“Your package has arrived.”
We hear the distinct voice speak to us clearly from the advanced cyber home system that we’d installed over 10 years ago.
It had cost us a small fortune back then, but damn, it was worth every figurative penny.
This now aging system linked all of our household electronics together through advanced artificial intelligence (AAI) and our own securely encrypted supercomputer, that we’d cheekily named Brain.
By design, it makes everything easier – we simply offload our tasks to Brain and with its AAI capabilities, it does the needful. For those who can remember all those decades back to Alexa or Google Home, think of them as the germ line of this brilliant advancement, which as time passes, becomes the germ line for even greater advances.
We could be anywhere in our apartment pod and with a few simple spoken commands, all of our daily work, leisure, or home activities like ordering meal packets, undertaking medical assessments, sending emails, paying bills, or doing banking is processed through Brain in real time through its vast network of suppliers and vendors, the bits and bytes being deftly shuttled through highly precise algorithms.
Though a decade old, it was one of two items which we had spent vast sums upon, scrounging up our valuable Q bucks – the new world currency that replaced the failed Bitcoin and the now defunct U.S. dollar as the global benchmark for trade. We had been lucky as early adopters back in 2018 when those emails had gone around coupled with a few fortunate investments (and subsequent well-timed sales of those shares) in tech companies.
The other item was the package that had just arrived.
It was delivered via same day drone service, as all packages are now delivered, and it came in nondescript packaging, as promised.
The two of us manage to hoist the surprisingly heavy box into our small space. It was bigger than expected, but I suppose the manufacturer has to protect the precious cargo inside.
Sure enough, as we unlatch the biometric controlled release valves on the reusable protective case, the actual item is significantly smaller than its durable exoskeleton.
It is exactly as ordered.
We stand there looking at the exposed device, knowing what it represents, what it costs. My shoulders slump. I’m unable to set them, to hold them in place against gravity. My arms hang limply by my side. I feel her warm hand reach out and envelop my cold, shaking one, blunting the tremors.
I feel the shame and embarrassment start to creep into me.
I feel a tight squeeze on my hand, comforting, reassuring.
For both of us.
It doesn’t matter.
I look over at her beside me. Though she tries to hide it, I know she feels the same.
Battling hard, we force those thoughts and feelings back down – with all the technological advances science has come up with, you’d think they’d have figured out a way for us humans to absolve ourselves of guilt by now?
After safely untethering and gently removing the item from its protective case, we carry it to the small side table beside our bed and lay it down carefully. It fits perfectly in the space beside the old photograph we had printed out. Our smiles were so big back then.
“Brain, initiate PED start sequence.” I say this quietly, thoughts tumbling through my racing mind. She holds my hand tighter, her fingers fitting perfectly between mine.
Intertwined. We are one.
“Confirm, initiate PED start sequence?” Brain’s questioning voice cuts through the incessant chatter in my head.
Am I ready for this? This is my last chance to send it back because once the start sequence is initiated, there is no going back – there are no refunds. I will have to live with this decision for the rest of my life. So will she.
I hear a soft sight escape from her.
This is now our reality, no longer a meal packet conversation.
I close my eyes for a moment, a pause before responding.
On the screens of my eyelids I can replay some of my fondest memories from my life – I can smell the ocean, feel the cool, clear water on my feet as I walked along the beach with her. Being a drowner, rather than a swimmer, I never went in, but dabbled at the edges. I still hear the sound sometimes in those quiet moments of contemplation. Rhythmic and calming. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh.
I remember looking back at our footsteps as the surf erased them, as if we didn’t exist. As if we were never there.
Laughter. I can hear it vividly. Myself. Hers. My loved ones. My little nieces when we used to Skype before holograms came along, before they grew up, living their own separate lives, plugged in and connected. Too busy or too cool for their old uncle.
I see my friends. My family. Many have passed. Many, like me, struggle to keep up with life, assisted by tech but our failing biology still limiting us. Oh how I miss them all so much. We used to get together. Hang out. Meet up. We used to do this in person, but with all the technology, no one leaves their apartment pods anymore. We live in a hyperconnected society devoid of any true, meaningful connection.
Together but separate. Starvation in the midst of plenty.
Memories of that dinner party, tasting chocolate cake for the first time, that moment when the distinct sweetness touched my lips, how she tantalized me in that kitchen.
