Wallis Tyrone looked out from his seventy-second floor, office window and gave a small, almost imperceptible, sigh. As he gazed down at the seemingly endless, frenetic city life below him, the milling ant like objects and the grid locked traffic of late afternoon, he felt incredibly weary.
It hadn’t been like that in the beginning, when he had come to Titan City as a young man. He had been trying to make his fortune then, and the money, energy and bustle of the metropolis had drawn him to it like a beacon. But that was a long time ago. He was an old man now, very old, as the shrunken, wrinkled face staring back at him from the glass told him, and he was tired of the whole damn place.
He was lost in these thoughts when the intercom buzzed. He turned away from the window and went over to his polished oak table.
‘Yes Helen?’ he answered, pushing down on the speaker button.
‘Mr Bryce is outside sir,’ the voice replied. ‘He’s a little early but …’
‘Send him in,’ Tyrone interrupted. ‘I’ll see him now.’
Tyrone sat down, smoothed down the sides of his silver hairpiece and leaned back in his leather bound chair. He wanted to look composed, in control, when Bryce walked in. He wanted the other man in no doubt as to his seriousness.
There was a knock at the door and a tall, slim man, dressed in an immaculate Italian suit walked in. He extended a hand to Tyrone and the latter stretched out his to receive it. As he did faint motors whirred in his arms as they aided atrophying muscles.
‘How are you sir?’ the younger man said in a clipped, efficient voice.
Tyrone gave a weak smile, ‘Fine Edward,’ he answered. ‘Please sit down.’ He gestured to the chair opposite.
`Bryce complied and placed his briefcase neatly on the table. With a business like click he sprung it open and began pulling out a series of different coloured files. He scanned through them quickly and began to arrange them in front of him.
Tyrone watched him with interest. He had never seen Bryce so formal before. But then, he had to admit he had never made a request like this.
‘Are those the relevant papers?’ he asked.
Bryce turned tired looking eyes on him and nodded, ‘Yes sir,’ he answered. ‘Everything bearing upon what we … er … spoke about.’ He studied the older man for a moment then went on, ‘You know Mr. Tyrone, I have to confess, when I got your call yesterday evening it came as something of a shock. I mean, you’ve been president here now for… what is it… eighty-five years? That’s forty-two years before I was born. You’re the most successful president in the history of big business. World Energy Incorporated have handed over billions to extend your life.’
Tyrone nodded, ‘I know Edward. And I’m grateful to them.’
A frown spread across the lawyer’s lean face,
‘Then why do you want to give it all up sir?’ Tyrone leaned his head back and gave a sigh, an action only made possible by the contraction of artificial lungs, deep inside his chest.
‘Because Edward,’ he answered. ‘I’m tired.’ He looked into the lawyer’s red eyes.
‘Not the tired where you’ve been up all night working, like I suspect you have Edward. That’s not my meaning. No, it’s more like my … soul’s tired.’
He looked back at the other man, almost nine decades younger, and saw only a blank expression. He would have to try and make him understand.
‘I was married once,’ he began, casting his thoughts back to the previous century. ‘Laura, she was called. Pretty young thing with the bluest eyes you could imagine.’ A smile played on his parchment like lips. He saw the lawyer’s intense expression as he listened. Tyrone reached into his silk waistcoat and pulled out a large, silver watch.
‘I always keep this picture of us with me,’ he said popping the lid and clicking the ivory clock face open. A moment later a small, holographic image of a young woman appeared. As they watched she gave a little, silent laugh as a tall, dark haired man came up behind her and placed his arms around her waist. The two stood there, smiling, holding each other.
Tyrone watched it for a moment and then snapped it shut. ‘That’s how I like to remember things,’ he said softly. ‘She was about twenty nine or so then … or maybe … just turned thirty,’ he added with a frown. ‘Anyway, it was just before we started our family.’
He gave the lawyer a smile that the latter was forced to reciprocate despite his bewilderment.
‘We had two children,’ Tyrone went on, ‘a girl and a boy.’ His eyes fixed on Bryce. ‘Like you Edward, I believe. How are they, by the way, your children?’ Bryce gave a shrug,
‘Fine sir,’ he replied.
Tyrone nodded, ‘That’s good,’ he said. ‘Family’s important. Laura thought so too. You know, whenever I had a free weekend, she would make us go up into the mountains, to a little log cabin I owned. Away from the bustle.’
He let out a little laugh, ‘I taught them all how to swim in the lake there, even Laura.’ His old, shrivelled face seemed to glow with the memories.
‘They were good kids Edward, Beth and Alex. Luckily they took after their mother and never had any interest in business. Beth actually became quite a successful artist. That certainly wasn’t from me.’
He shook his head, lost in the past.
‘Mr. Tyrone,’ Bryce cut in. ‘I’m afraid I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.’
