Sweat rolled off his forehead and burst upon the concrete floor as he examined his work. “Finally, a moment of rest,” he thought to himself, and rubbed his aching shoulder. Ardol had just finished installing a drill arm on a planetary surface rover that was one of the most successful products of Torohol Heavy Industries. He pressed the metal paint stamp onto its titanium back, branding it with the large neon-yellow “THI” logo. Immediately Ardol was surrounded with the fetid smell of hot industrial paint.
For the past month, THI had been busier than ever. The bosses said they’ve had no choice but to raise quotas; everyone and their mothers were asking for drill rovers on planet Torohol, and THI was the indisputable leader in the market. Volatile sandstorms would ravage the surface outside the domed colonies, but underground, vast deposits of unclaimed minerals and resources had everyone wanting a piece of personal fortune. At least, those few who could afford to spend a fortune on the rovers in the first place.
Ardol could hardly keep up with the new workload, and took more overtime every week to complete his ever increasing quota. The finished machine that hung suspended by a metal claw in front of him was his saving grace, he thought. He was finally ahead, and could afford to rest for just a few minutes. “Hell, if I keep this overtime up, maybe I could save enough to support a family. My own family. Maybe even more than one kid, if the Colonial Magistrate approves. Still, even with this pay, it might take a while to convince them…”
As he wiped the sweat off his brows, he severed his gaze with the rover and took a look around the factory. It was as if this factory was an anomaly in the universe, a strange pocket of space where time ran faster than everywhere else. Vast arrays of machinery pressed and rolled metal with such speed that their mechanical arms seemed blurred to the naked gaze. Hybrid androids, half-flesh and half-machine, handled the partly-finished rovers with impeccable accuracy and intelligence. The piercing sound of the factory’s loudspeakers broke his peace.
“Ardol Vexos, report to the office of Ms. Esdean immediately. Ardol Vexos. The office of Ms. Esdean.”
Not a single soul in the factory paused for even a moment to hear the message, except for Ardol. He wiped his greasy hands on an overused rag, and headed towards the office.
He stared at the tag on the door before walking in: “Sheira Esdean, Director”, printed in crisp lettering. In all his time working for THI, he has never seen the director. “Should I shake hands with her? Or maybe I should just sit down? Or maybe remain standing? Does she give a shit about formality? Should I give a shit?” he thought, and opened the door.
“Ah, Mr. Vexos. May I simply call you Ardol? Take a seat,” said Esdean.
Ardol grunted in an affirmative manner, and sat down on the cushioned black chair. The heavy weight of the day’s toil evaporated in that small blissful moment. After standing on his legs for the entire day, a breath of relief freely escaped from his dry throat. Ms. Esdean looked at him curiously, and her lips tightened in a wry smile.
“Listen, Ardol, your numbers need to go up higher to stay within the average of the workforce. There’s no sugarcoating this. The androids, I’ll have you know, have continuously increased their efficiency through their routine physical upgrades,” she said.
Ardol finally took a good look at his boss, and noticed she herself had two mechanical arms, but not like the worker androids. Hers were sleek but looked powerful, and must have been fabulously expensive, as her hand movements were silent and smooth, absent of the whizzing noise of run-on-the-mill android arms.
“Recently, THI planned to automate everything. Yes, everything — no more flesh and blood workers, no more hybrid androids. Just machines — and it would have increased efficiency ten-fold. But the Android Union pushed back,” she said, looking at the factory floor across her window. After a brief pause, she returned her gaze to Ardol, “What’s clear is that you desperately need some arm and leg upgrades. Besides, you’ll see an improvement in your life in so many ways. You’ll even be eligible for membership in the Union, and they’ll likely compensate your purchases after the fact. Its win-win-win for everyone involved. And once you’re in it, well, you know how hard it is to fire an android? You say they’re not fast enough, and the Union buys them speed upgrades. Consider it, Ardol. “Pure” is a dying breed.”
“No ma’am,” he replied. Ms. Esdean looked mildly confused, and like lightning a tinge of anger briefly flashed across her face.
“I’m trying to help you, Ardol. Get some mechanical arms and legs to replace your limbs. Bone cannot compare to metal. You simply cannot compete otherwise. Trust me, I speak from experience. Take some time-off after the surgery, and once you come back, you’ll reap the rewards of the higher android-level pay grade. We’ve done the math — you’ll be around 315% more productive with present-day upgrades. Take the day off today and head towards a biomech clinic, and let me know when you’ll return in full force.”
“No ma’am,” he repeated.
“What don’t you understand? If you reject my offer, you know that I have no choice but to lay you off. There are plenty of androids who would take your spot. No matter how hard you try, you cannot compete with them in your state.”
