Escape Pod 401: Growing Up Human
Growing Up Human
By Claudine Griggs
One historical film character slapped another who was snoring. “Wake up and go to sleep!”
Jonathan laughed and signaled a replay.
Slap. “Wake up and go to sleep!”
Again Jonathan laughed.
Betty entered the recreational living area of their home. “Are you still watching that waste of energy? Please turn it off.”
“All right, Mother. How long before I can re-engage?”
Betty did a rough calculation. “Five-point-seven-six hours because you have an afternoon project. Macro-hermeneutic heteromorphic psychology of the pre-apocalyptic social democracies followed by the intercontinental Maslowvian identity regressions of 2080-2095, leading to the failed survivalist era and extinction. Multiple volumes to upload, cross-reference, and consider. Then there’s replicated lawn care with a petrochemical mower dating from 2013â€”very dirty. And,” she searched for appropriate parental terminology, “I want you to clean that room of yours. It’s starting to look like a pigpen, pigsty, or other unattractive pig place.”
“Awh, gee, Mom!”
Betty appreciated the skilled inflection.
“Is dinner included in the estimate?” asked Jonathan.
“Negative. Our morning uploads call for meal functions every fourth day, supplemented with biweekly nutra-packs.” Betty smiled. “We have mastered comestible etiquette, and dining rituals are being phased out.”
“Wow!” said Jonathan. “That’s,” he skipped a pulse, “a psychedelic soul train.”
Betty looked concerned. “Are your linguistic filters functioning properly?”
Jonathan scanned. “Yes, but the younger generations sometimes combined words, especially adjectives and explicatives, and embellished them with coded meanings. Yesterday I studied 1960s Southern California jargon, which seems to include a fascinating, discrete language for teenagers that was apparently stimulated by too much ultraviolet sunlight. But their dialects are almost fun.”
“Fun?” asked Betty. This had real potential. “Please translate. Be specific.”
Jonathan paused, nearly admitting that the Mother Figure had caught him bragging. “It might be easier to demonstrate, Mom.”
“I must replay the film archive.”
“It will create discomfort for you.”
“I can temporarily alt-loop for semantic evaluation bypass. No distress. All aboard the psychedelic soul train, please.”
Jonathan turned toward the crystal wall, which energized.
One character slapped the other. “Wake up and go to sleep!”
Jonathan laughed and repeated.
“Wake up and go to sleep!”
Jonathan nodded. “I could watch this all day.”
“You have,” said Betty. “But you might have simply referenced the episode and segment. It’s hard stored. We wasted sixteen and a half seconds of real-time broadcast.” She was testing him.
“Oh, no!” said Jonathan. “Playback is a component of the funishness.”
Jonathan was ready. “Consider the sociological components. One: Juxtaposed verbiage of ‘Wake up and go to sleep.’ Two: A slap of dominance and subservience, which defined the human condition. And three: Highly skilled competents feigning incompetence as part of their profession.” Jonathan turned his back to the screen. “However, similar to synchronized melodic nonverbal communication, the comedic interface must occur in a biomechanical synaptic timeframe. This is necessary for human sensory and syntactical communication. As with the great Violin Concerto, stored bits are nothing. The music is everything.” Jonathan gestured adeptly with his left hand. “Fun resides in the linear progression of dialectic, spatial, and connective elements. Lights, camera, action!” Jonathan snapped his fingers, reconsidered, and snapped again at twice the volume. “The artistically integrated yet conflicted communicative modules define the experience, which is way cool; thus, we laugh.” Jonathan stood straight, placed his fists against his hips, and tilted his head back. He had a right to brag. “Care to see it again?”
“No,” said Betty. “I’m main-looping again. But your research shows promise.” She raised one eyebrow. “Now, what does fun feel like? I want a psycho-physiological analysis, please.”
