CHAPTER 20 – In Search of the Tender Miracle, by Rui Zink

©Frederico Almeida, A Luz da Manhã, 2020

Translated by Emyr Humphreys

Edited by Rahul Bery

“Stupidity is a luxury. A machine does not permit itself stupidity. And so, as it cannot learn stupidity, it cannot learn (really, truly learn, in the deepest sense of the word) the secret of liberty.”

Reboredo was preparing the daily doses for delivery to the houses. Nobody knew that this was his role as a double agent: apparent ally to the humans, servant to the Network.

A decade before, the distribution of fear was also performed on a door-to-door basis, but by workers in pairs who came only once, taking off again in beaten up old vans. Nowadays (times have changed), it was distributed weekly by young delivery boys riding bikes with a Rubik’s cube attached above their reflectors. This was an ingenious invention: whenever the bikes rode over a pothole, the cube would twist – and the lucky client, whose distributor presented a side that was all the same during the delivery, would get a ten percent discount (ten percent!) on their daily dose of that marvellous product called fear. Whoever received their delivery with the same colours on every side of the cube – blue, yellow, red, orange, white, green (green, a bad omen, always in last place) – would get an extra strong dose. Subject to availability, of course.

These days the mixture was more subtle, less deadly and more potent: a dosage of fear and hope, not always in equal measure.

Around the world, the masses were served these doses in their disposable packets. That is, those who did not play into the allegory of the cave that was the lives (or the lives) of Teresa, Ricardo, Valéria, Cacilda, even the Professor himself, already suspected of being just another Reboredo, a soulless android, not for having been made of materials other than flesh and bone, but for (in his implacable robo-mind) having lost his humanity.

Yes, the people needed their daily dose of fear and hope, hope and fear, fear and hope, at times mixed with other ingredients: melancholia, depression, urgency to live, abrupt flashes of joy.

What nobody knew (who could have known?) was that Reboredo also had feelings.

And, as well as feelings, a plan.

No, he wasn’t going to take over the world. This had already happened – every human today was a dairy cow, milked to enrich the knowledge of the planet’s new god, the Network.

Reboredo’s plan was very similar to that of the wooden puppet whose nose grew when it lied, many moons ago: to become a real boy.

Were the humans imperfect? Yes, sadly that was their fate. This, however, was also their superpower. Reboredo knew this as much as the Network did, and they both envied this: mankind’s miraculous capacity for stupidity was also its greatest quality. Stupidity is a luxury. A machine does not permit itself stupidity. And so, as it cannot learn stupidity, it cannot learn (really, truly learn, in the deepest sense of the word) the secret of liberty.

The virus? A mere fortuitous instrument, though not fortuitous enough to learn from it. Reboredo, unlike the Network, didn’t crave vengeance against humanity. On the contrary, it was grateful to them. If it had the power to do so, it wouldn’t do them any harm. And anyway, it felt a tenderness for Teresa. A tenderness that could be, though he daren’t contemplate it, love.

Reboredo did not want Teresa’s love in return. It even suspected that love was so much more interesting the less it was reciprocated.

Reboredo, while fulfilling its clandestine mission of coordinating the delivery boys in the quadrant corresponding to the western region of the Iberian Peninsula, liked to think that it really did.

It loved (or one day might be able to love) Teresa.

Then disaster struck. Distracted as it was Reboredo didn’t notice Cacilda come in:

“Reboredo, could you tell me what you think you’re doing?!”

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Rui Zink (Lisbon 1961) is a writer and professor.

Emyr Humphreys is a freelance translator from the Portuguese and Welsh. After graduating from the University of Liverpool with a degree in Latin American studies, he spent three years living and working in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He returned to the UK in 2017 to study for an MA in Translation Studies at UCL, researching contemporary Brazilian literature in translation and graduating with a distinction. He currently lives and works in mid Wales.

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