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The Thing About Model Four-2s
The thing about Model Four-2s? They don’t have backup generators. If your system fails, that’s it. It’s gone. You’re gone.
It was my fault that I didn’t get up upgrade in the first place.
In the future, maybe, they’d figure out a way to control your age as well as your lifespan. But as of then my outer body had been withering for several hundred years, and there was only so much strengthening pulses, reconnections or skin cream could do to a cyborg. Along with my failing limbs and crumpled cardboard skin there was an intense stubbornness that seemed to come from the rest of me that wasn’t literally built in. A need to own myself completely, because in our ever-evolving world, that was such a hard thing to do. A need to make all the final decisions in my life. And if I wanted to keep my old monitor, no one could have changed my mind.
Not my work friends.
Not my son.
Not my daughter-in-law.
Not their children or their children’s children or the advertising phycologist or the government or the emperors.
Not until it was too late.
Early that morning, my Life Advisor AI suggested I go to the gym to shape up a bit. At first, I had told Life Advisor to go jump in a lake. Its only response was a rather smug sounding robot voice informing me, “Master Gilbert, if I may, it is not logical to ask your Life Advisor to jump in a lake since Life Advisor is built into your system and thus connected to your monitor. Due to this, If I had followed your orders as I am programmed, the elderly Muscle Assist mechanism would have activated, and you may very well have ended up in a lake yourself.”
“F**k off.” I had said. “And don’t call me Gilbert.”
Then I had gone to the gym.
I mean, if L-A could move my leg muscles towards a stupid lake then I supposed it could make me work out too if it wanted to.
I had waited in line for the check in point, where they checked your monitor model by the number engraved on your wrist and herded you towards the correct strength medium. Most people had the latest model, the M-H 5-Zero-Zero, which had a strength medium of about ten million, and were headed to the hard-core exercise section which included things like lifting trucks and breaking steel bars.
The line gradually shrunk, and soon I stood at the front.
“Hello, this is Jim’s Gym. Welcome to your one-stop exercise whatever.” A teenage girl in a gym uniform droned, her fake-lashed eyes on the clipboard in her hand, pulling the plastic ballpoint pen she was chewing the tip of from her mouth. “Model?”
“Four-2.” I obliged, showing her my wrist.
The girl’s eyebrows flew into her violet fringe. “Man, Model Four-2 is basically an antique.” She inspected me as if she could spot the flaws in my mechanics. “How old are you?”
I grunted in response. I had already been told I was unfit by a robot; I wasn’t taking age-shame from purple-haired youth with the tendency to chew on pens. Which, in my opinion, is a worse habit than stubbornness.
“No, I mean.” The girl huffed. “You really should get that replaced. Some science people did a study or whatever. You’re, like, 60% more likely to randomly shut down. Unknown causes and all.”
“Don’t you have a job to do?” I grumbled, eager to get it over with as soon as I could.
The girl sighed. “Right.” She looked down at her clipboard again. “This says below Five-9s is that one.” She pointed with her free hand. “Aisle Y. With the blue sign. Someone should meet you there.” The girl stuck her pen between her lips again and gestured to the next person in line.
Turns out Aisle Y wasn’t another workout station. It didn’t look like someplace that was supposed to be open to the public. The fluorescent lights on the walls weren’t shining a pristine white, but instead a dim yellow glow filled the small corridor. Several black painted doors lined the other side. Offices, I supposed.
I thought about going back to the entrance and asking the girl if she’d made a mistake, but in the end, I decided against it. I could wait. I’d been waiting for seven hundred years.
After a minute of leaning against the lit-up wall, wringing liver-spotted hands, one of the dark doors slid open, and a man strutted out like he owned the world. He looked and acted like a movie star – tanned skin, dazzling white smile, puffed up muscles. There was no doubt that this guy was the latest model. With extra upgrades. He probably even had extra extra upgrades.
“Hello and Welcome to Jim’s Gym, your one-stop workout shop. This is the office area. How can I help you?” He looked cheerier than the cartoon tiger you see on cereal boxes.
“The entrance person sent me this way.”
“Oh, okay. Name?”
“Just Gill? What’s it short for?”
He laughed. “Have it your way then. What’s your model?”
The guy wolf-whistled. “Whoa, dude. That’s ancient. You some artefact collector?”
“What are you doing in a Four-2 then?” He didn’t give me room to answer. Not that I was going to anyway. “Well, it’s your lucky day. We’ve got exactly what you need. Right this way.”
And he opened the black painted door.
Two glowy yellow corridors later, we entered an amphitheatre. I hadn’t been in a space this big since they cleared away those last few parks to make way from the new model factory. The room was deep and sloping, filled with layers and layers of seats on moving belts, so that you could get into the highest, furthest ones by moving that section of the belt to ground level, then bringing them back up into the stands. The walls of the theatre audience where a dark ocean blue, like the clear night sky or my wife’s eyes. A colour I never thought I’d see again.
The stage in the centre was a bright cream. The colour of the toilet paper my apartment supplied. Designed to attract the audience’s attention, I guessed.
The seats were empty except for a group of pensioners in the first row. Crummy old people, like me. There were only about five of them, all dressed for Wednesday bingo night in brown plaid shirts and colourful baggy cardigans. Movie Star Man walked to the toilet paper stage and faced the group. I followed down to the front, quite a bit slower than he, and seated myself three rows behind everyone else.
“Welcome, everyone, to Jim Gym’s newest revolution. The Big Switch!” He announced ‘The Big Switch!’ like you might announce ‘Unlimited Free Pizza!’ Which was not something I often found in gyms, but that I wish I did.
“Now, Ladies, Gentlemen and Other People, you might be wondering what exactly The Big Switch is. Well, good question!” His voice echoed wildly, bouncing back to us as he fished a silver remote from his jeans pocket and pressed a button.
