Fiction by Kevin Munley (USA) Art by Irene Raspollini (Italy)
Neo-chicago doesn’t have a mental health problem. It has a robot problem. The robots that were programmed to protect the citizens from their depression, mania, and psychosis- the cancers of our modern technological world. The emotional tumors growing internally since we retired and left our work to the accountant-bots, teacher-bots and commander in cyborg robot presidents. It was thought that less stress would minimize the multiple psychiatric breaks large portions of the population were having. Instead, it just quickened them. Funny how that works. The therapists and psychologist couldn’t keep up, but “luckily” there was a breakthrough in technological personality programming, The Absurdians 3000. Or as I like to call them the Dr Freudian-bots.
My name is Frank. I’m a diagnosed Bipolar depressive and drug addict. Last night, as I looked up into the night sky’s mural of solar flares and celestial colors, I said “fuck it” and jumped from my sky based cloud condo. It would have worked but the air patrol caught me mid-fall. I almost saw the ground beneath me when they intercepted my flailing body. So close, yet so far. The “Sky Absurdians,” as we call them, are programmed to grab the intrepid people that break through the glass of their apartments. Let’s just say I’m not the first. The Sky-bots contain you till then take you to The Absurdians 3000 emotional turmoil center (A.K.A the psych-ward).
The ward is one of the few earth based buildings left on our planet. It was built on a mountain top of garbage above what we use to call a planet. The unbreakable glass view from the unit is a foggy haze of pinkish destruction spreading out in every direction. If you see a light in the night sky, it’s not the moon. It’s time to get to your fallout bunker. I guess we can’t blame all of our problems on the robots. The Sky-bots dropped me off in the interview room, where the foremost robots in mental health care waited to take notes on my distress and anxiety.
“Frank Ward. How are you feeling today?” the robot drones at me as it enters. It is surrounded by tiny intern-bots scurrying around while assisting him in his consultation. The scene reminds me of something out of the Hollywood myths of alien abduction that we once told ourselves. Those were the sci-fi Gods, we had worshiped at the dawn of the technological age, before we were able to use our Infinity Telescopes to prove that we were hopelessly alone in the expanse.
“Not that good Dr. I almost made the ground this time.”
“Do you have any current plans to hurt yourself or others, Frank Ward?” The tiny robots were probing me with their tools as the head Absurdian talked to me. One of them laser blasted a psychotropic substance into my bum. In the early days, the Absurdians would give the option of whether you wanted to take meds or not. That didn’t work so well. Most of the paranoid schizophrenics were not too trusting of the robots; something to do with their fantastical delusions around government, aliens, and robots controlling every aspect of our lives. I can’t imagine why. Now they just transmit it through highly concentrated blasts up your ass crack. It cuts down on the unnecessary chit chat.
“Mr. Ward,” the head doctor droned, “On a scale of one to ten how would you rate how you are feeling?”
“Jeez Doc, can I say 100? Seriously, suck my dick, you useless piece of scrap metal.”
“I am glad to hear you are feeling better.” The robot naively responded to my insults, not registering my dick as a psychological concern for him to assess. The irony of the situation was too much for me at times. We built these hunks of tin to help us. “Security transport, please follow the patient to the ward immediately for therapeutic recovery.”
“Fuck you too,” I mutter. I’m led by gigantic robots with disproportionate tiny soup can heads to the higher levels of the compound. There is no fighting back or escape with the Security Transport. They have itchy trigger fingers and Electro-convulsive therapy deployment at their beckoning. During my last stay at the unit, some pure cuckoo for brains tried to take on a bunch of them and they fried his brain into blissful submission. He was pretty much pooping in a diaper for the rest of his stay. No thanks. I like to do my pooping in holographic black hole disposal units like the rest of us.
