Sample The New Eve
THE NEW EVE
Translation by Marybeth Timmermann
"The myth of the Mother"
He had been waiting two hours; an almost imperceptible moment in the eternity of endless time, but it was a long wait in the life of a father impatiently awaiting the birth of his son. All the means brought to bear by the Reproduction Center to calm parents’ heartburn and eagerness for the children, did nothing to calm his raging nerves. This, despite being designed on the basis of a precise knowledge of the parental psyche, representing a form of childbirth with neither labor nor pain for the benefit of parents.
He sat on a revolving armchair moving around from corner to corner in the waiting room, so that he would not be tired of turning and spinning. Evidently, the compassion of the affectionate father hurls him into turmoil and upheaval until the newborn sees the light. At the beginning of the wait, a host Android provided him with a cigarette made specifically for this type of occasion, which generated from its own ashes, like the Phoenix. Whenever it ignited, the proportion of tar and nicotine would diminish, without lessening the flavor of tobacco, enabling the father to satisfy his desire without damage from smoking residues.
He sat smoking his undying cigarette, revolving, coming and going on his moving armchair, as videos cascaded on the screens of his glasses, explaining how to deal with newborns... What came to his mind was the Android smile that had accompanied him since his arrival: «The smile is familiarity, compassion and tenderness. It is the body’s other way to accept and seduce… But his smile increases his strangeness and returns the passion and desire of the other body to their metaphysical origin. No sooner does it begin with the relaxation of the lips than it takes in the entire face, revealing a clear, sculpted gap, emitting from the depths of its throat a breath and a wonderful resonance, like the holy shouting by the men of Arkadia in their beauty contests… » His attention drew back to the scenes flowing through his spectacle screens and returned to his reality as a father impatiently awaiting his son. He remembered the circumstances of a birth in the old time, as told by the "myth of the Mother": «On her second day of labor pains, with every thrust, the mother made sure relief was at hand and that the newborn would finally accept coming into this world and out of her bloated womb. She felt him moving, so she imagined he was playing. She was sure that the time for his delivery had come, but she did not understand why he delayed his arrival every time. Every woman explains this according to her own experience and point of view. "Your baby does not want to come because you craved something and did not get it, reveal your desire to us!" The mother did not answer their questions. The only response she issued was the screams of labor. Searching for the cause of the delay in childbirth, one of them found the puzzle and said, "I know what she wants! One day, a pilgrim came to us and described a wonderful sunset he had beheld from atop Mount Sinai. Throughout her pregnancy she yearned to lay eyes on this remarkable sight!" When he heard the news, the baby who would be born from time to time, decided to delay his delivery until he inspected the scene from inside his mother's womb, atop Mount Sinai. "Indeed", admitted the mother, "I vividly recall that pilgrim’s story. And I still long to see that amazing scene!" The women shouted: "God help us! Egypt is so far away! If the mother does not give birth in six hours, the baby will surely die!" Word was sent urgently to the Egyptian People's Bureau requesting the visa... it was quickly obtained thanks to the help of the consul whose mother was a midwife. The hardest part, nonetheless, remained: to arrange such a long trip in such a short time. They consulted the travel agent; whose answer came quickly and definitively: "Al-Egypt Airlines alone can arrange such a journey". Al-Egypt is the airline born of the merger of Egypt Air and El Al after their purchase by the American billionaire Sam Turner. This is how an Al-Egypt aircraft was chartered and took off at four twenty-five.
«During the flight, just before safety belts were unbuckled and cruising altitude was reached, a bushy-bearded, mighty-looking man emerged from the rear of the plane. He was short of stature but haughty, carrying a book in which he claimed to be pointing a pistol, as they do in the spaghetti western films. Where did this man come from? Perhaps he had stowed away in the cargo hold before the aircraft took off? No matter, he was here now, as was his book and the pistol inside his book! "Alright listen up!" barked the haughty, mighty, bearded one, "This is a kidnapping! Nobody moves! here is my request: I wish to replace the midwife! If you refuse, I’ll blow up the aircraft!" For an hour the passengers quarreled back and forth, raising a din, then the haughty, mighty, bearded one brought them back to their senses, threatening them with the pistol concealed in his book: "Quiet! Decide fast before my patience runs out!" An hour later they decided to obey the haughty, mighty, bearded one. Thanks to the time difference the plane landed on Mount Sinai a quarter of an hour before sunset. The child and his mother beheld the most amazing sunset in the world, and the baby was born with the help of the haughty, mighty, bearded one, right after sunset in the desert sands.»
This was during the time when men were born from their mother's womb, like animals, before humans mastered the technique of determining the sex of the embryo. In fact, human sexual reproduction was turned over to modern technology and has changed radically with the amazing transformations that have turned human reproductive methods and means upside down. With the discoveries that enabled humans to determine the sex of the embryo, along with the methods of in vitro fertilization and cloning, it became possible for each person to select the gender of his child. People resorted to in-vitro fertilization to choose the gender of children, and since most husbands preferred males, an imbalance appeared between males and females. Women protested against this situation, which had come to threaten their gender. They demanded a fair division between the sexes of the embryos prepared for implantation.
Thus, the women's liberation movement turned into a movement to defend female fertilization. The "fee" to join organizations for the defense of female fertilization was to go to an IVF center and have a female fetus implanted, which made all the members pregnant. After a few years of mobilization in favor of femininity, the old equilibrium flipped, and the male component became threatened. In turn, men organized their response: They decided to hire the wombs of mothers. During this period, it was easy to find traitors to the feminist cause prepared to accept the male fetus until its birth. Thus, men were able to form a network of tenants for their wombs. Women formed intelligence units to expose all those who betrayed the cause. When they discovered treachery, they would abort the traitor and sterilize her. And whenever they did this, the men would counter-abort and sterilize.
This is how the gender conflict turned into a devastating civil war. After a long time, in order to end this deadly war, androgynes seized power, reorganized the relations between sexes and set new rules for procreation. Gender balance was restored, the rights of men and women were declared, and the family was abolished. The social mixing was prohibited, and new regulations were established to define the ways men and women would coexist in two separate societies, with all their rights and duties. The men would be entrusted with the birth of males, while the women were placed in charge of the birth of females, with each gender having their annual share of births, while androgynes supervise the reproductive centers.
A framework for a Mixed Service was created to maintain the cohesion of the two communities and ensure peace. Upon reaching puberty, every man or woman was required to enroll in mixed groups of recruits for that service. Mixed Service rested upon participation in the sexual life, entertainment, and working with conscripts of the opposite sex. Those who rejected this mixed sexual life were brought before the courts and sentenced to severe penalties. Women began to return to the estrus cycle as a result of their segregation from men. Their daily life changed, and their estrous cycle coincided with their time of Mixed Service. Reverting to the estrus cycle first manifested as the discontinuation of ovulation for some women, then this phenomenon spread to include all women; ovulation no longer resumed except during the period of Mixed Service, when there was contact with men.
They tried to rectify this situation by opening ovulation houses. Candidates for ovulation had to register for these houses a month in advance. Ovulation training began with a careful hormonal and psychological preparation which involved only women preparing for pregnancy, entailing self-fertilization of the egg, circumventing the need for the male’s sperm. This was female self-fertilization, which enabled a woman to bear a child who was her own clone. Ovulation training began on the first night of the lunar cycle. Women were subjected to treatment with hermaphroditic hormones throughout the training period that accompanied the lunar cycle. The trainers came every evening to attend dances witnessed by an audience of pregnant women and supervised by members of the ovulation houses, disguised as men. These dances were based on simulating the position of the bodies of men and women in the state of sexual contact, in a way that the trainees could recognize. Pregnant women – who circled the dancers without actually participating in the dance – would produce screams that mimic the stages of copulation. When the dancing finished, they would break up into couples to spend the whole night together. Before lying down, every female trainee would tell her "husband" – a woman disguised as a man– "I want to be the man’s woman! " The "man" would then take her just as a man would take his woman. Before morning, the trainees would get up and see their companions having removed their disguises, donning once again their female attire. They would return to the Center to confirm the start of ovulation, then fertilization would ensue.
The production of semen in men did not change; nor did their hormonal secretion. The segregation of the sexes did not lead to any change in their sexual and reproductive nature. The main obstacle that men who wanted to have children had to overcome was finding a vacant artificial womb. Although men and women had equal birth rates, women faced the inequity of being able to conceive. The pregnancy of men was not guaranteed, which forced them to rent prosthetic wombs. These were available, however, in limited quantities, as their manufacture was subject to the annual reproduction rate authorized for men. The man who wanted a child had to wait a long time or take the risk of pregnancy.
The Father waited several years before he could have a womb. When his turn came, he went to an assisted reproduction center to choose his egg and attend the in vitro conception of his son. For the next month, he had the same dream every night: he was making love with a frozen egg. When he arrived at the assisted reproduction center, he was greeted by a silver-haired man in coveralls. Without delay, he began to extol the products and methods of the Center:
“You know, sir, an egg is very fragile, if the freezing is badly done, you fracture the cell. The moment you freeze is also very important. The cell must be ripe. The eggs that we are going to offer you were frozen five hours after their synthesis. Our freezing technique has proven itself. It consists in first freezing the cell at a temperature of - 7 ° Celsius. At this temperature, it becomes solid. We slowly lower this temperature down to –196 ° Celsius. This is called "biological time". At –196 ° the cell no longer ages. Theoretically, we can keep it indefinitely. In practice, we keep the eggs frozen for a maximum of ten years.”
The Father and the silver-haired man finally arrived in the center file room. There were all the frozen eggs with their date of freezing and their genetic heritage.
“Take your time, said the silver-haired man, choose the egg that seems most worthy of your son. When you have made your choice, call me by pressing the yellow button, there in front of you. We will then proceed to fertilization without delay.”
Having made his choice, was joined by the silver-haired man who led him into the fertilization room. There it was first necessary to bring the ovum back to life in order to be able to fertilize it.
“The warm-up phase must be rapid. This is the key to the operation. You have to go fast, otherwise the ice crystallizes inside the egg and it deteriorates. It goes from - 196 ° to + 40 ° in about half a minute.”
When the egg came back to life, an androgynous took a quantity of sperm from the Father and proceeded to fertilize the thawed egg. A spermatozoid entered the egg, their nuclei mated. The egg thus obtained was placed in the womb, within which there will remain eighteen months during which the cells will proliferate, build and assemble organs and tissues to form an adult man.
Now the father found himself waiting anxiously for the birth of his son. He was still smoking his undying cigarette on top of his armchair moving from one corner to the other in the waiting room, and the Android had not yet appeared. Then he came with his Arkadian smile and said, "Follow me, I will lead you to your son!" The father jumped out of his moving armchair without stopping it and went out behind the Android, which seemed to be ignoring his eagerness. A silver-haired man was waiting for them in the delivery room. He helped the father remove his son from the artificial womb, cut the umbilical cord, and wash him with his first bath water. "Now", said the silver-haired man, "you can name your son, and if you haven’t yet chosen a name, we have a bank of names from which you may choose."
“I haven’t yet chosen.”
He led him to the hall of names.
“You must enter your name in the computer and your son’s birth date and any number.”
The father gave his name and his son’s birth date and chose a number, then pressed the appropriate button. The computer screen went dark and remained for a long time without an answer, as if the data had flummoxed it. Then a four-letter name appeared on the screen: Adam.
