Clive Iram stared blankly at the screen before him. He read the message repeatedly, varying the speed and emphasis, but nothing changed. A reaction had still not occurred. His normal anxiety was temporarily eased to allow additional processing in his brain - a brain which could not deal with the words being read. The curt and detached message was one he had seen before, only with a different company’s name slapped onto it. The message, marked urgent, read:
Dear Mr. Iram,
We regret to inform you that the position you currently hold at Man’s Valhalla is no longer deemed necessary for human labor. The position will be filled by a Human Imitation Machine effective immediately. It has been determined that your skill set is not needed elsewhere in the company, thus your complete termination is required. Please exit the building within the hour or security will escort you out. We value the time you have given to the company and sincerely apologize for this decision.
There wasn’t even a name to curse, only a damn department. Or maybe Internal Affairs was the name of a HIM. Either way, the impersonal speaker was not appreciated. Clive Iram’s temperature was rising. His fists began clenching and sweat was forming around his brow. He wanted to lash out in rage. He wanted to throw the computer out the window. But that would only prove a HIM necessary, prove that humans were inferior workers – especially illegally unmedicated humans such as himself. And if he were to show his anger – his rage – he would surely be required to undergo a state-sanctioned psychiatric analysis, where it would quickly be discovered he was not taking his emotional elevation levelers; eels.
Iram had been flushing his eels down the toilet every morning for the last five years. They didn’t feel right to him. They gave him a sense of detachment from the world which made it hard for him to care about other people, or much of anything, for that matter. He felt more like a HIM than a human. The fact that everyone in the country legally had to take their own personalized eel every morning made the whole idea that much worse to Iram. Some people probably did need the eels, he figured, but surely not everyone. How can a normal emotional state be strived for if nobody’s normal?
Worse yet was the propaganda the government used to justify the necessity of the eels. Iram was only a boy when the proposition went through 25 years ago, but the slogan used will always be burned into his memory, “eels – because we all deserve to live in a safe and structured world.” He hated how everyone was supposed to keep their emotions “appropriate for public,” he hated emotional extremes being a crime; he hated not being allowed to hate.
Sitting at his desk, Clive Iram could feel nothing but hate. He had given that damn company and that bastard Jim Galt everything he had - his heart and all.
He began putting his personal items into his briefcase – his lunch for the day, his wrist brace for carpal tunnel, a gyroscope. The gyroscope had been an engagement present from his fiancée, Lara. She told him the constant stability of the axis atop an uneven and trembling surface represented their constant love amidst a cruel and unfair world. Whenever he felt angry, Iram spun the gyroscope. Thinking about his fiancé’s words while watching the perpetual rotations would calm him down. She was the only stable part of his life.
Iram took the gyroscope back out and spun it on his desk for the last time. He grabbed a Post-it note from the drawer, wrote a message, and stuck it to the computer screen. The message read, “I was a man – I had dignity.” He grabbed the gyroscope before it fell, put it away, and briskly walked out of the office.
On his way out, the secretary wished him a good day. Iram gave his usual wave in reply. She was young; this was likely her first job. Or maybe she wasn’t so young - he had always suspected her to be a HIM. Companies didn’t have to specify which employees were androids. Most didn’t. The law said it would be unfair and discriminatory to publicly disclose personal information about personhood. Iram figured a job as simple as secretary couldn’t possibly still be wasted on a human. If Iram’s job as chief financial officer could be done by a HIM, a secretary must be doable as well.
Iram stopped, turned around, walked to the secretary’s desk, and said, “You know, I’ve been waving to you every morning and afternoon for the past three years, but I’ve never once stopped to talk to you. I don’t even know your name.”
“Oh,” she replied. She seemed timid, maybe even scared of him, “My name is Michelle.”
“Michelle? That’s a good name. My grandmother’s name was Michelle,” he paused, “Do you know my name?”