And sex. From those first rapid yet exciting awkward fumblings in college dorms to the tender, exalting moments that left me connected in visceral ecstasy with another human being. All those beautiful women. Every single one of them who touched me in ways I can’t even put into words.
They all start to fade. Vanishing. A mist clearing.
I blink and my eyes open.
I close them again slowly. The heavy weight of my decision pulling them down. Gravity. In every meaning of the word.
My mind is taken back to the last 10 years.
I remember the day of diagnosis. How we had asked Brain about the strange symptoms I’d been experiencing and how we had uploaded samples of my blood and urine for analysis.
I remember how Brain, more efficiently and precisely, and with greater accuracy than any doctor from the past, by virtue of having infinite information access at its beck and call, had given me the news.
My brain not computing Brain’s words. Disconnected synapses.
I can remember exactly when my body started shutting down. When the ravages of that insidious beast took its toll, advancing science no match for millennia of fallible biology. My muscles soft and weak, progressive atrophy taking away my independence, often leaving me gasping and struggling, a shell of my former self, relying more and more on Brain to do even the most menial tasks.
Over time, I lost my purpose, my meaning. I merely existed. Simply going through the motions of barking commands into the air. Sure it was easy, but it brought no joy like before. I no longer had anything to be proud of.
It was an excuse of an existence.
I had always promised myself that I would go with dignity, holding my head high, on my own terms. My pride. My arrogance. My last stand.
As I lived, I would leave.
We had talked about it, she and I.
We had always known, even as far back as 2019 that this could be our future. That’s why we had saved up for the Personal Euthanasia Device, the PED, through the Dying with Dignity Foundation. This way, the ethics of helping someone pass wasn’t shouldered by another human, a progressive evolution of the Physician Assisted Death movement of the early 2000s.
I know my body can’t carry on much longer, it tells me every day and every night. The messages are clear, distinct; in those quiet moments they reveal themselves.
And even more frightening is that I don’t know how much longer my mind will last. I don’t want her to be the one who has to make that choice, that hard decision, for me. Or for herself. For us.
That’s what brings us here. To this moment.
So now I have to make the decision.
My final answer.
I turn and face her, my aching body giving me that final strength of conviction. I hold her beautiful face in my hands and press my lips against hers. Soft. I pull her body against my now frail one, the vigor of my youth evaporated, the power I once possessed, a mere shadow in my memories.
All the other stuff no longer matters. The little things. The wasted energy. The petty squabbles. Fights. Only here. And now. Only that matters.
I hold her tight.
I feel her melt against me, her head against my chest. Her arms wrapped around me, squeezing hard. She always did that. She always turned and pushed her ear against me, to listen to my heart beating. Her soft voice in time to my aging ticker. Lub dub. Lub dub. Lub dub. I smile.
It felt right.
It always did.
She always did.
In all these years, that’s never changed.
That feeling of her body against mine. Real human contact. Real human touch. We’ve gained so much, and yet, we’ve lost so much. Our lives get easier and so much harder at the same time.
The double edged sword of technology.
I break from our embrace and, still cupping her face in my hands, kiss her forehead softly. Tenderly.
She looks up at me, her eyes glistening, a mirror of mine. She knows it. I know it. I take her hand in mine again and with renewed confidence in my voice, I speak the words.
“Confirm initiation of PED start sequence.”
“Confirmed. PED start sequence initiated.” I can’t be certain but I hear a tinge of sadness in Brain’s voice. Perhaps I’m mistaken, anthropomorphising Brain while I know it’s nothing more than advanced artificial intelligence coupled with super computing. Technology.
It can’t feel.
My voice, though it quivers, matches the biometric voiceprint security so there can be no mistake, there can be no accident. It was my freely given command. Un-forced. Un-laboured. Un-coerced.
The device on the bedside table, sitting quietly beside that old smiling photograph of the two of us, whirs and buzzes, given the gift of life as it is about to take mine.
As the machine prepares for its final deed, I take her by the hand again. It fits perfectly into mine. Soft. My tremors have stopped. She is squeezing again. I never get tired of holding her hand.
Today was a good day. We drank real wine, like we used to. A strong Malbec. We ate real steak, medium rare, with real grilled vegetables.
We laughed. We cried. We remembered.
“Brain, play Come Sail Away by Styx.”
The music fills our ears.
And we dance.