Emerging from the womb is not everything: Adam had to become a man. Others saw it as their duty to make a man out of Adam, and always reminded him, not of what he would like to be but of what he should be: "Be a man!" the men enjoined Adam repeatedly. At first, he did not understand what they meant, but then he chose the easiest solution: «Being a man means acting like the others. » He grew accustomed to viewing his own character as the product of his interaction with others and tried not to take it seriously. The identity of men was determined by differentiating it from that of women. Each of the two sexes strived to highlight its distinctiveness to prove itself. To avoid mixing, men and women endeavored to develop the particulars of their respective gender. In order to bring out their femininity, women were specially fed with substances mixed with female hormones. As to men, they were fed with substances mixed with male hormones. This dedication to highlighting the peculiarities of each gender increased the mutual attractiveness of the two sexes, making segregation between them more difficult. Be that as it may, as the task of human reproduction was relegated to technology, sex became an empty process. Without its main driver, i.e., reproduction, sex became a perversion, a hoax, an oddity and an aberration, even if some people tried to replace the instinct of reproduction with the ethics of pleasure.
Since sex had become a function without a purpose, pleasure has become a matter of education. Both men and women developed a new imagination of pleasure that excluded the other sex. Eroticism and pornography were reconsidered: The sexual appearance of men no longer excited anything except for men’s own lust. Likewise, the woman’s body aroused only other women. Sexual narcissism and innate pleasure became satiated by this sexually oriented imagination. These differences did not change the old gender integration. It was this very integration that the androgynes wanted to maintain through the institution of the mixed service. The coexistence of the two sexes relied on a shared language, but each sex had developed its own language with its own features that differed from the other sex. Thus, the masculine noun gradually vanished from the women’s language, as did the feminine gender markers from the men’s lexicon. To maintain coexistence of the two sexes, androgynes organized, as part of the "the mixed service", oratory contests with the prizes going to those who flavored their discourse with the greatest number of words from the other gender.
Maneki was upset this evening, perhaps because she would dwell, for the first time in her life, among members of a mixed group. Just this morning she had received her summons for the Competency Exam, paving the way for Mixed Service. “No need to worry!” she thought, to reassure herself. She knew her chances of success were meager. To her, men represented the other face of humanity. They aroused her curiosity, but she did not connect them with her life. she knew little about them, and never saw them except from behind their anti-radiation uniforms, when she came to maintain the programs to run the nuclear stations. The impression she formed was that men were unreachable entities. They had no affection, and women were right to choose segregation. She finally fell asleep, submerged by her apprehensions. « The most difficult test for Mixed Service was to climb a steel object sculpted into the shape of the male organ. When she reached the base of the statue, two guards approached her. They struck her with a whip and ordered her to disrobe and climb. She tried to ascend but her legs and hands would not grasp the smooth, thick, slippery object. She tried to climb, depending on her legs and hands but whenever she tried to ascend, she slid down…» She woke up, sweat pouring out: it was an awful nightmare.
Early the next morning, she arrived at the Competency Exam Center, a big building hotel-like. The gates opened with a magnetic card that came along with her summons. She headed towards the door to a long corridor between walls covered with mirrors, reflecting her in multiple images. Until now, she perceived nothing but cold glass and steel. She heard nary a voice nor saw a single human being. At the end of the corridor, she took the lift, her heart rate accelerating with the ascent. The lift stopped and opened on a walkway leading to one door bearing the same number noted on her card. She advanced toward the door, inserted her card, the door opened, she entered, and then it closed behind her.
Adam was fascinated by women. He thought that their physiological differences with men were due to the consequences of the first nuclear disaster. Prior to that catastrophe, humanity was comprised only of men, but after some of them were exposed to nuclear radiation, a series of genetic transformations ensued, turning them into women. Impatiently he awaited his summons to Mixed Service and the day he would head to the Competency Exam Center. On the day he presented himself at the Center, he was worried, his throat dry, his hands dewy, as if facing an unknown fate. When he opened the door bearing the number noted on his summons card, he saw a woman, her facial features indistinct in the dim light of the room. When the door shut behind him, he remained in his place, wary, as though facing danger. The prospectus of the service says that the man must declare his flame to the woman.
He had not prepared his declaration in advance, but he knew he was good at improvising. He would not prepare himself for courtship without even seeing the woman. Moreover, one must be an artist, his declaration must suit his female partner as much as her evening dress, even if that was contrary to the rules of Mixed Service. He had read in the pages of the summons file examples of declarations, some delicate, some ardent, but viewed them all as silly, laughable. At the same time, he envied the women who had only to respond with silence or a look of consent. All the proposed models were formed metaphorically, describing women in pictures taken from nature. As if those images were the only ones that were suitable for flirting with women. Women might have a delicate sense of nature. They wish to be flowers, planets, day, night, life or death. This tendency may explain the nostalgia for nature, which has gone extinct. Yesterday he had gone to an exhibit of sketches of scenes of nature; exhibits that had replaced the extinct public gardens. People visited these exhibits in search of the natural scenery, now lost. It was his first time visiting a place like this.
By evoking nature, he was searching for the woman, gazing at the natural landscape paintings as though they represented different images of the woman whom he would discover. One painting particularly aroused him, a coconut grove on a beach, with one palm whose roots were stripped bare by the action of the waves. It leaned towards the sea, stretching to the sky. The image of this tree visited him as he stood before the woman: “You’re like a coconut palm on the beach, whose roots are stripped bare by the waves, hearkening to the call of the sea, stretching into the sky, becoming the most beautiful bouquet of flowers!” The woman’s eyes blinked rapidly, and the night and day flashed between the raising and lowering of her eyelids. The declaration bewildered her. It was not one of those she had read in the summons file and learned by heart, but it was lovely, lovelier than all those she had seen. It pleased her to hear it. Adam noticed the blinking of her eyes… she seemed moved. “Perhaps I have used some hurtful expressions.” There was no doubt that these looks were an expression of fleeing an inevitable destiny.
He advanced and sat beside her. At first the two stared at one another, eyeing with caution, with all senses vigilant, looking at the other as if fearful. Then Maneki turned her gaze away from him and looked back again, but ashamed. Spontaneously, each of them decided to jump up, to feel each other’s body. They began with mutual touching, each placing their hand on a position on the other’s body, then withdrawing rapidly, as if afraid that the skin of the other would break off and stick to their hand. Moments later, with apprehension gone and safer adhesion, hands touching no longer sufficed: each body clung to the other.
Maneki was now reclined in the bathtub. Her knees raised above the surface of the water, looking at her soft white thighs. She then began to separate them a little, then brought them back together, slowly, patiently. When she released them, the water would turn into droplets and cover all areas of contact with the thighs. And when she brought them back together, the droplets would meet and intertwine in water strands, merging and dividing at the frequency of spacing and seam: «Are the bonds of love as loose as these strands? » She could not comprehend the dimensions of what she had just experienced; all she knew was that she had performed a strange, but mandatory ritual. She wished the experiment would end here that she might be spared this Mixed Service. Perhaps this experience aroused curiosity, but there was something about it that frightened her. The Mixed Service Competency examiners would determine the outcome of this experiment. In a little while, she would go with Adam to the building on the other side of the street to learn the result.
After she finished arranging her outfit and styling her hair, she went to sit near Adam. The imprint of her kiss approached his cheek, near his mouth. When she raised her lips, Adam noticed with surprise that his cheek was still attached to Maneki’s lips by means of filaments from the skin of his cheek and the skin of Maneki’s lips, strands of skin and lipstick. They were of various sizes and bore the color of skin penetrated by beams of light in pitch darkness. When she smiled, the fragments dangling from the left edge of her mouth were split, leaving filaments clinging to the teeth, a few of which gleamed. Adam's eyes had become two microscopes; no longer did he see the space between the walls of the room, nor the bed on which Maneki now sat, nor the stature of her body, nor the features of her face, he saw nothing but the fragments between Maneki’s lips and his cheek, which set him in a pink mist. He bolted upright, trying to break this frightening spider web. His movement ripped the delicate filaments. Most shattered, but some survived. “Let’s get out of here!” he told her with sudden impatience.
When he reached the threshold, he fell down hard, then he stood up, but stumbled at the first step and fell again, startling Maneki, who shouted, “What’s with you? What happened to you? Are you alright?” He spoke not a word. She was terrified, fearing the man would die, afraid they would accuse her of poisoning him. She helped him into the lift as he clung to her lest he fall. He lost familiarity with things, location, and gravity. All his senses focused on the filaments that occupied his perception. While crossing the street, Adam collapsed into her arms, right in front of a speeding car. The driver slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt, horn blaring. The shock and tumult brought Adam back to his senses. He saw the other cars and buildings around him and again became aware of his natural surroundings. There were no longer any filaments, or at least he no longer perceived them, yet he was certain that the fabric was still intact, even if hidden from sight. He knew beyond doubt that bodies are not separated as with the ax, that they interpenetrate by invisible links, that humanity is a gigantic body whose individual bodies are only cells; that the shreds of flesh and skin were only part of the invisible web connecting human bodies, and that the filaments were nothing but strands of the fabric of this hidden lattice which tied together the bodies of humanity. With relief, Maneki noticed Adam emerging from his malaise, no longer concerned with anything but the results of the Mixed Service Competency Exam.
At the entrance to the building of Competency Exam an Androgyne awaited them, his features ambiguous, a cross between man and woman… “I am Khunatha. I will evaluate your performance.” Maneki could not take her eyes off Khunatha. Never had she seen such symmetry between opposing traits: short and chubby, almost spherical; his soft, delicate hands had the tenderness of a woman's hand, but also the roughness and potency of masculinity. His rolling reflected the sphericality of his body. He seemed quite strong, firm, and solid. The Androgyne took the summons cards from Adam and Maneki. “Fallow me!” He admitted them into a room which had at least four speakers on each side wall, and two on the rear wall for a total of 10 surround speakers. The flexible curved screen, fully translucent, had a diagonal of several meters. “We'll see if your first encounter went well!”, said Khunatha, sinking into a chair, before starting playing the video. The audio-video stream flooded the room. Maneki’s image appeared on the screen: alone, silent, looking upset, worried. Her respiration coming evenly, emitting a breath of life monitored by accurate recording. At times, the rhythm of breathing accelerated and the volume of air flowing into the lungs increased, passing through the nostrils then rushing out as if the breath was narrowing. Then the voice indicator moved until it reached the red area at its extreme, the sound in the recording field overpowered the sound of Maneki’s breathing: the door opened, Adam entered, and it closed behind him.
The sound of Maneki’s breathing resumed a higher rate, with the sound of Adam’s breathing even faster, which raised the sound indicator by several degrees. Khunatha was seated behind Maneki, listening and watching carefully. Adam’s lips exploded with a voice more powerful than loudspeakers: “You’re like a coconut palm on the beach, whose roots are stripped bare by the waves, hearkening to the call of the sea, stretching into the sky, becoming the most beautiful bouquet of flowers!” Once again, loudspeakers drowned out the breaths. Adam walked over to Maneki and sat beside her. Neither could lift their gaze from the other, then they began to gaze at one another while raising their gaze. Each seemed to avoid the other’s gaze. Maneki shifted her eyes away from him then looked back, but timidly. They began to touch one another, each placing their hand on a position on the other’s body, then withdrawing rapidly, as if afraid that the skin of the other would break off and stick to their hand. Moments later, with apprehension gone and safer adhesion, hands touching no longer sufficed, each body clung to the other. Breathing quickened as the two bodies intertwined to fuse together! Now the breathing turned into the rattles and screams of panic, rattles and screams that could equally well express the pleasure or the pain of two beings striving to unite to heal human nature.
Maneki was astonished at those bizarre screams she heard for the first time. She recognized neither Adam’s voice nor her own. But what really terrified her was the look on his face. While the howls which escaped from his chest seemed to be some sort of primordial resonance echoing like death itself, her face expressed a deep silence, and a firm will to accomplish life's œuvre. Khunatha pressed the stop button on the video device and declared: “The two of you have qualified for Mixed Service! But you made a grave mistake, your intercourse face to face could make you liable to fall in love. Whoever commits the crime of love and adores some element of the other gender, endangers the balance of our society. Whoever is proven guilty of this crime will be sent to a rehabilitation camps, and not released until cured of this illness.” Maneki implored with distress: “Oh, Mother, almighty goddess, protect us from the sickness of Love!” Khunatha continued: “If the two of you do not separate emotions and sex, you will inevitably perish. Women and men live together in Mixed Service and work together and have sex, but we do not accept emotions. Tomorrow the two of you will be transferred to the Service Center.” Adam and Maneki stepped out of the room through separate doors, neither one looking at the other.
