. It put both fists out, closed, the right one palm up. Body then let Mind know exactly how it felt about the entire situation as it mimicked turning a flagpole winch with the left hand while the right’s middle finger slowly raised until it was at full salute.
R. Daniel Lester’s work has appeared in Adbusters, Geist, Bareknuckles Pulp, 365 Tomorrows, Pulp Literature. His novella, Dead Clown Blues, was published by Shotgun Honey, imprint of Down & Out Books.