Page 15

 Neal Shusterman

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“Do you find you have problems with physical coordination?”
“Never,” he answers. “My muscle groups have all learned to get along.”
“Do you remember the names of any of the constituents of your internal community?”
“No, but sometimes I remember faces.”
“Is it true you speak nine languages fluently?”
“Da, no v moyey golove dostatochno mesta dlia escho neskolkikh,” he says. Yes, but there’s room up here for a few more. That brings chuckles from any Russian speakers in the room.
He has mastered all of his answers—even to questions that are intentionally belligerent and incendiary.
“Admit it—you’re nothing but a kit-car,” one heckler says during his appearance at MIT. “You’re just a model put together from parts in a box. How can you call yourself human?”
Cam’s response to questions like this is always tactful and puts the heckler in his or her place.
“No, I’m more like a concept car,” Cam tells the man, without any of the animosity with which the question was asked. “The sum of the imaginations of all the experts in the field.” Then Cam smiles. “And if by ‘model,’ you mean something worth striving toward, I agree.”
“What about those who gave their lives so that you might live?” someone shouts out from the audience of his UCLA event. “Do you feel any remorse for them?”
“Thank you for asking that,” Cam says in the charged silence that ensues. “Remorse would imply I had anything to do with their unwinding, and I did not. I’m just on the receiving end. But yes, I do grieve their loss—so I choose to honor them by giving voice to their hopes, their dreams, and their talents. After all, isn’t that what we do to honor those who came before us?”
When the time for questions ends, each event is wrapped up with music. Cam’s music. He brings out a guitar and performs a classical piece. His music is so flawless and so heartfelt, it often brings forth a standing ovation. Of course, there are those in the audience who will never stand—but their numbers are diminishing.
“Come fall, we should speak in bigger theaters,” he tells Roberta after one highly successful evening.
“Would you prefer a stadium?” Roberta offers with a twisted grin. “You’re not a rock star, Cam.”
But he knows otherwise.
* * *
With regards to your recent editorial “THE CONTROVERSY OF CAMUS COMPRIX,” forgive me, but I don’t see anything that should be controversial at all. Indeed, I think the members of the media have, as usual, stirred up a tempest in a teapot. I attended one of Mr. Comprix’s presentations, and I found him to be eloquent, personable, and respectful. He appears both intelligent and humble—the kind of young man I wish my daughter could, for once, bring home instead of the string of miscreants that continue to grace our doorstep.
Your editorial implied that his parts were gleaned without permission, but I ask you—other than tithes, what Unwind ever gives permission to be unwound? It’s not a matter of permission. It’s a matter of social necessity, as unwinding has always been, since its inception. So why not avail ourselves of the finest attributes of these Unwinds to build a better being? If I, in my youth, had been designated for unwinding, I should think I’d be honored to know that a part of me was worthy to be chosen for inclusion in Mr. Comprix.
Proactive Citizenry, and Dr. Roberta Griswold in particular, are to be commended for their vision and for their selfless commitment to the betterment of the human condition. Because, if even our most incorrigible youth can be rewound into such a fine young specimen, it gives me hope for the future of mankind.
* * *
Every event has its greenroom—a guarded space designed for the comfort of those about to go on stage, or to relax after the blare of spotlights and barrage of questions. Roberta always busies herself with the bigwigs in the theater lobby, shaking hands and making those critical personal connections. This has allowed Cam to become the master of the greenroom, picking and choosing who gets to keep him company as he winds down after an event. His guests are almost always female. An endless parade of Mirandas.
“Play something just for us, Cam,” they would say with a gentle pleading lilt to their voice as if their hearts hang on his answer. Or they would invite him to some party he knows he can’t attend. Instead he tells those girls that the party is right here. They always like the sound of that.
He entertains three such girls in the greenroom after his successful MIT presentation. Now he sits between two of them on a comfortable sofa, while a third occupies a chair nearby, giggling and starstruck as she awaits her turn, like a little kid waiting for Santa’s lap. Cam has, at the request of his guests, removed his shirt to show his curious seams. Now one of the girls explores those seams and the varied skin tones of his chest. The other girl snuggles with him and feeds him Jordan almonds, sweet and crunchy.
Eventually Roberta pops in, as he knew she would. It is, in fact, something he counted on. It has become their pattern.
“Look, it’s my favorite party pooper!” Cam says jovially.
Roberta glowers at the girls. “Playtime is over,” she says coldly. “I’m sure you young ladies have places to be.”