After returning home, the monotony of his familiar environment plunged Adam into depression. He prepared a cocktail in the kitchen. Everything was within reach, defying time, indifferent to the psychological state of its user. Done mixing the cocktail, he walked over to the library, aware that the white leather sofa would still be there to accommodate those who fancied a sit-down. He sank into the thick sofa, lifted the cocktail to his lips with his right hand, going through the motions automatically without perceiving the movement of his hand. The hand conveyed the cup directly to the mouth. Its edge rested between the two lips that opened slightly. The cup slanted obliquely when it met the lips, allowing the liquid to flow. The mouth imbibed the cocktail, rapidly passing it down through the pharynx. The hand then returned to its first position on the armrest, withdrawing the cup with it.
Adam now found in his mouth the taste of the liquid he had swallowed, a few drops of which remained in the glass poised in his right hand. The taste in his mouth materialized: a cracking taste that flooded over the tongue, rose up to the nostrils, then returned to the base of the tongue toward the tonsils. The scenes flickering in Adam's eyes included areas of the room in his field of vision, alternating like transparent images: books on their shelves, lined up, crouching, nothing to distinguish them except their titles, glamorous and alluring. That was the world of the room that filled Adam’s perceptions. An image popped into his mind, alien to this environment: the image of Maneki. Through that open portal streamed the events of the twelve hours he had spent with Maneki.
His time with Maneki had not helped him solve the puzzle of woman. On the contrary, they became even more mysterious. As the hours passed, the memory of Maneki hurled him into an inner void and an urgent sort of need for what was missing, a nostalgia for the bygone time. His mood darkened as scenes of the past hours suffused his feelings, his memory amplifying them, increasing them. There was nothing to these memories except the meaning that Maneki had imparted to them. Never before had an event dominated his memory like that of Maneki. These memories permeated the pores of his skin, as water seeps into the thirsty land. At dinner time he ate without appetite then tried to sleep, tossing and turning, left and right, restless in his bed, getting up again and again, barely sleeping.
In the morning, Khunatha came and walked him to the Mixed Service Center. The two of them were alone and spoke not a word. It occurred to Adam over and over to ask him about Maneki and when they could meet? He abandoned such thoughts. « He might not answer him, or worse, it could diminish the chances of meeting again. » Khunatha led him to an underground structure, its rooms surrounding a courtyard. “You will reside here with your companion for the duration of Mixed Service.” Adam’s heart soared: he could not believe he would share this dwelling with Maneki.
“Which companion?” asked Adam, excited.
“You’ll meet her soon.”
Adam could not conceal his frustration when his new companion arrived. Khunatha introduced her to him. “This is Soho, your companion for the duration of service. You will reside here and work in the same department. You must perform your sexual duty with integrity and without passion. Sex is subject to timing, and to rules explained in the poster above the door. You must avoid any emotion that may lead to passion, infatuation, or love, causing a deviation in your sexual life. You will serve in the entertainment sector; I will tell Sameri.”
“Sameri. He’s your service supervisor. I’ll let him know you two have arrived. He’ll arrange the first meeting for those working in the entertainment sector, and he’ll determine everybody’s role. If the two of you run into any problem, you can turn to him.”
Soho combined beauty with opulence. A lethal desire emanated from her. She was a temple exposed to desecration, conveying an impression that she would expose herself to others. A latent fever swept through her and beyond the borders of her body as a rose opens her petals to the morning sun. Her face was so lovely, how could it be real? But behind this beauty, there lay the trait of a ferocious animal, exposing itself to be seen, smelled, heard, touched, and tasted. She possessed an innate ability to excite men, and her uninhibited attitude provoked their pursuit of her. Her adornment and the elegance of her clothes and makeup underscored her splendor and violently aroused the attention of men.
Adam felt the unbridled desire to stain her with the defilement of sin. He wanted to defile her and violate the beauty of her face. He approached her, intending to undress her to appear as an object of desire. She flinched in self-defense, but Adam grabbed her forcefully by her sides. She protested, “Have you no shame? You have no right to sex outside of the designated times!”
He did not answer her. He began to take off her clothes. He could sense he was reaching the melting point that Soho's nakedness made inevitable, along with the euphoria resulting from the act of violating her. But the agitation of the two bodies did not diminish the feeling of sin.
Sameri summoned the recruits working in the entertainment sector. Nearly a hundred men and women attended, each staring at one another as if having originated from a distant planet. Sameri arrived late, looking spectacular, his appearance marred only by a few unruly hairs over his forehead. They all sat in a ring around him as he remained standing, walking around within the circle.
“Your mission here is to organize entertainment for those called to service at our Center. Each of you will be put to work according to your talents and prior experience.”
Sameri was distinguished by certain animal traits which actually suggested aspects of his personality. Hair erupted from the top of his head like two pointed horns above his forehead. His form and gait reminded one of a crawling animal, alternating between exquisite and repulsive. He knew precisely the depths of each recruit’s personality and possessed the ability to read thoughts. He would render his advice to everyone and had supernatural power to persuade. He roamed around the center of the circle, speaking. As he approached Adam and Soho, he eyed Soho carefully, his gaze seductive; he seemed to be sharing a secret with her. He tasked Adam with forming the band, while appointing Soho to serve at the pool café. At the end of the meeting, he asked Soho to remain. She lingered with him for a long time. When she emerged, her countenance radiated a demonic luster. Adam asked her what went on. She replied that they had discussed some work details and said not another word.
Soho’s affections could not blot out the memory of Maneki, ever present in Adam’s awareness. Like a wall, it detached him from Soho. At times, with Soho in his arms, he would shut his eyes to imagine her as Maneki. He learned to live with this missing presence. Oddly, it was not as if he found in Maneki any objective merit over the rest of the women. He could not justify his preference for her over the rest, but something he could not pinpoint stirred deep within his soul: he loved her. Was that love a delusion? If so, then it was one persuasive delusion. Maneki drove him to constant delirium; he would concentrate on recollecting her positions and the feelings she expressed with each one. Nevertheless, he saw nothing but a foggy mask, a phantom without a soul, reflected by his memory in the mirror of his mind. He searched hard behind this mask but found nothing other than the very image of his own nostalgia. In the end, Maneki vanished into vapor behind this mask.
Adam formed his musical ensemble, with himself as the singer and composer. In the first rehearsals, he realized something was wrong: each musician had his own theory of playing and rhythm. He must bring them into coherence. He asked, “In your view, why do the melodies and voices which we call ‘music’ stand out from the huge number of sounds that humans produce?” Each one had his own answer to this question. “Rhythmic sounds are the quintessence of music.” Said the drummer. The guitarist saw the scale as the musical mainstay. As to the pianist, beauty was embodied in the musical note. Adam cut them off. “What we want here is good music… music that resonates with the audience heart and soul. The rhythm of your musical instruments must therefore synchronize with the rhythm of the human body. So the drum, for instance, can fall in with the tempo of the heartbeat, but tempo alone will not suffice. The musician must be aware of his sacred role! The concert is a spiritual communion between the audience and the priests of the choir. Play as though you were priests. Only in this way can you reach perfection in your performance, for music is our spirituality and the religion of our time!”…
At the Center, Adam divided his time between Soho and his work. Something in Soho constantly tempted and aroused him, overcoming him after every confrontation. The pool cafe was located near the rehearsal room and he fell into the habit of sitting near the pool between rehearsal sets, watching the swimmers and Soho, who would serve them. On the table a pile of oranges was stacked into a pyramid. He approached the table, the scent of oranges wafting over him. He stared at them, seeing the juice behind the peel. He took an orange, sank his teeth into the skin, then squeezed the juice over his face. Adam had never dared jump into the pool. He marveled at the swimmers, how they could jump into this crystal clarity. Whenever a swimmer dove in, Adam thought he would smash himself on the protrusions of this green, carved diamond, which seemed to be moving under the waves of the reflected light. Soho, wearing a swimsuit, served one customer after another. Whoever gazed at her could remember only that God created her to give life and death… God had endowed her with a sense of pleasure and passion for love to give life. But she had learned to experience sex and pleasure for themselves. Her morality of sex and pleasure: copulate without loving and without generating!
The co-existence between men and women at the Center went on without any problems worth mentioning. Someone observing the course of their daily lives would suppose that the lethal hatred between the sexes had disappeared, no longer justifying conflict and discrimination. All Center matters were arranged to emphasize integration in all fields. While each gender still retained its particularity, it no longer stood out as it did outside of mixing. Each lived as if he needed and yearned for the other. The logic of mixing replaced the logic of segregation. Men and women coexisted as partners in an ancient crime. They revived their ancient, primordial memory, that shared memory that segregation could not erase, and which might express a desire to reunite. But this desire met firm disapproval, incompatible as it was with the spirit of Mixed Service and recalled the era of fierce war that resulted from mixing. Love and affection represented the last of these manifestations, expressing tendencies to re-mix. The curse of love constituted a fearsome threat to the innocence of sexual desire. The delusion of emotional love destroyed humanity. Mixed Service authorities strived to keep sexual pleasure free of anything tainted by emotional love. Nonetheless, there remained a real danger that emotion may arise from the satiation of sexual desire. Thus, face-to-face intercourse was prohibited, and the times for sex were determined. Monitoring respect for these rules, however, posed a challenge. Whenever a violation was detected, the perpetrator would be imprisoned at a rehabilitation camps.
The passion test
The authorities designed methods to detect cases of love sickness. The most important of these methods was the weekly session of analysis to which all those summoned to Mixed Service were subject. To that end, a passion test aimed to determine a recruit’s degree of love sickness. The test consisted of answering twelve questions. But if the analyst found that the answers did not supply sufficient information, he could add other questions for a clear diagnosis. That morning, Adam received a summons from Sameri to the first of these analysis sessions. He had nothing to fear from these sessions as long as they revolved around his relationship with Soho. He was certain that this relationship was based on desire, untainted by any passion. What he dreaded was that the sessions would extend beyond his relationship with Soho to include the mysteries of his soul, hot with passion. He knew with certainty that his soul was wrapped in a cocoon, spun from his love of Maneki. He arrived at Sameri’s office at the appointed time. A hostess met him, offered him a chair, and asked him to wait. It seemed like a long time before the hostess summoned him, opening the door to the office. Sameri welcomed him. “You must be Adam! Have a seat in front of me! I’m sure you realize the great importance of analysis sessions. You know that Mixed Service is important but you’re also aware that women and men are two separate worlds these days, two different societies – even if complementary – and that turning back is impossible. Men and women are separated by an untraversable isthmus. Despite that, some fall prey to love sickness, which impels them to try to unite. This is the greatest error threatening our society! Thus, we decided to destroy the virus of love by all means to preserve the purity of sex. Now tell me, what is the name of your companion?”
“Yes, Soho… good. Now answer me truthfully,” he said with a threatening tone, as though Adam were concealing a transgression, “have you thought about Soho? If so, what have you noticed?”
“Yes, I think about her sometimes. One day I was observing her from a distance; she was wearing a swimsuit; her semi-nude body was challenging the meaning of life. I recalled that God created her to give life, and perhaps death! But her behavior indicated that she had become oblivious to all that. God granted her the sense of pleasure to live the year of procreation, but she learned to live the pleasure for the sake of pleasure itself!”
