Innocence may be a commodity, but it’s easily emulatable. I get it in thin aluminum cans from the drugstore downtown, the kind that energy drinks come in. They’re kept behind the counter; innocence isn’t a controlled substance, but like condoms and suppositories, it’s kept out of reach to deter the easily embarrassed. Our society needs a moral compass, after all.
Me, I take pride in asking for a can. I keep my eyes languid and my tone casual, and I watch with a slightly widening smirk as the clerk’s smile fades to uncomfortability. I make no effort to hide it from the people in line. They’re all silent, watching me with individually tailored levels of outrage or disgust.
The clerk rings me up with thin lips, thanking me tonelessly for the purchase and handing me my plastic bag. As I leave, he wonders what kind of person would need to purchase innocence. He imagines what I’m trying to hide. He worries that this town isn’t safe with me in it. He wonders if I’m using it on a date with his daughter tonight.
“I’m leaving.” Viktor said as he pulled the duffel back over his shoulder and made for the door. He’d had enough of the quarantine, and he had a hankering for Luna stew that needed some satiation.
“You can’t do that, Vik! They’ve got every spaceport in the continent under lockdown. Something big is going on, and I need you here!” Cynthia reached out to tug Viktor’s arm, which only earned her a blue-eyed glare from her partner.
He grumbled and turned around. “You think I don’t know about the population issue? They want to keep people here because it’ll mean more consumers on Earth.”
“It’s not that” she sighed and glanced up to him, pleading with her eyes, “People are dying and no one is being born. They’re blaming it on people leaving but they won’t tell us why. Haven’t you noticed the lack of children, Vik? Haven’t you seen that they are closing the borders and keeping us in because they physicallyâ€¦ spiritually need us?”
Viktor stared at her for a good long while before he dropped the bag and clasped his hands over both her shoulders, “Cynthiaâ€¦ what you’re talking about is madness. You need some sleep. It’ll be good for the baby.” His hand dropped down to gently rub against her stomach.
Her head lowered she turned her gaze to the side because she could not look at him, “I’m not pregnant, Vik.”
“Whatâ€¦ what did you just say? Did you lie to me!? How the fuck could you-” Rage began to rise in his eyes.
“Viktor, wait! I didn’t lie. I was pregnant and thenâ€¦ it was gone.” She looked up to him, her eyes slick with tears.
The man’s expression soon turned to sorrow as he let go of her shoulders. Walking over to the couch, he slumped into it and stared out over the blue skies and the cityscape they had always dreamed of seeing from their home window.
“When did you miscarry?” he asked.
“Iâ€¦I didn’t. When I went in for the second trimester ultrasound, there was nothing there. The doctor said it was like I had never been pregnant at all.”
Shutting his eyes, he dreamed of never dying of always being there for Cynthia. He hoped that she would forgive him and yet he ignored her very presence. Finally he spoke up just as he re-opened his eyes, “I’mâ€¦ sorry. Maybe you’re right about the environment here. Mars and the orbital stations are showing increased birth rates. It has to be a government thingâ€¦ we’ll fix it honey. We’ll fix it.”
Viktor turned his eyes away, letting the impossibility weigh down the air like a lie. Both knew the futility of the theories but, no one knew the truth.
Somewhere on Mars, a woman sat in a pristine doctor’s office, staring at her positive results and wondering how it was possible.
It’s my first time at the Persomod. Tann, who’s been my best friend since my family moved to Set, took me as a surprise gift for my birthday. We planned it carefully; Mom and Dad are traditionalists, static to the core. Let their only daughter get a personality graft? No, thank you.
I sliced through the snooper circuits on the security system and snuck my way out into the communal garden across the street. Tann was waiting for me, smiling as she perched on her aquamarine bike, the color clashing horribly with the deep red of Setian skin. “Ready for the new you?” she asked with that mischievous smile I had quickly come to associate with my friend.
Personality additives developed about a century ago, but it wasn’t until the last twenty years or so that the technology really became safe. Back then, unbuffered transplants got slapped directly into the mind, an instant fuse. Sometimes it worked. But other times, people just shut down. Or they went crazy. You know, messy stuff.
Inside the pristinely white store, I wander around aimlessly, trying not to feel lost as I study the clear plastic display units that each heralded the qualities of the personalities within. I can’t quite control my excitementâ€”a small smile keeps sneaking onto my face as I browse, almost like being in a toy store as a child.
Today, templates are used for personality grafts. People choose their dummy personality, an artificial construct specifically designed for the grafting process. The dummies are safe to useâ€”they have no memories so no one goes crazy. It’s a lot better.
“This one.” Tann stated definitively, her finger lingering on a display. She smiled at me. “It’s perfect for you.”
“Are you sure?”
The girl’s smile didn’t waver. “This one’s good. Trust me.”
I do trust Tann. She’s an expert on grafts and had her first when she was twelve. Since then, she’s had a lot more, maybe six or seven, I’m not quite sure. I asked her once what she was like before but Tann just smiled and shook her head. It didn’t matter, she said.
Everyone says you’re a lot happier with the grafts. You can be what you want. Who you want. And it’s still you, only better. Tann thinks I’m too shy, that I don’t make enough friends. She says this will help. I agree; I wouldn’t mind being better.
