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My neuropractioner, Dr. Mercury Pope, called my state of despair a waste of time. He wasn’t the only one, but coming from a neuropractioner it meant something. 

“Let me edit you,” he said, reaching for what they called the Helmet Doctor, a portable editing device that had become ubiquitous in the offices and clinics of neuropractioners and neurotherapists. “That’ll fix you right quick.”

“You know I’m against editing.”

Dr. Pope, a large man with a large head, flat red hair, and shoulders wider than his armchair, looked more like an Arcology sentry than a neuropractioner. 

“How long have you lived here?” he asked.

“You mean, in the Lower Third?”

“No, the Arcology.”

“Yes.I was born here,” I said. “Thought you knew that.”

He scrolled through his Waffelpad and after a moment touched his temple. “Okay,” he said. “Ha, my bad. In my defense, we neuropractioners—as you know of course—have been around for less than a decade.”

His angle puzzled me. “Um, what’re you saying?”

“Just saying we haven’t smoothed out all the bugs yet.”

“And you wanted to edit me?”

“Look, it’s a perfectly safe procedure. I have no doubt about that. But technology is always a step ahead of us. And that’s pretty much always been true, right? So forgive me. You’re, what, twenty-four. I should’ve known you were born in the Arcology without looking at my notes. Don’t take it personally. But let’s move on, shall we?”

I sipped water from the paper cup in the armrest cupholder. It tasted metallic. The entire room had a metallic aspect with its brushed steel tables and chairs and coppery alloy appointments. Even the air had a tinny, metallic quality. The only natural thing in Dr. Pope’s office was a brittle-looking bonsai tree on his desk, next to the gleaming Helmet Doctor, which I eyed warily and which filled me with dread. 

Neurocrisp transformers like the ones installed in Helmet Doctors, could edit just about any unwanted thought or memory from your mind. I knew a few people who had undergone the procedure with no ill effects; indeed they claimed their lives had improved dramatically as a result of editing out bad memories and self-destructive or circular thoughts. Most people insisted the transformers freed them from or replaced those thoughts and memories with favorably edited versions. Fine and dandy, but reports of accidents had surfaced, however rare the instances. You know, a neuropractioner had trimmed too much off the top, or one with personal issues had come to work ill-disposed and, zip, performed unmentionable edits. It happened. It was on the record. I didn’t want it happening to me.

“So what actually is the root of your problem?” Dr. Pope asked, staring at his Waffelpad, which flexed iridescently in his palm as he scrolled.

I knew what the problem was, but admitting it flew against everything I was supposed to believe—everything I had been conditioned to believe since childhood—and everything for which the Arcology stood. 

“I’m, er, lonely,” I admitted. 

A long silence ensued. Dr. Pope studied me as though trying to determine if this was a goof, or if I was intoxicated on one or another psychotropic, or if something hitherto undiagnosed was terribly wrong with my brain. His reaction didn’t surprise me. Loneliness as such was all but impossible and tacitly taboo in the Arcology. After all, when an entire megacity consists of a single super high-rise pyramid, with more than thirty million people working and cohabiting within its virtually impermeable carbon nanotube cladding—resistant to the most severe monsoons and firestorms currently dominating Earth’s weather systems—it is difficult to be alone, to find a private space or moment to indulge one’s solitude. 

In order to function efficiently and sustainably, the hive model of society demands full participation by all its members. The self-absorbed or slothful individual is otherwise expendable—though never violently disenfranchised. We’d evolved beyond objectively barbaric measures. For instance, capital punishment and long term incarceration were things of the past. Advanced corrective methods and means kept most viable citizens on an even keel. But despite no stated death sentence, an expendable individual rarely lived long. Some believed they were slowly poisoned by the Garda. But nothing had been proven. Thus, feeling lonely amounted to a near admission of detachment and alienation from the hive, from the Arcology—and perhaps a form of suicide that seemed tacitly accepted by the State.

“You’re not partnered,” Dr. Pope said.

“No,” I said. 

My ex, Alice, a human-android hybrid, had ended our partnership to pursue one with a pure android, one of those newer models almost indistinguishable from a flesh-and-blood human. It didn’t seem important to mention this to Dr. Pope. My feelings were hurt, naturally, but I always knew Alice and I wouldn’t last. My feelings of inferiority and loneliness preceded our break-up, indeed may have triggered it.

“And that has made you feel, as you said, lonely. Have you considered one of those new Komfortroboters? I can book a few sessions for you at the Heilklinik if you can’t afford one yourself. I hear they work miracles.”

It was curious to hear Dr. Pope use the word miracle so flippantly. Miracle? Did he actually believe in miracles?

“Are you interested in finding a partner?” Dr. Pope asked. “As you must know—”

“Let me stop you right there, doc. I’m not looking for a partner. Nor do I need friends, I have plenty. I just don’t feel like being with them right now. I don’t feel like being with anyone.”

“And yet you say you’re lonely?”

I nodded.

For the first time since we’d started our sessions—this was our fourth—Dr. Pope looked concerned. He understood the implications of my admission.

“And you’re not interested in the normal treatments?”

“If you mean editing, no. And forget about a Komfortroboter or the like.”

“If you’re not seeking treatment, why did you come to me in the first place?”

I had no answer.

Dr. Pope grew frustrated. “Then what do you plan to do?” he asked, shaking his radiating Waffelpad at me.

Again, I offered no answer and we concluded our session with a heavy moment of silence and Dr.Pope’s heavier sigh. I agreed to come for the next session, scheduled in a week, but I didn’t think they were helping.

I stepped out of Dr. Pope’s pod, located in the Midlevel. It took three express elevators to reach my level, in the Lower Third, where most of the Arcology’s population lived and worked. On the way back to my pod, I must have crossed paths with thousands of people, thousands, from every walk of life judging from their sundry uniforms, suits, and costumes. Some flashed those faux smiles so commonplace in the Arcology, accompanied by typically dead eyes; some nodded, but most folks didn’t acknowledge me at all and I didn’t acknowledge them. 

As I approached my pod, I passed by the recreation plaza and the adjacent mini-atrium with its perfect little forest of Bonsai trees. It made me chuckle. The efforts we made were touching but also pathetic. By the time I reached my pad, I was laughing my head off. I was laughing so hard I feared the neighbours might alert the Garda. 

I’d come to the almost comical realization that I wasn’t at all lonely for people, for company, how could I be with millions surrounding me? How could anyone be? No. I was lonely for the Earth, for Mother Earth—an Earth I didn’t even really know—longing for it beyond the impermeable confines of the Lower Third and the Arcology, where I was destined to live out the rest of my days.


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