‘It’ had to be old. No one young remembered this place. This was the Chelsea flower show-after it had gone completely plastic. A move designed to placate environmentalist and recycle some small amount of plastic. It also meant it could be open all year round- a win-win situation – it was a kind of ‘build it and people will come’ idea. They hadn’t really built it, so much as moulded and melted it.
Nobody had come in a long time. You could see by the dust. The plastic was fading. Plastic flowers had been blown over in the wind. Plastic leaves littered the path as if there had once been a plastic autumn. There was still a scent of fabricated flowers on the wind, mixed with the raw smell of hot plastic, muted over the years. She must have triggered a sensor that released some long forgotten chemical as the scent of fabricated flowers followed her in the breeze. The whole year thing had been a mistake by Chelsea-whoever she was. Someone who ran a flower show, she guessed. She remembered reading about it. No one came. It was in truth a shadow of itself in plastic-a kind of joke on a grand scale. People did not come out in all weathers to see a show of plastic flowers, in fact they didn’t come out in any weather to see plastic flowers.
She wandered into the abandoned café, there was a scone machine in the corner. Long unused, she swiped her card and some foul smelling gloop came out and then a swish of reddish jam. She caught the jam on her finger and ate it-sweet-artificial, but not a total waste of money.
She guessed ‘it’, this person or part person, people called them ‘pee-pee’s’ as a joke-she didn’t- had chosen here because this place was deserted. The CCTV didn’t work and there was no chance of anyone else turning up. She wondered how long she would have to wait. These ‘people’-part people were so cautious, so worried. Scared. Their fear was made worse because it was something they couldn’t control or understand.
She recognised the gait and knew ‘it’ had arrived. An extraordinarily tall figure, weren’t they all-hadn’t they meddled with that as well. A hood covered its face. She knew what to expect, the chiselled perfection of youth. It approached, drew back its hood. This one was chiselled androgynous perfection, she couldn’t guess its gender from its features and its clothing hung loose and shapeless. Gender only helped with the serial number anyway-where to log it- where to look first when she came to record its passing.
Her first question, always impertinent, ‘How much?’
‘Sixty percent’ it had said. She guessed from the voice it had once been a human female.
‘Which way?’ she asked.
‘Human.’ it said.
She was making up her mind-this had once been female.
‘Let’s find somewhere to sit down.’ She led the way and sat next to some faded plastic purple foliage. She couldn’t tell what plant it was meant to be. Each flower was perfectly formed in plastic but the sun had faded them into different colours. It was a bit like the part people she dealt with. Perfectly formed but scarred in different ways.
She needed to make small talk, build trust.
‘Why here?’ Not that she cared particularly.
‘I came here as a child with my mother, when it was real, when I was real,’ it said.
She could hear the tension in her voice, she could smell the fear. The problem was when you were 40% machine and 60% human, the machine bits didn’t understand the human bits quite as well as they should and the result wasn’t something that was more rational, but something that was less able to control its irrational. It had been a fundamental misunderstanding of how human beings worked when they had gone down this path. It had been ok when they only had to make small decisions but the more pressure they came under the more rational and irrational clashed and the result was turmoil. They had been in charge with their super-charged brains and their long limbed perfection but the result had been abject failure, because they couldn’t manage to control themselves.
And then there had been climate change, sooner than anyone expected and they –these part humans had offered logical solutions and then ranted irrationally at the outcomes. We need to do this and that. There will be suffering but we will make it through. It had not gone so well. They had thought themselves invincible and then nature had decided they weren’t. A bit like the plastic flower show that stood here, you could see real grass poking up between the cracks in the pavement. Every so often a giant real life bushed covered and cowered plastic flowers into submission. They and their ideas had gotten less and less popular and they had panicked. Panicked and then- they had run. Simply, the few of them that had been in control took off. The rest and there weren’t a lot really- followed.
There had been a vacuum of power and a 100% human had stepped into the breach. They, the less than 100% were derided -attacked –hunted –blamed. Now they turned up in places like this, seeking help from people like her. They had found their conditions intolerable, the whole think illogical. How had it all happened? How is it that machine and mind did not work together to get the right result. Their experiment had not worked. They had found themselves out of control. At first they had been found curled up in the foetal positions in doorways but now it was more like this- an anonymous phone call, a plea for help. A steady trickle of calls to keep her in work.
Her job was simple, get the thing to trust you and it was easier to think of them as things rather than humans. Get it to trust you, get its serial number, record it. Find out as much as you can about it. Find out if it has any friends, anyone else who might be ‘part’ and then assist ‘it’ to terminate itself.
It was not the easiest job, these things were part human but they were not in control of the human bits, 60% human was not enough to control your human. Every time she saw one she would be struck by its beauty and then the conversation would start. They would ramble, sometimes unintelligible sentences, a list of their programming or their capabilities and then the rationality- could she help? They couldn’t cope anymore, this kept happening, that was happening, none of it made any sense, please could she help. And all she ever asked for in return was a serial number.
The death would be relatively painless. This one was crying already, uncontrollable tears. She knew she would be sitting here amongst the Chelsea plastic for hours whilst it cried. She tried not to get too involved, it was hard to be empathetic when half way through the subject ‘it’ was talking on, the programming would kick in and a series of numbers would splurt out. ‘It’s’ mother had brought ‘it’ here as child when the flowers were real. The flowers had been plastic for her whole life span, it was a good thirty years before she was born they went plastic. This person-part person- must be over 100 years old and yet she looked 20. How many resources had ‘it’ consumed in that time. How much had ‘it’ taken from the planet to give back -nothing. It made her job easy. The androgynous perfection had a price everyone had paid for, the meshing of machine and human was just the final symptom that had led them here.
She smiled, tried to pretend she understood, clasped the oversized hand, adjusted cosmetically to fit the oversized body. She simpered at the old woman who looked young- ask only for the serial number. She looked at the old woman, more closely, looking for a sign of how to begin, how much had this thing taken from this planet in her 100 or so years-that was the easiest way to think of it. She looked at the beautiful chiselled features that showed no emotion despite the tears, the perfect smile crossing the perfect face when the slightest bit of attention was given to it, the smile fading as the programming kicked in. The tall elegant thing that could no longer discern its memory from its memory storage facility, it would smile even at the end, reel off some numbers.
She looked around, she would leave it here amongst the plastic perfection, where it seemed to belong.