He realized that, spontaneously, he had not mentioned anything related to love when he conveyed his thoughts on Soho. He shuddered internally, fearing that Sameri had discerned what he tried to conceal. Sameri smiled as if he had heard Adam’s internal monologue. “Have you noticed any flaws in your mate?”
“Yes! Her beauty is too much, it rampages like a wild animal, it sets her up for sin, she’s totally wrapped up in the senses.” He almost added, “What she’s missing more than anything is passion,” but succeeded in holding his tongue. “She is an empty mask, a black hole in the sky! She abhors truth and science.”
“What image of yourself would you want Soho to keep?”
“The same image she has of the truth.”
“But what else?” Sameri persisted.
“The image of a sinner, violating her beauty.”
“Do you happen to suggest that image to her?”
“I prove it to her every chance I get.”
“What importance do you attach to the image your companion has of you?”
“I couldn’t care less for I am certain she is intrinsically neutral, she’s an instrument and nothing more. Her inner life is defined by the masculine current that she approaches.”
“What importance do you attach to your relationship with Soho?”
“I’m perpetually preoccupied with her because she satisfies my desire.”
“Have you ever done any role-playing or pretending with her?”
“Are there facets of your personality that you conceal from Soho?”
“No, but there are facets she is incapable of seeing, and other facets she wouldn’t dare to look at face-to-face.”
“Do you happen to remember some positions that could make her like you?”
“No, because I don’t care what image she has of me.”
“Have you ever regretted some of the missteps you’ve made with her?”
“Have you ever linked things, situations, or people with sweet memories you have of Soho?”
“No. I usually forget about her as soon as we are apart.”
“Do you suppose you can make Soho happy?”
“No, I don’t suppose so. I let her seek her own happiness.”
“Is she making you happy?”
“Not at all. All she can do is satisfy my desire.”
A device set up between Adam and Sameri recorded all his answers. Sameri took the device, pressed a few buttons, and then put it back in its place. “Now we’ll wait for the passionometer analysis of your answers, on the basis of which, we’ll determine your passion ratio. The highest ratio permitted at the Mixed Service Center is five percent. Those who exceed this limit are sent to the rehabilitation camps.”
Adam thought over his answers. «They were good on the whole, and in any case, I certainly don’t love Soho. If things go normally, the passionometer should give me a negative ratio. » Sameri rubbed his scalp, deep in thought. He had diagnosed Adam with love sickness during their first encounter. At first, he supposed Adam had fallen in love with Soho, but the test proved the opposite. The beginning of the test confirmed Sameri’s suppositions: Wasn’t he trying to conceal his observation about Soho that “what she was missing most of all was passion”? He thought reproachfully. No doubt he was emotional and must be sent to a rehabilitation camp. Before dispatching him, however, Sameri decided to bide his time until he could prove Adam’s affliction and discover the person whom he loved, so he could remand her to rehabilitation if she was afflicted as well. He devised his plan to detect the woman Adam loved. Adam looked at Sameri, whose facial features betrayed a look of scheming. His facial features differed from his actual thinking to such an extent, one might wonder if the two belonged to the same person. The passionometer emitted a perforated card, Sameri scooped it up. “Your emotion ratio is minus one percent… good score. That’s all for now, you can go back to work.” Adam left Sameri’s office to join his ensemble in the rehearsal room. They were now rehearsing day and night for a concert to be attended by all those summoned to the Mixed Service Centers in the region. Each Center would present its musical ensemble on this occasion. The competition would be fierce but competing musically was not uppermost in Adam’s mind. What really counted was that Maneki might attend this concert.
The concert hall was located in another center, where the ensemble was taken to prepare its performance. On the appointed evening, a huge audience packed the hall and the squares around it. Maneki arrived but could not find an empty seat and remained standing. She felt a shortness of breath, crammed in with the crowd. She became a cell in the greater body, no longer self-aware among all those people. They all fused into a single impulse driven by factors transcending individualities. The crowd roared when Adam ascended the stage and grabbed the microphone. He held on to it as if it were the only way to salvation. He shut his eyes and focused on the instruments playing, the music resonating in his body. Once he fell into synch with the instruments, he opened his eyes upon the crowd. The gazing of the audience conveyed him beyond the boundaries of his individuality.
The irresistible movement of the crowd's gaze transported him apart from himself. The public breathed, radiating a powerful force, invisible yet present and scary… they breathed, with a regular and disturbing breath, a breath like the breath of the celestial vault in the night, the breath of a mythical creature, the breath of the sea, of all that breathes, lives and worries. The rhythm of the music penetrated this breath, making it more jerky and more violent. The beat of the music permeated this breath, turning it violent, choppy. Adam began to sing. The hall exploded in a sustained wave of applause and filled with rapturous sighs as heads swayed. Instrumental music blended with vocal melodies as the audience sang along. Adam no longer felt the platform under his feet. Swept away by the wave, he began to soar with the ecstatic sighs and applause, hands raised with flaming lighters. He felt like he had become a Hirbidh, the magus priest in charge of the worship of fire among the worshipers of fire… As the curtain fell, he fled to his cabin. Hardly had he entered before his adoring female fans besieged him. The security personnel stepped in promptly to block them as they swarmed screaming towards Adam. They thrust their fingernails in the muscles of the guards who had set up a security perimeter to keep them from Adam and, after much difficulty, managed to dislodge them from the cabin and shut the door. They then proceeded to allow them to enter, one at a time.
Sameri had already installed cameras in Adam’s cabin in order to unmask the woman he loved. He sat in the observation chamber, viewing a video of Adam’s cabin. One after another, the female fans begged Adam for autographs and photos, some pounced to hug him, and others tried to snatch a kiss or touch his clothing. Then in walked Maneki, the door closing behind her. Her facial features expressed obstinacy and severity as she confronted her destiny. Adam contemplated her as though searching behind her face for something he had lost, wondering how she would respond if he revealed to her his love. He perplexed her with his gaze.
“Why do you look at me like that?”
“I hesitate to profess my love to you.”
“I was hesitating as well.”
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, Adam, I love you.”
Sameri inhaled his saliva and almost choked on it.
“Why didn’t you tell me the first time?”
“At first, I wasn’t sure… I didn’t know how to recognize love. I couldn’t be certain it was love until they taught me to abandon emotion. Only then did I realize I love you.”
Sameri had heard and seen enough. He rushed through a squad of security personnel to Adam’s cabin, and barged in. Maneki screamed in panic. “Well, Adam, what a betrayal! Did you suppose you could deceive me?” He turned to Maneki. “And you? What’s your name? Which center did you come from?”
Adam rose up in defiance. “I never intended to deceive you! You asked me about my feelings towards Soho but you never asked me about my love for Maneki. I see no reason to be ashamed about emotion. Emotion is no less innocent than desire. You can’t separate the two the way you all do in the Service. Love is a human attribute that cannot be subject to the law.”
He was sent to a sexual rehabilitation camp for men, while Maneki was detained in a camp for women.
The Rehabilitation camp
The sexual rehabilitation camp for men resembled a barracks, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Panic assailed Adam as he entered. “This could one of those prisons where the only way out is in a coffin.” He could not quite grasp what had struck him. «How can a person sentence another to prison for merely loving someone? » He was not persuaded that he had committed a crime. He simply had fallen in love. «How could the emotion of love just for the sake of love turn into a crime? Isn’t the human being entirely emotion? Turning the prohibition of love into law represents ignorance. Human nature will not be healed by passing such laws. No matter how much they suppress love, they will never detach emotion from desire, because emotion controls desire through the mutual attraction of the two sexes. Only the fear of the other could justify this absurd segregation… »
Khunatha supervised Adam’s transfer to the sexual rehabilitation camps for men. It seemed that he saw naturally what would happen to Adam. Did he not warn him at their first meeting? Then again, Khunatha displayed a remarkable gift of fathoming the future. The two of them rode a vehicle of thick transparent glass which produced the illusion of swimming through space. It conveyed them through a tunnel, deep underground, illuminated by lamps like suns, emitting hellish heat. The vehicle descended into an abysmal chasm, but the really terrifying thing was the fine line of light that glided on and on with amazing speed: it was thinner than a hair and sharper than a sword. It could, Adam imagined, slice the vehicle in half and dispatch it into the abyss. The vehicle came to rest at a socket just in time: Adam was fed up with this long, hellish trip. The door opened and there stood a man. “We haven’t seen you in a while,” he addressed Khunatha, “what’s wrong with him?”
“He’s afflicted with love.”
“We’ll fix him. Follow me.”
The man led them to a room resembling a beauty salon or barbershop, its walls covered with mirrors, and computers parked on numerous tables. In the center of it all was an iron bed furnished with shining white covers. Khunatha stepped toward one of the devices and began to enter information about the new guest. As he typed in the data, it appeared on the screen, which the other man watched closely. After Khunatha left, the man ordered Adam to undress. When he was naked, the man pressed a button to admit another man. Pointing to Adam’s clothes, the first one ordered, “Take all these and throw them in the incinerator.”
He had Adam lie down on the iron bed, then put his head in a glass dish, shaved all his hair and beard, then shaved all the hair from the rest of his body. Adam offered no resistance. Khunatha had already warned him: “Don’t try to resist, as that will lead only to punishment. Keep in mind that physical resistance in this type of situation will not succeed. Salvation lies in moral resistance. Try to redeem yourself in this way.” This advice, and moreover, the tone in which it was rendered, imparted to Adam a sense of confidence towards Khunatha. After the man finished shaving all of Adam’s hair, he washed him head to toe, as if wanting to cleanse him of the filth of sin. He then dried and dressed Adam, as if were a newborn baby.
“Come with me to your quarters.”
He walked him through an intensely illuminated steel-glass corridor which betrayed no trace of human presence. The corridor led them to an armored door. The man took out a magnetic car tied by a steel chain to his belt. He inserted it into the gap in the lock. He brought Adam in then blocked him from the door. A celestial silence settled over the room which became a closed chamber, floating in space. This silence disclosed a strange world: the roar of blood gushing through his vessels. Nature had heretofore concealed this scary dimension of his body. Now, however, he came to hear the blood rushing in his veins and arteries, the rumbling torrent in his intestines, and the strange symphony performed by the neuronal synapses in his brain. It astonished him to hear this awful buzz in his body. He stuck his fingers in his ears but to no avail, as the din arose from within, emerging from every cell in his body. He began to flounder like one possessed, perchance those horrendous sounds would stop. He stood up, sat down, coughed, screamed, writhed on the mattress, and beat his head on everything in his path… all to no avail. On the contrary, the frenzy and dissonance increased. He lost all sense of self and perceived nothing but the cacophony of his body. Then a familiar voice rang out and all the bodily noise receded.
“Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam!”
He could not believe what he heard: it was Maneki’s voice, her very own voice. Though amplified, it was her voice no doubt. At first the room was pitch dark, not a glimmer of light leaked in. Then suddenly searchlights flashed. Adam was stunned: Maneki was everywhere – her voice, her name, her image! Yet it was a presence that enfolded absence, suggesting merely a vulgar simulation. He tried to think of his position, but how could he think while being flogged with Maneki’s unceasing voice like a tape that repeats as soon as it ends, and with her shiny pictures on the screens throughout the room. He shut his eyes, stuck his fingers in his ears, and remained so for a long while.
The room, air conditioned and with a low ceiling, was devoid of furniture other than the bed with drawers full of nutritional tablets. The bathroom was angled into a corner like a wall cabinet. How long would he linger in this prison? Could he somehow get out? He was well aware that Maneki would be at the other sexual rehabilitation camp. He feared for her but knew beyond doubt that he could not see her. The light still seeped into his sight, perforating his eyelids as the noise infiltrated his ears and even his pores. «What to do? The situation is clear: a deadly threat to my love and my will to hold on to it; I must find a way to connect with Maneki; I urgently need to find a way to escape from this hell. » When he opened his eyes and removed his fingers from his ears, the room, saturated with Maneki, overloaded his senses.
“Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam! Hello Adam!”
Not even an echo leaked into the sound-proof, windowless room. The only door was thick, if only he had such a thick door to block Maneki’s voice from his ears. Everything was painted in pink: the walls, the ceiling, the bed and covers, Adam’s clothes… even the air. He remained sitting, surrendering to the voice and images of Maneki, who had transformed from sweetheart to torturer. Maneki’s pictures vanished and her voice ceased, only to be replaced by the cacophony of Adam’s body. By now Adam had grown accustomed to the noise and could sleep in spite of it after long deprivation. He shut his eyes, lay his head down on the bed, took a deep breath, then just slept.
He woke up terrified as Maneki repeated in a booming voice that shook the whole room, “Adam, sweetheart, wake up! I know you love me! I don’t want you to sleep! I want you to keep thinking of me! Adam, sweetheart, wake up! I know you love me! I don’t want you to sleep! I want you to keep thinking of me! Adam, sweetheart, wake up! I know you love me! I don’t want you to sleep! I want you to keep thinking of me!”
«How long did I sleep? I don’t know, I lost track of the time. » He got up and headed to the door, searching for any hole through which he could look at what was going on outside. He found nothing but a thick, silent wall. He could not even detect the position of the lock. He locked his hands together and began to prod the door with his palms. But as if it were a silent movie, his punches did not make any sound. He was cut off from the world. There was nothing left of the thread that tied him to the world except for Maneki’s flogging.
He now discovered the secret to this odious charade of his sweetheart: a savage method of brainwashing. They wanted to wipe out the memory of Maneki and convert it into something repugnant. Whenever he was about to doze off, Maneki’s voice would alert him: “Adam, sweetheart, wake up! I know you love me! I don’t want you to sleep! I want you to keep thinking of me! Adam, sweetheart, wake up! I know you love me! I don’t want you to sleep! I want you to keep thinking of me!” All that notwithstanding, the harshest punishment was the perpetual light. He tried to shut it off but found no switch. If only he could find the bulbs, he would smash them. What he did find was a fully illuminated ceiling… unbreakable. So, he dwelt under the sun that never set. Time stopped. Reference points disappeared. If at least meals would come, he could observe their schedule in order to monitor time. He came to doubt the existence of the world… or whether he still possessed a self. He tried to listen to the rhythm of his heartbeat to verify his existence and the flow of time. He estimated his heart rate at 60 to 100 beats per minute, which gave him some notion, but little more than a gelatinous idea of time, through the lens of the microcosmos, but not on the scale of the larger world, as determined by the succession of night and day that organizes the cycle of life.
He tried to arrange his life according to the world of his dungeon, but how, in the absence of order? For instance, Maneki’s voice would be pumped into the room in different ways. It would sound as a single sentence at times; at other times it would flow into a long discourse. He tried to measure the intervals by counting. He could count from 1 to 10 without hearing Maneki’s voice, and occasionally he could reach 20 or 30 or even 100. Once he kept counting until he fell asleep without hearing the voice. The frontiers of the world were the walls of this dungeon. He struggled to reassure himself by clinging to the recollection of people and situations that proved beyond doubt the existence of the outside world, but the dungeon world nullified this memory, negating its origin. He lost track of his former life as a soul forgets its previous incarnations. It seemed that the whole idea behind the lack of schedule or order was to wipe out his reference points so that he no longer knew who he was. He lost memory and self-awareness in the chaos of the dungeon world as his love turned into a faint, elusive glimmer… « But what love? Surely not that of the Maneki of this dungeon he abhorred; this monstrosity was not the one who loved, no, this ghoul was not Maneki. «What is love without the beloved? » Adam wished to discover. Didn't the dismaying experience in the dungeon prove that the beloved could be separated from love? «Hasn’t Maneki turned from the beloved into the arch enemy of our love, as a reaction to this horrendous dungeon world? Maneki… she’s the one speaking and appearing in hostile images causing dissonance and repugnance. It’s just a false fabrication of her image, and I don’t care. What matters to me is that this image could be used in a plot aimed at destroying our love. This thing that appeared hostile, it’s nothing but a fictional image of the body of the beloved. Moreover, this image often appears to be utterly incompatible with Maneki’s reality and her truth. If the image of the beloved can alienate love, then that proves that love can stand without it. »
It happened one day or night – he no longer could distinguish between the two – the outside world proved its existence. Khunatha entered Adam’s dungeon. The two regarded one another as if seeing the other for the first time.
“Good morning, Adam.”
“Morning? What day is today?”
“What time is it?”
“It’s noontime. The sun is directly above our heads.”
“Still at a respectable distance I hope?”
Khunatha did not understand the question and attributed it to the familiar raving of someone lovesick.
“Has much time passed?” asked Adam.
“Oh yes, quite some time has passed. Do you still love Maneki?”
“The one you fell in love with during Mixed Service.”
“That one? Yes, I still love her.”
It seemed Khunatha expected a different reply. He remained silent, awaiting something more but Adam uttered nary a word.
“I met her; she almost went mad.”
“Does she still love me?”
“Yes, she still loves you. Just yesterday she started her second round of rehabilitation.”
“Right, another round of sexual rehabilitation to restore her to lesbianism.”
“Khunatha, as you represent the origin and purpose of love, you represent the symbol of happiness before segregation, why do you keep persecuting those who love?”
“I’m here for the sake of your happiness.”
“Yeah? Then tell me how to get out of this dungeon.”
“You must prove you don’t love Maneki. Your second round of rehabilitation starts tomorrow, and it won’t stop until you return to homosexuality, which is the custom among men. Only after that can you qualify to take the test for release and freedom. But if they discover that you still harbor that emotion, they will make you start this process all over again.”
He vanished as suddenly as he had appeared. Adam found himself alone in his dungeon. «So, I’ve made it through the first phase without going mad, without losing my love? » He wondered about the veracity of Khunatha’s claim that Maneki still loved him. «If she has held onto her love, that is a great victory, but she must conceal her love, else she’ll never get out of prison. »
The Round Table
One day or night the dungeon door opened, letting in waves of the outdoors. The blare that emanated from deep inside his body miraculously faded away. With the familiar, congenial sounds of the outside, Adam recovered his composure, regaining his self-awareness and his delusional dreams. Yet he would never forget that horrifying uproar of unknown origin. The person who came through the door was the same man who had shut Adam into the dungeon.
“If Khunatha was speaking the truth, then you’ve begun to turn over a new leaf. Come with me and I’ll show you to your new quarters.”
“New quarters” meant a room only slightly more spacious than the first dungeon but with a priceless advantage: a window looking out on a wall so tall you could not see how high it towered. The furniture was soft and comfortable. The springs of the outer world, with its hushed murmurs and pleasant breezes brought relief to the sensory channels. The light pouring in through the window allowed one to get back in step with day and night. Although the garden fully occupied one’s vision, there was another, more alluring horizon: the hole in the door revealed a view of the corridor and all those who passed through. As well, there were holovision sets constantly operating, over which Adam had no control: he could neither silence them nor even change the channels. Four wide screens were embedded in the walls, the programs flowing endlessly, with no visible buttons or dials, no remote-control devices. He tried again and again to smash them, but to no avail.
The programs streamed continuously without changing, designed to emancipate the viewer from the delusions of love and highlight its risks. The program repeated most often was a round table which featured a woman whose controversial book, The Deceit of Love had recently come out. She was joined by two other guests on the show, one of whom had written a book on the history of love in the ancient civilizations. The other had directed a short film about the aggression at the basis of sexual relations. The program started off with a live presentation of the aforementioned film. The film began with a close-up scene of a girl exuding sensuality, like a wild animal being hunted. Her presence almost burst through the screen; you felt the heat of her breath. Her body was a living creature, caressing the camera wantonly. This scene of lethal seduction lasted more than a minute, then a man appeared on the screen. At first, he paid no attention, then seconds later the girl’s body took its toll on him; his senses erupted with terrific violence, as if attempting to break out of his body frame. Now the man beheld the appetizing prey ravenously. The lens zoomed out to place the man and the girl in the natural surroundings about them. The irresistible surge towards the other could conclude only with coupling or death. The film stopped and the studio scene returned to the screen, just like the lights in a movie theater. The author interjected:
“there’s no need to know who directed this film to ascertain it had to be a man! In this film, the woman is presented as an agent who introduces turmoil into the quiet course of life. The woman is shown as the one who instigates violence, desire, and love. This is a fallacy because a woman is not some kind of arousal machine ... and if she exposes herself at times to stir up desires, she is not alone in that.”
“I haven’t any preconceived notion on women. I wanted only to portray desire as it plays out between men and women. And the undeniable reality is that women have faculty for arousing men. This extraordinary talent emerges from their non-resisting position that makes them an instrument for satisfying desire. We are aware that love is primarily a man’s search for a woman. And as the man always takes the lead, the woman puts herself in the position of the instrument. I don’t mean that women are more attractive or arousing than men, but from their non-resisting position, they arouse men’s desire and aspire to couple with them. Even if they refuse, they are desirous. The woman arouses love and is thus responsible for its dire consequences… unless it was the man driven by madness to imagine the desire and the object of desire.”
“This doesn’t concern us,” the reporter interrupted. “What’s important is that we should all – men and women – beware of the risks of love and resolve to combat it.”
“This can be achieved only by knowing the history of love and the disasters it has caused in ancient times,” chimed in the historian. “The first catastrophe triggered by love was the one that banished Adam from the Garden of Eden. It was the woman who tempted Adam to eat from the tree, bringing about human misery. And since that era, love has kept on sowing sorrow, disease, and death among people. Wars have fed on love. You still remember the civil war that devastated humanity and led to the segregation of men and women as a cure for the disease of love. Prior to that, humanity endeavored to come up with many solutions, the most famous and most common of which was the establishment of the institution of the family and marriage. Mankind thought that this institution would contain the destructive energy of love, but the family ceased to exist after childbearing was detached from sex.
“The failure of marriage was the result of its intrinsic nature. The critical error in the institution of marriage was that it was founded on domesticating men and it ignored the women. Marriage tried to make men acquiesce to women, and thus the family altered only men while women remained as they were. Men's desire was transformed into love and their lust into emotion. Desire on the man’s part was channeled into work, love, and family, and every man bonded with his children. Hunters turned into parents; the desire to control turned into the power of labor. The family was built on the principle that all danger lies with men while women pose no peril at all. The family created love, turned desire into a sin, then corrupted men's desire by separating it from procreation, and transformed lust into an empty function. By separating it from procreation, it unleashed desire, bringing about defilement, disease, and death. Sex became a deceit to human nature. Mankind succumbed to excess, confident in the ability of science to treat the scourges it caused, unaware that excess is death.”
The journalist shot a question to the author:
“How would you size up the historian’s view that the history of love is the history of delusion, that began as a curse and ended up as a deviation?”
“You can call it a deviation or a curse, said the woman, but the main thing is that women do not trust love, even if they delude men into the opposite stance. The reality is that the history of love does not matter to women. The nature of women has remained as it is. Men reckoned motherhood as the solution to a woman’s mystery, yet when motherhood was detached from the woman, with the introduction of artificial reproduction of humans, the mystery seemed more complicated. In reality, this puzzle is the epitome of men deceiving themselves: Men posit an image of women and women adopt that image without linking it to their reality. A woman can assume multiple personalities and alternate souls, yet these personalities and souls are merely masks to conceal her true personality, mirrors to reflect a man’s emotions and delusions. Thus, she appears neutral as if without a life of her own.
