This story is by Justin Knepper and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I could ask Jenny,” I taunted in a sing-song voice.
“Absolutely not!” A smile played across his face as he pulled into the drive way. “Look, this is our decision, not anyone else’s.”
I knew pushing was going to make him go from tolerant to irritated fast, but the Ceremony was just days away. “Did you have a chance to call your brother?”
Ethan paused as he pulled his backpack from the backseat. “I texted him.”
“And he will get back to me when he can.”
“This isn’t something you text about, Ethan,”
“Roan, I know you mean well, but pushing me to get advice from everyone is not something I am comfortable with.” He angled out of the car and shut the door with a little more force than usual.
“Well, it’s either you talk to them or me. So start talking or I call in the reinforcements.”
Ethan let out a breathy laugh and headed to the front door. I opened the door as he pulled off his backpack to set in the front hall. “Can I at least get a drink and sit down before you force me into confessional?”
“You are so overly dramatic.” I opened the fridge as he grabbed a beer. “Oh, you have a message from Kevin. I guess he knew this is supposed to be a conversation with vocal chords, not thumb responses.”
Ethan sat on the couch and leaned his head back, closing his eyes as he took a long pull of beer. He knew that avoiding his brother would not be possible, especially with the Ceremony so close. The trees had just started to take on the hues of autumn, creating a beautiful backdrop for the Ceremony held each year in the central plaza of the city.
“Want me to order Chinese?”
Rubbing his eyes, he yawned and said, “Sure, but no mushrooms! I don’t know how they do it, but they always feel like rubber in your mouth. I miss the day’s of actually growing vegetables.”
“How could you remember? You were in diapers!”
“I was three when synth farms became mass producing, and I recall a lot even from the cradle. You know, I can remember the colors of all my stuffed bears and…”
“Yes, yes, and you can repeat conversations your parents had over your cradle, to the amazement of all our friends. You know, I now realize why our friends are such heavy drinkers.”
Sighing, Ethan said, “Roan, display emails. Execute.”
I accessed his emails in date order for him on the viewer embedded in the wall across from the couch. “You know, after the Ceremony, you wouldn’t even have to ask.”
Rolling his eyes, Ethan replied, “Fine! Ok! Let’s talk.” He leaned back and took another swig of beer.
I switched the viewer to some light jazz. He looked so delicious. I wanted to give him something that would make his eyes roll back and have him begging for more. He always enjoyed our intimacy, and I relished how his intensity nearly drove me to the verge. I had to focus now, though, as the only way to truly have him, all of him, was to complete the Ceremony. “Are you ready for the Ceremony?”
Sighing in exasperation, Ethan replied, “Yes, of course, I am Roan.”
“No, Ethan, I want to know if you are ready now. Not just emotionally ready.”
He stared down at his beer, picking at the moist label. His silence was unnerving. Others had told me that the joy of the connection after the Ceremony would render silent moments like this a thing of the past. I wanted to hear him, feel him, taste him all the time.
“I just want to be sure that we are both ready for the next step.” He finally said, in a low, almost inaudible voice.
“Ethan, you are 20 cycles now. We have been together over 10, and I have never sensed any doubt or hesitation in our commitment.”
He stood abruptly, placing the beer on the table in one fluid motion as he began to pace the room. His spiced aftershave, mixed with the days sweat, was tantalizing to my senses. He stopped in front of the window, staring at the sun setting over the hills. “It’s not that I am hesitating, Roan. I know I belong with you. I knew since the day we met.” He turned, his eyes dark with desire. The white t-shirt defined his muscles in sloping curves that had my senses in near overdrive. I craved him, now more than ever.
“Then what? What do I need to do? What do I need to say? Tell me!” I begged.
I was silent. Him? Scared? It didn’t make sense. I remembered other times he was scared, but none of them were because of me.
Crossing back to the couch, he sat and rested his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands. “I am scared of losing what we have now. What the Ceremony will do to you and our connection.”
“But the Ceremony is the next step. The final step of our commitment, Ethan. We won’t be losing anything. We will be gaining everything.”
Raising his head, a look of pain and frustration set into his tanned face. “I understand what they say will happen. I’ve talked with Sam, Ben, and Evan. They all are happy they committed.”
After a moment of silence, he said in a flat tone, “I am scared of losing myself.”
I reflected on the statement. Rarely did the Ceremony result in a loss of the mind-soul. Records indicated of the 230 cycles that the Ceremony had been conducted, of the 2.4 billion commitments completed, only 1,335 have resulted in a total mind-soul loss. “Ethan, the chances of that even happening are so small, so unlikely…I don’t understand why you haven’t said this before.”
“I didn’t think about it before. Until I went to the orientation.” He paused, taking another swig of beer. “It was amazing, more amazing than I could imagine hearing the stories and seeing the testimonials. I wanted to commit right then and there. You have no idea how much it confirmed how I want to be with you, Roan. But when they mentioned the mind-soul loss factor, I just suddenly realized that even though that won’t happen, most likely won’t happen…I just felt a certain resistance start building inside me.”
“Resistance?” I was confused.
“I can’t explain it. It’s more of a feeling, like an emotional wall is surrounding my heart.” He leaned his back against the couch, staring up at the ceiling. “Like it’s pounding against an unseen barrier. The more I get excited about us connecting, committing through the Ceremony, the stronger this wall becomes.”
“Ethan, it’s probably just anxiety. You have been working so hard, and studying so late into the nights, of course you are going to have physical effects from pushing yourself so hard.”
“No. It’s more than that. I have dealt with stress. I know it’s not the work or school. It’s like my body wants to resist what my mind wants.”
I started to worry. He looked genuine in his confession. He truly believed that he wanted to commit, but his physical signals were confusing his decision. I knew that the chances of this happening, a Genetic Aversion, were around 2 to 3 percent. All synths are programmed with this knowledge. I knew since my Awakening that my path in life was to commit with Ethan. The Ceremony was the final step in completing the connection. Our joining would ensure the continued existing of my race.
I monitored his vital signs, finding them slightly elevated but otherwise healthy. I knew that what he was feeling, the Genetic Aversion, would not go away. It would continue to grow. Continue to frustrate him. If he were unable to complete the Ceremony, he would be driven mad with confusion. His mind would become more and more delusional. Genetic Aversion was not something we allowed. Ever.
“Ethan, I’m sorry.”
His eyes still closed, he said, “I know, I’m sure I will get over this. Just cold feet I guess. Maybe I should stop by the Clinic tomorrow to see if they have something they can give me.”
I turned the lights down and lowered the music. Ethan lifted his head and opened his eyes. “What are you doing? Oh, well, maybe some diversionary activity would help me,” he smiled as he lowered his hand down to his belt.
“No, Ethan. I have something better. It will be quick and not hurt at all.”
His brow furrowed in confusion. “Hurt? Why would it…”
Neural neutralization complete. Subject synced to Roan 4587-307.
Ethan’s face went slack and lifeless for a moment, then a serenity settled into his eyes, a soft smile curled his lips.
“I love you, Ethan,” I whispered.