By: Macy de Champlain
We aren’t supposed to be here.
We walk into the darkness, leaving the last remnants of light behind us. My Michael strips down, everything but the socks and shoes. I do too, because I do whatever my Michael does.
If they find us, here we will be, naked.
My Michael has a feature wherein he can subtly glow. “It’s this way,” he says, pointing. I am not sure if he really knows. Our Michaels are grown to be self-assured, confident. All our models suggested this would be helpful in the event of a crisis.
What are we in now, if not that?
My banal human eyesight isn’t helped much by my Michael’s illumination, which is teal. It does however help keep me from falling. The ground in this cave is jagged. I’m able to see just enough to know where to step, where my Michael steps.
This Michael is much better than the last Michael I was assigned. The last Michael was crude, inelegant. Arrogant. It even burped sometimes after eating. Sometimes it would cook dinner, but always burgers, or some other kind of red meat.
My Michael knows a hundred ways to cook a fish.
He can catch them, too. The full package.
Suddenly my Michael stops the way a cat does when startled. His humming head turns as he puts two fingers to his mouth. I can’t hear whatever it is he is hearing. I really enjoy this look on him, the lightly illuminated ghost look. It’s nearly angelic, haunted. For a moment, I think of my grandfather, if he were a ghost, if we didn’t now know definitively that there are no such thing as ghosts. My Michael stands there for a minute and I get worried he’s stuck, which happens from time to time. I remember the reboot trigger.
“EBSOLON DASH THREE SIX SEVEN…”
“Shhh,” he says. “I’m not stuck.”
“Oh, okay,” I whisper back. “What’s up?”
He stands there, radiant.
“It’s okay. It’s safe now.”
We continue deeper into the mountain cavity.
I knew this Michael was different. You could tell in the eyes. He was so smart, just buckets of EQ. It’s my job to pick up on the subtleties of Michaels. The clients almost always give their Michael a new name, which we’ve bred our Michaels to accept graciously and with ease. Sometimes mutations occur, however, and we get a Michael who will lie, cheat, tell you nice things and then gossip to other technicians about you behind your back. This not only shows duplicity, but also low intelligence—there are cameras covering every inch of the facility. Even a narcissistic Michael should know that. How will they function once they are out on the market? There are cameras everywhere there, too.
My Michael couldn’t be more different. When his body was reared to maturation, to his resting age, it took so little to adapt him to wakefulness. Sometimes acclimation to is a difficult process. Oftentimes a Michael will spend the first week making baby noises and sobbing, throw tantrums and break furniture. When language is acquired a Michael might make a case for ending its life, which we cannot do without an inordinate amount of paperwork. My Michael spent his first week smiling and touching his feet. It was like he always knew where he was going and was calmly pleased to finally arrive.
“How do you feel, Michael?” I asked.
“I feel lovely, Dana.”
Lovely. We all got a kick out of that. I don’t think I had heard any other Michael say “lovely,” before.
These Michaels are like us in many ways. They bleed real blood. They have cells and DNA and functioning organs. You can even hurt their feelings, unless you’ve picked a more hardened Michael. There are lots of uses for these “tough-guy” Michaels, who we call, in my department, “the Mikes.” There is the ambitious business type, or the body-guard variety. Some people are only sexually attracted to these Mikes, which seems archaic to me but luckily is not my department anymore. The Mikes are aggressive in more ways than one. It becomes an added stressor. I was happy to have been transferred to the Renaissance Michaels. To the place where I met my Michael.
Suddenly, my Michael turns off his bio-luminescence and grabs me by the wrist, firm but careful. I cannot see anything in this darkness but feel his strong, well moisturized hand gently tug me to him.
He whispers deep into my ear. “Do you hear?”
“Yes, I hear.”
A sort of gentle thudding, and the sensation of being tugged. I had my doubts about what he said would be down here, what he saw in his dreams. But, I had never seen a Michael cry without a prompt before. I felt there had to be something to it.
I pushed my face into his face and felt it moist on my cheek.
