THE YEAR WAS 2082, and not only was everybody finally equal, everybody was also corporate. They didn’t only work for the corporations or simply purchase the products that the corporations made. They actually became corporate. Nobody did anything without facilitation by this corporation or that. In addition to the facilitation, nobody did anything without a corporation tracking whatever it was they did. And, ultimately, nobody did anything without the approval of a corporation.
Becoming corporate wasn’t just an expression; it wasn’t just the turn of a phrase. Every American, in 2082, actually had a corporate arm — called an ARM-O-MATIC — installed in their body. The installation happened, by law, at age fifteen; their human arm was replaced with a bionic mechanism that physically resembled the old arm but was infused with all sorts of corporate technological functionality. Representatives of the corporations wanted to do it earlier — age nine, they said — but, fifteen was the requirement in the old law and it hadn’t been changed yet, despite lobbying efforts.
It may be hard to believe, as if the process of installing a robotic, corporate arm would be too costly (and it was quite expensive) or complicated — but the corporations gladly subsidized its manufacture and installation, as well as the removal and disposal of the old arm. They had the process down pat. They simply sawed off the old arm just below the elbow and immediately adhered an ARM-O-MATIC where the old arm had been. It only took a minute, and the technology caused the bionic arm to bind permanently and instantly. A numbing agent was included in the end of the ARM-O-MATIC, so the pain subsided almost immediately upon attachment. The ARM-O-MATIC worked instantly, and it was easy to use.
The entire arm-replacement process was paid for by a handful of corporations and the government. The money for the arm came from the world’s online retailer, the world’s search engine, the world’s distributor and purveyor of ‘social’ media content, the world’s 9G cellular communications company, the world’s pharmaceutical company, and the world’s central bank — plus a couple of corporations that remained anonymous. They were happy to fund the operation. In exchange, they received a life-long customer and reams of data.
The government of the United States of America contributed some fiat money (by adding a line item to their debt balance) to the operation as well. For their contribution, they received all the information gathered by the electronic arm (communications, purchases, location data, biometric data, etc.). They also gained access, through a back-door left open by the manufacturer, to the sensory input and output features of the ARM-O-MATIC.
Business was streamlined in this manner. Everything — EVERYTHING — that made up daily life in 2082 was routed through the ARM-O-MATIC. It managed communication and digital posting (by controlling the screen to a connected device), it managed payments (with a unique frequency it projected, allowing the arm-holder to charge purchases to their account) and everything else, even the administering of mandatory opioids and weekly flu-shots.
Punishments, those were handled by the government. If someone said the wrong thing (for example, in the form of anti-government speech, an unorthodox or un-woke opinion, or the use of ‘bad slang’), a shock-current would run through the ARM-O-MATIC to the rest of the body. The severity of the shock depended on what exactly was said or done, and the current could be anything from a slight nuisance to a giant shock-wave that would knock the person out of commission for hours, sometimes even days. And so, in this way, everyone came to be uniform — equal and corporate — and, to avoid punishment, they all purchased only approved products while communicating in the right way, using the correct woke terms.
And they were uniform. Everyone had the arm, everyone did the same things. Until one day, in early spring, when Christopher Ramsey turned fifteen. He didn’t show up to school on his birthday, the day that he was scheduled to get his ARM-O-MATIC installed.
His classmates noticed, of course, that Christopher Ramsey did not turn up at school that day — but they didn’t think anything of it. They didn’t know it was his fifteenth birthday and, besides, they were streaming the day’s lesson, another in-depth look at the life of Harriet Tubman and her role in overcoming the evils of cotton-plantation African slavery. Christopher’s parents, similarly, noticed that he didn’t come home that afternoon. But neither Steve nor Cynthia Ramsey thought much of it because they were busy consuming digital content streamed from their ARM-O-MATIC onto its companion receiver-screen, as they did every night.
The team of three had arrived at Queen Harriet Tubman High School in the town of Petaluma, located in Sonoma County, California to requisition Christopher’s natural arm and replace it with an ARM-O-MATIC. The government representative (a tall, thin man with bad breath and an exaggerated under-bite), the corporate representative (a squat man with a huge forehead and a receding chin), and the installation technician (a heavy-set man who dressed up as a woman) stormed through the hallways, looking for Christopher Ramsey. They were flummoxed when they learned that Christopher was not in his second period Woke Vocabulary class. An absence on a fifteenth birthday? This had never happened!
“Where is he?” the government representative asked the installment technician with the bottom half of his jaw thrust out like a rutting pig.