Tann handles the credits while the technician leads me into the grafting chamber. I sit in the soft white chair, my hands pressed flatly against my thighs. I’m not scared. Just nervous. The technician nods to me and leaves the room. I wait.
There’s a vibration in my head. It’s faint and annoying, like a small hover engine. It grows louder and louder. Is this what’s supposed to happen? My hands clench tightly. I’m having trouble thinking.
A bright light flashes.
When I wake up, Tann is standing in front of me. “Well?” she asks softly, her face leaning directly into my field of view. “How do you feel?”
I smile back without hesitation. I know that something in my smile echoes something in Tann’s. I’m different now. I know it. “Better.”
“Who can blame them for what they do?” Sergeant Dobbs sipped his coffee as he leaned back in the patrol car, musing to Lieutenant Carson. Through the windshield, the morning throngs of people left their homes and crowded the streets on their way to work and life as they knew it.
“I can blame them, Roger. It’s the same thing as blaming a drunk driver for killing someone on the road. It just ain’t right, and it’s not excusable.”
It was then that their mark came into view. He must have been wandering the streets for at least a few nights with a sawed-off shotgun and a roll of cash. The kid had the usual glazed look in his eyes, and the twitch of a gamer in his stride. The epidemic was easy to follow. That wasn’t the issue; the issue was how randomly it occurred.
“There he is,” Dobbs said. He sat up and poured his coffee out the window as he moved to open the door.
Carson knew that making a scene would be a mistake. “Shit, Roger. Wait a sec.”
Too late. The kid saw the cops and raised his gun, blasting a slug right into the hood of the cruiser before taking off. The blast left Dobbs diving for cover and Carson revving up the engine as he grabbed for the radio.
“We got another one headed east on Union, requesting back-up. This ones been in the game a while.” He threw the car into gear and the cruiser jerked into traffic just in time to see the kid yank a driver from the door of a hybrid Honda. It definitely wasn’t his first car-jacking either.
Sergeant Dobbs pulled his Beretta from the holster and cursed, but the Lieutenant grabbed his hand before the gun could be leveled.
“Roger, we can’t kill the kid. He’s gotta do his time in rehab just like the others.” Despite his anger, Dobbs complied and let the gun return to its holder. Besides, up ahead, the lights and sirens indicated the barricade had already been set up. The trap was sprung.
Moments later their car came to a screeching halt as they nearly T-boned the kids’ jacked ride as it met with the barricade. Six cops weren’t going to point their weapons and wait. The ring began to tighten.
“Out of the car, now! Get the fuck out of the car!” The boy seemed more perplexed than he was nervous. He looked around and tried to rev the engine, hoping to break away from the two cars that had wedged him in. Eventually, the cops pulled him out and gave him a taste of asphalt before cuffing him.
Sergeant Dobbs glared at the kid as the boy struggled, kicking and screaming as they dragged him off. Carson came up behind Dobbs and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “It’s all nice until they fire at you, eh?”
“Yeah, it is.” Dobbs was still watching the boy as his pale frame was shoved into the police car and his shrill voice was screaming about the tragedy.
“I have a saved game! I want to go back to the save point! Fuck! You can’t stop me from resetting!” The slammed door muffled the final words, but Dobbs thought he caught something about an upgrade.
Lieutenant Carson just sighed. “Back in my day, the console and the LCD were all you needed. Poor bastards.”
It’s a dangerous job. They told me that in college, they told me that in my doctoral studies, they told me that when they recruited me, and they tell me that every morning of a jump. It’s a dangerous job, Jodie. But I know the risks. Everyone in this field knows the risk.
My first case was standard: a sociopath who slaughtered half a dozen children in his basement two centuries earlier. We don’t save the victims, of courseâ€¦that would mutilate the timeline. We don’t even see the subjects. In the projection chamber, I lie on the table as wires are taped to my head, stimulating REM. It takes a special type of person, I hear: a lucid dreamer. Without that ability, it’s easy to lose yourself.
I enter him as he’s almost there, hovering on the brink and fantasizing about the pale-eyed brunette in the basement. I feel the body shudder with the feeling of falling that accompanies the transition to sleep. His mind unfolds into images: the man who sold him bread in the morning, people he passed on the subway. They never dream about the victims. They have their waking hours for that.
Years in the future, the movements of his unconscious are being recorded. In hours, they’ll be processed and scrutinized, and the database will be updated.
His mother, long dead, walking down a corridor and holding a glass of water. She opens a door and he’s inside. “Did you finish shopping?” he asks, and she gives him the glass. He drops it, spills it. The water is the ocean and the shattered glass is light breaking on the jagged edges of waves as he looks overboard. Dreaming. I watch.
When they pull me from his mind the transition is gentle. The scientist enters the dream patterns with keystrokes. “Nice job,” he says, because he’s flirted with me for months. I smile and leave. I’ll be back the next day.
As I sleep in my own bed, fragments of the dreams are recycled. The lucid dreaming distances themâ€¦this is simple review, observation rather than motivation. The scanners realize this, and ignore me. Across the city, people are dreaming, matching and evading profiles. Dangerous cases are summoned and saved by doctors who do my work in reverse. I research, they cure.
It’s a dangerous job, but someone has to do it. We haven’t had a serial killer for centuries.