“You believe me?”
Yes, my beloved Michael, I do.
I was shocked when my Michael was so forward with me. “I know you desire me,” he said. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. Which was a lie. But it was still one I was telling myself.
“No, Michael, you are mistaken,” I said.
“You do. I saw it in my dream.”
I could have had Michael relocated, ordered him to psycho-reprogramming, something. But when he said it, it wasn’t in the leering way a Mike would say it. He said it the way a child would have—with naïve frankness. I did not enter this incident into the data stream, which was the beginning of many breaches of protocol. This is the biggest and the last. I am certain we are heading into oblivion. But we have to know. We have to find out if there is something bigger. I need to know if there is something bigger.
Ever since the Big Nothing, no one has truly felt the warmth our species was once, in part, known for.
My grandfather used to go on and on about films where love was the central theme. This, of course, before we put him to early retirement, like so many were doing at the time. When we broke the news to him he sat there stone-faced, and refused to speak. We told him that while we may not be known for our warmth since the Big Nothing, neither were we known for our brutality, as we had been when he was our age.
“It isn’t right,” he said, staring at the tiled floor.
My Michael pulls me tighter, my skin on his perfect skin. There may be no other chance. I know this without being told. We don’t know what’s ahead. The rock feels smoother, flatter here in this spot. We maybe could even lay down.
“Michael,” I start, but become embarrassed. “Never mind, it’s silly.”
“No, please. Go on.”
“Will you turn it up, higher?”
“It’s riskier that way.”
“I want to see you. I want you to see me.”
My Michael is a glowing God. A sinewy masterpiece of feeling, of touch, more human than any real human alive. We lay down on this smooth patch and I worship him, he worships me. For these moments I feel like we are one illuminating body writhing in rebellion. I wish I had seen all those movies. I wish I had been my grandfather’s peer and not living in this gray time. I wish I could take my Michael home with me, to have him near me forever, but even with my discount it would take me years to be able to afford a Michael of my own. Besides, I don’t want any Michael. I only want my Michael.
When I was a child the discovery was the only thing that seemed to matter. My mother became ill. She stayed at home in the bedroom for many days at a time, her face growing pale and her eyes always wide and shifting. My father had been a great designer of games. He had invented games that grew the intelligence of the player. After the discovery it became his mission to invent only games that evoked laughter or feelings of joy. One was a digital garden, where you planted and planned for a spring harvest. Round creatures would climb the vines of the plants and cut off the ripe fruit, squeak as they hauled it away. When all the fruit was in baskets they would dance and hug. My father always tested these games on me. I would play for hours giggling and feeling bright. But, they never seemed to find a market and my father climbed down the ranks of the company.
My mother would sob at almost any random trigger, though always when she would wander into the parlor room where I worked on puzzles. Other children did not have toys of this vintage, they were handed down to me by my Grandfather, who believed in their simple beauty, and saved his favorite ones when his own children grew tired of them. It was odd, the way she seemed to come to watch me and cry, slumped on the loveseat, wiping her face. I would try to comfort her, climb on her, kiss her raw face.
One day my father jumped from the high rise where he worked. My grandfather took me away when he found me half-starved and my mother catatonic. I don’t remember ever asking about her. I liked living with my grandfather. He had a voice that would rise and fall unlike any other person I would ever meet.
I rest my head on my Michaels chest and listen to his heart beat which is even and lulling. Even in this dank cave he is warm and I am clinging to him, trying to capture some of his heat.
“We should keep going,” he says.
“Just a minute more, please.”
He runs his fingers through my hair and with his thumb messages my temple.
“I love you,” he says.
I nod and nestle deeper into the fur of his chest. My Michael, forever, no matter what may come.
One afternoon in the kitchen lab Michael was pan-frying a fish. I was taking notes on his verisimilitude and prowess.
“Tell me about your grandfather, Dana.”
“We’re not here to talk about my private life,” I said. “You’re going to burn the fish, Michael.”
