The sun was up and brilliant, like ninety million suns that had been up and brilliant before it. Inside the sanctuary, the primate seemed to entertain itself carving symbols with a piece of charcoal on the floor. The zoo had just opened its doors that morning, yet another one after the grand 2788 reopening. The tender laughs and shouts of children running frantically across the golden, magical pathways of that manmade jungle of wonder became louder as the families came closer. Billions and billions of children piled up in front of the glass with their faces twisting in awe at the sight of such a funny looking ape.
“Mommy, look at him, he is watching me!” said an adorable little gal with a ponytail of gold and pink polka-dotted dress and the innocent beauty only a loving family could cultivate in a tiny human being.
“It sure is very similar to us. Do you think we humans might be related to them?” added the mother, heading her attention towards the guide that was standing beside her.
“Well, we have been trying to study it for a very long time. Remember this is the only specimen in captivity in the world. We’ve had biologists, science people, camera crews from all over the globe come to the San Diego zoo trying to get their time with it. This big guy has gone to hell and back in the name of science; practically every part of his body has been hooked to electrodes and poked with needles… there is just a point in which the animal needs to be left alone. But from what he have found they do have a very similar physiology, so a common ancestor is likely. Look at this thing. So primitive yet so perfect. Mother nature never ceases to amaze us…”
The flamboyant guide’s cheesy, mellow words about Darwinism and love for all of the earth’s species were a magnet for an ever increasing number of curious crowds. The same speech performed infinite times by an infinite number of guides to the sweetened ears of even more infinite spectators.
At this time, the animal started to emit sounds. A curiously complex play of the tongue and lips that constantly wowed the bystanders who pretended to have a conversation with it and portrayed the special moment on their hologram recorders. “He said Popcorn, mommy, he understands me!” the golden lassie exclaimed between cheerful giggles. Her mother looked at her with affectionate condescendence. “I’m sure it did, honey.”
Everyone had heard it. The ape had pronounced the word “Popcorn”. Surely, it wasn’t intentional, but the similarity between the word and the resonance that came from his mouth was staggering. Soon, little kids were firing a trillion little grenades of butter that flew over the glass to the insides of the cage, and the primate ran around with a mixture of bliss and fear-induced confusion as the salty meteors fell from the sky, some hitting him in the face.
“Minerva, don’t be a brat!” yelled the mother of the shiny girl in polka dots, as she snapped the popcorn bag from her daughter’s palms “You’re not supposed to be feeding the animals, now get it together!” – The girl’s face slowly morphed into a frustrated, wrinkly portrait of sadness, the kind of funny grief only a kid can exude when confronted with a trivial issue, as tears and a discomforting shriek emanated from her humid eyes. The mother escorted her out of the crowd in a forceful dash propelled by the most powerful of fuels: embarrassment.
It was noon and the big monkey napped after a tiring morning of being a show. His glass cage sat almost empty of an audience except for the occasional bypassing families who pressed their face against the glass and immediately left in frustration upon the sight of the San Diego Zoo’s most fantastic attraction lounging behind a rock.
Everything in that land reeked of colors and sweetness. A gaudy Garden of Eden oversaturated with hues and joy: a cluster of balloons floating across the sky, the information screens projecting giant holograms that communicated the zoo’s calendar of tours and activities, the pathways of shining gold, the lush trees in sickly green, cartoonish carnival music and the voices of thousands of people culminating in an explosion of happy decibels, an occasional storm of confetti. The ape woke up from his nap to this sight. A million balloons, a billion mountains of candy firmly secured to the fingers of a trillion tiny humans.
The gruesomely magical grandness of that panorama contorted the ape’s expression into an overwhelmed frown. It took a dive in the small lake that was set up in the cage, meant to mimic its natural habitat, before covering itself with some loosely fitted pieces of fabric in a quietly mind-blowing display of shame, and collecting the little pieces of food that lay of the floor after the frenzy of the infant, Popcorn-launching madmen.
The Popcorn was hoarded compulsively before being eaten even more compulsively – and savagely. Whenever the maintenance people had tried to clean the cage and remove the dirty treats, the primate had gone into a raging fury. It almost killed one of the zookeepers once in an event of this nature, tackling and throwing blind punches in between terror-inducing screams. A dart of anesthetic was the miracle savior of the beaten worker.
“It can become scared so easily, poor thing. We let it have its cage the way he wants it and only step in to leave supplies and in case of a medical condition” was a phrase added to the default speech of the irritating guides who conveyed a psychotically adorable naivety in their voice.
