art by Void lon iXaarii
The Last Repairman
by Dave Beynon
Dave Beynon lives in Fergus, Ontario with his wife, two kids and a golden retriever. He writes speculative fiction of varying lengths and genres. His work has appeared in the anthologies Tesseracts Seventeen and Evolve Two. In 2011, Dave's unpublished time travel novel, The Platinum Ticket was shortlisted for the inaugural Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize.
***Adult Language in the tale that follows***
The man was a wreck. Those parts of him that remained organic lay desiccated, fused to machined parts in not much better shape. An arm--entirely composed of bone, a little meat and ulcerous skin--made a pathetic attempt to reach for me as I shambled past.
"A little water. A little food. A little mercy."
I gave him a second look, something I usually didn't do. Two legs, each worth more than a middle-class family might earn in a lifetime, lay splayed uselessly on the pavement. His right arm--the non-organic one--was stripped of synthetic skin, long ago scavenged for useful parts.
"You and I might have known each other once," the man said, shifting as best he could into an awkward seated position. "We might have done business together."
"Your legs?" I asked. "Damaged or spent?"
"Spent? Oh... they're dead. No power." He reached again with the arm that didn't need batteries. "I see a canteen there. Please. A little water."
I would have shrugged but my right arm had recently been damaged beyond any means I had of fixing it and the muscles of my shoulder suffered from the strain. "If you don't have any juice, you have nothing I need."
"Help me," he said, "and I'll tell you how to find--"
I started to leave.
"Repairman," he said, then fell into a fit of wracking coughs. He gestured for my canteen.
There used to be repairmen. They used to trade service for money when people still figured dollars had value. Then the currency became sex or food or clean water. Now it was spare parts or batteries. Nowadays, mostly batteries. I hadn't seen a repairman for almost three years. I thought they were all dead.
I unscrewed the lid of my canteen and waved away the man's clawing hand.
"One sip only until I hear what you have to say. If I like what I hear there might be more. You get grabby with my water and I'll leave you here to rot. Understand?"
Still coughing, he nodded.
I poured a swallow into his mouth, enough to splash away whatever bit of grit kept him from speaking. He began to reach for the canteen, thought better of it and lowered his hand. He nodded his thanks.
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"I know where there's a repairman," he said.
"Bullshit. They're all dead."
He shook his head. "Not so. There's one. He has a shop... fully equipped."
I would have called bullshit again but this wreck of a man was saying exactly what I wanted to hear.
He shook his head. "No. I tell you, you leave me here to die. You have to take me."
"Why would I do that? You have nothing of value unless those legs of yours can be scavenged for parts, but since there are so few of us left alive... well, parts are becoming common." I gestured toward an augmented dead woman a hundred yards off, her leathery skeleton still merged with her non-organic limbs. "There are parts galore over there. Not a spark of life left in any of her batteries, I'll bet."
"I know where the repair shop is," the man said. "You don't. That's information and that's worth something."
Here at the ragged edge of humanity stood Capitalism in all its glory. There was a reason the world was inherited by people like us. Someone with even a scrap of charity could never have afforded the augmentations that allowed myself and the man reclined in the filth and dust to survive this long.
I had plenty of food and water. Those were good barter items but I figured he wouldn't simply tell me where the repairman was. He was right. Once I had the information, I'd have left him without a second thought.
"How far off is he?" I asked and offered him another draw from the canteen.
"Why should I tell you that? You need to take me with you or there's no deal."
I lifted my useless prosthetic arm with the meaty one that worked. "Does it look like I can carry you? How far?"
"I won't tell. You have to take me. Don't leave me here."
"Jesus," I said. "I just said I can't carry you. That means you'll need to walk. How long has it been since your legs lost their juice?"
He glanced down. "Only about a week or so. It's hard to drag yourself along with only one arm. They should have made these things so they can detach."
I shook my head. "Whine, whine, whine. Tell me, what's your name anyway?"
"I'm Calvin Taylor. My family--"
"I know who you are and what your family did. I think we might have met at a party somewhere. Maybe at the Regal Club in Chicago. I'm Rudy Bayer."