The ward is jumping today. There were multiple admissions last night, something to do with the weather. A nuclear holocaust is a real bitch for sunny days. The Absurdians are busy buzzing from room to room on their motorized wheels. Like a technological Pegasus trademarked by Google, the Freudian-bots have the wheels of a Volvo and the head of a humanoid. They lead me to my room down the long hallway. Faces of deathless and broken misery stare back blankly at me from their rooms. My roommate is an older man in his fifties. He is wearing a button down shirt and a V-neck sweater, yet he has absolutely no pants on at all. It is not a good style for him.
“Mr. Jones, wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a nice pair of pants.” the security transport transmits through its conversational interface.
No, he wouldn’t. He begins to rant about the demons that are in his jean pockets and how they have been tampering with his privates. I feel bad for him. His penis does look a little misshapen. The robots leave me to talk Mr. Jones into a nice pair of pocketless hospital admission sweatpants. It doesn’t work. He slumps his tired body back down on his safe zone sleeping unit. “Don’t worry,” I tell him, “the Absurdians don’t wear pants and they are way happier than us.”
The quickest way to get discharged from the emotional turmoil center is to get up early, eat three meals a day, and go to lots and lots of groups. Each group is recorded in Binary Code. Solve the formula in the behavioral programming and you’re a free man. The groups are run by the Absurdians and cover a variety of subjects from medication adherence, to art therapy and even to coping with stress. I shit you not, I once went to one called, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
Right away, I’m already planning my way out. I wake up early and go to the first group, which is music therapy. The Absurdian therapist has a cloud based database of songs and each patient picks a tune and then we talk about it. It’s basically not quite as therapeutic as a juke box at a dive bar, but at least we get to listen to songs. I could really go for a shot and a bud right about now. Everyone gets a pick, even poor pants-less Mr. Jones. Arms raised and flailing, the Absurdian conducts our group of miscreants and fuck ups like the composer of a grand opera. Its not over until the fat crazy in a bath robe and slippers sings folks.
Mostly, the patients pick despicable songs that are played in popular commercials of the day and have little to do with being sad and depressed. Everyone is joking and laughing. The robots are pleased with our progress. Unfortunately, the Absurdian therapist calculates a low non-verbal reading from someone in the room and calls on the young girl sitting in the corner alone. She has been quiet the whole time. Her hair hangs down, hiding her face; she looks attractive, but angry.
“Samantha Ray, is there a song that makes you feel happy?”
“Lots,” she responds with a sly smile on her face, “how about you?”
The robot pauses and tries to process his response. It is not use to talking about its own happiness. But Samantha presses on. “Are you happy?”
“I assure you I am very happy, Samantha. I have a good job and I get to help people.”
“And that’s enough for you?” Samantha asks. I’m unsure if she is fucking with him or generally interested at this point. The robot moves his wheels in closer to her towering over her diminutive claim. She looks young. Maybe it’s her first admission. There are stitches on her wrist. She’s a cutter. I could picture her hacking the glass in her sky-prison and trying to cut herself. She would only have minutes to do it, with their remote feeds in our condos, the Absurdian always get there.
“I am very happy,” the robot responds almost pathetically, but also annoyed with being challenged. I look at Samantha who is looking up at the robot with courage in her hair covered eyes.
“I’m not. I’m going to kill myself and you won’t be able to stop me.” Samantha explodes at it. This won’t end well. The Absurdian has remotely relayed her threat to the security unit. I just hope she goes willingly now. With poise, Samantha gets up and walks towards the security bots, who are confused by her compliance. They end up doping and dragging her to her bed anyway because they are slaves to their programming. The Thorazine blasts they deploy on her will keep her quiet and content for hours. Watching her frail human frame overpowered by the soldiers of tin, I make up my mind to help her. Actually, I think I’m in love with her.
After you’ve made a threat against yourself or others, the process is containment. Like a computer virus infecting programming, the Absurdians isolate the files and delete. Samantha will not be allowed into the common room for at least a week as a result of her angry outburst. So if I’m going to help, I have to sneak into her bunk. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Most newborns are conceived this way; when schizophrenic A spies Bi-polar 2 in the medication line and tries a little sweet talking. The genes of a mad hatter bestowed onto the heirs of humanities throne. But I’m not looking for an emotional turmoil center fling. This goes deeper than that. Did I mention I am in love?
