Bacon- Rasher- Related Injuries
" Master Stuart.....Master Stuart, this is your morning alarm call..... "
I murmured a vague acknowledgement at my gentle whispered wake-up call. My stomach churned in anticipation of the monologue that would now follow with all the certainty of a politician being innocently duped into trying on a pair of fluffy handcuffs and French knickers.
" I would like to apologise for any psychological or physical damage that may have been inflicted by your alarm call this morning. If you believe... "
" Every morning you say this, every damned morning! " There was a respectful and obedient pause, during which it dawned upon me that my outburst was only going to prolong and exacerbate the whole yucky scenario.
" I am happy to add Repetition-related Stress to the list of possible consequences of rousing you from your sleep this morning. The State have approved this and would like to pass on their sincere thanks for your suggestion. If you believe my actions have caused any of the following, please do not hesitate to consult my colleague PIC276 who will pursue a file against my manufacturers with a view to having me shut down and replaced, and could also result in a healthy payout for yourself. "
" Oh please... "
" A - Straining of the neck muscles as a result of you lifting your head from the pillow in a sudden movement. "
" Which I didn't, " I sighed.
" B - Bruising any part of your anatomy against my chrome-plated body as you shift beneath the bedclothes or alight from the bed. "
" Which I won't. "
" C - Any quickening of your heart rate brought on by my blaring wake-up call, or - "
" It wasn't blaring for Gods sake, it was a barely inaudible whisper in my ear. "
HSO47X continued as usual unabated. " ...Or any subsequent pains in your head or ringing noises in your ears. D - Any of the other four thousand and twenty-two currently registered risks of waking you from your slumber in the morning.... or any of the other twleve that have been thought up by the State and added in the time it took me to complete the previous sentence. "
" Someone please shoot me in the head, " I muttered.
" That is strictly against Government regulations Master Stuart. "
And this was how the day began on another blisteringly hot October morning in 2031. This was how every day began now.
Things were not far off what my father had predicted when I was a child. That had been around the turn of the millenium when I was about nine or ten.
Very astute my father, very perceptive in his visions of the future. Looking back, there was a great deal to admire about him really, in spite of him being a sadistic violent bully. I still remember what he said on that cold morning when he was teaching me to swim. He had just dragged me out of the freezing lake for the seventh time with the use of a hook on the end of a long metal pole. He was just about to pick me up by the legs and sling me cartwheeling into the icy water again, ( an act followed by me thrashing around in a panic whilst he shouted from the edge " swim you weedy little bastard, swim! ) when he stopped and crouched down to my height.
" You know what? " he said to me. " In twenty or thirty years time, they won't allow fathers and sons to bond in this way. "
I couldn't work out whether this was a shame or not, as I shivered away and tried not to faint from hypothermia.
" This country's going to hell in a bloody hand-cart if you ask me. "
I wasn't asking him.
" It'll reach a point soon where I won't even be allowed to beat you with a stick. " I wasn't sure he was allowed to do that now to be honest, but I wasn't going to argue.
" Mark my words boy. By the time you reach my age, they won't allow you to do anything or go anywhere because they'll be so paranoid about your health and safety. You'll barely be allowed to eat, drink or breathe without somebody watching over you with a clipboard. Think about that son, always remember your good old dad warned you about it. "
I will never forget how those wise words resonated through my mind as I went spinning into the lake at high speed for an eighth time.
By the time you reach my age he'd said. That's presuming I didn't drown in the meantime of course.
I was drawn out of my nostalgic reverie by the electronic tones of my metal guardian, as he went through his daily briefing of the process that would be followed in order to lift me from my bed to an upright position. I wasn't allowed to do this kind of thing for myself. My father was pretty much spot on.
After a painfully laborious manoeuvre, during which every possible type of physical injury was taken into account and prevented, I found myself as I would every morning, standing upright with my feet strapped to a cushioned plastic disc and my arms carefully attached to two robots, one standing either side of me.
This was standard government issue to every citizen living in the United Conglomerate of Anglo-American States. Every single one of us was assigned two robots to administer every damned move we made for our comfort, security and insurance.
The first of these two droids we have already met. An HSO47X was legally required to be strapped to your right arm. HSO stood for Health and Safety Officer, 47 I believe was the number of times it had been updated with new potential dangers to the human being, and the X was something to do with ' Executive model ' which was a load of tripe because they were all the same anyway. It was just the State's way of fooling you into thinking you were important.