“Yes, yes I do. You’re Mr. Iram. You work, err, I mean, well, worked, in accounting,” she looked to her feet and continued, “Internal Affairs told me to call security if you caused a scene on your way out.”
“Is that so? Do you think I’m going to make a scene?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Iram. Like you said, we don’t know each other.”
Clive Iram stared into her eyes. She looked afraid. She must have known what desperate and devastated men could do – eels failed on occasion. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.
He kept eye contact with her. He wanted to ask her if she was a HIM. She had to be. There was no doubt in his mind. But what difference did it make? Either way he was obviously terrifying the poor girl. Even if she was a HIM, she had convinced him she could still feel terror, or fear, or something like that – or, at least, mimic it really damn well.
Iram left the building without another word.
He began walking home. He usually took a cab, but he was in no rush today. His apartment was only two miles away and the sun was shining. Iram thought about the sun. He didn’t see it very often. Sometimes he forgot the sun produced light – the city lights illuminated the streets as well as the sun ever had. The warmth on his neck was comforting. It was teasing him in the same place Lara would kiss him when he talked too much. She would kiss him and tell him to shut up and enjoy the birds singing. He would always reply, “What birds?” And with a grin, she would say, “Exactly, you need to listen!”
God, he thought, Lara’s going to be more devastated than I am - we already have so little money. He knew there was no way they could live on her wages alone. If she cried, he worried he might too. Iram began to text her the news. No, he would tell her in person. Texting her would be as bad as the message he had received. He told her to meet him at their favorite restaurant for lunch in two hours – it was Saturday, she wasn’t working.
Lara was an elementary school teacher. Her salary was not great, but the job security was worth it. HIMs had begun replacing some teachers at the high school and college level, though never at lower levels. They were extremely ineffective at teaching younger children. HIMs could endlessly carry out perfectly normal conversations with adults and never once be suspected. Yet, for some unknown reason, HIMs did not interact well with children. They wouldn’t completely expose their mechanicalness in these situations, more commonly they would simply act displeased. If anything, HIMs turned into grumpy old people when they were exposed to kids. The common theory was that the children’s speaking and acting confused the androids. Others claimed that since HIMs were born into the body of a fully grown adult, the concept of childhood was not relatable to them. Iram found this notion to be endearing. It humanized HIMs – he was just as clueless when it came to dealing with kids.
Clive Iram walked in the sun and thought about his life. He thought about HIMs. Were they really the great idea everyone had made them out to be? He couldn’t decide. The company that first started producing them, Future Ideas & Solutions Today (FIST), had originally made them look like metal people. There was no face – only sensors, no skin covering the mechanical innards, and no clothing to cover their naked bodies. Initially, they could only perform basic manual labor tasks and had a minimal sense of intelligence. Companies started buying them as a one-time payment for endless labor. HIMs began appearing everywhere. People complained that it was unpleasant working with the brainless metallic men. In reply to this public outcry, FIST used its newly amassed wealth to come out with a second version of the HIMs - a version that forever changed everyone’s way of life.
The new version was nearly indistinguishable from humans. They looked exactly the same. They acted exactly like humans – they had personalities. This all happened at about the same time that taking eels became required by law. The young Iram must have been about ten years old when it all happened. Iram couldn’t remember which came first, which seemed strange to him; he couldn’t put the two most important historical events to happen during his life into chronological order. He wondered if it was important which came first.
HIMs were legally the property of their owners. They were not employees, they were property. Leaving the confines of their job was illegal and destruction was the only sentence for “faulty” machines that chose to disobey this law. Despite the law, there were a growing number of HIMs escaping their work and blending into society – illegally posing as humans. This was a growing cause of unease among the general population. Little could be done about the problem, but people complained regardless. Iram had seen a headline the other day that read, “Is your neighbor a HIM? Five ways to identify rogue tools.”
People called HIMs tools as a way to degrade them. Iram had heard that before HIMs existed it was a term applied to humans meaning they were dumb or in some way not as smart as the speaker. People still called humans tools, but now it was a way of questioning their humanity and was regarded as rather vulgar. Calling HIMs a tool was fine, but calling a person a tool in your mother’s presence would get you a harsh scolding.
