Saturday, April 12, 2014

An evening at the shop

The start of a series of stories I've been doing this week in response to a writing prompt challenge. Was inspired by the fact that little sci-fi is written about mechanics: you get stories about the pilot of spacecraft, seldom those about the groundscrew. And how the space shuttles of the future might be run using apps. 

Most of my friends think I am crazy. At least half of the mechanics I know set up routines, automate responses and wander off while their personal system finds out what is going wrong with a vehicle. It’s almost always a software issue: gradient, updates, incompatible apps. GUI, in the modern world. How good the software is, what updates it runs, whether it is going to play nice with the rest of a car or not. Simple things to automate, to a point. But I never liked doing that, even before. I blame my dad, half-joking. He showed me all grandpa’s tools back in the day, how complicated it could be just to find out how many screwdrivers you’d need to remove screws from an item, every minute variant in wrenches and nails. You paid attention to what your tools did, to what you could do with them.

So I run through each piece of software myself, compile a list of problems, cycle through them to clear any up. On an average day it takes me less than half an hour per vehicle in the shop, but I know what is wrong, what I need to fix and what I did to fix it in case anyone ever asks. I’ve never been one to worry about automating myself out of a job, I just don’t trust an automated scan to catch everything I would or to solve it in the best manner even when it does. It’s time I could spend doing other things, but that’s all time is. And I find it relaxing, these days: just me, a machine, and no one else.

Grandpa comes in as I’m finishing up the last compatibility scan, tapping commands into the overlap above the floatcar, making sure everything is talking with everything else. My personal system lets me know when he is near and also alerts the local authorities; he’s tried to kill me twice since the accident, so I can’t disable the alert. I move away from the floatcar and turn my head. Grandpa flinches back. He always does.

“Grandfather.” My vocal interface is perfect. I designed it myself, but I still catch the tension at the edges of his mouth, the hardening of his eyes.

“Dar.” He moves slowly to the chair for customers, sits in it. He’s tired, worn out, overdue for at least a dozen bone regenerations. The chair taps into his nervous system and extracts enough pain to warrant a sigh of relief; he doesn’t have a proper chair at home.

I move closer, keeping a safe distance. The last time he tried to kill me he didn’t even have a gun. Just his body, some chemical concoction and hate. I’d like to think he doesn’t hate me, but I’m not sure even grandpa knows. “It has been a few weeks.”

“Yes.” He stares down at his hands, and then up at me. “How often does your father visit, Dar?”

“We talk every day, grandpa. He visits less in person than he should, but I understand.”

“Do you.” It isn’t a question.

“Accidents happen. Statistically they are impossible to avoid, but he still blames himself even though I survived.”

Grandpa twitches. “You call this surviving, do you?”

“I am still here.” I keep still. “Transfer technology increases every month.” I don’t point out that he is almost at the limit for what modern technology can do to sustain his body; he must know that even better than I do. “You can even try it out temporarily now.”

“I want to see you.”

“Grandpa –.”

“He doesn’t. I still do.”

“You tried to kill me last time.” My voice is almost unsteady. “I would rather not do this.”

I have been manifesting a projection; I do it automatically whenever anyone else enters the shop. Me, before the accident. Eight, grinning, a perfect overlay over my body. I would be ten now. Maybe eleven. Complete transfers are uncommon enough to a new body that I don’t want to throw customers off. It makes my friends feel better as well, though fewer visit than used to.

“Dar.” He closes his hands, opens them. The effort hurts him. “I need to see.”

I disengage the projection. The result is functional: I’ve made most of the modifications to my chassis myself, though I call it a body even in my head most of the time. My psychbot insists on that. Sleek torso, treads for locomotion, hover and flight system, and a dozen limbs for use as needed. My body didn’t survive the accident; the rest of me was able to. My projection-face is visible in the viewscreen on top; I don’t like it, but I’m told it makes other people feel better.

“This is the future,” grandpa says. “We all become cars.”

“I am not a vehicle,” I say, sharper than I intended.

“How many apps does your body run on that this car doesn’t?” he snaps back, but doesn’t stand. Doesn’t produce a weapon.

The first time he tried to kill me, he brought down the entire shop with an explosive. Last time it was his fists and pounding me into a wall. I don’t like thinking about it; I haven’t altered the memories. People don’t alter their own memories. This time – this time he is trying words.

“I’m still Dar. I fix cars, like I always did, because I am good at it. Because I like doing it.” Grandpa says nothing. I don’t have to try and hack into the chairs connections to know we’re both thinking about dad, about how he’d fixed the car. About how he’d ignored my advice on two of the apps because ‘you’re still just a kid’. And it has crashed. And he had barely been hurt. And I – I’d become me.

“And you think there is anything in there that likes, do you?” grandpa says, so soft even my systems almost miss the words.

I could pretend I didn’t hear it. I’m mad enough not to. “And what difference is that between a body that DNA drives, or that is nothing more than a housing for a soul? You have your body and I have mine and I’m sick of this! I’m sick of friends no longer visiting, my father refusing to see me if he can avoid it and the only constant being someone who has tried to kill me. I’m still Dar. I’m still in here,” I snarl, glaring, a couple of limbs twitching into approximations of fists.

“Maybe you are. Maybe you are,” he says, and stands. “I won’t accept a transfer. I can’t do it.”

I say nothing to that. I haven’t been this angry in a long time; I don’t trust myself to speak.

“I used to throw things at the wall,” he says, “when your father would tell me I had to get a computer, or begin doing my accounts with one.”

I move over to the left, find a disused linking system. Hurl it into the wall hard enough to crack plasteel. “It’s not the same. I can fix that.”

He laughs at that. “I imagine so. Some things are very easy to fix.” And then: “It hurts the most that you are still Dar, you know.”

“I don’t,” I say, because I don’t understand why everyone is drifting away. Why no one wants to visit in person. Were I to try and fix it, like a vehicle, it would be for the same reasons no one wants to to go on trips with me anymore. And those are things I cannot fix. Transfers like mine will become more common. Maybe never accepted, but more common.

Grandpa just nods and leaves without another word. Most of my friends think I am crazy that I haven’t set the security system to deny him entrance to the shop. I don’t mind. Crazy is human. If you can think someone is crazy, you still think they are human.

I move to the next car, call up its applications and begun debugging processors. It is easy, but I still lose myself in the work. It is better than memory. Better than memories by far.

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