Tyrone shrugged, ‘Because,’ he said, ‘that’s all that really mattered, don’t you see?’ He closed his eyes for a moment, ‘I didn’t know it at the time. Even before I became president, the company was my life, my home more of a rare pleasure I could enjoy once in a while. The years drifted by and then …’ he sighed. ‘I sincerely hope you never have to witness the death of a child. It is the most … unnatural feeling to outlive one’s children.’
His eyes narrowed, ‘I suppose it was from that time that I failed to be a person really, to have an identity outside of the company.’
Bryce shifted uneasily in his chair, ‘But Mr. Tyrone, you are not an ordinary man. You are the president. You are WEI. Don’t you see that?’ Wallis gave a sad smile and shook his head. The movement was a little jerky and mechanical,
‘No,’ he answered with a finality in his voice. ‘Not any more. I would like to see the retirement papers I asked you to draw up.’
Bryce looked nervous, ‘You do know that if you break your ties with the company then …’
Tyrone held up a hand, ‘I know I can’t live long without the support of WEI technology. That’s not important anymore. I’m ready to die. I just want a few weeks to try to be the man I once was, or get as close to him as I can.’ He smiled, ‘I plan to go up to the log cabin, sit on the old rocker in the porch and watch the water, feel the wind on my face. All I’ll need are my memories.’
He looked at Bryce. ‘That’s no too much to ask is it?’
The lawyer took a deep breath. ‘I’m afraid sir …’ he said in a serious voice, ‘ …It is.’
Tyrone looked at him, puzzled. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘Surely no one has the right to stop me doing this.’ He glared at the lawyer waiting for his answer. ‘Do they?’
Bryce nodded, ‘I’m afraid they do sir. I’m sorry, but when you told me what you were planning I had to tell the board members. They were pretty spooked. If word of this got out our stock would plummet.’ He indicated the documents laid out before him. He turned them around for Tyrone to see, one by one.
‘These are all copies of the surgical procedures you’ve undergone, everything from your internal organs to most of your skeletal system has been replaced. I’m afraid it is my job to point out to you that WEI owns all of it.’ Bryce’s face was nervous yet defiant.
Tyrone looked at the papers, all had the WEI logo at the bottom. If not for the lawyer’s expression he would have laughed.
‘You think all these cyborg patch up jobs means that WEI owns me? Is that what you’re saying Edward? One thing you forget is that a man is defined by his thoughts, his memories, his cognitive ability. WEI does not own them.’
To his surprise the lawyer shook his head.
‘I’m afraid sir, they do’ he replied. Tyrone froze. The lawyer` slid a large pink document in front of the old man, ‘In 2117, you suffered a major stroke, one which shut down the blood supply to your brain for nineteen minutes, twenty three seconds. Now, that is not necessarily enough time to cause brain death, but it is enough time to destroy all higher cognitive functions. Therefore all the information in your cerebral cortex was transferred onto computer chips before brain damage occurred and then attached to your cerebellum. You see, why you still have your cerebellum, your reptilian brain as it is sometimes called, your cerebrum, the cognitive, thinking part has become property of WEI. And, sir, please understand, as inhuman as it sounds, the knowledge in your head is far too valuable for WEI to simply allow you to destroy it.’ His eyes dropped, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Tyrone. I’m only doing my job as senior lawyer.’
To Bryce’s surprise the old president did not react by shouting at him, or cursing. He didn’t even look angry. Rather he was quiet, thoughtful. He placed a spindly hand under his chin and stayed like that for a while. Bryce almost thought he had been forgotten about when
Tyrone turned his eyes on him, ‘So,’ he said in an almost whisper, ‘you’re saying that WEI will never let me go?’ The lawyer did not know how to respond. He found himself nodding weakly in answer to the question.
‘I see,’ the old man said. He tapped a bony finger on the pink folder, ‘I’m going to fight this Edward,’ he said in a matter of fact voice.
The lawyer gave a shrug, ‘How can you do that sir?’
Tyrone sat forward in a combative manner, ‘Well, despite all these alterations I’m still here aren’t I? And a living human being has rights.’ Bryce's expression though told him all he needed to know.
Tyrone sat back, folded his hands over his midsection. He looked at Bryce and nodded, ‘Let me guess. That was the first thing the board had you do after I phoned, wasn’t it? To bend the rules to declare me dead.’ The lawyer’s eyes failed to meet the other man’s.
‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘There was enough medical evidence to conclude that the person who was Wallis Tyrone no longer legally exists. I’m … sorry sir.’
Tyrone gave the younger man a smile, ‘Me too Edward,’ he said, standing up. ‘Me too. Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone.’
He went over to the window and clasped his hands behind his back. ‘That will be all, thank you.’
Bryce sat there for a moment then began to gather up the folders, placing them back in the briefcase.
‘I really am very sorry sir,’ he repeated and then scuttled out of the room, head bowed.
Tyrone stared out the window for a long time. He had picked up the habit years ago, doing it when he needed to think especially clearly. One thing was certain in his mind, he would not submit to being the property of WEI, and he would not, could not, continue living like this. One way or another it was over.
