FICTION

OCTOBER 2020

2020-10_COVER.jpg

An Embarrassment of Riches

by Adam Slavny

Case 1

 

CW awakes at its charge point to a flashing light illuminating the room in neon green. Its legs, arms and skull are drawn into a tightly packed cube and stored tidily. Slowly, it begins to take shape: limbs unfolding, metal nubs prodding the floor, the frame of a torso clicking free. It stands upright and scans the room for its flesh suit, a soft wrap of putty that sits awkwardly on its sharp metal bones. It plucks the suit from its sterile container and slips it over its head. Standing in front of the mirror, it looks like a person melted down, folds of skin drooping from a blob of body, head a featureless bulb. It is ready to take a human form.

 

CW is a Case Worker, a machine programmed by Central to infiltrate the humans of New London. Its goal: to eliminate scarcity in all its forms, to meet what little need remains in the city after the dawning of the Age of Abundance. Like all Case Workers it has studied the Money Age at Central’s archives and believes--as a matter of fundamental truth--that the source of all ills is the cold hand of scarcity, of need, which for so long has wrapped its fingers around humanity and squeezed.

 

The flesh suit undulates, warps, twists, and CW morphs into a jowly middle-aged man with an inoffensive face and a name swathed in soft consonants: Cyril. Cyril dresses, packs a bag, looks for chinks in his human form, and descends the high-speed elevator several thousand floors. He strolls through streets uncluttered by refuse, or people, and surrounded by buildings that disappear into the clouds. Above him the sun is obscured by a network of travel pods, flitting through the air inches away from each other but never touching: a perfect, flowing exchange. He climbs into a pod and sets off for his first case of the day.

            

He arrives at the Global Embassy where he works as an Immigration Official. Here he meets a family from Ukraine, refugees from the Replication Wars who have stumbled across a continent in turmoil. The struggle to control replication technology has brought untold poverty and hardship to the world; just thinking of the irony sends a shiver through the synthetic nerves of CW’s flesh suit.

 

Cyril meets the family at the Welcome Centre, equipped with lounge, spa, an infinite supply of food and drink. The family are dressed in army fatigues, probably a handout from the Polish refugee camp, and they smell of sweat and the remnants of mud. Once they are seated, the father looks at Cyril with earnest eyes while a young boy clings to his mother. Outside a crowd of people press against the barriers that separate New London from the rest of the world.

 

“Shall I address you in Ukrainian?” Cyril asks, ensuring his accent is wobbly enough to pass for human. According to Central’s research, complex human needs are best met by other humans, and Central quickly realised that a disguise was necessary to build trust.  

 

A fraction of the father’s expression turns from desperation to pride. “You speak Ukrainian?”

            

“This is New London,” Cyril says. “There is no shortage of anything here. Even languages.”

            

The man smiles weakly. “So there is space for us?”

            

“Oh yes. Babel 89 is under construction and will house thirty thousand alone, and the suburbs are expanding as we speak. The towers there will house many millions. When Central’s plans to expand into the midlands are complete, London will be able to house the entire global population, probably within fifty years.”

            

The father shakes his head in disbelief and Cyril enjoys watching him react to the enormity of the news.

 

“I told you they lied to us, Yulia. They have space for everyone here.” The mother offers a hasty smile, keeping one eye on the boy writhing in her arms.

            

Cyril takes them by transport pod to their new home in Babel 88. Inside the pod, the mother and father hold hands, and the boy looks out of the window at the endlessly climbing towers. They arrive at a state-of-the-art apartment: voice-operated bathroom, Chef System with Michelin star functionality, and, of course, the Catalogue. The Catalogue opens on a wall-sized screen, a menu of countless goods and services available at the press of a button.

 

Cyril’s fingers dance across the screen and a chute opens in the wall. Inside is a package, replicated at Central’s nearest warehouse and transported here by pod. From the delicate folds of its wrapping he plucks a necklace, then holds it up, smiling proudly. The family gapes at it.

            

“In the Money Age, diamonds like this were highly valuable,” Cyril says. “The stone in the centre is a hundred carats, replicated from one of the finest originals. It is just as pure as its mother stone--you could never tell the difference. Diamonds no longer have monetary value, of course, but they are every bit as beautiful. And now everyone can enjoy them!”

            

Cyril hands the necklace to the mother. “Thank you,” she says. Her eyes are glazed, as if drugged, fixed on the object in her hands, disbelieving of its weight, its solidity. It is an expression Cyril has seen many times, a form of oblivion, a failure to see the paradigm shift.

