The Age of Truth

This is a short story I wrote years ago. Reproduced here with a few changes.

It had been a long, hard day for Janki. She had had to sit in the Investigation and Examination Chamber at the Judicial Station, conducting examinations and filing reports all day.

Some of the criminals had tried to lie. Janki had felt scared, terrified, of their sheer stupidity. If they lied after having been administered the truth serum, it would obviously show up on the cerebra scan – and it did. Didn’t the crazy fools know they would be laid to rest for lying to the State?

But it was a good time to be living in. After having tried for millennia, Humanity had finally reached an era where the World was based on Truth. There was no place for lies anymore. This did not mean that there was no crime. It was in Human Nature to disturb, offend, and rob of materials or dignity, to kill. But you couldn’t afford to lie anymore. And if you did, you paid dearly. It was tough, very tough, if you had a secret from the State.

As she thought all this, Janki unzipped her work suit and went for a wash. The water felt cold for a split second but immediately adjusted itself to the temperature she wanted. The speed of Science! Till a few months back you had to think hard and concentrate on getting the right temperature. But now the faucet’s internal machinery simply gauged your subconscious levels. If you felt you wanted warm water, without even knowing it, you got it.

Aah… it felt good. So much precious time had been lost while commuting back home because of pro and anti-Spod demonstrations on the speedship’s way.

All of a sudden she remembered Bess. She had forgotten to feed Bess. Apologetically, Janki rushed to the next room, the ‘nursery’, where Bess had crumpled herself up. But she started to look better the moment Janki sprinkled some of the Methane Rich Space Mineral on her.

Bess was Janki’s pet Spod. Spods were extra terrestrial organisms from Titan, Saturn’s offspring. Astronauts who had apparently been cured of psychosomatic disorders by Spods in outer space had introduced them on Earth. They looked like a strange version of Earth plants. They had what one would call leaves, stems and flowers, but most came in shades of aquamarine instead of the earthly greens. They were usually kept potted, but some could grow to be strong enough to crawl and move about on their own. Spods reacted to their owners’ presence and voices. Perhaps even earthly plants did, but they were never as demonstrative as the spods were. There weren’t many earthly plants left to demonstrate their feelings anyway. Bess began to gently flap about and make tiny cooing sounds when Janki came in close contact. Eerily enough, it was also said that spods often absorbed and then reflected the very qualities of their masters. So far Bess seemed to have been just as gentle and quiet as Janki.

But despite being the enigmatic creatures that they were, some spods were also given to violent displays of behavior. In the next neighborhood, one big leafy spod had smacked a child hard because it didn’t want its ‘Mom’ to shower affection on her human offspring. Rumour had it that the spod was reflecting what its mistress herself secretly wanted. (The truth serum was to be administered to her soon). Some spods had even killed. And some were gradually found to be carnivorous. The Television news had reported that a jealous spod had killed its owner’s husband by spraying a strange liquid on him, and had spat out the mutilated entrails of the man. The family immediately had the shrieking spod exterminated. But the spod had become well known, almost an infamous celebrity, and its gigantic silky, striped, multi-hued ‘leaves’ were auctioned off to a well known fashion designer who crafted perhaps something more useful, like a rug, out of them.

That’s what the protests were related to. The spod lovers did not want spods to be slaughtered to make fashion statements. (Spod really was the new Leather!). There were the in-betweens, some of them wanting spods to be ‘harvested’ only for research and medicinal purposes, others who thought it was unethical to uproot them from their parental planet anyway. The Anti-Spods simply wanted the spods to be thrown out of the Earth. Studies were pointing that spods were damaging the ecosystem and had been partly responsible for the dying out of most earth vegetation through (perhaps deliberate) emission of certain rays. Not to mention, their violent responses to human beings at times.

Janki did not know what side she was on. All of them spoke the truth.

Janki looked at Bess. Bess could do no harm, she thought. She was such a petite, mild creature. At least Janki liked to think that Bess was a ‘she’. She had begun sprouting tiny, white and yellow and pink flowerets that would often change colors. In fact Janki noticed that they would blossom even more whenever Janki was menstruating.

All of a sudden Janki was afraid. She left the spod to flap about on its own as she left the room.

Janki went back to her bedroom and settled down on to the big cushion to entertain herself. A tiny chip lodged in the wall glistened in front of her. She put on eye gear, which in her great grandmother’s time would have perhaps looked like outlandish, or fashionable, sunshades, depending on the fashion of the times. As soon as she wore them the tiny chip seemed to liquefy and expand into a giant screen in front of her eyes. A mass of gigantic men and women appeared before her. But the stories were not ordinary anymore. They were your stories. You could now participate in the them, influence the plot, the characters, the atmosphere. Ah… the pleasures of the Age they lived in.

She knew that once upon a time people went into cinema houses to watch movies; big, dark caves where they would temporarily live other lives. Some wanted this paraphernalia back. They said it was like the ancient days when people would sit in the night, under a canopy of stars, and around a fire, passing a pipe, and telling each other stories. It was an almost prehistoric human instinct to share experiences with others. Strangers in cinema houses would get bound into communities for a short while. Then there were others who compared the experience of going to the darkened cinema with entering your mother’s womb again, of experiencing and knowing life through the consciousness of another. But in this day and age these setups weren’t commercially viable. There weren’t enough people left to fill up the caves anyway. Strange, how could they feel nostalgic for the times they had never seen!

