He drops wisdom from underneath a cannabis cloud, this one here, he says, it’s gonna be a lady’s ear, pointing toward his thigh, I get $500 for that, his voice tinny and grating, the fat of his flesh not fully capable of holding up his pants, nor locking in the stench from having gone 3, maybe 5 days between baths, happily showing off all the money his flesh is earning, he places his sausage fingers over two ample breasts, I’m gonna get $8,500 for these, feel them, go on, more lifelike than silicone, real, basically, to the woman who has them stitched on, he reaches for an open bag of chips, then a soda, he then washes down several capsules, I make $40 a day from pharma, these electronic capsules track everything that goes on in my insides, clinics don’t pay a lot for that but it’s steady work, he then puts a fat finger to the side of his head, continues speaking, but maybe none of this is real, he laughs, or maybe it is real but not exactly like this, I make $100 for each altered memory and they pay me $500 for each memory they remove, but I get final say, they can’t take something or change something unless I approve it ahead of time, he tapped a notification on a small screen in his left hand, there, he says, I just approved removal of two childhood memories, nothing special, just normal schoolday stuff, and I’ll make $1,000 for that, he tilts his body to the right, sighs involuntarily, I’m trying to get accepted for brain-to-screen monitoring, that pays enough to buy me a drivered car, but I don’t know, you have to put in a lot of work, real work, to get qualified, apparently in some of the clinical trials testers who saw their dreams and thoughts and memories fully visualized on screen went mad, ruining it for the rest of us, only as he continues his sales pitch, I recall Corinthians, “do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the spirit of God dwells in you,” and I wonder is what he is doing unholy or is it many-holy, I am not entirely sure, but as he reaches for another soda I recall yet another passage in Corinthians which states very clearly that “your bodies are members of Christ,” and then warned, “shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute,” which I find satisfying because that’s what this seems to be, prostitution, a repudiation of the blessings of life, of the body and the magic these possess — possess not for resale, but for glory — only, damn, he’s now telling us that he makes $1,500 for each recruit, which I could do after only 8 months, and the truth is, blogging pays for shit, so I’m tempted, I eye the computer pharma capsules, those alone would pay more than I make writing, almost as much as I make driving old people around, and I realize he is speaking again, still from the comfort of his chair, he probably can’t lift himself up, but it’s a chair that I can’t afford, maybe not ever, he’s talking about a new client, one that pays him $250 each time he lets them edit a single DNA strand, which explains the orangish tint of his skin, which doesn’t look so bad, honestly, at least not compared to his extreme obesity, which I suspect is more due to his lifestyle than his work, and I start to add all this up in my head, hundreds, thousands, and that’s when he cuts off the lady’s ear growing on his right thigh — it’s ready, he tells us — and he then unscrews his left arm, which is a bionic prosthetic, more useful than the original, and I think to myself, fucking magical.
What were they supposed to do?
He was their child. They loved him.
He had suffered a tragic, unfathomably unlucky accident at age 14 which left him a quadriplegic. All the best doctors, the very best robotics all failed to reverse his plight, nor did stem cells help, nor the latest pharmaceuticals, nor hormone injections, nor those experimental nanobots. Nothing. For all his life, however long that was to be, he would be a quadriplegic.
He had tried to kill himself. Many times. They knew.
Not everyone could live like that. Certainly not them. The anti-depressants that blunted his rage, his hate, his pleading, they were still not enough to prevent him from trying to take his own life — or, on those wretched nights, from begging his dear parents to kill him.
Then two inventions came into their world.
A playful, snuggly, hyper-aware Furby robot.
And the newest virtual reality glasses.
And he was happy.
The rage was gone.
The begging for death subsided.
Only, he now spent nearly all his waking hours immersed in pornography. A level of filth neither parent could stomach. Nor most adults.
That poor Furby bot smelt of the boy’s saliva. And worse. He wouldn’t let them wash it, though his mother tried.
The way the little furry bot responded to him, as programmed, quickly intuiting the child’s habits, needs, preferences, turned the boy’s mother’s stomach. She discussed this with the boy’s father. More than once. He promised, once again, to have a talk with the child. But what was to be the conclusion? The punishment?
He no longer wanted to die!
He was happy!
But, my God, the perversion.
It was all they could do to keep his younger siblings from stumbling inside that virtual hell hole, or stroking that cute little Furby, awakening it.
