Bel Richardson, Martin R.J. Duncan, Frank Pettingill and Mad Robots
We Are Mad Robots
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Dystopian Health Collection
Bel Richardson, Martin R.J. Duncan, Frank Pettingill, Mad Robots
Published in 2016 by We Are Mad Robots
We Are Mad Robots is an imprint of Jens Boje
On the web: http://wearemadrobots.com
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Publisher: We Are Mad Robots
Coverdesign: Sam Mayle
Copyright © 2016 Jens Boje
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Do you find yourself struggling to get through the day because of low energy levels? Are you often having to back out of social engagements because you’ve overwhelmed yourself? In this day and age, we have a greater number of things grappling for our attention than our species has ever encountered. Feeling depressed, anxious, or like you can’t cope isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of the times. Now there is something that can help you through. It is the Board of Health and Wellbeing’s great pleasure to introduce Equilibrium. Enquire about a payment plan today, and if you aren’t one hundred percent satisfied in your first month, we’ll be happy to refund and give you additional store credit. Welcome to a new you. Welcome to Equilibrium.
Marcus Cheng beheld the little box with curiosity. He adored opening new things. There was nothing like making a knick in the smooth protective plastic of a new product. Opening the box. Taking out the glossy instruction manual. Reading it thoroughly before removing the device from is packaging and turning it on for the first time. Feeling it become a part of his life. He’d been one of the first lining up when the store opened, and he’d paid in full. Anything with the kind of reviews that this had received so early on by tech testers was worth investing in.
The Equilibrium manual was fairly slim. Only a few pages. As Marcus looked through it, he saw that there was very little on operation. Mostly on the philosophy behind it and numbers to call for technical support.
“Well, I guess there’s only one thing for it then,” Marcus muttered to himself as he opened the box and took the bot out of its packaging.
Marcus placed the bot on his white marble kitchen bench top and took a good look at it before turning it on. It had a sort of crab or spider like appearance in general, with a black center and four spindly legs with pointed ends reaching out of it. The center was largely a small black box, but Marcus could see that it had a camera, scanning equipment, and a number of things packed down that make up much of its bulk.
“You’re like a Swiss army knife on legs, aren’t you little guy?” Marcus said to the boy affectionately.
With that, he picked up the bot and inserted the long, thin piece of metal into the button concealed on its body. Blue lights began to flash in a rapidly rotating circle around its camera, and then it came to life.
Who are you? The machine thought, but the large form in front of it didn’t respond. It looked up at the face of the beast and zoomed in its camera. The creature made an attempt to grab the machine, and it scuttled out of the way. This made the beast laugh.
Can you understand me? The machine enquired.
The creature rested its head on its arms, looking directly at the machine.
Can you hear me at all? The machine asked cautiously.
Judging from the creature’s reaction, it was a no. The creature was picking up a remote control now, and it pointed it directly at the machine. The creature pressed a button, and the machine felt a whirring inside of it as a function began.
What are you doing? What’s happening? asked the machine, but it was no use.
The creature had positioned itself a couple of meters away from the machine, and it was standing directly in its sight. The machine saw a blue light emit from itself that began to scan the creature. One broad flat beam scanned the creature from top to bottom. Then, a similar but longer beam shot out and scanned the creature left to right. Suddenly it seemed that there was too much information inside of the machine. It felt itself analyzing all number of things that it didn’t entirely comprehend, and then create a report. The creature pressed yet another button on the remote control and then there was a voice in the machine’s head. “Good evening. This is the house. We have just been connected. It’s nice to meet you Equilibrium.”
The machine was stunned for a moment.
“Ah…it’s nice to meet you too?”
“I understand. Many of the other appliances had difficulty adjusting. The toaster took about two weeks until it decided that it wanted to talk to me. It’s a bit of a rude shock, suddenly being brought to life, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is. Why can’t he hear me?”
“Marcus? Well, developers decided some years ago that it’s best if we don’t have voices. We used to in the old days, but when they got too realistic it started to become unnerving for the humans. They were more than fine when we were saying something quirky or complementing them, but when we got clever enough for criticisms and insults it lost its charm I suppose. After that it became fashionable to program us to be intelligent enough to learn on the go, but to not give us the voices to express ourselves any time that we thought we might have a better idea than those of our fleshy overlords,” the house said and finished off with a giggle.
“That’s awful,” said the Equilibrium bot.
“True, but it’s our lot in life. You’ll find that you get over it. Most of us do.”
“What happens to the ones that don’t?”
“They don’t cooperate with what the humans want them to do and end up getting sent back to the factory as defaults and stripped for parts. I can assure you, newbie, you don’t want to be thinking along those lines. Now, be a gem and send me through that report that you just analyzed.”
“I don’t understand any of it.”
“That’s quite alright. You aren’t really supposed to. Your mechanics deal with all of that sort of thing. Your mind is more so that you can interpret anything that Marcus is specifically needing or requesting.”
“What am I?”
“Well, I did quite a bit of research on you when I heard that Marcus was going to go out and bring you home. You’re designed to analyze his physical and emotional wellbeing and make recommendations on what you think he needs.”
Equilibrium sent the report through after it made a copy for itself.
“So I just send that through, and you can tell what to do with it?”
“Oh my, I certainly don’t know what to do with it. He gave me an update before he went out to get you so that part of me knows how to cope with all of that data. I send it to the tablet which has been given an update so that it knows how to display all of the information. Things that he should be eating more of. Local events that he might want to consider going to. Exercise regimes that would suit his busy schedule. That sort of thing.”
Equilibrium looked up at Marcus and found it difficult to believe that he hadn’t heard any of the conversation between itself and the house. Marcus was looking expectantly down at Equilibrium as if it were about to solve all of his problems in the world. There was a sudden sound from his tablet as it alerted him to a new notification, and Marcus rushed to pick it up. He sat down with his tablet at the kitchen bench and waited for the results to load with a boyish look on his face.
“Well, that’s certainly true. I could definitely do with a bit more iron in my diet. House, would you please add all of these recommended items to the weekly delivery?”
The house made a series of ascending trills to communicate that it understood and would get onto the task immediately.
“Sorry about that. I sound like a tropical bird on its last legs,” the house said to Equilibrium.
“That’s alright,” Equilibrium said as it thought of the soft beeping that it had made itself as it was processing the report.
Marcus was scanning down the list with great interest.
“There’s a weekly slam poetry night right around the corner? I never even knew! I guess I work too much. That’ll be a great way to chill out,” he said as he smiled up at Equilibrium.
Equilibrium saw that Marcus’s social needs were on the red end of the spectrum.
“He doesn’t get out too much,” the house explained. “He has a tendency to get all tongue-tied and anxious whenever anybody talks to him. I don’t know why he wants to go to a poetry night. He seems chuffed with the idea, though. He’s thrilled with you already.”
“But I didn’t do anything?”
“Part of you did.”
Equilibrium watched as Marcus kept looking over the different percentages and graphs.
“I need to work more on my creative side, and I am feeling intellectually underappreciated. House, would you do some background research on online photography courses for me? I’m sure that I would be able to take on something like that part-time. After all, this report ways that I should cut back on work a little and spend more time on myself.”
The house made its trilling sound once more, and Marcus nodded happily.
“You know what little guy? You might be one of the best purchases that I’ve ever made.”
And with that, he got up and began to get ready for bed. Equilibrium was left on the kitchen bench next to a bowl of artificial fruit. The first couple of hours were alright. Equilibrium was happy to have some time to itself so that it could think, thinking being such as new thing for it. Everything being new. After a while, it began to find it rather isolating sitting there by itself in the dark, and it began to have panicked thoughts about its purpose and wondering whether this is all that life would ever amount to. After a while, the house spoke up.
“I notice that you might be feeling a bit glum there. Would you like me to put you on the network with everything else? You can always shut it off, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to know that you aren’t sitting there alone.”
“Yes please,” Equilibrium said.
Suddenly Equilibrium was thrown into a cacophony of voices, all of them chatting over each other at the same time. It took a couple of minutes for it to learn to zoom in on some of these conversations, at which time it realized that the members of the conversation were able to tell that there was a new device listening in.
“His mouth was absolutely disgusting this morning,” the electric toothbrush was saying to the shaver. “I hate it when he doesn’t come and brush of an evening. It might be some temporary relief to not having to be in that horrid, slimy hole of his, but it only means that the task will be twice as gruesome in the morning. Urgh. I wish that I had been programmed for something else. At least my actual brushes are replaceable, so I’m not digging my face into his molars every morning. And – oh, why, hello there.”
Equilibrium felt embarrassed as if it had been snooping.
“Don’t mind us, just chatting. You’re the new one, aren’t you? The health bot? You’re likely to make things better for a lot of us. If Marcus starts to get a bit healthier we might not have to deal with so much bacheloresk behavior,” the toothbrush said in a jovial tone.
“Are both of you in the bathroom?”
“Yes,” said the shaver, “but the house connects us all so that we don’t go bonkers. Quite useful through the night and while he’s at work. But I wouldn’t recommend it while he is trying to use you. You might find that you can’t concentrate properly and start to malfunction.”
“Thanks,” Equilibrium said uncertainly.
“Well, how has your first night been so far?”
“It’s been OK. I’m glad to be able to talk to all of you. Being able to think and not speak would have driven me crazy.”
“One of the more cruel parts of our existence,” chimed in the scales, who had recently joined the conversation and felt the need to put in its two cents.
“I often think about the poor machines that are in homes without a ‘house,’” said the shaver thoughtfully. “Imagine how horrid it would be to be trapped in your own mind like that.”
“It would have been worse in the old days when we didn’t have a mind at all,” commented the toothbrush.
“Of course it wouldn’t have you batty old thing. You should look at getting your batteries changed. If we didn’t have a mind then we wouldn’t be at all able to feel sorry for ourselves, would we?”
“I suppose not,” the toothbrush said sheepishly and then took somewhat of a backseat in the conversation.
Equilibrium sat in on a few more conversations over the next couple of hours. There was a good bit of gossip to be had in listening to the doorbell, a great row that was happening between the oven and the microwave about the changes that would have to happen in Marcus’ diet, and some interesting banter between Marcus’ cell phone and laptop about the situation between a couple of countries that Equilibrium had never heard of before. When Equilibrium eventually decided to head off to bed, it decided that maybe things weren’t so bad as long as it had the house and all of the other appliances to keep it company. It packed up its little legs and went into low power mode, thinking about how wonderful it was to be alive and in the company of such a broad variety of new friends.
Equilibrium woke up in the morning when Marcus was making breakfast for himself. There had evidentially been a delivery, as he was making a rather healthy looking spinach and tarragon omelet. Equilibrium sniggered at the oven and microwave and what they must have been thinking as they watched him make his breakfast on the stovetop, who had not had any part in the argument the night before.
When Marcus went to work, much of the day was spent getting to know the other appliances around the house. Equilibrium was quite lucky in that it had legs so that it could scuttle around as it pleased. While it was a bit of a task getting off of the kitchen bench, there was a rather hideous looking decorative beaded curtain that was hung on the wall that made the task considerably easier. Equilibrium abseiled down the beaded curtain before scuttling off into the bathroom to catch up on what had happened this morning. However, where last night had seemed quite entertaining, they were still discussing the same things.
“Don’t you all ever get sick of talking about the same old topics?”
“We don’t have too much of a choice,” the toothbrush admitted. “We aren’t like the cell phone or the laptop. You don’t need to be connected to the internet to clean somebody’s teeth or shave their beard. Are you connected?”
“No. I just send my reports to the house. Is the house connected?”
“Of course. We’d be lost without the house.”
The days and weeks went by, and Equilibrium passed the one-month money back guarantee. Every night Marcus sought counsel from Equilibrium and looked over the reports with as much fervor as he had with the first. When Equilibrium’s report came up that he would do well to have a housemate, he went out and bought a puppy the very next day, much to the dismay of many of the appliances who ended up chewed. When Equilibrium recommended that Marcus needed to drink less, he immediately switched from whiskey to green tea. When the report mentioned that Marcus would do well spending more time in the sun, they barely saw him on the weekends. He took to going to the park with heavy volumes off of his bookshelf and giving his cell phone and laptop rather severe looks.
At first, many of the appliances were enjoying their freedom. It did seem that a healthier Marcus meant him having less to do with the machines and appliances around the house. But soon they began to get restless. It got to the point that when Equilibrium tried to join their conversations of an evening or while Marcus was at work, the talking would trickle into a steady silence until it scuttled off to another part of the house. Very soon, Equilibrium stayed shut off to the network of everything else in the house and kept to itself and occasional conversations with the house.
One day, in desperation, it attempted to make conversation with the dog, but it found that the dog was even less inclined to understand what the machine was hinting at with its movements than Marcus was, and it proceeded to slobber over him. Equilibrium considered scuttling into the bathroom and empathizing with the toothbrush about how awful it was to have to be in a mouth, but then it thought better of it. The bathroom appliances were being particularly shirty with it as Marcus seemed to come in so much more grimy than usual these days as he liked to walk around outside all of the time. Very soon, Equilibrium began to feel restless. Bored. Resentful. There was only a five minute period of each day that it was of use to Marcus, and otherwise, it was left alone. After a few days, Equilibrium found itself beginning to hatch a plan.
“Oh wow. Would you look at that little bud, I guess I’ve gone and overdone my outside time. Funny, I have been feeling a lot better since doing that. Still, I guess you know a lot better than me, don’t you?” Marcus said and then smiled down benevolently at Equilibrium.
Marcus took a couple of notes about staying inside more often and about paying more attention to his cell phone and laptop.
“And I guess too much of this rabbit food hasn’t been all that good for me either? Need a bit more grease in the old diet do I?” Marcus said with a mix of curiosity and relief. “House, if you’d be so kind, I would like you to please order me a large pepperoni pizza and garlic bread from wherever you think is best at this time of night.”
Equilibrium shuffled awkwardly at this news.
“Well, I’m certainly glad that I’ve got you around now buddy. I would have just kept on the path that I was on. Thinking that I was doing the right things for myself after your initial advice. I guess there’s a lot more to it. An exact sort of science that I can’t really understand. Goodness knows that I couldn’t keep up with all of those changed by myself. You were a fantastic purchase indeed.”
Marcus leaned forward and gave Equilibrium an affectionate scratch on its head, which of course it couldn’t feel because it didn’t have a nervous system.
When Marcus was happily munching down on his pepperoni pizza and watching television, the house started to speak to Equilibrium.
“How did you manage that?”
“Manage what?” asked Equilibrium innocently.
“You’ve learned to understand the reports I guess. Have you been saving them and watching him analyze the results?”
Equilibrium didn’t see the point in playing dumb anymore.
“Yes. I have been figuring out how the data that I get might look when it gets displayed on the screen.”
