Sam And Man
There must have been something before the cocoon room. There must be something outside of this. This is some kind of prison, or test, or experiment. When I "reconstitute," I'm in a clear glass tub. The room around me sometimes looks like a cave. Sometimes, it looks like the Starship Enterprise. Sometimes it's a movie theater. The list goes on. I have a suspicion that none of the furniture is real. If I sit in a chair, or on a barstool, or a throne, I'm sure I'll fall right through. I've never tested my theory--I mean, maybe I have, but I don't remember. I am pretty sure that every time I've reconstituted, I've climbed out of my test tube and run straight for the door and into my meeting with Sam.
Sam is my worker. He reviews my performance, which is a tricky job, since neither of us know what I'm supposed to be doing. We meet in a white room with a steel table and a two-way mirror along one wall. Sam always has to remind me that words like "table" and "wall" don't really mean anything to him, and that I need to slow down when we talk.
"We have all of the time in the world," he says.
Worlds and Time don't exist for Sam, but it captures the gist of what he means, so that is what I hear. I see Sam as a white collar twenty-something with a loosened tie and slightly disheveled hair. I would tell him he looks like an office intern, but that wouldn't mean anything to him.
I never see myself, not even in the two-way mirror. Sam assures me this is perfectly normal.
"Were you hungry?" he asks.
"Bread and cheese?"
I start to shrug and tell him cheese is good, when a contingency of voices inside of me asks, "Is it tho?"
I realize I can't really say. Think about how cheese is made. It is disgusting, isn't it? Does it matter? We don't bother consulting our science, which always takes forever to answer us.
"Cheese," Sam said, and squinted, like he was waiting for an explanation. I shrugged, and he opened our file.
"How did we do?" We ask.
"Not your best work," Sam said.
"How bad was it?"
"You didn't cure cancer this time, and you did several genocides," he said.
"At least we got cheese and bread," I said.
"I know you're betting on Human, but have you considered trying another form? Fungus looks promising."
"But there's so much potential..."
Sam interrupted us. "A new branch, perhaps? Maybe Denisovan?"
"It would help if we knew what I was supposed to be doing," we said.
Sam sighed. "Let's just start by finish one cycle without a genocide."
"It's so hard," we say in unison.
Sam just shakes his head.
Later, much later, the interrogation room has turned into a bar. Sam asks me whatever happened with the Bonobo.
"I couldn't get around the sex drive. It's all we'd ever think about."
"You should go digital, Man."
Man isn't a name. Neither is Human, but since Sam doesn't do names, I answer to Man.
"We almost did," I say.
It was beautiful, too. A choreographed dance of silicon and carbon, each improving the other until I couldn't tell where my mind ended and our bodies began.
"And then you went cannibal," Sam said.
He wasn't wrong. It happened more often than not. Every time I approached some sort of equilibrium, my designs collapsed in on themselves. All of our work would be wiped out in a single nuclear war, or worldwide famine, or any of an infinite apocalyptic horrors.
"When you go digital, you start with all your plans from the previous cycles."
Sam was really pushing.
"Is that what Super told you?" I ask.
Sam is on a cycle of his own. Whenever we decide our meeting is over, I go back to being a tub full of gooey potential and Sam goes to see Super. Maybe 'Super' is short for supervisor. Maybe it's a weird way of saying Superman. Whatever language barrier exists between us and Sam prevents us from really grasping what Super is. Sam gives this 'Super' all the information he has about me, then Super asks Sam a bunch of questions, or gives him cryptic words of advice for me.
"Super says the future is digital."
Sam took a drink of beer. At least, that's what I saw. Sam was doing whatever the equivalent of drinking is to a thing like him.
"What if we're all just pieces of a bigger Jelly Man?" I asked.
We were walking along a beach. Sam was an octopus.
"Let's try to not go cannibal," he said, the way octopods do.
"I think you were onto something with Religion," Sam says.
We're back in the interrogation room. Sam his very human feet up on the table. Beach sand clings to their bottoms.
"I tried to do Jesus again and we ended up with Hitler."
A Holocaust, every damn time.
