Get a Life
Buy today and get a free Care Kit! Lead, collar and brush included. Feels like real fur! FunPet. Your lifelong companion.
Not for the first time, James wished he could turn off the telescreens. That was the worst thing about these electric cars –
FunPet. A friend that never ages, never gets sick. FunPet doesn’t smell bad or chew your slippers. FunPet won’t bark unless programmed to do so.
The constant, unavoidable adverts. You couldn’t even see through the windows – each one was replaced with a screen. The effect was entirely disconcerting.
It wasn’t the first time James had been in an electric car, of course. On business trips out-of-town it was the only choice, these days. In his home in the city, he used the TranSys like everyone else. There were adverts there too, different ones each commute. You used to be able to block them out with headphones. Now, every song on your personal PlayIt was preceded by at least three commercials.
Some people got their PlayIts hacked to remove the adverts, but that was risky. If you were caught, it was a mandatory prison sentence of at least 15 years. James saw someone taken away once, a commuter hauled off the TranSys in front of everyone. They confiscated his PlayIt first, then dragged him along the platform. The Trans was moving away already, and people averted their eyes. Why would you want to see that?
The car slowed down, and James wondered what was happening outside. Perhaps there was a junction ahead, or a cat crossing the road. He’d heard about cats, but never seen one in the city. Real pets were banned in the city.
FunPet is loyal. FunPet can be programmed to guard your house. FunPet can be programmed to give genuine affection. FunPet – your best friend.
The FunPet advert had been on loop for the last twenty minutes. James had been timing it. If it was intended to banish any doubts about his current journey, it was working as intended. They didn’t even look like animals, James mused, staring at the cold, digital eyes on the telescreen. He didn’t understand exactly how they worked – whether they were robotic or genetically modified or a mixture of the two. There were some people in the world – not many, but some – who had an understanding of science, and the way things worked. James wasn’t one of those. He was a Consumer, and that was okay. Buying things was what he did. It was his job, his purpose, and he recognised himself as part of a chain that was integral to the world.
And today, James was buying a life.
“It’s this or a dog,” he told his co-worker. “I mean, a DigiDog. Not a FunPet.”
“I mean, they have ninety-eight percent approval ratings. That’s a lot of satisfied customers.”
His co-worker had smiled, one of those uncertain smiles James had come to recognise.
“You think it’s a bad idea?”
“Well – ”
“I just mean, what if you don’t like her? Or she doesn’t like you? And then there’s the house, and the career change…”
“It’s selected by those algor… algor rhythm things. Like a robot. I mean, it’s a machine that checks if we are suited to each other. It’s much better than meeting someone in a – a bar, or something.”
“But you have a life, right? I mean you’re working here, you have friends –”
James interrupted him. “I’ve been saving up for three years now. The raise I got last year. That money from my family. I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to be alone.”
His co-workers took him out for a few drinks afterwards. He’d staggered back to the nearest Trans Station, doubts swirling in his mind. An hour later he was in his bed in the company flat assigned to him. For the last time. Tomorrow, he’d be a married man, with his own house, a LifeCareer and his own electric car.
And now the car was stopping. The adverts finally paused as the doors creaked open, the screens all frozen on the same shot of a FunPet standing guard outside someone’s cosy, fictional home. James gathered his bags from the spare seats. The sunlight hit him hard and he winced, squinting at the real world.
“Welcome,” a woman’s voice said.
James turned. She was standing, smartly dressed in a navy blue uniform with a prominent logo reading: GaL. She held out a hand. James took it, trying to hide his nerves.
“I’m Sandra. And this,” the woman said gesturing behind her, “this is your new home.”
The house was like something from a painting, a folk story. The perfect four-bedroomed detached in old-style brick with a tapered roof, faux chimneys, white-brimmed windows with little red curtains. It was everything he’d ordered.
This wasn’t what she wanted at all! Rosie fidgeted miserably. The curtains. They even got the curtains wrong. The sofa – she guessed she should start calling it a settee now – was beige. Not cream, beige.
