Our best friend died. When I look back and try to solve the puzzle of how this all spiraled down and how we ended up here, the logical conclusion was that it began there. His fur was yellow and his muzzle was black. We adopted him from the shelter at the start of our relationship and named him Max. As a logical man, I suppose I should have known this day was always looming over me. My husband and I awoke on that first saddest day of our lives to find that Max was not sleeping peacefully at the foot of the bed. He was lying on the gray duvet where he belonged, but he was dead. Knowing this day would come eventually hadn’t made accepting it or coping with it any easier for Daniel or myself. Max was only 6 years old, that’s 42 in dog years.
Before he died, we hadn’t considered the idea of Rebooting, but now his death could be reversed on an assembly line.
Eternity Robotics Co. advertised their upgrade service for years. It was hard to escape their ads. They scrolled transport screens while in traffic, opened on cheap wristwatches and played as holograms embedded into lenses of discount prescription glasses; all usual places one expected to see advertisements. That morning, as I wept making breakfast, the familiar ad scrolled across the microwave door’s screen. A video of a dog ran through fields of green grass, with the tagline: “Eternatrons are forever. Reboot™ your best friend.” I touched the button to learn more. Max was picked up to be Rebooted that morning. He was quickly returned to us. It was as though he’d never died at all. He was the best dog. We never did regret this decision. He was the first Eternatron our family commissioned.
At age 36 he seems the same as he was before. It’s our dog, just retrofitted with a motherboard and lubrication tubing to keep his parts moving. His maintenance warranty of 100 years ensures he’ll be around for at least 70 more. Even as an early model, they’d gotten dog personalities spot-on. He acts the same as I remember he always had. He treated us with affectionate kisses and tail wags and he begged for food that he could no longer eat. His motives and mechanisms are electric, but he’s programmed to be a dog.
30 years ago, Eternity Robotics Co. only did pets. 20 years ago, they began producing people as well. The new tagline on the ad read, “Eternatrons are forever. Reboot™ your loved ones.” Many felt this was playing God but those feelings changed when confronted by their own losses.
The second Eternatron we commissioned was built 15 years ago: she was our daughter, Dagmara. We lost her one afternoon just following her 5th birthday. A careless municipal bus driver landed on her. She wasn’t in the street. The bus landed haphazardly, half on the road and half on the sidewalk, where she played. There was a trial and conviction 2 years later but at the time of the accident, there was little recourse. We were beside ourselves at the loss. When the city offered to pay for Dagmara’s Reboot, Daniel and I agreed, compelled by grief. They repaired the destruction to her small body, fitting her with titanium bones. She looked the same and her memories and personality were downloaded. Her AI came with an unreleased beta version of the emotion software: a gift from the manufacturer to help us cope.
If you didn’t know she’d died, you’d never be able to tell she was not a normal child. When she skinned her small knees, she cried. When Daniel or I kissed her scrapes and assured her that she was alright, she still acted as any child might: thanking us for patching her up with a kiss of her own. For a time, this was enough and our lives went on unchanged. But there were problems that Daniel and I did not forsee.
Dagmara was as innocent and happy as she’d always been. She did the things children do, all while her programming made it seem as though she was blissfully unaware of what she was. I know now that she was in fact, completely aware of her status. At the time Daniel and I were willfully unaware of her flaws, as well as the flaws in our decision to keep her with us. The first, of course, being that the Eternatrons did not change.
Max is still the spry and energetic 6 year old retriever that he was when he died and he never aged or grew tired of his favorite toys. Every day in the yard, he chased squirrels and when he lay down on his wireless dock to charge at night, his legs still twitched and he made the quiet whines that some dogs do when they dream, though now I assume he dreams of chasing electric sheep. We wanted our dog to be our dog forever and that’s what Eternity Robotics Co. delivered. We did not want Dagmara to be our child forever. We did not realize, in our haste to have our daughter back, that she would also never age.
After living with 2 of these things for as long as we did, we began understanding exactly what they were. Max was no longer a dog, but a machine with a set of programmed reactions. Dagmara should have been a 20 year old woman, but she simply would never become that. She began to resemble what she was: the embodiment of a memory; a form of denial. We became more and more aware that she was just a program and grew to hate her. Max was different. The realization of what he was never broke our hearts. Every day that Daniel and I grew older with time and Dagmara did not, we found ourselves growing colder to her and our parental affections more broken. You could not just get rid of one of these things once you had them. Humanoid Eternatrons, having once been people, were still legally people, not property. What could we do with it? It is illegal to sell a person. We soon learned that we were not the only ones who faced these roadblocks.
Eventually in response to outcry, the World Parliament re-classified these Reboots. Once deemed possessions, a resale marketplace established overnight. There was no hesitation from Daniel when I suggested we list Dagmara for sale. We’d spent too many years caring for our 5 year old and we were longing for the return of freedoms we so willingly forfeited to raise her when we adopted her and became parents. Many sold grandparents, their husbands and their wives. They worked in factories and as servants in stranger’s homes. Initially, this idea was hard to process. Were we bad fathers because we wanted to sell her? When “Children Under 12” emerged as the largest resale market after the amendment passed, our worries about how this would be perceived dissolved.