“A man suggests to a woman a delusional image reflecting his own desires, and she takes on that image to reflect it back to him. In reality, all we’ve ever given men are those blank masks, as men are arrogant, incapable of discovering anything that does not reflect their own image. They look at us and claim they’re searching for our psyche, yet they will never discern anything but their own delusions. We are mirrors for this imagination; we reflect a mirror image of the illusions we borrow for a moment; we adorn ourselves with it like a veil of men’s desires. The pleasure that matters so much to men is, by and large, nothing but posing and artificiality among women. This does not mean women miss out on pleasure, but we attain our pleasure not from men. We wanted to transform desire into emotion because men attract it below the navel. Men wanted to enslave us within the institution of the family, but we tricked our way out and wrested sovereignty from them. After they failed to impose control over us, they began to sing a new tune: of equality and harmony between the sexes. They claimed that they would make us happy with love and might need extraordinary power of persuasion to prove to us that they could guarantee our happiness. How perspicacious Zoroaster was when he proclaimed, “How wretched the soul becomes in marriage! How filthy the soul becomes in marriage! How vile the soul becomes in marriage!”
Khunatha discloses the secret of Love
Maneki suffered a lot during the first phase of rehabilitation. She too underwent the detestable charade with the image of her beloved. She figured out only later the true meaning of this savage method of brainwashing. The detection of the deception did not detract from its effect: Adam's name, image, and memory became unbearable. With the end of phase one, she seemed sure she abhorred Adam. But now that phase two had got underway, she was no longer certain. Adam had a double presence in her memory: the beloved whom she had come to know during the Mixed Service Competency Exam, whose love had become her heart’s passion; and then the tormenter who attended her torture throughout phase one, and whose mocking image shattered her love. Her memory now vacillated between these two contradictory images. Everything in her new life made her forget Adam and men in general. All about her were women, just women, who never left her alone. There was nothing to remind her of men save her prison and Khunatha’s rare visits. At the rehabilitation camps she underwent harsh torture, to the point where she wondered if she was destined for perpetual madness. Khunatha made an effort to reassure her during his last visit; she even thought he was complicit in her love.
“I think you will survive the tragedy. The goal of rehabilitation phase two is to give you and Adam a device to elevate your love and detach it from the bounds of your bodies.”
“How do we elevate our love?”
“You transform it into virgin love.”
But that was the end of that day’s exchange. She thought long and hard after he left: «What remains of love if bereft of carnal desire? » More and more, her memory of Adam faded and when she did recall him, she found him in the same corner of her mind, hiding in his emotional cocoon. «Could his love be keeping him in this same spot of memory? If so, love could live on without the beloved.»
She had not made any friends since arriving at the rehabilitation camps, even though many joined her in different programs. They all seemed wary of their fellow inmates. There were elderly women, known as the Afflicted Ones who had repeated their rehabilitation journey dozens of times, most of whom would spend the rest of their lives in the camp. Maneki cultivated a relationship with them, inquiring about their tragedies, their love stories. How had they failed so many times the test for release and freedom? She learned from them about the errors she must avoid during the test. Thanks to them she discerned numerous secrets of the rehabilitation camps.
Certain drug trials were being conducted pertaining to sex hormones and their effect on biological and psychological parameters and libido. The women were being used in these trials as laboratory mice. The first time Maneki was subjected to these experiments, they injected her with progesterone, the female hormone known to quell the libido. This treatment continued throughout the first phase of the experiment. Initially, it altered her body perception, she began to see her own body as a strange object. All through these treatments Maneki was accompanied by an Educator assigned the mission of restoring her to lesbianism. She carried on a sexual relationship with Maneki and measured the degree of her eroticism, entering all the data in a device she carried with her. Prior to her injection of the female hormone, Maneki could feel her body, deriving pleasure from merely recalling situations of arousal or even by simply drawing her thighs together. She recalled that after her separation from Adam, she could reach orgasm just through masturbation.
During phase one, after arriving at the rehabilitation camps, lust accosted her repeatedly when the Educator touched her. Only one week after the injections began, her libido vanished. The Educator had to resort to all manner of tricks and apply them for a long time, before she detected a fleeting glimmer of pleasure. Whenever she finished with Maneki, she went to the device near the window and stayed there, caressing it, fondling it, as if playing the piano. Then she would stop and stare at the dark screen until a curved dotted line appeared. She took a moment to note her observation then pressed a button. The line disappeared and the screen darkened. She left the room, shutting the door behind her.
Maneki could not understand the meaning of this game until she realized the connection between the curved dotted line on the screen and the degree of her pleasure during her relations with the Educator . At first the lines curved upward, then began to descend after a few weeks until finally flat-lining. This disturbance in Maneki’s pleasure index was accompanied by an altered memory. Gradually, Adam’s image changed. Prior to the hormone treatment, this image was charged with desire and pleasure, but now, as pleasure faded, Adam morphed into just a friend. Progesterone eliminated the sexual dimension of his image as it did away with her desire. She came to regard sex as something base, filthy, repellent… then began to despise her body; it disgusted her as if it had come detached and no longer belonged to her. Hormone therapy sprang from the concept that emotional love is nothing but a manifestation of desire in the imagination. If true, it would suffice to eliminate pleasure and let its shadow fade into the imagination.
This experiment yielded mixed results: For some women, rehabilitation eradicated pleasure and erased emotion, although for others, including Maneki, emotion took the place of pleasure. Her affection for Adam increased as the erotic dimension receded. Progesterone pointed her to a love devoid of sexual desire. In truth, those who lost their love with the loss of pleasure were never really in love. Their love had been nothing but an imaginary shadow of their desire, just a delusional emotion. Only those who retained their affection after the demise of desire which had fueled it, only they had truly loved.
Finished with hormone treatment, Maneki was summoned by the General Supervisor. She was forty years old and retained traces of beauty gone by. Her gray hair was cut very short, over a high and wide forehead. Her nose was delicate, the left nostril a slight crack. Her big eyes were frightening, like those of a hypnotist, penetrating to one’s depths. Her full lips, bright pink, twitched with exaggerated sensuality. As Maneki stepped in, the Supervisor stared at her intently then asked her to sit down face to face with her, never lifting her eyes from Maneki, as if trying to hypnotize her. Those piercing eyes terrified Maneki. She knew the supervisor would question her about her affection for Adam, which bolstered her resolve to conceal the truth.
“Have you thought of Adam since arriving here?” The softness of her voice belied her stern looks.
“No, I mean no… Never! As soon as I got here, I started to forget him.”
“Do you still preserve what remains of Adam’s love?”
“No... Nothing… I couldn’t care less about his existence.”
The Supervisor rose to stand, her tall stature accentuating the femininity of her figure, but also portending extraordinary strength. She raised her hand and slapped Maneki violently. Then she sat down.
“Now we’ll start from the beginning.” The slap hit so hard that Maneki fell down. The Supervisor’s tone of voice left no doubt that she must speak the truth. Maneki had learned from the Afflicted Ones that the Supervisor injected the prisoners with a hallucinogen to induce them to rave the components of their thoughts. The Supervisor resumed the interrogation from the beginning:
“Have you thought of Adam since arriving here?”
“His memory still dwells in the depths of my soul!”
“Do you still love him?”
“Yes, I love him! My love for him only grew once I discovered this love transcended carnal desire.”
“What is it that bonds you two together?”
“We are two companions brought together by a predestined harmony!”
The Supervisor walked over to the room next to her office. Maneki felt relieved at having testified truthfully but dreaded the consequences of her confession. Distressed after the violent interrogation as she awaited the Supervisor, she grasped the precariousness of her position. «Perhaps I’ll die here. Maybe it’ll happen fast in a few days or weeks. This could happen on account of the experiments they’ve done on me. What inevitable fate threw me into the hands of this ghoul? I had not wanted to love. It struck me like an incurable disease. I did not recognize love until it was too late. One does not choose to fall in love. Love is an inescapable fate… »
The Supervisor entered along with the Educator.
“Take her now, get her the prescribed treatment starting tomorrow.”
The Educator motioned to Maneki to follow her. She complied, obedient, submissive… yet that obedience and submission were nothing but a pretense, for in the depths of her soul, there resided a grim determination to face-off with fate. As she exited the building, she raised her glance upwards. The sky was low and gray, and seemed to be welded to the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. The dense, damp fog clouded the near horizon; entities and objects were barely visible, enveloped as they were with a creeping, odorless, watery colored smoke. To the right, she could distinguish the first story and half the second, of a building rooted in the ground. It seemed to stand in resistance to the voracious sky partially swallowing it. The color of the fog reflected off the window glass of the bottom story. From behind the glass of the second window after the main entrance, a close look revealed a human face crying out. Although that pale face might escape the notice of passersby, Maneki could no longer disregard human misery; for her, the features of any anguished face surpassed in clarity all discourse. Less than a meter in front of Maneki walked the Educator, her head down, her shoulders bent under the burden of her thoughts. Her massive person was left here by coincidence, gliding with the waves, deluded that it had an objective, and she would not awaken from that delusion until it was too late, upon her death...
After they reached her room, Maneki tried to identify the drug the supervisor had given her. It turns out she had decided to restore physical pleasure to Maneki, prescribing injections of male hormones until Maneki regained her eros. The Educator commenced giving her twenty injections daily, each shot comprising ten grams of testosterone propionate i.e. 200 grams daily of organic male hormone. After three days of injections, hair covered her body. Even her breasts were covered by a fleece of black hair, as her voice deepened and darkened. This rapid alteration frightened her. Before each injection, the Educator called upon her colleagues to control Maneki.
One day, Khunatha paid her a visit. Although he showed no sign of aging, Maneki felt certain that a long time had elapsed since his last visit. He indicated no surprise at Maneki’s condition as she received him sitting on the corner of the bed, wearing a silk shirt open to reveal her hairy chest and thighs. Khunatha stared at her bare chest; he seemed fascinated by the two hairy naked breasts, yearned to caress them. Trying to hide his desire, he reported, “I had a meeting with Adam.”
“Really?” She replied in a deep voice that resounded through the room. “He’s so near and yet so far away at the same time. I endure all my punishment here on his account, though I fear I’ll never see him again.”
«How odd this cavernous sound, » he said to himself. «And so different from Maneki’s voice. »
“Khunatha, you know how I suffer here. You know I’m incurably stricken with love sickness, but I don’t know how this happened to me. You’re the expert in the secrets of love, have mercy on me. Tell me why I fell into this passion? This would, perhaps, lighten my pain.”
“A monumental question! I’ve never laid bare the secret of love to anyone. If I were to reveal it to you, you could lose it, as love must deceive. Were I to divulge the secret of love, you would lose your delusions, and blame me for a catastrophic loss. I know that you are tormented now and ascribe your torment to love, but if you discovered its secret, your chest would constrict, and love would depart, like daylight from a room after shutting the door and windows.”
“Have no fear. If love rests on nothing but delusion, I will not regret its loss. I’m not so sure I’d want to hang on to it.”
“Beware that love is a blessing that many seek during their lives without finding it, and among the lucky ones who find it, few sustain it. The first to solve the riddle of love was Plato, an ancient philosopher whose works are lost today. Plato says that our first nature differed from our present nature, that love was unknown. In the beginning, there existed only one sex, as opposed to the two sexes present today. That one sex was androgynous and bore traits of man and woman. Everyone had a round shape, with rounded back and waist, four hands, four legs, two identical faces on a cylindrical neck, and above these two faces a single head with four ears. They had two reproductive systems and the rest was similar to that. They stood vertically and walked straight in any direction they wished. In a rush, they would run like an acrobat, first on two legs then on two hands, raising their feet to the sky, pivoting rapidly. They were circular as was their gait.
