With the passing of the HETCET- 2087 Bill, promises of a healthier, happier world poured in through holographic screens hanging midair outside tall skyscrapers. Annoying, manipulative ads showed sinuous men and women with machine body parts, all grinning wide, vacuous smiles. While loud blaring voices noted the version of the cyberware technology, the various models of the skin suit you could wear over those mechanical limbs and excitedly quipped how you could get it all for just under 1199 Q-coins.
Every time she’d fly past these ostentatious displays of tech modernity, Pamela would glower at them and mutter under her breath. Somehow the sight of those holographic images always managed to put her mood from grumpy to grumpier and this evening was no different.
Just then a digital voice in her car reminded her it was November 7, a Friday, time was 19:00 UTC, Temperature was 118.4 F, humidity was 58%, SPM levels in the atmosphere were, as usual, dangerously above the normal limit today and wearing the portable oxygen mask was highly advisable. Pamela gave a deep sigh as she put on a white metallic helmet that snappily latched on to her white body suit. The screen on the helmet turned blue and a voice near her ears declared that the reserved oxygen levels were at 67 percent. It went on to report Pamela’s heart rate, body temperature, current blood sugar & cortisol levels. Unlike the oxygen level, these were all way off the normal range. Pamela stepped out, looked at the front door of her house and taking another deep breath, she walked in.
The house was as usual quieter than a graveyard except for the sound of a low steady hum coming from the far end of the entrance hall. She went straight into the entertainment room and found Paul sitting exactly where she’d left him. He was wildly flinging his arms in the air as his chair floated in the middle of the room, swerving violently left to right but always maintaining a fixed distance from center of the room. Paul’s face was red with excitement and tiny beads of sweat on his forehead shone under the florescent light from the fixture above. His eyes had an eerie white appearance about them, and he didn’t seem to have noticed Pamela’s presence.
Pamela called out. “Paul. Paul!” Getting no response, Pamela walked over to the other side of the room and punched a few keys on a screen on the wall. Paul’s chair stopped dead in the middle while the safety belt unbuckled, sending him lurching forward as he stumbled onto the ground with a loud metallic thud. His eyes returned to their normal color of light baby blues. He blinked and looked around, flabbergasted. Seeing Pamela standing in front of him, he gave a sheepish grin and tried to quickly stand back up again, only to lose his balance and falling backward. Pamela almost felt the urge to laugh but her anger quickly suffocated any comedic provocations of her husband’s behavior. This time using his metallic hand to grasp the edge of his hovering chair for support, Paul finally stood upright, his big frame overarching his petite wife’s, who he knew was about to give him the business.
A big man of stout girth with a belly that jiggled with each step he took, Paul, even without his mechanical enhancements, already had an intimidating appearance. But a mechanical right arm and a right leg and a titanium alloy enhancement running from the top of his head to his chin through half of his face, gave him a terrifying appearance. Not least because of the disproportioned physicality of having lithe mechanical limbs conjoined with the chunky biological ones. It was no wonder that Paul’s phyical balance had taken a hit. After all, getting mechanical enhancements was easy. Now that the Bill had been passed, within a day you could get fitted with newer, far improved versions of the outdated cyberware that Paul had. It costed as much as the cheapest car but with easier installments. Increased human agility, limbs that gave you superhuman strength, top of the class AI interface and what not. But they did come with a small caveat of maintaining a peak physical form and Paul, now a middle-aged man, loved comfort and luxury almost as much as he loved his wife.
“Paul, I am sick of this! I told you to get the groceries because I had to work late today! But you, you just never…”
“I got the groceries, Pam! Jeez, take a deep breath!”
“You mean you ordered them in when I specifically told you I needed the organic produce…”
“These are organic too! Go read the labels!”
“And they cost twice the amount you’d have paid had you been bothered to put on the suit and go to the Produce market just as told you to! Twice, Paul! Twice!”
“I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal out of it, Pam! We have the money to buy stuff…”
“No, we don’t have any money. I earn it after slogging my ass all day in the plant!”
“What about my…”
“Don’t you dare say a word about your shitty simulation app!”