“Through years of sickness and treatment we have actually discovered this guy reacts to medicine pretty much in a very similar way we humans do. Our organisms are so alike it’s simply mesmerizing” they were to add. The similarity between human and primate had been so exploited in their adoring cult towards the animal that it became almost a selling point to the marketing people at the property. “The newest missing link in human evolution is the newest addition to the San Diego zoo!” claimed news sources.
And along came the night. The moon was white and solemn, just like the ninety million moons that had been white and solemn before it. The ape entertained itself drawing symbols on the floor with the charcoal. Stripes, geometric figures, a crude circle that was probably meant to reproduce the glistening orb that had watched him from the sky ninety million times. It knew the world surrounding it. It, like many animals, marveled people with an intelligence that was child-like but incredibly sophisticated for one of the more unpolished creations of Mother Nature. It’s that patronizing, guilt-magnified admiration not unlike that one the fairer person felt for other shades of skin after slaughtering them and claiming dominion. The ape slept in a confined quarter, like all the other creatures that shared that space, it had been, at some point, brought by force into that cheap knockoff of a paradise from its real home in a less perfect yet more authentic corner of planet Earth, and narrowed to a slice of ever insufficient space, with a tag displayed in front of him for the humans to read and pretend to understand it’s essence.
“AROUND 130 POUNDS IN ADULTHOOD”
It also had a knack for keeping mementos stolen from the zookeeper or thrown by the audience: a shiny plastic ring thrown by an over-excited child, an empty syringe that had, at some point, been used to put him to sleep, a zookeeper’s hat that it sometimes wore on its head in a playful manner. But his favorite toy was a small metal slab, of around five inches, with buttons on the side. How had it gotten the thing was a mystery, but the ape had seen some similar devices on the hands of the pervasive visitors. They projected holograms and sometimes the humans talked into them. But his was broken, the glass crushed. Still, just manipulating it around and playing with the buttons excited the animal to the point of ecstasy. It only touched it at night, when no one was around. The loss of such an item was one that the ape wouldn’t allow.
That day had seen more camera crews around its cage than usual. The electronic eyes of the recording guns stalking the primate like a predator, hungry for information, the reporters talking in mechanical voices with an objectification of everything around them that boarded the morbid, the air drones with the “InterstellarNewscast @ 7” logo landing in front of the glass to deliver make up and other stage props for the broadcast…
“Finally the day has arrived in which Bilbo, the unidentified simian that has been the star of the San Diego Zoo’s grand reopening, will be getting a partner. A new specimen was captured yesterday in an abandoned shack near the boarders of the now deserted Chicago and will be brought overnight to the San Diego Zoo, to be close to the only other member of its species.
The savage creature had apparently made this abandoned place its home. Perseus, it’s amazing how nature reclaims what people have left behind.
And, oh, I hear it is a female. The scientific community will certainly be itching to see Bilbo finally interacting with another one of its own, and most importantly, we could finally have a chance to see this exemplary animal reproduce. Back to you, Perseus!”
That was the image of the cyborg talking in the hologram projector, which was tuned to the broadcast – the zoo staff left it on at night for they knew Bilbo was stimulated by these images. Bilbo observed the screen, and at one point recognized an image of itself gazing at that very own perverted camera that had trailed him that afternoon. The creature’s facial muscles produced something that looked like a human smile.
“CLANK!” Yelled the door that connected the cage to an employee-only hallway – the cringe worthy echo of metal being forced into movement startled Bilbo, who rushed into hiding behind a rock, only to quickly come out and face every possible risk that sound could have meant in order to recover the little buttoned slab it had left behind. Three zookeepers placed the unconscious female on the floor and removed her coverings. It sat there, completely naked and pure, just how nature intended.
Bilbo, in an almost nurturing manner, covered her with some fabric that lay around. That petite body needn’t to be exposed in such a crude manner. The male proceeded to poke its companion with a stick. Then a screeching sound, then a brutal contortion of the inanimate body, then Bilbo lay petrified on the floor at the mercy of its equally alarmed attacker. Then a look of utter shock. Then liberation from the teeth and nails of death. Then, an instinctive hug that welded the two bodies in a mutual blast of passionate caring. Then confusion, of the very worst and paralyzing kind.
“Stephen, where are we?”
The female muttered every single syllable of the question. Her speech was atrophied and rusted with years of proper communication, and this was only amplified by her stinging uncertainty.
“So long without seeing you, Alice. We don’t see each other since… since lab.” Responded the male. His brain had forgotten how to articulate sentences properly. The voice that came out was that of a scared child, someone with an inability to properly observe the world around him. The male did not once look at his new partner, eyes fixated on the scriptures that the charcoal, guided by the hand, had produced on the floor. “With charcoal I counting days since I got here. If not I forget easily. What year is it?” he continued to ask.