As the car pulled up outside, Rosie realised she was fixating again. Her fingers were toying with the hem of the (horrible) armchair. She could hear voices now. What if they got him wrong too? What if he was a drunk, violent, short, obese… or even worse, political? She reached to the table in front of her (mahogany coffee table? Really?) and took a gulp from her glass of water.
Of course, it wasn’t that bad… it was beautiful out here, away from the city. It reminded her of a distant childhood she could barely remember, before everything became about selling, buying, selling and buying again. She had found it difficult to picture the countryside, and she realised that she couldn’t separate her own memories from the many, many adverts for country retreats, holidays or retirement homes. And the Get a Life commercial.
She heard about it from a friend first. It was big in America, but it hadn’t arrived here yet. Of course, it would. Everything crept over. Then, months later, she saw the first advert on the TranSys. Tired of being alone? She was. Wasn’t everyone? All alone together in their streaming masses, jostling with the next sad, desperate being on the daily commute. Rosie couldn’t remember her parents. She remembered the war, but she tried not to think about it. Afterwards, things were different. Something that was once a matter of choice became a matter of fact. You accepted your reality because it was better than the alternative.
She often wondered what life was like for her mother and father. How did they meet? How did anyone meet back then? You couldn’t scan someone’s chip in a bar to check out their MeProfile. How did they find out about each other?
Get a Life was different. There was real mystery here. Okay, she was entering her choices into a computer, and the computer would pair her up with someone… but she couldn’t see this person, and he couldn’t see her. He could be anyone.
Sometimes she wished (afterwards) that she’d been able to cheat, somehow. Instead of being honest, she could have lied. Her perfect partner was a demigod with billowing blonde hair, bronzed chest, sensitive, powerful, kind and strong. Except, of course, she couldn’t cheat. She couldn’t lie – the computer could read her too well.
And so, she had red curtains instead of rose, and a beige sof- settee instead of cream. As the door opened, she realised that the man the machine had chosen for her was, at least outwardly, not that bad after all.
Time seemed to have evaporated instantly. It was evening already – where had it all gone? James had never been this excited about something. He could still feel the adrenaline, tingly in the tips of his fingers. He looked down. Examined it in the dim light. The ring was basic, platinum. He touched it. It didn’t feel at all real. The ring, Rosie, the whole day.
Going into that room for the first time – his living room – James couldn’t stop his hands from trembling. He remembered hoping she wouldn’t notice. He took her hand gently, sat down opposite her. She was, well. She was exactly what he’d ordered.
Every specification had been adhered to – even breast size, he noted. She was wearing a flowery summer dress with tights. Very retro. Her face was just right. Large eyes, big lips. He found himself beaming a huge smile at her.
The lady from the company – Sandra – was talking. “So if you’ll just take these tablets, we’ll do the ceremony,” she said, passing them each a plain white screen. “Any questions?”
James glanced at the tablet. There seemed to be some sort of form on the screen, like an application for a job from decades ago. He’d seen forms like this in museums. Fortunately, this one was very short – a few simple statements:
I, Customer #3271 take Customer #3272 to be my lawful, wedded wife.
Next to each statement was a Y/N box. James hastily clicked “Y” for each. He watched Rosie. Was she hesitating? She was reading intently… frowning.
“Excuse me, Miss –”
“Don’t we say these out loud or something? With our names, I mean –”
Sandra smiled at Rosie, a firm smile.
“I’m sorry, but nobody does that anymore. It wouldn’t be legal. It has to be done digitally.”
“Okay, but – our names? What’s with the customer number thing?”
“Oh, that’s just company policy.”
And that was that. James watched as Rosie clicked “Y” too, and they both handed the tablets back. Sandra took them.
“Are you both ready?”
“Great,” she said. “Activate.”
The telescreen on the wall flickered into life. James had barely noticed it until now – after all, telescreens were everywhere. Inwardly he sighed a little. Back to reality? On the screen, however, were himself, Rosie and Sandra.