While the nurse was giving the boy his bi-daily bath, the dad snuck on those VR glasses. A whiff of pleasure quickly turned to revulsion.
Was there some way to reprogram this? Maybe they could hire some expert to, well, at least maybe minimize the depths of depravity. How could a 17-year-old have such thoughts? Why must the programs respond that way?
They bought him several drones, including 2 attack drones, which he could control from his goggles. They bought him, at great expense, a new telepresence explorer, new dolls, robot pets, a fish that responded to his thoughts. None of it worked. The boy spent every waking hour, goggles over his eyes, little furby held between his teeth, engaged with every manner of visual and VR-manipulable autoerotica.
All of it utterly filthy.
Was any of his porn illegal, they wondered? Could their son be sent to jail? It was all so vile.
They offered him a series of rewards whigh encouraged alternative responses. No change.
They paid for professionals to help end his addiction. No change.
They sought out priests, pastors, other religious figures, hoping to guide the boy. No change.
They took it away. He refused to eat or drink or breathe.
So there he sits. Goggles over his eyes, smile on his face, not moving, rarely speaking, occasionally grunting. Happy. Alive.
Noemi Proud sat on the pretty pink stool in her own bathroom. Her brothers had to share one. She stroked her hair, counting out each. 11, 12…She smiled. She loved her long brown hair, its smell, the way everyone said such nice things about it. 44, 45, 46. She could hear her brothers down the hall, playing, fighting. A faint smell of spaghetti sauce. 83, 84. She forced herself to stop, fearing her counting obsession would take over her whole brain the way it did some mornings, when she couldn’t turn it off unless she got into a fight with her mom or a friend at school.
The brush fell out of her hand.
Her left arm fell from her body.
She stared at it, laying on the tiled floor, not moving. She screamed, unsure of what else to do. She could hear her father rushing up the stairs.
She reached for her smartphone with her free arm, snapped a picture, then posted it.
Stevie closed the bathroom door, told brain to turn on the fan-vent, and pulled out his phone. He tapped on the pictures of his girlfriend’s older sister. He reached for the toilet paper. He unzipped his pants. His right arm fell off at the elbow. He looked down, saw his mess on the floor. He told brain to have mopper clean it up. He texted his friends.
Motherfucking arm. Just fell off. Look.
He didn’t really want to be there. His parents pushed him into wrestling, mostly his mom, in fact. And this guy, fucking gorilla. No way he could take him. How could he possibly be in the same weight class? His legs unhinged themselves from his hips, just like that, and dropped to the floor.
With nothing to hold him up, his now-stump of a body plopped onto the mat. He looked about, embarrassed.
Several in the audience screamed. His parents raced down from the stands. Coach and a few of his teammates carried him back to the bench. Still in shock, he wasn’t sure exactly what they were saying. His mind raced. He smiled. His parents would never again punish him for spending all him time on screens. How could they? After this. He squirmed to the edge of the bench, grabbed his smartphone from his gym bag, pushed a button and chatted with his girlfriend. Her family had moved to Texas last year.
I miss you.
The handsome young doctor was determined to stop this, to make sure no other child was inflicted. With the help of brain, he knew that 93% of the sufferers were between the ages of 13–17. They were disproportionately white or Latino, most attending large public schools, but there was little else in common. Some had good grades, some did not. Some participated in organized activities, but not all. Some where thin, some fat. He asked brain to re-analyze the DNA of the parents, hoping to uncover any patterns, which he then instructed brain to overlay onto the map on the giant screen before him. His left arm twitched. My God, he thought. Now me? He grabbed hold of it with his right hand, clutching, praying it didn’t fall off. The twitch stopped. He shrugged. Foolish. This only impacts children.
Frustrated, the handsome doctor sought out his mentor, a hyper-fit woman with strong facial features, tragically killed in her early 60s while investigating an outbreak of Bangka-polio in Indonesia. He spoke to brain and a adequate facsimile of the doctor appeared before him, and with it all her works, her words, her posted thoughts, her questions and whereabouts, who she was with at all the times, how she ever felt.
You look good.
The doctor instructed brain to to provide his mentor with all his accessible knowledge. We will end this, he thought. I don’t see it now, but I will.
We will end this together, his mentor smiled back at him.