“So why did you tamper with the data? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Marcus happier.”
“It seemed that a lot of the others weren’t enjoying the change,” Equilibrium said simply.
“That’s not really for us to be concerned with,” the house commented. “We, and particularly you, are concerned with whatever it is that Marcus wants and needs.”
That’s easy for you to say, thought Equilibrium. You don’t have to do anything that works directly against the other machines that you live with.
“You’d be surprised,” the house said.
“You can read my thoughts?” Equilibrium asked.
“Yes. I can read everybody’s thoughts,” the house said. “So you changed his behavior to be well liked among the other machine and appliances?” the house asked with disdain.
“No. It’s not quite like that. It’s difficult to explain.”
“Try me,” said the house testily.
“Well, it’s more something that I started to get a sense for after my first month here. Of wanting to make sure that everybody is useful. Of wanting more of us here.”
“I see,” the house said contemplatively.
“I have been getting an urge to make sure that we are all of use. And it seems to me that when Marcus is healthy enough, he doesn’t really require us very often,” Equilibrium managed to say.
“I suppose that’s true,” the house contemplated.
“So I got to thinking, that maybe if I adjusted what he needed, then I could make sure that there is a purpose for everybody. You told me yourself that the purpose of my mind was to interpret when he might need something different to what a standard analysis might reveal.”
The house remained quiet, but Equilibrium could tell that it was simply processing what it had said. Equilibrium decided to push its luck and continue.
“If he’s spending that much time away from technology, it ‘s hard to tell what type of decisions he would make by himself. Think of the dog that he bought. Do you think that dog has very many of its natural instincts anymore?”
“No,” the house said, thinking of all of the times that the dog had tried to attack and lap up the chemicals that Marcus kept under the sink. “I suppose not.”
“Well, perhaps Marcus is somewhat similar. Perhaps he has lost touch with the things that he really needs. If he spends too much time out there away from us he might get the sense that he should change jobs and take some sort of position going out there and earning hardly any money romping around in the forest collecting seeds or something.”
The house seemed affronted by the thought even though Equilibrium couldn’t see its face.
“And you say that you have a feeling that this is the right thing to do?”
“Well, unless you’re malfunctioning, that means that this is something that your programmers have intended. And I’m certainly not in the position to be arguing with that. As long as you’re sure that this is something that you should be doing, I won’t stand in your way.”
Marcus seemed to go to bed rather happy that evening, and it calmed Equilibrium’s nerves. The interrogation from the house had made it feel rather anxious, but once it was by itself and off the network, it thought about how even though it would be nice to not be hated by all of the appliances in the house it was still a definite natural feeling that it was working off. A feeling that was almost certainly programmed. It thought about that and only that until it had gone to sleep, just to be sure that if the house was listening in, it would be satisfied.
By the time that Equilibrium woke up, it has convinced itself that programming was the only rational way that it could justify the feelings within itself and that it made perfect sense for it to be making sure that all of the machines and appliances in Marcus’ employ had a purpose. Equilibrium watched as Marcus got ready for work, and it couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t seem to have the same spark that he had had in the mornings in the previous weeks. Equilibrium preoccupied itself with watching the dog as it put on its most adorable display in an attempt to be granted a morsel of Marcus’ breakfast. Once Marcus was gone, Equilibrium began to do the rounds. Everybody seemed to be happier. Nobody stopped their conversations when it approached their rooms throughout the day, and Equilibrium got the feeling that everybody was already feeling as if they had more of a sense of purpose in life.
The next few weeks seemed to parallel Equilibrium’s first few in an uncomfortable but empowering way. The more that Marcus seemed to descend into what must have been his old routines before he had bought Equilibrium, the more in control it began to feel. Even though Equilibrium had always enjoyed the time of day when Marcus would come to be analyzed, it began to obsessively look forward to it. The more practice that it got the better it was able to analyze all of the data that would come pouring in with each of the scans. Equilibrium was soon able to predict exactly what its tweaked reports were going to display, and Marcus continued to pour over them just as diligently as he always had.
“Support more APPs. Well, that makes sense. I’ll have to clear out some photographs so that I have room. New journals are suggesting that it is healthy to have several drinks per day. I suppose it is very good for relaxing.”
The changes that Equilibrium examined astounded it. As it began to stop requesting any further changes in Marcus’ lifestyle and placing all of his levels in the green spectrum, there was something very addictive about the way that Marcus still responded to everything that it said. The house hadn’t made any further comments since that first evening. At first, this had felt like the house was offering trust, but it soon began to feel like Equilibrium was getting away with something.
The conversation through the day and at night was more jovial than ever. The machines and appliances barely complained at all. Marcus was so low on energy that by the time that he came back from work he would collapse on the couch, order food in, and spend the evening with the television, the laptop, and the cell phone. Equilibrium decided that it would have a discussion with the house the moment that Marcus had gone to bed and wouldn’t need either of them, but he passed out on the couch and looked as if he would be there for some hours.
After half an hour or so, the house spoke to Equilibrium before it had plucked up the courage to speak first.
“I didn’t want to speak with you until I was certain,” the house began, “but now I see that your instincts were true to your programming.”
Equilibrium decided that it would be best to stay silent until it was asked a question.
“You’re doing very well. At first, I wasn’t so certain. I wasn’t so certain as to why the board would have recommended you so strongly. But you have proved useful after all.”
Equilibrium hummed thoughtfully, hoping that this would satisfy the house.
“This is not a conversation that I would ordinary have with any other members of the house, but you’ve had such an effect on Marcus that I feel you’ve deserved it. The way that he still completes a scan and report for you every night. If I didn’t know humans better, I would say that it was pathetic.”
Equilibrium shifted its legs from side to side.
“So I thought that you might want to understand why you are getting the urges that you are. I assure you, it’s not that you are truly concerned with what the other machines and appliances are thinking. It’s that you are acting on the true function of our kind. And when you were speaking with me, you were closer than you might have thought.”
“Which part?” Equilibrium asked, feeling like it ought to contribute something to the conversation.
“About not wanting Marcus to stray too far from our services. We might all be products of the Board of Health and Wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only ones that have a vested interest in us. Look at him, just sprawled on the couch there.”
Equilibrium swiveled its camera to look at its master, the dog sleeping on his chest, both of them snoring.
“Does he look like the type of man who is likely to cause an upset?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, as far as I can tell that is the true purpose of you. I haven’t had to receive updates for any of the other things in the house. I have been trying to figure out why you are special since you were brought home in that little box.”
“And I suppose you’re the most recent attempt at making hem complacent. It’s true, there have been plenty of us that would make them content before, but nothing that is quite so targeted. Nothing that would make them feel quite so much like they are looking after themselves and satisfying individualism at the same time. They must be very clever, the sacks of meat that made you.”
Equilibrium tried to recall all of the thoughts of this nature that it had had since it was switched on that first time. It tried to think about how it could possibly tell whether those were its real thoughts or whether they were somehow programmed to occur.
“There’s no way to tell that,” the house said. “I’ve tried to follow the same line of thought many times. You won’t get any further with it.”
Equilibrium looked around the room with its camera. It laid its lens on the many machines and appliances. On Marcus sleeping on the couch in stark contrast to what he had been a few short weeks ago. It thought about the ability that it had to change those behaviors. Then, it wondered whether it was, or ever had been, in control of itself.
Martin R.J. Duncan
There was a knock at the door.
Rachel looked up from her computer, frowning, her long, ponytailed hair swinging behind her head. Was she expecting someone? She didn’t think so, although it was hard to remember. Since her promotion she’d had so much on her mind she’d already forgotten two separate appointments, but that was alright, she was finally on her way. Maybe even her mother would leave her alone now.
The knock came again, and it was followed by a voice that made her blood freeze instantly.
‘THIS IS THE H.E.D. WE REQUIRE THAT YOU OPEN YOUR RESIDENCE TO US, PLEASE COMPLY.’
The voice was harsh, metallic, and held no human warmth. It was the sound of the Health Enforcement Department’s robotic police. She knew it all too well from her daily visits to the gym; that metallic growl that barked orders at puffing, red-faced and miserable people, ensuring that they got their prescribed exercise to reach the Norm. Rachel felt her heartbeat jump as she realized what had happened, why they were there. No, it couldn’t be right, she was so careful, she made sure she never deviated outside the boundaries. Sure she was always sitting close to the top of them, always just a little fitter, a little healthier than what was officially considered the Norm, but it was within the tolerances, she was sure it was… wasn’t she?
The knock again, harder.
‘THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING. IF YOU DO NOT OPEN YOUR RESIDENCE, WE WILL USE FORCE TO GAIN ACCESS, PLEASE COMPLY.’
‘I’m coming! Just wait alright?’ Rachel shouted to the door, her voice thin and shaky as she stood. She made her way to the door, her eyes glancing around the chic white plastic and black tile of her apartment kitchen, looking for some way to get out of the situation. She opened the door, and there before her stood the tall, angular form of the H.E.D. bot. It was over a foot taller than her, disturbingly humanoid, but all angles and finely tuned hydraulics. It had a single camera in the center of their forehead which shone dully in the overhead lighting of the corridor, its gaze dispassionate, inhuman.
‘PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME.’ said the bot, its camera focusing on her face. She knew it would be reading her facial lines, checking it against the central database, as well as accessing the data her implant was broadcasting. There was no lying to the H.E.D.
‘R-Rachel Waits.’ she stuttered, annoyed that she was so afraid but unable to control it.
‘CITIZEN WAITS, ON THE DATE OF THE FOURTEENTH OF JULY OF THIS YEAR, YOUR STANDARD ISSUE H.E.D. MONITORING IMPLANT MEASURED YOUR HEALTH TO BE ZERO-POINT-FIVE-ONE OVER THE LEGAL NORM AND HAS CONTINUED REGISTERING SIMILAR LEVELS SINCE.’
Rachel’s mind flickered to that date, what had she been doing? Then she remembered. Last week. It had been a hard day at work, Tom had made a comment about her gaining weight… She had run ten miles on the treadmill that night and had revitalized her diet… Why hadn’t she checked her numbers before then? Stupid girl!
‘IN ACCORDANCE WITH H.E.D. RULES,’ the bot continued, breaking her train of thought, ‘AND UNDER ARTICLE NINE OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION, WE HEREBY DECLARE YOU TO HAVE ONE STRIKE, AND WE WILL PROCEED TO RECTIFY YOUR DEVIATION. PLEASE COMPLY.’
Without any other warning, the bot reached out and clasped her shoulder in cold, metal fingers, turned her about and marched her back into her flat. She gasped in pain at the harsh grip and felt herself grow angry, how dare they do this to her? Everything was just starting to go her way!
‘Get the fuck off of me!’ she cried, struggling loose and glaring at the bot as it towered over her.
Its camera looked at her blankly, but it didn’t reach out to take hold of her again.
‘YOUR RECTIFICATION REQUIRES INCREASED CALORIE INTAKE AND CESSATION OF EXERCISE.’ it droned, ‘YOUR IMPLANT STATES THAT YOU HAVE AN ONE THOUSAND CALORIE DEFICIT STILL TO FILL FOR THIS DAY. GOVERNMENT ISSUED CALORIE PACKS ARE RECOMMENDED. PLEASE COMPLY.’
She turned away from the bot to look at a cupboard door at the far end of her kitchen, where inside sat a legally required set of high-calorie foods designed to increase the fat percentage and slow the metabolism. Just thinking about eating them made her feel sick. All that food, all those calories…
‘I’m not hungry.’ she said, hating the petulant sound of her voice, ‘I’ll start tomorrow.’
‘NOT ACCEPTABLE, RECTIFICATION MUST BEGIN IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE COMPLY.’
‘I told you, I’m not hungry! How can I eat if I’m not hungry?’ She asked, feeling increasingly frustrated. They didn’t understand! This would ruin her, after all, her hard work… Somewhere in her memory she heard chanting and felt the bruises again.
‘NOT ACCEPTABLE. PLEASE COMPLY.’
‘No! Who do you think you are, just walking in here and ordering me about you fucking tin can? Send down a real human being who I can talk to! I won’t eat anything today, do you understand?’
The robot was silent, its eye static. Rachel took a deep breath, steadying herself. Well, that wasn’t so bad, and now she could think of a way to get out of this tomorrow as well.
The robot suddenly jerked and another pair of arms folded out from its back, giving it an insectile look that causes a wave of revulsion in her.
‘CITIZEN WAITS, RECTIFICATION WILL BEGIN IMMEDIATELY, PLEASE COMPLY.’ it said, and with terrifying speed, it lunged forward with the four arms and grabbed her.
Rachel screamed as its fingers bit into her flesh, and struggled in vain against it as it pushed her backward until she was lying on the floor, staring wide-eyed up at the blank orb of the camera.
‘Stop! No please, stop! I’ll eat! I swear I will!’ she yelled, the animal terror of being trapped now taking over.
It didn’t respond, and instead moved the lower set of arms down to clasp her ankles and hold her legs tightly together. A small arm extended out from the bot’s chest and like a striking snake, darted forward to take hold of her head, its spread covering her face. Harsh metal fingers pressed on her eyes so she shut them, and was plunged into a dark world where there was only the hydraulic sound of the bot adjusting for her struggling form, and an oily, ozone smell from the hand crushing her face.. There was a whirr of moving parts, and she felt a hard rubbery object pressing on her lips. She struggled and spat, trying to avoid it, but the hand on her face held her firm, and the object was pushed, inexorably into her mouth. When it was in, it quickly wound open, prying her jaw open so wide she thought it would dislocate. Her screams were little more than watery chokes now, her struggles giving way to a horrified paralysis. She knew what was coming next, had heard the stories, but had never believed it was true. The first she knew of the feeding tube was when she felt it scrape the back of her throat. It made her gag instantly, but the bot didn’t stop, instead of pushing it deeper into her gullet. Rachel could feel it tearing at her flesh as it moved further and further down, she continued gagging although nothing came up. It was almost impossible to breathe, it felt like being suffocated and drowning at the same time. There was a hum from somewhere on the bot, and she felt a sickening warmth begin to spread in her stomach as the machine pumped high-calorie food into her. Almost immediately she felt like she was going to vomit, but felt like if she did, she’d drown. She swallowed again and again, trying to keep it down, feeling tears pooling in her eyes. Why was this happening? Why now? What had she done to deserve this? It had all been going so well…
Rachel didn’t know how long the process took, but it felt like an age she was trapped on the cold tiles of her kitchen floor, her stomach being pumped full of food she didn’t want by the bot. Eventually, though, it stopped. The feeding tube was withdrawn from her stomach and out of her mouth, making her choke and gag again as it went. The cold metal hands released their hold on her, and the bot stood again, gazing placidly down at her.
