After seventeen weeks of unemployment, and numerous hours of standing in lines at the LRC recruitment facility, Ken Baxter has given up. The Labor Replacement Corps have denied his entry into their ranks, citing over-qualification and a full roster of specialists in his field.
“I didn’t want to be a Lurker anyway,” he tells the old sot next to him. Downing another third of his pint, Ken looks at himself in the dusty mirror behind the rows of vodka bottles. His beard is ratty, his eyes bloodshot. He doesn’t look much more attractive than the alcoholic next to him.
“I mean, I see the benefit of artificial assistance, the freedom it allows for man to pursue his intellectual evolution,” Ken continues, “but my God!”
The pub is mostly empty, and Ken’s voice echoes into oblivious ears and empty glasses.
Another third down.
Ken glances at his drinking companion–the one who has not acknowledged him since he entered two hours ago. Annoyance is chewing Ken’s spine as he eyeballs the man’s untouched Maudite. Waste! he screams to himself. More waste, more empty experience!
“So what line of work are you in, sir?” Ken queries to the man next to him.
The man does not answer.
Ken twitches slightly and empties his glass. For a moment, he stands on the precipice of a decision to lay into this silent drunk, but he holds himself back. Ken has had enough fights for the week. Hell, it seems like every day there’s a riot at LRC. Men don’t like the word “obsolete” as it applies to them directly. Oh sure, they’ll shake their heads sadly at those losing their jobs to downsizing and redundancies, but take a man’s career and give it to a robot–
“Fucking robots!” Ken barks, unable to stifle the outburst.
–well, that just doesn’t swing off the tree at an angle a grounded man can handle.
The bartender’s nowhere to be seen. Ken cranes his neck around, trying to catch sight of him. He then notices he’s alone in the pub, save the mute next to him.
“You don’t see robots drowning their sorrows in pubs. You don’t see robots having to go home and tell their wives and kids that GloFed is taking their house, or their aircar. You don’t see robots forced to live in GoodeLife hives and reduced to being carted around in Factotums with no manual controls.”
Ken rolls his empty glass around on the top of the bar, trying to attract the attention of the bartender.
“A robot can’t do my job, not like I can. A robot can’t see the improbable as a threat, it sees logic. It doesn’t look into a whirlwind of numbers and see a bull or a bear, it just sees numbers. Robots can’t dance with chaos like I can, it’s all order and lines and repetitive–”
Ken interrupts himself to bellow “Bartender!”
To his shock, an android, one of those torso units on a roller ball pops up from behind the bar.
“How can I help you, sir?” the robot inquires with simulated geniality.
Ken’s twitching again. He’s forgotten. He’s forgotten that when he came in this place, he wanted to turn around and leave. But, he stayed, and he took the drinks this metal thing gave him.
Ken has given up, remember.
“My glass is empty,” Ken points out.
“Indeed it is, sir,” the robot responded, and then was silent. It did not take its black optical receptors off of Ken. Seconds passed.
“So fill it up,” Ken expelled with impatience.
“I regret to inform you that you have reached your limit, sir. I have been programmed to cease the dispensation of alcoholic beverages to those patrons who have exceeded the limit set by this establishment.”
“What?” Ken asked, his mind effectively and completely boggled. “What’s the limit?”
“Seventeen pints, sir,” the robot responded happily.
What the fuck? Ken thought to himself.
It took a bit longer for the expletive query to make its way to his lips.
“What the fuck?” he said to the robot. “I’ve had three!”
“Your calculations are incorrect, sir,” the robot countered. It whirred and bleeped and chittered a moment before removing a long strip of paper from somewhere behind the bar. “Here is your tab.” The robot waves the bill in front of Ken. “As you can see, you have paid for and consumed thirteen Maudites, and three Blue Moons.”
“That’s sixteen!” Ken bellows.
“Sir, your fourteenth Maudite sits untouched before us.” The robot gestures to the Maudite in front of the immobile patron in the next stool.
“That’s his! You put all those Maudites on my tab! They’re his!”
The robot rolls back and forth momentarily on the ball that keeps him balanced.
“Sir, I am aware that you are a Tchamenian,” the robot states flatly.
Ken quivers with rage, and also defeat. “You’re just so damned smart, aren’t you!”
As absently as a man would don a thick coat, Ken reaches over to the man who still appears to be another patron, and with familiarity grabs this “patron” and begins to pull it over him. The seams open at his touch, and what had appeared to be just another drunk slips comfortably over the inner Ken Baxter. The face adjusts as the symbiotic organisms synchronize again.
His voice a deeper, raspier baritone, crawling out different lips past a different ratty beard, Ken spits, “Fucking robots!”
Ken chugs the warm Maudite, then exits the pub, slamming the door behind him.
Outside, he trips over a Lurker who is cleaning vomit off the steps leading down to the street. Ken recognizes the vomit as his own as he takes a spill. Enraged, Ken scrambles up and barks, “Fucking humans!”
No respect for aliens here, Ken. Especially not former stockbrokers.
Especially not assholes too proud to admit they are obsolete, and too disconnected from chaos to adapt.