“The androgynes were distinguished for exceptional strength and toughness. Full of hubris, they attempted to ascend to heaven to do battle with the gods. It was then that Zeus conferred with the rest of the pantheon to come up with a suitable response. What a conundrum: the gods could not kill the disobedient and annihilate the human race with thunderbolts as they had wiped out the giants, for if they exterminated mankind, who would be left to worship them? On the other hand, the gods had to punish the disobedient. In the end, Zeus found a way out: ‘I suppose the best way to preserve the survival of the human species while putting an end to their immorality is to limit their power. I shall split each of them into two halves and thus we obtain two benefits. We will have weakened their strength and increased their worship as they double in number. And if they continue to disobey and refuse to settle down, I shall cut each half into half!’
“And this is the upshot – the ordeal we live through today. The first time, Zeus sliced every human into two halves, just as an egg divides. Whenever he bisected one, he would order Apollo to join his face and half his neck to the site of the cut so that this human side would see the cut site and practice humility. It then fit between the rest. The face returned and the skin collected into what we now call the abdomen by attaching it to the middle, in what we now know as the navel. Then he smoothed out the folds of skin, except for the folds of the abdomen and the navel, as a reminder of the punishment.
“When the bodies were split in two, each half began to seek and yearn for its other half, each embracing and kissing the other, striving to reunite. The halves began thereupon to starve to death and did not move, as they wanted to move only with their other halves. When one half would die and the other survived, the search began for a new second half to replace the loss of the first. Humanity faced extinction. Zeus felt pity for them and found another way out: He endowed each half with a reproductive system. They began to embrace – male and female.
“This had two implications: If the man approached the woman, then reproduction would ensue, and humanity would multiply. If man joined man or woman joined woman, they would break up again as soon as they satisfied their desire, each going back to work to meet the necessities of life. Thus, emerged the human instinct of love. Love tries to restore the ancient nature: the two lovers unite in one being to heal the nature of human beings.
“Love appeared after the punishment by the gods and the division, which biology later called mitosis or meiosis, which transmits heredity. This mutation occurred with the first division, without reproduction, whereby cells with a number of chromosomes reproduced with that number twice. This is done by meiosis, that is, the decrease in the number of chromosomes upon the formation of second-generation gametes. These cells split into two halves, each looking for the other.
“Thus, begins the process of mutual attraction and then convergence to generate one organism, the egg. Reproductive cells contain only twenty-three chromosomes. The first cell lost half of its chromosomes during its development. But the human cell's chromosomes, which number forty-six, are not complete until reproduction. This is what Plato meant symbolically when he said: ‘The division of the human into two halves is the origin of love, and that love restores the first nature, uniting two beings into one, healing, thereby, human nature.’”
Maneki interrupted. “How did the second split take place?”
“The equal number of male and female chromosomes makes the chances of conceiving males and females equal. Violating this law and choosing the sex of an egg brought about the ruin of human society, resulting in the reality of segregation in which we live today. Insofar as humanity is comprised of half-beings, and inasmuch as they are subject to death, they seek completion and immortality. It is this desire and longing for immortality that we call love. Human fertility is what drives them to procreation.
“In the beginning, love was procreation through the union of man and woman. Procreation redeems the two from the pain of desire. One who longs for the image of his half in order to reproduce, is searching for beauty. If he approaches the beautiful, he is stricken with ecstasy and joy, whereupon he will be seized by lust and multiply. On the other hand, if he should happen upon an abomination, he frowns and grieves, shrinks in upon himself, blocks himself off, and does not procreate. He holds back his seed in pain. Herein lies the reason for the delight that a fertile person experiences when he sees beauty, for it delivers him from the pain of desire. Love, thus, is the desire to reproduce and procreate in the beautiful.
“That was the meaning of the sexual instinct in the beginning, but what distinguishes that instinct is that what drives it may shift without this diminishing its power. In the beginning, love was dedicated to two purposes: one was vital – procreation; the other, optional, but under certain circumstances, also necessary, and that was pleasure. Ergo, three options: First, pleasure without procreation; second, pleasure with procreation; third, procreation without pleasure. But nature linked pleasure and procreation, and only human society separated them. This split between pleasure and procreation emerged gradually, for in ancient societies love was linked to procreation, so they considered love for the sake of pleasure disobedience. With scientific control over procreation, however, human beings became preoccupied with searching for pleasure and differentiated between procreation and love, by relying on technical means for reproduction, which led to the founding of two segregated societies: one of men, the other of women. Thus, separation struck again… and irreversibly!”
As morning loomed ahead, Khunatha went silent. Nothing he said had a thing to do with the love Maneki felt. She discerned in her love a truth that human minds do not realize. She would submit to his authority without attempting to fathom his secret.
Maneki had not pondered her love in recent days. She worried over the transformations her body had undergone under the influence of the male hormones. It had regained its sensation but remained repulsive. After twenty days, they resumed treating her with female hormones. Before starting the new treatment, the Supervisor summoned the Educator to set up a research protocol. She asked her to diagnose the effect of the female hormones on three levels: First, on her period; second on skeletal structure; and finally, on appearance. Maneki grieved on finding out she would undergo a new treatment. She could no longer bear this torture. «I would find a way out, no matter the price. » Though not the first time she resolved to escape, this time she knew that she alone must devise the solution. Previously she supposed Adam could find a way to break her out of the rehabilitation camps, then she shifted her hopes to Khunatha – didn’t he seem to take her side? But she had given up on him. For quite some time, one terrifying obsession dominated her thinking: «What if I had to stay for the rest of my life in this cursed camp and meet the fate of the Afflicted Ones? » After a week of the female hormone treatment, all traces of masculinity vanished from her body. Her body hair receded, and her voice recovered its sweet tone; her breasts doubled in size and regained their beauty.
When Mixed Service had first started, numerous questions accosted her about herself and the meaning of her life. Why must she, throughout her life, bear the consequences of past conflicts? In the flower of her youth, she had assumed that she could think and act freely, or at least, she did not wonder about her freedom of action, since she could do whatever she wanted, assured of living the life she chose for herself. Her world had been purely feminine up until the start of Mixed Service, and in this world of women, her mother exemplified the ideal, as she carried on the traditions set forth for the society of women. She had warm, tender relations with her mother and remembered the circumstances of her birth as her mother often told her. In those days, women who wanted to have children preferred In-Vitro fertilization and the rental of an artificial womb, to avoid the risk of harm during pregnancy. Risk notwithstanding, her mother refused IVF. When she decided to have a baby, she turned down IVF and instead waited for her turn at Mixed Service, for a male to inseminate her. When she arrived at Mixed Service, she hesitated at length before selecting the man who would father her daughter. She waited until the end of her Service period, aware of the risks of natural childbirth, and prepared to face them. The trickiest thing about conceiving with a man was assuring that the fetus was female, as bearing a baby boy meant life imprisonment and infanticide.
At the onset of her pregnancy, she paid an exorbitant amount to a secret laboratory specializing – illegally – in diagnosing the sex of the egg in pregnant women. Just what she dreaded happened: she was carrying a male and must terminate the pregnancy and start all over again. Perhaps this time it would be female. Just a few days remained of Service and then she would be permanently cut off from men. She seduced the man again, conceived, and made haste to the laboratory for a diagnosis. A girl! The stakes grew more perilous: after a day or two, she would undergo an end-of-Mixed-Service test. If found pregnant, they would abort her, as the law prohibited pregnancy for the duration of Service. Hence, all women would undergo a thorough pregnancy analysis based on showing the hormone Chorionic Gonadotropin in the blood of a pregnant woman.
She commenced drinking two and a half liters of rose hips tea each morning. She showed up at the laboratory on the day of the analysis, anxious, fearful for her daughter. But thanks to the rose hips tea, the analysis failed to show the presence of Chorionic Gonadotropin in her bloodstream, so she could leave the Service with her daughter. As soon as she got out, she proceeded to the IVF center to avoid problems upon the birth of her daughter. She carried her nine months, feeling the baby growing inside her, drawing nourishment from her. She endured much during her pregnancy. She waited impatiently for the day when she would experience the pains and joys of delivery and motherhood, then the joys and troubles of raising her daughter. Maneki loved to listen to her mother recalling the circumstances of her conception and birth but could not understand why her mother had insisted on insemination by a man, with all the risks associated. Why get involved in gambling on insemination by a man, when cloning was available? Doesn't sperm carry many genetic diseases that can cause defects? Her mother provided no persuasive rationalization for her choice. Perhaps it derived from a nostalgia for the past.
Maneki kept firing the questions. «Why did she give birth to me and not to someone else? What sin did that infant commit to be killed at birth? Why is it that no one had a hand in its life or death? Why must we live and exist? She didn’t ask me when she conceived me, I didn’t ask to be born in the first place! Yes, I love my mother, as I love Adam and feel tenderness for the little girls who play in the late afternoon under the crimson of the setting sun in the little park near our building. Love and life and the things of the Earth that will never change, with which we are inextricably bound: why, pray tell, are they here? And why are we here? »
Questions of this sort began to assail Maneki after meeting Adam; wondering became the norm of her life. Such questions might have seemed pointless, divorced as they were from day-to-day reality, or more importantly, because reality defeated them, as was the case for the rehabilitation camps and the torture to which its inmates were subjected. «No matter how much you are convinced of the horror of what you’re living and the innocence of the afflicted ones, your convictions will not undermine that falsehood! And those who ask the question ‘Why existence and nothingness?’ keep greeting and chatting with neighbors about the weather, their hearts keep beating, they don’t stop with the questions, and as they roam the streets, they keep stopping to avoid speeding cars. In this world into which I have been hurled, I find no justification for the existence of human beings. From one generation to the next, humans continue to develop the legacy of nullity. The reason could lie in the stars, for the planets that rule the Earth can also dictate the fate of the people who inhabit it. Hasn’t truth always come from the sky?
»Forgetfulness! Forgetting is what keeps humans going. Humanity sets up laws and systems, but they’re all based on forgetting, forgetting doubt, incapable of coming up with solid foundations. Every time the structure collapses, and people build anew with confidence. The social system is held together only by a weak thread. Nobody is convinced of their role, masks can drop at any moment, revealing monsters. Love alone furnishes a reassuring mask. I loved… for what? To rest assured, even though it demanded a constant effort to remain convinced of this wonderful role. For this I submitted myself to the authority of love. And yet, must one see love as a mask? » After what Khunatha told Maneki, she pondered love at length. What really disappointed her was its biological origin. Was it true that this strange delirium was nothing but a trick devised by the reproductive instinct? This conundrum cast doubt on her love, and as it kept occurring, she saw in it a means to dispel the delusion of love and thereupon constructed her plan to escape the rehabilitation camp.
During that period, she lay awake at night, sleep eluding her as a side effect of the female hormone treatment. What she dreaded most about insomnia was the final quarter of the night. The panic set in past midnight when entities and objects assumed strange shapes that turned scarier and scarier. This terrifying atmosphere that enveloped all beings soon descended upon Maneki, rendering her fearsome as well. At the end of one of these long nights, a quarter moon peered in through the open window. It cast its ivory rays, creeping into the room, climbing the bed until it illuminated Maneki’s exhausted face, veiled by insomnia, a cold moon shrouded in secrets, indifferent to the fate of mankind. The sound of Maneki’s intermittent breath bespoke a solitary soul in the still of the night. She spontaneously held her left hand with her delicate, soft fingers, then placed it on her right cheek, touching her cheek with the delicacy of a ripe peach, a tiny teardrop misting her like a spray. Her fingers slid down her face, feeling the dry, puffy lips, a warm breath of life passing between them. The inflamed lips twitched under the dewy fingers before the hand continued to feel the neck, like a hermit leaning on the pillar of an ancient temple… An urgent whim came over her. She ran her tongue over her stiff lips, feeling like dry ground. But her hand kept on exploring, caressing the rising chest flowing in all directions, causing a tremor that coursed through the body from head to toes. The image of Adam conveyed by a moonbeam, casting shadows, no longer left her. Maneki forgot herself, forgot the center and the torment and the long sleepless nights. The hand went down below the navel, feeling between the thighs, it was wet! She recalled that her period had resumed under the influence of female hormones: now it came every twenty-one hours! Adam’s image evaporated. She opened her eyes. The frightening silence of the night pervaded the room; moonbeams had now reached beyond the bed... objects assumed strange shapes; everything stripped off its mask and its usual visage. Things were no longer within reach as they had been; they took on an irritable, hostile appearance, raving and metamorphosing before her very eyes. They had an artificial look to them, like the sudden good manners of a rowdy, rambunctious class after the teacher walks in unexpectedly. They might appear still just now, while they had just been dancing when Maneki had her eyes closed… and when she did not close her eyes, they took the form of demons under the moonlight.