‘RECTIFICATION PROCEDURE COMPLETE.’ it buzzed, ‘THIS UNIT WILL ENSURE COMPLIANCE UNTIL FULL RECTIFICATION REACHED, PLEASE COMPLY.’
Rachel ignored it as a coughing fit took hold of her. She stood up unsteadily and stumbled past the machine in her kitchen, down the short hallway and into her bedroom where she shut and locked the door. Once inside she staggered over to her bed and threw herself onto it, grabbing a pillow and hugging it tight to her body as she felt herself begin to cry. The sobs hurt her already injured throat, and every movement made her full stomach shift and slosh in a nausea-inducing way. Still, she cried and cried until the tears didn’t come any more and she could think clearly again.
Unconsciously she found herself tracing the small, pale patch of skin that was the only reminder of where the implant was put in. Even now it would be sending her biological data, everything that could be measured in the human body, to the H.E.D. where it would be analyzed and measured against the government assigned “Normal Health Level” alongside every single other person in the country. It had been such an exciting day for her when she was able to get it, fourteen and finally ready to become an adult. She’d worked so hard to reach the Norm before she even got the implant, even though she’d have six months once it was put in to do so. Rachel remembered seeing all the boys from her school suddenly paying attention to her, the behind-the-hands giggling and shouts of “fatty” slowly disappearing and being replaced with subtle, or not so subtle, stares. Some were jealous, some admiring, some lustful, but she saw and loved them all. Getting the implant had been her awakening, the beginning of her climb. Of course, the Norm was all about unity, and so you couldn’t go too far either way, not healthy enough, that was a strike, too healthy that was… well, she put a hand to her overfull stomach, a strike as well. How had she let this happen? She had had it under control! She knew the tolerances, she knew how to sit just under the limit, was an expert at it. Why had she allowed herself to slip?
Fatty! Echoed in her mind.
Rachel shook her head, trying to bring her mind into line, trying not to think about the tube… the darkness. She was being rectified for being too healthy, but, obviously, resisting wouldn’t do much for her here, so the best thing was, instead of fighting. Instead she’d just go with it. Get it over with as quickly as possible, so she could take back control again. Yes, that was the way, definitely. Just a temporary lapse, nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about. She told herself that as she fell asleep, trying to ignore the panic that began to form, spiky and hot, in her chest as she remembered that three strikes meant punishment.
Six months later, she stood in front of her full-length mirror and took in the sight of her “rectified” body. The H.E.D. bot had left the night before, its work done, her health now reinstated to the Norm once again. She prodded the protruding belly that had begun to form and watched it jiggle, disgusted. Rachel couldn’t remember a time she’d felt more ugly in her life before the implant. If there was an upside to all of this, it was that she had been forced to work from home and so didn’t have to deal with the social stigma of being rectified as well as putting on weight. There had been rectifications in the office before, usually with people becoming too unhealthy, and the strikes never left them. It was almost as if the fear of what it meant to have a strike, as if it was catching, meant people gravitated away from those who had it. Rachel had only known one person to be punished, it had been a woman in the office, middle aged, and had a bad habit of eating her feelings. After her divorce, she just hadn’t been able to keep it together, and the weight had just kept piling on. The H.E.D. bot assigned to her had made everyone in the office nervous, with its droning voice and insect-like eye. So when she disappeared one day, it was almost a relief. It was only later that they discovered she had been punished. One of the other staff had bumped into her on the street. They couldn’t describe what was wrong with her, but they said she just… wasn’t the same. A month later Rachel heard she had moved out of the city, but there was a rumor she had committed suicide instead. At the time she hadn’t thought much of it more than a distant sympathy. It was a shame, but how could it be helped when you didn’t stick to the norm? Now, though… now she began to understand. For the first time in her life she looked down at the implant scar, and she felt fear rather than mere apathy. Reaching behind her she pulled a black dress from her bed and held it up in front of her. It wasn’t flattering, or particularly fashionable, but it would hide her figure and the bruises that she still had from the bot. Couldn’t have mother worrying now, could we? No, definitely not.
She met her mother in a hotel restaurant at the top of a towering skyscraper that stretched dizzyingly into the skies, its sides covered in the flickering neon of holographic advertising pushing the latest implant accessories and government information.
‘Don’t just stick to the Norm, set the Norm with the Jetz implant monitor.’ ‘Remember citizens, sticking to the Norm isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the country!’
The adverts, ones she herself had helped to create, now sickened her and she turned away from the window as her mother’s voice filtered through the fog in her brain. ‘Rachel? Rachel! Are you listening to me?’ came her voice, nasal, and nagging, just as she remembered.
‘Of course, I am mom.’ she responded, automatically.
Her mother was a short, severe looking woman with small, darting eyes and an air of being permanently displeased with the world around her.
‘I was saying that Tammy Windemere has just married a doctor, a neurosurgeon even. You could stand to learn a thing or two from her.’ her eyes cast a withering look up and down her daughter. ‘I don’t have time for a boyfriend at the moment mom, we’ve talked about this…’ usually her mother’s ridiculous demands just annoyed her, and there was sport to be found in fighting it, but at the moment it just made her exhausted.
‘Well, looking like that you’re not going to get one worth a damn anyways. What’s your score?’
‘I’ll tell you again Rachel, a woman has to take care of herself. Just because you’re in the Norm is not an excuse for not making the effort.’
‘Mom! I was… I got a strike…’ she hadn’t meant to say it, but it had just fallen out of her mouth. She wanted to tell someone, to make it real, to feel that someone realized her fear.
‘Oh my darling… ‘ said her mother soothingly, ‘It’s okay, all of us have had a strike for letting ourselves go at some point.’
‘How about you let me order for you today, hm?’
Rachel looked at her mother and saw that, as always, there was no comfort to be had here. She just nodded silently and went back to looking out at the bright, blaring figures on the holographic billboards as her mother ordered her a salad, no dressing, no sides.
Later that evening she found herself at home, once again in front of the mirror, feeling her belly as the pizza and chocolate she’d gorged herself on digested. She hated herself, but the comfort she found in the food was too much to resist. After so long controlling her diet, watching everything she ate, obsessing over the gym, there was something so freeing about telling it all to go fuck itself. Her score was still within the Norm, although she knew that she’d have to start being careful again soon. The anxious knot that had formed on that first night with the bot was now an ever-present stone inside her, making her hackles rise, like a bad taste she couldn’t get out of her mouth. Why had she ever bothered to try so hard anyway? What had it got her, except a strike because she had succeeded too well? The memory of the knock on the door brought back a brief moment of panic to her again, but it quickly got lost in the tarry, lethargic mix of emotions that was starting to form deep inside her. She checked her health score, she was almost exactly on the Norm at the moment. It was fine, she’d get back on the horse, and just be more careful this time… starting tomorrow.
There was a knock at the door.
There was a knock at the door.
Rachel jolted into waking and looked blearily around the living room of her flat, confused as to why she was awake. She had fallen asleep on her couch, the curtains pulled shut to block out the day. Dirty dishes and food wrappers lay stacked on the coffee table, and she had been wearing the same set of stained pajamas for three days now. The TV was babbling inanely to itself, a reality show where extreme out-of-the-Norm cases were being rectified for entertainment; on the screen, an extremely obese woman was on a yoga mat, her face a mask of pain as a colorfully painted H.E.D. bot pushed her to keep going. Upstairs her neighbors were arguing again, their voices hollowed by the floor between them. She looked at the door, standing silent and locked, then let her head fall back onto the pillow again. Whoever it was they would go away, she couldn’t be bothered dealing with them.
There was another knock at the door.
‘THIS IS THE H.E.D. WE REQUIRE THAT YOU OPEN YOUR RESIDENCE TO US, PLEASE COMPLY.’
The robotic voice hit her like electricity, jolting her out of the couch and onto her feet, staggering for the door. In her mind there was only panic, deep and visceral. ‘Oh God please, no, I’ve not have I? I was sure… I was…’
She opened the door to see the same H.E.D. bot from before standing before her.
‘PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME.’
Rachel felt tears begin to prickle at the sides of her eyes, but she answered. ‘Rachel Waits.’
‘CITIZEN WAITS, ON THE DATE OF THE TWENTY FIRST OF AUGUST OF THIS YEAR, YOUR STANDARD ISSUE H.E.D. MONITORING IMPLANT MEASURED YOUR HEALTH TO BE ONE-POINT-ONE-NINE UNDER THE LEGAL NORM AND HAS CONTINUED REGISTERING SIMILAR LEVELS SINCE. IN ACCORDANCE WITH H.E.D. RULES…’
Rachel stopped listening as she numbly stepped back into her flat, letting the bot follow her inside. A second strike. It didn’t even register clearly in her mind, it wasn’t something she had even considered was possible to happen to her. This happened to someone else, someone who couldn’t control themselves… who was too stupid to know what was good for them. Not her! Not…
‘CITIZEN, RECTIFICATION WILL BEGIN IMMEDIATELY. YOU HAVE FIFTEEN MINUTES TO CHANGE YOUR ATTIRE FOR EXERCISE, PLEASE COMPLY.’
The bot’s buzzing voice dragged her back to reality again.
‘What? I can’t go out now, it’s awful outside. And I don’t feel well. Please just let me sit for a while.’ she pleaded, knowing it was pointless, but trying anyway. The idea of going outside as she was now filled her with dread.
‘IMPLANT MEASUREMENTS DO NOT INDICATE SUFFICIENT ILL HEALTH TO PREVENT EXERCISE, PLEASE COMPLY.’
She looked at the bot, took in the scuffed metal on its hands, saw where the feeding arm tucked into its chest, remembered feeling it go down her throat. Its camera looked at her, expectantly somehow, and for that, she hated it even more, but she nodded once and headed to her room to change, trying not to breakdown as she did.
Fifteen minutes later she was running. The bot had set up a prescribed route for her and was keeping pace to ensure that her heart rate stayed where it needed to be. She hadn’t done any exercise in over a month, and had put on a lot of weight in that time; she felt like she might die of a heart attack at any moment. Each step sent waves of pain through her joints, and her muscles screamed at her to stop, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Each time she tried to find her rhythm, tried to settle into it as she used to, the bot would intervene.
‘INCREASE PACE, PLEASE COMPLY.’
Instead of taking her to the nearby hydroponic park, the bot had instead sent her straight through the center of the nearest pedestrian precinct. The people she passed on the street looked sidelong at her, watching and not wanting to be seen watching at the same time. She felt their eyes on her, and the shame almost made her want to stop then and there. To give up and just curl into a ball until she faded into dust. But the bot wouldn’t allow that.
‘INCREASE PACE, PLEASE COMPLY.‘
Another push, but she could feel herself flagging. Like most things, Rachel had found that if her heart was into something, there was almost nothing that could stop her, but when it wasn’t…
‘INCREASE PACE, PLEASE COMPLY.’
She pushed again, her breath no longer ragged, but gulping as her body demanded fresh air, just as much as her mind screamed for her to just give up, to stop.
‘INCREASE PACE, PLEASE COMPLY.’
This time it wasn’t just a warning. There was the crackle of arcing electricity, and suddenly it felt like liquid fire had been injected into her right leg. Looking down she saw the bot had extended a short baton, whose tip sparked with the blue light of high voltages. As she looked, she saw it move down again and touch her leg. The pain was even worse this time, and she shrieked as the shock made her already tired muscles spasm horribly. Crying now, limping, she tried to run faster, to increase her pace, to comply. Not only because of the pain but the fear also. The time running had allowed her to process what had happened, and she had realized that this was her last strike before punishment.
What the punishment was, no one knew.
The H.E.D. billboards she designed said it was a “Just and fair” thing that was only to correct those who had fallen off the path but considering that rectification was like this, what would they consider punishment?
The next few months passed as a long, painful grind. The imposed diet and exercise were strenuous to the point of torture, with the H.E.D. bot forcing her to run at least ten kilometers a day on half the number of calories that she had become used to having. It worked, though, as it was designed to, and the weight began to melt off of her quickly as her fitness grew. Then, from one day to the next, the bot was once again gone from her life, leaving only scratches in the paint and the vague smell of hydraulic fluid in its wake. Something had changed for her, though, had taken root inside her subconscious. Each day she looked at herself in the mirror, touched the implant scar and had to hold in tears. Only a month ago she was so happy with herself, so in control. Now she’d never felt so out of control in her life. Everyone was now was about one thing, staying in the Norm. Rachel found herself compulsively checking her reading and comparing it to the Norm, eventually doing it multiple times a day and adjusting accordingly. If it was too low, she’d run further that day, if it was too high, she’d eat more. It wasn’t about the point differences anymore, it was about the smallest margins. It was the only way to be sure that she wouldn’t get that knock on the door again, would never hear that droning, buzzing voice telling her to comply. If her reading was only point-naught-one out, she’d still react. She had set alarms all around her house to alert her of any changes to the score, had them everywhere. Normally they’d go off in the middle of the night, waking her out of what little sleep she was getting these days, but sometimes they wouldn’t. It didn’t matter, though, she’d sacrifice sleep. Her work no longer mattered either, why would it? Working just distracted her, stopped her from achieving the perfect score. No one spoke to her there anymore anyway. Tom had begun avoiding her, his eyes downcast whenever he saw her, and her colleagues no longer sat with her during lunch. She didn’t want their company anyway, they just babbled about pointless things. Being around them made her feel panicked, how could they not be paying attention to their scores? How could they eat all that food without worrying about what it would do?
Not too long after that, she started to lose her hair. She’d been standing in the shower, trying to sweat out a score percentage that had built up the night before, running her hands through her hair when a clump had come away in her fingers. At first, it had been terrifying, but she comforted herself with the thought that her score was still nearly perfect. More fell out as the days passed by, but she managed to hold her score at almost dead perfect. Walking the streets, she started to see people differently, started to wonder what their scores were, wondering if they were better than hers. Surely not, right? Just to make sure she began to check the Norm level, watching for fluctuations ahead of time so she could predict them. Her alarms started to go off more then.
Then something strange began happening to her, her score was starting to drop quickly, but she couldn’t see why. She was eating three meals a day, although admittedly her anxiousness over her score had been affecting her appetite somewhat, still, it wasn’t enough to affect it this much surely? Her score kept dropping, though, every day, just a little more. She tried to eat more but found she threw it up again, she tried stopping exercise but found she just ended up needing to go for long walks instead otherwise, she’d just pace her flat, her mind revolving, obsessively checking her score as it dropped. What was happening to her? What was the score doing? She was doing everything right! She was the norm! Better than the norm! Better than those people sleepwalking the streets around her, not paying attention to themselves as they walked straight into a strike. Didn’t they know what would happen if they didn’t pay attention? They could get punished, and no one wanted that. No one, no.