It was because of tools that he had lost all his previous jobs. He was 20 when he dropped out of college and got his first job at an automobile factory. Four years later, he and all his coworkers were replaced on the same day – 250 people out of work in the blink of an eye. With the introduction of HIMs, all assembly line jobs quickly became extinct. Iram didn’t mind this at the time; he used it as an excuse to go back and finish college. While in college, he started dating Lara and earned a master’s degree in accounting. He was proud of himself, and was thankful that HIMs had eliminated the need for low-level, senseless work. After graduating, Iram landed a job as an accountant for an eel production company called ClearVision. Because the use of eels was legally mandated, the companies that produced them were all wildly successful. Iram was paid well and worked with a team of about 20 other accountants. Doing math, organizing data, cooperating in a team setting, and increasing efficiency satisfied Iram; he enjoyed his work.
Shortly after turning 30, two years into his time at ClearVision, Iram was unexpectedly relieved of his position. He was told that all the accounting positions except two supervisors would be held by HIMs. When he tried to contest the termination, a human relations worker had told him the job “was not complex or fulfilling enough to be held by a human.” That night, Clive Iram cried in front of Lara for the first time.
The next two years had not been easy for Iram. He searched for accounting jobs everywhere he could. In desperation, he even began looking for manual labor jobs, but nobody hired humans anymore. It made sense: humans were more expensive, lazier, inconsistent, and all around more difficult to boss around. Iram couldn’t decide if HIMs didn’t belong in the world, or if it was really him who didn’t belong.
After six months of unemployment, Iram had to seek desperate measures to keep him and Lara living under a roof. The organ market had become regulated, which meant anyone could legally sell their organs to the highest bidder. This was a result of progress in artificial organs made by FIST. Now, any legal adult could sell whatever organ they pleased and have it replaced with a mechanical substitute quite cheaply. Those rich enough to purchase organs preferred real ones to the artificial ones – it was a sign of class, and the real ones tended to work better and last longer. Selling organs was common for the poor and middle class. Most of Iram’s friends had sold some part of themselves. During his two-year stretch of unemployment, Iram sold both of his kidneys, his pancreas, his prostate gland, and his heart. The money was barely enough to get by; the only remnants of it now were five large scars across his torso.
Rumor had it that many of the organs were being bought by androids. Apparently some rogue HIMs have been slowly replacing their mechanical parts with human organs. Gossip also suggested that organs were being bought by FIST to create androids out of human materials. Iram had even heard talk of humans being murdered for their bodies, or dead bodies being robbed of their organs. Hell, just the other day Iram had heard of a man found dead in an alley completely skinned. The thought of stealing and subsequently wearing another man’s skin made him shudder.
While selling his heart, Iram stumbled into lifesaving luck. The man buying his heart wanted to meet him prior to the operation; he had never received an organ and he claimed it would help ease his nerves. Iram didn’t mind, so the surgeons arranged for them to have a 10-minute conversation before they were administered the anesthetic. The man’s name was Jim Galt; he was the owner of an eel production company called Man’s Valhalla. He was slightly older than Iram and carried about a hundred pounds more in his midsection. His hair was slicked back and he looked out of place in a surgical gown.
They chatted briefly about Galt’s life as a businessman and Iram’s financial troubles. After nine minutes of this, Galt made an offer to Iram he stills remembers word for word,
“So, Mr. Iram, it seems to me like you’re at a tricky point in your life. Now, at my company, we employ 14 tools to do our accounting work. To make sure they don’t muck up something obvious and stay on task, they are all overseen by a human, our chief financial officer. Well, unfortunately, the man killed himself yesterday. Didn’t even give us two weeks notice. Bastard. Anyway, my point is that we need a new CFO, and if your brain is as good as I hope your heart is, then I want you to be my man. That is, if you think you’re still competent after two years off the books. What d’you say, kid?”
