Elaine Olund | Joey To
Who knew how close together laughter and longing live in the brain? I certainly didn’t, until the jester was making me weak-kneed, years of homesickness dissolving in waves of laughter. I hadn’t felt so light since I’d been with Samson, back in the good times.
The jester alternated between coy and clever and downright hilarious. The joy that jolted through me when he transmitted made me tingle, all over, everywhere. It was addictive.
Clearly the pleasure centers of the brain are all in the same neighborhood. It was a good thing my jester was just transmitting with me. If he’d been on the lounge next to me, I’d have dived on him. Dived on him and had at it like a teenager. And in truth, I’d felt like a teenager since starting the nanotonic Dr. Elkins had prescribed after his first exam.
“You’re suffering from adjustment fatigue,” he’d said, when I came to him, blue and more homesick than ever.
“But it’s been years,” I protested. “What’s the matter with me? I thought this environment was supposed to be optimal.”
“Optimal is in the eye of the beholder,” he said, smiling. “Take a shot of this nanotonic every morning, mix it in your wheatgrass blend. You’ll feel relief soon. I’ve assigned you a personal jester for good measure. You need some cheering up.”
The first transmit was not remotely funny. I woke to a strange voice in my head whispering, “Hey! Wake up, wake up sleepyhead!”
“What the?” I sat up in my sleeping pod.
“It’s me, Deegan, come to play.” His voice was a smooth tenor, young-sounding.
“Who? I think you’re in the wrong head. How’d you get my code, anyway?”
“I’m your jester, silly. Dr. Elkins assigned me to you. You look awfully cute, you know that? Your eyes get all bugged out when you’re mad.” He giggled.
“Wait—you have visual?” I pulled the sheets up over my sheer nightshirt. I thanked the stars I wasn’t sleeping naked, as I often do.
“I see it all, baby, but don’t worry, me like-y what me sees.” He laughed aloud. Despite my annoyance, I found myself smiling.
I chased him out, then flushed my receiver to be sure he was gone. I considered calling Dr. Elkins to complain, but I didn’t.
Deegan came to ‘play’ everyday, usually just as I was on the edge of sleep.
“Have you heard the one about Uranus,” he began, chuckling. He told corny jokes, but his delivery was flawless, his laughter infectious. Or maybe I was just an easy target.
He wove outrageous stories about famous people whom he’d jested, like Dhanna Miranda, the actress. “She was mad as spit after I hacked into her brain during a death scene,” he said, snorting. “I told the purgatory joke, you know the one? Instead of dying, she started laughing, just howling! They had to restage the whole thing.” He howled himself, remembering. His joy was irresistible. Eventually, all he had to do was chuckle, and I was a goner.
“God, you’re attractive when you lose control like that,” he whispered, breathless, after an especially intense session.
“Oh, you say that to all your assigns,” I replied, hoping he’d deny it.
“Not all my assigns look as sexy as you do, baby doll. There’s something about you…”
I began to think of him constantly, keeping my channels open, trolling for him even. Desperate to know what he looked like, smelled like, felt like, I imagined him—sometimes he was dark-skinned, long-limbed. Most times, I visualized him looking like my old love, Samson, space-born, golden-haired and pale. Touching my cheek, longingly, with one of his perfect pink-nailed fingers. I constructed elaborate fantasies in my mind, and worried that he’d hack into them. Or that he wouldn’t.
But he had the advantage: as my assigned jester, he had my entry code but I did not have his. He could initiate sessions, I couldn’t.
At my follow-up, Dr. Elkins was pleased. “Your depression doesn’t even register now,” he said, waving the scanrod. “Remarkable! Keep up the nanotonic for another month, just to be safe.”
“And Deegan? My jester? I think he’s been helpful.” I hoped I sounded nonchalant, but I felt myself blushing. “I’d like to continue with him, just to be sure.”
“Deegan? Hmm. Named himself, interesting.” The doctor tapped something into his datakeeper. “I’ll assign another jester, if you like. Yours is being stripped and rebuilt this week.”
“You didn’t tell me he was Artificial!” The exam room seemed to tilt. I felt dizzy. Shock and nausea must be brain-neighbors, too. Artificial?
“But he told me stories,” I sputtered. “Real stories! About his crazy kid brother, about his mother spinning him in his cradle. He’s so funny. Artificials can’t be funny, everyone knows that.”
Dr. Elkins’ forehead crinkled with concern. “I see this upsets you,” he said, tapping more notes. “This new generation of Artificials is quite advanced. Far better than mine, I never could tell a joke, that’s very true.”
I had taken Dr. Elkins for a Natural, like me. Suddenly the scanrod in his hip holster lit up red and erupted in beeps.
“Oh, dear,” he said, muting the scanrod and reading its diagnostic window. His developer had certainly gotten that look of concern down cold. “I’ve never seen a depression flare back so quickly. We’ll need to increase your dose.”
That night in my pod I replayed Deegan’s transmits. I thought of Samson, gone forever. I wished there were some way to go back home. I thought of the simple things, sunshine and butter, blue skies and rain. But there was nowhere to go back to.
It occurred to me that nostalgia and depression must be roommates in the brain. I imagined a blond, warm Deegan snuggled up next to me, laughing in my ear. I lay in the darkness, waiting for sleep, knowing he wouldn’t be coming to say goodnight, not ever again, but scanning for him anyway.