What’s a Short Story Doing on a Poetry Blog?

Crazy, Right? I write short stories, too. Did I mention that? Here is one I had published earlier this year at The Smoking Poet.

EmSpeaking

As Em lay in bed trying to wake up, she found herself recalling the noisy banter between her mother and sister. Neither possessed the ability to communicate telepathically as she did. They were speakers. She thought about the rise in volume as each hurried to make a point, sometimes talking even before the other had finished. She remembered the quick repartee and the way the words heightened and released in a burst of emotion as they spoke.

She hadn’t joined in. On the rare occasions when she tried, her words didn’t match what she wanted to express. Instead, she found herself…what? Listening? No, it was more like absorbing it. Their high-spirited squabbles would come and go, and the three of them would be off shopping as if it had never happened. This morning, she realized, she missed the garbled sound of their voices in her ears. She missed them.

Em and Sebastian had had their own quiet quarrel last night. In fact, they had been having the same discussion for some time. Em thought about how different were their quiet thoughts from her family’s noisy conversations. As she replayed the argument in her head, she wondered if the internal nature of telepathic communication played on her predilection to ruminate. She struggled to contain it. Did explosive vocal displays serve as a therapeutic release mechanism that was unavailable to her and Seba?

In this argument, and in others that had come before recently, Seba had expressed a desire to engage more verbally with their speaking friends. Em did not share this desire. On the few occasions they went out with speaking friends to a party or to a restaurant, she was content to listen to their words. Occasionally she tried to join in by sending them her thoughts on a subject, but they usually missed it. When she was able to enter their minds with input, they misunderstood her point, not recognizing its source, or they took credit for her idea. Em was more comfortable with other telemuters. Seba had expressed the fear that they were becoming isolated. He told her it was important to continue to be able to vocalize ideas in order to…how had he put it?  {Stay relevant, engaged.}

Both Em and Seba were part of a small but growing segment of the population called intra-telemuters, meaning they communicated almost exclusively telepathically.  They rarely vocalized and this had been at the center of their ongoing disagreement.

{We are too isolated. I want to talk also. I want our children to be able to talk,} Sebastian had thought to Em.

{But the world is moving in our direction. We are the future.} Em replied.  She couldn’t understand why Seba did not see that.

Em’s worried that they would grow apart if they started to speak to others more. And, she was afraid she couldn’t learn to speak because it has been so long since she had seriously tried. Even though her brain continued to create complex thought it had stopped sending commands to her mouth, her tongue, her lungs, to create word sound. At home alone, she would sometimes look in the mirror and try to say a word, but it made her feel silly even though no one but the cat was listening.

And, there was the issue of children. For the past year, Seba had been talking about starting a family. Em had resisted, saying she didn’t feel ready. Em worried that this was at the heart of Seba’s frustration. She wondered if he was manifesting his discontent about her foot-dragging on the matter in his recent insistence that they learn to speak aloud. Was he pulling away from her? She suspected that Seba was vocalizing more at work and Em felt threatened by the thought.

Despite a truce, they fell asleep with the issue once again unresolved. That morning Seba had left for work with barely a good-bye thought.

{He’s in a huff,} Em mused to the cat.

The fact was, there was a high probability that Em and Sebastian’s children would not be able to speak. Em and Sebastian were both products of genetic changes set into motion during the Information Age that started in the late 20th Century. The field of predictive and preventative medicine exploded just a few decades following the first successes at sequencing the complete human genome in the year 2000. Once the genome sequence was fully decoded, along with the concomitant understanding of how genes work, the world was changed forever. What started as early efforts to combat cancer, as well as, cardiac and autoimmune diseases, quickly led to further toying with genetic structure, or to G-tuning, as it became commonly known. G-tuning for every genetically-based human malady began on a large scale by 2020. Even when it was used appropriately, G-tuning created a variety of unexpected—and now evolving—characteristics causing many to dub G-tuning, the Pandora’s Box of medicine.

Telepathic communication was just one of the paths down which scientists had inadvertently taken humans. Other paths led to equally new and unusual traits. There was a small strain of people that could stay under water for long periods of time, or individuals that possessed exceptional computational ability. By 2025, many humans possessed super-organs that out-performed—and out-lived—their unmodified counterparts.

From the first efforts to genetically alter humans, demand was high. Couples lined up to custom order their children hoping not only to remediate potential genetic problems but also to place orders for specialty traits as if making a purchase for a new home or family car. Often decisions were made on a whim, something many came to regret. In the early days, it was difficult to predict just how far or how significant the restructuring would be in any given case. More importantly, genetic tuning affected not only the fetus but also its off-spring.