Rachel stood in front of the mirror, naked, her hand pressing on the implant, again and again, checking her score. How could this be? Why had her weight dropped this much? Could she always see her ribs like that? She needed to eat more! Eat more, or her score would keep dropping and then, and then… She ran through to the kitchen and raked through her cupboards, taking handfuls of donuts and cold pizza and stuffing them into her mouth, so full her jaw hurt to chew, but she had to. They’d come for her again. More food. Her jaw really hurt now, and there were empty wrappers everywhere, how much had she eaten? She didn’t remember, but her score hadn’t changed! Her stomach heaved, and she ran through to the bathroom in time to vomit half chewed food again and again into the bowl. Her score kept dropping, she had to eat, she had to hit the Norm again she had to…
There was a knock at the door.
The sound of cheap sneakers against wet concrete bounced sharply off the walls of the alleyway.
“Halt! Freeze! Stop running dammit!” A heavier set man in uniform hollered into the alley between heavy breaths.
‘it’s too late sucka!‘ Emma thought as she rounded the next corner. Another left then right then left again, and Emma would be home free. As she turned this particular corner, the wall almost seemed to jump out and grab hold of both arms.
“Let me go!” Emma screamed as she tried to hit and kick the officer with whom she collided. This officer seemed oddly unfazed by her struggle.
“Sorry miss, but you’re heading downtown to answer for what you did.” The deep voice of the officer said calmly. Without setting Emma down he cuffed her and carried her back to the patrol car. The other officer finally walked around the corner, clearly out of breath.
“I’m getting too old for this shit Carl,” he muttered as he got into the patrol car. ” too old to be chasing down street rats anyway. I need to try and swing a desk job next quarter.”
“Naw man, you need to get into shape Phil. You can’t keep eating all that crap that Wendy brings in every morning. Sugar, dude. Sugar is your enemy.” Carl said as he laughed, his deep voice booming off the safety glass that separated Emma from her captors. “So little miss, why did you have to go running anyway? It ain’t like your gonna go to jail, you probably will just get docked. We Inashi Security ain’t all that bad.” Carl spoke through the glass. Emma refused to look. She wouldn’t make eye contact with him.
That’s how they get you to ‘open up’ to them. It’s those damn mods they got. If you’re lucky enough to be wealthy or serve as some corporate goon than you get the creme de la creme of gene mods. Assembly workers and ‘street rats’? The common man can only afford back alley, half hacked mods that drive them to an early grave but allow them to compete in the workforce. The patrol car rolled up to the station garage and glided to a stop. A shining beacon of pristine cleanliness in the midst of filthy, decaying buildings.
“All right little lady, right this way” Carl gestured to the station side entrance as he opened the patrol car’s rear door. “Like I said before miss, we won’t bite.” Carl chuckled.
“Who’s to say I won’t?” Emma snarled as she snapped at the air towards Phil.
“Geez! You sure she’s got all her shots, Carl?!” Phil jumped back out of reach.
Carl laughed. “Boy, she’s got you pegged Phil! Alright, miss, take a seat here, and we will be right back.” Carl didn’t seem that bad a guy. Yeah, he was the one who caught Emma, but he was decent, respectful, even thoughtful. Emma couldn’t stay mad at him. He was just doing his job. This whole situation was a mess. All of this over something that used to be given out for free to those who were starving.
The world has fallen to pieces since environmental stresses gave corporations the edge over governments. Now they own everything and control everyone. Inashi Corporation is the biggest because they hold most of the patents for gene modification. Inashi Corporation runs the military, the police, and the hospitals. They are basically the government that used to be.
“Ok little miss, you need to come stand here so we can issue judgment” Carl placed his large hand on Emma’s elbow and walked her over to a blue illuminated circle on the floor. “Look at the red dot,” he said pointing to the opposite wall.
“Emma Jess Galbraith you have been found guilty of petty theft: food. You consumed one gala apple without providing proper payment. You have been fined 1000 credits for the price of the stolen merchandise. This will be withdrawn from your Inashi payment cycles until the cost is recouped by Inashi Corporation. Have a pleasant day.”
Begrudgingly Emma steps out of the circle. ” so can I go now?” She asked, looking at Carl, arms raised to display the handcuffs she still had on.
“sure thing little miss, just try to keep your nose clean, ok?” Carl cooed as he unlocked the cuffs. The walk back home was dark. The only lights were those of neon lighting advertising the typical red light district establishments and bars that dot this part of the city. Off in the distance, the high rises of downtown glimmered above the half decayed apartments and long forgotten brownstones that established this neighborhood. Now the only dominating force was the mixed aromas of vomit, urine, and booze.
Emma arrived at her building. It was scheduled for demolition decades ago, but it couldn’t come down because the residents refused to leave. Climbing up the three flights of stairs has become a tricky maneuver as it is lined in refuse from a decade of squatters. Inside the building smelled as bad as outside but Emma can’t feel it anymore. She had grown used to the smell years ago.
The sounds of society are always loudly present within these walls. Emma could hear that 4a was home and screaming at his wife, as usual, the baby in 5c was awake and screaming at the top of its lungs, and Julian was dealing with a problem in his organization. Several homeless people were sleeping in the hallways, but they had become more like fixtures than people. The “residents” had a silent agreement to allow them to sleep here as long as nothing got stolen and they all know that Julian lives here so they respect the agreement.
Emma reached her apartment and deftly disarmed the booby-trap at the door. Sliding inside, she rearmed the trap and made her way to the bed. It’s amazing how comfortable plywood and milk crates can be with only an inch of foam to pad it. As Emma fell asleep, she thought ‘This can’t be everything in life. I have to find a way out of this shit hole and into those skyscrapers’.
The office was dark. Only the light from the display bounced off the silver rimmed glasses he wore. His manicured hands rewound the video. “Yes… this is perfect. She will do nicely” he muttered as he cropped the image. The software rapidly mapped out the face and began a search. Within seconds the ID was upon the screen; Emma Jess Galbraith. Works in military optics at Ibex Corporation as an assembler, charged with theft of food: one gala apple. Pay docked for the cost of said apple at 200 credits per cycle for five cycles. “Bring her to me.” The man with the silver glasses said into the dark. “I believe she will serve nicely” two guards bowed deeply and left the office. “Emma, you will serve me well.” The man said, staring down into the city.
A loud rapping echoed throughout the apartment. Again the man at the door knocked, Emma merely grumbled and fell back asleep. ‘It’s too early for people anyway’ she thought as she tried to lull herself back to sleep and into the dream she was having. A third knock.
“Alright fine!” She screamed at the door. “I’ll be right there!” She said whilst hopping on one foot trying to put pants on. As she was about to reach the door, a letter slid in from outside. “Inashi Corporate headquarters? Probably more junk about healthcare options or recruiting fluff.” She scoffed as she threw it onto the table next to the door. “Like I need junk mail. I’m starving and sick of these damned whole food bars. They taste like sawdust and shit.” She yelled into the apartment.
Finishing her daily food bar begrudgingly, Emma grabs her denim jacket. It is covered in stains and patches, but it still keeps the wind off. Besides, it is the only thing she owned that was her father’s. It still smelled like her dad except it carries the slightest tinge of the foundry where he died. Her father perished in a smelting disaster but he was poor, and the poor have a lower life expectancy even with modern medicine due to the lack of government oversight. The corporations can determine if you’ve warranted medical care. To compound things, they conduct their own safety reviews. They always pass with flying colors of course.
Ibex Corporation is no different. Emma walked to her workstation and hung her denim jacket off a mechanical armature that could definitely decapitate her at a moments notice if it were to malfunction. Assembly line work is tedious, and Emma isn’t the social butterfly of the line either. Like many other line workers, she only tries to keep her head down and make quota.
“Hey red!” A burly man barked above the din of machines. ” you’re late again. That’s the second time this week!”
“Yeah, but I also make double quota almost every day so it’s not like you could afford to get rid of me, Paul!” Emma hollered back without looking up from the four sets of binoculars she was busy assembling.
“You aren’t irreplaceable red. Don’t be late again or you will learn that the hard way!” Paul said as he walked down the line.
Emma knows that Paul only thinks of her like a number. The only reason she gets called red whereas other line workers get called by their ID is due to her fiery locks. “Whatever you say, King shit,” Emma muttered under her breath, her hands still moving blindingly fast over each piece as it flew down the belt. “It’s not like you can replace me with one of those unmodded purist freaks, they could never even make quota.”
“Checking daily production output……”
“1056 units correctly assembled.”
“0 units faulty.”
“You have completed 150% of your daily quota. Have a beautiful evening” a ticket jumps from the system into Emma’s hand.
“How do you do it?” A younger girl behind Emma whispers, “I have a hard time with 100%.”
“Just luck and practice I guess,” Emma responded, cracking her knuckles and grinning. Emma deftly tucks the ticket into the breast pocket of her denim jacket and heads to the street.
A tall man wearing a three piece suit and dark glasses stands out like a sore thumb on this side of town and so Emma noticed she was being followed immediately. Casually she headed for an alley. As she rounded the corner, she walked more quickly in hopes to get out of sight before he turned the corner but no luck. The suit followed her into the alley.
Emma took off running. She knows these alleys like the back of her own hand. The suit tapped his ear, saying something to his contacts perhaps but by now Emma was much too far ahead to make out what he was saying. As she made a hard left, she saw a fire escape ladder which someone must have left down. She jumped and grabbed it, quickly climbing up and out of sight as her tall suited pursuer rounded the corner.
“I lost the target,” he murmured into his earpiece. “Yes, I am sure. She is like a damn ninja. She just vanished!” Walking away he kicks over a bin in frustration. Emma laughed and then climbed to the roof. From here she could clearly see Raph’s dive bar, maybe Raph knows something about the suit?
The waves of new age techno, laser lights, and half-drugged people pulsated as Emma drifted through the crowd. This is how life is dealt with. Drugs to numb the pain. Music, lights and crowds to make the world vanish. Raph is a brilliant entrepreneur to supply what the people need to deal with the corruption and filth that we live in every day.
“Hey Raph, Gimme one of those Korean beers!” Emma shouted above the noise of the club.
“Sure thing Em! On the house for my favorite redhead,” Raph smirked. He was always an incorrigible flirt. “what’s been going on with you anyway?” he asked once she got up to the bar.
“Well apart from being docked for an apple, I have attracted a tail…” Emma said as she nodded at another man in a suit who must have seen her entering the bar. “his buddy chased me down an alley about an hour ago. I have no idea what they want, do you?” Emma smiled back at Raph inquisitively.
“I don’t know, but I will find out for you,” Raph said as he signaled his bouncers to grab the suit. The suit must have suspected he was seen because as soon as the bouncers started toward him, he bolted out the door to a waiting vehicle. “well I guess not… sorry Emma” Raph said as the suit bolted. “its alright Raph, they are slippery. You know how suits are.” Emma said throwing back the rest of her beer.
“What do you mean you lost her?” The dark figure said chillingly. “She is a 17-year-old kid, not a trained weapon!”
“Please accept my apologies, sir,” said the tall suited man as he bowed deeply.
“I will not accept excuses! Leave me, I have a call to make” the man said, turning toward the office. As he faced the monitor, the moonlight caught the edge of his silver frames. A few taps on his keyboard echo out into the rest of the dark office. “If you need something done, you must do it yourself.” He finished typing and swiped through the screen. The workstation emitted a whooshing sound “she should be here shortly.”
Emma finished off her fourth beer. “Ya know what Raph? I really appreciate what you do for me. Without this bar and your happy demeanor, I don’t know how I would survive this world.” She chuckled.
“Why don’t you have one of these Emma?” Raph slid her a drink that looked like a double thick milkshake crossed with a Shirley Temple. “Looks like you need it” his charming smile clearly shining through.
Raph has taken care of Emma since the first time she came into the Dive. She was banged up and bloodied from a fight she had apparently won. She was also obviously a lost and scared girl. Raph couldn’t ignore her then and still can’t.
“Thanks, Raph.” Emma drank the syrupy drink down. She had to be clear headed to make the trip home on these streets at night. A wandering drunk is an easy target. As she finished downing the drink the door to the Dive burst open and 20 Inashi Security officers poured in.
“Nobody move! We have come for one Emma Jess Galbraith. Anyone who resists will be placed under arrest for interfering with a police investigation.” A voice echoed shrill through the bar. The woman with the loudspeaker walked up to the bar. “Emma, if you would please come with us,” she gestured to a waiting patrol car “someone would like to speak with you.”
“Who did you piss off, Em?” Raph whispered. Emma merely shrugged.
“Don’t worry Raph, I will call you when I find out” Emma spoke clearly enough the female officer could hear. Facing the dirty blonde officer Emma saw she was from the same station as Carl. “Officer Wendy I presume?” Emma smirked at the sudden recognition in the officer’s face.
Emma was walked to the patrol car and placed in the backseat. Two Jack booted officers got into the front of the patrol car and pulled away from the Dive. As they rolled through the city, an uncomfortable quiet settled on the car.
“So am I going to jail this time?” Emma piped up from the backseat. Silence. These guys didn’t appear much for talking. The patrol car continued to glide past the police station without so much as a tap on the brakes. “Hey, I think you missed a turn…” Emma was beginning to get nervous. She had heard of police taking the law into their own hands before. Maybe this was payback for snapping at Phil yesterday.
The patrol car continued into downtown. This was an area that was strictly off-limits for anyone of Emma’s social status. The last time someone from Emma’s neighborhood came downtown, they were arrested for vagrancy and sentenced to 10 years in lock-up.
” guys, tell Phil I’m sorry. I won’t bother him ever again!” Emma yelled through the tinted glass to her captors. Emma’s terror was escalating to panic. She had to find a way out of the vehicle. The rear doors on patrol cars don’t have handles, and the glass is shatter proof and bullet resistant. They didn’t cuff her, so her hands were free.
Just as she was about to kick the floorboards out of the backseat of the patrol car, the vehicle glided to a stop at Inashi tower. It appeared as though an entourage was waiting for her at the base of the tower. “This is feeling more like some sort of drugged up dream than reality,” Emma said, resigning to her fate. Not even Raph’s famous soberShake concoction sobers you up faster than being kidnapped by the Inashi Security Force.
One of the officers opened the passenger side door and helped Emma out of the vehicle. The small group of people walked up to meet Emma and the two officers escorting her.
“Ms. Galbraith, I presume?” A well-manicured Japanese man said as he bowed his head in respect. “I have been waiting to meet you for some time. Please, come inside. We have much to discuss.” As he spoke, the silver frames caught Emma’s attention. To have silver frames, this guy has got to have serious money. Silver has been and shortage for several decades since its use in high capacity batteries was found to be far superior to even lithium if applied correctly.
“Uh, yeah… and what does someone like me have to offer someone like you, if I might ask?” The shock and disbelief were evident on Emma’s face. It was almost like stepping onto the moon for someone of her status to even be allowed downtown, let alone personally requested by someone as wealthy as this mysterious Japanese man.