A translucent screen scrolled down from the ceiling and showered us all with glowing images. Holograms of metallic implants and twisted wires filled the stage, blueprints of bodies with complicated-looking devices planted inside them. Pieces of machine that could act as your organs or tendons or limbs for the next hundred years. Or until a newer model came out.
“This,” The man said, his voice booming off the auditorium walls. “Is your future. No more rusty mechanics or much-needed assists. No more feeling like you’re past your prime. All it takes is one push of a button, and we’ll do the rest.” He trailed off at this point, thought I could still see his lips moving. I could have sworn he was muttering the terms and condition. “The new model M-H 5-Fifty is here. And you lucky duckies get to be the very first customers to install it.”
I disagreed. I was not a lucky duckie. Clearly, they had put me in the wrong place.
The guy kept babbling on and on about all the amazing improvements the M-H 5-Fifty had.
In front of me, five greying heads bobbed in agreement. One bald guy’s wig fell off into the row behind from enthusiasm. The guy didn’t seem to have noticed.
After what felt like hours, Movie Star Man finished his speech and clicked another button on the remote. Six lean white cylinders extruded from the floor of the stage, sliding upwards with a soft metallic hiss.
I had never been in one, but I knew what they were. Everyone knew. Even toddlers.
The surgery machines. Easy, quick and supposedly flawless. I’d heard great thing about them. Still, I didn’t trust a metal tube to take me apart and put me back together. The Model Four-2 literally kept my heart beating, after all.
Something twitched in my mind. Weren’t they getting a bit ahead of themselves? Could they really just install us, right then and there?
“Ready to be revolutionized?” Movie Star Man grinned.
There was a chorus of ‘Yes!’ from the elders in the front row. And one quiet, “Wait a second, where’s my wig?”
Movie Star Man invited us onto the stage. The five others bumbled their way up a row of concrete steps (except for the wig guy, who was fossicking around under his seat for his MIA hairdo) to meet, greet, shake hands and sign an electronic form that was guaranteed to include the sort of legal mumbo-jumbo that no one actually bothers to read until they have lawyers knocking on their doorstep.
I didn’t move an inch from my seat.
The others had all loaded into their tubes, which were now making a high whining sound as they got to work, when Movie Star Man noticed I was still in the stands, now on my feet, prepared for departure.
“Hey, Gilbert! Why don’t you come on up here Buddy,” Movie Star Man beckoned to me with a long sweeping arm. “We’ve got space for one more.”
I grinded my false teeth so hard I was worried I might end up with fiberglass sand in my mouth.
“It’s Gill.” I eyed the last empty machine warily. “And No, Thanks.”
“It won’t cost you, if that’s what your concerned about,”
I didn’t answer that. “I’m not doing it. And before you ask, I can make my own way out.”
“Aww,” He moaned, like a little kid. “Really? I so thought it’d be clean this time. Never mind.” His mouth twisted into something that passed for a smirk. “I kinda like this bit anyway.”
His twinkling blue eyes turned hard and cold.
“Wait,” I found myself backing away, one foot at a time. “Don’t –”
“Life Assist, kindly pause Gilbert.”
“You can’t do tha–” My mouth stopped working. My legs wouldn’t move. It was like I was stuck in peanut butter. Or a dream. No matter how hard I tried, my muscles wouldn’t co-operate. They were controlled by my traitorous AI.
I thought it only obeyed my instructions.
“I know what you’re thinking. Why did your L-A respond to me? Well, it does have overrides.” He smiled. “Why else do you think it sent you here?”
I wished I could yell at him.
“Oh, don’t take it out on me. I’m just doing my job. The emperor’s orders, you know?” He took a step forward. “See, they can’t have duds like you just wandering around. These new upgrades, they have things. Tracking. Cameras. Mind control.” He shrugged. “But yours… Four 2? They can’t nearly do enough with that. So, we’re replacing you.” That horrible grin. “Don’t worry about your family. They won’t know the difference. Our AI is very sophisticated.”
He took another step. It echoed around the arena, racing the receding waves of his voice.
“Wanna know the other thing about Four-2’s? The one they never told you?” His voice was low.
“It’s that they have an off switch.” He was so close I could smell the iron on his breath.
If I wasn’t rigged to the stupid machine that steadied my heartbeat, it would have been going ballistic.
A smooth fingertip trailed the loose skin on the back of my neck, connecting with a catch that squealed as he lifted it.
The last thing I heard before I disappeared was the infernal plastic flick of a switch.
The apartment door creaked as someone heaved it open, shaking it on its rusty hinges and pulling the key from the lock like it was a sword in stone. “Grandad, you’ve gotta get that replaced. You’ll never get anywhere with those old-fashioned things.” The man called, shoving his rusting key into the pocket of his jeans. “I brought lasagne, by the way. And no, it’s not in a capsule. I’m not stupid.”
He waited, realising how empty the house felt. “Grandad?”
His footsteps where too loud in the hallway. Past the kitchen, empty. Living room, empty.
“In here, son.”
He followed the sound. “What are you doing in bed Grandad? Are you sick?”
“Oh.” He supposed it wasn’t that strange. “What happened to you? You look… different.”
“Urgh, I got an upgrade. Finally pressured me into it, I guess.”
“That’s great, grandad.” He smiled, but it felt hollow.
“Don’t tell your father, but I do feel a lot better now. Less strain.”
“Now, lasagne. Where is it?”
“I got it in my bag. Want me to heat it for you?”
“Nah. I’ll do it myself.” He sat up on the pillows. “I’m not that old, you know.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.” But he didn’t.
“What is it, son?"
A pause. "You never used to call me that."
"Well. Things change. I've learnt that. You should to."
"Yeah. I should."