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The people on the bus seemed to be praying: their heads were bowed and their hands were folded in their laps. It was still dark outside, and the lights were dim onboard, so Julie could see the light from the rider’s cellphones reflected off their faces. It reminded her of children looking with awe at jars filled with fireflies.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s better,” said the boss looking down at Daryl’s computer monitor. The boss seemed to tower over the small man at the desk because he was huge to begin with, and because he was standing while Daryl was sitting. “It’s dark outside but there is some ray of hope with the whole firefly thing. I like it. Maybe this time when we upgrade the Julie 4 software, she won’t destroy herself.”
The tiny man put his hands in his lap and whispered sheepishly, “That only happened once.”
“What was that?” the boss bellowed.
“Only once – only one Julie 4 killed herself.”
“See, you don’t know because middle management doesn’t tell you everything, but I guess it couldn’t hurt you to know. Five of the Julie 4s have destroyed themselves to date. We never use the word ‘killed’ of course. That would be bad for business.” The boss drew a deep breath, perhaps because of the loss of five artificial intelligence lives – but more likely because of a loss in profits for their shareholders. “But the firefly thing is a nice touch – it makes the daily grind of getting up at 5 and riding the bus in the dark much less depressing.”
“Thank you, sir,” the small worker said weakly. The big man moved away, satisfied, moving around the large windowless room to manage other workers at their desks.
Daryl placed his right pinky finger into a black box in the middle of his desk. The wide, round slot glowed purple so he knew he was successfully jacked into the Julie program’s database. The computer neuro-transmitters implanted inside his brain allowed him to see, feel, hear, smell, and taste everything the original human prototype - Julie - had experienced during the last three months of her life. It allowed him to dive into her mental world to retrieve moments that Robot Staffing Inc could use as software updates for female cyborgs working in the cubes in other factories.
The wind coming up from the stockyards down the hill smelled of fecal waste expelled from dead pigs. But as Julie waited for the bus to take her home, the humid heat was so oppressive that Julie was thankful for the smelly breeze.
“See! Now that’s the kind of programming I’m talking about!” bellowed the supervisor. “Everyone, everyone, listen up,” he shouted to the rest of his employees. Daryl here has taken a bad memory from the databank and twisted it into something bearable, almost delightful.” The huge man plugged his pinky finger into a slot on the side of Daryl’s computer and began to recite the small passage. “The wind coming up from the stockyards down the hill smelled of fecal waste expelled from dead pigs. But as Julie waited for the bus to take her home, the humid heat was so oppressive that Julie was thankful for the smelly breeze.” The boss was delighted. “See how the memory has been turned around so we see all sides of it. That’s complex thinking. THAT’S the kind of memories we want to implant in our cyborgs.”
The supervisor unplugged the tip of his finger and stepped away again as the workers in the rest of the cubes leered at Daryl for a moment before returning to work on their own memory variances.
Daryl wondered if there might be an extra meal ticket for him, as a reward for pleasing middle management – but of course there was nothing but the empty praise.
Daryl looked around his cubicle for a moment. It was filled with memo paper and plastic sporks and wrappers from half-eaten snacks. He knew that he only needed to twist two more memories today and he could cruise through the database for other dead people’s thoughts – to fulfill his own curiosity. But really, he only enjoyed viewing the world through the original Julie’s eyes.
He placed his pinky finger into the box and watched the light glow a bright shade of lavender. He saw and felt and smelled everything Julie had experienced two weeks before she died. She was walking through the buildings downtown, walking towards a bus stop. The concrete canyons made the wind whip the flags attached to the buildings overhead.
He began to concentrate on putting the scene into words so those words could be put into the digital system and then used as the fifth software update for the Julie series.
The wind downtown was blowing so hard through the base of the skyscrapers that it picked up the ends of women’s hair as they rushed along hurrying towards their jobs. They laughed at the way the playful gusts flung strands of hair over their eyes, as though the breeze was playing peek-a-boo with them. The workers laughed at how the breeze played with the hems of their sweaters raising them up and down and up again.