The man's eyes grew wide. He knew who I was. Everyone knew who I was, once upon a time. I'd been around long enough for generations of all the best families to become acquainted with the legendary Rudy Bayer.
I was old by anyone's reckoning. I'd been old when Six Million Dollar Solutions began to screen for clients during their premiere offering. Don't let the name fool you. Their solutions cost a hell of a lot more than six million dollars.
I was wealthy by anyone's reckoning, too. I came from old pharma money and was raised to believe in the power of the almighty pill. And the pill was good. The alchemy of pharmacology kept me active and fit well into my 146th year when I fell prey to a particularly nasty strain of necrotizing fasciitis. The prescribed treatment--and my bank balance appreciated this--was massive amounts of intravenous antibiotics. This strain, however, had grown resistant to antibiotics. The irony was lost to me at the time, but I suppose I can be forgiven: I was busy trying to cope with my limbs and a few choice internal organs being devoured by ravenous bacteria.
By the time the bacteria was under control, I was little more than a torso and a left arm relying on any number of tubes, ventilators, pumps, and filters to keep me alive. I was alive only because I was wealthy. There were people dying in their homes and in the streets by the tens of thousands of the same strain who lacked the resources to dream of any solution, Six Million Dollars or otherwise.
In the end, there were countless hours of operations, physical therapy, computer and mechanical calibrations, and an endless stream of ever-adjusted pharmaceuticals. As I learned to breath and walk all over again the drugs diminished. Every few days another wire or tube would disappear until, discarding the cane my physiotherapist had given me at the door, I walked around the grounds of my estate unassisted.
Unassisted. As if a third of a billion dollars worth of software, hardware, micro-motors, stimulus/response nano-tendons, and half-life batteries could ever be called unassisted. Still, I got around under my own steam... or at least a combination of my own steam and those amazing half-life batteries.
It was a new lease on life. At 148 years of age--my rehabilitation lasted almost twenty months--I could walk again. I could run and jump. My new lungs fuelled those parts of me that remained organic with judiciously filtered, life-giving oxygen spread by blood pumped through an artificial heart the surgeons at Six Million Dollar Solutions saw fit to throw in gratis.
Although my reconstruction was prompted by my illness, when I rejoined society I quickly discovered that Six Million Dollar Solutions had been busy marketing to my able-bodied peers.
I studied Calvin Taylor and searched my memory for what I knew of the man and the money he'd come from. The legs and arm he wore were without doubt part of a vanity package, bundled together with a spate of cosmetic surgery to give clients organics that complimented their prosthetics, not the other way around. People like him made me sick.
Still, the promise of a repairman hung in the air.
"Your legs look newer than mine," I said. "Six Million Dollar Solutions, right? Not one of the cheaper knock-offs?"
Taylor nodded. "These are Mach IV legs."
He was wearing tattered trousers, but not so tattered that I could see if the synthetic skin had been peeled away. "Have you accessed your half-life batteries before? Do you know where the access panels are?"
He rolled up one pant leg with his usable hand, showing me where the skin was missing on his calf. It was a pressure-panel and that was good – no special tools required. He pressed two fingers against the marked contact points and the battery compartment popped out, powered by good old-fashioned springs.
I came closer and looked. A trio of triple K cell batteries lay mounted lifeless in their slots. In my backpack, I had a dozen fully charged triple Ks but Taylor didn't need to know that. Nor did he need fully charged batteries. I had a zip-lock bag full of cells with a thirty-second to a sixteenth charge that would be more than ample to power his legs long enough to lead me to this repairman.
Tossing him a half dozen, low charge batteries, I told him to get them set.
"As soon as you're walking again we head off, understand?"
He was already slapping the cells in place. "But I'm hungry, too. It's been a day or two since I ate." His gazed drifted toward another dead augmentee only a few yards away, this one fresher than the skeletal one I'd noticed earlier. "...well, ate... anything."
I didn't bother suppressing the shudder, but neither did I judge. I'm not so sure that faced without the use of my own legs I wouldn't also take advantage of the nearest meal, regardless what that meat called itself while it was still walking around. I fished through my pack and tossed him some old packaged jerky that wasn't nearly as evolved as his last meal. I tossed Taylor the canteen, as well.