“I don’t know, but he’s not here,” replied the installation technician as he adjusted his balls under his dress to remedy a misplacement.
“Can we get a history on his location somehow? Let’s get a trace on his smart-phone,” said the corporate representative as he pulled a marshmallow from his pocket and popped it into his mouth.
“Let me check,” replied the government representative, using his ARM-O-MATIC to search the government surveillance records in real time. The results were delivered to him in a trilli-second, thanks to the 9G Network in operation. After a moment, he continued, “Christopher Ramsey doesn’t have a smart-phone.”
“What? I’ve never heard of anyone without a smart-phone… that’s ridiculous,” stated the corporate representative, incredulous.
The three men had never imagined a situation like this. Combined, they had been participating in ARM-O-MATIC installations for over fifty years. Every single one of them had proceeded as scheduled. Well over a million arms, removed and installed — by that team alone.
“What do we do?” asked the installment technician.
“I’m asking headquarters,” said the corporate representative. He paused for a moment. “Okay, the central office just replied that we are to return to QHT tomorrow morning. In the meantime, they are sending out a bulletin the the entire area asking them to report Christopher Ramsey, should he be seen. They asked us to visit the boy’s parents now, just to make sure he isn’t hiding at home. This is most extraordinary!”
“It is, indeed,” said the government representative, chewing on his tongue.
The three men departed from the school and went to the Ramsey residence. When they arrived, the government man used his ARM-O-MATIC to generate an authorization code that allowed him to automatically open the Ramseys’ door. After letting themselves in, the men walked over to the living area, where Steve and Cynthia Ramsey were sitting on the couch drinking soda, eating baked crickets and watching content streaming from their ARM-O-MATICS to hand-held screens.
Steve was watching this week’s formal government commemoration and remembrance of the Holocaust.
Cynthia was watching a video about the American period of cotton-production-slavery — she had a test later and wanted to be sure she answered everything correctly to avoid a shock.
“Have you seen your son Christopher?” asked the government representative.
“Huh?” said Steve. “Of course I have.” He kept staring at his screen. “This guy says the Nazis turned his great-grandpa into a lampshade. Can you believe that? How sad!”
“Never-mind the video. They stream those every week, just watch the next one. And I mean recently. Like today. Have you seen your son today? He didn’t show up to school.”
“You’re here because a high school kid played hooky?” said Steve. He received a small shock from his ARM-O-MATIC, presumably for using sarcasm in the presence of a government employee. “Ow!” he said, resolving to shut the fuck up from then on, at least as much as possible.
“It wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was his day to get his ARM-O-MATIC. It’s his fifteenth birthday,” said the corporate representative.
“Yup,” said Steve. “Wait — it’s his birthday?” Steve stayed focused on the video.
“Never-mind the video, you have all day to watch that,” said the government representative. “Have you seen Christopher Ramsey today?”
Steve looked up from his screen, dull-eyed. He said, “I have not.” He ate a cricket.
Cynthia simply shook her head no, and kept staring at the screen and wallowing in sadness over the awful conditions on the cotton plantations depicted in the government video.
“There is a bulletin that just came out from central. Please check it and comply.”
Steve popped another cricket into his mouth and then pressed a digital button on his ARM-O-MATIC receiver. The bulletin loaded instantly onto his screen with a ‘breeep’ sound.
WANTED: CHRISTOPER RAMSEY, FOR NON-COMPLIANCE
FIFTEEN YEARS OLD, TALL AND WIRY, BROWN HAIR, GREEN EYES
CONSIDERED DANGEROUS, NOTIFY CENTRAL IMMEDIATELY IF SEEN
EXTRA CRICKETS FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO ARREST
The bulletin also included a picture of Christopher Ramsey. In the picture, he smiled confidently and his bright green eyes sparkled under his shaggy brown hair.
Steve made a mental note to notify central if he saw his son Christopher. And that was it; he went back to watching his weekly Holocaust commemoration while crunching more crickets and drinking soda to help slosh the bugs down his throat.
The men left the house.
The next day, the same men showed up at Queen Harriet Tubman High School at nine a.m. The installation technician cradled Christopher Ramsey’s ARM-O-MATIC in his right arm, pressing it against the sleeve of his dress as if it were an infant. They searched the entire school; Christopher was nowhere to be found, once again.
Similar reports were made to central as had been made the day before — they couldn’t find Christopher Ramsey anywhere. The men awaited their instructions from their superiors at central.
“I received word,” said the government representative, “we are to question the administration of the school.”
The men walked to the administrative office.
“Do you have any indication as to the whereabouts of Christopher Ramsey?” the government representative asked the Principal of the school.