 

“Forgive the party trick,” Cyril says coyly. “I know jewellery is the last thing you need right now. I just couldn’t resist.” He searches the Catalogue again and this time several chutes open to reveal food, clothes, blankets, towels.

            

“And perhaps the little one deserves a treat after everything he’s been through?” Cyril offers.

            

The father gives a dazed nod. The boy, who seems to understand his new existence better than his parents, leaps into the air and claps his hands.

 

“Yes!” he cries, “I want something!”

            

“And what would you like?” Cyril asks, scrolling through the toy section so that a trove of goodies flutters past.

            

“My motanka doll!”

            

“The Catalogue has many dolls. There are stuffed toys, a variety of play figures, virtual reality friends…”

            

“Motanka doll!” the boy repeats, his face blazing with anticipation.

            

Cyril smiles: he has seen many children choose the familiar over the extravagant--it never ceases to amaze him. “How about this one?” he says, pointing to a finely woven motanka doll, one of the best preserved in Central’s collection. “The original is more than two hundred years old.”

 

The boy shakes his head. “That’s not it. Mine had a blue cross on its face, not yellow.”

 

Cyril hesitates. “You misunderstand. I’m afraid I cannot bring back any particular doll. But I can replicate one from any of the originals in our collection.”

            

The boy’s face is touched by disappointment. An impossible emotion, CW thinks. An extinct one. A coldness shoots through its flesh suit, through Cyril. “I am so sorry.”  

            

The boy stares at the floor and for a moment there is silence. The mother looks at Cyril apologetically and places a hand on the boy’s shoulder, but he wriggles free. The father grabs him more forcefully, hissing something in his ear; the boy whines with reluctant assent and looks sheepishly at Cyril.

            

“I am sorry, Mr Cyril,” he says. “I am very grateful for everything you have given us.” The words seem to awaken something in him. His face wrinkles in surprise and he starts to cry. He puts his arms around Cyril, who bends to meet him, and the arms of the mother and father soon follow.

            

This is the image Cyril holds in his mind when he leaves them: the grateful embrace, the family liberated. The boy’s disappointment will fade, and when Cyril returns to see him next week, he will own a hundred dolls.            

 

#

 

Case 2

 

Back at its apartment, CW transforms in preparation for its next case. It extends its torso two feet in height, and the flesh suit takes the shape of Phillip: white skin, angular chin, immaculate grey hair. Phillip is older than New London, so Central has constructed a past for him as a retired professor of literature at King’s College (it is important for case 2 that Phillip has pedigree from the Money Age; it carries a weight that CW does not fully understand). Phillip now spends his time in New London’s burgeoning critic scene, reviewing the output of the Public Arts Initiative. Books, plays, films, exhibitions, the energy of jobless Londoners channelled into creativity.

 

CW’s third case, Emma, has a new play opening in Shaftesbury Avenue. Phillip pulls out his tablet and browses a few million comments about the play. As usual they range from the uncharitable to the vile. Seeing that Emma’s rating languishes between one and two stars, Phillip programs several million fake accounts to feed her five-star reviews.

            

Then he sets off for the theatre district, travelling by pod to Covent Garden and walking along Shaftesbury Avenue, gazing up at thousand-story high theatres. He arrives at Central Theatre, takes the elevator a few hundred floors and replicates a glass of red wine from the Catalogue--his usual prop--before taking his seat in the auditorium.       

            

Like so many plays he has seen, Emma’s is an historical drama set in the Money Age. Londoners seem incapable of writing about anything else. The narrative is familiar: grubby degenerates living in squalor seek out a mythical ten-million-pound note, but through a series of twists and turns their relationships break down, culminating in the inevitable bloodbath.

 

Emma plays the lead, but apart from her there are no human actors. The large ensemble cast is populated by Central’s robotic performers. The robots clatter around the stage with clunky metal feet, delivering their lines in jangly voices. They follow Central’s principle of “visible otherness”, the injunction that all machines known to humans should appear as machines. The principle has two main objectives: to ensure that machines do not steal human limelight, and to provide additional cover for the Case Workers.                                                                  

            After the play, Phillip ambles through the wine reception, eavesdropping on hushed conversations. As he suspects, the play is reviled: many of the comments he overhears are cruel and overblown. When Emma appears, she is feverish with nerves, smiling demurely to tepid applause.

