Author: Liesl Ujvary
Translator: Ann Cotten, Anna Dinwoodie
This is my body. I am currently in this place. I have certain perceptions, ideas, feelings. I am doing this and that. I am the cause and the controller of my thoughts and actions. I am talking about myself and thinking about myself. I have a conscience. I am the person I was yesterday.
Scientific research repeats, confirms, and expands earlier insights. As if I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The food looks bright and fake. Around the station, the ground is bare, the area has been burned off and sprayed with long-lasting herbicides. The zone is reminiscent of the empty space between a fortress and the outer wall, the shooting range. The burnt ground crackles under my feet, the leaves whisper in the wind. The riverbed is as lush as a summer garden. They will surely kill me at the next opportunity. The gardens are paradise: orderly, calculated, organic, and precise. A straw I must grasp at.
Reality does not hate you. But her intimacies are ominous. This is not an interactive program, nor is it a virtual reality… Real breezes play with the leaves, real shadows darken the ground in the forest. And death is lurking outside. Real death. I am trained for this. You know how to work this sensorium, right? Remain basically alert, and keep an eye on the screens. The weapons are terrible, the defense genius. I can hardly be seen in the wet twilight. The danger is obvious, screaming at the sky. There follows a reorganization of my knowledge and my inner life, in a way I have not been programmed for. I am afraid of the details.
We are soldiers at war. We see each other die. It is chilly tonight. A shroud of cirrus clouds the sky. This contradictory mixture of feelings: fear of the future and at the same time a nervous high-spiritedness, a sweet whiff of freedom. I am alone, shivering, naked in a forest I have never seen the likes of before. I climb out of the water, up the mossy riverbank. The black earth is soft under my feet. The boulders are overgrown with velvety green herbs. I don’t know how I got here and how I am supposed to find my way back. My heart is racing.
They have me surrounded. I do not recognize them, but they recognize me, I have no doubt. I close my eyes and think about the stubbornness of life, the universal desire to melt and unite. Caustic substances, some extremely aggressive and decidedly toxic. I touch my nose and stare in surprise at my fingertips, drenched in bright red. So this is death?
Alarm level 1. I am not alone in the woods… but I feel alone, especially after midnight. Being alone does not scare me. Other things scare me. The systems are insufficiently adapted to the biosphere… the wind in the trees… depthless, uncanny. Oh, it’s nothing physical. My border surfaces are intact. The forest glistens in the night rain. The water flows from step to step, from the full depressions of the leaves into the overflowing chalices of the flowers. The light west wind stirs up mold spores, a fine, sticky dust. Today the forest is peaceful, no predators in measurable distance. Delve deeper into the biosphere? Am I brave enough? I will be careful.
Emotions are not a luxury, we cannot live without them. But how can emotions be described in the language of neurobiology? They are complex collections of chemical and neural reactions, triggered in the brain, forming specific patterns. They depict the state of the body and guide it at the same time. Emotions thus use the body as their stage – its chemical processes, its organs, and its muscles. Their regulatory activities are supposed to create situations which are advantageous to the individual. It’s not that I am feeling bad. Quite the contrary. At the moment I feel surprisingly fit, walking through the sunlight and swinging my arms like I haven’t since I was a child. The path follows a low chain of hills to the east. The chain of hills becomes a rocky plateau, clusters of green plants nest in the earth between the stones. I call uo the weather report; nothing has changed since this morning: no clouds, no wind.
Same genome, same organism. But expressed in a radically different way. Reacts to the environment. My only advice: Keep your eyes open. Keep your back free. You do what you gotta do. What you have been trained to do – training gains ground on panic. There they are! There they are! The dreams are terrible. But isolation has so many faces. Am I still the same person I was three months ago? Am I feeling better or worse? I no longer sleep properly. I am moody. There is no safety. Every day is a risk. Outside, the air is fresh and humid. Outdoor lamps flare up and blind me for a moment. I take a deep breath. Inside and outside, the systems break down.
Liesl Ujvary, Alphaversionen 966-1137 (Digital edition, 2003).