He ate and drank, then tested his legs. The servos were dirty. I could hear them whine as he found his feet. Taylor motioned to pass the canteen back to me. I waved it away.
"You hang on to it for now," I said. "Sign of good faith and all that. Now--lead me to this repairman. And don't try to fool me. You knew my reputation from... well, from before all this, right? You know the kind of treatment I dealt out to anyone who tried to screw me on a deal. Guess what? I haven't mellowed."
Taylor led me through the littered avenues of what had been one of those congregations of retail outlets--A Land of Big Stores--where we survivors were eventually all drawn. When looking for preserved food you couldn't do much better than a place that had sold it by the case. The parking lots stood mostly empty, those few cars that dotted them were abandoned, batteries long dead.
When the virus swept the world, people--purely biological ones, that is--flocked to the hospitals or, if they lacked insurance, stayed at home to die. And die they did, by the millions and billions.
Before the last of the newscasts flickered across what remained of the internet, I heard a scientist speculate that less than one-hundredth of a percent of humanity was resistant to the dog-flu virus that put the final nail in humanity's coffin and the coffin of man's best friend, as well.
We enhanced people faired better.
My ailment stole one of my lungs. Six Million Dollar Solutions replaced both, complete with augmented airways, self-cleaning hepa-filters and internal UV eradication systems. Disease resistance was highlighted in the brochure in a larger font. In the heart they'd thrown in for free were a secondary filter and more UV. It was a wonder I wasn't tanned from the inside out. Most people who upgraded, especially the vanity jobs for whom price was no object, opted for the heart/lung package and therein was the secret to our survival.
Of course, there was the odd shitty filter or flickering UV bulb, but when someone spends almost half a billion dollars, they expect a quality product. Almost all of us weathered the virus itself just fine. What came later separated the real entrepreneurs from the trust fund darlings.
A good number of augmented people didn't survive the first year. Lifetimes of having someone to bend and fetch didn't exactly foster survival skills. Some of them starved in supermarkets amidst aisles of canned goods, the mechanics of a simple can opener beyond their realms of experience. When I encountered the corpses of people like that--and I encountered them more often than you might think--I could find no sympathy. I simply scavenged them for batteries and parts, then gathered the food they'd been unable to open.
Taylor was one step up from those people. He'd probably survived at the beginning on good looks. As I said, there was a time when sex was a barter good and Taylor had been as pretty as they come. He wasn't pretty anymore. He sure didn't plan ahead, otherwise he'd have a pack full of batteries and food right now. I suppose good luck and cannibalism were about all he had going for him these days. That and a tidbit of information I desperately needed.
"So," I said, "how do you know that repairman? Did he do some work for you?"
Taylor hesitated, probably afraid he'd accidently give up more information than he wanted to.
"Jesus Christ, Taylor. I fed you. I've given you water. Hell, I'm the guy powering your legs. Now did this repairman do some work for you or not?"
He still paused but must have read something in my features that freed his tongue. "Okay," he said. "Yeah, he fixed my left leg for me." Taylor pulled back a raggedy flap of denim and showed me the back of his left knee. The synthetic skin was intact but sported a hairline scar. It had been opened at one point, then expertly fused together. "The knee and the actuator or the secondary servo or something else was broken. I don't know exactly what. The knee wouldn't bend. I was lurching along--" He stopped himself from telling me exactly where he'd been lurching. "--along a street when the repairman approached me. This was about eighteen months back."
"And he says something like 'I can fix that leg for a price.' Then he looked over my stuff and took what he wanted in exchange for the repair."
I looked Taylor up and down. The wreck of a man had nothing of value save the information in his head. Maybe eighteen month ago he'd had more.
"What did it cost you? What did he take?"
"At the time I had some food. He took it all. Told me I'd have no trouble foraging with two good legs."
"Really?" I asked. "He fixed you for food?"
"And something else?"
"A gun... with bullets."
A gun I could believe. There were millions of them lying around, but bullets were another matter. During the first months of the virus and the chaos after, pretty much every bullet in the world had been put to use.
"How many bullets?"