 

She is quickly cornered by two of her friends: Gerald and Charlie. They both come from Money Age culture. Charlie’s mother worked in publishing before New London was founded, and both Gerald’s parents were academics. They have no shortage of talent between them, but rather than contribute to the Public Arts Initiative, they prefer to act as its gatekeepers. A small part of CW despises them.

 

They all acknowledge Phillip’s presence by raising their glasses as he inserts himself into the conversation.

            

“I thought Central’s drones were actually pretty good,” Charlie says. He says nothing about Emma’s performance or her writing.

            

“What did you think?” Charlie asks Gerald while Emma watches in silence.

 

Gerald begins his usual routine. “I certainly thought the production value was great, but…” He exhales loudly, as if it pains him to criticize. “I just thought it was a bit of a caricature of the Money Age.”

            

“I’m not sure about that,” Charlie returns, apparently coming to Emma’s defence. “I think historical accuracy is often fetishized. I mean, it’s a play, not a documentary. Did you see David’s new piece? It takes license with history, sure, but it captures something important that I think can be lost through obsessive accuracy.”

            

Emma tries to maintain her smile while her eyes drift to the floor. Gerald responds with a rushed caveat (period drama needn’t be slavishly accurate), then elaborates on his earlier point. The conversation is now between the two men; Emma’s play no longer features--it was merely the stimulus for a worthier debate.

            

Their disagreement reaches a stalemate. There is a lingering silence, then Emma asks, “So none of you liked it?”

            

“I loved it,” Phillip cuts in.

 

They all turn to look at him, craning their heads upwards. Phillip’s height has been calculated by CW, as has his voice, deep but not gravelly, precise. Charlie and Gerald give a reluctant nod in recognition of his opinion.

 

CW has built Phillip’s status over many years, garnering praise and admiration from intellectual communities all over New London. At Central’s archives, CW assimilated several million academic and literary works from the Money Age, then produced ten thousand books, selecting the four most likely to meet human approval for distribution. Most Londoners now recognise Phillip as a leading public intellectual.      

 

“I thought the choice of a quest narrative was fascinating,” Phillip continues. “Emma’s work is not content to represent the historical subject. It also captures something about our contemporary perception of it. I used to work a lot on the use of genre tropes in historical fiction, and I see your play as a continuation of that tradition.”

            

Charlie and Gerald nod again, not too vigorously. Emma beams at Phillip, thanks him for his input, and confides that she was thinking of giving up writing for the theatre.

            

“I just wouldn’t know what else to do with myself,” she admits.

            

“Oh, you mustn’t give up,” Phillip says. “I think your work is exceptional.”             

            

Emma blushes. She looks at her tablet nervously, then shrieks with delight. “Five stars!” She grins, tipping a glass of wine to her lips. “Perhaps I’ll write one more. See how it goes.”  

 

Phillip congratulates Emma again, shakes hands with Charlie and Gerald, and heads home. He has done what he can for the day, but he knows it will not last--he has been through this with Emma before. She will return to the others for an evening of slow deprecation, Phillip’s praise will fade as sure as a setting sun, and the five-star rating will be forgotten when Charlie and Gerald convince her that popular opinion is philistine.

 

#

 

Case 3

 

Once Phillip is back in the privacy of his apartment, he transforms into Annette. Like Phillip, Annette has been carefully calibrated for CW’s next case. She is young, loquacious, sociable but non-threatening, and with a proclivity for floral dresses. She gathers her things and hastily applies makeup, tying her fine blonde hair into a ponytail, before setting off for Mayfair.

            

She travels by pod across New London and arrives at Berkeley Square a few seconds later. In the Money Age, Mayfair was the most coveted area of the city, where the price of real estate steadily increased--until the Babel towers arrived. Central built the first towers here as a statement; so that anyone, from the immigrant communities of Tower Hamlets to the council tenants of Hackney, could own a home overlooking Hyde Park. In a few years, Mayfair went from a symbol of status, of exclusivity, to a symbol of London’s new abundance.

 

Annette arrives at an apartment to find the door already open and music blaring from within. Sally is padding around with a glass of wine in her hand and a towel draped over her head. She removes the towel and flicks her hair in a perfect circle.

            

Sally spots Annette and gives her the usual greeting: a full, beaming face, a smile wide enough to squeeze shut her eyes. “Annie!” she cries. “So glad you’re here! Don’t look at me, my hair is disgusting. There’s wine in the fridge, help yourself. The Catalogue says it’s a pre-phylloxera vine. I think that means it’s fancy.”

