First Life

Ku Ling’s Rule: First life began in the Dome.

Nervous? Her asked.

I nodded. Ever since they moved our colony from Tonle Sap to the Philippines, my mind hasn’t been the same.

Her repeats, slowly, The assignment is to make a determination on the suitability of Subject A for rehabilitation, utilizing Ku Ling’s Rule as the theoretical framework. Nothing more nor less.

I repeat, Nothing more nor less.

That’s right, Her nods.

The first corollary: What is average is perfect.

Today I’m thick or something because thoughts are dark as dark.

I can hear Big arguing. He sits on Her’s other side. He’s telling Drinker, The formlessness. That’s what I mean. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.

Drinker says, But. But.

Big says, To conduct regression analyses. Big says, Hypothetically speaking. For the sake of comparison.

Her’s learned not to pay Big any mind. She winks at me.

Drinker says, Negative outcomes. (Question: How did Big ever make it to Academy? Slow as slow.)

Sunlight and glass, Prisms and mirrors. My mind is floating out there, beyond the windows. Out there, where swish swish goes something, maybe the wind.

Drinker says, That’s the problem, right there. Hello? Dragon? Hey, Dragon?

Her says, Signs indicate . . .

Big says, No! No intervention!

Her shrinks back in the seat. Hesitates. But still manages, You think—?

Muddiness, I say. It’s all muddiness. Extinction. I rise slowly from my seat. Go, go, go.

Her puts a hand on my arm. The look on Her’s face. I’ve seen it before.

Those S pills will kill you, Big says, and snorts.

Hedonism, Drinker says.

Her’s had enough. She yells, Leave Dragon alone!

Fire Lizard paces at the front of the room. Test is 20 minutes, tops. I’m concerned. I’m sweating.

I can only see part of Her’s back. Next to her, Big’s broad shoulders.

Big reminds me of a creature from long ago. Those flapping things. Those what you call harbingers.

Fire Lizard points his laser eyes in my direction. What’s the matter, Dragon? he says. No translation available. This is a test.

Big snickers.

Opaque, I mutter. Very opaque.

They should put something over the windows. Refraction is a bother. My eyes are weaker the past year. Light’s fading. Sun’s dying. Planet’s dying. We’re all dying. Everything dying. No one’s come up with a plan.

Twilight. Snow starts. I still don’t have a solution. I tell the snow, Go ahead, seal us in. Soon as class ends, we’ll all scurry back to our holes. Who cares?

Yesu, for some soup. Hot and sour.

Focus! Autonomous morality, not conformity. The X for Morality and suppression of the antagonistic impulse.

Was the sampling sufficient?

Was sufficient allowance made for—?

The evidence. Where is the evidence?

Voluminous this morning, but now vanished.

The paper is an ambush. It steals my words the minute I set them down.

Her whispers, The evidence, Dragon. The evidence.

Her adds, Don’t look for it under your chair, fuck.

Silence! Fire Lizard screams. His green eyes glow. Actually glow. Probably from the Strontium 90.

I shrug, Her continues with her whispering. Voluminous, Her says. The prototypical leader can only emerge from within a homogeneous group. Results suggest—


Tether your thoughts, man, Big says.

When Fire Lizard claps his hands, I’m so startled I almost jump out of my chair. That’s it. Our screens begin rising from our desks. A dozen slowly begin wafting towards the front, where the firelines are.

Over, over, over. Test over. There goes my screen. Into the black Machine right next to Fire Lizard. Him glowing red and orange in the meanwhile. Grades released in 15.

Drinker turns and says, with one raised eyebrow, I didn’t get that about predictive qualities? Were we supposed to factor in cultural explanations?

No, I stammer. I mean, Yes.

Big, scoffing: The subject’s heightened sensitivity to experimental pain—that wasn’t even covered.

It was, Her said. You just weren’t paying attention.

Quick as quick Big has her braid in his fist.

Gentlemen! Fire Lizard yells. Desist, please, gentlemen! But his yellow eyes are way over there, and Big’s already banged Her’s head into her desk.

Drinker rejoins, raising his hand, Concurrently, as well as prospectively.

