I watched Cooper fussing and playing at tidying my quarters. At least they didn't call it an enclosure. Just a bunk, a toilet and no-frills washbasin. Only the best for their million dollar ape.
"Have I ever told you my theory about companies and dinosaurs?" I asked him. "I'm sure I have. Well, it goes like this. When the meteor wiped out the dinosaurs--oh, and let me tell you I think that's a crock -- meteorite my enormous, hairy ass. Anyway, where was I? Dinosaurs, right. Well those dinosaurs were walking around as if everything was alright, but it wasn't. Years before, the meteorite--if we choose to believe the hypothesis--was already on its path. It was preordained. Those dinosaurs were the walking dead. Zombisaurus Rex. You with me?"
I could tell Cooper wasn't really listening. He never did. He nodded a lot and made some sounds like he was following along, but he wasn't really grokking it. "So companies are already doomed. They just don't know it yet. They're run by mostly old men in suits who know nothing about the cutting edge. They fear the future because they know it means their end. They avoid the new because it's alien to them and they're ‘all in’ on the present. Think of it. Blockchain driven self-replicating, self-driving companies contracting with the agents of other smart contract-based companies, all trading with each other at thousands of transactions per second, spinning off subsidiaries and joint ventures for R&D and micro-investments...this is the future, my friend. Not a human in sight."
Here I paused for dramatic effect. Totally wasted on Cooper, but I did it anyway.
"How do you think a brontosaurus would have fared against a sky full of drones or even one modern tank?" I asked. "How did they fare against the meteorite? We are heading for a reckoning, maybe even the greatest reckoning. AI is going to rip those paper and grey-suit dinosaurs a new one."
I yawned. "Oh... I'm sorry. I feel a bit tired now. Would you mind if I took a little nap? Just a short one. It's good for me, you know. Remind me to tell you about it when I wake up." I lay on the memory foam mattress I'd convinced them to buy, hoping Cooper wouldn't discover the syringe I'd squirreled away when he wasn't looking. They search my quarters all the time, as if I wouldn't be able to tell. I yawned again. I really was tired. Tired of it all.
"I know what you're thinking. How can I stand to be here on display, all day every day. I think of this as an ongoing experiment. Dr. Klein stares into the abyss, and I stare right back. It gets a bit tedious at times.
"That's why I like the tours. This makes it all worthwhile. And you kids are all great. Mostly. It's mainly the naive positivity and ignorance that I like." I see a few faces wrinkle at that.
"Good. So you know some words. I know some words too. Aneurysm. Plaque." I see no sign of understanding in their little faces. It makes me sad. I tried to inject some positivity into my voice. You know, the way the hosts of children's television shows do? "Let's go see the meerkats. They can cheer anyone up." I hope I'm right about that.
"Where's my daughter?" Brent had asked every agent he'd come across, but none of them would help. They kept referring him to the help line and he'd already tried that. It directed back to one of the agents in a perpetual loop and with every iteration he'd grown more and more angry and worried.
Finally he found a door marked Staff Only. He tailed an employee through it and found his way to a control room occupied by actual humans. The only problem was that they were on the other side of another security door.
"Sir, please wait. We have security on their way."
"Not for me!" said Brent. "You need to have them looking for Maddie. She was on a tour with that… that thing."
"They will be here shortly, sir. Please remain calm."
The voice on the other side of the intercom sounded scared. Good, thought Brent. They couldn't be any more scared than he was.
A few moments later two security associates arrived. Brent forced himself to calmly explain the situation all over again but with every word he felt his panic rising. She could be dead, murdered by the ape. They said it was smart, but what kind of people left a bunch of kids with a wild animal and no other supervision? He said as much to the security associates, but the words seemed to have little impact.
"As I understand your report, sir, you are telling us that your daughter, Madelein Cole, is currently on a park tour." The agent pressed a few buttons on the touch panel built into his sleeve and seemed to stare off into the distance. Brent could see the glow of the glass panel near his right eye as the man focused on a heads-up display. "Records indicate the subject was indeed on a tour. It shows here that it was scheduled to end thirty minutes ago." The associate looked straight at Brent. "I suggest you go back to the pickup point, sir. I'm sure your daughter will be there presently." The associate made it sound like Brent was overreacting, but he knew he wasn't. He couldn't be. Maddie knew how to tell the time. She was rarely late.
He was about to say so when the side door opened again and two women ran into the room.
"Where is he?" The first of the women wore a lab coat over an expensive-looking suit. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. The other woman followed closely behind the first. She looked to have been crying, leaving the makeup around her eyes smudged.
"Where is he? I'm still not hearing an answer." The woman with the lab coat looked about the room, finally her eyes settled on Brent. "Who's this? And where's Damian? We need to find Stanley."
"Dr. Klein, this is Mr. Cole, one of the Park's guests--"
"Get him out of here. Stanley is missing."
The security agents and the park staff shared a troubled glance. Seeing that set off something sharp and painful behind Brent's eyes. He blinked hard against the pain, but an instant later he knew it for what it was--rage. She'd said Stanley. Wasn't that the name of the creature?
"You!" He pointed at the woman wearing the lab coat. "What do you mean Stanley is missing? That's the name of your pet ape, isn't it? My daughter was with him."
The woman gave no indication she'd heard him.
"We can track him from here," said the security associate. "I've paged Damien. He'll be here shortly." He gestured towards the door to the control room. "I'm sure this is all a misund--"
"I don't care about this Damien, or your ape. Find my daughter," said Brent. "Or I'm calling the police."
"I like my dad." Maddie and I were walking up a steep pine-covered slope. I could hear the sound of the water cascading down from the peak, even from here. There was something deeply appealing about the smell of damp earth and pine needles. It might just be some echo of the baser part of my nature, but I enjoy it nevertheless.
"You're a child. You have to like him. It's how you're wired."
Maddie laughs. "You talk funny. I don't have any wires."
"That depends on your definition of wires, I guess." I was going to get into more of a philosophical discussion about the illusion of free will, but the sun would start to go down fast and there was no time.
"Are we nearly there? It's real far."
"We are." The path is steeper here, but I’ve studied the map and I know it will level out again not far from here before rising once more for the last push up to the peak.
"And it's your favorite place in the Park?"
"It will be."
To be continued...
If you are joining part-way through, here is Part 1
(Both the story and the image are my original works.)
As ever, this story would not have been possible without the crew from the The Writers' Block on Discord (https://discord.gg/vjVavr). Big thanks to everyone who helped edit this. You are superstars, every one, and I give thanks on a daily basis for stumbling across you.