The Replacements

The Replacements - a short story by Robert Burton Robinson on TicklyTales.com

In the future, people are living forever. At least they think they are. (1,787 words)
~~~
John and Mary Beth Longmont were on their back porch sitting in their rockers, sipping red wine while enjoying the moonlight. It was their nightly ritual.

John said, “I’m feeling particularly old tonight.”

“Knees aching?”

“Everything’s aching.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“But you’re ten years younger than me. You should feel good.”

“I was fine until this year,” she said, “when I turned 121.”

“Well, these bodies are only meant to last so long. But we outlived all our money-grubbing relatives, didn’t we?” He laughed. “They just couldn’t wait to get their hands on our money.”

“Ever feel guilty about not sharing some of it with them?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither.”

They sipped their wine.

He said, “I know there’s a huge colony up there on the moon now, but it still looks the same to me.”

“You should get a telescope.”

“Nah, that would spoil the illusion. I enjoying pretending that the moon is made of blue cheese.”

She laughed. “Oh, John, you’re so silly. That kind of talk dates back to the twentieth century.”

“At least.”

“We have this same conversation every night.”

“Getting tired of it?” he asked.

“No, not really.”

A man and a woman came up from behind John and Mary Beth, startling them.

John bristled. “What are you doing in my house?”

The pair walked around in the front of them and shined flashlight beams into their eyes.

“Don’t get excited.” The man redirected his flashlight toward his own face.

Mary Beth said, “John, he looks just like you. A younger version of you.”

The woman shined her flashlight on her own face.

“And she looks like a young you,” John said.

“Do you know why we’re here?” the man asked. “Do you remember?”

“Of course, I remember,” John said, “but you’ve come too soon. We’ve still got a few good years left in us.”

“No, you don’t,” the woman said. “Your memory is beginning to fail, John, and we have projected that within three months you won’t even know who you are.”

“There’s no way to predict that,” John said. “Besides, if I start to fail, I’ll…have brain surgery and get it fixed.”

“It’s inoperable,” the man said. “And, Mary Beth, in about four months you will take a fall and break your hip, and will never recover.”

Mary Beth said, “You have no right to come into our home and—”

“We’re gonna save you both a lot of misery,” the man said. He and the woman drew their weapons simultaneously and fired.

John and Mary Beth slumped over in their chairs, dead.

The man said, “These zappers are no fun. Why couldn’t we have done it the old-fashioned way—with guns.”

“And get blood all over the place?” the woman asked.

“It would be worth it.”

“We’d have to call in a cleanup crew. And what if we damaged the chairs or blew out a window?”

“Oh, well. It’s done.”

The man and woman picked up the bodies and carried them to the van that was waiting out front. They opened the back doors and put them inside.

The driver looked back. “Your weapons have to go with me.”

The woman sneered at him. “You think we’re gonna forget? We’re not capable of forgetting.”

They tossed their weapons into the van with the bodies and closed the doors.

The van pulled away.

The man and woman went through the house to the back porch and sat down in the rockers.

The man said, “Okay. Their memories have been preloaded into our brains, and—”

Modified memories of only the last few decades.”

“Correct. And the moment our switches are flipped, we will become them—forever.”

“I’m ready,” the woman said.

The man called out, “Central Control?”

A voice in his head said, “Yes, A73900JR22634i.”

The man said, “On the count of three, flip our switches. Three, two, one, FLIP.”

After a few moments, the new John picked up his wine glass and said, “I love watching the moon with you, honey. I never get tired of it.”

“Because you think the moon’s made of blue cheese.”

He laughed. “It’s fun to pretend. I feel like I could reach out and break off a chunk of it to eat with my wine.”

“You don’t even like blue cheese.”

“Then I’ll pretend it’s cheddar.”

She laughed. “I’m feeling really good tonight, honey, almost like a teenager.”

“Well, I can’t go that far, but I do feel awfully young for a man in his forties.”

“How in the world did you ever land a sweet young thing like me?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked.” He began telling the long story of how they met and fell in love fifteen years ago.

Mary Beth listened attentively, as always, as though she’d never heard the story before.

**********

The medical examiner was just beginning to study Mary Beth’s body when a young man in a lab coat walked in.

“Dr. Bosworth, I’m Jeff Dunmon from accounting.”

“Why are you here? To observe? Is this a new directive from headquarters?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, this is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Is this John and Mary Beth Longmont?” Jeff asked.

“Yes.”

“They’re broke.”

“Excuse me?”

“Their account is empty. In fact, they’re well into the red.”

“Do you think they care?”

