Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some Other Time

I had a vivid and detailed dream last night, the kind that remains plausible even after you wake. With some effort, I recalled a good deal of the dialog word-for-word, and even the names. It went like this:

I stroll through Baltimore City on a balmy afternoon, holding 'Zilla's hand. His gait is strange, but swifter than you would expect a four-year-old to walk. He talks about dinosaurs and robots, and what he wants to eat. I feel more than hear a burst of static as my collective tries to talk to me--but I should have signal downtown.

I look around and realize that we have strayed into the edges of a massive protest. Someone has set up an impromptu stage a few blocks away. 'Zilla squeals with delight and takes off, slapping the control modules at his waist. Suddenly he is no longer toddling, but running faster than a grown man.

"'Zilla! Get back here!" I give chase, but he is small and weaves effortlessly through the mass of humanity gathering on the street. Traffic grinds to a half, blocked off by tractor-trailers and charter buses whose stone-faced drivers hold pro-union signs beneath their cigarettes. I lose sight of the boy, and climb up onto the loading dock of a nearby building to find him. I spot his purple jacket near the stage.

A bus pulls up alongside the dock much too fast as I jump down from it, and I narrowly avoid being squashed, activating my reflex enhancer as I probably should have done when 'Zilla first got loose. I dart through the crowd, dodging bodies and barricades, ignoring hateful glances. The boy is trying to climb onto the stage, but I snatch him up and put him on my shoulders.

Sirens approach as the protesters finally get their antique amplification system working. A petite redhead takes the microphone and exhorts her fellows to remain calm, that they are sending a message, not starting a war. The crowd seems ambivalent. I run as fast as I can, but the police are closing in.

I head for a sleek(?!) SUV near the edge of the police perimeter. One foot goes on the front bumper, the next on the hood, a hop over the windshield and onto the roof without losing stride. I leap from the back of the SUV and over the perimeter, pulling 'Zilla off of my shoulders in mid-air and holding him to my chest like an awkwardly shaped football. The hang-time seems eternal, and when the ground hits me it hits harder than I expect. Warnings chime in my head, but the pain is fleeting. I roll clear of the startled police, stagger to my feet, and keep running.

There is a greenspace half a block from us, and law enforcement seems more concerned with containing the crowd than chasing us. I put 'Zilla down once we reach the gates of the park, abstractly aware that my left leg is damaged. We sit down on a park bench beside a middle-aged woman with ribbons and feathers braided into graying hair. She offers us some food in a soft, unfocused voice. 'Zilla happily accepts an apple from her and climbs onto my lap.

"Such a cute little boy!" the woman coos. "I hope you didn't have any trouble downtown, with the action today."

"We just missed the police," I reply, rubbing my leg absently.

"I'm terribly sorry, dear." She pats my hand. It feels a bit intrusive. "At least you made it to a peace zone. You know why we have these actions, right?"

I almost sigh. "You oppose automization and cyberization."

"It's dehumanizing," she says, shaking her head. "It taints everything. Imagine if you took your son to the hospital and they tried to put machines in him!"

Before I can protest that I am not his father or think to shush him, 'Zilla pulls up his shirt, exposing the baselayer that keeps his implants from chafing. Two ports on the suit expose the control modules. "I already got machines!" he cries. "I can't walk without them. Now I'm like Godzilla!" By way of demonstration, he hops off my lap and lumbers around on the bike trail, exaggerating his gait and saying "boom" with every step.

The woman turns from him to me with an expression of dawning horror. I thank her for the food and, taking 'Zilla's hand, leave as quickly as I dare make my leg move. He waves at her over his shoulder with the half-eaten apple.

Once we exit the jamming zone, I contact the collective, recalling the ones who had gone looking for us when I went off the grid. We arrive back at the shop shortly before sunset. Only two members of the collective are there, one cooking upstairs and the other tidying up the storefront. 'Zilla pulls free from my hand and sprints the last block. I let him.

Amelia steps outside, holding the boy to her with one arm and operating an archaic tablet with her free hand. She is half a head taller than me and dressed in a dark red unitard. "I need to look at that leg," she says. We send 'Zilla upstairs to help with dinner and, locking up the store, go into the back room.

It serves as both a workshop and an operatory, though not legally in the latter case. She makes me sit down and strips the street clothes from me. "These are pointless, you know," she says, tossing my t-shirt aside, "the unitard regulates temperature far better."

"Not everybody feels as comfortable you do in skin-tight metafabrics," I grumble. My jeans go flying, too.

I can feel her accessing my logs from my time off the grid--like the 'static' and the damage notification, it is not mapped onto any existing sense, but has an emulated neural pathway all its own.

She rolls her eyes and pushes me back into the reclined exam chair, finding and unzipping the invisible front seam of my unitard as she went. She runs deft fingers over my exposed skin; my scars look all the paler against the rich brown of her hands.

"I thought you were running a diagnostic on my leg," I say, propping myself up.

She laughs, a single 'hah'. "I already ran that diagnostic. It was just the same old wound again. You really ought to have the whole thing replaced."

"I'm fine," I insist. She picks up my left leg and rotates the injured ankle. Pain shoots through it momentarily, before the regulator blocks it off again. She is tapped into my feed, but does not flinch with me.

"Pain is either signal or noise, baby," she says, "nothing special about it unless you make it special. You can have all the pain you need, and a leg that doesn't give out every time you do something stupid."

"Maybe some other time," I concede. She massages my leg as we wait for the rest of the collective to return home. We say nothing more to each other, either vocally or electronically, comfortable in the quietude of our intimacy.

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