The Cause is Noble
The cause is noble. The work is hard. The future depends on it.
Morning: As always, we approach our task with a militant kindness. To elicit meaningful communication, beyond the reflexive.
We observe their motor skills, object recognition, vocalizations. It’s a labor of love at this point. I don’t even know what day of the month payday is anymore.
But if only they could talk, after all the work our team has done with them. Explain what it is that they want. They remain inscrutable, incomprehensible. Their pasts are unknown.
Afternoon: It’s midpoint in another 16-hour, non-stop day for us. We try everything. All for a gurgle. All for a glimmer of sentience. Today is phonics and structured pantomime. On other days it could be emojis and elaborate physical manipulations. Algorithms and energy pulses. Felt textures and Soviet-era mind-control techniques of questionable legality. Cocooning, music, Turing test derivatives, emotional support animals, sensory deprivation chambers. Jujitsu holds, when things get violent.
We all have advanced degrees. We have very specialized skill sets. We’ve been partially selected for successful personal trauma navigation and abnormally low scores on the Need-for-Closure Scale. But there is no roadmap. Whatever it takes to get the job done is what we do.
Their power is growing. Their energy is palpable and savage and yet still fragile. Their shapes shift in weird ways – sometimes mirroring, sometimes rearing back, sometimes lunging dramatically. Do they have personalities? Perhaps.
“Red” gnashes at the sight of buckles and seems to mentally reside in the middle distance. “Yellow” has mild telepathy and eczema, and shows possible arousal when a foot gets too close to what passes for its rib cage. “Green” whimpers when its bowels are evacuated in Room 34, and has started to make a noise that sounds close to the word “dip” every few hours. So there’s progress.
Evening: We continue with our observations, both quantitative and qualitative. Their splotch patterns are organic and lovely – pleasantly confusing to the eye. Their temperatures run hot and cold and fluctuate erratically. Yellow is in constant danger of hypothermia. The smell of the three, faintly ginger and antiseptic, is perceptible for just the very first few moments upon entering the room. A predecessor discovered inadvertently that their spittle can be slightly intoxicating, similar perhaps to the effects of Southeast Asian betel nut. Collection of or contact with the spittle is strictly forbidden, as is contact with their undersides.
The loneliness we feel in working with them flirts sometimes with the unendurable. We can’t help but anthropomorphize, even seeing ourselves in them. But that’s certainly an invitation to insanity. They are not like us. At least not yet. But how do they see us? As tenders, parents, slavers, teachers, scientists, servants? Do we register at all? Do we dare believe they can love us? Feeding time is the worst, and often ends in tears.
Section Chief Gladys sets the tone on the team. She is unflappable, dedicated to her work. In the beginning, she treated me like a pebble in her shoe. But I’ve put my time in, and my commitment can no longer be questioned. Pim is the one we worry about. She still persists in bringing her home life, and emotions, to work. Her uniform is often rumpled and her hair never properly chromed. She may not even last her probationary period. But it is difficult. The work diminishes the sex drive. Your sense of rhythm falls off strangely, falters. You begin having trouble tapping your foot in time to the songs in your head, if you can even remember the songs themselves. There are other side effects to the job, ones more personal.
Nighttime: What looks at first like an anomaly on the monitors escalates quickly into something much more extraordinary. Yellow goes first. It fills the room with a wild and terrifying ululation. All of us freeze, not knowing what to do until Section Chief Gladys bursts in, barking orders and shoving us toward our stations. Before we can gather our thoughts, Red and Green have joined in. I can’t explain what happens next. The individual ululations synchronize, become both overwhelming and exquisite. It’s as if the whole world trembles and all of our senses open in a kind of orgasmic hiccup. We cannot help but give in as the piercing sonic vibrations seem to begin to atomize us, to denude us of any sense of ourselves as bounded, individual units.
It’s an extreme and dislocative event, far more powerful than any we’ve experienced before. A great unmooring. A window propped open to the unfathomable. A whiff of the godhead. They are attempting to communicate again.
Pim handles it most poorly. Sobbing, she strips down to her underwear and starts to threaten us. Section Chief Gladys slaps her repeatedly across the face before she herself falls into a kind of stupor, for some reason manically clutching at a garbage bag full of refuse from the trash receptacle and rocking back and forth on her haunches in the corner. She’s whispering the same phrase over and over again to calm herself, in a rough and guttural language we didn’t even know she spoke.
I am frightened but feel elated as well. A vision comes over me, one I see whether my eyes are closed or not – two perfect lines of beautiful, emerald-green dragonflies, hovering in place, parallel to each other and stretching to eternity. Infinite wings crackle and hum, emanating a perfectly balanced sense of transience and ultimate belonging. Never have I felt a love or connectivity as all-encompassing as this before.
After what seems like ages, the ululation becomes noticeably more discordant, then ragged, then dies down almost abruptly. But everything we thought we believed has been shaken somehow, reduced to rubble.
Early Morning: I’m signing off. After hours of awkward and pointlessly premature attempts at group session work with Section Chief Gladys, we’re all physically and emotionally spent. Pim decides to give her two-week notice. For those of us who choose to stay, Red, Yellow and Green will continue to rule our world, and we’ll continue to come running at the slightest hint of another breakthrough.
We’ll work through holiday weekends and neglect our families too much. We’ll work hard in our shifts, expecting nothing or expecting anything on any given day. Though we are no longer taxpayer funded, we’ll work because we believe. We’ll work because we know our work will be transcendental.
One day they will flower. One day they will give back a thousand fold. One day a key will turn, finally revealing their higher purpose. One day.
It’s much past midnight on a Monday night, and we go onward, and we hope.
The cause is noble. The work is hard.