by David Hontiveros
You know me on the boards as “Jim Crack,” but my real name is Peque.
I’m a basurero. A garbage collector in a small south-east Asian archipelago called the Philippines. You might better recall my country if you heard these words: Ferdinand Marcos and People Power.
I’m also a seroks; what’s known in the West as a dupe.
Where to start?
You know all about the jihad against the Great Satan, the archaic United States of America, which ended with the release of Iblis, a viral plague engineered to infect individuals with certain genetic markers, a plague that decimated the American population and left nine out of ten male survivors sterile.
In the bleak aftermath of Iblis, the moral and ethical concerns that had, up to that point, stunted the development of genetic engineering were conveniently forgotten and the advent of cloning came to pass.
Clones were used for any number of reasons, foremost among them, as changelings, made-to-order children to be adopted by the moneyed, yet childless. Almost overnight, cloning became big business worldwide.
But you already know all of this. What you may not know is how quickly the pirates descended on the ripe opportunity.
Asia has always been big on piracy. Decades ago, it was video and audio CDs (remember those?); today, it’s people. That’s what a dupe is: a pirated copy of a particular genetic sequence. A clone of a clone.
Naturally, certain modifications are made in the collectives in Chongqing and Hangzhou, where my kind are grown. From tinkering with melanin levels to darken skin color, to altering particular dispositions and personality quirks, the changes are made so we can adjust better to life in a Third World country (as opposed to a Western country, for which a dupe’s Template was undoubtedly made for).
As an example, I’m a seroks of an Oscar model (clones meant for the sprawling entertainment industry centered in New Hollywoodland), but instead of being passionate about Lynch or Cronenberg, I am in awe of everything Mike de Leon, a prominent Filipino director during the 1970’s and ‘80’s, made. He was responsible for one of the best horror movies ever made, anywhere, Itim.
However, what keeps me awake at night, cramped in my tiny nicho in a modular highrise in Tondo, is that the Philippines has no film industry to speak of. Not anymore. Not since the turn of the millennium and the downward economic spiral the country found itself in.
All that’s really left of the Philippines is a number of rich families—the ones who were always at the apex of the economic pyramid—and hordes of dupes.
Shortly after the third millennium began, the middle class finally succumbed to the black hole of poverty. And just like a black hole, no one outside the Schwarzschild radius which was the Philippines seemed to know what was happening. The Western media continued to obsess over the soap opera lives of the British Royal Family while thousands of Filipinos suddenly found themselves incapable of keeping pace with rising costs and fixed salaries.
The entire middle class collapsed, unable to resist the gravity of circumstance. At that point, the outcome became inevitable. The sprawling body of the urban poor achieved critical mass. The squatter situation, traditionally a perennial problem here, became untenable. And in any overcrowded, unplanned community, the sanitary conditions are nearly always the first to suffer.
Multitudes died from illnesses, exposure, starvation, while the government wrung its hands, then proceeded to reclaim vast tracts of land (once they’d managed to clear away all the rat-infested shanties filled with bloated, rotting and partially consumed bodies). In the end, the country’s economic pyramid was brutally truncated, reduced to an apex of the fortunate.
But if there is one thing history has proven, it’s that the rich have always needed other hands to dirty. Thus, the void in the population was filled (as it was in America) with clones. Or, in our case, with clones of clones.
In all honesty, we’re what keeps this country going. We wash their clothes, cook their food, clean their toilets, collect their garbage.
Up till now, life in the Philippines has been hard, but bearable.
Here, Mike de Leon’s entire filmography is downloadable, for free, as opposed to the latest from Hollywoodland, which can cost an entire month’s wages for me to see. I can watch Bayaning 3rd World or AKO Batch ’81 anytime, watch them over and over till I hemorrhage on social commentary, but at the same time, it’s like what I imagine old-time movie houses must have been like: sitting in the cold dark of the uppermost reaches of a balcony, right below the projection room, watching the flickering images on the screen, seeing the beam of light, knowing you can try to reach up and touch it, but also knowing your fingers will close on nothing but air.
It’s cruel, the genetic hand I’ve been dealt. I make movies in my head to keep myself sane, tell myself stories of balut vendors and Japayukis, Metro Manila aides and tak-a-tak boys, let their morality plays comfort me in the darkness of my personal movie house.
I could, of course, program a film online using computer-generated actors (known in the industry as “thesps”), but that sort of key-time costs thousands of credits, and a basurero’s paycheck is hardly enough to put food on the table and keep the leaky roof over your head, both anachronisms, when one mostly eats freeze-dried noodles and lives in a nicho (one of thousands of cubicles in what Westerners refer to as “coffin hotels”).
