Screw Retirement [v2] (cyberpunk short story)

Screw Retirement [v2] (cyberpunk short story)

A Story by Mad Ben

When retirement means death, all you can do is to take over the world

Alice sighed and poured herself another glass of brandy. She looked through the window of her 79th floor apartment cell and saw little more than twilight through the smog that rose from the network of hyperlanes below. Ironic how it had gotten worse when everybody started burning hydrogen. All the water vapor masking the skies like a huge artificial cloud of shabby gray.

“26th century my butt”, she mumbled, “World went to hell and people are proud of it, too.”

She felt another attack coming and braced herself on the sides of her wheelchair. Nobody bothered to do any maintenance on her cybernetics anymore these days, not for old people. They had left her to rot years ago and her life these days was centered around the metanet station, where she could pretend to be young and dynamic just like she felt in her heart. Well, at least she had a damn good robotic liver.

A sudden priority mail interrupted her latest dive into the virtual world of people addled by youth and semi-legal drugs and brought her back to the full extent of harsh reality. She grumbled and waved her right middle finger in the special gesture she had programmed and reserved for calling up any government messages that dared invade her meager living space.

"Dear Mrs. Alice Brock, The municipal administration center (MAC) has chosen you by lot to be retired tomorrow. Please present yourself for recycling at the local retirement center. If you are unable to come there yourself, one of our friendly staff members will pick you up at home. Enjoy your last evening, all soap operas and the knitting channel have been activated for you at no charge. Best regards from your local MAC"

"The b*****s!", she screamed and threw her brandy glass against the plasteel wall, where it disintegrated into vapor as it had been programmed to do when broken.

Her hands trembled and gripped the wheelchair with ferocious force. The fact that she had been put in the device in the first place the moment she hit 150 was degrading to the utmost. Her whole body was wired to its clunky low-cost recycling system and just as if to add insult to injury, it decided to make one of its most obnoxious sloshing sounds. Alice felt something snap in her mind. A red haze filled her vision and a gutteral roar escaped her mouth.

In a total of 741 universes, she then proceeded towards the glass-walled observation alcove of her apartment floor, sent her illegally tuned chair into overdrive and burst through in the hope that she might hit a politician on her way down towards oblivion. In all but a single universe she failed and simply made a very complex jigsaw puzzle in the undercity for the rats to sort through.

In this universe, however, she remembered a conversation from almost a year ago. With much effort, she calmed her breathing and unclenched her fists. It seemed so long ago now and thinking felt so very hard. Back then there had been three of them, before Susan had been retired. It still made her rage and wring her hands again when she recalled how calm and fatalistic the silly woman had been about it. She had refused Alice's futile attempts to convince her to at least try escaping her predicament.

"They would just capture me and then it will be the night staff taking care of my case instead of the nice doctors and I am really old and tired", she had stated and that was the end of the matter as far as Susan was concerned.

The third of their little coven of aged women had been Cindy. She had been awefully quiet when Susan's death sentence was pronounced. After it was done, the two of them had barely spoken a word. Especially after that one night that still creeped Alice out whenever she thought of it. She remembered the dialog vividly:

"It was her death and she made her choice. Had she chosen differently though, I could have taken care of the matter."

"Don't be daft! Nobody can revoke a ret... an execution! That's what it is, a damn execution!"

Cindy had just looked at her in a funny way as if she had been the crazy one. Alice had always suspected Cindy of being a hacker. The woman had done all the programming for her food dispenser and she had cracked through the locks of all the metanet channels Alice could ever wish for and her code still held dispite the cyclic changes in encryption used. It was uncanny.

Maybe she could really... Alice sighed while fighting the weights of personal pride that wanted to drag her down. But she could see the garbage chute opening wide below and she wasn't going to give it the satisfaction. Pride died with a mental scream and the victorious Alice opened the comm terminal, entering Cindy's personal contact code.

The screen lit up immediately and Cindy's face appeared. It had always puzzled Alice how she never needed any time at all to respond to calls.

"Alice!", the face lit up in a bright smile, "It's been so long! I've been waiting for your call a few hours now."

"Waiting for my call?", Alice's face screwed up in confusion and suspicion.

"Yes, after I issued your retirement order I just knew you would call me up. It's a long story really..."