Stop! Fire Lizard bellows. Now, he means it. Silver rays come shooting out of his ears.

The intentionality of violence, I say. Her’s just trying to explain.

That’s right. Oppositional exchange, that’s what I’m talking about, Drinker says, making slashing motions with his hands.

That is consistent, Fire Lizard says, nodding his head thoughtfully. Now put Her down gently. There. I hope you haven’t broken Her’s neck.

Big holds up both hands, palms towards Fire Lizard. No, sir. No!

Spare me the psychological constructs, Fire Lizard says.

Her still hasn’t moved.

I moan. I moan and moan and moan.

What is it, Dragon, Fire Lizard says. Speak up!

Need to call a neurologist, I manage.

Get a hold of yourself, Dragon, Fire Lizard snaps.

Check brain function, I insist. Still time.

Drinker places a rough hand on the top of Her’s head. Is there a pulse there? Because I can’t, I can’t—

Fire Lizard is at the end of his patience. You, he says, pointing straight at me. Out. I won’t have that kind of behavior here. Not in my class.

I stumble out to the corridor, I hear Fire Lizard say, This examination of the fifth dimension—

What is it all for, sir, Big says.

The epitome of the average, Fire Lizard says.

I’m exhausted by these verbal tussles. Every day, the same.

Where is Her? Speak, Her!

Her gradient of optical opioid receptors declared non-functional. All interpretable data wiped from her cells. Extracted, that’s how they call it.

Where was the Todkill Scale when Her needed it? Her believed in crucifixes and such. Stuff from old times. Her always talking about holy orders. Her nowhere now. Or maybe just hiding out. In some forest. Some thicket. Like her father before.

All a function of computational semantics. And balance. That, too.

What an excellent day this would have been. The test and then freedom. Outcome outstanding. The Academy salutes. Oh well done.

Saving the world was what Her thought we were doing. Well, maybe not the world, just us. Just our holes. Homes.

Horrors of the past repeated. Space shrinking, every year. We studied radioactivity in bones last year. And the glossary of extinct planetary phenomena.

Now Fire Lizard runs through The Checklist. What areas to be applied, what particular areas?

Her found me. Or I found Her. Huddled in hives but we still knew the use of our hands and tongues. No one taught us. That fits here, and that fits there. You see? Like parts of a puzzle. Male and female. We need each other to complete. The feeling banishes all thought. You’ll never make it out.

My father said he’d been a farmer once. He knew fruit trees, could describe them even though mother said he was making that up.

I knew to study. Look at what happens when they apply The Rule of Nobody. Space is limited, no room for Nobody. Study hard, boy, that’s it. Forget Her.

Am I surprised Big would do that? To Her? No, I’m not surprised.

The Directive said: Your family will be fed and clothed. The Rule of Nobody will not apply.

I lean against a wall. I can still hear Fire Lizard: Here, we identify the ‘Normal.’ We identify the cutting edge of Average. Our past transgressions.

The inappropriateness of the action!. I mean, the grabbing of the braid! For non-compliance!

Must be something we can do!

Yes, doubtless I need a bath.

The footsteps, back and forth in the classroom. The shoving of desks, the silence in the center where Her lies face down on her desk. The dragging sound as they lift Her.


Her’s shoes were purple. She loved the color.

Who started The Rule of Nobody? What was the first case? And the first cause? When? Which century? How many centuries ago?

Hives of activity. Mistrust leaks out, like rust.

Secrets. Don’t ever let them find out, Her says.

Human nature, after all. To mess it all up. How we abhor the uniform.

Safety in numbers. They’ll never find out. Something like that. The herd. The human organism has proven itself completely willful. The human organism is a complete narcissist. Narcissism results in confusion. My present condition.

And the consequences? The consequences of this confusion?

Well, extinction.

That niggling pain, right at the base of the skull.

Grab. Press.

Sparse terrain needs re-population. There used to be thousands here. How much longer?

I am ten, then I am twenty, then I am thirty. Then I have to stop counting. A hundred years from now . . . but what is it all for? Who remembers Her? Or us?  

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