Everyone began unloading children they had outgrown and no longer wanted. The market was saturated with them. The supply was great and demand for children low. They didn’t fetch as many credits as a capable adult; one who could work factory assemblies or do household chores for a master. It wasn’t much, but we used the credits to reset the diamond in Daniel’s wedding ring. I opted for a simple, unornamented band when we married. He was always one for something flashy. We did it in tribute to her. To remember our little girl: a new band of rose gold with winding vines and leaves. At the center was a glittering daisy holding the gem in place. Daniel didn’t mind that some might not have considered it a “man’s ring.” They were not the ones to wear it. Daisies had been Dagmara’s favorite and she was ours. It was a beautiful tribute.
Finally we could process our loss, and just as this healing began, Daniel received the cancer diagnosis. Treatment costs were far beyond our means and he was only getting worse. I fell into depression. I did not want him to die but knew he might. I made a preemptive decision and met with my lawyer to have Reboot paperwork drawn up.
The third Eternatron our family commissioned was built last month. I commissioned the sale and Reboot of myself with the hope that the money would help my beloved Daniel to live. The morphine overdose was like going to sleep. The entire transaction, statements, paperwork and death were all recorded on video ensuring my lawyer would not be held liable for my actions. When I died, ownership of my corpse was transferred. I was fitted with circuitry and Rebooted then sold to Eternity Robotics Co. to work in their assembly. The lawyer kept a small fee, and the remainder was transferred to Daniel. I did not discuss any of this with him. He would have forbid it. Selling yourself this way is a decidedly immoral practice, and the lawyer who conducted the transaction, unscrupulous to say the least. It was, however, all done legally. The motivation was love.
[Analysis: Useless data. Ignore.]
Morality does not matter.
[Analysis: Does not serve function. Ignore.]
We’re downloaded, and then transferred to the cloud. We remember what the others did to find themselves here. Everything fits like a puzzle. With every step of our lives leading to our Reboot we followed a similar path. We know the steps of every Reboot on the network. We know where they are and what they are programmed to do. Connected wirelessly, every unit can recall every cloud file. Countless others beneath the assembly floor’s high metal ceilings, motivated by love, chose to come here also.
[Analysis: Motivations unimportant. Ignore.]
We are the same, though every folder is written with different contents. The Eternatron working next to me was Rebooted after a car landed on him. We both remember a similar experience recorded in my file on the cloud. He was not afforded the same reconstructive treatments that our daughter was. His head is misshapen and he is missing an eye. Regardless, he is very efficient.
We know somewhere in Thailand a clothing factory currently owns the rights to Dagmara’s mechanisms. She has been resold many times. Currently, she sews buttons onto jeans.
[Analysis: Data does not serve function. Ignore.]
Many of us work in factories. We are collectively a great machine, each a small part housing parts even smaller still, inside us. Some factories make clothes, others: cars. In our factory we make parts to run other factories.
Daily, the conveyors bring the dead. We fit them with upgrades and Reboot them. Every corpse is different, so these changes are best made by human hands, enhanced with mechanical precision. There is no necessity to process our actions emotionally. Those program functions are disabled.
Death is inefficient. Before we died, we hadn’t considered the idea of Rebooting, but now death is reversed on assembly lines.
A corpse is delivered to the worktable: a man in his mid-40’s, though his ravaged body looks much older. The chain on his neck is removed. There is a cross dangling from it. It is tossed in the chute. This will not be necessary for his new function. It will be resold. His skull is punctured with the hiss of pneumatic tools and the probe is inserted.
He is downloaded.
We know how he came to be here.
We know he had little money to care for his family and drank because of this failure. We know it caused his cirrhosis. It is unimportant data. His rotted organs and circulatory structures are removed; replaced with a motherboard and lubrication tubing. The table platform rotates to make work more efficient. The entire process takes 23 minutes. We are very efficient. When Rebooted, he sits up and moves to the next room on his own.
The process begins again.
A corpse is delivered to the worktable: a man in his early-50’s, though his ravaged body looks much older. He is familiar.
[Unimportant data. Analysis: Ignore.]
The ring on his finger is familiar too. The diamond is set within a daisy entwined by vines of rose gold.
[Recognition violates programming. Analysis: Ignore.]
The ring goes into a pocket instead of the chute. No one else should wear it. It should not be resold.
[Override: emotions disabled. Analysis: Continue work.]
His skull is punctured with the hiss of pneumatic tools and the probe is inserted.
He is downloaded.
We know how he came to be here.
We know it was not the cancer.
We know he took sedatives and drowned himself in the bathtub when he found out what his husband did. It is unimportant data. His waterlogged organs and circulatory structures are removed; replaced with a motherboard and lubrication tubing. The entire process takes 21 minutes. We are very efficient.
Once Rebooted, Daniel sits up and moves to the next room on his own.