            

Annette pours herself some wine and discretely surveys the apartment. A bottle of sleeping pills is open next to the couch. A stack of unwashed dishes gathers dust in the kitchen. She peeks into Sally’s bedroom and sees clothes strewn over the floor, leftovers from a morning spent putting on outfits only to cast them aside.

            

She has worked on Sally for years, from the initial profiling at Central to their “chance” meeting at a cocktail bar. When she first met Sally, she thought she would close the case in weeks. Sally was outgoing, charismatic, able to spark up intense relationships in a matter of hours. As time went on, however, Annette realised that Sally couldn’t maintain any of them. In the whirlwind of her social life, friends and lovers were spat out as quickly as they were sucked in. Through it all, the scarcity remained. Three years have passed since CW started working case 3 and it is further from closing than ever.   

 

Annette tidies up a little, opens the curtains, puts the pills at the back of a drawer. Sally joins her in the living room, drops onto the couch and is gulped down by its enormous cushions.

 

“So, how are you?” Sally asks.

 

Annette says she is fine, and they quickly settle into their usual pattern, in which Sally speaks and Annette listens, occasionally prompting her with a question or two. Sally tells Annette about all the new people in her life. The cast of characters has changed, but the play is the same. Just like Emma’s: a passionate first act moving inexorably towards disaster.

 

“Are you still seeing Diana?” Annette probes.

            

Sally nearly chokes on her wine. “Wow, how long’s it been since I’ve seen you? No, that’s totally over.”

            

“The last time we spoke, you said you were in love with her.”

            

Sally does not react to this. “Diana is not in touch with her emotions, like at all. Seriously, sometimes I just wanted her to shout at me. At least I could engage with that, you know? But she’s so repressed.”

            

“I thought she seemed nice,” Annette offers.

            

“You think everyone is nice,” Sally replies, words that might have been a compliment in another voice.

            

Beneath Annette’s visage, CW teems with frustration. The impasse with Sally continues. Sometimes it just wants to leave her to her grudges and her sleeping pills, but it knows Sally has a need, a lack, which it cannot ignore.

            

“Sal, why don’t we go speed dating at the Social Club?” Annette suggests. She pulls a tablet from her pocket and scrutinises it. “There are two million people there right now. Two million. One of them could be the love of your life. Your one in two million.”

            

“Why bother when we can just hang out here and get drunk?” Sally asks, pouring herself more wine. “And anyway, we both know you’re the love of my life.”

            

Sally laughs. The laugh has an edge of mania to it, slightly forced, too loud to be convincing. There is also a proposition hiding in that laugh, which Annette knows well.

            

“I just want you to find someone you love,” Annette says, hoping the banal sentiment will defuse the tension that has entered the conversation. “Or a friend.”

            

“I have loads of friends.”

            

“I mean real friends.” Friends you can keep.

            

Sally puts down her glass and sits next to Annette. Annette can smell a haze of perfume, feel the warmth of Sally’s skin on hers. “Seriously, though, you are my best friend,” Sally says. “I’ve known you since… wow, since New London began. You’re like a sister to me. Well, no, not a sister, because that would imply that I don’t think you’re hot.”

            

Sally puts a hand on Annette’s thigh, which lingers there, so lightly it is barely touching. Then, with a deftness only slightly blunted by the wine, she kisses Annette wetly on the lips.

 

Annette’s eyes widen. Please, anyone but me. For a moment CW worries that Sally’s tongue will snag a rogue wire and its disguise will be foiled. What would happen then? Sally would recoil in horror, order the disgraced machine out of her apartment, and end up more alone than ever.

 

Annette pulls back and there is an awkward silence. Sally smiles sarcastically, as if she was expecting that reaction, as if it confirms her worst suspicions of Annette.

            

“Sorry,” Annette stumbles. “You know I love you, Sal, I just don’t think we should go down that road. We both know you shouldn’t jump into things like this. We’ve talked about it. It’s what you always do.”

            

Anger rises in Sally’s face and she inhales through tight lips, as if harnessing it. “Oh for fuck’s sake, you’re too much of a prude for me anyway. Why don’t you fuck off with your stupid dresses, which make you look like a little girl by the way.”

            

Annette knows it is time to leave. She says nothing, gets up calmly, but can sense Sally fulminating behind her.

            

“Oh wow, you’re so brave and grown up, running away like that!” Sally calls, her voice fading in an empty room.