“Ma’am, I will not change my body just to keep up. If you want more tin cans in your work force, I suggest you buy a vending machine. I reckon it’ll be cheaper, too.”
Esdean narrowed her eyes on Ardol. With a tone that could only suggest suppressed rage, she uttered, “Get out. You’re dismissed from THI,” Just before he could leave, she added, “Good luck trying to find another job without replacing your obsolete limbs.”
“Yeah, but at least my body is mine to keep. I won’t let the Union, THI, or even the Tessian Government pressure me to get metal limbs that they control, telling me when I need to upgrade to the latest model, always being able to pull their strings. So long as I’m pure, I’m no one’s puppet, and I’m no one’s mechanical slave. And ma’am, I don’t need to be half-metal to get a job on this planet. Look at those androids down there again. They’ve got the latest upgrades: they’re fast, strong, and they’re everything you could ask for in a worker. They sure as hell don’t look happy to me,” said Ardol, and left the office.
As he left the factory and headed towards his home, powerful machines, fast cars and THI rovers sped past beside him on the rubber-infused road. Above and around him, the sprawling pressurized-tube public transportation system whisked people away at blazing speeds across the colony.
Ardol preferred to walk. Something felt right to him about using his own legs to get from point A to B, especially after his talk with Esdean. Even after nearly an entire day’s work, the muscles in his legs felt invigorated and refreshed by every step. The dull ache in his shoulder that started with the morning routine was already gone. A strange feeling radiated within him. It felt good to be alive.
As he walked towards his home, a fierce sandstorm crept and roared over the domed city, a common event on the Planet of Sand. Ardol stood and looked as the swift and powerful storm raced ever faster across the sturdy transparent ceiling of the colony, as if a great red bird cloaked the sky with its abrasive wings. The colony soon plunged into temporary darkness. “The generators will kick the lights on at any moment,” thought Ardol.
Suddenly, he felt the air in his lungs shatter. A terrible pain thundered throughout his body, and his breath felt like glass trying to escape his windpipe. He flew through the air for a mere moment, but felt as though time slowed down just for him. Reality almost immediately took hold again, and as suddenly as it began, he crashed back down to the ground, and his broken body sprawled on the road. Nearby, the brakes of the vehicle that hit him screeched until the tires halted in a cloud of rubber smoke. The driver stepped out of the old vehicle, which was not automated like modern cars that were popular in the colonies. He glanced at Ardol’s motionless body on the road, and with an expression of pure panic, jumped back into his car, sped up and drove away.
The generators turned on all of the street lights in the colony, and an android pedestrian spotted Ardol. He quickly summoned emergency services, picked up his bloody and mangled body, and carried him away from the road. There was nothing the android could do, but he waited beside him until the restorer bots arrived.
Ardol woke up in horrible agony at the Restoration Clinic. He tried to move his body, but instead a tsunami of pain rolled over his body in terrible crashing waves. A miserable cry of anguish followed and filled the clean, oyster-white room with the sound of a dying man. The restorer bots immediately hovered around him, and quickly downloaded the information on Ardol’s vitals, his DNA sequence, and a myriad of other metrics. Within seconds, they knew more about him than was physically possible to remember in an organic brain. They seemed to look like flesh-and-blood doctors from the waist up. However, instead of legs, they had two wide exhausts to hover and move around silently.
The robots administered their drugs, and performed detailed scans of his bones and organs. One of them, a restorer bot which looked female, spoke to him in a calm voice, “Ardol Vexos, 33 years of age on Torohol. Your body is determined to be beyond repair. The damage absorbed by your bones and organs has been categorized as Severe — Mortal Injuries Sustained. By our estimate, you have four hours of life remaining. If you wish to live further, you must agree to transfer your mind to a robotic host body. Our tests have concluded that you have sustained minor damage to your memory; however, your brain is in good standing to allow the transfer to proceed without complications. Your memory will be repaired once you accept the transfer. Estimated time for brain-to-machine transfer: thirty minutes to setup, three hours to transfer. If you wish to proceed, blink twice in rapid succession. If you wish to object to the transfer, blink three times. Please respond now.”
Ardol looked at the robot in front of him, and felt the dreadful pain in his body slowly wash away. The drugs started to work their magic. His own body was covered in a white sheet below the neck, and although he couldn’t see his injuries, he knew they must have been unsightly. With weary eyes, he observed each of the robots, hovering and performing innumerable real-time calculations about him. He tried to give a sigh, but a sickly wheeze escaped instead. He was tired.
“Ardol Vexos, please respond now. Blink two times to proceed,” the female-looking robot repeated.
“No ma’am,” replied Ardol, and blinked thrice.