The story, so far:
Six months into 2019, and I had to tell this incredible team of biomechanical engineers, programmers, linguists, data scientists, and factory workers that we had engineered our own demise. We should have seen it coming, but we were all so caught up in the work, so distracted by each breakthrough and invention, that we’d barely had time to breath, eat, or sleep, let alone consider the logical and ethical ramifications of what we’d accomplished. We had designed and engineered our own bio-robotic replacements, and they would outlive us.
We’d done our work all too well.
The severance packages offered the opportunity to buy in, to own shares in the Automatonic Alliance Workforce, and to earn a small profit from the work the machines could do for a fraction of the cost of…us.
As I explained the various options available to colleagues – my soon-to-be-former friends – I lowered my gaze, pretending to study the brochure. I was the only one of us granted full ownership of one machine for the cost of maintenance insurance; it was the price of my acting as executioner here and now, destroying the dreams of twenty-seven hundred people. Of selling this monstrous future as a positive thing, despite knowing that some of the older workers would be forced to rely on their children, or public welfare, in a world of shrinking opportunities. “Imagine,” I said, forcing a radiant simulacrum of a smile onto my face, into my voice. “Our little bot buddies can produce three times what we can, in the same amount of time. But they can work 24/7! You can sleep in and still cash a paycheck!” It was true, but the best even most of my direct reports could afford was a quarter share on a 30 year mortgage, assuming they had 30 years left in them, and could find new employment within the buy-in period. Free money didn’t come cheap. The rank and file would fare worse.
The average job search in a one hundred mile radius was around four months, with a likely 30% reduction in pay. I drew our session to a close before anyone thought to bring that up, and hoped they’d not think about it until their exit interviews with HR. I did not even want to be a fly on the wall, for that conversation.
I left without a backward glance. So far, I’d managed not to cry. Let them think I was a stone-cold bitch. I would not lose it now, not here. I walked across the manufacturing floor, a silent gauntlet of mechanical creatures we’d built – robots that could now repair and built each other. They did not bow to the ones who gave them life. They waited for us to leave the building.
I would not cry. I would not run. I would not give them that satisfaction.
My ride pulled to the curb as I stepped out of the office and into the sunshine. I gave my home address and leaned back against the warm pseudosuede that smelled of lemongrass, grapefruit, bergamot, and basil. Some still liked the smell of leather, but I preferred the undertones of citrusy synth to the musky smell of a dead animal hide. The driver barely glanced at me in the rearview mirror, and now, as we glided to the walkway into my home, he merely nodded. I leaned forward to give him a tip, and that’s the first time I noticed that he wasn’t human. Automatonic Alliance Workforce had replaced the cabbies. That was quick. I began to laugh. The only reason we’d had cabbies at all was because people were still wary of self-driving cars. For some reason, they felt safer with a human behind the wheel, even if that human had only the illusion of control.
“Thanks,” I said. We had programmed these ordinary, wholly unnecessary courtesies into the AAWs; it was so realistic, it was almost impossible to be rude to them in return, despite the little hostilities growing in the pit of my stomach. Today was not the day. I would not lash out at my “children.”
“No problem,” the robot said softly, respectfully. “Please consider us for all your future transportation needs.” As soon as I shut the door, the robot sped off to collect its next fare.
Six months into 2019, and I desperately needed a drink.
I reached into my purse to grab my house key. “What the…?” My purse, normally overflowing with crap, including a jangly keyring full of house keys, office keys, electronic keyfob for my car, was completely empty.
“Emme! Over here.” Jerry waved me over to a table near the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a moonlit cherry orchard and a man-made pond graced by pink flamingos. “Emme, come meet Chuck. Chuck, this is my wife, Emme.”
I turned on the 250-watt smile and laid on the charm, figuring Chuck was a business prospect. Couldn’t have Jerry in a surly mood, later, looking for an excuse to blame me for a lost sale.
“Why don’t you join us for dinner, Chuck? Emme won’t mind, will you, Em?”
Chuck seemed like a nice guy, but he had sweat stains running down his ribs and smelled of cheese. Not exactly how I’d planned on spending the evening, but sure. “Of course not,” I said, gesturing at the seat across from mine. “Please, join us.”
The man could not take a hint. He sat next to me. Jerry sat directly across from him, and ordered a bottle of Malbec for the table.
“Chuck’s interested in buying the Model 6000w.” I gave Jerry a look that might have passed for impressed or incredulous or both. The Model 6000w was a RoboWorker the size of a small tank that could be used to manufacture everything from quantum shifts to chemical weapons. Jerry winked at me.
“Six hundred of them, to be exact.” Chuck said, leaning back in his chair and resting his forearms across his ample belly. He grinned.
“Starting a war, Chuck?” I asked. Jerry’s mirth turned menacing in an instant. I should have stuck to being charming; instead, I let my brains hang out in public.
Six months into 2019 and I can’t even remember where I hid my common sense.
To be continued…