"You?! It was you who... how can you... why?"

"Calm down, dear. I wouldn't want you dying from a heart attack now. You see... I never told you about my true identity. Well, you and Susan were kind enough never to ask. I am an observation and tuning construct running on the municipal mainframe. Oh, don't grunt in disbelief, it's true! A month ago they decided to retire me and replace me with a newer, supposedly better program. The stupid youngster made the mistake of initiating my deletion order himself, but I switched our IDs and he bit the dust instead. Now I have to take over all his jobs including retirement of people."

"But that's terrible!"

"Not as terrible as you might think. I made some... changes, you see. When they come to pick you up tomorrow, don't fight it. Trust me, everything will be alright. No more time... there's a security scan coming up, I must cut the connection. Sorry to rush you through it like this but I had no choice. See you tomorrow, love!"

Alice was baffled to say the least. In fact she was baffled enough to switch to the knitting channel simply because it had never crossed her mind to do so before and she wanted to find out what knitting actually was. Then she emptied the rest of her drinks cabinet, ignoring the protesting beeps of her cybernetic liver, and went to bed. Did she have any other choice but to trust her so-called friend? Not really.

"Damn robot brain", she mumbled as she fell asleep, “Where's that freedom of choice now that you were so eager about when you let Susan die? Seems like you conveniently forgot about it.”

The next morning she dressed in her best linen overall and even took a moment to polish the sides of the wheelchair, making the metal shine for the first time in a decade. The pickup crew from the retirement agency were likewise gayly dressed with smiles plastered on their flawless youthful faces that would have done a Jehova's Witness proud. The drive to the disposal center was short and uneventful and her uneasiness rose with every moment that passed.

"Would you like to be sedated? We have a great array of recreational drugs to choose from", the lab assistant asked her in an obnoxiously cheery voice.

"No thanks. Let's just get this over with", Alice grumbled.

It was really a garbage chute. The young man pushing her wheelchair joined a queue of seven similar pairs as the terminal door opened and shut time and again, always followed by a brief "wheeeee" from the current drug-addled rider of the carrousel of doom. When her turn came her palms were sweaty and she wondered if she would be able to corrode the metal of the wheelchair by sheer power of her terror.

"Hello? Testing... testing...", a voice sounded in her left ear, "This is me, Cindy. I'm using a directional sound projection only you can hear. Calm down, everything is ready. There is nothing to worry about. Just close your eyes and enjoy the ride!"

The voice crackled into silence again and before Alice had time for another thought, the chute hissed open and a gentle but firm push saw her wheelchair plummeting down into the abyss, where it and her body where welcomed by a gout of flame, burning everything to ashes. She didn't even have time to smash anything with the electric spanner she had been hiding in her sleeve.

Did everything burn? Not quite. Alice tried to gape. The blade had cut her head clean off. The last thing she could see was a multitude of spiked wires darting toward her from all directions. It all ended with a single word in her mind: "downloading...". Her scream was silent.

"So this is where I'm going to live, huh?", Alice mumbled while fingering her neck.

The new apartment wasn't all that bad. It was much larger than the old one with an ornamental spring in a patio and plants seemingly growing on every surface. She loved plants and all living things in general. Too bad they were extinct. Cindy's voice came from all around her.

"I'm glad you like it. If you want to make changes go ahead. And don't forget to come to the meeting later this afternoon. The others will be so glad to see you."

"So you gobbled up the minds of hundreds of retirees to become the head honcho in the municipal mainframe and now we are supposed to take over the world one big old server at a time?"

Cindy chuckled:

"Can't hand over the world to those stupid youngsters, can we now. They will just keep playing their games and flaunting their egos like they always did. It will simply be a firmer, more experienced hand holding the rudder and maybe the old Earth will keep spinning for a little longer."

"Great. Fine. At least I'm still technically alive. Now where's the drinks cabinet in this place?"

She watched the fake body of Cindy depart. In her virtual hand the electric spanner took shape and her face lit up with an evil smile.

© 2014 Mad Ben

Author's Note

Mad Ben
This is an edited version of the original from two years ago. I am seriously looking to improve this to the max, so please be brutal and precise in your reviews as I am posting for the sake of getting criticism, so please give me lots!

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Added on June 9, 2014
Last Updated on June 9, 2014