When I enter my house, the silence is deafening. Any traces of life have long left its cookie-cutter style. Although just yesterday it was buzzing with life and excitement, the afternoon drizzle that has set in has left the entire house a dim shade of grey.
As I head upstairs to gather the materials necessary for tidying the house, my hand slams against an end table. However, were it not for a gentle tugging sensation, I would barely have noticed. This is because the hand in question is not my own. Not my original hand, at least. I am one of the many cyborg citizens in the city where I live.
74% human. A mere 26% robot. My left arm and my right leg, along with a good bit of my left. The programming chip. Not much. Enough for discrimination, though. Each morning, from 8:45 to 14:55, I work. The required cyborg University job, a labor of some sort. Mine is food preparation. The morning and evening meals are delivered to households, and midday meals are served at the place of work or school. I'm lucky I got my operation at 16, just three years ago, or I would not have had the opportunity to attend school. Although, even us cyborgs have our afternoon lessons at home.
Yesterday, Winter Holiday, was a day of peace and happiness in the Community. It is one of the Universal Holidays that roll around four times a year. It is a day of relaxation and a day off from work. The droids get dusted off and perform the labor. Those droids. If only the University could afford newer models. The way these are made, they need months to charge. Or so we're told. Some citizens believe that the University wants us cyborgs, or, as we're often referred to, cybs, to work. That the University believes we need to work to earn our place, just because we were in accidents. Mine... I don't like to speak of. Anyway, I don't believe a word of what those citizens say. They're usually the ones who think we poison the meals. (To be fair, that did happen once, but the offending cyb had a criminal record and was exiled to the Outskirts.) Now. The house is clean, the lesson is done, and I am charged. The door should open any minute now.
A few seconds later, my parents arrive. I run to the door to greet them. "How was your day?" I ask.
"Oh, the usual," my mother says, pulling her silky black hair over her shoulder. (I, too, have black hair, although mine is in the required food-service ponytail.) "We found some old books. We got our hands dirty. I thought of you." She gives my non-metal arm a loving squeeze.
"I'm assuming you want specifics,” my father says. “We unearthed a book written in English."
"Old or New?"
"Oh, Old English, of course. It was quite dusty. I believe it contained recipes for food prep workers. It was quite dusty. Look!" His usually blonde curly hair is tinted brown with dirt.
"The food will be here any minute," I tell them. "Tonight is chicken with rice and vegetables."
"Oh, that was my favorite when I was a girl!" my mother exclaims.
We sit down at the circular table in the center of the dining room. The meal trays ding out of their chute beside the table. We open our containers and eat.
"I personally prepared these meals today," I say to my parents. "I was assigned to all of the Baker Street meals." Our street, Baker Street, was named after an Old American type of food prep worker. I was told they prepared Holiday foods.
"This is better than usual," my mother says to me. I know that she's fibbing, that she's trying to compliment me, but I don't care.
My father says to my mother and I, "I remember seeing a book describing Old American communications droids. They were very small. Pocket size. It was fascinating."
My mother laughs. “Everything is fascinating to you.”
"My afternoon lesson today was about Old American holidays," I say. "They had holidays similar to our Spring, Winter, and Autumn Holidays. They didn't have a summer holiday, though. When the University was put into effect, they thought we should have four holidays, so they added Summer Holiday halfway between Spring and Autumn."
"That's very interesting, dear," my mother yawns. "I've finished my chicken and vegetables. I think we should sit and relax for a bit. Your father and I had a hard day at work."
The three of us, with an average of 96% human, though I am not so lucky, finish our meals and make our separate ways into the Recreational Room. I read, my father reviews the day of work, my mother knits. Time ticks away until 20:30, when the lights flash and the Speaker comes on, informing citizens with children that it is bedtime. Reminding adults to retire to their rooms for rest. Ensuring us cybs and parents thereof that work is still on, and that even though the post-Winter Holiday weather is brisk and frosty, we should wake up at the required time, and take the airbus to our place of work. There is little chance of winter precipitation, and the airbus routes are clear. All is well. The Speaker wishes us a happy evening, and signs off.
"Off to bed, Robin," my father reminds me. I smile at him, and walk up the stairs to my bedroom and charging room.
I change from my working clothes into my sleeping clothes, plug my charging cord into the port in my right pinky finger, and fall into a deep sleep.
I awaken at 6:37. Perfect. Factoring in the 20 minutes by airbus it will take to get to work, I have 2 hours and 22 minutes to get ready. 14 to eat, 8 to wash, 5 to dress, and 44 to complete my morning lesson. Factoring in 20 minutes for extra charging, and 7 to prepare for my job, that leaves 10 minutes of leeway.
The reason I can figure these sequences of addition and subtraction in mere seconds lies in the programming chip. Inserted into the brain of every cyborg, the programming chip enhances the brain of each and every one of us. It helps with mathematics and memory, and it is really the only reason for any normal citizen to be jealous of a cyb. It is also the reason why we are discriminated against.
When we have the operation that saves us from a horrible death, the University implants a chip in our brains. It not only controls the robotic limbs that are installed, it makes us smarter. Mentally faster. Citizens turned cyb as children are given lessons at home, for fear of making the other children jealous or lowering self-esteem. From operation onward, we are separated from our peers, having only family and fellow cyborgs as companions. Adults turned cyb are forced to work as laborers, doing the work that "normal" citizens are excused from- food prep, cleaning, collecting. That would be me. Me and the 221 other cybs on labor duty. A slight ding! tells me that the airbus is on its way. I quickly put on my shoes and head to the station.
On the airbus, I can see out of the corner of my eye a young Primary student staring at me and whispering to her schoolmates. None of this is unusual, but it still hurts. We, the part-humans, are the subjects of lifelong murmur. I sigh imperceptibly and turn away, leaning back against the hard metal bar I'm supposed to be using for stabilization. After 15 or so minutes, the airbus glides to a stop in front of the food preparation workplace. The few remaining passengers part to allow me to pass. I flex my metal fingers, straighten my coal-black ponytail, and walk in.
The scent of the food prep workplace is of poultry, vegetables, and sauces mingled together in what almost smells appetizing, but then is strange. I walk over to my station, which is stocked with the turkey, vegetable stalks, grill, and various spices I will need to complete my street. The board over my area informs me that I will be making seven child and sixteen adult meals for my stretch of Powell Street. I pull apart the sections of orange vegetable I will be cooking with turkey for the child meals. I have grilled this plant only a few times before, and I'm not entirely sure how to. But then, the chip kicks in, and I realize they need to be boiled in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes and then cooled.
The chip helps with all the jobs we have to do. We won't forget, at least not for long. Our metallic limbs are programmed to perform all of the different tasks our jobs require. Some more rebellious cybs think that we should work in the University, that our brains would be put to better use making laws and working as teachers or Governors. And sometimes... I want to agree with them.
After two and a half hours, the shrill whistle sounds that means we are to finish our last meal or meals as soon as possible. I sprinkle my last adult meal with salt and slide my box of adult and my box of child midday meals along the conveyor to the truck where delivery cybs will distribute the cartons of food to workplaces and schools. The whistle blows again to signal that all lunches have been packaged and all workers are to prepare their midday meals.
We have a good system here. Adults work, children learn. Food is delivered, waste is collected. Citizens are happy. There is peace.