“Around the 28th century, I think” answered her. The speech coming out of that mouth was much more assertive, signaling a head that had fought much more effectively against the demons of cognitive deterioration. She then turned to herself and started inaudibly repeating the same couple of sentences over and over again, to the puzzled expression of Bilbo. “Alice McLaren, married, deployed in the military, volunteered in the Fountain of Youth Project just before cancellation, favorite movie is The Shining and love all kinds of pasta” “Alice McLaren, married, deployed in the military, volunteered in the Fountain of Youth Project just before cancellation, favorite movie is The Shining and love all kinds of pasta” “Alice McLaren, married, deployed in the military, volunteered in the Fountain of Youth Project just before cancellation, favorite movie is The Shining and love all kinds of pasta”. Thirty times this happened, each time more frantic and desperate, as if she was trying to hold on to herself by repeating this. Finally, she broke her schizophrenic trance and welcomed the sensations of the world into her body again.
“Fountain of Youth. We only two, ever… right?” questioned Bilbo. “Is that why we are this way?” The latest of the ninety million moons illuminated the cage with a white caress as it became bloated with curiosity.
“Immortality. Only we achieve it. Project is shut off right after experimentation step…”
“You remember anything, from ever?”
At this moment melancholy seemed to stem from every pore of her skin. “I stop remembering after two hundred. After that, survive here, survive there. Wasn’t I in Chicago?” she looked at her hands, as if trying to memorize what she had done with them a couple dozen hours earlier, which to her neurons saturated with time, were only moments. “Chicago was nuked, you know?” Bilbo stared at her with bewildered eyes of someone who has just heard something that doesn’t fit with the rest of reality. She picked up that look and held on to it, as if she had predicted it “Yes. Saddest thing is we alive when it happened. We maybe were there at the moment it happened. And yet you won’t remember it. Your name is Stephen, by the way”.
At that moment, steps were heard on the golden pathway, which now wasn’t gold but blended in a blue shade with the rest of the night, and a silhouette roamed the area carrying a levitating cart full of supplies for the cages. The zookeeper had greyish skin, disproportionally huge head dominated by black orbs for eyes, like those of a fly, each extremity having four fingers, an almost stick-like figure dressed in San Diego Zoo’s new fashion-forward fluorescent uniforms. He ran spastically and turned left in a corner, to disappear from the cage’s range of sight, dropping a bag of fish that must had been meant for one of the bigger inhabitants of the aquarium.
“I hate those things. Want to smash them all” exclaimed Alice in a wave of silent fury, her curly red hair evoking a demon fire with an appetite for destruction. But those weren’t things, they were people. They were what the world now called humans, their newest and most perfect itineration created by the formulaic natural rules of survival. “Time just made them… different. They talk funny, language not like ours. Only word we seem to share is Popcorn. They throw it to me, think I might be addicted but shush!” added Bilbo, with a mischievous smile as he gestured for silence, as if the addiction he had picked over a long time was his dirty little secret. “And now they think we’re primates” he finished that sentence with a hint of resignation, but it was mixed with a serene and optimistic understanding on how life worked, as if the male had nothing to lose, just keep living under the new rules destiny had set for him.
Both lay behind the rock, and Bilbo handed Alice his metal slab. She recognized it instantly and was filled with delight to see the remnants of her time... the time in which it was natural for her to be alive. And so, both fell asleep, under the foster of one of the ninety million moons, holding hands as if one was the last hope for the other in an existence that each second lost a tiny bit of its already dwindling meaning.
The sun was up and brilliant, just like the ninety million suns that had been up and brilliant before it. The millions of children, trillions of balloons, quadrillions and quintillions of smiles, pieces of cotillion and sweets, were all back one day more, to turn even more infinite. A multitude overran the front of the translucent cage, looking at the new, beautiful, red headed companion of the mysterious ape. “She’s even shier than he is!” “Come here, look at me!” “Oh look, she’s so perfect. Such wonderful animals.” “What name did the zoo give her? Puff, was it?” were phrases that came from the spectators in the close distance, in the newer languages of civilization that both Bilbo and Alice found indecipherable. A guide pushed his way across the crowd to change the sign in front of the cage, meant to reflect the newest discoveries that science had made of this mythical creatures. In the written language of the modern humans, it read:
“HOMO SAPIENS SAPIENS”
“AROUND 130 POUNDS IN ADULTHOOD”
The ominous significance of those letters, which were practically a death sentence, Bilbo and Alice didn’t care to read. Their lives weren’t to change anytime soon, but at least the newfound presence of the other made that eternal death a little happier.
“Talk them. They love it” whispered Bilbo in his ever more basic way of speaking. “Come on. Say Popcorn.”