"Bullshit. You gave away four bullets and didn't keep any for yourself?"
Taylor shook his head. "I know, right? I wasn't thinking at the time. I just handed the gun over with every bullet I had loaded into it."
"And he took you to his shop, fixed you up, and sent you on your way?"
He nodded. "That's about the size of it, yeah. He also told me that if I were to send any business his way I should warn them about the gun and the bullets. And that they should approach with caution and good intentions."
I adjusted the pack and smiled at Taylor.
"Then this ought to be easy," I said. "I have nothing but good intentions."
We camped in the shell of a looted convenience store on the outskirts of the Land of Big Stores. I might have opted for a house in a nearby neighborhood but houses tended to be crawling with cats. The dog flu might have wiped out man's best friend but the other common household companion had thrived and gone murderously feral. There had been a few instances where a set of mechanical legs had made the difference between a fast getaway and being devoured by a pack of ravenous tabbies.
After barricading the door, we discovered a few cans of mandarin oranges and a tin of sardines amid some tipped-over shelves at the back of the store. As we ate, Taylor told me about the last person he'd met.
"About a month or six weeks ago," he said after sucking sugary juice from his fingers, "I ran into one of the Fairchilds, you know, the phone people."
I nodded. I knew Fairchild Industries well. I'd been a major shareholder and had once upon a time sat on their Board.
"Augmented?" I asked. Taylor nodded. "Which one? Was it Amanda Fairchild, Luca or the idiot stepchild... what was her name? Belinda?"
"It was Amanda Fairchild," Taylor said and his eyes dipped just a fraction. "I knew her from the Met. We co-chaired an acquisition panel together. She didn't recognize me."
"But you recognized her? How was old Amanda doing?"
Amanda Fairchild was almost as old as I was and had undergone her surgeries to deal with crippling osteoporosis that even the best pharmaceuticals could no longer keep at bay. She had the whole deal--both arms and legs, most organs and a complete skeletal refit. She was truly a billion dollar lady.
As he answered, Taylor looked away. "She--she was--I think something had driven her insane."
Even before the end of the world, insanity was always just around the corner for Amanda Fairchild. Some people embraced their upgrades, while others--usually those like me and Amanda who'd had valid medical reasons for augmentation--mourned the death of a large percentage of themselves. Before the anesthesia you were whole, albeit damaged or broken, then upon waking a significant part of you was gone forever. Looking from the outside, people saw only improvement. No one ever fathomed the loss.
Amanda acutely felt the loss. About two years after she had renewed her lease on life, Amanda took me aside following an annual shareholders' meeting. Her eyes held a glint of madness despite both being entirely artificial.
"Rudy," she said, taking me by my organic elbow and directing me to a private corner. "Can I ask you a confidential question?"
I glanced about, checking for eavesdroppers. "Certainly," I said. "Your secrets are safe with me."
"When you first... upgraded, did you experience anything unusual?"
"Other than a year of grueling physiotherapy, I don't think so. Why do you ask, Amanda?"
"Well... back when we still sent soldiers to war, some would return with amputations and those soldiers would report something called a phantom itch."
I nodded. "When they could feel an itch on a limb that had been long gone, right? I did experience some of that shortly after my surgeries. My new arm would be resting at my side and I would feel pins and needles in my old arm as if it had been lying across my chest and the hand had fallen asleep. That happened a few times but the doctors at Six Million Dollar Solutions told me it was perfectly normal. It soon went away. Have you been experiencing a phantom itch?"
"More than an itch," she said, then dropped her voice even lower. "Sometimes, late at night after all of the servants have retired to their wing, I hear noises in the hallway."
"What sort of noises?"
"I know it sounds silly, but, but it's the sound of bare feet running down the hall."
"Okay, bare feet?"
"My bare feet."
"Yes. The ones they cut off. I hear them running up and down the hallways throughout the night. It's maddening."
"And how," I asked, trying to keep the skepticism out of my voice and likely failing, "do you know they're your bare feet?"
"Please, Rudy. I had those legs for more than two lifetimes. I know the sound my own feet make. And it wouldn't be so bad if they'd just kept to their nocturnal ramblings, but lately they've taken to kicking at my bedroom door."
