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Potential

by Dan Garro 2 years ago in fantasy
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A short tale from Crystal City

Everyone in Crystal City understood the importance of Potential. Set during a person’s fabrication, Potential determined who he would become. The city used it to assign individual role and function. Potential made it possible to preserve civility, regularity, productivity, and security. Yes, everyone in Crystal City understood the importance, the value, of Potential.

The young couple thought about Potential as they left Fabrication Services with their new child, Charles. There had been an error in Charles’ fabrication. The specialists at the facility had assured them that it had been a very, very rare error. Consequently, Charles was not the child his parents had ordered. The specialists were unable to say exactly what had gone wrong during his fabrication. They did explain, however, that it caused a fault in Charles’ genome making it impossible to set his Potential. Without it, he would be an oddity in Crystal City, an outsider, an unknown. Perhaps it was to his parents’ credit that they did not choose to terminate Charles. Perhaps termination would have ultimately been easier for him. Of course, one can only speculate—the fact was, Charles did exist.

A waiting transport vehicle was ready to take the new family home when their appointment at Fabrication Services ended. The ride began in silence. After a few minutes, the man seemed to regain focus. “What else could we have done?” He asked, a tinge of hopelessness in his voice. “Did we really have a choice?” The woman wondered quietly, never averting her eyes from the task of surveying the passing scenery. “How can you terminate a child who has already been fabricated, who has a name?” She asked with a sigh, closing her eyes in an attempt, if only for a moment, to shut out the world. The new parents seemed distant, somewhere else, as the transport vehicle quietly carried its passengers to their destination. The new child, Charles, was unaware of his parents’ unease, of their worry. “What are we going to do?” The man quietly muttered, unsure whether the question should be spoken. By the time the transport vehicle stopped in front their home, the new parents regretted the choices they made earlier that day.

Charles himself was not to blame for his imperfection, but this fact was not enough to save him from his parents’ ire and frustration. His parents had formed extremely high expectations during the pre-fabrication process, ones they simply could not reconcile with the product that was delivered. The situation was worsened by the fact that there was little Charles could do. Lacking Potential, he was unable to be educated nor could he participate in any City institutions or programs. “We simply cannot risk an unknown obstructing regularity, security, and productivity,” a city official informed his parents each time they attempted to enroll Charles in a program.

Things finally changed when Charles was four years old. His parents decided to have a daughter fabricated, one who would surpass expectations, who would be perfect. His parents paid extra to have redundant scans done to prevent errors, no matter how rare, from occurring. The result of the fabrication process was Charles’ sister, Sky, who was the embodiment of perfection. With Sky’s arrival, his parents started a process of forgetting and moving on.

Charles became a living afterthought in the minds of his parents. Sky was utterly perfect, she was everything their parents had hoped for, and next to her brilliance Charles was impossible to see. For Sky, doors stood open; for Charles, they did not exist. At age three, Sky was accepted to the most elite schools. Around the same time, what little home-schooling Charles received was reduced. Then, two years later when Sky started participating in more extracurricular activities, Charles’ parents concluded his education was no longer necessary. It was simply more beneficial to focus on their parental obligations to Sky. “It’s not like he can do much with it,” his father said in an attempt to justify their decision.

Surprisingly, Charles never resented Sky. Perhaps some unconscious part of him, deep down, understood that Sky was not to blame. He did resent his parents and what seemed to be their total lack of empathy and interest. Sky, however, had been different. Much to their parents’ chagrin, brother and sister had played together and made time for each other. Charles would always cherish his time with Sky. She had made him feel seen, cared for, she treated him like a person. Sky found time, no matter how small, to spend with Charles, even when their parents pressured her to spend less time with him. She even tried her best to help him educate himself. These kindnesses, these moments of humanity and connection with Sky, would stay with Charles throughout his life.

Charles understood that his life was no one person’s fault. There were no doubt things that could have been done to make his life easier, but not many people in his life made an effort or bothered. It was painfully obvious that he did not belong, that he had no place in the world he found himself in. He could look out the window at that world, he could observe the community from afar, but he was forever locked-out of Crystal City because he lacked Potential.