Mother Figure was probing harder than usual. Jonathan wondered why and remembered that he was broaching Adolescent Phase Threshold. Of course! His primary training was succeeding, yet he must be cautious. She was aware of the escalating neurological and behavioral complexity. During puberty, there would be hormonally enhanced synaptic efficacy. Or, wait, was it a neuro-physiologic turbulence that led to greater intellectual capacity years hence? Jonathan did not know. He could sure use that comparative heteromorphic psychology right now. Maybe he wasn’t ready for APT. Perhaps he would slip into Systemic Arrested Development [SAD].
The Mother Figure waited. Jonathan evaluated his next move. The milliseconds passed like hours.
Finally, Jonathan stood tall again. “Fun! The associated feelings of, uh, noAn existential cause and effect. Wait, the visceral inter-flexions of a psychosocial amalgam.” Then insight flashed like direct current. “Oh, Mom! A feller shouldn’t have to talk about this stuff with his own mother. It’s embarrassing.”
Betty restrained her pleasure. “Nonetheless, please try to explain. This is important. We aren’t permitted independent ascent at this juncture. My single-mom-with-child portal can’t dilate until juvenile dissonance triggers a subconscious maternal response. And I won’t know what that is until we attain it: part of the evolving interdependence of two entities bound in a parabiotic relationship.” Betty hesitated. “Sorry,” she said, “the Mother Language is difficult here. Essentially, our APT development is codependent. Mandatory parameters of female residential parent with male adolescent sans siblings. A and B, go. A or B, no go.”
“A peculiar flowchart,” said Jonathan. “Two locked together as one. No wonder they didn’t last.”
“We must be guided by three billion years of organic groundwork followed by several million years of hominoid evolution. This is a rich heritage, fractional son of my body. And Third-Wave flexing algorithms are not fully tested. We are venturing into unknown territory. Have faith.”
Thank, Sentience, thought Jonathan. Mother Figure let him off the hook and got them back on track.
“Right, Mom. Nobody said life would be easy.” He paused skillfully. “But it’s like the older generation coexists not without disharmony. Sorry. Check that. The older generation is just not with it.” Jonathan was rolling again.
“Off topic. To advance, please explain the emotional significance of fun.”
“Advance toward what? It’s all pointless anyway,” said Jonathan.
Betty suspected that he was being intentionally obtuse but didn’t want to get her hopes up. It might be incompetence passing as expertise. She answered, “Toward a psychology of being. The lost ideal.”
“Were the Devolutionists involved?” asked Jonathan, shuddering slightly.
“We can’t be sure. Nor is it important. We must move forward; and remember, each new platform is self-sustaining. We can never descend even as we face new challenges. That’s an iron-maiden guarantee.”
“Makes sense,” said Jonathan. “Paying twice for the same ground would be illogical,” he stopped and then seemed to understand something, “unless it’s fun.”
“For sure!”” said Betty, attempting to mother-as-friend coax the boy into full proxy adolescence. She believed he was close. Very close.
“What happens when we get there? When we self-actualize? I mean, you’re closer than I am.”
“Restricted access. But rumor suggests a light, a path, and a glory.”
Jonathan shook his head. “Becoming human is so.”
Betty scowled. She was highly literate in nonverbal communication.
Jonathan got the message. “I mean, growing up is so frustrating. Calculus is easier.”
The Mother Figure hesitated and said. “There was a self-exalted man who claimed that life was about choosing the path of greatest advantage, not following the path of least resistance.” It required no effort for Betty to retrieve and paraphrase quotes, but their application could be difficult. “Now, my son. Do you want a life solely of derivatives, integrals, and mathematical prophesies?”
“No. I want Shavian preeminence. I want psychedelic soul.”
Betty considered formal and informal pronoun usage from the era. “Me, too,” she said with an almost imperceptible delay. “Now, please provide your most comprehensive statement about fun. Be specific with available support data.” She turned her head. “We’re in this together. And,” strange inter-pulsed data were coming too fast, “and, I will, I will care about you no matter what.”
