Literacy Week: Terms of Agreement


Ms. Flanigan

First place winner of the Literacy Week Competition, Ava John

For Literacy Week, January 23-27, students competed in a short story contest for the chance to win a pair of  Apple Air Pods. Of many deserving submissions, the top honors go to Ava Johns for “Terms of Agreement,” 2nd place to Mae Denson for “The Ghost Writer,” 3rd place to Gavin Walker for ‘Navane Naivety,” 4th place to Bryan Fist for “Too Small for Conflict,” and 5th place to Vidya Bandoo for “Partly Cloudy Skies.” Congratulations to all of our very talented creative writers! 

Everyday Sam wakes up at 7:15 and checks his home messages. He clicks on the only new notification, and a synthetic female voice reads:

“Customer 0381, We have reviewed your request for financial assistance with a synthetic lung. However, we regret to inform you that we can offer no assistance; to continue with the procedure:

1. Make a down-payment on a synthetic lung

2. Find an organic donor

Reminder: this procedure is fatal to an organic donor. Thank you for choosing BioSynth, The synthetic intelligence resource team”

Sam sighs as he puts on a familiar pair of worn blue jeans and white button up. Laundry day is every Sunday. However last Sunday the laundromats were closed for a system update; the reek of his yellow-stained shirt was becoming unbearable. No one cared too much though; everyone’s shirts were off-white and somewhat foul smelling. The only people with personal hygiene machines either had stock in the hygiene machines manufacturing system or stock in the synthetic intelligence that ran the machines. Stock was very hard to purchase these days; most anyone with stock was an inventor of the very product they had stock in, and S.I. could invent products quicker and more efficiently than any organic. There was no need for organic intelligence to become stockbrokers; synthetic intelligence could perform any job at least 10 times quicker with 20% more accuracy.

After getting dressed, Sam walks to the metro station. He scans his card at the turnstile and waits for the Klear device to scan his retina. Only two weeks ago the Sector of Public Transportation was purchased by Jackson Wallace; prices immediately jumped 127%, and all organic train conductors and ticketers were replaced with synthetic ones. The Sector of Public Transportation was abolished, and the metro stations are being rebranded as JW Transportation. Jackson Wallace is known for his vast consumption of any influential service he can get his hands on. He made his way to fame after purchasing the patent to the train cars used in the metro stations. Though most everyone believes he is the inventor and engineer of the car, he really just paid off the inventor to keep his mouth shut and never denies being the engineer.

After Wallace purchased the Sector of Public Transportation, the former organic employees of the SPT began organizing in the metro lobby, demanding some sort of severance pay. At this point, the only jobs in demand are software engineers, and even that position is being taken over by synthetic intelligence. Since 2027 unemployment rates have skyrocketed from 6.7% to 73%; homeless rates from .8% to 23%; and suicide rates from .9% to 13%.

Behind Sam, a man from the SPT union is leading a chant at the top of his lungs. Dozens of men and women in tattered, unclean clothes are screaming and wreaking havoc, calling the S.I. “Artificial Intelligence —” a term that is considered derogatory as S.I. are not meant to be an imitation of organic intelligence, but rather a more efficient alternative.

Once Sam makes his way off the metro, he walks a half mile to the City Corporation Center where he puts on his work smock and clocks in. Work at Sam’s sector of the CCC consists of cleaning and reconstructing corrupted robots. He works for nine hours every work day, five days a week, occasionally clocking in on Saturdays for four hours to make enough money to take the metro everyday.

At five o’clock Sam clocks out and takes the metro home. Sam clicks the television in his living room on, it automatically switches to one of the two only channels. Seven years ago the television company bought the rights to every channel, playing only what would turn the most profit. It’s a standard interview with Jackson Wallace, his sob story about his rise to wealth after coming from nothing; he skips over the fact that his parents own one of the only existing oil companies. Wallace wears clean slacks and a perfectly pressed white button up. He must have a personal hygiene machine, Sam thinks to himself.

Sam scoffs and picks up one of the available physical readings. He can’t help but agonize over the atrocious writing and rocky plot. Entertainment itself is a bittersweet industry; S.I. produces the most of it. Every citizen is supplied with a reading and film generator. The user may input any prompt they desire, and the S.I. will generate the writing or video associated with the prompt and selected length. The only missing elements from the synthetic entertainment are organic error and emotion. Books and movies don’t lack art and creativity nowadays, though one can never catch a clear picture as the films are riddled with motion smoothing. Movies made for the masses by organic producers all consist of the same basic storylines, but S.I. generated entertainment is tailored to the user’s preferences.

When Sam was young, he would watch organic-made movies of the apocalyptic takeover that S.I. would induce. It wasn’t like that though; the computers never turned on the humans, there was no total annihilation, just a decrease in availability and originality. It isn’t all bad, Sam thinks, everything is more secure, more efficient. Sam reassures himself, it isn’t very systematic to have doubts. One should always strive to be systematic.

Sam changes into his night clothes and checks his home system for any messages. He sees a message from his boss asking him to stay late tomorrow. This isn’t uncommon, there are few to no regulations regarding work hours depending on one’s occupation. Sam replies, saying that he can only stay until seven as the metro is closing at eight tomorrow for a system update.

The government used to perform monthly system updates on everything S.I. operated. It was a bank holiday: no business stayed open, and most citizens had family dinner or caught up on their hobbies. However, after the government began to sell their public sectors, private organizations only updated their systems when necessary, leaving citizens with dirty clothes, no transportation, and occasionally no way to purchase anything from grocery or convenience stores.