Iram accepted. One week later, he began working full-time as the CFO of Man’s Valhalla. The work was difficult, and time consuming, but he was grateful to be working again. When he got fed up with some of the more tedious aspects of the job, Iram would gently rub the raised, jagged, and discolored lines running across his chest, reminding him of what he escaped from. It encouraged him to continue working hard.
But that all changed when he received an urgent message from Internal Affairs.
Instead of wrapping up the week’s profit numbers, as he usually did on Saturday mornings, he was walking in the sun – walking to the apartment he would no longer be able to afford. Iram thought about what organ he might sell next and tried not to cry.
Walking in the sun, Iram thought about walking. He realized he walked every day, yet had no idea what he looked like doing so. From watching other people walk, he had a general idea of what it must be like, but he still didn’t know exactly what he looked like. Come to think of it, he couldn’t really figure how to walk. He simply willed his body to go from point A to point B and his legs did the rest. Iram wondered if androids had to think about walking to do so. Maybe they knew what they looked like walking; maybe they planned every step and every movement. He already had enough on his mind, how one could fit walking into the mix was beyond Iram.
He arrived at his apartment and went up to the third floor and entered the room. Lara had left a note, “Out buying groceries! See you soon! Love, Lara.” Trying to clear his mind, he sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. A strong stench filled his nostrils and disturbed his thoughts. Lifting his arm in the air, Iram got a whiff of himself and realized he had been nervously sweating. He jokingly muttered to himself, “One smell of these pits and anybody would know I’m off my eels.”
Iram stripped himself of his dirty suit. The mirror forced his mutilated chest into sight. He couldn’t help but stare and think about where the next scar might go. He hated his scars; he thought they made him look like a cadaver. Lara said she liked them and that they made him look manly. When they were in bed together, she would sometimes rub her finger up and down them and tell him how much she loved him for what he did. She would tear up and tell him that they could take his non-important gooey inside stuff, but they could never take his soul. He would tell her that was silly and there was no such thing as a soul, but she would insist they each had one and that she could feel the two souls were just as in love as they were.
The thought of a soul plagued Iram’s mind while he showered. He figured there had to be something in people that made them be nice to each other and fall in love and have sex. But was that a soul? In his high school biology class, the teacher had said niceness, love, and sex were all just evolutionary tools used by primitive ancestors for survival. Iram didn’t like this notion. He didn’t like thinking of love as a vestigial feeling. If it was really like that, could his desire for love be removed just as easily as the vestigial organs he had already sold? Would anyone buy it? Would a HIM buy it? If they knew how much he loved Lara, he figured they probably would.
Clive Iram finished his shower, dressed himself in casual clothes, and left his apartment. While he was inside, the sky had turned overcast and the sun no longer shone on him as he walked. This made Iram sad. He was about to become the cloudy sky blocking out Lara’s bright and sunny day. The walk to the restaurant was brief and Iram made it briefer by walking briskly.
He saw Lara waiting at a table outside for him. When they made eye contact she beamed at him. As he sat down, she grabbed his hand and said, “I love it when you get off early and take me to lunch, Clive.”
The joy and love she expelled onto him made him cringe. He looked down at the table silently.
“Oh no, Clive,” said Lara, “what happened?”
He played with his napkin for a moment before replying, “Well, work didn’t go so well today.”
“Is the company not doing well?” Lara asked.
“No, that’s not it, they’re doing great. All the goddamn eel makers are doing great – it’s impossible not to.”
“Then what is it?”
Before Iram could reply, a waiter appeared next to them and said, “Howdy folks, my name’s Billy and I’m here to serve you fine folk this afternoon. What can I get you two?”
“May I please have the chicken soup?” Lara asked.
“All righty, and for you sir?” Billy asked.
Iram stared at the waiter. His brain wasn’t processing what was happening. He had lost his job and would soon be losing more of his organs – maybe even his soul if he had one. How could his brain focus on a man wearing an apron with buttons on it?