“That shitty app paid for the new extension to our house!”
“My dad’s bots did the construction work, Paul and he didn’t charge a bitcoin for it while your stupid-ass app couldn’t find any buyers!”
“And we gave the start up money for your dad’s construction business and the ads brought in a…”
“Jesus, Paul! Drop it. I am in no mood and I know you didn’t make any dinner.”
“Well, I got pretty busy with the new version I am working…”
“I don’t know what I am doing here!”
“Here. In this house. With you! I never thought things would get this bad.”
“Pam, Baby, why are you saying that… You know the only reason I don’t go out is because of this.” Paul lifted his right hand up and looked down on his body.
“I told you not to get it. I told you it was not the right thing for us.” But even as she said it, Pamela’s anger tempered a little.
“That experimental study gave us this house and the money to afford living in this Zone, Pammy!”
“And look what it is costing us now!”
“Baby, c’mon, I am working on my new diet now and I have lost 6 pounds…”
“In 5 months!”
“And that is progress.” Grinned Paul.
“Ugh, I am making dinner and you are going to help with it.”
“Yes, ma’am! Whatever you say.” Paul quickly bent down and gave Pamela a peck on her cheek before she could swat his arms away.
Irritated as much as she was, Pamela knew she could never stay mad at him for too long. She knew if it hadn’t been for Paul, they would still be stuck in Zone 359, surviving on rats and wild plants. Both of them had lost members of their family to suicide or some curable disease. Her mother had suffered a heart attack at the age of 37. Her sister at the age of 13 overdosed on Roxol. Paul’s two brothers died of small pox. Death, disease, starvation and the general apathy from the rich was the fact for those who lived in the poverty zones. Pamela went into the bedroom to change out of the suit and into something more relaxing but the memories of their horrific past suddenly filled her mind, forcing her to quickly sit on the edge of their bed as tears started blurring her vision.
She knew what Paul had done to get them out of that wretched place. Almost two decades ago, when the technology for cyberware enhancements was still in its infancy, they needed people for the first experimental studies. Studies that were illegal and well paid for by the rich and the powerful. So of course, they offered a once in a lifetime deal to those who were too broke to refuse it. An opportunity to own a house in one of the posh Zones and a huge wad of money for your troubles.
Most of the people in Zone 359, a segregated area for the poor and homeless, signed up for it. Only the fittest of the lot were chosen; of them was her then fiancé, Paul. Most of those chosen ones didn’t survive the first series of surgeries. Those who did were in so much pain, they wanted to opt out of the study. But you see, once you have signed the Devil’s deal, there’s no going back on it. Her Paul kept going and never uttered a single word of regret. She knew he was fighting his damndest to hide from her how much he was suffering. She knew it and the helplessness of it all had started eating her alive.
Of the handful who ultimately survived the ordeal of undergoing several operations, many experienced extreme complications. Many others developed chronic depressive disorders and were put under psychiatric care. A few committed suicide. By the end of the study of the 273 people, only 31 made out alive and well enough to be released. They were hailed as the success stories of the procedure. Of course, it was a very hushed celebration at the corporate level of a shady organization with no governmental overwatch to put anyone on trial for the crimes that had committed.
When Paul was released to Pamela’s care, two men and a woman came to their new fully furnished house in Zone 23, congratulated them for the successful completion of the trials and showed them the transferred money in their account. One of the man, at the indication of the woman who had an air of authority about her, made Pam sign another set of forms and said something about how it had all been mutually beneficial for everyone. Pamela wanted to punch his face right then and there. But she felt numb at the sight of her fiancé’s bandaged body. He had barely spoken a word to her ever since he was released. It seemed as if they had brought out a mere shell of the man she desperately loved. That her Paul, who was always making jokes and doing silly things just to make her smile, that Paul was still trapped somewhere in one of the white rooms of that heavily guarded compound he went into 14 months ago. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to rage at those men and woman. But all she did was get up and close the door when they left. Then she crumbled to the floor, sobbing quietly just as she was now, sitting on the edge of her bed thinking about the past that now haunts their lives.
Written in response to Diana Peach’s May prompt photograph, albeit quite a late entry.