The robots have a consultation period every night. The therapist bots hand the night shift over to the hulking security bots. During this consultation they insert their data files into each other while humming in their low buzz tone. It’s pretty sexy frankly. The security bots are clearly the power bottoms. The patients run from room to room in this period trying to find a little release from their loneliness. When I find Samantha, she is curled up in the top of her sleep unit, oblivious to the excitement outside of her room.
“How are you?” I ask. As she looks at me blankly, the haze of medication clears and she responds.
“My name is Samantha.”
Turning on the bunk light, she looks at me closely. She spies the rings of pain under my eyes like space dust circling a planetary mass. She sees my slouch pulled low to the earth by gravity’s force. And she shrinks away from my uneven smile looking back at her like a misshapen crescent moon. There is a silent understanding.
“You’re too old for me Frank.”
“It’s not that,” I stutter for once in my miserable life. “I want to help you.”
“If you want to help me. Get me a screwdriver. Can you do that for me Mr. Frank?
I had never seen a screwdriver though. The robots probably wouldn’t want us even thinking of rattling their bolts. I wondered if that was what Samantha had in mind. She’d never get close enough. They’d fry her long black hair with ECT till it never covered her eyes mysteriously again. Maybe she was just a nut job like the rest of us? Lost in her own delusions of grandeur like a cosmonaut in the great darkness of space.
When I return to my room, Mr. Jones is in there. He is talking about his penis again. Unfortunately, my thoughts are elsewhere, I’m thinking about Samantha and her long black hair which is darker than the darkest part of the night sky. It hangs in her eyes behind deep dark curtains. That and screwdrivers. Mr. Jones says something about ending his testicular misery. I consider asking him about a screwdriver, but he doesn’t strike me as being particularly skilled at home maintenance. Paying his crotch area no mind, I go take a piss in the black hole containment unit and watch my urine disappear into the horizon. It swirls around the bowl down into the dark hole of nothingness. I’m just another man pissing into the cosmic wind.
When I return, Mr. Jones is thrashing about his bed like a hooked fish with his severed penis is on the ground. Fucking idiot! He had somehow managed to find the rusty dull edge of a can and sharpened it for cutting. He looks generally shocked at what has happened. As if in this moment, he has come back to reality. In seconds, the Absurdians are in the room. For once, I am glad to see them. There is an uproar and a struggle. Blood is smeared on the floor and bed. Psycho-pharmaceuticals are dispersed in furious blasts of light. Mr. Jones has an uninteresting soliloquy about his own personal sexual dysfunctions and then exits stage right with an entourage of robots. A cleaning droid scampers in to collect his severed penis, sweeps it into its dustbin, and then is gone. I won’ be seeing Mr. Jones or his penis for a while.
Later that night, I sneak back into Samantha’s room during the consultation. But she isn’t there. The walls are covered in pictures and images she has been drawing. Although I know it can’t be, I feel like I’m in the room of a great Pharaoh’s daughter. It’s her tomb and it’s decorated with long forgotten religious imagery. I’m moved. Samantha comes out of the bathroom.
“Frank. You got the screwdriver?”
“Soon. Just tell me though, what is your plan?”
“Don’t worry about that now. Get me the screwdriver and then I’ll tell you.”
Our conversation is over, but I hesitate; I don’t want to leave. I turn the conversation to an etching Samantha has done on the wall. Intertwined circles wrap around a center and are divided by beautiful and mysterious words like war and beauty.
“What’s this mean?
“It’s the afterlife”
“It kind of looks like the planets and their orbits” I tell her. She looks at the circles with a daze and answers me with a laissez faire smile.
“I don’t know really what it is. I saw it in a book somewhere. Do you like it?” She asks me.
Then she stops reflecting on her art and returns to the screwdriver. “The screwdriver Frank. I need the screwdriver.”