A Wonderful blaze in his eyes
Adam has reached the phase of restoration of homosexuality. The rehabilitation camps had little houses called “meeting spots” designated for this purpose. They had designed them as cabins for dates where men would converge in an arousing atmosphere. All inmates at the rehabilitation camps were required to attend, starting at five o’clock in the afternoon, crowding into those narrow cottages. They would sweat and chat and suffocate in an atmosphere saturated with cigarette smoke, alcohol, and body odors, winking, flirting, seducing. Nobody was allowed to leave the meeting spots without a nighttime companion.
The meeting spots were open daily from 5:00 PM until 2:00 AM. Those remaining till closing without having chosen a partner would be paired off with another by the Educators. Adam tried his best to avoid the imposition of a companion. He detested sodomy, and his comrades all disgusted him. This day he readied himself to go to his customary point. He had begun his preparations at 4:00 PM; he chose some simple clothes: a silk T-shirt, no logo, and skinny cotton jeans. He had noticed the day before a young man radiating a strange blaze in his eyes. He tried to approach him to offer him nighttime companionship, but he chose someone else. This night, however, Adam was determined to snatch him before the others. Never before had he encountered a man this arousing.
When Adam crossed the threshold of the point, everyone turned their eyes to him. The men coalesced into small groups, chatting intimately in the trance of their first cups. He checked the attendees… the youth with blazing eyes had not yet arrived. He stepped over to the bar and ordered a cocktail. He sat at a raised table, half turned to the hall, his left leg slightly bent, his left elbow resting on the bar. He peered at his image in the mirror: his coal-black hair was combed back to reveal his forehead; he turned right and left, reviewing his attire. The waiter served him the cocktail; with his right hand he lifted it to his lips, but his nose got in the way. The bouquet of iced mint, ginger and green apple penetrated his olfactory sense. The rim of the cup lay between the lips, now stretched over it. The liquid flowed, engulfing his tongue, the ice cubes hitting his teeth, then retreating, rolling inside the glass. The glass in hand drifted towards the bar. The flavor emphasized the scent of the bouquet, a cold, even overpowering taste. He turned towards the door, eyeing it from his vantage point, anxious for the arrival of the young man with the wondrous blaze.
He cast another glance at the mirror, taking in his image for a moment. Behind him, close by, he spotted a bald, muscular man, a bit taller than he, a gold earring hanging from his left earlobe, his mustache thick with hair, sporting a black leather suit, covered in chains. The man was ogling Adam’s image in the mirror. Adam returned his glance, then turned his face away. But when he looked back, the man greeted him with the same careful look. Adam turned to him. He was in his 40s. He clenched his moustache away from his teeth in a broad, yellow smile. Not pleased, Adam returned the smile. The bald man hurriedly grabbed him around the waist with his two strong arms and forcefully pulled him into an embrace. Adam felt the man’s taut body, his face submerged in the hot breath of tobacco and alcohol. he tried to break free, but could not extricate himself from the panting bald man. After much effort, he pulled away.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked the bald man reproachfully, “do you abstain? Why refuse? It’s either me or someone else, doesn’t matter. One way or the other, you’ll have to pair up with someone!”
“Lighten up and leave me alone! Wait until closing time and they’ll find you a companion.”
But his would-be lover was no longer listening. He had begun to scan the hall in search of the object of his desire. Adam ordered another cocktail, trying to forget what had just happened. “Kindness, tenderness, decency, this is how I should treat the young man with the remarkable blaze, otherwise he will turn me down.”
Adam had begun to doubt love between men and women, since he had heard one of the educators support this disastrous idea that love was only the ruse of the instinct of reproduction: “The desire, the feeling are only tricks in the strategy of procreation. Eros is a ridiculous idol; his worship demonstrates the blindness of men. If today, while they have freed themselves from procreation, which has become a technical task, men still experience the delirium of love, it is because the sexual cells continue to divide instead of multiplying. This is the biological basis of love. The phenomenon of love has not disappeared because its biological foundation still stands. Pleasure and passion will remain extant as long the human body still generates gametes.” How could such words not dispel Adam’s hope for love?
When he first experienced affection, upon meeting Maneki, he had no idea this was love. He entered a strange world where sorrow mixed with joy. This peculiar sensation thrilled him and gave new significance to his life. As he searched for the meaning of this affection, he gave no thought to reproduction. Sometimes he viewed love as a communion between two beings in a world of beauty. Other times he saw that those who loved were moon-struck. Still other times he would seek no meaning for this affection without which he could no longer live. But Khunatha’s discourse torpedoed his belief in love. Doubts assailed him. The truth of love could perhaps be revealed if one could manage to separate it from the instinct of reproduction. He decided to put that to the test. He had in mind to prove that affection and desire and procreation were not links in one chain, and that affection could stand without desire, desire without affection, and the two without the reproductive instinct. He felt certain that his love for Maneki transcended desire. To prove that, he would erase desire from his relationship with Maneki to determine whether that would affect his love for her. Accordingly, he resolved to direct all his desire towards men, to detach desire from his love for Maneki. The rehabilitation camps would lend itself to an experiment like this. He would dedicate his time inside, not to denying love, but to affirming its transcendence. In this way, he would utilize rehabilitation to reach the opposite goal. He now rested assured of this strategy. In his early days, he dreaded that he would die or lose his love. This day he saw rehabilitation as a chance to prove the truth of his love.
The hall was packed with men, standing room only. Adam was crowded in from all sides. Occasionally he felt pressure movements from another body, or the touch of a caressing hand. He could no longer make out the entrance. Perhaps the youth with the amazing blaze might had arrived and entered unbeknownst to Adam. He thought of plowing through the crowd to search for him in the hall but hated to lose his place near the bar! It then occurred to him that someone else had taken the young man. He made up his mind to dive into the human wave, surrendering his much-coveted spot, trying to blaze a trail to the other side of the hall.
The odors of alcohol, tobacco and sweat charged the hall’s stifling, stinging atmosphere. He progressed as one swimming in mud, against the current, some swearing at him, others blocking his path, still others, all smiles, clearing the way for him. Some pulled him into a close dance, spinning around, surging forward then back again, many chirping out words lost between the general din and loud music. Everyone had their arm raised, holding their glasses over the heads in a toast, protecting them from the flowing waves. Turning in all directions, he kept looking for him.
He attempted to distinguish the music blaring from the loudspeakers. It was the bass notes that registered first, pulsating in a monotonous staccato. Behind the thick strings a background of loud electrified sounds as the singer wailed out wild, mindless words. No one in the hall listened to the music. They inhaled it as if it were a pollutant that could not be filtered out of the air saturated with smoke, the odor of alcohol, and the sweat of bodies crowded together. This toxic mix of noise and stench staggered all present, leaking through their pores and resounding in the very marrow of their bones. Suddenly there he stood, near a table, so gorgeous tonight. He seemed to be listening to the spirit of the crowd, his charming eyes monitoring a point in the hall. Adam blazed a trail towards him and finally latching on to him. He flinched as though to flee yet did not walk away. They remained latched, gazing at one another without speaking. “I’ve been waiting for you,” ventured Adam, “I’d like you to be my companion tonight.”
“Alright, but on one condition, that you bring me a cocktail without letting a single drop spill.”
Adam ploughed through the crowd towards the bar and returned with the cocktail held high, like a torch. He offered it in its fullness to his companion who sipped it in silence. He then took Adam by the hand and led him without any explanation to the bathroom. They descended a narrow, iron, spiral staircase to the basement and reached the bathroom, its ceiling and walls covered with mirrors. There were two toilets, the door to one of them open a bit. The youth with the amazing blaze peeped in it was vacant. He opened the door to the other one and found no one.
“What are you looking for?” Adam asked his companion, who was examining the floor. He did not answer. He found a handle and opened the cover of a concealed hatch. He sat down near it, put his legs in, put his hands on the edges of the hole and pointed to Adam to follow him, then vanished. Adam probed with one of his legs until his foot found the first step of the stairs. As he inched down, his companion stepped back up and shut the hatch, then resumed descending. He punched a number onto a panel fixed to the wall. From under the stairs a hidden door opened through which nauseating vapors and odors emanated. The youth hurriedly grabbed Adam and the two of them walked through the doorway which swung shut right behind them. They lingered a moment, then began to feel their way in pitch darkness. Adam stumbled, bumping into something he could not even see. “Watch your step,” his companion whispered, “Don’t you see the people lying on the ground?”
Adam's eyesight adjusted to the darkness. In the dim light he became aware of several men lying down, relaxed, some chatting intimately in hushed voices. Some seemed to lie in slumber, while others in a peculiar delirium. Adam and his companion meandered here and there, trying not to tread on the bodies lying about. Sameri welcomed them, astonishing Adam, and motioned to them to sit down. The men around them were drunk and naked. A tall man approached, resembling a rabbit, his right ear bent forward slightly. He was carrying a tray with a bottle, two glasses, a dish of white powder and two thin colored rubber tubes. The young man took from the tray a small glass plate in which were carved two parallel furrows, dipped it in the powder and took it out filled. he released the powder around the furrows, took one of the straws, tilted his head very close to the tray, over the glass plate, leaned on the elbow of his right arm, placed one end of the straw at the end of that of one of the two furrows and the other end in his right nostril. He blocked his left nostril with the left thumb and sniffed up the white powder in one deep inhalation, passing the tube up the furrow from end to end. He fixed his hand on Adam’s neck, pulled him forcefully, then kissed him voraciously. “Come on, take some – it’s your turn.”
Adam picked up a tube and inhaled the remaining line. At first, he did not feel anything in his nose, then a wonderful, refreshing breeze blew through his brain and coursed through the whole body. He felt the ocean waves flowing across his body. He jumped out of the sofa and emitted a cry like one who howls with the wolves. He then grabbed his companion’s head and brought their two foreheads together, nose touching nose.
“Curse you, how could you leave last night without me?”
“But dear friend, you weren’t even here last night!”
“Ah, so that’s how you deal with me? I’ll prove to you that there’s no one but me!”
Adam picked up the bottle, filled his glass, swallowed it down in one gulp… then fell suddenly silent. He lay down as deep thought took leave of him. His companion placed the glass rectangle back in the white powder and inhaled two lines on his own. He pondered Adam’s words which must derived from jealousy. “Why did this delirious impulse strike you?” he asked Adam. “Have you lost your mind? What’s with the hostility?”
“It’s on account of missing out yesterday. I feared I was incapable of arousing your desire and your companion last night was better than I. It tortures me to see you belong to someone else; I want you for myself.”
“Who cares about the past? Seize the present opportunity!”
“Truth is, I’m worried. I want you to be at my disposal, I want to hold onto you for my own purposes.”
“Yes, well, contrary to what you imagine, love must be a trio.”
“No, you’re totally mistaken. I’m not talking about love. Between you and me there’s nothing but desire, and desire is what arouses jealousy, as it turns the other into an object. True love does not admit of jealousy.”