Our flash fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds was to write a sub-genre smash-up. We were given a list to choose two from, so I chose Cyberpunk (“science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology”) and Picaresque (“suggesting, or being a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a usually roguish protagonist”). I managed to cut it from 1180 words to 1000 bang on, so that’s good cutting on my behalf. Enjoy.
It started with Smart Meters. By 2025, they were in every home on the globe. Hydro companies told us it was to impel us to be more attentive to the electricity we used. Really, it was a government job, used to monitor everything going on in our home. A crime committed? Cops could follow hydro usage patterns to determine if the suspect was at home during the period in question.
It progressed to IntelliMeters. These contained special mikes and video surveillance, though no one knew about it. The Americans were first. Next it was Canadians, and then Brits. The IMs were meant to ‘save us money’. If we used more than a certain amount of hydro during an hour, the price increased by ten times before ultimately shutting down.
Because the hydro companies were getting away with it, the government paid off more manufacturers. Our televisions, computers, and even alarm clocks were phased out and new ones were rigged with this spy technology. And no one knew it.
And then, in Toronto, an entire family wound up dead. No suspect could be found save for the police tapping into confidential, ‘non-existent’ surveillance footage. Someone that shouldn’t have found out about the technology and news of its presence in our homes spread like wildfire.
The governments promised to ‘intervene’ in these unlawful acts.
They never did.
The sun’s bright this morning. As it reaches the alleyway in which I sleep, I can feel its unfamiliar warmth wash over me. A newspaper caught in the wind lands by my feet. I read the date. May 15, 2072.
A robot dashes into the alleyway with a garbage picker in hand. “Get out of my way, you ugly piece of shit,” it says and snatches the paper from my hand.
Even the robots think I’m a lowlife. Ha. There’s irony for you.
Sixty years ago, the human race was terrified of the idea of robots. They’d seen movies in which they take over Earth, movies in which they become self-aware. Forewarnings, I think. Yet humans pursued. And exactly what they hoped wouldn’t happen, did.
I live in an alleyway, if you hadn’t guessed, and a different one each night. I refuse to live in a house, where every modicum of my being can be observed in some way. It’s not much better out here on the streets, but at least the government can’t type into the computer, Matt Grant, London, ON, and find my movements amongst the million residents. They believe I’m dead, and if they want to find me, they’ll have to do a shitload of searching.
The robot stomps away, looking almost as human as I, and leaves me alone with the warm sun. I’ll buy a coffee today. I’ve scrounged up fifty bucks over the week, enough for food. I could use a bottle of whiskey, but all alcohol became illegal ten years ago. It’s almost impossible to find it anymore, that and drugs. If you’re selling it, the government has already put a stop to it.
A woman slinks past me now, glances twice at me, and then sits down. “Are you Matt Grant?”
“Who wants to know?”
She glanced back towards the street, obviously fearful. “I need your help.”
I pull a device from my pocket and aim it at the video camera above the alley entrance. At the press of the button, sparks fly from the camera. It’ll be fixed before long, but now, I’m guaranteed a half hour of privacy.
“What happened?” I ask.
“They heard me joking around with a friend that I want to blow up all the Dops. Now they’re after me. They think I have a plan. I heard that you… intervene.”
Dops is short for Doppelgangers. That’s the nickname for robots around here. When these latest models were created, they could be made in the image of the owner. It stuck, even though most of them are unique in appearance. Turns out no one wants to look at a robotic version of themselves all day.
“All right,” I say, “but you have to prepare for life on the lam.”
“Fine,” she hissed. “My family’s dead anyway.”
I pulled an MG10.5 Projector out from my sac and recorded some video of her. “Look scared. Pretend you’re facing the police. Plead a little. Hold up your hands.”
Although shocked by my haste, she did as I asked. We could expect the Police Dops to arrive within four and a half minutes. Not much time.
I pulled a small bomb from my bag and placed it on the ground in the middle of the alleyway. It’s smaller than a sandwich. I then placed the MG10.5 on a box at the entrance, near the sidewalk, behind garbage cans. I set some dials, and projected before me was the video of the woman, on loop mode.
I hurry back to her and grab her hand, scooping up my bag on the way. We both run in the opposite direction of the road and hide behind a row of self-disposing dumpsters.
Blind to the action, we hear the heavy footsteps, and “Freeze, Parsons!” in the robots’ guttural tones. I press another button on my remote, and the explosion that rocks the alleyway makes the woman beside me jump. I’m used to it. I’ve done this hundreds of times before.
The projector is my own technology; I manage to produce it between various friends. No one knows about it, how life like it is. It’s so lifelike that the robots could put their hands on this projection and not know she wasn’t real.
I glance around the dumpsters. The Dops have been blown to smithereens, but the projected image is as solid as before. I turn to the woman beside me. “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you. You’re dead now, so there’s no going home, Iris. Thanks for joining my rebellion.” I dash to my projector, snatch it up, and return to Iris. “Let’s go.”
© Lindsay Mawson, 2011