For Janki it was impossible to imagine herself participating in such a thing. No, it wasn’t about the spread of infectious disease anymore – the Rages had finally been brought under control, and had paradoxically seen to it that only the healthiest (or the luckiest) would survive. Her fear was related to the “dark forces” — criminal, lurking humans, pretending to be ‘normal’. Although how could anyone be ‘normal’ if they dared to confront the truth sensors with secrets, lies and unlawful activities? There were anarchic, catastrophic possibilities. These people could completely disembowel your Truth. They could devise ways of hacking into others’ Self Identity chips. They could tamper with your entire history – all that had been recorded so far – major events in your life, your emotion graphs…! Your complete existence could be bared naked to them! Janki shuddered to think of the strange things that could start happening — they could erase events and memories belonging to your past, so you would be left feeling unexplained emotions for things you had no consciousness of. Or they could implant memories of events you had never actually been through, and you would be left feeling bizarre residues of emotions related to these false fictional experiences. You would be left encountering phenomena you would absolutely fail to understand, and which would probably drive you mad because you would keep wondering who you really were.

And nobody had a right to this information except for the State. It was tough, very tough to keep secrets from them.

Jealous lovers began killing people on Janki’s Television. She couldn’t concentrate on the TV anymore, so she decided to get a chilled OxySip from the fridge. As she walked into the kitchen the fridge had already laid its door ajar for her, anticipating her arrival. It followed it up with a “Bonjour Madame! Bon Appetit!” in a singsong recorded voice. Jan had installed that tacky device in the refrigerator. Initially it was funny, but now it was plain irritating. But she was hoping the refrigerator had sensed her mind and it wouldn’t bother her now. She opened the fridge panel and checked. She was right. The dial had moved on its own to ‘Mute’. Jan was Janak, after whom she, his daughter, had been named. He was the soft, maternal kind, always spoiling her. Tipu was the other Dad, rock solid and macho. There wasn’t any mother. She had been an embryo fertilized from the eggs harvested from an unborn female foetus. But she didn’t miss having a real mother. Jan was maternal enough.

She sank back into her cushion, this time thinking of Samudra.

It was common to love in groups. But a few people still preferred to be couples, like her parents. But normally three or four people loved and shared each other. And like almost everything else, she didn’t know where she stood.

Janki had met both Samudra and Disha when the two were together. For some time the three seemed happy together. But gradually there were anxieties, with the couple now having become a trio. Samudra and Disha fought and fought and shouted and wept, till Janki had had enough and threatened to slit her protective skin coating. It worked. She had brokered peace for some time. But what kind of peace? The violent outbursts were now followed by an uncomfortable silence. And one day Disha just got up and left. Or so it seemed. It was almost as if she had dissolved away. Nobody could make contact with her or her chip. Some speculated suicide. But Janki knew the Truth. The Identity Chips embedded beneath everyone’s skin were not entirely bio degradable. And Janki knew where Disha’s Identity Chip lay now, though the rest of her might be tiny atoms floating in the stratosphere. And that left Samudra and Janki alone with each other. A couple. Like her parents. No one else was needed. Yes, she knew.

It was tough – very tough, if you kept a secret from Your Self.

She couldn’t get through to Samudra. Oh, dear, dear, Beloved Goddess… is he leaving me… alone? Communication with his chip was blocked. Had he walled communication only with her? Samudra the Virtuous. Samudra the Pure. Had he found out a Truth about Janki which he shouldn’t have known? Was he worried about what people would say? Had he disowned her? Had he… contacted the State? He would… Samudra the Truthful. Was the State reading her Identity chip now?

She tried taking her mind off this, and replayed an older message from him. “Hi, Janki! You probably can’t get through. I’ve been deep sea diving out here. You’ll refuse to believe how divine this place is! This water, out here, is unbelievable! It’s so fresh; it’s out of this world! I even saw some fish in the deep waters. They were so colorful and exciting! But so shy and scared. And there are so many real trees. I can’t believe how Antarctica could have once been a snow and ice desert. This place is pure, Janki. You don’t even require to give babies a protective skin coating when they are born… And what was I going to add… Yeah… Brad gifted me a fossilized penguin egg. It had been in his family for generations. Now, that’s some gift! But it’s not the millions-of-years kind of fossilization. It’s that sped up process which took only a few weeks…you’ve heard of it, haven’t you…in our great grandparents’ time, whenever a species began to approach extinction, people would start making mementos out of them. I know you’ll say that makes the fossil unauthentic, right? But Brad’s parted with a family heirloom. You’ll like him, I suppose. You should love people, Janki. Look, don’t feel bad… … …”

Fossilizing was a useless attempt at preserving life, she thought. The egg and its embryo were dead already. It was just an inert object reminding you of a time when Life and Love were still alive. There was no Truth left in it now.

Sometimes Janki too would want to take her second skin off. You could only glimpse at your real self for a few moments in hospitals, if you had an emergency and they would have to cut you up. What was better? The freedom to feel, or the risk of immediate dissolution? Like … Disha. Like what had been done to no what she had done to what had happened to no they did it but she forced her she needed him the blood had squirted out of her coating.

Everyone knew your mind except for yourself. The TV knew. The fridge knew. The water faucet knew. The spod knew. The State knew. They all knew the Truth.

It was tough, very tough…

As she closed her eyes, she felt as if she were being pushed down by her own weight. Janki wanted to sink, sink down, go back and dissolve into the earth, with the ashes and the dust where she had come from. Like the woman she had been named after. To be finally laid to rest.

But she seemed to be strangely fished out of her depths by a strange dragging sound. She opened her eyes and was shocked to see Bess hovering around. Bess had dragged herself from the nursery to Janki’s room for the first time. The spod had never been like this before. Almost violent, beneath that silky, benign exterior.

…She just wanted to sink, sink down, go back and dissolve into the earth, with the ashes and the dust where she had come from.

The spod snuggled up to Janki and caressed her cheek with its flowerets. She was such a gentle creature, this Bess.

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