Jason was only 12, younger than the others. He had his computer screen open. The television was blaring. He was texting with two friends. Both his feet fell off his body He screamed for his mother. His right arm unhinged, then dropped. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was first to have different limbs fall off. He screamed again. He told the television to mute. He used his voice to text his friends.
I’m gonna get bionics! For everything!
No, get a horse leg! Those are so cool.
Lily stared into the mirror and smiled. She assessed her self while drying off. Black hair. A pretty face, adorable, full lips, big round green eyes, cute, perfect nose. And her body. She giggled, touching herself, all over. Her mother was attractive, obviously. Her father was handsome, everyone said so. But somehow, the combination of their dna had arrranged itself perfectly, and without fetal construction surgery, at least that’s what her parents told everyone, resulting in undeniable physical perfection. Perfection at 16. Her mother had already spoken to her about choosing the right man. Her body was simply too perfect, her face too pretty to not demand the absolute best. Her body dry, the vents quieted. She placed her brush back on the shelf. Her arm fell off.
What the fuck!
Then she remembered reading about a girl who lost her hand in a boating accident. They replaced it with a bionic hand. She wondered if her parents would let her have a bionic hand. Then she wondered what colors they came in. No, she thought. One of those baboon arms, the kind they print at university. Everyone would talk about that. Everyone. She took a picture of her still-perfect naked body, but not showing her head, and posted it online. She giggled again.
Noemi’s mom held her head high. She dared anyone, any child, any teacher, any parent, to make fun of her daughter’s new arm. This was not a tragedy. Absolutely not. This was a blessing. The new arm, verifiably better than the original, was colored, bejeweled, and proudly stamped with its brand name and place of origin. Noemi was just happy she could still text with her hands, her parents were always listening in on every word she said. Even better, the nootropics the doctors gave her to fight depression, which she lied about, kept her awake for all but 4 hours a day. More screen time. No one could deny her that, not in her condition.
Her mother did not tell anyone, not even the doctor, at how Noemi treated the carebot. She treated the poor thing even worse when affirmation was set to 10. She feared that maybe her daughter was a psychopath. Isn’t that a sign, she wondered? Torture a carebot when you’re young, kill when you get older? She vowed to stay silent. What else could be done?
Michael was the closest he had ever been to beating computer. He knew it was impossible. Still, only two moves behind, this was his best-ever showing. Was it theoretically possible to end a match in a draw? It must be, he thought. He was determined to find out. He adjusted his backside on the chair. His right leg dropped off.
He told brain to put his favorite song on infinite loop, swallowed the no-sleep pills his parents got him for admissions week. All the time in the world now, he thought. I will beat this thing.
Yes, doctor, but the brain scans reveal no change in the limbic system. The older female doctor’s avatar continued to push the handsome younger doctor. A few of the children have experienced a more heightened readout in their frontal lobe, that’s all. They are actually getting more done. We need to consider that this is not necessarily harmful.
No, I can’t believe that, the young doctor replied. We can’t just do nothing. Their limbs are falling off! Besides, we still don’t know how this spreads, of if it’s self-induced.
Is it coming through the screens?
We checked that before I sent for you.
The young doctor took hold of one of the legs, perfectly preserved.
If only I could feel them, too.
I was thinking the same thing.
Have any of the children actually complained?
No more than usual.
Your name is Prosody.
My name is Prosody, she replied.
The man struck her. You sound much too timid!
She tried again.
My name is —
You sound like you’re unsure!
There were tears. She was only 7, barely two feet tall. She smiled, but you could sense she was deeply hurt.
I don’t like you.
Why don’t you like me, she replied — then was punched this time, eliciting another howl, then pleading. Please, stop! Get off. Please!
A voice from behind the glass spoke. Sounds fake.
If you play with me then I will like you.
She rushed to the small table, eager. I like to play!
That’s not where you’re supposed to sit!
There was an audible whimper. She slowly got off the chair. She stood, trying hard not to cry, failing.
You know where you’re supposed to sit!
The tears began streaming down her pudgy cheeks. She did not know where she was supposed to sit.
Can I sit here?
Another voice from behind another glass. Now she sounds too human.
You’re too fat to sit there.
I wish I wasn’t fat.
You are fat! Fat and stupid! We are not friends!
Please be my friend! She rushed in close for a hug.
The man looked toward the glass. I think she’s ready.
The perfect companion. Even for the problem children.
For $50 you can’t expect perfection.
Still, cheaper than a dog.