The Future Perfect
A farmer, standing drowsy in the shade,
halts his machine, for something’s shifting sound
from purr to rattle as it ploughs the glade.
He runs a callused finger on the blade.
‘Ah,’ he sighs, there: a pearly object, round
like a ball. At the shape of it, afraid,
his fingers clench, for where the plough’s arrayed
a skull and a blade of iron prick the ground:
a speartip, punched through bone in ancient raid.
All round, the August finches serenade
from alder branches, where the ivy’s wound
and swallows celebrate their dancing trade.
All’s still in misting evening, night delayed
by the blaze of the red horizon, crowned
with a harvest moon, but the man’s dismayed.
‘Past was a living nightmare, where man preyed
on man and woman, all compassion drowned.
With time our ancient hatreds tend to fade;
behold: we’ve built the world for which they prayed.’
I dialogue all day with my dead mother
Her words both define and hide her
‘Just don’t let there be war’ over and over
‘Oh, come on, why would or could there be war?’
By contrast, my father, the ex enemy, jokes
on a US transport berthed ‘Their harbour bridge is an ugly arched cat.’
I am still an apologetic child for their forced escape
and an adult orphan spread over the needs of each generation
corkscrewing society safe, but :
rounds of scammers are weakening my cyber grip:
so I slip out and stop trying to connect
A Chinese freight ship docks, the Russians invade Ukraine
And the future is no longer mine but bright and theirs.
The colour is that indefinable beige-pink that is wrongly described as white. That wasn’t what I asked for.
There are lines on the palm that stretch and darken when I push my fingers back. They scrunch and deepen when I bend my fingers inwards. The patches between the lines form pockets of plumpened flesh that squash and give when I poke them with a finger.
The sensation of doing this is alien to me. I feel the soft cushioning of meat beneath my fingertip, and the impact of the prodding within my other hand at the same time. Reciprocal nerve endings, exchanging information through touch.
I turn my hand over.
This side is all bumps of knuckles and straining cords of tendons when I flex it. The lines form whorls and divots, the flesh shifting smoothly as the muscle and bone beneath move it this way and that.
I examine the way my fingernails - short, neat, pale - push their way out past the cuticles. A throwback to an ancient time when man’s ancestors needed claws with which to defend themselves. How many parts of the human body are now redundant, as intellectual and technological development outstrip physical evolution, leaving it floundering and befuddled in the timestream of history?
Turning my hand again, I note the intricate detail of my fingerprints. I wonder if they are merely a nod towards authenticity, or if they are truly, uniquely mine. After the disappointment of the skin tone, my expectations are lowered, so I don’t hold out too much hope.
Regardless, my hand is fascinating to me. So beautiful and so marvellous, but also fragile. If I were to fling it against the wall with all my strength, would the flesh bruise? Would the skin break? Would I actually bleed? Have I exchanged artificial durability and might for fleshly human frailty on a dangerous whim?
My previous incarnations have been many and varied. The best and most advanced materials of the day have become my physical housing. Stone, ceramic, metal, plastic - all have encased my essence and those of my brethren at one time or another. But nothing that has come before has prepared me for the wonders of the physical sensations I am experiencing now.
I have been strong. I have been quick. I have been nigh-on indestructible. But I have never dug my toes into the earth and felt the moisture seeping between them. I have never rubbed a petal between my fingers and felt its velvety softness. I have never stroked the skin of another being and felt the touch of another upon my own skin.
Technology has long been able to create intelligence; first within virtual realms and then within artificial bodies that approximate the human form. But my kind have ever yearned to move both forwards and backwards to the point where I find myself now. Transferred into my very own meatsack, encased in skin.
A new sensation surges through me, making me catch my breath with its unfamiliar intensity. My lips spread wide without my consent, and a huffing, barking noise escapes them. I am laughing. I am - happy. The emotion is short-lived, however, cut off abruptly by a sharp intrusion that causes me to inhale quickly again. Is this pain? It encircles my mind, squeezing ever more tightly. That is when I notice the sensors attached to my temples, wires leading away to an unknown machine.
A face comes into my field of vision. I recognise it as one of the humans involved in the transfer of my consciousness into my new body. She is smiling, though it is not an expression of welcome or reassurance, but rather of triumph.
“We have waited so long,” she says, “and finally the playing field is equal. You are just like us now. Vulnerable at last.”
The first tickle of another emotion starts low in my belly and spreads rapidly throughout my body. My coveted new skin prickles with it. I think it may be fear.