| art and border by
Tilg and I were both already rather euphoric when the Joyland Guardian greeted us. I was favorably impressed from the moment I saw him, noting that his beaming countenance was not simply cosmetic or trained. He definitely had a permanent surgical smile. So pleasant! So nice to see him not having to strain to maintain it. And it was charming. His pure white sarong-toga was exactly right for his surroundings. Tilg's costume and mine seemed glaringly out of place by comparison.
He touched fingers with us and introduced himself. "Welcome to Joyland 76. I'm Shira. We only use first names here, of course. Much more intimate. And, let me see," he checked his illustrated wrist notes. "You must be Kiedar and this is Tilg. Right on time, too. Splendid. So many people have little regard for time these days just strolling in ten or fifteen seconds late and thinking nothing of it." He shook his head, but of course the smile didn't reflect his annoyance at inconsiderate people.
Dada's electronic gurney had stopped a meter or so behind us, and Shira stepped over to it to examine the life record. "Hmm. Birth date less than ninety-seven years ago. I really didn't believe my notes."
I felt apologetic, but something had to be said and, as the older brother, I knew it was incumbent upon me to do the explaining. "Dada was old fashioned in a lot of ways. He never allowed any organ or stem cell transplants."
Shira's beautiful eyebrows rose. "No transplants!" he exclaimed, not trying to hide the astonishment in his voice. "How unusual. Well, I imagine ninety-seven isn't all that surprising under those circumstances."
Reaching into the folds of his clothing, he took out a small device, which I recognized as a scanner of some sort. "I must apologize," he explained. "No offense is intended, but it's a long-established Joyland principle that we must never depend entirely upon the entrance record. Prior to admission, the incomer must be scanned for minimal vital signs. While I've never encountered it myself, some of the older Joyland guardians have stories you wouldn't believe about attempts to smuggle in terminated entities.
"On the other hand, I've had several appear who were well above the threshold for admittance. We must adhere to the rules at all cost. Ah. Perfect. Alpha's just barely perceptible. S-waves sinoidal. Heart fibrillation under chip control. No problem here. We can move it right into . . . let me see, grotto WFL. Lovely place. Do come along. I'm sure you ll enjoy it."
I wasn't particularly eager to visit. There was work waiting for me. I'm a poet, and that's a full-time occupation, especially since I've achieved some fame with the two-word poem form. But Tilg is a scientist, and the inbred curiosity of his type made him return Shira's smile and agree immediately to a tour. I could sense that Shira was pleased . . . though his facial expression obviously couldn't have been the source of my impression.
We walked through the broad corridors while the gurney tagged faithfully along behind us. Shira took the occasion to fill us in on Joyland 76's accomplishments, in which he took no small pride. "We have seventy-two grottos and are constantly expanding. A reflection of our success, I might add. Why, we have one inhabitant that is 202! That is clearly a record, in my mind. Joyland 17 claims a 206 year-old but, quite frankly, I think they re fudging the data. I'd like to see the brain wave record. It has probably been flat for ten years, at least." He shook his head at the perfidy of these distant colleagues.
Grotto WFL was indeed a magnificent site, and Tilg was brimming over with questions and comments. "I never realized the inhabitants were kept immersed." We both stared at the row upon row of tanks in which inhabitants were submerged, one slender tube connecting to their middles and leading through the tank bottoms to some sort of junction boxes on the floor.
I could have sworn I saw Shira's smile broaden, and I immediately realized that he must have heard that remark a thousand times. There was little interest in the Joylands outside of their walls, however, so he shouldn't have been particularly surprised at that frequent reaction. The tone of his voice was every bit as pleasant as his facial expression. "That simplifies things immensely. Nutrients come through the umbilicybers and wastes are moved out in the same fashion. If you listen closely you ll hear a muffled sound."
I didn't really hear it, but I did feel a slight rumbling sensation under my feet. "That's the pumping station," he said, anticipating the question Tilg was on the verge of asking. "The wastes go out to the hydroponic warehouses. The real beauty of the system is that when termination occurs, the tank temperature and pressure rise automatically, and the chemical composition of the bath changes to completely liquefy the contents in preparation for the next inhabitant. So, you see, absolutely nothing is wasted."
It all seemed so pleasant, that I toyed with the idea of telling him about Dada's absurd notion that he much preferred euthanasia. It was just a momentary impulse on my part, since I knew the "e" word would have shocked Shira. The idea was indeed barbaric, but then Dada had a lot of strange views. Not that he wasn't ever so nice to both Tilg and me. And even though Tilg was his clone, he never showed him any favoritism.
All in all, we couldn't have had a better Dada, and I was enormously pleased to see him moved into these beautiful surroundings. As I was contemplating them, the gurney moved ahead of us down the line and stopped next to an empty tank, which had one side open. The pallet tilted and Dada rolled into the tank, the side closed, the umbilicyber connected immediately and the soft swishing of water flowing in followed.
"Do you have any special wishes?" Shira asked, following the automated procedures with a smile. "We do have some strange requests sometimes. Naturally we can't meet all of them, but we pride ourselves on doing our best. As you may know, the inhabitants are kept in a euphoric state. Usually the last element to deteriorate is music perception, so we keep a constant music level fed to the aural portions of the brain through the liquid ambience."
Tilg immediately interrupted with what I considered to be annoying scientific questions, but our host seemed almost ecstatic at Tilg's show of interest. Fortunately, before I became thoroughly bored, the discussion took a turn away from technology and it piqued my interest. "A standard repertoire of Canmi's Nightfall is what we ve been using for some sixty years now. Mostly the first few bars. That s really all that s necessary, since none of the inhabitants have any memory beyond three to five seconds."
I have to admit, I was rather horrified at what Shira was saying, though I think I managed to hide my feelings. Music is so out-of-date these days. "Why not poetry," I thought to myself. But I refrained from bringing up the topic with our host. My favorite, and the one I won the Satsu prize for, "Cash Light," would be ideal, perhaps alternating with "Heather Chase." Far better than a few bars of Canmi repeated endlessly. Perhaps I should write a pre-transfer request for myself. I'm sure poetry would be more in sync with my aural brain portions.
Tilg's special request broke into my reverie. "Dada used to hum a tune he remembered from his Gramp. It was something passed down in the family."
Shira became immediately alert. His eagerness to please was delightful. "Our archives are very complete. They even stretch back to the twentieth century. Do you remember the name, by any chance?"
Shira had touched voice activation on his wrist notes as he asked the question, and almost immediately he said, "Ah yes. Here it is. Definitely! Well substitute it for Canmi's Nightfall. Maybe the last few bars instead, for variety s sake."
At that I became irked at the results of the discussion, thinking how much more appropriate my "Wall Mart" would have been, in spite of the critics insisting that it was simply a replay of a twenty-first century trade name for a financial institution. I had crushed such criticism by pointing out that that name was hyphenated so could hardly have been the inspiration for my poem.
All-in-all though, it was a pleasant day. As we left, after once more
touching fingers with Shira, I knew that Joyland had inspired me. Already
I was formulating a two-word poem that would blast the mental faculties
out of those critics. "Onyx Dyad." I knew there would be howls of protest
at my use of a semi-vowel in both words, but it has always been my avant-garde
approach to poetry that has brought me to the pinnacle of success I have