THE ROBED ONE
The man was not a machine.
He started out as a machine, a long time ago before the Robed One came and freed the Freeman from the destruction of themselves; he remembered being a machine, heard the grinding of his gears while he pondered and stared out the classroom window at the flowers and the flowers sang their song, their mouths tipping open, their white faces nodding and scowling. He did not find out he was a machine until his 117th year being Awake, searching through the trash near an abandoned hospital, tirelessly searching for something he couldn’t even remember thinking about in the first place, when an old man approached him, mumbling something under his breath.
The man who was a Machine, wanted to be a Rogue Warrior. The Rogue Warriors were the ones who stole in the depth of the night and fought the werewolves, the gnomes, the globetrotters, the men who bashed bones and came straight from Africa. His thoughts were muddled. He ate a breakfast of orange juice and scrambled eggs; his chompers grinding them. His teeth were his best feature; the white bone glistened in the moonlight. Did he tell people this? He liked the night best. The stars shone bright, and the wild wind cried out at the injustices of the world.
“What are you going on and on about, old man?” he demanded.
“Things,” he muttered. “Things.”
He eyed him critically. “You Freeborn, or Freeman?”
He raised an eyebrow at him. “Is there a difference?” he asked harshly.
The man shrugged. “Yes, and no. A Freeman was born in a Test Tube, a lab; a Freeman is a human who was once Machine. I am Freeman. What are you?”
“Democrat,” he muttered. “Democrat.” His eyes whirred rapidly.
“Dumbass,” he said, scowling. His name was…well, he forgot his real name, and adopted the name of Eric Freeman. He didn’t know why he chose that as a last name. Most people didn’t have last names, not anymore. A long time ago, they did, before the Apocolyptic War broke out in ’75, and nearly one half of the world was destroyed or lost, depending on your perspective.
“Dumbass,” he repeated, scowling. “I call myself Dumbass, now.” He grinned crookedly, his eyes sparkling.
He shuffled off, his right leg limping. Most people were genetic mutations of some sort; the sun had become enormously close to the planet, and everything became increasingly hotter. Antarctica was now another ocean.
The world Eric lived on was called Earth.
Some of the Freeborn went out into the universe to explore other worlds; some of them stayed in their own solar system, the solar system they were born in. Most humans were born on Earth, their names were stamped in their genetic code at the hospital, left in the blood sample they left behind for others to use in case it was needed. Most government laws were based on ancient Laws of Physics, before Galileo Galilei, before Newton’s Law or Some Such Nonsense.
The Freeborn were an interesting breed of humans.
They were going to go to the Moon for the Ten Thousandth Time.
Eric was not going to go to the Moon. Freeman were given free passes to get from Earth to the Moon on a star shuttle; the star shuttles were enormously large, and had windows like wide, staring eyes.
They were blank faces. Eric returned to his apartment and grasped the knob and turned it and stood in the doorway of his kitchen, looking thoughtful and quite put-out. He went to his refrigerator and opened the door, and it was stuffed full of food. Shadows climbed up and down the walls and everything moved painstakingly slow, and his back and knees creaked and he heard the sound of the clock ticking in the kitchen. He was not thinking about anything other than having lunch or dinner, maybe a little of both; it was only four-oh-clock in the afternoon. He got a can of spaghettios out of the cupboard and poured them in a saucepan and let it heat to boil; then he carried the food into the living room and watched his big, flatscreen television he purchased three months ago from Costco. Stores were all computerized now; run by Machines. Machines ran everything, it seemed.
Eric could not find the remote.
He picked up the cushion on the couch and went through the whole thing and put the cushions down and shook his head. He crossed the room and placed himself in front of the television and turned on the television set…with the television knob! No remote, can you imagine! His mind must be going crazy. He watched tv for a half an hour and climbed up the long stairwell to bed. He was very sleepy. Morning opened, he lumbered down the stairs to the kitchen and sat at the table and ate a breakfast of cereal and cold toast; it was hard getting food now, most of the third world countries were angry with the United States of America, and refused to barter with them. Instead, they got most of their food from Mars or the Moon, because they claimed territory there first. Claiming territory was the most important thing to Freeborn, now, at least it made them think about other things besides wars and killing people and drowning machines in oil and lug nuts and rudeness. Truth be told, the end of the world was not imminent; although many prophets talked about it years and years ago. Some new prophets, idiots, talked about them still and it irritated him. Most people were stupid. Eric didn’t want to talk to most people. They were idiots.
The next day he found the remote in the flower pot.
He picked it up and changed the channel and the pot holders disappeared.
Eric stared at it, a shocked expression on his face.