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 below, 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’d come to Titan City as a young man. He’d been trying to make his fortune then, and the money, energy and bustle of the metropolis had drawn him 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 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 told him. “He’s very late, I know.”
“Send him in,” Tyrone told her. “I’ll still see him.”
Tyrone sat down, smoothing the sides of his silver hairpiece as he leaned back in his leather bound chair. He wanted to look composed, in control, when the lawyer walked in.
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 own to receive it. As he did faint motors whirred in his arms as they aided atrophied muscles.
“How are you sir?” the younger man asked in a clipped, efficient voice.
Tyrone gave a weak smile. “Fine Edward, please have a seat.” He gestured to the chair opposite.
Bryce complied, placing his briefcase neatly on the table. With a business-like click he sprung it open and began pulling out a series of coloured files. He arranged them in front of him.
Tyrone watched him with interest. He’d never seen Bryce so formal before. But then, he’d never made a request like this either. “Are those the relevant papers?”
Bryce turned tired looking eyes on him and nodded. “Yes sir.” He studied the older man for a moment. “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 almost a century. You’re the most successful president in corporate history. 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?”
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 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. That’s not my meaning. 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 Edward,” he said, casting his thoughts back to the previous century. “Laura, she was called. Pretty young thing with the bluest eyes you could imagine.” He reached into his silk waistcoat and pulled out a large, silver watch.
“I always keep this picture of us with me.” He clicked the ivory clock face open and a 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 us,” he said softly. ‘She was about twenty-six or so then, 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.”
Tyrone nodded. “That’s good, 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, 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 said. “I’m afraid I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”
The old man shrugged. “Because 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. And then after, well, the years drifted by until …” 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 shook his head. “Not any more. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to see the retirement papers I asked you to draw up.”
Bryce features tightened. “You do know what would happen if you broke your ties with the company?”
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. That’s no too much to ask is it?”
The lawyer took a deep breath. “I’m afraid it is.”
Tyrone regarded him. “Surely no one has the right to stop me doing this.’ He glared at the lawyer waiting for his answer. “Do they?”
Bryce shrugged. “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 turned the documents around for Tyrone to see, one by one. “These are 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’s my job to point out to you that WEI owns all of it.”
Bryce looked nervous yet there was a sliver of defiance in his eyes.
Tyrone looked at the papers, all had the WEI logo at the bottom. “You think all these cyborg patch up jobs means that the corporation 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.’
Bryce shook his head. “I’m afraid sir, they do.” The lawyer slid a large grey 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.”
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, “They won’t let me go.” He tapped a bony finger on the folder. “Then I suppose I’m going to have to fight you in the courtroom. Despite all these alterations I’m still a human being Edward, and a human being has rights. You can’t take those away.”
Bryce gave a small, nervous cough into his fist.
“What did you do Edward?” Tyrone demanded.
“Well, you see Mr. Tyrone, because of all your procedures, especially the cognitive ones, there was enough medical evidence to argue that the person once known as Wallace Tyrone no longer exists.”
The old man slumped back into his seat. “That’s why you were late, wasn’t it? You were playing those legal games of yours to have me declared legally dead.”
The lawyer’s eyes failed to meet the other man’s. “It was the only way the board and I could find to stop you doing this. I’m very 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 hurried out of the room.
Tyrone stared out the window for some time, a habit he’d picked up years ago, when he needed to think especially clearly about something. 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.
And 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 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 and placed his hands underneath it. He’d been told when he received the kinetic motors implanted in his arms and legs that they were far stronger than human muscle and tendon. He’d 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 himself.
The table slammed into the window and shattered more easily than he’d hoped. Shards of glass flew everywhere as threw the table aside. As he did so he felt his left arm go limp as the motor burnt out.
He stepped through. A dagger-like piece of glass caught at his trouser bottom but he tore it free as he positioned himself on the outer ledge.
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 farewell. “Don’t worry. I’ve thought this through, and all with the help of WEI’s cognitive chips too.” With that he let himself drop 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 plummeted downwards a small green dot appeared. It grew steadily larger until it resolved itself into a parkland area, an Arcadian oasis amidst the city chaos. The seconds raced by and he realised that was where his trajectory was taking him. Finally, he saw the trees, standing around the perimeter like giant sentinels, whilst in the middle were flower beds arranged in maze-like patterns. In the very centre however was a lake.
The old man smiled one last time. How nice, he thought.
~ * ~
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. “He’s awake.”
“Thank god,” another one returned. “Most of us thought it was impossible.”
“Well, gentleman,” the deep voice went on. “We can recommence business with Wallis Tyrone still officially president of our board. And that is something we can tell our shareholders 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’d been listening to. The man leaned forward, his perpetual Cuban cigar clamped between capped teeth.
“Good to have you back sir,” he said cheerfully.
At first Tyrone couldn’t 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. We were able to save you after your unfortunate accident. Isn’t that good news? The doctors tell us you can survive 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. 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 gray, 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 attached to a sliver of optic nerve.
He wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He had no mouth.