The thing is, these stories… these mental movies, I think of them as my children, as legacies I might leave behind, once my mortality catches up with me. Dupes, of course, like their clone Templates, are engineered to be sterile.
Having no reproductive rights is bad enough, but having all these potential children inside my head, and not being able to give proper birth to them…
Not only that. Can you imagine not being given the right to speak your own language?
Since English was long considered the most widely used language in the world (and with the virtual disappearance of the country’s lower class), the collectives saw no need to re-map the language centers of the brains of most of the dupes headed for the Philippines. The rich didn’t mind; they no longer had to trouble themselves with learning the “native tongue.”
Only about a quarter of the seroks population actually speak Filipino, so the mother tongue still survives, thus the rise of new colloquialisms like “seroks.” I taught myself Filipino a long time ago. I had to, to fully appreciate Mike de Leon’s work without the subtitles. I’ve tried to teach other dupes Filipino as well, but it’s hard going, since their brains are hardwired to think in English. Still, I try.
But this is just me, poor little well-read garbage man with a dream. Other dupes have it far worse.
Those dupes engineered for the flesh trade (pirated from the Meretrice and Ganymede models) have it particularly bad. Already finding themselves in a demeaning, dehumanizing occupation, seroks putas are literally expendable sex toys.
Do you ever wonder at the current boom in snuff films? So long as kinky foreigners into rough trade are willing to pay for the original cost of the dupe (cheap, at a seventh of the going price of a Template), they can do whatever they want to her (or him).
These days, even the defective dupes (whose genetic sequences were particularly problematic to copy, and thus end up with imperfections, like a predisposition towards cancer or actually being fertile) are being released on the market. Along Ermita, they’re called “chop-chops,” and they also ultimately serve the secondary market for spare organs and body parts.
The Chinese collectives have even begun to pirate custom Demimondaine models from Europe, who all have chromosomal booby-traps that ensure any second-generation copies will be horribly malformed. There are brothels and clubs in Chiba and Amsterdam and Bangkok that cater to a particular clientele, where Demimondaine dupes roam the rooms and halls, hobbling, shambling, or simply crawling, drooling from hare lips, hair falling out in clumps.
As I’ve said, it’s cruel. Cruel and inhumane. But some of us have learned to adapt. I have. I’ve learned to adapt (if not totally accept) my lot in life.
But things are about to become… more complicated.
It’s all over the news, China’s intention to annex the Philippines, and no one’s inclined to contest this move. (Japan might have, I suppose, if they hadn’t been so quick to assist post-Iblis America with “economic packages,” which basically purchased 60% of the former United States, now known as NeoNippon.)
What isn’t on the news is how lavishly schizophrenic the Chinese can be about us seroks; they engineer us, but they despise us. Dupes are purely for export. Any dupes found living on Chinese soil are summarily executed by the white-clad anti-piracy police, the Yihe Quan, the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” named after xenophobic extremists who murdered Chinese Christians during the Qing Dynasty.
Even the Chinoys (the Chinese-Filipinos) look down on dupes. Not a single seroks is employed in a Chinoy household. Their maids and drivers are made up exclusively of naturally-born Filipinos, the surviving remnants of the country’s lower class, who now get paid more than five times the monthly wages of a seroks, and shun my kind as if we were rabid dogs.
Naturally, we’re being told that there won’t be mass executions once China takes the Philippines into its fold; we dupes will merely be exported, to work in other countries, and that we should see this as a lucrative opportunity to make more credits.
But that’s a lie.
Displacement always brings its share of culture shock, and re-conditioning takes time and money (far more than the cost of engineering a dozen new dupes).
Do I really believe the new government is going to spend to have my love of Mike de Leon’s work changed to a respect for Wim Wenders, or a fanatical worship of Guillermo del Toro, should I even be lucky enough to find placement in Germany or Mexico? Of course not.
I may be a dreamer, but I’m not naïve.
Once the Chinese flag flies at Malacanang, and the Lupang Hinirang is replaced by the Chinese national anthem, I and my fellow dupes– kaming mga seroks— will all be obsolete. Obsolete, and, in the horrid tradition of a Steven Seagal movie, Marked For Death. (My sense of humor may be frayed, but it’s still largely intact.)
I need to leave this place, because soon, this country will be the death of me. I could end up the star of my own snuff film, except my death won’t involve sex. It won’t even be captured on shaky hand-held digital. It will be a quiet, nondescript death, the denouement to a quiet, nondescript life.