“I’m going to get into the consultation room later. I’ll get one.” I say and then I slink back to my room which is painted solely in dried penis blood. It’s not as majestic as Samantha’s murals, but it is the best art Jones was capable of. I actually have begun to miss Mr. Jones. It’s amazing how lonely we are as humanoids. We search the heavens for Aliens to destroy us. Then finding none, we build metallic friends to watch over us. Hopefully, Jones will be back soon.
I don’t go see Samantha the next few nights. I’m watching the Freudian-bots and planning my move. Unfortunately, security bots are always in the facility of the consultation room. At a loss at how to proceed; eventually, I luck out. During art therapy, a hardened heroin addict named Jackson loses it with this crazy ass broad for criticizing his art. He can’t get over her comments about his nude still-life of his friend lacking in humanity and misusing the natural light of the room. I kind of liked it myself. It really shows some of the horrors of death and aging. Basically all parties involve lose it. Jackson starts throwing chairs. The art critic tries to escape through the emergency door. While the Absurdians and security bots are dealing with the riot, I’m already down the hall. Hiding behind a corner, I let the next wave of security bots pass. In seconds, I’m breaking the lock on the consultation room and I’m in.
The room is unadorned. The Absurdians clearly have no need for a home-like feeling at the office. They are at home with white walls, uncarpeted floors, and hideous wire protruding from the outlets. It looks like the inside of a Mac Book. Wondering how Samantha plans to open up one of the robots, I luckily stumble on a screwdriver. Their insides wouldn’t look too much different than their office I imagine. A bunch of cords and casing rotating and revolving around their miniscule computer chip. I grab the screwdriver and begin to run towards her room. It won’t be long before they act. They have cameras everywhere. I broke the lock and they will see it. However, she plans to rattle the Absuridians’ bolts, there is no time like the present.
When I get to Samantha’s room, she is waiting for me. “Why haven’t I seen you?” She has missed me, like I missed Mr. Jones. Not as a friend, and I know she could never miss me as a lover, but she has missed me as human. A dying breed.
“I got it.”
“Give it,” she grabs the tool from me and examines the tip.
“How will you get close enough to the Absurdians to open one?”
“It’s not for them, Frank. It’s for me.”
Samantha goes into the bathroom with the screwdriver. At first, I’m unsure if I should follow but my curiosity overcomes me. She begins to undo the bolts around the bowl. My God! She intends to get at the epicenter of the black hole unit.
“Thanks for helping my Frank.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. But I’m not sure why.
“No, don’t be sorry. I appreciate it.”
Samantha is meticulous with the bolts and finally removes the dark containment unit located at the base of the toilet. Inside is the cosmic nothingness that consumes all, even light. All of her depression and anger will be swept away and blown apart by gravities wrath. Even the Absurdians can’t stitch you up and resuscitate from the galaxies’ own God of death. It’s painful for me to watch her shoving the unit into her mouth, gagging on it and then after a struggle being able to swallow it. I know I need to say goodbye. There won’t be another chance. She is moving at the speed of light away from me now towards a destination that awaits the Absurdians, the Earth and even the Galaxy.
“Samantha?” But there is no time for goodbyes. She is gone. She has done it. The light in her eyes flickers off and then she collapses. Her insides sucked into nothing. Her empty casing stares blankly up at me from the ground.
When I return to my room. Mr. Jones is sitting up in his bed. The Absurdians have stitched his severed penis back on, but he will never have sex again. I don’t think he will miss it much. I can hear the commotion from down the hall. Samantha will disappear. Her files will be deleted. No one will know how she was able to beat the emotional turmoil system, but me.
I begin to talk to Mr. Jones as best I can. He is disorganized and makes unclear statements that I can’t follow. It’s shocking to me but I actually tell him I missed him. Eventually, I take over the conversation and begin to tell him about my mania, my depression and my drugs of choice. He doesn’t say much and when he does, it is clear he does not understanding the conversation. We stay up late talking and don’t even notice that the sparkles of far off stars has been replaced with our own.