©João Seguro, “02-04-2020” da série “Yvetot por Constantinopla” (em progresso) www.facebook.com/joao.seguro.7
Translated by Charlotte Gleghorn
Edited by James Young
Violently and virulently. By now the viruses had extended to all of the planet’s population and in that secret laboratory, lodged deep inside a mountain, a group of researchers were trying to find a vaccine with no respite for equipment, materials or guinea pigs. Every six hours there’d be a shift changeover, supervised by patrols that did the rounds of the most sensitive installations. Lúcia had entered the server room at four in the morning and became so overexcited that she’d forgotten about the rounds at seven. That’s why, when the head of the patrol saw the chamber door half open, he ordered the group to assemble and enter the room. But upon seeing Lúcia there, headphones to ears, eyes wide open, her tongue hanging out and her fingers whirling across the screens, he raised his right hand and ordered his subordinates to halt:
“Hold backex. I know that girl, she belongs to management.”
One of the subordinates was not convinced by the staff member’s presence in a restricted zone and asked:
“But Chiefex, we might as well ask her. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”
But the head of the patrol spun on his heels, pressed the base of his visor up against the subordinate’s and muttered:
“Don’t you worry yourself about who is working there. Outex!”
The patrol advanced hurriedly in the direction of the vivarium to monitor the safety of the guinea pigs.
Meanwhile, in his private chamber, Ricardo progressed to the wakefulness phase, two minutes before his alarm went off.
Ricardo had dreamt in binary code, a sign that his energy levels were highly favourable for making important decisions. Sometimes he’d take a long time to wake up, to realise who and where he was and what he should do, especially when he dreamt in hexadecimal, with a symphony orchestra playing in his right lobe and a fanfare of firefighters in his left.
That morning, Ricardo just had one of the usual John Phillip Sousa marches to set the tempo of his thoughts. He felt ready to tackle any issue and solve any problem. Ever since he had left the Institute for Advanced Scientific Study, he had felt invincible. Some of his colleagues, to earn his trust, would pat him on the back and say:
“Get you, you’re such a machine…”
He relished this enormously and it compensated for the times they called him Rick, the Freak, in half whispered tones. Nevertheless, now many years after his graduation, his doctorate and postdoc positions, the emeritus Professor Ricardo could not help feeling disturbed by recent developments. The appearance of all those android figures: the Albertos, or Al32ztx, the Reboredos, or R3bor3txz (to name just a few of the machines with the deepest voices, because there must have been others with high-pitched, sibilant ones) made him anxious and unsure of what to do. An unfamiliar feeling for him.
Ricardo had always wanted to be a machine, to have the speed of a processor, the memory of a hard disk and the chance to be in continuous operation. Could it be that Ricardo was merely one of those fake androids? It was true that he’d just woken from a refreshing nap and sleeping was an act reserved for living beings. Yet for sophisticated machines, as he knew only too well, sleeping might just be another form of activity, a phase destined for updates and memory defragmentation. That’s why what had just happened on the mattress of his private chamber was insufficient proof of his humanity.
“Sleeping helps, but it’s not the answer to everything…”
Ricardo also had a water point in his chamber, where he could collect water for hydration and to wash his face. As for his facial hair, instead of using the technology available to remove it in just a few seconds, he preferred the anachronistic razor and outmoded brush. He enjoyed the process because of the way his face appeared in the mirror.
“I’m not one for introspection, but you have to wonder: in the end, am I man or imitation?”
Ricardo opened the packet, took out a new blade and gazed at it:
“I could peel back my hand’s casing to see what I’m like on the inside, that would solve the mystery immediately.”
Ricardo moved the blade towards the back of his left hand but suddenly changed his mind:
“With all this innovation, I probably wouldn’t even find anything, not even carbon fibre joints, or titanium bones. There must be a better way to find the answer.”
