Literature, Valley Voices

Double-Life Crimes


Welcome to a dystopian world, where android teachers chart the daily performance of students they are preparing for lives of absolutist drudgery.

~~~

Tim Fairbairn

 Vice-Principal Mr. Todd makes his way down the central hallway of the Cookson Maritime Institute. He pauses at each of the ten classroom doors to look through the narrow window at the ten children linked into their workstations. He smiles at the children, who raise their heads from their screens, temporarily distracted by his presence. His smiling face blocks the neon light in the hallway and casts a shadow into each room.

 He lingers a moment longer at door #10 to make sure he catches the eye of Josh10, the twelve-year old boy, third desk, second row, seated behind Henry 10 and in front of Helen 10. Unlike his classmates, Josh 10 nods to Mr. Todd. 

For the studious children, Mr. Todd’s appearance serves as a brief break from their training regimen and will show up as a drop on the line graph that charts their daily learning achievement. Tomorrow morning, Mr. Todd will reset the graphs so his disruption does not impact negatively the assessment of their daily progress as recorded on the Competency-Level-Attainment Rubric. He hopes the reset will not raise the concerns of the Board of Directors. After all, he did follow proper protocol in notifying them of the death of Willy and was granted permission to smile to the children as a healthy measure to mitigate his grief. The approval period is brief.  He must exercise self-discipline and, regardless of his sorrow, not lose focus on his supervisory duties. The smile request was approved under the Accommodations for Personal Loss clause of the collective agreement. There was no indication of when or if Willy may be replaced.

At the front of Room 10, Android Educator10 lifts its head from the consul that tracks each child. The android’s main function is to assure each child’s level of attention is sufficient to fulfill the prescribed Learning Outcomes. It does not understand the necessity of Mr. Todd’s smile, let alone Josh 10’s nod. It enters the code into the consul that will stimulate the chip embedded in each child. With the corrected brain wave frequency, the children return their focus to their workstations. Still, the children will for a few minutes fondly remember Mr. Todd’s disruption as a pleasant pause, the only show of affection in their otherwise regimented school day. The allotted times for lunch and bathroom breaks are the approved Mental Relaxation Sessions. Physical Exercise Session occurs late afternoon, at segregated workout stations in the Gymnasium. The exercise will stimulate a healthy appetite for dinner in the Institute Cafeteria, where they are required to consume their entire meal, including the glass of milk containing the sedative that will ensure twelve hours of sleep and full concentration throughout the following school day. During the night, their embedded brain chips are set to low frequency wavelength to ensure extended deep and dreamless sleep. Unlike the Android Educators, the human children struggle to maintain focus, are easily distracted and succumb to mental fatigue.

At the end of the hallway, Mr. Todd lifts his face to the retina scan. The Exit sign flashes off and the words, HAVE A GOOD EVENING MR TODD flash on with the click of the lock opening. He steps into his hazmat uniform, pulls the hood with its shade to filter sunlight over his face and makes the two-minute walk to his residence door timed to open with his departure from the institute. He hangs his Hazmat Uniform in the Decontamination Closet, looks around the room and cries. 

The loss of Willy overwhelms his appreciation of the advantages of his domicile allocation. His high-level security clearance as a Mid-Level Administrator grants him privacy. His rooms are not accessed by camera or microphone. The privacy is a reward for the trust he has gained for good service to the institute.  He expects to be promoted to Principal, entitling him to a larger residence and Advanced Level Android Companion. Only Board members are granted the benefit of an Android Child.

His residence also benefits from music access. “Play Shout,” he says. He strips down to socks and underwear and begins to dance to its heavy beat, his chubby belly bouncing as he lifts his knees high, giving himself over to the song he first heard as a boy. He remembers his mother lifting him to her waist and singing along to the song she heard as a child: “Shout, Shout, let it all out/These are the things I can do without.” The memory holds him to the end of the song. For its few minutes, he is free of the present. As the guitar solo fades to the close, he opens his eyes, makes his way to the refrigerator, pulls open the freezer box and leans down to peer into it. He touches the body of the small dog, and the tears flow down his cheeks onto the carcass.

 ”Willy-Boy, my Willy-Boy, I must find another doggie or die of loneliness.”

He climbs the stairs to the upper floor and stands in front of his bedroom window that provides a panoramic view of Seal Cove, the former Grand Manan fishing village now packed with facilities to serve Cookson Aquaculture. The demand for its products increases exponentially with habitat deprivation and the loss of arable land. As the Great Warming persists, even remote northern regions are near starvation levels. Cookson’s genetically modified fish products now serve the needs of nearly half the world’s surviving population. 

As far as he can see out into the Bay of Fundy, stretch the black tubes of the aquaculture pens. This is where his students will work. Mr. Todd is employed under the terms established in the original Cookson/Maritime Treaty for the offspring of the original families. While they ceded their properties and fishing vessels to Cookson Aquaculture, they may claim employment and education rights. His great-grandfather, Alexander Todd, was one of the last Grand Manan residents to fish these waters. As a descendant, Mr. Todd was granted priority hiring, 

These 100 children under his authority will be the last to take advantage of these provisions. Upon graduation, they will assume low-level management positions and not be subjected to the harsh, nonunionized work conditions of the foreign workers who feed the fish, clean the pens or man the assembly lines. They will not have to endure the brutal conditions of shared living quarters. Like Mr. Todd, they may be gifted for good service with android pets. For Mr. Todd, the Offspring Android benefit in his employment contract has lapsed. Moreover, Mr. Todd does not qualify for Mate Compatibility due to his Genetically Compromised status. All he had was Willy. With the termination of Willy, Mr. Todd has given up on any hope of companionship.