            

Annette leaves the apartment and heads home earlier than planned. She briefly rethinks the floral clothing, but knows the dresses are not the problem. The dress suits Annette just fine. In a land of infinite dresses, there is always one that is perfect, that fits and compliments any frame, with colours to match any eyes.

 

CW clings to the belief that what is true for Annette’s dresses is also true for Sally--clings to it as a pillar of faith. The population of New London is enormous and increasing every day. When the numbers are high enough, when the choices are plentiful, Sally will find the right person, Annette will slip away, and CW will close case 3.                         

#

 

Case 4

 

CW shrugs off its flesh suit and looks at itself in the mirror. It runs its visual unit over the metal limbs, the blinking lights, the nests of wire in its joints. It lingers for a while as CW before preparing for its final case of the day, and its oldest.

            

It puts the flesh suit back on and Carol takes shape. She is middle-aged, like Cyril, with thinning curls of brown hair and a slightly lopsided smile, disarming but not off-putting. Of all CW’s personas, Carol is perhaps closest to its true identity. She is a social worker, or rather New London’s version of a social worker.

 

She makes her way to Babel 1, the first tower to be erected by Central. The initial wave of workers resettled here when their jobs were replaced by machines. Unlike Central’s new blueprints, Babel 1 is rather primitive, with the kind of conditions no self-respecting New Londoner would tolerate. An offer was made to relocate the residents to better living quarters, but to Central’s bewilderment many refused. Harold was one of them.

 

Carol finds Harold in the same position she did on her last visit, hunched over in his living room in a mess of tools and sawdust. He is fashioning a set of drawers, an ambitious project he has been planning for weeks. The room is full of his creations: knobbly chairs, off-kilter tables, a set of shelves that lean precariously against a wall.

 

He was once a car mechanic, and when he was displaced in the Resettlement, Carol was charged with managing the transition. He accepted part time work as a porter at Central’s new headquarters, setting up the enormous computer system that was to govern New London, moving hardware, connecting wires, anything to keep him busy. When Central became largely self-sufficient, even those roles were made obsolete. Harold spent a few months doing odd jobs for his neighbours and friends, cash in hand. When the Money Age ended, that work dried up too.

            

“How is the table coming along?” Carol asks.

            

“Oh, ok. I have a newfound respect for carpenters. This stuff’s not easy.”

 

“And have you seen your daughter recently? How is she getting on?”

            

“She’s fine. Making a film with her friends. Not sure what it’s about, though. Something arty. Ah well, as long as she’s happy.” He nods, seemingly to himself, then checks the drawers with a spirit level, frowning.

            

“I was thinking,” Carol says, “maybe we could get a broken transport pod from Central for you to fix. It would be like you were back at the garage.”

            

Harold looks at her incredulously. “I don’t know how those things work, they’re way too advanced for me. And they change every year.”

 

“I’m sure you could pick it up if you spent long enough fiddling around with it. You used to do it for a living, right?”

 

Harold puts the spirit level aside and scrutinises his work with displeasure. “They have machines for that kind of thing, they don’t need me. I may be a crappy carpenter, but at least I need a chest of drawers.”

            

Carols notices that the Catalogue screen has been scored with a screwdriver, left blank. It is still fully functional, though; it will take more than a few scratches to break it.

            

“You know,” Carol says, “before the Age of Abundance, we were so focused on meeting our needs that we didn’t flourish, not really. You can’t flourish when you’re wondering where your next meal is coming from, or how you’re going to pay your medical bills. But those days are gone. The urge to work is now redundant, like the appendix. Soon it will be nothing but a curiosity in the history of our psychology.”

            

Harold looks at Carol wearily. Be careful, CW thinks, there is too much of me in Carol’s words.

            

“What I mean,” Carol continues, smiling warmly, “is that I want you to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. To live out your dreams. These drawers you’re working on, you don’t need them. You don’t need anything anymore. Need is a disease, and it has been eradicated in London. It won’t plague you anymore.”

            

As she is talking, Harold drops his tools, leans against his half-finished set of drawers, and begins to cry. He buries his face in the crook of his elbow, stifling sobs, emitting panicked, gasping noises that fill CW’s suit with apprehension.

            

“You don’t understand,” Harold says, struggling to keep himself under control. “I can’t take not being needed. That’s the only need this cursed Catalogue can’t fulfil.” He sighs. “Do you have kids, Carol?”

            

Carol shakes her head. CW wonders what having kids is like, and whether it bears any resemblance to working cases.