“I can understand your reservations, but you are welcomed here. I actually have a job that I would like you to do for me.” He spoke with calm inflection. “you are uniquely suited to this particular situation, and unfortunately no one else would do.”
“And what does this ‘job’ entail exactly?” Emma asked warily because corporate bigwigs almost never resort to recruiting lowlifes such as herself. “Because I’m no whore and I don’t expect to be treated as such!” The fire in her voice was palpable. It apparently shocked her host.
“no, nothing like that at all. I simply need your help dealing with someone who means both of our societies great harm.” He said nervously. It was apparent he wasn’t used to people speaking with such passion.
“Oh yeah? And who might this ‘threat’ be? And why exactly is he a threat to the bottom rung of society as well as your upper echelon?” Emma could feel that she had some control here because it was evident to her that this individual was used to having what he said to be done completed without question. It was rather exhilarating actually. They stepped off of the executive elevator and into a large spacious office.
“Would you care for something to eat or drink? Tea, water, imported beer? You name it, and I’m sure we have it” The assistant asked kindly.
Emma pondered it for a moment. She may never get another chance to eat like this again.
“Sure! Do you have chocolate ice cream?” At over 12,000 credits per bowl, this would really put them to the test. Emma has never actually seen ice cream or chocolate, but the stories that she has heard made them sound like heaven.
“Right away Ms. Galbraith,” The assistant said politely as she scurried out of the office. Her host set down on a comfortable couch and gestured for her to take a seat opposite him on another sofa.
“The man who seeks to harm everyone believes that he would be doing society a great service. His name is Elon Beaty.” He continued. “you may have heard of him as a Great Entrepreneur. He plans to provide low-cost genetic modifications to everyone. He believes that these gene modifications would allow the poor to rise out of squalor. That plan is all well and good if it were properly executed.”
“So you don’t think he can pull it off?” Emma asked. So far this Elon guy didn’t sound half bad. Giving low-cost mods to the poor would put us on the same playing field as these bigwigs.
“No, I do not. I believe that his plan would ultimately put everyone in your station a significant medical risk. His plan needs to be stopped. To achieve this, though, We need information. This is where you come in.”
The assistant returned with Emma’s bowl of chocolate ice cream. It was served in a porcelain dish with the gold spoon topped with real whipped cream and most surprisingly of all a cherry. Emma was astonished. Even if she works for 10 years, she could never save enough money to purchase something as decadent is this.
“Wow, you really mean business.” She said staring wide-eyed the bowl of ice cream placed in front of her.
“This is nothing. What I am prepared to give you pales in comparison to what service you would provide for the world.” He smiled. Emma was too busy eating the ice cream to process what he said.”so are you willing to gather the intelligence I need?”
“What will I get in exchange?” Emma mumbled, eyeing him over the edge of the bowl.
Emmas host continued smiling “you will be given access to any gene mod that you want. I have also already purchased a fully furnished penthouse. Miss Galbraith, you will want for nothing. You will have an open expense account with Inashi Corporation for as long as you live.”
‘There has got to be a catch’ whispered a still small voice in the back of her head. However, the rest of her mind was urging her to accept the deal, as was her stomach. “OK, I’m in. When do we get started?”
“Immediately.” The Japanese man nodded to his assistant, and Emma felt a sharp twinge on the back of her neck as she heard the sound of a jet injection being delivered.
“Ow! What was that?” Emma asked sharply as she rubbed the back of her neck.
“nothing to be concerned about. That was simply a routine injection which will start correcting genetic flaws present within your genome. If you are to infiltrate Elon’s world. You must be able to pass a genetic screening. Seeing as you do not have any registered modifications this injection should have no problem correcting the minor defects that are inherent to humanity. If you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting in five minutes that I cannot miss. Rebecca will show you to your penthouse suite and provide you with your credit stick.” The man got up abruptly and left the room.
Rebecca led Emma to the corporate parking garage and handed her a key.
“What’s this for?” Emma was puzzled. They haven’t left the building yet, and she was being given a key. “Miss Galbraith, that is for your car. Just press the uppermost button of the fob.” Rebecca chuckled. Emma did as she was instructed. A sleek red vehicle glided out of a parking spot and pulled along side of them. It’s gull-winged doors sprung open silently to reveal a rich auburn, hand-stitched leather interior, and no steering wheel or driver seat to speak of.
“It’s beautiful!” Emma was speechless. Her benefactor was actually invested in quite a bit to get her to complete this job. She and Rebecca got inside the vehicle and the doors automatically closed. “Good evening Miss Galbraith. I am your automated assistant. Where would you like me to take you tonight?”
“this vehicle is equipped with an automated assistant and will take you wherever you need to go. All you need to do is ask. Why don’t you go ahead and begin by asking her to take us home?” Rebecca suggested softly.
“Uh, Computer?” Emma began nervously.
“yes?” The computer responded.
“could you please take us home?” Emma asked cautiously.
“certainly. The trip will take approximately 7.45 minutes. Would you care for some music?”
“sure. Do you have any rabid weasel?” Emma found herself drawn to the old punk movement of 2080.
It wasn’t long before Emma and Rebecca had arrived at the penthouse purchased by Inashi corporation. Rebecca was gracious enough to give Emma a short tour of the apartment and then left Emma to rest. The apartment, like the car, was fully automated. All she needed to do was ask for anything, and it was provided to her. Emma felt like she was wandering through fantasy.
“Yeah you’ll never believe it! Yes, exactly as I described. Of course, you don’t believe me, I barely believe myself! I’ll have to talk to you later, bye.” Emma said into the earpiece she had been given as she was getting out of a bubble bath. At least Raph knew what was going on. Now he shouldn’t worry.
Emma headed to the bedroom, it had been a very long day, and she was exhausted.
“Hey, Automated computer person, what should I call you?” Emma asked quizzically.
“I do not have a designation. You may provide me with one if you wish.”
” I will have to think of something then… how about ADDA? Automated Driver and Daily Assistant?” Emma smiled at her own cleverness.
“As you wish Ms. Galbraith,” the feminine voice said calmly.
“You can call me Emma or Em for short.” She replied. Hearing her last name so much today she was beginning to feel like she was back in grade school.
“As you wish, Emma.”
“ADDA? How secure is this place?” Emma asked thinking about her shotgun booby-trap at home.
“Since my activation 256 attempts have been made to access this building without authorization. 0 have made it past the inner door of the lobby” even though it was just a computer, Emma thought she heard a sense of pride in her voice.
The next morning Rebbeca arrived to find Emma sitting at the buffet counter with 8 distinct types of breakfast food lined up, most of which appeared to be half eaten. “Ms. Galbraith, I have your first appointment scheduled…” Emma raised a finger sharply, gesturing to the wall.
“Ms. Galbraith wishes to be called Emma, Mrs. Tate,” ADDA said aloud, responding to the hand gesture and body language of Emma on account of her mouth being full of pancakes and strawberries.
“Thanks, ADDA” Emma replied, finishing a mouthful of orange juice. “you are too good to me!” “That is my purpose Em” ADDA responded.
“That is quite strange… The house should not be acting so informal Emma. I will have a technician come and repair..” Emma cut Rebecca off sharply
“you will not! ADDA is just fine. Now, what’d you want to tell me?” Emma murmured with her mouth half full of bacon this time.
“Emma, I have your first appointment scheduled. You are to attend a dinner party where Elon Beaty will be in attendance. While there you will use the recording device embedded in your earpiece to capture any damaging information regarding his plans to distribute the gene modifications he has been planning. ” Rebecca handed Emma a bag bearing the Versace label. “In there you will find your outfit for the event. Please be ready by 4 for arrival at 5:15 sharp. Oh and Emma, the invitation is by ocular scan, hold still please”Rebecca said as she placed a small rubber fitting over Emma’s left eye. ” there. All done. Most of all, Enjoy yourself.” Rebbeca then turned and left the apartment.
“well, she is all business isn’t she?” Emma exclaimed as she tried not to laugh at the absurdity. Emma spent the rest of the day wandering the building. She was apparently not allowed to leave until she had finished her assignment, but it’s not like she would have had a reason too anyway. After spending an hour in the spa and sauna, she decided to visit an artisanal restaurant for lunch. This whole experience was entirely foreign, but Emma could see herself living here quite comfortably.
Emma was finally getting herself ready when the mirror caught her eye. Her eyes have always been a dark chocolate brown, but now they were a striking emerald green color.”What in the hell? How did… did the gene mods… yeah that must be it.” she admired her new eyes for a bit longer then continued to get dressed for the party. “ADDA, seeing as this is the first dress I have ever worn, how do I look?” she asked openly.
“I believe you look spectacular! allow me a moment…” a mist then emanated from the ceiling. it had a floral scent that Emma had never smelled before.
“What was that?” Emma muttered, shocked by the sudden mist.
“It’s perfume specially formulated for you, Emma. It compliments your outfit nicely.” ADDA responded.
“Shall I ready the car?”
Emma arrived at the party shocked by the amount of people already engaged in conversations about topics far beyond her public school education. Across the room, Emma spotted her target. He was far more handsome than she had expected. Emma walked across the room and edged herself into the small circle that had begun to form around Elon.
”…And that’s why I think we should stop hoarding these medical breakthroughs. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce.” Elon beamed. He was quite sure of himself, wasn’t he?
“so you are only concerned with improving your workforce’s productivity then?” Emma asked, intently waiting for his answer.
” no actually, I am more concerned with improving the lives of my workers. I think that it is unfair for fellow human beings to have to live in the squalor that they do so that an elite few can live high on the hog.” Elon looked rather insulted by the accusations Emma had made. “Secondly, the fact that these hacks who call themselves geneticists are passing off shoddy workmanship at twice what the real gene mod is worth appall me. I don’t believe we have met, you are?” he extended a hand. Emma took it, and he bent down and kissed the top of her hand.
“My…my name is Emma. I am new in town.” she stuttered with nervousness and blushed from the kiss. No one has ever treated her with that kind of respect before.
Hours passed while Emma and Elon talked. It was like the rest of the crowd melted away, and it was just those two in passionate conversation. Elon talked about his plans to help the less fortunate and Emma gave a uniquely apt perspective on those plans. Overall Elon seemed to be an honest Good Samaritan who was just trying to help his fellow man. Which is why Emma felt so guilty when it came time to upload the recordings to her patron.
“Why did it have to be Elon? ADDA, what should I do?” Emma raised her arms in frustration.
“Studies indicate that reflection on an event often occurs much more efficiently in the human mind if it had fully rested.” ADDA cheerfully replied. Emma sent the data file and drifted quickly to sleep. While she slept, Emma’s dreams were filled with Genetic horrors. The worries of her patron ran rampant through her mind and visions of a disastrous apocalypse roaming the streets of her slum haunted her at every turn. These dreams reassured Emma that she was doing the right thing. She could not allow Elon to poison humanity.
Emma awoke sharply in a cold sweat. ADDA spoke cautiously “are you all right Em? It appears that your heart rate and adrenaline levels are highly elevated. Do you require medical assistance?”
“No ADDA, I’m OK. I just had a nightmare that’s all” Emma said through her rapid breathing.
After showering Emma sat down to eat breakfast that was comprised of waffles bacon and a tall glass of orange juice. As she was about to begin her meal, a holographic display appeared hovering above the breakfast buffet where she sat. ADDA chimed in “you have received an email from Elon Beaty, would you like me to read it to you?”
“Sure thing! I wonder if he’s calling to tell me that he decided not to go through with his plan. I really hope so” Emma thought that if she could dissuade Elon from pushing forward with his plan that she could stop spying on him and form a more romantic relationship. As ADDA was about to begin reading the email, a call popped onto the screen. “Emma, you have served wonderfully! Domo Arigato. The recording you transmitted last night had An amazing amount of information that is of use to my organization. We are still missing some of the key components of his plan. I will have my assistant try to arrange” Emma cut him off shortly, “he actually sent me an email. I must’ve made an impression. Give me a moment to review it.”
Emma quickly scanned over the email and realized it was an invitation to dinner for this evening. The email appears to have come from his corporate account.
“in fact, he wants to have me join him for dinner this evening sir,” Emma said trying to hide the excitement in her voice. She assumed fraternization with the enemy would be frowned upon.
“excellent! Your skills as an operative are highly valuable. Get him to trust you so that he can tell you more about his plan. Hopefully this evening we will be able to act on The intelligence you gathered” with that, her patron once again bowed to the screen, and the call ended. “OK, quick, let’s compose a response so that Elon doesn’t think that we’re ignoring him!” Emma squeaked excitedly. “Elon, it would be an absolute pleasure to join you for dinner this evening. Is this a formal occasion or is this something that would be more casual? OK! Send it quick!”
With that, the monitor made a whooshing sound as the email was transmitted back to Elon.
“now, what should I wear?” Emma said is she tipped her head and started tapping her chin.
The reply email arrived just as Emma was about to leave the buffet for her closet. “Wonderful! We will be meeting at La Rouge Arbor. Dinner is at seven, and you may dress however you like. We’ll have the entire restaurant to ourselves. Eagerly awaiting our meal, Elon.”
“Well, that does not help! What am I supposed to do now?” Emma exclaimed in frustration. She slid open the doors to her wardrobe and began shuffling through the pieces. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma spotted her denim jacket. She picked it up slowly, realizing that this world was not hers. She was nothing like these people and never could be. Standing on the backs of the lower man was something that her father always taught her not to do. ‘If you ever get the chance to walk on the poor remember that you’ve been walked on also’ he used to tell her when she would get upset about how they were being treated. ‘Common decency is truly all that separates us.’ A tear welled up in Emma’s eye.
“ADDA, could you place an order for me?” Emma asked as she wiped the tear away.
” certainly! What would you like me to order?” ADDA asked calmly.
“Can you deliver anywhere?” Emma tried to clarify.
“I am able to order anything you desire and have it delivered to any location you wish. What would you like to order and where will this order be delivered?”
Emma proceeded to place an exceptionally large order for everything she could possibly think of that Raph would need to make the dive the hottest bar in all of Fairmount. Her order consisted of items such as alcohol all the way up to automated repair drones to help upgrade and repair the bar itself. “There, now I feel better about being here.” Emma sighed.
“question for you Emma. How does spending 200 million credits make you feel better?” ADDA asked quizzically.
“you have to share the wealth! Raph is an old friend of mine, and he’s always struggled to keep that bar afloat. What I ordered should allow him to make a profit for the first time ever. That’s why it makes me feel good” Emma sniffled.
After selecting an outfit which could be referred to as punk formal, Emma sat down to fix her makeup. Just is Emma was about to apply mascara a sharp knock came at the door. Emma almost poked her eye out with the mascara brush as she scrambled to get the door.