By 2035, even as human frailty was fading, the world was in unprecedented ethical turmoil over the practice of G-tuning. Indeed, many individuals were saved by bio-technology, while others began to exhibit freakish attributes. There was even a segment that ordered up physical characteristics that mimicked vestigial apparitions from billions of years ago—gills, elongated sacrum, webbed fingers and toes. Such traits were sought after much like tattooing had been at the turn of the century.

Telepathic communication resulted from genetic tuning employed  to correct what was thought of mental or intellectual learning disabilities in which, among a variety of other problems, individuals had trouble expressing themselves vocally. In most cases, these individuals had rich and highly evolved interior lives. A mere century earlier, they had been sequestered into special hospitals and group homes. By the end of the 20th Century attempts were being made to mainstream them. At the same time, the number of cases was increasing at an unprecedented rate. The torch to correct these types of problems using G-tuning was the first to be lit following successful efforts to repair problems involving the heart, kidneys, or pancreas.

Genetic tuning to fix problems of the brain represented the greatest frontier for the scientific community since it was an area about which they knew little. Serious errors were made early on. In just one or two generations, individuals who were born to those treated with genetic tuning to fix learning disabilities, not only spoke aloud, but they also began to share thoughts with other likewise affected individuals using thought transference. It was as if G-tuning had opened blocked sensory channels allowing electrical impulses from one individual to cross directly to receptors in other similarly affected individuals.

Throughout the 30s and 40s, telemuters, as they were called, quickly pushed the depth and breadth to which they were able to engage in thought transmission with one another. The irony was that the G-tuning employed to enable non-speakers to communicate audibly also enabled them to communicate inaudibly with one another. And, many found inaudible communication more satisfying and efficient.

Em’s father had been one of the original telemuters. Fetal genetic testing had labeled him a candidate for G-tuning. Now he was only able to communicate simple thoughts telepathically because the only time he communicated in this way was when he was with Em and Sebastian. Em’s parents had known that she too would possess this trait. They opted as more progressive parents did, to forgo additional G-tuning. Even before she was born, they agreed that they would do everything they could to ensure their daughter’s life would be as normal as possible.

As a child, Em made attempts to speak aloud, although she found it difficult. By the age of twelve, she no longer tried. She engaged in activities such as reading, listening to music, or communing with nature that did not require her to communicate with speakers.

Em met Sebastian in high school. Like Em, he was a second generation telemuter. They fell in love, attended college together, and got married in 2063. Because of their exceptional intellectual capabilities, their stellar academic performances, and because they were telemuters, both had easily obtained life-work in prestigious bio-development firms. In many ways, their life together seemed perfect. At least Em thought so until a few weeks ago when Seba had begun to communicate his wish to speak aloud.

That morning, Em made a decision. She would learn to talk for Seba. She would push past her fears. She didn’t know where the path would lead but she knew it was important to Sebastian. Em felt more peaceful than she had in weeks.

Over lunch that day, Em asked her friend, JJ to help her learn to speak. JJ was also a telemuter, though she was equally fluent in both thought transference and vocal speech. In fact, Em suspected JJ used her to hone her telemuting skills, but Em didn’t mind. She liked having someone to commune with.

JJ picked up a fork, handed it to Em, and slowly said the word fork emphasizing her mouth movements. “Now, you try it.”

Em looked at JJ’s lips. She tried to recreate how her friend’s upper teeth pressed against her slightly extended lower lip as she formed an f. And, she pushed air through her slightly opened mouth just as JJ had done to finish the word with a k. Even Em knew she sounded ridiculous. They both laughed.

Em worried that she would never be able to create a complete thought aloud even though JJ was relentless in her tutoring. In just a few weeks, though still sounding awkward, words seemed a little easier for Em to form. She continued to practice reading aloud words JJ wrote on napkins. JJ began to string two words together. Em struggled to finish one word, create a vocal break, and then to begin the next.

Em and Seba’s third wedding anniversary was just a few weeks away and Em was determined to surprise her husband with a complete sentence.

On the day of their anniversary, Sebastian sent Em flowers at work. She felt reassured by the gesture and realized she had been silly to worry. At dinner in a restaurant that night, he gave her a necklace. It was a silver circle that on one side he had had engraved,  “Now and Forever,” and on the other, “I love you.” Seba expressed to Em how much he loved her, and how sorry he was about his recent nagging on the subject of vocal language.

When they got home, he continued sending her thoughts on the matter, as if needing to get them off his chest. Em held an index finger to her forehead, a sign indicating she wanted him to stop transmitting. She kissed him. Then, she spoke aloud in a halting, awkward voice, “Let’s … just… make… a… baby.”

© 2010-2013 Grace Curtis

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2 Responses to What’s a Short Story Doing on a Poetry Blog?

  1. Your words slip me right into the world of intra-telemuters. Intriguingly plausible and fascinating. I suspect more of us speak to one another with our thoughts (and feelings!) than we dare to believe.

    Sharing this with Facebook friends!

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