Screw Retirement (cyberpunk short story)

Screw Retirement (cyberpunk short story)

A Story by Mad Ben
"

When retirement equals death all you can do it hope fruitlessly or take over the world

"
Screw Retirement
a cyberpunk short story By MadBen

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.

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.

In a total of 741 universes, she then proceeded toward the glass-walled observation alcove of her apartment floor, sent her illegally tuned wheelchair into overdrive and burst through in the hope that she might hit a politician on her way down toward 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. Back then there had been three of them, before Susan had been retired. It still made her rage and wring her hands when she recalled how calm and fatalistic the silly woman had been about it. She had refused Alice 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 friend? Not really.

"Damn robot brains", she mumbled as she fell asleep.

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.

Everything? 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...".

* * *

"So this is where I'm going to live, huh?"

Alice quite liked the new apartment. 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."

"I must say I am impressed. You gobbled up the minds of hundreds of retirees to become the head honcho in the municipal mainframe and now we are going to take over the world one big old server at a time? That's going to be some hell of a lot of fun, I'm sure."

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. Now where's the drinks cabinet in this place?"

© 2012 Mad Ben


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Featured Review

The plot idea and narrative is pretty interesting...you have a good voice for storytelling! There were a few areas that did not seem as professionally written as the rest of the piece...they seemed more amateur for some reason and detracted a little from the quality (which is top-notch)!

For example, when Cindy starts to explain about her "true identity", her dialogue seems a little forced to move the plot forward. And also the part where Alice talks about taking over the world...it seems more of a plot device than something her character would say in that instance...

I realize that these are your characters, but this is just my opinion from reading the rest of the story and getting into it! The idea of "retiring" people reminds me of "The Giver" with a little of "Brave New World" thrown in!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Let me start off by saying this story idea has great potential and I'm highly interested in how good the final product could be.

It seemed like you were eager to get this story written and rushed through several plot aspects and skipped adding a any details.

Your plot skeleton is missing a few bones leaving your story a bit choppy. You're missing descriptive details which add meat to the story animal.

There are several elements that make a short story. I'll cover the ones that need some work.

Plot:
The plot premise has potential. You should have the main character do something that affects the plot line and shapes the story. You could have her try and escape only to be captured and incinerated but with the same ending of being downloaded. Maybe that's when she figures out it's her friend who is ordering her retirement? Have a little action (doesn't have to be "action film" kind of action). Have the main character take part in her life. Doing nothing to save herself feels like we're watching a vegetable shrivel, wither and die. That's as boring as it sounds to be frank.

Conflict:
Your story needs more conflict! It should have more twists, turns, dilemmas that interrupt and dismantle the achievement of the main character's primary goals (Your character needs goals! *See Characters section).

Characters:
Your protagonist and your antagonist need goals, usually opposing ones. Their goals, while events may occur on their own like you have in your work, drive the story along and give the plot some life. Also you need to go into more detail with your characters as they seem unimaginative, cookie cutter renditions of cyberpunks and end up being kind of bland and unmemorable. Detailed characters are memorable and fun to read about.

Dialogue:
Dialogue in your story definitely needs some work. I'm not the best at dialogue myself so I can't explain why but your dialogue just stinks. Maybe a dialogue workshop would help. Dialogue can also help make the character.

Setting & Mood:
Details, details, details!

Whatever your do, ADD SOME MORE DETAILS! This will help with the overall monotone blandness I feel when I read this piece.

I hope I don't come across as bashing your writing because you write well; this short story just needs a little work. You have a great story idea and you don't need to overhaul the work because it has potential, but it does need some major body work.

If you have any questions, want some help, or find my review unhelpful please let me know with a Personal Message; I'm happy to assist and would love to know if my review isn't helpful so I can adjust.

I hope I helped.

Waiddmans Heil!
Connor Nickerson

Posted 7 Years Ago


I really enjoyed this. You establish scenes and interactions deftly and it leaves an impression. However, there's an obvious issue with your Big Reveal moments being segregated from the storytelling.

I suggest unraveling your info-dump moments into scenes, and while you're at it, establish the society just the tiniest bit more. (Seriously tiny - you might suffice with tweaking words for color and tinge, and be sparse with added sentences or information.) Just enough to continue hinting that this society is even more-changed in its ways, than in its toys, and to provide flow-hints towards the Big Reveals.

But, back to the Big Reveals. Keep in mind, above all, that your story works. Which means two things: remember not to break it in rewrites, and, remember that you are too good a writer, to worry about readers becoming impatient on their way to your Big Reveals. There's no need to rush!

Overall, I would say the story calls for roughly another 1,000 words, or less, of additions/rewrites, to expand on the turns in the plot, and to reinforce or deepen information you've already provided. The pacing you've used in most of the story, would easily support it.

Posted 7 Years Ago


@Evita: Thanks a lot for the review - it's so rare to actually get constructive criticism that can be used to improve a piece. I will go back in and work on it. When I have some more time I will also go look at your work and see if I can return the favor :)

EDIT: Made some minor changes for the criticized parts to be more in keeping with the characters' personalities.

Posted 8 Years Ago


The plot idea and narrative is pretty interesting...you have a good voice for storytelling! There were a few areas that did not seem as professionally written as the rest of the piece...they seemed more amateur for some reason and detracted a little from the quality (which is top-notch)!

For example, when Cindy starts to explain about her "true identity", her dialogue seems a little forced to move the plot forward. And also the part where Alice talks about taking over the world...it seems more of a plot device than something her character would say in that instance...

I realize that these are your characters, but this is just my opinion from reading the rest of the story and getting into it! The idea of "retiring" people reminds me of "The Giver" with a little of "Brave New World" thrown in!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on December 31, 2011
Last Updated on January 15, 2012
Tags: cyberpunk, scifi