“Okay guys, if you could just move closer together, stand next to each other. Smile, look happy.” Sandra backed away towards the door. “Don’t be shy!”
James stood up. He could feel the nerves again. This was it. The biggest moment of his life. She stood next to him, and they both faced the screen. Through the smile, James couldn’t help thinking how odd this would look from the outside – as if the two of them were standing to attention before a national flag.
The telescreen flashed a message over their image. The message read, in neon green: Just Married. A man’s voice seeped out from the screen, and James realised it was the voice from the adverts. Congratulations customers! I now pronounce you man and wife. Thank you for choosing Get a Life! You may now kiss the bride.
James could see her stiffen on the screen in front of him. Just briefly – but he felt suddenly embarrassed.
“I mean we don’t have to,” he started to say. Sandra cut him off.
“You have a contractual obligation, guys.” She was standing near the door still. “Promotions, remember? Just a peck on the lips.”
James turned to face Rosie. She was almost a foot shorter, he guessed. She looked up at him. He couldn’t gauge her emotions – was she just shy? Nervous? Having second thoughts…?
“It’s okay,” she said.
He leaned down, and kissed her.
Afterwards, Sandra showed them around the house. Three bedrooms, just as they ordered. One – the marital bedroom – was decked out with a beautiful double bed, quilted duvet, silk sheets. James couldn’t wait to climb into it. The next was a guest bedroom, decorated in an understated fashion. Sandra informed them that this was for the many friends they’d acquire over the years as part of the Get a Life Extended Plan.
The third bedroom was made up for a baby. There was a cot, a mural on the wall with little lambs and calves and other soothing creatures, and even a baby monitor and baby clothes all neatly folded. James heard Rosie draw a deep breath. Was she shocked? Excited?
“Of course, depending on if you go natural or artificial, this room could be occupied very soon,” Sandra said, smiling.
She went on to show them the other rooms – the kitchen with its huge dining table, oven, tiled floor. The bathroom with a luxury shower and a corner-bath. The study which doubled as a library, with a selection of Company-Recommended books (“From our publishing division,” Sandra had said) and a huge desk with in-built telescreen so that James could continue working when he got home.
Then there was the garage, and inside: the two cars. Just like old-style cars, with the shiny shell and the leather seats. James’ was a sports car, a two-seater with retractable roof. Very vintage. Rosie’s car was large enough for a small family in a pale blue. Sandra turned them both on to show them the in-car features. “The telescreens are fully customisable. You get a choice of six different commercials a day!”
Rosie had seemed especially excited about hers. “I hear there’s a new driving mode?”
“That’s right,” Sandra said. “We’re very proud of it. DriveMe is a new mode with a virtual steering wheel. It really feels like you’re the one in control. Pretty neat, eh?”
After that, Sandra had left. For a while, James and Rosie sat in the living room in uncomfortable silence – then they began talking. They talked about their past lives, what they wanted to do in the future, funny stories from their previous jobs, what they expected from their new careers. Then James cooked a light meal (the fridge had been fully stocked) and they had a glass of wine each. And now Rosie had gone upstairs to get ready for bed, and James was standing outside the door, steeling himself to go in.
Rosie pulled the sheets over her. She was shaking a bit – she couldn’t tell if she was cold, or scared, or both. Was this how a wedding night was supposed to go? She wished she could talk to her mother about it. Or a friend. Anyone.
She knew he was outside. The way he looked at her earlier, she knew he wanted her. And why not? She was his purchase, and he was hers. They had bought a life together. She didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. She didn’t know what was going to happen tonight. Perhaps they would both just sleep next to each other, and wake in the morning and go to their new jobs, and meet their new friends and begin their new lives, and in seven, eight months she would see a doctor and have a procedure, and they would have a baby together.
For the first time, she didn’t know what was going to happen. She hadn’t decided yet, she realised. It was her decision, hers. Not a company or an organisation, not a friend or co-worker. Hers.
© Copyright David J Marriott all rights reserved.