“Now watch closely. Do you see the little triangular ones surrounding the virus? Those are antibodies. They identify bad guys and hold them down until the policeman can arrive! In this case, the white blood cell which you can see approaching on the right.”
Mrs. Kugla gestured to the immense pale mass closing in on the restrained microorganism. Slow but inevitable death for the virus. Almost tempting to feel sorry for the little guy. The film was irritatingly grainy, obviously worn out after decades of reuse. The rapid clicking and humming of the projector also conspired to drown out whatever the narrator was saying. She just talked over it anyway.
“Now, I don’t know if you heard, but Shana here just made a very clever observation. The antibodies perform a role in your bodies quite like the Erratics do in our colony. Isn’t that right? And they must be exceedingly good at it, as otherwise even a single virus would mean certain death.”
I glanced over at the only Erratic in our class. He grinned smugly, making no effort to hide that he knew of his greater importance relative to the rest of us. Even to me. I remember when Mom got the mail from colony administration saying I’d been identified as a probable Erratic and should come in for testing.
I don’t remember any time she’s ever been that proud of me. I wish she hadn’t sent out notice to all the relatives and otherwise made such a big deal out of it, because following the tests we then received a mail notifying us that I’d scored two points short. Not quite an Erratic. Deprived of that life by the width of a hair.
“You must understand, the Erratic phenomenon is only expressed beyond a certain threshold of pattern recognition capability” the counselor had told my weeping mother. “Everything sort of clicks at that point. A narrow island of cognitive focus, sweet spot if you like. Anything short of that is a disability.”
She argued with him, though I tried many times to tell her it was needless. “Because the Erratic maps out every possible interpretation of every little detail he or she encounters, they might easily overwhelmed even by everyday life. But because they are then able, by some not yet understood process, to immediately eliminate all but the most probable interpretation….well, you can surely imagine the benefits.”
“If the government didn’t snap them all up early on and put them to work filtering out…unwanted visitors, they’d likely dominate finance or any other field where accelerated pattern recognition confers a significant advantage.” The unspoken corollary was that if you come close to that condition but fall just short, it bought you nothing. I could identify ’em alright, but not always, and with an unacceptable frequency of false positives.
My vision filled with geometric shapes. Faintly forming, dissolving then reforming dynamically on various surfaces, illustrating proportional relationships between them. I noticed significant sequences of high and low pitch in Mrs. Kugla’s voice as she narrated the film for us. I could see the estimated trajectory of the white blood cell as a vector, though it was not part of the film. A constant barrage of this sort of imagery makes learning anything difficult.
I’ve spent no small number of years and sessions in Illogic therapy learning to filter out such information if it’s not relevant. That’s the missing piece, intuitively knowing which parts of it are relevant to what’s happening. I looked at the Erratic again with undisguised envy. Close only counts in horseshoes.
“So you see, the organization of our society is quite like how your own body is laid out,” Mrs. Kugla continued. “With each part of government or other societal institution analogous to the various organs in your body, perfor-….” She stopped cold. We all waited for the rest of the sentence. She stammered slightly, eyes now wide, trying to finish the thought.
“Per…Performing theeeEEAAY-YAAAEEE-HHHAAAAGGAH” a long, thin crack appeared from her forehead down the contours of her face to her chin. It began weeping a thick black fluid. Then suddenly, the two halves split apart in a violent fountain of oily black fluid, showering those in the front row. We all began screaming.
Inside the hollow outer shell was simply a writhing mass of viscous black gel. The halves of her head fell away and the thrashing cluster of thin black tendrils radiating from where it’d been a moment ago began spinning about, latching onto whatever was nearest. Red emergency lights I’d only seen come on before during fire drills now illuminated, and a piercing siren sounded over the school intercom system.
Throngs of terrified students stampeded from one side of the room to the other trying to get away as the flailing mess of bubbling goo continued to hatch out of what’d been Mrs. Kugla’s body a minute ago. It stood up and walked towards us, lower half still her legs and dress but a carnival of impossible tangled flesh from the waist up.
Just then, from doorways on either side of the classroom emerged men in shiny foil fire-repellant garments with glossy black faceplates. Both held weapons of some kind which they leveled at what remained of Mrs. Kugla and immolated it. I could feel the heat from the fire on my face and arms despite the distance.
It shrieked, at first sounding human but the cry broke down as the creature burned into ear splitting intermittent chirping, then gurgles. Then at last it fell to its knees and the upper half of it collapsed onto the desks in front of it. I still screamed, though in large part because everyone else was. The next into the room were the school nurse, principal and an EMT.
We all had to go through screening after that. I dreaded undressing for a stranger. Never embarrassed me any less despite having done so four times I can remember during trips to other colonies. While I waited in line, two colony security officers talked about whatever adults consider important. Gossip by the sounds of it. But my ears perked up when I heard them mention Mrs. Kugla.
“How in the fuck did the Erratic not recognize her immediately? Like, the moment she entered the room. Really calls the value of the whole program into question if that can happen.” It pleased me somewhat to hear that.
The other ruffled his beard, staring thoughtfully out the window. “Breach in the tunnel. That’s what I figure. Everything else is locked up tight as a drum, but there’s miles of tunnel that doesn’t get inspected more often than once a month.”
The walls, floor and ceiling of the corridor were the same shade of grey. Reminded me of my classroom, although the ceiling and floor are a touch lighter there. Once I asked why people aren’t grey when everything else is, one of those questions you blurt out when you’re too young to have a sense of how things work, so all the adults laugh and gush about how cute it is. Even at that age I knew when I was being patronized.
“You can get all kinds of ideas from colors”, I recall Dad explaining. “That’s no good. You should know better than most what a burden unnecessary ideas are.” Whatever that meant. I don’t tell people I meet that I’m an Illogic. Because the first thing anybody says when they find out is that they don’t see you any differently. Then they proceed to behave completely differently around you from that point onward.
The sun was beginning to set. I shaded my eyes with my hand as I peered out the window from my place in line. The immense circular cluster of electric lights was dangerous to look at directly. Above and below I could see the long pair of rails mounted to the dome by which it travels overhead every day.
“Why does it move? Why not make it light all the time?” Another one of those naive questions, apparently. He’d told me that our bodies are designed for 24 hour days, and need darkness for sleep. I asked who designed them that way and he laughed. “The same fella who designed the colonies, I suppose. And the sun, and the tracks it moves on, and all the rest. That’s why we give thanks before we eat.”
There’s a limit to his patience for questions, though. “What’s outside the dome?” He’d become very grim and quiet for a while, perhaps contemplating how best to answer. All I got was “That’s one of those unnecessary ideas we talked about. Don’t ever let your mother catch you asking that. Now clear your place and go start on your homework.”
At last, my turn. I passed through a thick pair of metal doors, which clanged as they were shut behind me. A voice greeted me over intercom by name and ID number. A little off putting, but I suppose colony security knows everything.
Stay Tuned for Part 2!