“We have found the fountain of youth. Or, at least, the fountain of wires and circuits and chemicals that lets us go on forever.”
The daily “Choose Life” advertisement flashed across Ella’s Choicepiece. It was a clip from the time of the breakthrough: a description of the new technology, an interview with the electrochemical expert from Human Choice, a photo of the Annagenao machine herself. Next to her on a hospital bed, grinning, was a human. The first human who chose to live. His name was, or rather, is Gavin. He is living again today because the beautiful Anna did her impossible work: she raised him from the dead.
Ella smirked at the first Anna’s crude design. The beast was huge, electrodes exploding from every surface like coarse hair, dark liquids seeping in tiny tubes: lifeblood. Her distended belly was pregnant with knowledge: computers to monitor vitals, wires to carry currents from Anna’s electric heart to Gavin’s dead one, factories to churn out cell simulators. Everything needed for life. Gavin died, Anna whirred, Gavin lived. An interview with Gavin concluded the advertisement.
“ ‘How do I feel? Alive!’ (Laughs).”
After Gavin’s re-life, Human Choice ensured that each hospital was equipped with its very own Anna. She bedded down with the euthanasia drug kits in the Choice ward. New models of Anna compacted her, whittled her waist, softened her skin, gave her a head, arms, legs, eyes, hair. Of one’s own choice, of course. Dying was a deeply personal experience. Nothing was more comforting to a dying human than a custom-made Anna, who would lean over, smile, and whisper, “See you again soon, honey.”
The technology loped along, leaping over limitations which once had been “human”. With humanity’s new iron legs, these limitations were but molehills – being “only human” was no longer an excuse. Age and ugliness had been conquered long ago; one had only to choose “what kind of pretty” one wanted to be. Physical pain was a hurdle cleared with drugs, now chewable and in four different flavours. Human Choice: Pretty and Pain-free. The final obstacle was, of course, death. That too, humans summited with ease. Human Choice developed pre-mortem ingested treatments administered by Anna in the comfort of one’s own residence. Beginning at age twenty-three, Anna took humans’ cellular information and personalized an ingestible treatment, restoring every sinew to perfect health. Twenty-three was the new ninety plus; humans no longer had to die.
“‘Human Choice: it’s not a matter of life and death’, jokes Gavin. ‘Wait, actually it is!’” (Guffaws).
Human Choice: Choose your hair colour. Choose your car. Choose your identity. Choose your date and means of death. Now, choose life. Perfect.
Ella smiled. Tomorrow was her twenty-third birthday. It would be her first time with Anna; Anna would touch Ella with her gentle electrodes, observe Ella’s cellular information and draw from her own core the very elixir of life. Ella would drink it. She was told it tasted like one’s favourite food: summer raspberries, chocolate shake, honey lemon – did they have vanilla cream? They had better, she thought as she sipped her vanilla cream flavoured protein drink. I never would choose to eat anything else!
Her ChoicePiece buzzed: “Event: Latest Anna Model Launch. Status: Mandatory”. A thrill shivered in her core. This was the model she would use tomorrow. She had chosen a new model with ivory-skin and Circuit Green eyes. Eyes like life. She packed up her tool case, an unconscious daily effort – automatically syphoning Circuit Green and Electric Blue eye stamps into the square compartment, lip rouge capsules into the rectangular one – and snapped it shut.
Ella stood, feeling stronger than she had ever felt. She breathed deep, her rib cage like bands of iron, her legs like pillars of steel. She was at the cusp of immortality. This was what she chose. If only tomorrow would come!
She joined the stream of humans which poured out of the manufacturing facility. The mass marched, a bronze army. They followed the freshly-stamped arrows toward the stadium. It’s so nice they give us directions. I would never remember which way to go.
The silent army filed into its rows. Ella sat on her designated seat, C35, careful not to touch those around her. She was close enough that she could watch the real action rather than the image on the screens. A sculpted, bronzed man marched onto the stage toward the white-sheeted Anna. As he spoke of the new features, he began gesticulating, jerking, twitching, zapping the air with his copper fingertips.
“What is death but the halt of electrical currents in the brain? What is mortality but the failure of the neural synapse? My friends, life is the natural state. Centuries ago we were hurled forth from our ancestors into this world of wires and chemicals and ideas that they had conjured up from the earth. We hauled up these ideas, dragged these wires, poured these chemicals, continued humanity’s work. Age has dragged us down into the dust for the last time! We have waged war against the years, and we have conquered death!”
The right-angle jaw worked furiously around the words. Veins protruded on the broad metallic forehead. Nostrils flared, vacuuming oxygen. Life pulsated around this man, striking the crowd below like lightning, attracting the mass of silver eyes like a magnet. They looked upon him as one. Electric.
His voice lowered. Ella felt as if he was speaking directly to her. “To be human is to choose. Most of you have already chosen, and you have chosen well. Those of you who have not yet chosen, choose well. Choose life.”
A growl erupted from the seat beside her. Ella ignored it. Never force strangers into talking or making eye contact. Social interaction must be mutually agreed upon.
Another phlegmy utterance. Then, a low, ragged proclamation:
“Choose life. B.S.”
Without thinking, Ella whirled round: “Shhhh! They’ll hear y-”
She dropped the word in shock. She had never seen anything like it, a great lump of strange flesh. It was not shiny or smooth – it was dull and tough. Flesh poured out from the meagre rags it wore, bulging and creasing endlessly down the face and neck. The hands were covered in multitudinous wrinkles. Jagged white bolts of knotted hair shot out from the scalp. The mouth was a great smiling vortex in the face, lips stretched over empty gums. The eyes were watery but clear, greener than turf. Ridiculously Ella thought about how Anna’s Circuit Green hue on the eye color choice palette paled in comparison.