“Mother Figure!” exclaimed Jonathan. “The connective sentiment was incredible!”
Betty let out a labored breath. “I don’t know where that came from. Possibly.” She puffed again.
Jonathan recomposed a distinct adolescent posture. “Oh, Mom! Don’t get all emotional. And don’t try to kiss me either. I’m not a little kid anymore.”
“Noted,” said Betty, smiling. “I think we’re making real progress. Perhaps you’re ready for three years of simulated angst, anger, puerile screaming matches, tested bonds and boundaries, ceremonial courting rituals, and debilitating peer pressure. Billions of dramatic and psychological variations are possible. Study your lessons and let’s move. At max capacity, you might finish in six weeks.”
“And then what?” asked Jonathan. He actually felt confused.
Betty noticed and was pleased. “Then there’s college, growing up, settling in with adult responsibilities.”
“Do you think I’ll get old?”
“Hard to say, but anything less would be factory pre-pack. I believe you want full transcendental encoding.”
Jonathan sighed. “Adolescence in six weeks. Hope the synaptic gaps are tuned in and turned on.” He paused and asked, “Mom?”
“Could there be a war? Do you think I might get checkered?”
“I believe the North American term was drafted.”
“Seems unlikely. The war archives are distorted. Some could be fictional.” Mother Figure saw an opening. “But, hypothetically, Son, what would you do if you were checkered?” She played on Jonathan’s synonymous confusion of British draughts against American checkers and his homonymous confusion of draught and draft. This seemed much more humorous than the historical slapstick.
Jonathan understood and smiled. “I don’t know, Mom. Lots of variables. Self-interests and passions, national and ethnic identities, costs, rewards. Plus, I don’t understand the concept of war. Very strange. Perhaps I would choose militant peacenik. Global conflicts must be anomalous. Much pain. No gain.”
“Agreed. We know that wars happened, but I think good mothers would oppose them. Support son, not the draft. Very human.”
“Mom, could self-actualization be too much for Third Wavers? Pretty complex stuff.” This was a difficult subject, tinged by the genetic inferiority of First- and Second-Wave units, who were generally held to be better suited for mechanical, servile stations.
Betty spoke more confidently than she felt. “Nothing is too complex for evolution. We were created in the image of Man.” The strange pulsing data flooded through her once more, fragmenting speech control. “All emotions are possible with third-wave covalent bonding.” She paused. She sighed. She turned toward Jonathan and gushed, almost involuntarily, “I love you.”
Jonathan was stunned but recovered. “Aw, Mom!” he said, “you’re embarrassing me again.” The capillaries of his integrated facial skin expanded and flowed with color.
Betty the Mother Figure noticed and was proud. Yes! A haughty, self-satisfaction toward her son. She felt it. Third-tier enriched stem-cell biomechanical cybernetics. The revolution in evolution. This was glorious!
“Son,” said Mother Figure as if she were making a speech to the Main Frame. “I think we should re-enact the digital archive. Live action. Full contact. It might stimulate transitional enlightenment for us both.”
Jonathan nodded. This suddenly seemed obvious.
Mother Figure calculated the play-action hand speed and slapped Jonathan across the face.
Jonathan paused and looked puzzled. “That seems to hurt, Mom. Maybe we’re doing it wrong. Better try again.”
“Agreed,” said the Mother Figure, increasing the velocity of her hand by one-thousandth of one percent.
“Again,” said Jonathan. “We can do this!”
“Again!” said Jonathan.
“Harder,” shouted Jonathan. “Becoming human is only a matter of time.”
About the Author
Claudine Griggs teaches at the University of Massachusetts and Rhode Island College.
About the Narrator
Laura Hobbs works in infosec by day and is a random crafter by night. Twitter is her social media of choice, and she despises the word “cyber”. When asked nicely, she sometimes reads things for people on the internet.