"Kicking? At your door?"
"The door rattles in its frame until I drag myself from bed to open it up."
"And what do you see, Amanda, when you open the door?"
She waved a dismissive hand. "Nothing," she said. "Nothing but the echo of footfalls on hardwood and the lingering scent of the lavender foot cream that I used to rub on my ankles and calves."
"So," I said to Taylor, "why would you say she'd gone insane?"
He handed me another can of mandarin oranges and popped the tab off one for himself. He shoveled wedges into his mouth like a starving man, which, I suppose, he was. "She didn't recognize me but I could tell it was her. It was her legs."
Amanda's legs had been modeled on a template that mirrored an old time actress called Sofia Loren. They were custom legs and they looked magnificent. It was rumored that Amanda had spent fifty million dollars for exclusivity. Six Million Dollar Solutions would never build another set of Loren Legs.
"She'd lost most of her hair and one of her arms had been stripped to the elbow but those legs were still fully intact and functioning beautifully. The rest of her body was stooped and hunched over but when she walked... those legs carried her with the grace of an angel. At the time I still had some food, so I asked her to sit and eat for old time's sake. She squatted next to me and devoured what was left of some corned beef, licking the corners of the can until her tongue was bloodied.
"Then she rose from her squat with more speed than I would have thought possible for a woman who's over two hundred. It was like a meerkat or a prairie dog popping up to scout the horizon. She looked like she heard something and though there were a few cats prowling around, I don't think that's what startled her. She dropped the can and said, 'My God, they've found me again.' She bolted into the darkness. I haven't seen her since. I didn't like how spooked she was and I sure didn't want to meet the 'they' she talked about, so I hid for hours. No one ever passed by. It was all just so weird." He sipped the last dregs of juice from his can. "So who was the last person you saw... you know, before me."
I looked away. "I don't want to talk about it. It didn't end well."
Taylor moved closer to me and put his hand on my arm. It felt strange. It had been a long time since I'd felt the warmth of another person's flesh pressed against my own.
"Listen," he said, giving my forearm a gentle squeeze, "I know you're from a different generation from me and used to keeping your feelings bottled up, but I'm a good listener and sharing helps."
At first, I found his touch repulsive. Taylor was a wretched shadow of the man I'd known before the world went to hell. Still, a living breathing person showing uncommon compassion in a dead and broken world was something that couldn't be easily dismissed.
"She was a just person," I said. "But not like us. She was one of those one in one hundred thousand people who survived the virus. Beautiful and pristine, without a single augmentation. She was entirely human. From her filthy feet to her matted hair, all of her was magnificently nothing more than flesh and blood. She came at me with a hammer. It was one of those heavy five-pound hammers that a blacksmith or a mason might have used once upon a time. She came running across a grocery store parking lot screaming at me. I was holding a bag of canned goods I'd scavenged. I offered them to her, but she didn't seem to notice. She wasn't interested in food. She only wanted me dead."
Taylor's hand stroked my arm. "Jesus," he whispered. "What happened next?"
"She was skin and bones, but man, she was fast. I was still holding out the bag of groceries when she nailed my upgraded arm with the hammer. She caught it a good one just above the elbow that sent vibrations right into my spine. I heard something shatter inside the arm. There was a little pop and the whole thing went limp. The bag fell from my fingers and split when it hit the pavement. Cans rolled everywhere." I gave as much of a shrug as I could muster, my useless mechanical arm lifting a fraction of an inch. "It hasn't moved since.
"She pulled back the hammer for another blow, all the while yelling at me. 'It's not fair!' she said. 'It's not fair!' She said it over and over again as she hammered away at my arm. She seemed to realize that she wasn't actually hurting me and decided to aim for my fleshier bits. She caught the juncture point where my shoulder is joined with the mounting bracket fused with my spine. It didn't cause a lot of physical harm but it really, really stung."
Taylor's fingers crept across my chest and explored the area in question.
"It's all healed now," I said, "but the pain pressed me to action. I shoved her back with my biological arm...."
"And then I kicked her. As hard as I could."