Jeff looked at one body, then the other. “Somebody screwed up, doc. There was no money left in their account, yet their replacements were put into service anyway.”

“That’s not my department, but I can save you a little trouble: their replacements cannot be recalled—if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Ha!” Jeff said. “Section 12A, Part E of the contract says otherwise.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Well, it may not matter to you, but—”

“The Longmonts were grandfathered in,” the doctor said. “They were one of the company’s first clients. You should know that. Who sent you down here?”

“Uh…nobody, sir. I lied about that. I’m trying to be proactive.”

The doctor raised his voice. “Son, do you know how many bodies I have to examine in the course of a twelve-hour day? I don’t have time to be harassed by some newbie who doesn’t even know his company history.”

“I apologize,” Jeff said. “But what’s going to happen to the Longmont’s replacements when they begin to malfunction?”

The doctor sighed. “They’ll be covered by government insurance until they turn 100. After that, since their account is empty, the company will simply allow nature to take its course. Eventually, they’ll begin to break down, and they’ll likely die a slow and painful death or commit suicide. It’s sad, but that’s the reality.”

“But they’re not human, they’re androids, so…” He shrugged.

They don’t know that. They think they’re human. They have the exact same skin and bones and organs as humans, and they feel the exact same aches and pains. So, why wouldn’t they think they’re human? Their entire bodies are synthetic, of course, but there are only a handful of scientists who can tell the difference.”

“Really?”

“Come here.”

He moved closer to the doctor.

“Have you ever seen inside a human body? Have you ever touched the organs?”

“No, sir.”

The doctor picked up his scalpel and sliced open Mary Beth’s abdomen. “I examine each body for cause of death and to check for viable donor organs. Oh, this liver looks beautiful.”

“But she was over a hundred years old. And besides, she’s already dead. Don’t you have to harvest the organ while the heart’s still beating?”

“You don’t know much about modern medicine, do you, Jeff? These days, we have seventy-two hours.”

“After they die?”

“Yes.” The doctor felt the liver with his hand. “She was 121, but her liver appears to be no more than 30 years old. Obviously a transplant.” He grabbed Jeff’s hand and placed it on the liver. “How does that feel?”

Jeff pulled his hand away and stepped back. His face was pale.

“The organs of an android look and feel exactly like Mary Beth’s.”

“No offense, doc, but that’s hard to believe.”

“What if I told you that Mary Beth IS an android?”

Jeff’s jaw dropped.

“John and Mary Beth are both androids.”

“Then…why did they have replacements? What’s the point of replacing one android with another?”

“When a contract is signed, we implant a chip in the client’s brain which streams his memories to our databank. So, when the time of death comes, those memories are uploaded to the replacement’s brain so he can extend the life of the client.”

“I know, but—”

“It doesn’t literally extend their life, but it’s like people having kids with the idea of carrying on the family lineage.”

Jeff shook his head. “This is too much to process.”

“What if I told you that I’m an android?”

Jeff’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “Are you serious? No. You can’t be.”

“And so are you.”

Me?”

“Yes. You’re an android, too, Jeff.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re just messing with me. Not one thing you’ve told me is true.”

“It’s all true. The fact is that none of us are human.”

Jeff smirked. “Give me a break.”

“I know it’s a shock to hear this, but the human race died out in the year 2147. All twelve billion of the Earth’s population are androids, but only a few of us in the scientific community are aware of it.”

Jeff’s entire body began to shake. “That’s…not possible.”

“Every day, women go to the hospital and have babies—without realizing that neither they nor their babies are human.”

“This can’t be true.”

“As I said, only a handful of scientists are entrusted with the secret. We’re forced to deal with the harsh reality of it every single day of our lives so that the rest of the world doesn’t have to.”

Jeff fainted.

Dr. Bosworth caught him on the way down and eased him to the floor. You’ll be just fine when you wake up in the clinic, Jeff.

He stood up. “Central Control?”

A voice in his head said, “Yes, doctor.”

“I need a partial memory erase for Jeff Dunmon of Accounting.”

“I’ve already taken the liberty of looking up his serial number, doctor.”

“Excellent. Please erase his memories of the past hour.”

“Done.”

“And send over a couple of paramedics to pick him up and carry him to the clinic.”

“Yes, sir.”

The doctor walked over to John and looked down at his face. “You and Mary Beth had a great run, John. You couldn’t have imagined how technology would advance and get cheaper over your lifetimes, so you had no way of knowing how far your money would take you…when you signed the contract, over seven-hundred years ago.”

THE END

Copyright © 2017 Robert Burton Robinson

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