“Not really,” says the one with her hand on Cam’s chest. In the nearby chair, the giggler giggles some more.
“Aw, please, Grand Inquisitor,” says Cam. “They’re so cute—can’t I take them home?”
Now all three girls giggle as if they’re drunk, but Cam knows the only thing they’re drunk on is him.
Roberta ignores him. “You girls have been asked to leave. Please don’t make me get security.”
As if on cue, the guard steps in, looking guilty but ready to throw them out in spite of the cash Cam paid him to let them in.
Reluctantly, the girls get up. They all leave in their own personal manner, one strutting, another strolling, and the third sneaking, trying to suppress her unending case of the giggles. The guard follows to make sure they don’t linger and closes the door behind him. Now Roberta’s glare is aimed at Cam. He tries to hide his smirk.
“Spanking? Time out? Bed without supper?” Cam suggests.
But Roberta is certainly not in a teasing mood. “You should not be objectifying those girls.”
“Double-edged sword,” Cam says. “They objectified me first. I was just returning the favor.”
Roberta growls in exasperation. “Did you believe anything you said out there about being a ‘model’ for others to strive for?”
Cam looks away. The things he tells audiences is certainly what Roberta believes—but does he believe these things himself? Yes, he is made of the best and the brightest—but those are just parts, and what do parts truly say about the whole? What he wants more than anything is to make the question go away.
“Sure I believe it.”
“Then show some common comportment.” She takes his shirt and tosses it to him. “You’re better than this. So act it.”
“And what if I’m not better?” he dares to suggest. “What if I’m nothing more than ninety-nine compounded adolescent lusts?”
“Then,” says Roberta, taking the dare, “you can slice yourself back down into ninety-nine pieces. Shall I give you a knife?”
“Machete,” he answers. “Much more dramatic.”
She sighs, shaking her head. “If you wish to impress General Bodeker, this type of behavior won’t fly.”
“Ah yes, General Bodeker.”
Cam isn’t quite sure what to make of the man and his intentions, but he can’t deny that he’s intrigued. Cam knows he would be shepherded through his training directly into officership, like some American prince. Then, once he was wearing the crisp, sharp dress of an officer, all pressed linen and brass buttons, the bitter voices that suggest he has no right to exist would be silenced. No one can hate an honored Marine. And he’d finally have a place to belong.
“Irrelevant,” Cam says. “The general won’t care about my personal downtime adventures.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Roberta tells him. “You need to be more discerning about your choice of companions. Now get your shirt on. The limo is waiting.”
* * *
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*Fitness guaranteed only for one month after completion of the Sculptura refit process. Muscles will atrophy if not exercised.
* * *
Cam jolts awake at thirty-six thousand feet. For a moment he thinks he’s in a dentist’s chair, but no. He had fallen asleep before extending the chair to its full reclining position.
Proactive Citizenry has provided this richly appointed private jet for his speaking tour, although it’s not all that private. Roberta slumbers in her own sleeper chair in the alcove behind his, her breathing steady and regulated, just like everything else in her life. There is a concierge—which is the private aircraft equivalent of a flight attendant—but he is also asleep at the moment. The time is 3:13 a.m., although Cam is not sure what time zone that’s reflecting.
He tries to bring back his dreams for analysis, but can’t access them. Cam’s dreams have never made sense. He has no idea how much sense the dreams of normal people make, so he can’t compare. His dreams are plagued by snippets of memories that lead nowhere, because the rest of those memories are in other heads, living different lives. The only memory that is clear and consistent is the memory of being unwound. He dreams of it way too often. He dreams not of just one unwinding, but many. The bits and pieces of dozens of divisions blend together into one unforgettable, unforgivable whole.
He used to wake up screaming from those dreams. Not from the pain of it, for unwinding is, by law, painless. But there are things worse than physical pain. He would scream from the terror, from the sheer helplessness each of those kids felt as the surgeons moved closer, limbs tingled and went numb, medical stasis coolers were carried away in their peripheral vision. Each sense shutting down and each memory evaporating, always ending with a silent cry of hopeless defiance as each Unwind was shuffled into oblivion.
Roberta is in the dream, for she was there at each unwinding—the only person in the room not wearing a surgical mask. So you would see me, hear me, and know me when the parts were united she had told him—but she hadn’t counted on how horrible that knowledge would be. Roberta is part of the terror. She is the author of hopelessness.