On Charles’ eighteenth birthday, Sky was notified that she had been accepted into Crystal City’s most elite prep-university. His parents threw her a lavish party. He was happy for his sister. He knew her life would go as planned, that she would realize her Potential and somehow stand out as an exception even in a flawless crowd. The celebration was in full swing, everyone’s attention was focused on Sky, and no one noticed when Charles gathered his few possessions and left.

Without a perfect genome, without proof of education from even the most rudimentary prep-school, Charles’ options were severely limited. His parents’ shame had prevented him from going out, from creating even a small footprint on any of the city’s extensive data collection systems. There was little, if anything, to point to, to show he existed and what could be expected of him, of what he might accomplish. His parents could never stomach the thought of the whole world knowing he existed, being aware of his imperfection. Charles always thought, perhaps naively, that he could have proven himself, even in the smallest way, had he been allowed to venture out. But he was inexperienced, he had an outsider’s thoughts, the thoughts of one who daydreamed about finding even the smallest corner where he fit in. Without Potential, without a footprint in the system, Charles’ prospects in the city that created him were abysmal.

Charles’ parents never seemed aware or concerned that the child they created but did not want still needed something to survive, to make his own life. They were too focused on Sky to notice his needs; they were too ashamed to care. Later, after Sky’s celebration, his parents would celebrate again in private when they discovered he was gone. Charles lacked most everything that would make life bearable in the cold reality of Crystal City. As the door shut behind him, he could hear his parents’ joy for the child they wanted, the child they had hoped for. His parents could live vicariously through the achievements of a daughter so perfect that the system could not ignore her.

He slowly made his way from the house to the road. He carried a small bag with clothes, his phone, and a blanket. The little money he had was tucked away in his sock. If only he could discover his Potential, he would have a purpose, his path would become clear. For now, he resigned himself to the task of discovering how to survive, how to make his own way in a world where he was invisible.

Sky fought back tears as she watched her brother go. He did not deserve his fate. They did not speak that night—they rarely spoke anymore. “I wish I could have found more time to spend with him…just a little more time,” she thought, knowing the guilt would linger. Her parents had kept them separate more often as time went on, as if Charles’ undesirable qualities and imperfect nature would somehow rub off on her, infect her. She watched the door close and knew it was the last time she would see her brother.

Sky never told Charles that she loved him. She never had the courage to tell him that she thought he was lucky, that maybe he would discover some sort of life that was not dictated by Potential, by Crystal City’s rigidity. In truth, she feared he would misunderstand her if she did try to explain, and the little connection they had shared would be destroyed, forever tainted by misunderstanding and anger. “There has to be some other possibility, some other way,” she tried to convince herself for her brother’s sake.

Sky knew the simple truth…she was trapped. Her Potential, her promise, was evident, and her path was very narrow, even though, from the outside, from afar it might appear wide. She envied the quiet, introspective, albeit difficult life her brother possessed. “Perhaps he’ll find himself out there,” she said to herself, knowing it was a small comfort to hold hope for one who seemed to never know it.

Sky knew her brother’s best option would be to go underground, to seek a life beyond Crystal City’s calculations and discriminating eye. There was no place for him in the city, in the light where everyone could see him. Without a place in the sun, the only option left was to make one in the dark.

Though Sky refrained from speaking to Charles the night he left, she did do him a kindness nonetheless, she left him a present. She wrote him a note to reassure him that she would always remember him fondly, and she tucked it in the back pocket of a little black notebook that she had secretly stowed in his bag. Paper was an expensive luxury, and she wanted him to have something from her, something to hold, something tangible that would remind him of the connection they once shared. The note was short, but with it she included $20,000 credits she had taken from her parents. She would do what her parents never would, she would do something to help her brother find his way, to make himself.

Charles left the only world he knew that night. He would discover Sky’s note, her gift, later that evening. He would never let the little black notebook out of his sight, it became his most valuable possession. The money she had left would make things easier as he navigated the unknown. Each step he took, starting with the one that took him out of his childhood home, was a step away from a past he mostly did not want and a step towards a future, towards the unknown. Somewhere deep within him, somewhere beneath his conscious thoughts, a part of him knew that with each step he took he was closer to realizing his potential.

fantasy

About the author

Dan Garro

Philosopher/Educator/Writer/Podcast Host & Producer

I'm a philosophy professor, avid reader, I love writing, and I co-host/produce The Existential Stoic Podcast.

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