“I do not. I am sorry, I would be happy to report him if I knew where he was,” said the Principal with a sincere and dutiful look on his pocked, mousy face.
“Thank you for your service, good sir. It is appreciated by me and everyone at central. I’d be happy to put in a recommendation for you to receive more crickets each month if you feel like your protein ration is insufficient.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” said the Principal. “Name’s Henry Pacheco. Paw-chey-ko. My cricket balance is pretty high right now but I’d love to stockpile some more… you know, for a rainy day or a party or something.”
“I’ll send the recommendation in now,” said the government representative, fiddling with his receiver. “Before we go… is there anything… anything at all… you can tell us that might help us locate Christopher Ramsey?”
The Principal rubbed his chin with the hand of his ARM-O-MATIC, seemingly taking a moment to think.
Then he responded, saying, “The only thing I can think of is… Christopher Ramsey was always hanging around with Matilda Monroe. She’s in his grade, but hasn’t turned fifteen yet. I believe she’s due for her installation next month. Maybe you should check with Matilda?”
“What room is she in?”
“Let me see here…” said the principal, looking at the class list. “She’s in Evolutionary Dance Theory. I think they are still on their twerking unit — so they would be in the gym.” He pointed in the direction they should walk.
“We’ll go check it out. Thank you. Enjoy your extra crickets, Henry.”
The men walked purposefully toward the gym. They entered and the installation technician yelled “STOP!” at the top of his lungs. The dance instructor, a man dressed as a woman, who, ironically, was wearing the same color and style of dress as the installation technician, raised his ARM-O-MATIC in the air, stopping the music with a snap of his fingers. The class froze, staying in their bent-over position, ready to twerk their asses off if the dance instructor snapped again to restart the music. The installation technician locked eyes with the dance instructor and licked his lips.
“We are looking for Matilda Monroe,” said the wet-lipped technician in his huskiest voice.
The instructor looked around the class. After he had scanned all the students, a confused look came over his face. He flipped his hair back with a jerk of his neck and then guided the wayward strands behind his ear with the thumb of his ARM-O-MATIC.
“Matilda’s not here. I didn’t notice before you asked. She’s absent today.”
The three men from the ARM-O-MATIC team looked at each other for a moment then walked out of the gym.
Christopher Ramsey and Matilda Monroe had spent most of the morning hiding in an abandoned warehouse out on Beacon Street. Then, they started walking, with Christopher leading the way. Matilda was uncertain as to where they were going.
“Do you want to come with me or not, Tillie?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. Errr, I mean… where, though?” answered Matilda.
“North. To the ice. Out of this place.”
There was a pause in the conversation.
“I can’t believe you did it, Christopher. I can’t believe you didn’t let them have your arm.”
“Why? It’s mine.”
“Everyone gets the ARM-O-MATIC at fifteen. What’s so bad about it? It’s super convenient. You can pay for everything and get all your entertainment streamed through your arm. They send you videos, music, anything you could want. You can talk to other arms and it uploads your digital content. It only hurts for a few minutes.”
“I’m not doing that. I like my arm how it is. I don’t care what they say, I’m not doing it.”
“I like your arm too. But… I still can’t believe it.”
“I have to get out of here. If they catch me, I’ll get that arm but that’s not all I’ll get. They’ll probably kill me.”
“Why would they do that? Weren’t they training you to make coffee drinks? They need baristas at central,” said Matilda.
“Listen. I’m not getting the stupid automatic arm or whatever they call it. I’d rather be dead. Are you coming with me or not?”
“You never brought this up before. We hang out all the time and you never mentioned not taking the arm, or leaving. Now you have no arm and you want me to leave with you… all of a sudden… with nothing?”
“It’s not safe to bring it up. They listen to everything. Even before you get the damn arm. The only reason we can talk out here is because neither of us have arms or smart-phones. We better hope they’re not scanning us with satellite surveillance,” said Christopher, hurriedly.
“How are you going to eat? They’ll supply you with crickets and soda if you work the coffee job… it’s not Camelot, but it’s what everybody does. Maybe someday you’ll make manager.”
“I can fend for myself. You’re a fourteen-year-old girl, Tillie. I’m not asking you to understand everything. I’m asking you if you’re coming with me or not.”
“Pfft… Whatever! You’re only fifteen! And yesterday!” exclaimed Matilda.
“Yes, but I’m different. I’ve read things… things that the government and the corporations don’t allow people to read anymore. Old books.”
“Old books?” asked Matilda. “That’s punishable by death. Where did you find them?”
