I awake, as always, to the click and whir of a thousand hidden cameras, and the rising glow of the ambient lights. Over the next 30 minutes, the curtains on my bedroom will slowly part, gliding on mechanized tracks, and the yellow sunlight of dawn will stream into the wide circular room. Like all mornings, I entertain for the briefest moments the thought of hurling myself at the windows and plunging the half mile to the ground. I hold on to the little fantasy of wind and sky and falling for as long as it will remain, dreaming of those magnificent moments of freedom and choice.
Even if I were not a coward, there are a thousand unseen barriers and safe guards. I can not see them, but several parents are doubtlessly just outside the door, and would be between me and the window before I could leave the bed. I allow the dream of freedom to evaporate for another morning.
The woman next to me, I can not recall her name, shifts and rolls to embrace me. I wrap my arms around her and return the affection, but there is no love in it. She is young and soft, skin still stretched taut over her athletic and perfect frame. I know that in my youth I would have been buzzing with anticipation and lust simply seeing her, but now I can only take solace in the momentary ghost of affection and emotion. Her skin is warm, and her fine and downy body hair is smoother than the silk of the sheets. I draw an abstract of pleasure from this closeness, feeling something akin to happiness when our bellies synchronize in breathing, pressed close as they rise and fall in an alternating rhythm. Her breath is hot and damp on my chin and neck. It only takes me a few moments to tire of her, and I swung my legs to the edge of the bed.
The black marble of the walls and floor of my bedroom are heated to my exact preference, so I walk, naked, into the large bathroom. Like every morning, I try not to focus on the near-silent buzzing of small servos and motors as each of the cameras pivots to keep me in view at all time. They must be completely autonomous, but it amuses me to think of a thousand uniformed parents tediously tracking my every move, 16 hours a day. They would be madder than I by now.
The routine begins; not identical every morning, but a tiny repertoire of ordered tasks combined in a slightly different order than the day before. Shave. Shower. Preen. Pose. Smile. Evacuate. Masturbate.
By altering my routines with feckless reorganization, it gives the impression of variance where there is none. The parents tell me that this is just one of the reasons my channel is still so popular, despite being functionally identical to my father’s and his father’s before us. I have a flair for fakery, for lying. It makes them proud. It makes me hollow.
I can choose what want to do for the rest of the day, from an approved list; another beautiful facade of freedom. I can hold court over a hundred gladiators and command them to break each other apart. I can paint on a canvas a hundred feet tall. I can inhale hallucinogens and stumble through the thousand-acre wildlife preserve on the outer decks of the Tower. I can copulate with my choice of limitless young women, or men. I can beat a child until his skull caves in. It is of course, a limited form of choice. I cannot go back to bed and weep. I can never say “Stop”. I cannot leave the Tower.
I am at my most honest, I believe, in the 8 hours of broadcast solitude each night, locked in the blacked out bedroom of silk and marble with whatever woman has caught my fancy. These are the times that I can admit, in my solitude and self reflection, that I would never be able to exist outside the Tower. I know nothing about the outside, and the parents and my concubines can only tell me of the millions of people that love me. I don’t know how a real person lives. I only know my world.
I spend the day in the museum, aimlessly wandering through ancient paintings and statues before practicing horseback riding on one of the open air decks. I do this partially because I told the parents I would be in the harem all day, and it amuses me to think of them struggling to adapt the programming, and the wasted resources.
When I am done for the day, I retire to a balcony with a drink. The jagged spires of the horizon look like teeth as they swallow the sun, and I can feel the cold, familiar knot in my guts, that unease and dread at the crawling passage of time.
I’ve been as careful as I could not to conceive, but that can never last. I have no illusions about this. Sooner or later, I will have a son. Doubtless the parents are already weaning me off the contraceptives in my meals. I grow ill at the thought, and stand to complete my nightly ritual.
I descend the elevator through the vast interior space of the Tower, towards the lower levels. The parents love this portion of my night, such a wonder flair for the dramatic, they say. I do it because it keeps me sane.
The guards below are like the parents, only their uniforms are different. They smile at me with genuine love and affection and allow me to pass the viewing chamber.
My father, a man I never met, is laying on a soiled mattress bed, in a sterile metal chamber.
They only love you for so long.
He stirs slightly, but I know he cannot see me; his eyes are now lidless, each orb a milky ball of scar tissue. His mouth is lipless and his dry and bleeding gums encase only a few shattered teeth. His ears are gone, the skin pulled tight around them and sewn shut with black cord.
His limbs each terminated in a raw stump when I first was allowed to see him, now they are completely gone. I’ve watched them break, bend and vanish in slow bites over the years, but they are simply scars around his gaunt torso now. There are deep, fresh gouges in his gut. Every time I think he simply cannot endure more, he astounds me by continuing to live.
When my time on the channel ends each night, his begins. The Tower goes deep underground, and that is my father’s world, a nightmare mirror of my own. For the last few months they have taken to opening him up to take away ragged chips of his organs. Since they took his tongue and lips, he has no shame about gibbering and wailing wordlessly.
I have no love for this man, no pity for this thing. I can barely feel pity for myself.
But he is my mirror, my portrait of the future. The people that love me now will grow weary, and will fall in love with my inevitable son. Later, these same people will delight in watching my slow and surgical dismantlement, for eight hours every night.
The mechanical arm on the ceiling descends, lopping a hook through the harness around my father’s broken body, and carries him into the next room to prep him for the show. He begins to shriek, a ululating cry of helpless terror, and thrashes in the machine’s embrace, but it cradles him almost gently as it takes him from my view, and into someone else’s.
I look away. Return to my room. Lie motionless and empty in the dark.
The channel changes.
Credited to Josef K.