“He’ll just take whatever the special is,” Lara finally said.
The waiter walked away and Lara snapped, “What was that, Clive? What the hell’s wrong?”
“I got replaced by a HIM today.”
“What? Did they demote you?”
“No. I was permanently terminated.” He paused, “I am unemployed.”
“Oh my God, oh Clive, oh Clive…”
Iram sat defeated looking into the eyes of his distraught fiancée. Maybe it would have been easier if the sun was out. Iram glanced up and realized it was likely to rain. He wanted to leave.
“Please don’t cry,” he said, “I might cry if you do.”
“W-w-what are w-we going to do?” Lara stammered.
“I don’t know, Lara. I’ll have to find another accounting job of some kind.”
“But w-w-what about until you f-find one?”
“You already know, Lara. Don’t make me answer that. I’ll do what all the other useless people do. Obviously I’m not good enough for human jobs, so I can only live on par with tools as a recycling bin of human pieces – no, a garbage bin.”
Tears slowly began to run down Lara’s face. She sniffled but didn’t talk. Iram hesitantly continued, “It’ll be okay. I’m good at selling – my body takes new organs well. Hell, remember how we heard on the news last night that liver prices are at an all-time high? I’ve still got that to sell. I’m sure that will help a lot.”
“Don’t call them tools,” Lara sniffled, “and don’t call yourself that either. You know I don’t like talk like that.”
“I’m just angry... I know. I’m sorry, Lara, you know I didn’t mean it.”
“It’s fine. We shouldn’t blame the poor HIMs you know though. They never asked to take anyone’s job. And they’re damn slaves,” she looked him in the eyes and leaned forward, “Being unemployed is better than being a slave because at least you still have freedom.”
“I suppose so.”
“No, listen to me, Clive. You may not have a job, but you will always have your freedom and you will always have me. Maybe one day all of your parts will have to be sold off and it will look like all that’s left of you is the shell of a HIM; but that won’t be true. Nobody can ever take your soul from you, Clive. The rest of you is just parts, just aesthetics – stuff I will never care about as long as I have you and your soul.”
He sat uneasy. She was right - in a sense. Having her was important to him, but so was having his body. If he became completely mechanized would his soul remain intact? Would that soul still love Lara? Would she still love it?
“Do you love me?”
“Why do you think I proposed to you?”
“But do you love me?”
“Of course I do, Lara. I love you more than anything.”
“Good,” she smiled, “because I love you. With that in mind, we’re going to get through this and be better for it in the end. Right?”
Iram let out a sort of half snort, half chuckle, “I suppose you’re right. And look, the sun is starting to come out. I’m rather fond of the sun. Have I ever told you that?”
“No,” Lara was fully beaming at him now, “I don’t think you have.
“Well, I am. In fact, I like it quite a lot. I want to walk around and feel it on my neck right now. Care to join me?”
“We haven’t even gotten our food yet!”
“Doesn’t matter. We could get up right now and leave. It’d be just like we used to do in college - dine and dash, that’s what we called it.”
“Yeah,” Lara grinned, “except we haven’t dined yet.”
“I guess we’re getting old,”
Iram stood up and extended his hand out to Lara.
The couple smiled at each other, held hands, and began walking. He felt the sun upon his neck and forearms. Clive Iram was happy. After walking a few blocks in silence, he turned to his fiancée and said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we do have souls or something.”
She kissed his neck and they continued to walk.
Iram closed his eyes and let the sun’s warmth serve as vision. He squeezed Lara’s hand and thought about how important she was. She was right about it all. Maybe not the soul stuff, but about them being fine as long as they were together. And, if they did have souls, all the better. They would be fine. Iram had plenty of organs and plenty of time left to spe-
Before he could open his eyes or finish his thought, Iram’s axis was violently thrown off balance and he felt Lara’s hand jerk away from his. He was in the air, then underground. No, on the ground – but he must have hit hard. Lying on the ground, he looked up and saw the sun spinning in circles. He heard screams. The sun blackened. No, his vision did. The sun kept spinning. People ran through his line of sight; the sun remained constant. This made him nauseous. Iram let his head fall to the side.