I suppose it’s cheap irony that the country that is about to become a source of so much misery for my kind, has a pointed absence of tragedy in its traditional drama. Largely due to Buddhist teaching, which instructs one to accept life and its myriad contradictions, not to struggle against it, its old stories had no concept of the “tragic hero,” what 19th century writer Herman Melville called the “mighty pageant creature.”
Even when the drama of the common people first began to emerge in China, the tragedy was in service of a political ideology and not the individual per se.
If this were a traditional Chinese drama, I wouldn’t exist.
Well, I may be the copy of a copy, but that doesn’t make me any less me. I have a life and I refuse to surrender it, even if it is quiet and nondescript, even if it is, in the eyes of some, a counterfeit existence.
I’m even willing to go so far as to leave my body behind, if that’s what it’s going to take. (Though I’m aware that the cost of the mapping process, as well as the fee for storage space of a downloaded personality, is a stratospheric amount of money, so my liberation will, in all probability, not take that form.)
I have heard of the rat lines, smuggling my kind off Philippine soil, towards New Guinea or Australia. I need to get in touch with someone, anyone, who can arrange for my safe departure from the Philippines.
This is not easy for me. Despite everything, I love this country; hard as life is here, it is the only life I’ve known and I’ve come to adapt. Soon though, staying here will be out of the question.
Already, I’ve heard whispers on the street, dupes disappearing in Cubao, Guadalupe, Ermita. There’s been talk of the Yihe Quan ghosting the dupe enclaves of the Port Area.
I know this message has gone on far too long, but I needed for you to know how desperate my situation—our situation—here, is.
There is no longer any place for my kind here, if ever there was at all.
I’ll be waiting for your reply, though I can’t wait long.
For the first (and perhaps last) time,
— End message —
Hu Han-min stares at the wafer-thin flatscreen. He stands, undecided. Is Peque too knowledgeable for a garbage man? Too eloquent?
He walks to the room’s east window, his white leather jumpsuit creaking softly with each step. The air is bathed in the garish light that streams in from the south window, which looks out onto the Street of the Vermillion Sparrow. He is pleased that the sound-proofing is complete, keeping out the noise of New Ch’ang-an’s busiest thoroughfare.
At the east window (which is his favorite, despite the fact that the west plays such a dominant role in his life; he is part of the Ministry of Justice, associated with Metal, one of the five classical Chinese elements and thus linked to the West), he looks out to the Yellow Sea.
Born some ten miles inland from here, he is again thankful that New Ch’ang-an was built on this spot, on the tip of the Shandong Peninsula, and that he, Hu Han-min, Captain of the Yihe Quan, was assigned to this coveted post.
Despite all the difficult work that is to come, he is at peace here, in the midst of all the seasons, in the Activity of the Earth, in the greatest city of Under-Heaven, “Long Security,” the capital of his beloved Chung-hua Jen-min Kung-ho-kuo.
He looks out at the calm waters, where an off-shore arcology is being raised, its skeletal ribbings like a bizarre skeleton of some fantastical, mythical creature —some chimera — floating on the sea.
Yes, he decides, the message will do.
So much is available on the net, after all; the accumulated wisdom of the ages, ready to be downloaded and read at one’s leisure. Even a garbage man has access to the net these days. Besides, there is an earnestness to Peque’s words, an honesty.
The message is perfect. It will lure the filthy collaborators out into the open, into the light; those idiot humans taken in by the dupes, by those devilish mannikins, fiendish homonculi vat-grown in the collectives.
Of course, it is not all a lie. Like all good stories, there is just enough truth to make the whole convincing, to make it real.
There is a Peque, though he is already five days dead. He was watching the Cabaret sequence of Batch ’81 on a flip-down eyescreen when Hu Han-min’s men found him seated on the breakwater of Manila Bay.
He resisted, but in the end, all that he knew was extracted from his mind, and Hu Han-min had the basis for the message. His message. The one he has just finished composing.
“Send,” he vocalizes. His computer beeps softly in reply.
Hu Han-min gazes out to sea, watching the arcology’s Klieg lights rake the night sky, like a tiger’s stealthy claws, shredding the darkness with the blinding white glow of truth.
Copyright © 2012 by David Hontiveros
David Hontiveros is a National Book Award-nominated and Palanca-winning writer, with three horror/dark fantasy novellas (under the Penumbra imprint) out in the market. His short fiction has appeared in such publications as Story Philippines, Philippine Graphic, and Chimera, while his articles and film reviews have been published in Philippine Graphic, the Manila Times, Mirror Magazine, and Manual. His homepage is at davidhontiveros.com
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