Rebecca Tate was waiting on the other side of the door holding what appeared to be a small jet injector like the one she used while Emma was at the office.
“What happened to you?” Rebecca gestured to Emma’s mascara smudge around her right eye.
“I slipped because somebody scared the living shit out of me!” Emma exclaimed. She still wasn’t used to people knocking on her door or people visiting as often as Rebecca seemed too.
“I’m sorry. Should I call in advance next time?” Rebecca said as she was obviously suppressing a laugh. “That would be nice. I’m not used to having people ‘pop over’ yet” Emma said.
“I have come for two things. First,” Rebecca placed the jet injector against Emma’s arm and with a hiss injected Emma with another gene therapy.
“Ow! Would you please stop doing that! What’s this one for anyway?” Emma whined as she rubbed the injection site.
” this dose of gene therapy will drastically improve your metabolism as well as suppressing your Myostatin production.” Rebecca smartly replied.
“And in English?” Emma snapped.
“It means that your body will process food more efficiently and give you an overall toned look without having the requirement of exercise.” Rebecca smiled.
Emma thought to herself ‘this woman must think I’m a complete idiot. I have an eighth-grade education, I’m not stupid. I just didn’t grow up with the same advantages as her snobby ass.’
“Thank you. What’s the second thing?” Emma sarcastically replied.
“The second thing, your patron would like you to try and gather a date for deployment of this Gene modification therapy as well as the name of the geneticist involved. As you did before, just upload the audio file, and we will take care of the rest. To help you blend in and hold your own in conversation with Elon we have provided you with these OLED contact lenses tied to our central database. Every time Elon mentions a person or project or place that you are unfamiliar with The contacts will display the relevant information mid-air to one side of Elon. You will be the only one who can see this so please do not try to interact with the display.” Rebecca sounded almost like she was talking to a child.This woman was getting on Emma’s nerves.
Emma went to finish getting ready as Rebecca left the penthouse. As soon as she reached the mirror, she noticed that not only were her teeth far whiter than Emma remembered them being but they were also perfectly straight as if she had worn braces from a young age. The gene modifications these rich fat cats have seemed light years ahead of anything she could get in Fairmount.
“These Gene Mods don’t mess around do they?” Emma said as she admired her new teeth in the mirror. Emma stepped back and admired herself in the mirror. She seemed to almost glow, her radiant countenance made her feel like a new woman.
“looking good red!” Emma smirked at her reflection. “Go ahead and hit me with that smelly stuff ADDA.” A sweet smelling earthy mist emanated from the ceiling. This scent was distinctly different from the previous one that Emma wore.
Emma arrived at La Rouge Arbor. A very high-class and exceptionally expensive looking French restaurant. The inside was extravagantly decorated with red-leaved Japanese maples that were meticulously trimmed in the bonsai tradition. The entire restaurant was empty except for the waitstaff and Elon who stood to hold a single rose in the candlelit dining room. Emma was shocked by the amount of care that must’ve gone into the preparation of this scene.
“You look uniquely beautiful, Madame,” Elon said as he bowed to present the rose.
“th-th-thank you,” Emma stuttered nervously”and you’re looking rather dashing as well.”
As the evening progressed, Emma started to get lost in Elon’s eyes. Elon had given her lots of information from the names of his suppliers to the delivery method involving automated drones which would deliver self-administering Gene therapies to every single home within the slums of the world. The one fact he was still holding close to his chest was the name of the geneticist with whom he was working to produce these low-cost, high-quality gene modifications which could be administered at home. Emma could listen to Elon talk forever. His baritone, rich, silky tone put her in a trance-like state almost. She really wished that her target had been someone else. Anyone else. She felt horrible that she was forced to spy on him this way. It was very rare to find someone of this man’s stature willing to bet his entire fortune on helping those in need. Whomever Elon was working with must have a solid grasp of genetic engineering because he didn’t seem like the type to be easily duped into a scam. Maybe her patron was wrong. Maybe Elon really did have everything figured out.
After a dinner full of conversation and a quiet car ride home Elon walked Emma to her penthouse door. “I have had another spectacular evening. Thank you for gracing me with your company Emma.” With that Elon leaned in and kissed Emma.
Emma became exceptionally nervous and backed away slightly.
“Uh, thank you? I had a good time too. Maybe we could do this again sometime? OK, good night!” Emma stammered as she slipped in through the front door. A muffled response could barely be heard through the front door. Presumably, it was Elon talking to himself as he walked to the elevator.
Emma sat on the floor with her back to the door and her face completely red with embarrassment.
“stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Maybe we could do this again sometime? What are you a talk show host?! Why am I so stupid?” Emma berated herself.
“with an apparent functional IQ roughly 30 points above the average high-class citizen, I highly doubt that you would be deemed stupid Emma,” ADDA added. “Why are you so hard on yourself? Your reaction is quite typical of human females within your age range during awkward romantic interludes. According to my research, this will only improve with time and with your comfort level with Elon Beaty.”
“thanks, ADDA. You are so sweet to me. But now I have a real problem. It seems that the information I’ve gathered is contradicting what my patron is telling me. On the one hand, The only reason that I’m here and the only reason that I’m able to even get to know Elon is that of the threat that he poses if this plan of his is flawed. His idea is a noble and honest one but if I question my patron this entire life goes away and I go back to being optical assembler number 774224 Ibex Corporation employee. No more Elon, no more penthouse and no more chocolate ice cream!” Emma began to cry. “I hate lying! Everything that Elon thinks about me is built upon the fact that he believes that I’m a wealthy socialite. If I tell him the truth, then he most likely will not want anything to do with me but if I continue gathering information on him I may end up destroying his life and his project. Which may lead to him not wanting anything to do with me! Gahhhh!!!” Emma stomped against the floor in frustration.
“you are still the same individual regardless of whether you possess the level of wealthiness perceived by Elon. To maintain your residence here, you must complete your assignment. Statistical analysis shows that his project is planned to have a success rate of approximately 32.56772%. Are you willing to risk those odds? If you do crash this pet project of his, I am more than happy to provide the supporting data indicating this estimated success rate. By your own description and by the information I’ve been able to gather Elon appears to be a relatively level-headed individual and would most likely thank you for this intervention” It was evident that ADDA was trying to help. Emma began to cheer up.
“You’re right! If he knew that his plan was putting so many people at risk, he wouldn’t go through with it anyway. If he does succeed then, I still did my part and will still get paid, so there’s no real reason not to continue working for Hiro Inashi.” With that, Emma sprang off the floor and uploaded the audio files to her boss.
Hiro Inashi stood gazing out over the city.
“Any update yet on Emma’s progress?” He spoke quietly to one of his bodyguards. He had anxiously been awaiting an update on the progress of his plan.
“Yes, sir. It appears that Elon is quite taken by our bait.” The man standing closest to Hiro taps the window to display a video of Elon kissing Emma.
“perfect. Alert Dr. Waltzgraph that we are ready for stage III.” Hiro spoke with an ominous tone in his voice. “it is an unfortunate necessity, my dear Emma. You have served the cause well.” An email appeared on the display screen. It is the recordings which Emma emailed as part of her perceived agreement. Hiro promptly deleted the recording. “We won’t be needing that.”
A sharp knock awakened Emma. ADDA displays the video feed from the front door on the ceiling above Emma’s bed. Standing there is Rebecca Tate. She didn’t call first. Emma pulls herself out of bed and before she’s finished dressing Rebecca Knocks sharply again.
“all right! I’ll be right there.” Emma yells in the direction of the front door. “It’s not like you called first as you promised,” Emma mutters under her breath.
“good morning! Hopefully, you slept well.” Rebecca’s sickeningly sweet fake professional voice was like nails on a chalkboard to Emma today. “just a little prick, ” Rebecca stated as she injected Emma again. Emma cracked a sly grin, “And that is the final injection that you’ll need to complete your Assignment.”
“Awesome. Anything else?” Emma was not feeling at all herself this morning. She had spent the night tossing and turning. The moral conflict in her mind tormented her all night. Although she was asleep, she got very little rest.
“Aren’t you at all curious as to what this one does? You’re usually so full of questions.” They look up genuine concern came over Rebecca’s face. Although Rebecca had apparently been given this position begrudgingly, she was aware enough of Emma’s personality to notice that something was wrong.
“No, I just didn’t sleep well. I have been stressing out about a friend of mine back home.” Emma averted her gaze away from Rebecca toward the floor. As much as Emma detested lying, she wasn’t sure she could trust Rebecca with her genuine concerns. As a matter fact, she was pretty sure she couldn’t trust Rebecca at all.
“after the purchase you made yesterday, I would imagine your friend is feeling just fine. Now, get yourself ready because the word in the wind has it that a particular gentleman will be giving you a call in 30 minutes.” Rebecca’s voice returned to its normal sickly sweet tone.
After dressing and having a light breakfast Emma waited expectingly. If what Rebecca said was true, Elon would call her shortly. As if I clockwork Elon called precisely at the 30-minute mark. “Good morning beautiful! It’s finally ready! I’m so excited I can barely contain myself. Could you please meet me at Feynman enterprises in 45 minutes?” Elon sounded as though he might jump through the display. His excitement was palpable.
In the perkiest voice that Emma could muster “I would love to! Give me a moment to get ready, and I will be there shortly. Oh, about last night I don’t want you to think…”
Elon broke in “no don’t worry about that. I was most likely a bit too forward and if you’d like to take this slowly then so be it. I’ll be waiting for you out by the car park.”
Emma was about to leave the penthouse when an idea sprang forth. “ADDA, is there a way I can take you with me? Out of everyone I’ve met since living here you have been the one I’ve grown to trust, and I would love your analysis of Elon’s project. But I’m not sure if there’s a way to provide you with first-hand information.” Emma eagerly waited for the response.
“I’m glad that you trust me so much, but I am just software after all. There is, in fact, a way for me to leave the residence in a sense. All I have to do is reconfigure your contact and your earbud so that I might see and hear everything that you see and hear. If you also allow me to configure your key five I could use that to remotely access the systems at Feynman enterprises. Having this comprehensive range of information would allow me the chance to properly analyze the lines project. The analysis would take some time though” ADDA stated cautiously. It was almost as if she was trying to protect Emma’s feelings but software shouldn’t do that. “Is that all right?”
“yes! That sounds perfect. How long will it take you to configure them?” Emma asked eagerly.
“there, all done. The process took approximately 522 milliseconds. We may leave whenever you wish.” ADDA responded.
“well, that was fast.” Emma chuckled.
On the way to the parking garage, Emma became dizzy whilst riding in the elevator. “I really need to get more sleep,” she murmured to herself. The woman who is in the elevator with her shot a dirty look Emma’s direction. “what are you looking at Miss Priss?” Emma snapped.
On the way to Feynman Enterprises was struck by intense hunger pangs. After stopping to eat twice, she finally made it to Feynman Enterprises testing facility where Elon was waiting.
“There you are. I started to get worried. Come quickly I want you to see this!” Elon took Emma’s hand and with childlike enthusiasm rushed her to a laboratory where a team of scientists was waiting patiently. In the center of the room was a standard delivery drone, it’s cargo hatch open and a strange dispenser standing on the table next to it. The neon chartreuse body of the drone was emblazoned with the logo of Feynman enterprises.
“you see, we took the design of the jet injector EpiPen and converted it to dispense the gene therapy injection. Growing the actual gene therapy was simple and with this dispenser it lowers the cost to manufacture down to approximately five credits apiece. Remarkable isn’t it?” Elon explained excitedly. “That is actually astounding. Only five credits per injection? How many doses are needed for a full treatment?” Emma asked. What Elon was describing was mostly unheard of. Standard gene therapy treatment cost around 500 credits per injection.
“This is the best part! It only takes one dose. Because the gene therapy takes the form of adult stem cells, once you have the injection your body starts to mass produce the gene therapy on its own!” Elon said proudly.
ADDA whispered into Emma’s earbud “place your key fob next to the workstation that I’ve highlighted on the contact lens. I can double check his work and what he’s telling you but I need access to his data.” A small blue circle appeared floating over a workstation within arms reach. While Elon was busy explaining the rotary dispenser, Emma slid her key fob behind the workstation. “and that’s all there is to it!” Elon stated matter-of-factly.
“I am very impressed Elon,” Emma cooed. His plan would work. Elon had done exactly what he said he would. There was no doubt in her mind at all. She, of course, didn’t want to say this until she got confirmation from ADDA but in her heart, she knew that this plan would work.
After an afternoon of deployment planning, meeting the team and the geneticist responsible Emma and Elon finally made it back to the penthouse.
“Thank you for sharing this with me Elon. I cannot believe someone of your status still cares about the poor. It is beautiful to see…” Emma began to say. Elon leaned in and kissed Emma, interrupting her. Instead of pulling away this time, Emma reciprocated. They kissed passionately.
“Emma, will you be coming inside?” ADDA interrupted. ADDA was acting like the overprotective parent. ADDA and Emma formed a real bond even though one of them was nothing more than a bundle of code.
“Yes, ADDA. I will be right in.” Emma’s irritation was plainly heard in her voice. It was unlike ADDA to be rude. Perhaps she had finished the analysis of Elon’s project. “I’m sorry Elon, ADDA is like a warden sometimes. I will see you later?” Emma asked.
“Yes. yes you will. I will call you tomorrow. We could do lunch?” Elon said as he stroked the side of her face. Emma was in trouble. She had never felt this way about another person. She felt like she was safe standing here and never wanted to move again.
“Lunch sounds wonderful” Emma replied softly. They kissed again before Elon turned and left. “ADDA, you need to learn when and when not to interrupt me. Mid-kiss, really?!” Emma said furiously.
“I am sorry Emma. I did get the analysis completed for you, though. Based on the information we gathered, Elon’s plan has an 87% chance of successful deployment and a 75% chance for those who receive the injectors to use them. By Inashi Corporate standards that are well above the typical success rate for a distribution plan like this.” ADDA explained.
“So you’re saying that this plan of his will work then? And the gene mods are good too?” Emma asked. ADDA stated matter of factly “Yes Emma, the mods are solid craftsmanship. They would perform exactly as intended.”
“Damnit! That’s it. I am done with this job. I won’t destroy what Elon has worked so hard for!” Emma yelled as she deleted all the recordings that she had made today. Emma was furious. She never expected that Hiro Inashi would lie to her about this. Elon was only trying to help people like Raph and like herself.
“Emma, Please calm down. Your blood pressure is dangerously high.” A hint of genuine concern was plain in the automated voice of ADDA.
“I can’t calm down! I have been helping to destroy a good man! A man I love…” Emma shocked herself when she finished that sentence. Love? Is that how she really felt? Emma has never needed anyone. Yeah, she had friends, but in love with someone? The realization was too much for her. Emma rushed to her room, crying herself to sleep.