“You know that old run-down building off of fifth street? It flew under the radar… I think they were putting books there to destroy but they never got around to it. They forgot the books were there. I read them all. Been reading them since I was ten.”
“Yes. I bet you didn’t know there was more to history than the Holocaust and slavery, did you?”
“There is? Like what?” Matilda replied to Christopher’s question with a question; his suspicion was confirmed.
“See what I mean?” said Christopher.
“That’s okay. You had no reason to know, you’ve only been taught about slavery and the Holocaust. There’s other stuff out there, and it’s magnificent.”
There was a pause.
“I… I didn’t know there was anything else.”
“Well, there is. There’s all sorts of other stuff to learn about. Not in America, though. Not anymore. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“I don’t know. It’s just how things are, Christopher.”
“It’s not the way things need to be. I know that things can be different — they’ve been different before. This isn’t normal, Matilda. I’m not asking you to understand, yet. You either trust me or you don’t.”
“I trust you, Christopher…” said Matilda.
“Good. Then get in the plane,” said Christopher, gesturing to a rickety-looking small aircraft that was sitting in the middle of the abandoned airfield.
“Does that thing even fly? Where did you get it?”
“I found it, abandoned, three years ago. I was able to figure out that it just needed a new carburetor and it would fly again. I tracked one down, don’t ask me how. I stole fuel from the government planes, every night for the last two years, I would siphon a little bit into my tank. Enough to fly every few weeks. Taught myself to fly it, I’ve been out more than fifty times, up and down the coast. We have a full tank now, but we’ll have to land in a few hours and figure out how to steal more fuel. Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”
“Oh my, Christopher.”
“Just trust me. We’ve got to get out of here. We’re going north, to the ice. We’re going to have a cattle farm. I ain’t eating damn crickets for my whole life. Everything will work out. We just have to get away from this place. It’s evil here.”
“I trust you… but I can’t go with you. I can’t just leave everything behind. I mean, how can I?”
Christopher didn’t say anything in response. He stared at Matilda, steely-eyed.
“Then it’s good-bye, Tillie. Do me a favor. Don’t tell the government any of this. Do that for me. I like my arm how it is.”
A single tear rolled down Matilda’s cheek. Then one more. Her face was a picture of intense sadness. Her shoulders slumped. Christopher turned and walked toward his plane without looking back. He started to climb into the cockpit of the two-seater. Matilda stood, frozen, until he had reached the plane.
“Wait! Christopher! I’m coming with you!” yelled Matilda as she broke into a run toward Christopher Ramsey.
Christopher hadn’t yet gotten all the way into the cockpit of the plane. He jumped down, smiling, and, as Matilda reached him he grabbed her in an embrace, lifting her entire body off the ground. They kissed for two minutes straight.
“Climb in. We’ve got to get out of here. They’re looking for me. And, if they went to the school again like I figure they did… they’re probably looking for you too.”
Christopher fired up the engine on the little plane. It hummed and whirred. As he had many times before, he accelerated his way up the old runway and took off.
“If we stay low, those creeps from central can’t track us with their drones because of the microwaves from the 9G network. And, planes are illegal for anyone other than the corporations and the government; they don’t think anybody has one. They won’t even know to look for us.”
“We’ve got to do one thing before we get out of here,” said Christopher, steering the plane to the east. “When we get over the high school, press that button.”
Matilda looked where Christopher indicated and, peeking over at Christopher, said, “What does it do?”
Soon, he had set the flight path toward the high school and as they approached it, Christopher exclaimed, “Now!”
Matilda pushed the button and a little gizmo that Christopher had rigged up sawed through a piece of twine, causing a large banner to unfurl behind the plane.
“DO NOT COMPLY!” was printed on the banner.
The government man was the first to see the plane and the banner. Realizing it was Christopher Ramsey, flying free, he gnashed his teeth, unevenly, and sent a message to central, hoping that they could locate the plane and knock it down with a drone. The corporate man saw it next and could only shake his head. The installation technician read the words as well, then he scratched his balls which had been burning under his skirt all morning (presumably from his liaison with the dance instructor, which shall not be described here).
The next to see the banner were a couple of students, Timmy Paine and John Washington who were walking from their period 3 ‘Holocaust Commemoration’ to Period 4 ‘Slavery Studies’.
“Do not comply,” said Timmy out loud, but in a hushed tone.
“Sounds about right,” added John, nodding slightly.
“Remember what we talked about… Remember the plan.” Both Timmy and John were fourteen years old. They looked at each other knowingly; the thing that was left unspoken… for their safety… it meant everything.