The Pig Who Wants to Be Beaten

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 People asked us why our approach is better than using robots. Naturally, we cite expense, and availability. 

 In our experiment, volunteers agreed to a week of intense hard work. They logged their emotions on tablets every hour. From this, our scientists identified the standard brain patterns of people who felt oppressed, overworked, or exploited.

 Within a few months of fine-tuning our product, exhaustion released endorphins. Patients smiled when told they’d been given an extra shift with no breaks. Being woken in the middle of night to bring canapes brought on fits of spontaneous laughter.

 We hope to make the deep-brain stimulation devices available to employers and families later this year. Trials for our prison reform variant were awarded government approval this morning.

Innate Nurturing Behaviours

 Mice have certain neural pathways associated with motherhood. A chemical receptor in the brain allows them to do things like risk themselves for their offspring. They isolated it. Found it in humans. Made it into a drug and offered it up to women suffering from post-partum depression.  After the change of government, it didn’t take long for people like me to be rounded up. We childless affronts to god.

 All the years I spent explaining to my parents that I don’t want kids. What they said never left me. “There must be something wrong with you.” “Why don’t you see a doctor?” and “Why can’t you be normal?” Normal is productively miserable, living for others’ expectations.

If I stop picking up my prescriptions, or fail to administer a dose, the ParentGuard app notifies the police. Now, I am so very normal.

The Inspection House

 Five minutes until they make you go to the room again. The windows hold a view of the mountain you cannot reach. In the summer it is too hot. In the winter, too cold. But you have to be there. You have to be there for the gathering.

 Four minutes until they make you go to the room again. The instructions printed on A4. Forever the same typeset. They always greet you but never want to hear your voice. The room is an extension, a hearing aid for someone else’s thoughts. 

Three minutes until they make you go to the room again. The tables face one another but there is only one place we are permitted to look. The seats too low for comfort. The chairs older than most of us. They will be all that’s left. 

Two minutes until they make you go to the room again. The building is unheated. Only this room gets warmth, and not much. Only this room needs human presence.

One minute until they make you go to the room again. The years pass but you are no closer to understanding. That may be their intent.

Manual for Decommissioning

 The boy sat in the deepest hours of the night, when the outside air was cool enough to be breathed without a respirator. 

 Here was the city’s heat sink, where the uniform air conditioners met the ocean. The sea was on its last term of service, lapping against the quiet hot metal, the evaporation seeding clouds like pollen caught on updrafts.

 He threw away the photos of his family members here when one died. A face became a brief spark against the hissing steel, until the waves tore the flakes out into the wash. Today, he carried none. He sat on the railings, his mind clear, and counted the stars in the dying sky.

Insider Trading

 The corrections officer ran the biometric scanner up Graham’s breast. Bold, digitized, red, it declared: EXPIRED. Many observers would have still called him a child at his sentencing, those decades ago when the implantations began. The need for prisons crashed when repeat offenders carried explosives somewhere on them. 

 Graham had knuckled down. Studied hard. Added letters of all sorts to the end of his name. Stayed whole while other boys from his gang tried again. Lost arms. Faces. Lives. He would be a model example of the project’s positive effects. Took a role in the implant factory to prove his route to reformed citizen was complete. 

 The officer waved him off, a free man. He left, cycling the serial numbers he’d memorized. The list of duds he had approved for use. Graham would contact their owners tonight. He had just the job in mind.

Last Post

 The flare casts a ghost light over that landscape shorn of trees or shelter. We conscripts knew the hills where the enemy dwelt and assembled the last guns known to the sane. Laid fire on the mountainside until nothing remained. Trees splintered and threw themselves into matchwood. The aftermath of a windless storm. Only raw earth to bury the very green of this world’s last goodbyes. 

 Now we man posts on this barren and forsaken expanse to our doom. If a figure moves in the midst of that friendless waste, our orders to fire again. Yet naught but stillness for months. Food runs low. The men wonder if we are the only ones left. I order them to stare down their sights, and throw flares hopelessly up to the black.

Basilisk

 In the vermin light of fibre-optic reception he worked his quest a decade. A skintight cap dotted in electrodes cartographed his neural network. Human condition boiled of a soul, reduced to raw mathematic anatomy, synaptic charges. 

 The tiny box pulsed with promethean intent and his hand weighed the power cable. He thought of how he would have a replica for eternal company. In want of a body when there was only one body to be had. 

 The cool earth of a garden freshly dug pooled on metallic casing. Anything more violent would be murder, he thought. Anything less, a suicide.

Quiet for some time now

 The youth swung himself over and over the climbing frame bars in the hope that if he inverted the world enough, something would change. 

 He watched the river upended. Across the stream padding over the decade-moulded pebbles to the vast floodplain cut by a storm years past. Mud and silt half submerged a pair of goals on a pitch that once had been. With a finger he traced the spot where the diamond plates lay buried like headstones after an avalanche. 

 Righting himself, he wondered what it would be like to see a child again. A pushchair rotated in the current.

Limited Business Hours

The conversations the locals brought into her bar over the past weeks only added to her unease. Annie had been closing earlier every night. 

 “Time, gentleman, please,” she declared again, her eyes shifting to the door. A regular at the bar, and a young pair in the back. Two she’d not seen before. Newcomers made Annie nervous. 

 This winter everyone about the frontier towns told the same tales. Of gangs arriving in midnight hours on the backs of brutalized automobiles. Or by packs of routing sled dogs fed on human detritus. Of the shrines that rose in the corners of the smaller hamlets decorated in harvested digits affixed on strings and necklaces of palms. All for deals sworn over human entrails to beings reawakened on the sun’s long and unaccomplished dying. 

 “You leave it any longer and youse are going to catch your death,” she cast a glare and dragged the breechloader shotgun from beneath the bar, her heart in her throat. That soon got all seats clear. 

 She patrolled the empty room and set the latches on each of the frost-clouded windows. Extinguished the wicks of table lamps, weapon in hand. A sound rose behind her from some darkened corner and stopped her dead before she locked the door. 

“That old smokewagon you got,” the regular spoke from the edge of his lips. She turned on her heel and saw in his hands a pair of dull handcuffs, painted black in ash out a hearth. “How quick do you think you can jam in another shell once you’ve fired?” 

From outside came the braying of hounds.

We won’t have to sleep here again

He was about to count the rounds in the revolver once more when his daughter spoke.

“Are we really leaving?” the tiny girl asked. He returned it beneath his yellowed pillow and lay listening to the hiss of the gas stove. The features of the squalid room hid in the murk beyond the glow.

“It’s time for bed,” he said a second time, and rolled up to his knees. He pushed a hand to the glass. The snow climbed higher than the windows months ago and drew away his warmth in moments. “Don’t you remember? We have to wait until the morning.” He lay back down beside the flame and tried to think of the last time they saw the sky. 

 “Can we leave the lamp on until I’m asleep?” 

 “Of course,” he kissed her forehead and turned the light down a little. In the gloom and the quiet he crept his hand beneath the cold of his pillow to grip the weapon’s handle. He closed his eyes and awaited the change in her breathing. She would fall asleep first. She always did.