In my mind's eye I could still picture how the toe of my boot impacted her side and could still hear the sickening crunch. She dropped to the pavement and curled into a ball, the hammer forgotten as both hands came to the crimson stain blossoming across her tattered blouse. My kick had broken skin and ribs and more, but as she rolled on the asphalt struggling to breathe, she kept saying "It's not fair. It's not fair."
I stood there and watched her die. She might well have been the last wholly human being on the planet, yet I made no effort to help or comfort her. I just stood and listened and waited. With her last breath she one last time extolled how unfair it was, then died. I walked back into the grocery store, found another bag, then gathered the cans that lay scattered about her body. I also pocketed her hammer. I'd seen first hand how useful it could be.
Taylor's hand slipped a bit to my chest and he looked up at me. "And?"
"She left me alone after I kicked her," I said.
Taylor kissed me. His lips pressed against mine and again, my first response was revulsion. His skin was dirty, his hair matted and he was thin with starvation, but then I remembered how he'd once been pretty. His tongue slid into my mouth, carrying the flavor of mandarin oranges. I closed my eyes as my own tongue went exploring. With my eyes closed, he was once again as pretty as they come.
While Taylor finished dressing, I scavenged a few more cans that had rolled under the shelves at the back of the store. With food in his stomach, sleep and some companionship, he seemed a different person than the one I'd intended to walk past the previous day. He'd found a backpack on a hook at the back of the shop and filled it with whatever goods he thought might be needed on the trip. I pressed him on details about the distance to the repairman but even after the intimacy we'd shared last night, Taylor still didn't trust me. In his shoes, I wouldn't trust me either.
"We should make it there today," he said. That was the only hint I was going to get.
He looked ready to go. I bent down to grab the strap of my backpack when it happened. I gasped and Taylor rushed to my side. Sweat beaded on my forehead as my breath became a staccato whimper. My eyes watered when I realized what was wrong.
My heart had stopped.
Taylor's fist pounded my chest. Once, twice, a third time.
"Jesus," I whispered into Taylor's shoulder as he took my weight. "What the hell was that?"
Taylor's palm rubbed my back. "Is this the first time that's happened to you?"
"It's been happening to me for a couple of months now," he said. "You know how our lungs are kind of like an old self-winding watch? Each breath powers a kinetic feedback motor that in turn recharges the battery. It's as close as anyone ever came to a perpetual motion machine but it cheats because the organic muscles that help with each breath contribute to the kinetic feedback. Our hearts don't have kinetic charging. A good hard thump seems to get things rolling again but I have no idea how long that's going to keep working."
"You... you figured out what to do by yourself?"
Taylor nodded again. "I was just walking along and I felt... well, you know what it feels like. I panicked. What else are you going to do when your heart stops beating? After what felt like a minute, I tried doing something I'd seen in movies. Not any med dramas, though. I thought about one of those old movies where this guy is trying to start his automobile--that's what they called them back them, right? So this guy's automobile won't start and he takes a hammer and gives it a thump. The goddamn thing roars to life. I figure my heart is like that. Just a hunk of machinery in my chest. A little more expensive, maybe, but a machine all the same. And really, what else was there to do?"
I breathed deeply, listening to the beat of my heart. It seemed fine. "How often has this happened to you, Taylor?"
"Well, when it first happened, everything was fine for about three weeks. It happened again and though it was still terrifying, I got thumping right away. After that it was about a week and a half. Now, every three days or so."
"Jesus," I said. "That's what I have to look forward to?"
Taylor continued to rub my back. "The repairman can fix us up. He has a full operating theatre. He'll make us good as new."
But at what price, I thought. What price?
In mid-afternoon, Taylor's left leg emitted a warning chime.
"The charge must be low," he said as he sat on a long dead transformer box and popped open the battery compartment. He squinted at the readout on the side of the cell. "There's hardly a charge at all. You wouldn't happen..."
I was already opening my pack. I found six cells, all with about a fifty percent charge. I handed them to him. "Here," I said. "You might as well replace the ones in your other leg. They'll be running out soon."
Looking at the charge levels on the cells I'd handed him, Taylor raised an eyebrow. "If you had these all along then how come you gave me a set of batteries with hardly a day's worth of charge?"