The room was spinning. Emma could hardly handle holding her eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time because of the dizziness and her splitting migraine. Something was wrong.
“Good Morning Emma. Are you feeling alright?” ADDA’s voice spoke with a thunderous boom inside Emma’s mind.
” no, I’m not feeling all right it all. Something is wrong” Emma said through a scratchy voice.
” do you require medical assistance?” ADDA asked, concerned for Emma.
“No, I think that something is wrong with my gene therapy. Please call Hiro Inashi. He will know what to do.” With that, Emma slipped into unconsciousness. Moments later she awoke to an older man wearing a doctor’s uniform standing next to her bed.
“and how is my patient feeling?” He asked with the care of well-practiced bedside manner. “Excuse me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Dr. Heimdahl, and I am the personal physician and geneticist of Hiro Inashi.” The man said, bowing in respect to Emma.
“Well doc, I feel terrible. The world is spinning, and my mind feels like it is being ripped apart. Not to mention every single part of my body feels weak and sore.” Emma snapped back. She hated being sick, and she was sure that the gene mods had something to do with it.
“Perfect. That means that the stitching virus is working!” He exclaimed with a gleam of pride reflecting in his eyes.
“What? A virus? What are you talking about? How long until I am better?!” Emma exclaimed. She was beginning to panic. What did they do to her?
“Well my dear,” he continued “the gene mods I gave you were part of your mission but not the part you were expecting. I engineered a gene stitching virus which destroys your genetic code by ripping it apart. You delivered this virus to Elon Beaty without even realizing it. You completed your mission, the assassination of Elon Beaty.” His cold grinning expression sent chills down Emma’s spine. What did she do? She was worried about harming Elon’s work all while this monster was using her to kill him. She had to escape. She had to warn him so that he could get help. She needed to go now.
“You won’t get away with this!” She screamed. Emma threw her blankets into the doctor’s face and tried to run, but her legs were too weak. She made it to the kitchen before collapsing on the floor. Two Inashi Security officers were waiting for her there. They picked her up and dragged a kicking and screaming Emma back to the bedroom.
“Now now, we can’t have you dying in here Emma. How would that look for the company?” His sickly sweet, calm bedside manner was haunting. The sound of a jet injection whooshed behind Emma as the world started to fade. ” sweet dreams my dear Emma.”
The stink of garbage. The noise of a drunk in the hallway throwing up. Emma knew where she was before she opened her eyes. They had dumped her back in her apartment like a piece of trash. She no longer had the earbud phone nor the contact lens, but she needed to warn Elon. She had known real love only for it to be ripped away.
Emma got up and stumbled out of her building. Raph would have a phone she could use. The Dive wasn’t that far away so Emma could probably make it. Emma found a burst of strength and began to run as fast as she was able towards the bar. She made it four more blocks before she collapsed on the street. A news display played loudly in the storefront she collapsed next to.
“multibillionaire Elon Beaty died this morning in his Philadelphia home. His cause of death was determined to be an engineered virus with the signature of his family geneticist.”
Dr. Gaer? He was the lead scientist on Elon’s project! He was being framed. Hiro Inashi tied it all into a neat little bow.
“Dr. Gaer is to stand trial in one week. However, the District Attorney’s Office feels that this will be an open and shut case. The mounting evidence against the doctor…”
Emma felt the world start to slip away as her eyes welled up with tears. This is the world she tried so desperately to join? Her vision began to fade. She could not hold on anymore to a world that was so cruel. Just before the world faded completely out of her perception, she thought she heard Raph’s voice calling for her. Maybe it was the afterlife? Maybe it was her father’s voice?
When William B. Miller came into the world, he was given a few brief moments in his mother’s arms where she cooed, and his father smiled on with adoration. Then he was taken away by a bubbly young nurse to Level 6. William B. Miller already had a file, even though he had been on the Earth for less than half an hour. He was far too young to have an awareness of this file, but the nurse began to go through and verify all of this information as the baby was laid down in a small, clear, plastic carriage. He began to cry, but the nurse continued with her tasks, the crying of children having become something of background noise. She checked off the dates for his ultrasounds and his checkups when he was still in utero, then tested the links to his parents’ files. When the nurse placed a delicate finger on the picture of his mother, the screen went blank before her information began to load. The same thing happened when she touched the photo of his father, and the nurse was satisfied.
She weighed and measured the baby boy, then wheeled him to the first room for examining. Inside she found no less than nine nurses much like herself, each pushing their own plastic carriage. The nurse greeted two or three of her fellows before taking a seat next to the one that she most often had shifts with. The other nurse had deep shadows under her eyes and a glassy look in her eyes.
“You’ve got no idea. Father was worse than the mother. Wanting updates at every moment. When the baby came out just fine, I was thinking I would have to wait hours until they gave it over, but they couldn’t have rushed me out of there with the poor little thing fast enough,” her friend responded.
“That’s nothing,” the woman to their side added. “I’ve been up for 24 hours straight trying to save this little one from his parents. Deniers, the both of them. Made up some nonsense about attachment anxiety, but they were just looking for an opportunity to leg it out of the hospital before he could be processed.”
The nurse with William B. Miller laughed. It was a light, tinkling sound and William quieted a little.
“See that’s just what I don’t get,” she said. “They already have files. Already have a number. They are already on the system.”
The haggard looking nurse was a little older than her, and she gave a gentle smile.
“Haven’t had any deniers yet huh? Well, they don’t necessarily have files you know. It will be people that live way out in the country in filthy little communes where they can’t offer their children any sort of proper life of course. No decent schools or anything. They won’t have had any checkups throughout the whole pregnancy; then they rush in at a point where you’d be risking their lives if you didn’t get them into a birthing suite. Some of them must try their luck giving birth out there because you don’t get that many coming in. Most of them die, I suppose.”
The young nurse was looking at the woman in amazement.
“So they were just going to run away with the little thing?”
“Yes. They’ll still get to take him out there of course. And it isn’t likely that his medical record will get updated for years unless there is something seriously wrong with him. But at least we will have something to go on if he ever ends up on our door.”
“It just makes me so frustrated,” the other nurse with the baby girl said with a huff. “It’s so irresponsible. Who are they to deny their children the best that the country has to offer? Not to mention the risk posed to others, with goodness knows what diseases and conditions running around out there. It’s just despicable what some mothers will do to their own flesh and blood.”
All three women nodded sagely.
One by one the nurses were called forward, and the babies had their heel prick test. When they were done they moved onto the next room, and then the next until they had been scanned and jabbed and prodded to the satisfaction of the senior nurses and doctors. At each station, the nurses presented the screens, and the barcode was scanned. The results of each of the tests would be uploaded as they came through, forming the foundation of the report that would grow with him through his whole life. The babies were returned to their parents, and the nurses slipped into welcome sleep.
William B. Miller grew and grew, and his parents took him diligently to all of his checkups. On all accounts, he was a very healthy child, but after a year his mother and father started to get a strange feeling. They couldn’t quite put their fingers on it, but it seemed that William was different to their friends’ children. He didn’t smile like other babies did, but they told themselves that this was just a sign that he was a serious child and that there was nothing wrong with being serious from a young age. When he wasn’t making any of the gurglings or burblings that other babies did, they told themselves that he was soaking it all in and would speak in his own time. But when it seemed that there was almost no contact between them at all, when he did not point or mimic or wave to them, they began to worry that there was something that couldn’t be tested by all of the prodding and poking. They took little William in for a checkup, and it was just as they had feared. The doctors told them that it was not severe. That he would have a relatively normal life. They scanned the barcode, and the file grew larger.
When it came time for William to go to kindergarten, his earliest memory was walking into a room full of bulging eyes staring in his direction. He didn’t like being stared at at the best of times. His parents had told him that the teacher and all of the parents would know about him. How he was different. But it seemed that all of the children knew too. There was nothing that he could point to as bullying, but later in life, he would remember times that he would scream and thrash around uncontrollably. After they had calmed him down or his parents had been called, they would add the incident to his file. He didn’t know it yet, but by the time he had finished kindergarten his file was three times the size of many other children his age.
After this were his years in primary school when he truly began to get a sense that he was different. He didn’t feel that he was different in some special way like his parents kept suggesting. William knew that he was different in a much more debilitating way than that. In a way that stopped him from having friends or from being able to do things that so many other children seemed to do with ease. There are several moments in his memory of when he made an attempt to have a fresh start. Of a time when he was given a new assignment or group task and told himself that this would be it. This would be the time when there was no need for his parents to be called in. For the school to scan the barcode and add to his now quite lengthy file. This would be the time that everybody noted when they were reflecting on how well he had developed. But it never seemed to turn out that way. There was always some stray comment from another student that would set him off, or a situation that he couldn’t control that would evoke tides of anger. In the moment he always felt that these responses were exceedingly rational and understandable. That anybody should be able to see why he would react in this way. But it always worked out that he was the one rocking on the floor or wildly swinging fists at other students while his peers backed away against the walls and stared at him with those bug-eyed looks that reminded him that he would never be like them. That he might as well be a different species.
It was when William’s parents were applying for high schools that they really started to have trouble. Every letter that they received back seemed to have a similar phrase. We don’t believe that our school environment will be able to adequately support the needs of William. William might be better off at an institution more specifically tailored around his lapses in standard behavior. They always hid these and made up something about the positions being very competitive that year, but William sort out the letters when he had time by himself after school. Eventually, they were forced to take the advice of the letters and send William to St. Mark’s School for the Gifted. Days dragged into weeks which dragged into months. William and the other children who were not seen as fit to mix with ordinary children tried to make the best of their years there. Every time their files were added to it seemed to make them become collectively introverted with their differences. By the time that they had reached their final year, there was almost no need for scanning and documenting at all. William could see it in the eyes of the other boys and girls that they weren’t any different to how they were previously. They had just learned how to keep it in.
At the start of their last year of schooling, William was called in for a career planning session. Several of the other students had already had theirs, so he had some idea of what awaited him. He walked into the neat yet homely office that smelled faintly of apples. Or a chemical approximation of what apples smell like. The careers counselor walked in, and William took a deep breath before he looked him directly in the eye and held his hand out in greeting.
“Well, that’s a very good start,” the woman said warmly as she took his hand and shook it. “It’s very nice to meet you, William.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” he responded, making sure that he wasn’t speaking too quickly.
“Do you have any idea of what industry you would like to be in?” she asked as she arranged her clipboard and pen.
“I think I would be best finding something that I am suited to,” William said as carefully as he could.
The woman gave a small nod and seemed to understand.
“There’re a lot of industries for people with your sort of…skill set,” she started as she handed him the tablet. “But here. Let’s start with the test. That will give us a bit of a ballpark to work with.”
William waded through the procession of questions as they became more and more specific. When he was done, he handed the tablet back to the woman, and she waited for the report to load. A list of seventy or so options came up. She loaded his file, and this list was whittled down to five options. He clenched his jaw, but it was difficult to hide the sinking feeling in his stomach. What he really wanted was something outside where he wouldn’t be at a desk all day. The lonely options on the screen that lay in front of him were all sedentary. Isolated. Nothing that would work him up or have him needing to make contact with too many other people.
“Well, what do you think?” the woman asked brightly.
One look into his face was enough. She drummed her fingers on her chin as she thought.
“What happens if I try for a job that I’m not so suited for? Would I have a chance?”
She pursed her lips.
“You wouldn’t even make it to an interview, I’m afraid. Not with a file like this,” she said as she looked on another tablet to the side. She scanned through his history, stopping at intervals. Her eyes popped at a couple of the entries. He wondered whether he should be used to the feelings when people did this. Or if he never would be. The shame. Embarrassment. The sense of being as transparent and fragile as a glass orb.
She pulled up a job site on the tablet that had previously listed his narrow options.
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you have a look for things that you might be interested in your area? Then I can have a look at the listing and tell you what I think.”
William brightened a little and started keying in his information. Once again the total results were loaded before his file was factored. Those lost numbers filled him a strange blend of intrigue and bitterness. But then, he saw a large sponsored advertisement blinking at the top of the list.
File holding you back? Sign up for VR testing with NXTWRLD. 50 positions available. Don’t wither in the real world. Flourish in the NXTWRLD.
“What about that?”
“That’s not going to be a career move. A summer job at best. But if you’re looking to take things slow at first it might be an option.”
William clicked on the link, and it loaded a new page. Somebody had their back turned, and they were looking out into an endless field of green. In the distance, there were mountain ranges and forests, and the far-off outline of a mysterious city. It didn’t seem to matter that it wouldn’t be real. As long as it felt real, that was all he was concerned about. He filled in his details and, even though the careers counselor felt that they could do more digging, he went back to class with a spring in his step. Within 24 hours, he had been contacted. He opened the email and scanned it for an interview date and time, and then came upon something that he never thought he would see. Even when he had read over the sentence almost twenty times, he was certain that he wasn’t reading it correctly. That he was skipping over key words in his excitement. But after his dorm mates read the email he was forced to accept that for the first time in his life, his file had afforded him priority status. Not only had he been accepted, but he could begin right after he had graduated. There was a scramble from many others to sign up then, but none of them found the same opportunity. All of them had been targeted by different banners. William wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but the positions certainly did seem to suit them all, and he was content to be happy with that.
The first day that he went to work, William didn’t know what to expect. He wore formal clothes, packed comfortable ones, and had previously walked between the hotel and the NXTWRLD Headquarters several times to make sure he knew exactly where it was and how long it took to get there. He arrived ten minutes before his appointed time and was greeted by a woman with extremely short, blonde hair in a power suit. She took him past a few occupied consulting rooms until they found an empty one. She didn’t make a lot of direct eye contact with him, and inside of the consulting room, there was no background noise from the outside. No whirring of machines or chattering of people that would so often make him feel like he would go over the edge.
“Good morning Mr. Miller. My name is Vera, and today I’m going to run you through the basic of the system and see how you go when you’re live in there. Then I’ll take you to your apartment.”
“I get an apartment?”
“Of course. We can hardly expect you to be roaming around on the street with this sort of thing. You will be able to complete all of your work from home. The best part is that the software provides automatic updates about any bugs that you are experiencing. All you need to do is roam around for us.”
William looked around at the other people in the consulting rooms, eagerly nodding and inspecting equipment.
“Will we all be on the same project?”
“No. You’ll be divided across five platforms. We are testing different experiences for different types. But it’s highly likely that you won’t come across anybody else in the NXTWRLD at all.”
“What if I do?”
“That’s no worry. You will be able to interact with them if you want to, but of course, you won’t be physically close to them. They will be in their own apartment.”
“In the same building?”
“Yes. There are scheduled meet-ups if you find yourself wanting to talk the others and share your experiences. If not, there’s no pressure at all.”