And so, he began to ruminate on his lack of progeny:
“Obviously, if I had a child, I could be more certain that I was a creature in the traditional sense, born of the fusion of two cells, subject to error, and who grows old and dies.”
Another issue that bothered Ricardo was his attraction to Teresa. It wasn’t just a by-product of the upsets of old age, or of the prodigious intellect he foresaw in her. It was something far more paternal. Teresa had been allowed to join the team of scientists at the Centre for Analysis of Virus Evolution (C.A.V.E.) owing to her maternal grandfather, one of the laboratory’s founders, who had been murdered by a rival company when the Centre was conducting clinical trials for a new vaccine.
Back then Ricardo was just an intern, but he had a soft spot for the professor’s daughter, which, by the way, almost everybody had, apart from one of his colleagues, who was more interested in the comfort of the animals in the vivarium than in the comforts of Teresa. In the canteen one day at lunchtime, Ricardo ended up sitting next to her and the guy who, for some unknown reason, she liked. The chief’s daughter, to make the bookworm jealous, grabbed whoever was closest to her and invited him to visit the restricted areas of the Centre.
The habitual red warning signals sounded in Ricardo’s head followed by a continuous warning in English: “This is wrong, this is wrong.”
For Ricardo, English was the language of danger, but the C.A.V.E. chief’s daughter knew how to get around such obstructions and led him to venture into some risky places. That night and those that ensued, Ricardo delighted in listening to her whisper in French, the language that would come to her lips: “Ricard, Ricard, Ricard, ma boisson éventuelle. Let me drink of you.”
Ricardo, who was letting himself be carried away by these distant, increasingly deep reveries, cut himself while shaving. He couldn’t stop swearing, violently, more because of the disturbing memories than the cut on his jaw.
“¡Mierda! This is not one of those dirty films from the Spanish Transition!”
Spanish was the language he reserved for swearing and to refocus on his goal that day – a Friday 13th.
Sometime later, the chief’s daughter disappeared. Rumours went around of course, a nervous breakdown, a shameful pregnancy. Meanwhile, the death of her father, C.A.V.E.’s main founder, became an even bigger issue owing to the shock of his passing, and people stopped wondering about the fate of that unforgettable girl.
Of course, it’s possible that these biased episodes were implanted in Ricardo’s memory to give him the illusion of a biography. And of course, it’s also possible that all human life had expired since the last pandemic and that only the residues of people remained, in the form of researchers, assistants, cooks, security guards … a closed world in miniature.
Even so, Ricardo got dressed as best he could and prepared to leave his cubicle and head to the canteen to try to clear up the issue of Teresa’s paternity for once and for all. He just needed a biological sample. A single hair. It wasn’t a particularly difficult thing to acquire. And the result of the test would be available in just a few minutes.
And it was with this thought that Ricardo advanced with a determined stride and decided:
Tiago Patrício was born in Funchal, in 1979, and was taken to live in Trás-os-Montes when he was only 9 months old. He studied at Telescola, in Carviçais, and at the Torre de Moncorvo secondary school. In 1998, he moved to Lisbon, where he attended Naval School, studied at the Faculdade de Farmácia and did an MA at the Faculdade de Letras. In 2007, he won the Jovens Escritores prize, for young writers, and was selected to take up a literary residence in Prague. In the years that followed, he published several works of poetry, prose and theatre, which received several prizes. Some of his poetry has been published in Egypt, Slovenia, Greece, Mexico and the Czech Republic. He works as a pharmacist in Odivelas.
Charlotte Gleghorn is Lecturer in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has an Honours degree in French and Spanish with Portuguese from University of Leeds and has worked across all three languages. Alongside her research and publications on Latin American cinema, she develops and teaches literary translation for Portuguese and Spanish students. She has spent extended periods in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, France and Spain and has undertaken freelance assignments on human rights for the not-for-profit sector. She has also dabbled in literary translation with samples for To Hell with Publishing (2008), and in 2019, she translated and subtitled six short Latin American films.
(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)
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