“No, a little char is ideal.” Michael flipped the fish by jerking the pan and looked back at me. “Please, I’m so curious.” He smiled this sideways smile at me. He knew I wanted to break the rules. I don’t know how he knew, but he did.
And so I told him about the antique toys that my Grandfather kept. And the way he chuckled even though he was full of sadness and grief, refusing any of the medications that were so ubiquitous. How he made pancakes from scratch instead of using the food printer like everyone else. How he would rustle my hair when I did well on an exam, saying “That’s my Dana!” I told him how putting him into early retirement made me feel so subdued, even though I was sure it was the logical thing to do.
“He sounds like a wonderful man, Dana,” he said. “I wish I could have met him and shook his hand.”
“I wish you could too, Michael.”
I did not pause to wonder why I was doing this with an assignment. There was a script, a made up story to tell if your Michael wanted to know anything personal about your life. At this stage I could have just improvised something satisfactory, I had done it so many times. The Mikes would sometimes ask if I had any sisters and if they were good looking. But this Michael seemed so genuine, so eager to know. In fact, he seemed the most curious about me, less interested in the myriad of things he did not know since becoming wakeful. I even smuggled a printed photograph I kept of my Grandfather when he was a young man. When liquidating his belongings, my cousins scoffed at how idiosyncratic he was, how devoted to nostalgia. “I bet you want this don’t you, Dana?” one of them said, mockingly. I shrugged and took the picture. They all seemed amused.
“He sure was a handsome man,” Michael said, looking at the photo.
“Yes, he was very pleasant.”
“I think you take after him, dear Dana.”
Michael always says the right thing.
My Michael had shared with me visions of a portal deep within the ground. He said there was a passageway to an alternate time that existed alongside our time. That this is was the true reason this plot of land, deep out here in the jungle, was chosen. He said he could feel this place, that he could go there when he dreamed, and that is why he was different than other Michaels. He was tethered to it, he said. He saw the opening and knew if I could get him out of the compound and into the jungle, he could take us there. “I swear to you, Dana, it’s real.” Michael shook and flashed his bioluminescence as he spoke. It was so out of character for him not to be calm and completely composed.
“We could be happy,” he said.
My grandfather’s face appeared to me weeping in a dream that night. It was the first dream I remembered since childhood. Michael explained that the medication everybody took in order to not desire a life-exit, provided by our employers, was a dream-killer. He said if I stopped taking it I would see the other reality.
So I did. It took some time but I began having overwhelming impulses. One time, with all my body, I wanted to strip naked and run through the cafeteria during lunch. Another time, in the kitchen lab, while Michael worked on his flambé, I grabbed a knife out of the drawer and made a light cut in my wrist, sucking on the blood it drew. Michael obscured me from the camera’s view and for the first time showed me he was capable of anger. Compassionate anger, but anger nonetheless.
And then the dream. My grandfather’s face was all encompassing, tears flowing freely down his craggy yet handsome face. He opened his eyes and looked directly into my eyes. Tears flowed but his face lifted and stretched into a smile I can only describe as resplendent. I woke in cold sweat, laughing, crying for the first time since childhood.
I can see the flesh of the heart pumping, contracting through the tunnel. It is all that can be seen on the other side of a long tunnel. A massive mound of red meat beating in blasts of three. My Michael holds my hand, looks deep into my eyes and kisses me for what may be the last time. Who knows where this truly leads. There can be no going back. Put aside the trouble I would be in, I can’t imagine ever stepping foot back into that lifeless place, now that I have experienced the love my Michael can give, the kind of love that is possible. I’ll die finding passage to a place, any place, where this love may be folded into life’s daily fabric. We hang our arms around each other’s hips. I lean my head into his shoulder. We walk together as one down into the tunnel. The thudding becomes the only thing. That and his warm glowing body.
We walk until the very end, my Michael and I.
Macy de Champlain lives in Seattle, Washington, where he studies creative writing. Themes of longing, depression, and transcendence permeate his work. He has worked in about every strange job one can imagine, but one day hopes to teach and gossip by a water cooler.