Daryl backed his hand out of the black metal box and hissed out a soft sigh of relief. Just one more scene turned into an emotional digital format and he could relax a little. He decided to plot a course within three days of the original’s death. It was risky but there might be high emotion there that would be easy to read and digitize. He put his finger into the reader.
Julie felt like a giant hand had reached inside her torso and was twisting her stomach. Her right side had a dull ache, as if the blade of a knife was pressing against her skin, getting ready to break through. ‘I thought I had three weeks to complete the Bradley 3 project,’ she told her coworker.
‘The timeframe has been cut back to three days. You have to do it, the boss said so, and it had better be done right.’
She wondered about the situation: if she didn’t have a say about her job duties, and she never made enough money to have any financial security – was she an employee or a slave of commerce?
“Whoa there cowboy!” hissed Daryl’s supervisor. “We don’t want any rebellious thinking in our cyborgs!” He looked down on the little man. “Come on now Daryl. You can appreciate our position. What happens if all the Julie 5s get angry and lead a revolt or something silly? Business needs grunts to do the menial jobs and it’s easier to create the bodies full size so they don’t have to be fed for twenty years before they’re able to do a job. The cyborgs need to be programmed to do their jobs, but they also need to be emotionally stable enough to not destroy the company property straight away and waste Robot Staffing Inc's investment. Just rosy that situation up a little bit. You can do it, Daryl – I’ve seen your work.”
Daryl looked at the boss quizzically. How the heck was he supposed to make this scenario happier? “Okay, I’ll try,” he told the supervisor who glanced at him once while leaving.
Julie felt like a giant hand had reached inside her torso and was twisting her stomach. Her right side had a dull ache, as if the blade of a knife was pressing against her skin. ‘I thought I had three weeks to complete the Bradley 3 project,’ she told her coworker.
‘The timeframe has been cut back to three days. You have to do it and it had better be done right.’ Julie could see her coworker still looking at her. ‘But I’ll tell you what, Julie. Let me help out. I just finished my assignment a little early and it’ll be nice for the two of us to work together on something.’
Julie could feel the knot in her stomach beginning to loosen. She took a deep breath remembering to exhale slowly. ‘That would be great Stephanie. Thanks.’ She closed her eyes for a moment imagining what she was going to do this weekend. Julie felt lighter just knowing she was in control of herself again.
Daryl put his right hand on his head to indicate he was ready to have his work looked at.
As the supervisor plugged into the monitor and began to read he smiled, knowing that this would be approved as a base memory. Just a few dozen more and the software update would be ready for upload. “Good job Daryl – I knew I could count on you. You’re good to surf the database at will.”
The boss quickly left him behind.
The worker took a deep breath and keyed in the exact time-location where he wanted to be. He could see through Julie’s eyes. He could smell the warmth of apple turnovers as she passed a bakery. It was a cloudy day so she didn’t need sunglasses. It was hot outside, but not stifling – just enough to let her know it was the beginning of summer.
Julie smiled when she saw Daryl walking towards her. He could feel her heart racing a little and he knew his heart was racing as well.
This moment was the reason he didn’t mind the long hours for little pay. This moment in time was when he could once visit that day they had shared together through Julie 1’s eyes and feel that love again, as if she were still here, still vibrant, still alive. He knew he would do anything the uppers asked if he could only be allowed to visit this memory over and over and over again.
The supervisor looked out over the floor of worker cyborgs and smiled. He turned to his human accountant and said, “This Daryl Love program is really working out well. We’ll have to implant more of these love programs into our workers. It keeps them happy and under control." The large man looked at his accountant and realized he was hungry. "They'll be at this for a while yet," he ventured. "How about me and you grabbing some lunch down the street?”
micheledutcher - Thanks mark211. When this story was being critiqued people said it was depressing. .. And it was basically my work life. I love being retired. Thanks for reading my story. Michele D
mark211 - I really enjoyed this one.
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