“It was more than company,” he thinks. “I loved Willy and Willy loved me.”

He pulls on a bathrobe and returns to the Decontamination Closet now the Cleansing Cycle is completed.  He walks inside, closes the door and crawls into the far corner. Huddling there evokes the memory of his last day with his mother, the day the Security Androids showed up to transport him to the Institute Dormitory.  They had been dancing to Shout when they heard the knocking on the front door. He hid in his mother’s closet, temporarily finding some comfort in the texture and aroma of her clothing. “Bastards,” he mutters to himself. He removes a key from the pocket of the robe and picks up a small aluminum box buried beneath the plastic boots. He sits down in the bottom of the closet and removes the tiny phone. He enters the eight-digit code and holds the device against his lips to activate it.

“Mother of Josh 10, this is Mr. Todd,” he quickly whispers. “Request android dog. Please arrange delivery. Out.”

………………………………………………….

Exiting the Cafeteria, Josh10 is summoned by the Android Hall Monitor.  “Parental visit,” it informs him. “Please attend Visitor Room for brief session then return immediately to sleep station.”

“ Joshua, my baby,” his mother greets him. “I’m so glad the institute has approved this visit. You must be doing well and focusing on your studies. I’ve missed you so much.”

As she hugs him, she can feel his cheek wet against hers. It seems forever since the last permitted visit. He tells her about his high progress scores that may qualify him for mid and who knows even perhaps high admin level, with his own office and residence.

“And have you had your Personal Progress Interview with Mr. Todd?” she asks.

“No, but today he gave us the nicest smile. It lifted my spirits.”

The blue light over the door flashes to signify the visit period is over.

“I have to leave now,” she says. “Please, one more hug for the road.” As she holds him, she slips a tiny box into his jacket pocket and says, “I think your performance interview will be soon.”

…………………………………………………

Following morning, Just as class is about to start, Android Educator 10 in Room#10 messages Josh10 to go to Vice-Principal Mr. Todd’s office to review Josh10’s Academic Achievement Charts and identify areas that would benefit from higher learning efficiency. Mr. Todd congratulates him for his efforts. Mr. Todd smiles and reaches to shake Josh 10’s hand, a permitted but not encouraged provision of positive reinforcement. Josh 10 hands the box to Mr. Todd.

Mr. Todd whispers, “You are a special boy, Joshua. I know you will do well and be rewarded for your hard work at the institute.”

As Josh10 returns to class, Mr. Todd accesses his file. Under the Future Placement Recommendation, he deletes Mid and replaces it with High Executive. 

Later in the afternoon, Mr. Todd is informed that the period of his Smile Privilege has lapsed. He feels the need to be alone to express his grief. He proceeds directly to the Exit.  Arriving home, he removes his Hazmat outfit, lies on his side on the living room floor and releases the tiny dog from the box. Like the last one, it is only two inches high. He looks forward to providing the care and nutrients to ensure its growth and good health. The dog nuzzles its nose into his palm then licks his fingers.  It seems very bright and he hopes to teach it tricks.

“Good little puppy,” he says. “My Willy-Boy 2. At least here I am able to smile at you. So cute!”

Suddenly, the dog makes a clicking noise in its throat, flutters its eyelids and tips over on its side.  Its eyelids flick open.

“What’s wrong?” Mr. Todd shrieks as he picks up the tiny creature.

The front door slides open, and two large Security Androids enter. They lift him under his arms and carry him across the street and along the route he takes each day to get to and from the Institute. He feels the radiation in the air raising blisters on his skin. They carry him to his office. Seated at his desk-consul is Android Educator10.

“I am to inform you, Todd, that you have been removed from your position due to Double Life crimes. I have been promoted to Vice-Principal. You are the last human to hold the position. I have de-activated your illegally acquired android puppy. You failed the Stress Test initiated by Willy’s termination. You failed to suppress your affective domain causing you to make irrational choices. 

“Your new position will be Aquaculture Pen 66921 Custodian. Tomorrow, you will be assigned your Scuba Uniform and begin the Apprentice Training.  Immediately following this meeting, you will be re-domiciled in Foreign Workers House 88435. Josh 10 will be housed in Foreign Workers House 99343. His crime signifies a high potential for violent criminality. His new residence has been classified Toxic with a 90% likelihood of sexual abuse. His mother has lost her Mid-Level Technician status in the Android Production Centre. This is a necessary but unfortunate outcome for someone so competent in her field. As one of her creations, I speak from a position of authority and gratitude. Unfortunately, thanks to you, her skills now make her a threat to Cookson Industry. She will be terminated and re-processed as Salmon Stock Organic Nutrients. You understand, Todd?”

“Yes,” he mutters.

“Good. The Cookson Maritime Institute thanks you for your service. I remind you, Todd 66921, that your demotion is for the committing of two crimes: Academic Fraud in the undeserved promotion of a student and Double Life in the unwarranted pursuit of Android Companion. The Institute believes in the need for discipline in the pursuit of a role beneficial to the state. You must recognize, Todd, the chaos that attends the deception in leading a Double Life.”

As they lift Todd out of the chair, Android Educator stands up and says, “Just a moment, please. For the amusement of the Board, it would be permitted for the Todd to smile.”

About Tim Fairbairn

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