I had come to know my edition of HSO47X better as 'Simon' . I have no idea why this was, but when he was issued to me, his first metallic words were " Please call me Simon. "
At first I had suggested there was something else beginning with S that I'd rather call him, before realising it wasn't really his fault I had to spend every waking hour manacled to his side.
The second droid was a PIC276 and this one was legally required to be strapped to your left arm. PIC stood for Personal Injury Claim, 276 I believe was the average number of times a day it would attempt to sue somebody on your behalf, whether it had your blessing on the matter or not. RML would have been a better abbreviation - Rogue Mechanical Lawyer.
I had come to know him as 'Keith', for the same reasons as above.
The PIC276 was introduced by the powers that be as an afterthought. There had apparently been too many cases of the HSO's malfunctioning. This would either result in them stopping dead, which left the owners unable to detach themselves from the arm straps and dragging heavy chunks of metal around behind them. The alternative outcome was the other extreme in which the robot would go completely beserk and walk into trees, walls or anything else it could find to walk into.
So the PIC's were installed as a back-up, the idea being that if the HSO's packed up and you banged your little toe as a result, the PIC could then at least file legal action against whoever was responsible for whatever object you banged your toe on.
" Good morning Master Stuart " PIC chimed as the two droids walked my naked form into the bathroom.
" Yeah, hey, " I replied with an enthusiasm comparable to that of a hedgehog that's just been flattened by an articulated lorry.
" Is there anybody I can sue for you this morning Master Stuart? "
" Not yet thanks, " I sniffed as I completed my toilet business. This is a process far too hideous to delve into.
" Oh. " PIC seemed disappointed. " And I trust my colleague on your other arm has roused you in a satisfactory manner? "
" Yes. "
PIC swivelled his shiny head towards me, his red photo-electric eyes boring hopefully into me.
" Because if he hasn't I could - "
" Look, I don't want anyone taken to court thank you, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. "
" Apologies for my apparent eagerness Master Stuart, but my positronic circuits are programmed.... "
" Screw your positronic circuits. "
" That is strictly against government regulations Master Stuart, " HSO croaked from my right-hand side.
" Pardon? " We climbed into the shower cubicle together. Or rather, they climbed into it, I was just carried of course.
" The act of 'screwing' my colleague in any manner is highly dangerous to your anatomy, particularly to your gen- "
" Shut up Simon. "
" Yes Master Stuart. "
The morning shower was one of the most ludicrous scenarios of the day. The three of us would stand there side by side, like strangers standing in awkward silence in a lift, except that in our case the one standing in the middle was naked with soap and water ( measured to the exact temperature requirements laid out by the government, because even goosebumps were considered a No-No in their H&S guidelines ) sluicing over us. Any hopes I'd had in the early days about my two companions being susceptible to rust had ended in disappointment.
My participation in the shower was as passive as every other aspect of the day, my arms and feet permanently mollified by their own constraints. The most we were ever allowed to do with our legs was flex them at the knees, no walking or running incase we broke them. As for being allowed to sponge myself in the shower, forget it! I mean, what if I was to slightly graze my skin with the sponge with an over-vigorous rub? It just wouldn't bear thinking about.
And so we just stood there motionless for about five minutes, the robots with their slip-proof feet, and me with...well, without my feet even touching the floor. I think HSO and PIC for their part found the whole showering experience a little perplexing. Personal hygiene was obviously an abstract issue to them, a mere interruption to the more important issues of injury protection and suing the backsides of as many people as possible. They would stand like Welsh Guards on sentry duty at Buckingham Palace, humming some robotic tune or mumbling 'tum-te-tum-te-tum.'
" How was that for you, Master Stuart? " HSO asked as I was carried back out of the cubicle.
" Same as it was yesterday, " I replied. " Wet. "
" Any soap in your eyes? "
" Nope. "
" No scaldings or wrinkled skin? " PIC chipped in hopefully.
" Sorry to disappoint you but nothing that would give you grounds for a prosecution. " Repeat after me I admonished myself, Robots are like Australians. They do not understand sarcasm!
Breakfast was always fabulous up to a point. I would watch helpless between them as they prepared and cooked it to perfection. Eggs, sausage, bacon, mushroom and tomatoes with toast arranged on a plate like it had been manicured. And the smell...oh the smell was divine. I'd lick my lips in anticipation and christ knows why because I always knew what was about to happen next.
The point at which breakfast would cease to be quite so fabulous, was when HSO would carry out a risk assessment on the whole sumptious platter, conclude that all the ingredients were potentially 'chokable' and pour the entire contents into a blender. My appetite would immediately sag quicker than Anna-Nicole Smith's latest set of implants.