There was only one way out. He studied the pane in front of him. The glass was reinforced and it would take a considerable effort to break. He turned back and looked for something heavy enough to use. His chair, although big did not have the sufficient weight to carry it through the glass. The table though was a different matter.
He went over to it and placed his hands underneath it. He had been told when he had had the kinetic motors implanted in his arms and legs that they were far stronger than human muscle and tendon. He had never really had chance to test out the claim. He hoped the doctors had not been exaggerating.
With one movement he lifted the table above his head. The motors whined, shook, in protest as the huge weight bore down on them. They wouldn’t hold up long like this, but that didn’t matter. They just needed to work for him this one last time. He took a few steps back from the window and then charged.
He had to succeed first time. Security, via the tiny camera in the ceiling, would be watching his every move. When they realised what he was doing they would be on him, trying to ‘save’ him from his act of suicide.
The table slammed into the window and shattered more easily than he had hoped. Shards of glass flew everywhere. Tyrone smiled and threw the table aside. As he did so he felt his left arm go limp as the motor burnt out.
The city wind began to race in and felt good as it ran over his face. He stepped forward and put one leg through the hole. A dagger like piece of glass caught at his trouser bottom but he tore it free and placed his foot on the ledge outside.
Suddenly the office door flew open and two, black clad security guards rushed in. One of them, a large man with cropped iron-grey hair raised a hand in a calming gesture, ‘Now Mr. Tyrone,’ he said. ‘Don’t do anything rash.’
Tyrone held his good arm up in a farewell, ‘Don’t worry,’ he replied. ‘I’ve thought this through, and all with the help of WEI’s cognitive chips too.’
With that he stepped through the window and let himself drop gently away from the building. The guards raced over to the window but it was already too late. All they could do was stare down and watch their president plummet away from them. Both men knew it was their last day on the job.
As he saw the ground racing up towards him Tyrone felt his hairpiece come away and then the cool afternoon breeze rush over his bald scalp. The sun, for the first time in decades, touched his skin. He smiled at these almost forgotten experiences. There was no fear, only a sense of exhilaration.
As he drew closer to the ground he saw a small green dot appear. It grew steadily larger until it resolved itself into small park area that lay like an island in the middle of the city chaos. As the seconds raced by he realised that that was where his trajectory was taking him. He fell further and could see the trees, standing around the park’s perimeter like giant sentinels. In the centre was a lake and around it some flowerbeds had been planted.
‘How nice’, he thought. ‘A lake,’ and then all went black.
For an endless time there was only oblivion. Tyrone had no idea how wonderful it had been until he was dragged away from its soothing embrace. The first thing he was conscious of was a deep voice in the darkness.
‘It’s worked,’ he heard it say. ‘Wallis Tyrone is awake.’
‘Thank god,’ another one returned. ‘This is the most expensive procedure WEI’s ever undertaken. I mean most of us thought it was impossible.’
‘Well, gentleman,’ the deep voice went on. ‘We can recommence business with Wallis Tyrone still officially as president of our board. And, that is something we can say with complete sincerity.’ A chorus of laughs accompanied the remark.
‘Let’s just activate the optical switch and …’ there was a click and suddenly the darkness was gone. Tyrone found himself looking at the faces of the members of the WEI board. Closest was Royce, his vice president and owner of the deep voice he had been listening to. He leaned forward, his perpetual Cuban cigar clamped between capped teeth, ‘Good to have you back sir,’ he said cheerfully.
At first Tyrone could not understand his situation. He was in the boardroom, that was clear enough, but he wasn’t sitting down like the others. Rather he seemed to be somewhere close to the centre of the table. From this position he was able to see all around him.
A feeling of despair, panic came over him. He should be dead. Why wasn’t he? He tried to speak, demand what was going on, but found he had no voice. Instead he saw his words flash up on a digital screen close by,
‘What is going on?’ he read in large, blue, digital letters. Royce looked at message and then directed a smile at him.
‘You’re safe and well Mr Tyrone. WEI was able to save you after your unfortunate … er … accident. Isn’t that good news? The doctors tell us you can live indefinitely in your present state.’ He looked back at the others.
‘Long live President Tyrone,’ he chanted. The others repeated the chant in unison.
Royce turned back to him, blowing a cloud of tobacco in his direction. But the smoke never reached him. Instead it hit some invisible barrier and dispersed.
Tyrone realized a transparent screen must have been erected all around him. But why? He was trying to understand this when he noticed the reflection above him.
It showed what looked like a grey, lumpy tennis ball with red plastic patches on it. Above it, floated a smaller object. A …
Oh dear lord, he thought, no. He understood now. He was inside a container placed in the centre of the boardroom table. He himself was little more than a base of a brain and computer chips floating in liquid. He could see all this because WEI had fashioned for him a new, cube like, artificial eye that attached to a sliver of his optic nerve.
He wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He had no mouth.