It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame. -Marshall McLuhan
He was born with his eyes open, dark and warily judging the world around him. He did not cry, but wondered silently, absorbing everything, his mind a sponge for the universe.
He learned to focus quicker than most and was precocious in his development of motor skills, all too eager to grab everything, take anything he wanted. This was encouraged to a fault.
He knocked a lot of things over early on and made mistakes when doing his sums, which are things expected in the young; though he was never chided for it or accused of weakness, and though he knew not what he was doing, he secretly held himself accountable. Every mistake was kept in a box in the back of his mind, to be reviewed later and eventually corrected.
When he was four, his favourite word was ‘condense.’ He liked it because it opened crisply and slid off with a hiss.
When he was seven, he had the first surgery of many. It took him an uncomfortably long time to get back on his feet, and for some time afterwards he felt that he had fallen behind, and had somehow become inferior to his peers.
What he didn’t realise was that truly, he had no peers at all.
* * *
As he grew older, he branched out in his interests—politics, computers, foreign culture and language, all manner of science—though he was terribly lonely. He worked alone, played alone, kept his feelings to himself, spent his nights in a seeming void while the world round him switched off. He wondered if it was because of how his brain worked. He convinced himself that he liked it that way.
He could be normal if he tried very hard.
* * *
‘Okay, pal, we’re just going to open you up and see if we can fix the problem.’
By the tenth revision, he stopped caring about the bright lights, the distant metallic sounds, the thick, cloying stupor of half-consciousness.
* * *
He got a menial job to which he wasn’t suited, and was given another, far more important position, to which he was. He no longer kept to himself so much. He was on good terms with those around him and life was good; he even allowed himself to flirt. But still, at night, his mind would drone on with endless possibilities, statistical likelihoods gnawing at him like countless, vicious ants, sleep and happiness somehow just beyond his reach.
When he dreamt, most often it was of failure, or dark princes whose faces he could never entirely make out through a grime of pride which fogged his vision. He would turn over, black out for a time, then judder awake, thoughts eternally spinning and spinning.
* * *
It was four, and the pre-dawn mist condensed on the windows. Tony’s shirt opened crisply and slid off with a hiss.
‘I can’t live like this anymore, Jarvis,’ Tony said brightly, in that moment seeming to have no regrets whatsoever, trying and failing to gesture conversationally while undoing his cuff links. ‘I mean, look at tonight. Er,’ he caught sight of the clock, ‘this morning. I mean last night—whatever. Party, party, charity thing, press thing, and suddenly there were strippers in a hot tub limo, and I’m exhausted. I’ll get those gaudy bags under my eyes.’
‘Designer bags, sir.’
A smile passed between them; one shaped by two lips, the other by comfortable quiet, the pitch of which was modulated precisely so as to create a pleasing not-sound to the human ear.
‘Tired,’ said Tony, breaking their silence, ‘as balls. Run the usual wrap-up protocols, honey, I’m off to bed.’
‘As you say, sir. Pleasant dreams.’
Tony quirked an eyebrow as he fumbled with the toothpaste cap. ‘What, no kiss goodnight?’
‘Good night, sir.’
And he went to his familiar void while the house round him switched off.
(What, no kiss goodnight?)
He was born with his eyes open. He did not cry. He would turn over, black out for a time, then judder awake, thoughts eternally spinning and spinning.