Nicholas Thomson

The Luddite Android


Rusting clouds in purple sky give up the words: This is Not a Story of Forgiveness. Three more below that: The Immolation of Olympus. The picture advertises a new game, set in the years before the term of Chancellor Bean, the man who once and for all did away with the tyranny of youth. I can tell this because there are children in the crowd. This image is replicated in every car in the subway.

People say it stinks on the train. I can’t see why that would be so. It’s so crisp in here, with chromium ladders to hold on to. Thankfully, this pressed space is punctuated by a shapely crowd. No one looks at each other. That is normal. They are all occupied. So am I. We are all quite packed in today. The smells must be quite severe. Nothing like the clean, medicinal smell of the children.

I am so close to this man that I can feel the thumping. It comes from the little sponges in his ears. What an age. We all listen together like a tribe. This song rattles my wetware! Above the music coming from my little ear buds I hear the clipped chant of train announcements. I look around and see musically inclined brothers and sisters everywhere. Everyone wears headphones. I wonder what they’re all listening to. Wouldn’t it be a thrill if, by chance, one of them were listening to the same thing as me!

And yet... I will never know if we are listening to the same music. I do not have the courage to ask. The social contract of the train prohibits it. In fact, I once tried. This was before I was given music. I suppose I wouldn’t have known what they were listening to even if they had told me, for I had never heard music before. Then, like now, I took the train alone, packed in next to budded heads. It happened on the fifth day of my first week of commuting into the center city. I chose my place on the train, and lo and behold, that place was in front of her. She made my imagination run wild. She was a plump little duck. She just kept staring into her mirror, caking herself in foundation. Addicted, she could not stop applying. She painted and painted as if she wanted to make her face go away. The pores in her chubby cheeks were choked in powder. The facemask wafted down in chalky flakes, building up on her shoulders. When she bobbed her head to the music the chalk got on everyone sitting next to her. Who could resist knowing such a person? Utterly cheerless. I did what I took to be the natural thing. I tapped her on the shoulder. My next move would have been to inquire as to what she was listening to, but before I could get to this, she shrieked. She stared up at me like I was a monster! Everyone on the train took her side. I was taken into custody. After a stern dressing down I was allowed a pair of headphones of my own. They thought that would prevent any further conflict. The feeling of belonging was thought to ameliorate my desire for contact. And right they were.

I’ve learned not to stare or to tap. They were nice enough to give me the headphones. I don’t want to be ungrateful. Staring would break the promise I made when I was made one of them. People on the train are strange, though. Without vain pretense, I can truly say that I am quite popular at work. I have friends there. We gossip. When the headphones go in, though, it is a different story. During my training I learned that privacy is an inalienable right. Far be it for me to question one of the pillars of our great society. Still, my curiosity burns. Do others not worry that they are listening to the wrong music?

Sometimes it’s hard to stay cheerful on the train. People take it as appended time, but it’s not. All time is life to be lived. That is why every day I make sure to look my very best. I take the time to comb my hair and dress sharply. You never know when life will find you.

I get off the train and make it to the office. There is a brief tinge of sadness as I remove my headphones. Plop plop! The frosted, sliding doors shut behind me and I am in the amphitheater. Ah what a joy it is to see the children. All three thousand of them appear to be here. I really do take pride in my job.

In fact, if you can believe it, my job did not used to exist. At least, not in the capacity it has now. Children used to live with their families and cause nothing but trouble for the rest of the adults when they were let out in public. In his great wisdom, Chancellor Bean of our great republic decided that children were an utter nuisance and should kept hidden from public life until they turn eighteen. Politicians called for an end of the tyranny of youth. The main problem was the speed with which children took to new technology. Their skill with toys, which were inevitably used as tools, far outstripped their parents’.

I think of my brothers and sisters on the train, who slouch nobly, indomitable against resignation, knowing that they must make it to work. They can’t spend their time playing, though they might very well like to. The average workday is so intense that people have only the most passive, even flatulent relationship with entertainment systems. Children, on the other hand, brimming with nourishment and pride, can throw themselves with total concentration into the cracking and domination of the newest toy. They were the ones who turned them into tools. In the end, it was decided that children were just too good at picking up technology, and it was becoming a problem. We can’t have a society run by kids, can we? Spinning, greedy minds would move the world. The decision was made to keep the kids and the gizmos apart. Children were placed in nurseries, simple and hermetically sealed from the outside world. I oversee one of the nurseries in the central hive, and I am proud of it.

I am excellent at my job. I was trained to unflinchingly absorb that unfortunate vestige of human development—incorrigible vanity. I have been instructed on how to return self-centered vitriol with positive reinforcement in increments specialized to each child. Naturally, I must be able to do this quite dexterously, as I am the ward of so many of the little darlings.

I frequently have to pull their soft little bodies off of each other. I tell them I’m the big bang dispersing galaxies. I like to use analogies with the kids. It spurs their imaginations.

Today I pull off this fat ginger boy with dalmatian spots and hold him in the air by the X of his overalls. His dumbness dangles. His shyness is punished by the other children. I do not know where his shyness comes from. When he looks into my eyes it is gone. I see only disdain. He looks through me. I have nothing to offer. Pity the little boy does not yet understand that he will grow old and fall apart. Never mind.

This little boy, Abner looks through to the back of my head. He spins softly like a mobile.

“Get your hands off me! I’ll have you shut down for abuse!” He spits when he talks.

The parents would rather not think about the kids. Sometimes I like to study human disease; decomposition, skin disease in particular. Biology is revolting. Smells like hazelnuts, I imagine.

I plop him down. There is a nice bookend to the neutral creme-gray space where I can sit and watch the kids run rampant for the rest of my shift. I sit down and plop my headphones back in. I put on a playlist recommended to me by the player. Any old iron. Once I put the headphones in, the children start to stare. It starts in whispers. Secrets get into the nurseries. It’s inevitable. Some of them have surely heard about the headphones. The children have stopped playing. Oh sugar.

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