“Honey, they won’t hear me,” the thing chuckled hoarsely, chin flesh rippling, “They’re choosing not to.”
It swung its great head around and flung its jiggly arms wide to demonstrate the ignorance of the silent crowd. Ella bit her lip. But the creature was right. Others around them were staring ahead, their silver eyes fixed on Anna and the copper man.
“What are you?” Ella forgot herself.
It chortled again. “I’m Human, just like you. At least, I think you still are.”
“What do you mean?” Ella said. This thing wonders if I’m human?
It squinted, green eyes reaching deep into Ella’s. Its arm shot out and touched her on the hand. “Yup. They haven’t started with you yet. You’re lucky, girl. There’s still time.” It swivelled its vivid eyes once again into Ella’s face. “Phhh. Honey, relax. I’m just old, that’s all.”
“Old! But don’t you have an Anna?”
“I have one, because Human bloody Choice made it ‘mandatory’ for me to choose one. Never used it though.” The thing folded its arms.
Ella recoiled. “But… why?”
“I didn’t Choose Life. I chose to ignore their blasted advertisements. Good ol’ Anna,” it made a face, “is sittin’ under my bed. In a million tiny pieces. ‘Cept for the parts of it that I kept for makin’ other things.”
“You took Anna apart?”
“Oh sweetie. She’s mortal too you know! And don’t give me any of this Human Choice stuff. It’s all faker ‘n your perky bosoms, it is.”
“What do you mean?” Ella demanded.
“I mean, let’s see. What’d you have for breakfast this morning?”
“What? Oh, a vanilla protein shake.”
“What’d you have yesterday?”
“Vanilla protein shake.”
“Van- same thing.”
“Ahh… see, you’re catchin’ on, my girl! Beginning to sound a little… automatic, it was. Robotic. See? Got a lot of time on my hands, not makin’ myself pretty and workin’ in the factories and all. I’ve done a lot of reading books not allowed anymore. Oh, they’re not hidden too bad, ‘cause there’s no danger of any one of you twenty-three year olds lookin’ for ‘em! Bless your fleetin’ souls. Books that talk about the dyin’ days. Before Gavin. They used to have food, you know. Not just flavors. Food. Real summer raspberries, real chocolate, real vanilla beans! Mmmmm-mmmm! See, Human Choice makes you think you’re choosin’ something real good. But it’s really just a fake. Humans were never meant to choose that stuff.”
“But with Human Choice we are invincible! With Anna, we have the power to make the most important human choice of all: to choose life!” Ella quoted bits of Human Choice ad.
“Ah, hun.” The crevassed cheeks bunched in a sad half-smile. “Anna doesn’t give you life. I’ve figured that much out. Shoot, Anna patients walk around, they talk, they eat and they work. But they don’t live.”
“What is life but walking, talking, eating, working? Electricity? Pretty and pain free?”
Tears filled the great green eyes. The beast dragged the back of its gnarled fingers under its wet nose. Ella watched, disgusted. What is it doing? Is it in pain? It doesn’t look very pretty and pain-free to me.
“Sorry, dear. It’s just that this thing you folks call life, this stuff that you drink every day – Phoo. I came here today to show somethin’ to you. To all of you. Can’t do it in words, though. You don’t see it. I knew you wouldn’t.” The thing paused. “Watch this.”
It reached under the seat and pulled something out. Down below, the copper man stared, silver eyes fixed on the enraptured crowd. He jerked out of his stupor and loped greedily toward the shrouded Anna. Gripping the sheet in his clawed fingers, he said, “Behold, Human Choice’s newest model!”
Before he tore it away, there was a sharp crack. The bronze man froze, stunned and shining. Then he fell to the ground with a clang.
Not a breath was drawn. All leaned forward. This was another demonstration, perhaps. Anna would come to the rescue from under her white cape, administer her healing powers, give life to the fallen man. But he remained, his face visible on the big screen. Eyes fixed and blank, a gaping, bloodless hole in the middle of his forehead.
There was movement. The skin rippled and shimmered. Bronze began melting from the face, dripping through the eye sockets and between the silver teeth. A great pool formed beneath the head. Liquid silver slipped off the bones, curling into the copper lake. Soon, all that remained was glistening bits of bone and halves of teeth.
“Do you see?”
“He wasn’t completely overtaken.” The wrinkled old woman rubbed the flesh-coloured surface of the crude weapon. “The bits layin’ there are the only human bits left. Bones are the last to go. By now though, it’s got no thinking; the brain’s solid gold. Excellent conductor. Look. Now the little suckers are headin’ back to mama, back to the vanilla cream.”
The pools began flowing toward the shrouded Anna. They disappeared under the sheet.
“They’ve been disturbed. They’ve got to reset with the new trauma information, repair the hole. Bots. Cells. Whichever you prefer. That’s the real Human Choice.” She finished polishing her treasure. A copper A shone brightly from the handle. “Whether to be human at all.”
Ella and the other young humans watched, soft brains racing, as the metallic pools, now rife with Anna’s knowledge, seeped out from their refuge. The metal bots slid toward the bones, filling their invisible human-shaped vessel once again, clicking into their cellular locations. Once solid, the thing twitched, folded, and rose, naked and gleaming.
“Choose life,” it said ridiculously.
Hannah Senft is unsure of how to identify herself at this particular moment: Is she primarily a student? An aspiring… something? A human being living life in Grande Prairie, Alberta? Something she does know is that she is currently in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts program at GPRC, and engaging in a fierce internal debate about what to do in the future. One possibility is writing; she very much enjoyed crafting – or was it discovering? – her first short story, “The Real Human Choice.”