In his blurred vision, he saw a pile of metal. No, it was a motorcycle. A motorcycle with a man sprawled out next to it. The man was bleeding - a lot. Iram thought he was dreaming. He had never seen that much blood. Where was Lara? Attempts at standing were useless. All he could muster was a moan. He heard more screams. His face was wet. Someone was crying out for a doctor. A female face filled his vision. She was looking at him and yelling something he couldn’t hear. Someone pushed his back up and he was sitting.
The woman grabbed his shoulders and spoke slowly to him. This time he understood her. She was asking if he knew the woman. What woman? I know plenty of women, he replied. She said this one was also hit by the motorcycle. What motorcycle? I don’t ride a motorcycle, he replied. How could he? He would soon be selling his organs to pay rent. The woman talking to him left. He looked up. The sun had stopped spinning – now it was nauseating from the sheer brightness.
Reality clicked in his mind. There had been an accident. Something had hit him. He was in pain – a lot of pain. People were yelling something about tools. Where was Lara? He couldn’t see her. He tried to stand but couldn’t, something was wrong with his leg. It felt broken. He couldn’t tell, it hurt too badly. A man helped him stand and supported his weight. Iram managed to mumble, “What happened? Where’s Lara?”
“That the girl who got hit by the motorcycle with you?”
“Hit by a motorcycle?”
“Yeah, some people are saying he was driving all crazy-like, lost control, and hit you two. He looks pretty dead right now.”
The man didn’t say anything; he only helped Iram walk towards a large group of people. As they got close, Iram heard a woman yell, “Look at her arm! She’s a tool!”
Iram and the man went into the crowd and saw Lara lying on the ground. She seemed to be trying to crawl, but it was hard to tell. Her body was mangled worse than the motorcyclist’s and she was missing her entire left arm. Iram was in shock. He couldn’t process what was happening. Lara was an android. He had never had the slightest suspicion. She was a teacher. She was his lover. She had a soul. She was a person. She was dying.
Her lips began to slowly move.
“Let her speak,” Iram cried out, “Help her!”
His pleas were unheard.
A man yelled, “She was trying to be a person!”
“She’s a tool,” yelled another man, “a goddamn tool!”
The crowd began to close in on Lara – once sympathetic and worried, now spiteful and violent. Those on the outside of the crowd yelled vicious and awful words. Those on the inside ripped and tore Lara apart before Iram’s shattered eyes. Lara’s pieces were being thrown around and stomped on.
Clive Iram could do nothing to stop them.
In that moment, the hate that had built up inside Clive Iram’s body was all released in a single demand cried so loud and fierce the entire crowd fell silent at once. Clive Iram yelled, “Stop.”
Everyone was looking at him. He breathed heavily and deeply. He shook off the man supporting him – the pain in his leg was masked by adrenaline. With hate present in every word, Clive Iram cried, “What have you people done? That woman was my life, she held my soul. But now you have destroyed it. You have destroyed my soul. I was a man – I had dignity. Without that piece I am nothing. I am a human imitation machine. Now I must be destroyed.”
The crowd was silent. The faces stared blankly back at him. None of them quite understood what he meant. One man walked up to Iram and lightly pushed him to the ground. With a grimace, Iram stood again. The rest of the crowd slowly began to join. They started with shoving him to the ground and waiting for him to rise again. Then, they began kicking him on the ground and jumping on his chest. The event ended when one man blackened Clive Iram’s view of the sun out with a brick. The group had destroyed him so quickly and angrily that it was not until the end that they noticed what had been done. When the crowd dispersed and the aftermath could be seen, cries and screams poured into the city and echoed ominously. All that remained of Clive Iram was a pile of pieces – some artificial, most human.