While Sam reminisces over the days of public holidays, his wife Martha returns home. She can always tell when Sam is daydreaming.

“It’s not so bad, Sam.” Martha says, trying to refocus his attention. Everyone misses those days, but one shouldn’t think too hard about it.

“I know, it’s for the best,” says Sam, once again reassuring himself. It isn’t as if Sam protests the State of the Union. He is a decent person: he recites the pledge everyday, he goes to church on Sundays, he denounces the unionized protesters. He just misses the old days sometimes. Martha understands that. She knows he is a respectable person. She too misses the past every once in a while.

Martha used to be a surgeon until her position was replaced by more precise S.I. surgeons. She agrees it’s the best for the patient though she misses helping people. After losing her job, Martha was unemployed for over a year until she was rehired at the hospital. Now she’s one of the only organic employees at the hospital; she watches over the synthetic surgeons.

“George is doing fine,” says Martha

“Yes? Fine enough to install the synthetic lung?” Sam asks.

“Practically, as soon as he fully takes to the ventilator they’ll install it. Shouldn’t be much later than September.”

George is Sam and Martha’s only child. They decided he would be born completely organically, he was consequently born with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and an atrial septal defect. Almost every baby born now is synthetically assisted. In fact, most adults are synthetically assisted as well. George’s synthetic heart was installed two years ago. Since then Martha and Sam have been saving up for a downpayment for the synthetic lung. Only one manufacturer has the rights to the synthetic lung, so Sam and Martha have no choice but to pay their predetermined price.

Martha retrieves her sewing kit to mend a hole in her button up, and takes a seat on the couch.

“Any messages today?” Martha asks.

Sam decides against telling Martha about the message from BioSynth. It would only worry her.

“Only one from the CCC, I have to work until seven tomorrow.”

“Well, don’t stay too late, the metro is closing at eight.”

Sam nods in agreement, thinking about the BioSynth message. Sam and Martha have been searching for an organic donor for months, but few people still have all organic organs, and those who do either keep them because they can’t take to synthetic organs or are waiting to sell them to research facilities: Sam being the former, and Martha the latter. After donating your body to science, research facilities will compensate the family with enormous sums of money. Martha is waiting until she can no longer depend solely on her organic organs to take an over the counter Solv-It-Al pill that will painlessly end her life, then she will be shipped to whichever research

“I need to run an errand,” Sam says, kissing Martha goodbye.

Martha looks at him in surprise but nods in understanding.

Sam returns to the metro station to catch the next inbound train. He gets off at the stop nearest the hospital and walks the remaining distance.

The automatic doors open for Sam after he glances into the Klear identification camera. He takes the elevator up to George’s room. Sam stares through the glass walls of George’s room. He glances at another Klear ID, and a glass door slides open. Sam walks into George’s cell-like room and kisses his forehead. George has been in a medically induced coma for the past three years.

Sam gets back on the elevator and takes it to the self-service floor where he makes his way to one of the tablets supported by a podium. Sam selects the “begin” button.

Welcome to BioSynth’s self-service station, enter your BioSynth ID code to see options.

Sam enters “0381.”

Thank you, George!

Would you like to

1. Place a downpayment for a synthetic lung

2. Enter an organic donor*

*Procedure is fatal.

Sam selects “Enter an organic donor”

To continue with an organic transplantation, have your donor make eye contact with the Klear identification system to integrate them into our database.

Sam once again peers into the Klear ID camera.

Patient name: George Thompsom

Donor name: Sam Thompson

Organ needed: lung; synthetic or organic

Organ provided: lung; organic

Reminder: once clicking agree, the donor will be provided with a syringe to inject themselves with. The donor and patient will be immediately brought to an operating room where the procedure will take place. This procedure is irreversible and fatal to the donor.

Please select “agree” or “disagree”

Sam selects “agree.”

Transaction approved!

The podium hisses as a thin disk with a small syringe filled with a foggy blue liquid is released. Sam picks up the syringe and places the needle against his shoulder. He presses down on the cool, metal plunger, slowly losing consciousness as the cold liquid seeps into his shoulder. Just as Sam slumps to the ground, two men with a stretcher walk slowly off the elevator to Sam’s body, securing him to the bed.

“This is Martha’s husband, right?” the first man asks.

“Must be, says the transplant is for George.”

“Huh, wonder where Martha is.”

At the house, Martha sits on the couch still mending her button up, the needle moving at a steady but slow pace. An organic attempt at perfection with the sacrifice of time, as all things in this day and age are.

The home messaging system goes off.

“You have one new message,” a synthetic female voice reads, “would you like to hear it?”

“Yes,” Martha responds.

The synthetic female voice reads:

“Customer 0381,

Your transaction has been approved.”

The needle stops.

“George Thompson and Sam Thompson are now undergoing the transplantation operation.”

A drop of blood falls on the stained white shag carpet.

“Thank you for choosing BioSynth,

The synthetic intelligence resource team”

Martha freezes, her blood running cold. She drops her shirt on the blood-splattered carpet as the red seeps into the white. The messaging system flashes off, but the words are searing in Martha’s mind. Tears start running down her face, joining the red stains on the floor as she runs quickly to the messaging system in disbelief. As she chokes on her own tears, the voice message replays over and over and over again in her head, echoing and growing louder and louder. She sloppily opens the message again, looking through blurry eyes. But the message appears just as it was read. She drops to her knees, sobbing and hyperventilating.

An hour later, Martha crawls her way to the hall bathroom. She grasps for the top shelf and stares down at an unopened package of Solv-It-Al.