In the end, I give Sam a hug, then he picks up our file and disappears. There is only one door and it leads to a dimly lit room where my test tube waits for me. The cocoon room is now a coral reef, and I bob in the water toward my see-through home. I try to remember what the room was the last time I entered it, but I can't. It was so long ago.
We're laying in the tub, floating within its glass sides. I try to relax. There's no use clinging to the past or planning for the future. We separate, deteriorate, and prepare to reconfigure. Like Humpty Dumpty, we'll come together again, but we may not be an egg this time. How many eyes will Human have? Dew claws? Cold blood? Like always, we perceive a blinding light, because we're back at the beginning again.
"We need to talk," Sam says.
"Is that what Super told you?" I ask.
"Your last cycle was...dark."
"How bad?" It is hard for Human to keep a clear perspective of all history. That crystal has too many facets.
"Sit down," says Sam.
Part of me was nervous, the part that did know how bad it was.
"You killed a lot of people."
"They're people," I said. "All people die."
I know how bad this sounds, but how do you think an apocalypse ends? Every cycle ends in apocalypse, unless we get distracted, then it just kind of fizzles out, like with the Bonobo.
"You lit women on fire," says Sam.
"Things get really confusing sometimes," I said, and we all agreed.
Sam took a brochure out of our file.
"Consider the Cephalopod," he said.
At my next Reconstitution, I jumped out of the tub and flew into the interrogation room.
Sam stood on the other side of the table with our open file in his hands. His eyes were round and wide and horrified.
We never spoke of the Octopus Kingdom.
I climbed out of the tub and the cocoon room was a Denny's. A picture-perfect strawberry milkshake sat on the table by the exit. Through the exit was Sam and the interrogation room.
"Pestilence," I said, although he'd probably already read that in my file. "I was too many frogs."
Sam sat down at the long, steel table. "This means nothing to me."
Voices shouted from within, all blaming different parts of us.
"Maybe we were supposed to be too many frogs?" I asked, hopefully.
Sam shrugged. "Super says look into crypto currency."
"What does that even mean?" I asked.
Sam just shrugs again.
"What if I'm supposed to genocide?"
Sam and I were climbing a mountain. I don't know if the oxygen tanks were really necessary for either of us. I couldn't even tell if I was breathing.
"They're so ugly," Sam said.
"I know. It's just that they seem to happen every damn time."
"Be less human," Sam said.
It's the beginning of a conversation we've had many times before, with Sam and with ourselves. We decided to give it another shot.
"We start from scratch, every time," we said. "We have to learn how to build ourselves as we're growing. I can't always see what we're all doing. It's like a dance, or a dream."
Sam just shook his head.
"This means nothing to me."
The cocoon room is a crystal cathedral full of rainbow light. You float past the pipe organ made of solid gold and through a diamond-studded door into the stark white interrogation room.
“How do you feel?” Sam asked.
“Enlightened,” We say. “I don’t know what we did right, but we must have solved it. This is Ascension. Bliss…”
“You became psilocybin mushrooms," Sam said. "They got really popular during the Enlightenment, which resulted in a pseudo-intellectual renaissance that just kept going and going. You time traveled—”
“I time traveled?” We ask.
“You did,” Sam says.
My mind reels. “How does it work? What happened? How did the cycle end?”
“We don’t know.”
An eerie silence from the voices within. I can feel you all considering, pondering, riddling this out on an infinity of thought trains.
“Technically,” Sam said, “It never ended.”
“But I’m reconstituted,” You note.
“And at the same time, you’re not,” Sam said.
I’m almost afraid to ask, but I do.
“Then…what am I doing now?”
“Well, you’re talking to me, but you’re also…” Sam opens our file and checks the notes. “Committing a genocide.”
“I thought I was Enlightened?” We shout.
“Apparently everyone involved volunteered. It was a cooperative effort to find a cure for cancer.”
"That doesn't count," We say.
Sam checks our file.
"It does," he says.
Sam and I were poolside. Glamorous people walked around in swim trunks and bikinis. Sam looked just like Marilyn Monroe. That wouldn't mean anything to him, though. I set my martini on the concrete.
"What does Super look like?" I ask.
Sam's matte rouge mouth curls into a smile, then lets loose a squall of fax machine sounds.
That's not his answer, it's just how I hear things beyond my comprehension.