“My daughter left home before New London was founded,” Harold says. “I was proud of her, but the day she left I had the worst night’s sleep of my life. Couldn’t stop thinking of when she was a baby and she couldn’t even hold her head up. Or when she dislocated her arm that time, and me and my wife drove her to the hospital.

“And then there was the Resettlement. The garage closed and I lost touch with all the guys. Now I can’t even find someone who wants me to mow their damn lawn. Kids used to do that, you know? Back in the Money Age, for a few quid. I can’t even get a kid’s job now.”

 

Harold wipes his sleeve roughly over his nose. “When my wife got ill, and she was discharged from the hospital to spend her last few months at home, I looked after her. No machine nurses, I did it myself.” He paused, sucking in breath, exhaling slowly. “It was horrible. But at least she needed me. And now that she’s gone, no one needs me. I reckon the person who needs me most is you.”

            

CW squirms beneath Carol’s exterior. There is a feeling spiralling into its flesh suit, a feeling of panic. “I am trying to help you,” Carol says, as calmly as possible. “That’s all.”

            

“You’re not helping. I’ve told you before I don’t need you to come anymore, and Central sends you anyway.” He leans back against his rickety chest of drawers. “Maybe you need to be young, like my daughter, to make the most of things around here. I don’t know. You should just leave.”

            

“I can’t,” Carol stutters. She is being too honest; CW is emerging again.

            

Harold gives a grunt of amusement. “Like I said, you need me more than I need you.”

 

CW has the terrified thought that it might tear apart its flesh suit, its innards spilling out, then stand before Harold an incongruous mess of machine and viscera, Central’s deceit finally revealed.

 

“It’s ok,” Harold says, leaning forward to put a hand on Carol’s. His palm is moist and warm, and there is something comforting, CW thinks, about the press of flesh on flesh. “You need to work like I do. I get it. You need to make a connection, with people. That’s what Central doesn’t understand. It’s all give and no take. It doesn’t know what it’s like to need.”

            

Carol pulls her hand from beneath Harold’s. She gets up and wavers in the doorway. “I should leave,” she says.

            

Harold stands and dusts the sawdust from his trousers. “I’m sorry for snapping at you just then. Ignore me, I’m in a mood. Will I be seeing you next week?”

            

Again, a sensation of panic moves through the flesh suit, through Carol. If I cannot help him, CW wonders, then what becomes of my own secret need? What becomes of my cases?

 

I don’t know,” Carol says.

 

CW backs out of the door while Harold watches with growing concern. Stumbling into the elevator, it jabs at the buttons. A thousand floors rush past, and it emerges from Babel 1 into the silent streets of New London.

 

It pauses outside the building to look up at the blur of pods in transit and, after a moment of reflection, decides to walk home. Never having walked so far in the flesh suit, it is soon full of new sensations: aches in its feet, sharp pains in the underside of its knees.

            

Once home it takes off the suit and hangs it in its sterile container, then plugs into a computer to upload the day’s findings to Central’s databanks. Another new sensation intercedes: hesitation. CW wavers before uploading, deciding it is too drained, that it can wait until tomorrow. It disconnects from the system, draws its limbs into its torso, each metal shaft fitting perfectly into place, and tries to power down.

            

Midnight descends on the ever-sparkling lights of New London, and CW is still blinking green. No matter how hard it tries, it cannot seem to turn off tonight. Its processors are alive with thoughts of Harold, his words filtering through endless analysis functions. CW has never thought its task impossible--merely unfinished. Now it wonders if Harold was right; if, like him, it is striving for something always out of reach.  

            

CW whirs into life, returning to its bipedal stance, and looks at the flesh suit hanging in its container. Taking it out, it presses its sensors to the spongy surface: the suit yields beneath its touch before swelling back into shape. The machine puts it on, not taking any specific form--not Cyril or Annette or Phillip or Carol--but remaining a mass of half-made flesh. The suit reminds it of Harold’s touch, and there is even comfort in the aches and pains that pulse through it: if CW cannot achieve its purpose, cannot close its cases, it wants at least to bear the marks of its struggle.

 

CW lies on the floor, its vague limbs sprawling outwards, finally able to power down and get some rest before another busy day.               

THE END

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Adam Slavny is an associate professor at the University of Warwick in the UK, and writes about moral and legal philosophy. He is new to speculative fiction and his first stories are forthcoming in Aggregate, Whigmaleeries and Wives Tales, and Silver Blade Magazine.

Fiction by Adam Slavny:

"An Embarrassment of Riches" October 2020