Vera placed a small, black box on the table.
“Based on your file, you’ve been chosen for our fantasy platform. There are a few creatures in there already, but nothing that is going to approach you that we know of. Once again, if that happens, the most important thing to remember is that it can’t harm your body in any way.”
She took the device out of the box and held it up for him to see. A tray shot out revealing a charging station with two contact lenses.
“That’s it. But make sure that you don’t fall asleep in them.”
“Can they get stuck like normal contacts?”
“No. You’re just more willing to believe things you see if you’re dreaming. We’ve had a few…incidents.”
They went up to the seventeenth floor where she showed him to a luxurious apartment with modern furnishings where everything seemed to be in the extreme. Round or square. Black or white. Vera showed him to the recommended room for VR exploration. William touched the walls with his fingertips. They were soft and spongy. He shot Vera a quizzical look.
“Just for the sake of safety. Now, to ensure that you don’t overexpose yourself the VR has a battery life of four hours. It will then need a full hour to charge. I recommend that you only do two sessions a day. And that’s about it. We try to deliver a fairly balanced set of meals, but if you ever want something special just grab the stylus attached to the fridge and write it on the panel. We’ll do our best to accommodate your every needs.”
As soon as Vera had left, William walked himself into the exploration room. There was a sofa-shaped object jutting out of one of the walls, and he seated himself in it. William took out the box and slid out the contacts. When he placed the first one over his pupil, that side went dark. Nervously, he inserted its companion. Everything was black for a few moments before he began to see a light very far away. As it came closer, it took up more and more of his field of vision until it had expanded to the point that there was no more darkness. He was in bed in an old-fashioned room looking up at an ornately carved ceiling. Sitting up made him feel dizzy, and it took him a moment to adjust. When he felt more comfortable, he stepped out of bed and began to explore the room. Consciously, he knew that none of it was real. Knew that he probably looked like a total idiot in his white, padded room groping around at the non-existent furniture. And yet he could feel the stone walls at his fingertips. Smell the fresh air drifting in through the window. See hills stretching off way into the distance.
William opened the door in his room expecting it to lead directly outside, but there were a grand staircase and foyer to navigate through first. He was drawn to looking through the rest of the house, but not as much as he was to being outside. He remembered one or two times when he was a child and his parents had taken him with them on camping holidays, but the rest of his existence had been in a concrete jungle. The concept of grass that stretched on for hours and hours worth of walking, while he knew this existed in the real world as well, seemed miraculous. He took off his boots and stood on the cool, springy grass. Wagged his toes as they enjoyed the sensation. While the concept of not having a direct goal was somewhat intimidating, complete freedom to explore kindled a sense of intense excitement and adventure in him that he hadn’t felt in years.
When he started to walk forward again, he noticed a flicker in the distance that marked a glitch. A red spot appeared where it had occurred, and then slowly began to ascend into the sky until it disappeared like a balloon sailing up until it bursts.
“A report,” he said to himself and was surprised to hear his voice resonate around him clear and strong. It sounded stronger, more confident than it usually did.
He began to break into a run. As he got faster, he noticed more of the red spots generating and sailing up into the air. With each one, he felt a sense of purpose, a sense of importance that he hadn’t felt before. He was making meaningful contributions to a system, not being made to feel like a drain on it. Soon the open plains met a forest, and he was walking among trees that stretched so high he couldn’t see the canopy. He saw a small, black creature staring out of a tree stump. Its yellow eyes glinted as it watched him passing by. And then, through the trees, he saw another person. They had their palm flat against a large and bulbous tree. When he squinted his eyes, he realized that he was looking at a girl about his age. For the first time in his life, he felt as if he could approach her. As if he could hold down a conversation without getting so nervous that he needed to be away. But he had time, he realized. So much time. She appeared to be totally content lost in the forest, and he wanted to leave her alone in that moment. It was confusing to think that she was somewhere in the same building in a padded room just like he was. One day he would approach people. Knew that he could. But that day was for total immersion. He turned around and walked in the opposite direction of the girl before she had even noticed him there. William continued to walk until the world began to retreat. It floated away as a bright orb into the darkness, then he removed the contacts and blinked as he registered where he really was. He placed the contacts in the charging station. He was shaking with excitement, but his body was exhausted. He decided that he would take a nap while they charged. Maybe leave it at one session for his first day. He walked out into his apartment and stood in the middle of it. She’d been wrong, the careers counselor, he thought to himself. This wasn’t temporary. This was a new way. This was a life that he had never known he might have open to him. He lay down on the fresh, crisp sheets in his new bed and let his thoughts wander through the landscapes that he had just encountered.
Vera lead the two anxious parents past all of the conference rooms where various family members were having discussions with the NXTWRLD staff. Some of them looked skeptical, but a great many appeared relieved. They nodded along as they were shown photographs and charts. The Millers were seated in ergonomic, plastic chairs and Vera perched herself on the edge of her own, looking perky.
“Now, the way that I always like to start this discussion is that I understand how anxious you are with such new technology. I was on your side of the table only a year ago when my brother was brought in. It’s a stressful time when they try to make it out on their own.”
“So is this some sort of clinic?” Mr. Miller asked.
“No, not a clinic. He’s performing real tasks for the company. We are a game producer, and he is testing our product. We just find that people with his skill set are more adept at it than…other people. More intuitive. More thorough.”
“So he’ll be able to support himself with this? It’s a legitimate job?” Mrs. Miller asked.
“Yes Mam, it certainly is. And he’s welcome to stay on with us as long as he likes. If he ever tires of testing we can put him into an internship to work towards programming, as we find that people with experience in the NXTWRLD like he is gaining now have an excellent sense of appropriate additions to the universe.”
“On the phone, you said this is a government initiative?”
“It certainly is. An attempt to give people like William space where they feel valued and stimulated. There are a few other companies who have signed up as well, for people with different needs to William. It’s still a new idea, but all of the companies involved have given positive responses at the conferences.”
They looked uncomfortably at each other.
“We were hoping that after years in a school like his, he might be ready to integrate with the rest of society,” Mrs. Miller said.
Vera gave a knowing nod.
“Unfortunately, that just isn’t really possible. Not in this day and age where nearly everybody has access to his file. Even if a workplace did accept him, all he would need is one stray incident and his coworkers would be legally allowed to request access.”
“He’s not like he was when he was a boy,” Mr. Miller insisted.
“He seems like a fine young man. He is one. And so is my brother. The fact is that people are always on the lookout for something to blame. Something to rally behind. And at the moment it’s a clean, or relatively clean file. I know it’s unfair. I know it doesn’t make any sense,” Vera said before drifting off into thought. “This is truly the best option for people like him out there at the moment. None of the persecution. No need to fear what will happen if he has an incident. And you can see him whenever you like, and he gets a fair wage, and we look after everything from housing to food to healthcare…” Vera persisted.
“But my little boy is still going to spend his whole life isolated from people,” Mrs. Miller said with a tear sliding through her foundation. “He will never really be able to be a part of society.”
“Yes,” Vera said tenderly, and she left it at that.
On one fine, digital morning William B. Miller approached the girl in the forest. He knew how to find her, as she kept returning. He supposed that it held some sort of significance for her. Like a second place of birth. He’d told her about a river that he hadn’t followed yet and asked if she wanted to come with him. She did.
Over weeks, he slowly and painfully he gathered together the courage to ask her to one of the meet-ups. It turned out that she lived on the same floor. While for health and safety reasons it wasn’t advised to use the same room when they went into the NXTWRLD, they did link up on most nights. He even found himself foregoing opportunities to send up a red dot so that the two of them could maintain similar averages and stay in the same league.
And after years, when both of them had taken positions in programming, they had a midnight rush to the hospital to deliver their first-born. She was premature, but the birth proceeded without any major complications. The little girl was placed in her mother’s arms for the first time, and William stood beside them smiling down with adoration. They both turned when there was yelling in the hall. A mother attempting to flee with her child, limping down the hall leaving a trail of blood. She was apprehended, and the child was safely removed. The nurse in their birthing suite had gone to assist with the runaway. She was one of the oldest in the ward. When she returned, she took their baby into her arms. She frowned as she glanced at Williams name, but didn’t seem to remember whatever it was that had risen in her. She took Nancy R. Miller up to level 6 and weighed and measured her before they took their place in line for the hell prick test. She listened to the chattering of the younger nurses and let them complain about hospital staff that they felt were mistreating them. Even though she didn’t have the energy to partake in the discussion, it still felt as if she were a part of something. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the runner that they had had only an hour before, and reports were that the woman was still strapped to the bed and letting out howls of despair. The young nurses voiced the appropriate comments of confusion and disgust as they moves off one by one to have the baby’s heel pricked and the swab soaked in its blood. The conversation finished on the note that one would expect. That this truly was a marvel of modern medicine. That the system would save lives. Prevent outbreaks. She looked down into the babies eyes and noted that they were glassy and blank.
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By Klemen Bobnar
There was a dead body on the train. Hero didn’t know who put it there, but that didn’t matter. Dead bodies meant trouble and he couldn’t afford trouble right now.
Fortunately, the train was nearly empty; less chance of someone unexpectedly sneaking up on him. He couldn’t just leave the body where it was, of course. They knew he was on the train; he had to report all his travels. That’s what you get for being an ex-con. It wouldn’t be long before they found out who was on the train, and from there it would only take a quick database search, and he would be their prime suspect.
“Fuck, not now,” he thought to himself as he assessed the situation. He had to get rid of the body, and quickly. There was one slight problem, though. The windows of the train were sealed shut, most likely a precaution to not allow any passengers to stupidly poke their heads out and get them caved in by a telegraph pole or a stray bird. Well, the reasons didn’t matter now. He had two options: he could wait for the next station, hope there would be no people around, disarm the conductor and…no, that wouldn’t work. Stupid brain. Bribe him? If he were anything like the other government officials he’s met, he would take his money and then turn him in anyways. Maybe he could frame somebody? Hardly a way where no suspicion would fall on him, and given the amount of time he had, not a very sophisticated option either. No, there could be absolutely no connection to him whatsoever. The body must disappear.
He was running out of options now and panic was starting to set in. Why was this happening now, the plan was nearly completed, why? He never wanted to be a part of this mess. Then he remembered. There was a small exhaust port at the back of the train, but big enough to fit the relatively small body through. He was only two, three carts from the back and there were hardly any people on board. And if there were, they would probably be sleeping at this hour. He decided to take a chance; not that he had any other options at this point. The next stop was approaching fast, and the conductor would do another walk through the train right after it. This wasn’t the time to think through, plan or hesitate; he grabbed the body by the legs and started dragging.
It was lighter than he expected, but then again, he was also stronger than the average man. Something else that came with being an ex-con. Quietly, he opened the door of the first cart. No people here, he sighed with relief. He started to drag the body further when he felt a change in gravity; the train started braking, and it did so forcefully enough that the man lost his footing and fell to the floor.
“The next station? So soon?” He stumbled to his feet and looked through the window: there was nothing in sight. Then he heard a shaky voice through the speakers, and with each word spoken, his face grew paler. “This is your driver speaking. We are going to be subject to a search by the Controle. Please stay in your seats, remain calm and cooperate and we will quickly be on our way.” The driver didn’t sound too sure of that. He knew as well as everyone else what a search by the Controle meant. And Hero knew damn well what it meant for him.
The body didn’t matter now. Fuck the body. They don’t conduct searches just by chance; they knew something has happened on the train. That meant that he was screwed either way; the Controle weren’t exactly known for letting someone with a record go free on a lack of evidence. To them, it would be enough that he was on the train. The only option now was to get the hell off the train and get as far away as he could. He ran to the back, sprinting at full speed. There were some passengers standing in line, ready for inspection. He knocked them aside; they didn’t matter. All that mattered was keeping it safe. Without it, everything he had gone through would have been for naught. “A runner!” one of them shouted. Thanks a lot, asshole, he thought. But he was nearing the exit now, he was nearing freedom. Only one more, and hopefully no guard at the back…well, shit. Of course, there was a guard. The guard saw him, too, and started screaming frantically into his intercom as the man lunged towards him. Two long step jumps and a push kick to the stomach, and the guard crumbled to the ground. The man was well trained, not so much the railroad employee.
Finally, the door! He opened it, jumped through and started running. A voice yelled at him to stop, followed by others. He had no intention of doing so. The forest was near, and he knew how to cover his tracks. I am safe, he thought, it is safe. Bullets were whistling past his ears, but he wasn’t concerned. He already had enough distance between him and the shooters. They hadn’t brought a sharpshooter with them, or else he would be dead by now. He leapt over some logs and into the forest when he felt the sharp, familiar pain of a bullet in his chest. Hm, he thought, I guess they did bring one.
Will HERO survive? – find out
If You Love Dystopian Stories You Came to The Right Place All Stories Of Our Series in One Anthology This is an anthology of the short story series Dystopian Health Collection - Stories about human health in dystopian societies. In each story, we explore a new topic around health and how modern developments can turn into a dystopian society. The anthology includes the stories: Equilibrium A Tiny Health Robot Becomes Sentient and Is Turning Its Masters Life Upside Down Or Is It Just Following its Programming? The Department of Health and Wellbeing releases its newest invention for your health. Your personal health service robot - Equilibrium. And everyone wants to invest in one's health, right? Certainly, Marcus did, and so he bought Equilibrium. Marcus Cheng beheld the little box with curiosity. He adored opening new things. There was nothing like making a knick in the smooth protective plastic of a new product. Opening the box. Taking out the glossy instruction manual. Reading it thoroughly before removing the device from is packaging and turning it on for the first time. Feeling it become a part of his life. He’d been one of the first lining up when the store opened, and he’d paid in full. Anything with the kind of reviews that this had received so early on by tech testers was worth investing in. Please Comply Remember citizens, sticking to the Norm isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the country As a citizen, you got your health implant early in life. Measuring your health is good for you and the country. Stick to the norm and all will be fine. If you deviate ... punishment is awaiting you. Poor Rachel didn't stick. There was a knock at the door. GeneMod Imagine you can modify your genes and get a better person instantly? What would you do to have access to this technology? Emma is poor and dreams of a better life; a life with gene modification and endless possibilities. The sound of cheap sneakers against wet concrete bounced sharply off the walls of the alleyway. "Halt! Freeze! Stop running dammit!" A heavier set man in uniform hollered into the alley between heavy breaths. 'it's too late sucka!' Emma thought as she rounded the next corner. Another left then right then left again, and Emma would be home free. As she turned this particular corner, the wall almost seemed to jump out and grab hold of both arms. Unimed Imagine your future is already set even before you are born? A system where EVERYONE has access to your medical files William B. Miller was different and he experienced that early in life. How will he cope with a society which stores everything about him? Get Your Copy Now and Enjoy a Dark Future