Even a bowl of cornflakes was out of the question. Those serrated edges were considered far too lethal. At the time of writing, Co-Presidents Euan Blair and Chelsea Clinton are pushing through a motion to have all food products immediately liquidised before being approved for sale to the general public.
As HSO elected to transform my Sunday breakfast into the most vomit-inducing smoothie since Tony Bennett, the same polite conversation ensued between my two guardians.
" Based on the recommendations outlined in Directive 2271, I am declaring this meal in its present form, unsuitable for the subject's safe consumption. "
" Understood, " PIC replied. " But please be assured that were our Master to consume it in this form, I would be ready as ever to process any claim for compensation he may need should his consumption result in any bad experience. "
" This too is understood, " HSO said. " However, I shall deem that course of action un-necessary by removing any risk in the first instance. "
" You are right to do so, " PIC conceded. " Should the meal in its new liquid form happen to ' go-down-the-wrong-hole ' I shall still be happy to put my own services into action. "
" Your dilligence to duty is admirable PIC, but I shall administer the liquid myself and once again ensure that such an outcome is prevented. "
That's when I noticed it.
It was so subtle as to be barely perceptible at all, but it was definately there. I sensed the faintest of slumps in PIC's shoulder to my left. And just the faintest of slumps put just the faintest of notions in my head. It was one worth testing a little further.
" Could I possibly make a suggestion here? " I ventured. HSO stopped just as he was about to scrape the breakfast into the blender, and swivelled his head towards me as if to say ' Not really Master, these are matters you really shouldn't be troubling your poor little brain with. '
" Of course Master Stuart, " even for a supposedly emotionless mechanism, there was a hint of surprise in his voice.
With my next sentence, I kept my eyes intently on PIC.
" Why don't I try eating it today... as it is. In solid form I mean. " Confirming the notion that I was forming, PIC definately perked up slightly at this. His head and shoulders seemed to straighten upwards by perhaps a centimetre.
" That is strictly against... "
" Government regulations, yes I thought it might be Simon... but... " I lowered my voice, " ... who's to know eh? Wha'dya think my chrome plated buddy? " I gave him a little conspiratorial nudge with my elbow, whilst still keeping a close eye on PIC's reactions on my other side.
HSO suddenly went into a panic and exclaimed in a higher tone than usual, " Master Stuart you have just knocked a part of your anatomy against me! Are you okay Master, is it bruised? "
" Is it bruised? " PIC also asked, more hope than panic in his voice. " A bruise would provide me with sufficient and legitimate grounds to sue. "
After managing to quell their respective hopes and fears, I tried to steer the conversation back to the matter in hand. The breakfast plate remained balanced on HSO's hand in an apparent stay of execution, although my desire for the meal was secondary now to a far more important experiment.
" I really do feel confident this morning that I could eat that breakfast, without sustaining any kind of injury. "
HSO seemed greatly troubled by this concept, his head making small jerking movements at different angles. Such a debate was not in his script, or rather not in his programming. But it was still PIC I was more interested in at this point.
" And I'm sure that heaven forbid, were I to lacerate my throat on the rashers of bacon or bite my tongue whilst munching on the toast, I'm sure Keith would be able to process the necessary legal action in such an event. "
" Oh absolutely Master Stuart, " PIC piped up, betraying a little more enthusiasm at this than he was probably meant to. " I would be very happy to do that for you! "
He then almost went into TV advertisement mode. " And for a bacon-rasher-related injury, you could get up to fifteen thousand pounds. "
I smiled to myself. ' Interesting ' I thought.
After a few moments of deliberation by HSO, he tipped the plate and another superb looking breakfast slopped into what had become my least favourite kitchen appliance.
" I'm afraid that is strictly against government regulations. "
Sure enough, there was another miniscule slump in the shoulders to my left.
" Simon is of course correct in his conclusion Master Stuart, " said PIC, " It cannot possibly be permitted. " But there was no conviction in his voice.
To get to eat the breakfast in solid form would have been an unexpected bonus, so I wasn't really surprised or disappointed at its reduction to the usual vile sludge. What was more important now was that I'd stumbled on a theory that really should have occurred to me before. It should have occurred to all of us.
" So what would you like to do today on your day of rest? " HSO asked me.
" Seems a nice day for a walk in the park, " I said without any hesitation. My brain was already beginning to scheme.
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