"Well, I didn't know if I could trust you before."
"And you do now?"
"Of course I do. Jesus, Taylor, you're the guy who jumpstarted my heart for me this morning. How could I not trust the man who did that?"
Evening fell. Taylor told me we were close but he didn't want to show up at the repairman's shop after dark. We made camp in a shopping mall, finding refuge in the Sporting Goods section of a department store. In the storeroom, we found enough pallets of bottled water that we set up a camp shower and treated ourselves. We even found a couple of camp stoves and propane cylinders to heat the water. Peeling off grime-impregnated clothes, we showered in luxury. It had been an age since either of us felt hot water on our skin.
After a hunt for fresh clothing, food and sex, I slipped into a sleeping bag with Taylor. He pressed against me, already on the edge of sleep.
"Not too far now?" I whispered into his ear.
"No," he said in a drowsy voice. "Shouldn't be more than an hour's walk. It's nice like this." He snuggled against me. "I like being with you when we're both nice and clean. You don't look half bad once you've had a wash."
"After the shower I think I saw the Taylor I knew from before. You clean up nicely." My fingers slid through his hair. "Sleep now. We both have a busy day tomorrow."
I draped my organic hand over him, feeling the rise and fall of his breathing. When I was certain he would not awaken, my fingertips crept lower, searching by touch for the access panels in his calves.
After food, a shower, and fresh clothes, Taylor almost looked like his old self. Almost. Months of malnutrition are not undone in a couple of days. Still, he struck a handsome figure as he took the lead, heading into an industrial mall just a few miles from the shopping center we'd camped at. There was no doubt which unit the repairman called home.
A pair of automated machine guns--they looked big enough to be anti-aircraft guns-stood on pillars either side of a twelve-foot wide garage door. As we drew near, a voice spoke to us through a loud speaker mounted next to one of the guns.
"Drop your weapons and bags. These guns make very large holes."
Taylor dropped his bag and I followed suit. We stepped away from our discarded bags.
"Strip to your underwear," said the voice through the loudspeaker.
Off came the brand new clothes.
"State your business."
Taylor looked to me, obviously wanting me to answer.
"We're given to understand that you are a repairman," I said with a lift of my dead, mechanical arm. "We are in need of repair."
There was a whirl and the twin guns lit up, pivoting on their mounts. Their lasers played across my naked chest. It appeared that they liked to focus on the person who spoke.
"I've repaired others in the past. There's little reward. Why should I bother?"
"We... we have goods to trade. In our packs."
"I have full shelves. Besides, I could shoot you both and take your trade goods."
"You could... but we might have something more valuable to offer."
Like what, indeed. My mind raced. It had been a lifetime since I'd been in a negotiation where I lacked the upper hand. It was not a comfortable place to be and maybe for the first time in my life I could honestly appreciate how much my business adversaries must have hated me.
"Everyone needs something. You might be secure in your fortress but isn't there something you need or desire? We have travelled far and wide. Perhaps in our travels we might have seen just what you need."
The speaker was silent a full minute. All the while, red laser dots danced across my chest.
"What repairs do you need?"
Again Taylor looked to me to handle the speaking.
"His arm has been scavenged for parts. Mine was damaged by a hammer. I have some spare parts but I don't have the tools and with only one arm--"
I hesitated but didn't know why. I guess I was still getting used to the idea that my heart needed fixing.
"My... my heart stopped beating the day before yesterday. We got it started again but... well, it's something I'd rather not have to go through again. Are you equipped to repair a heart?"
"I am. Just you or do you both need repairs to your hearts?"
There was silence that stretched to two minutes this time. Toward the end, the lasers blinked out and the guns powered down. The garage door rattled open, a yawning invitation.
"Gather your things and get in here. I give one warning: You people are nothing to me but a business opportunity. I'll kill you both at even a whiff of betrayal."
We walked into the building carrying our belongings. The place was the bastard child of every science fiction and horror movie ever made. A block and tackle, complete with greasy chains and rusted hooks hung next to a pristine portable bio-scanner. We continued to the middle of the room. There was still no sign of the repairman.
"That's far enough," a voice said from the deep shadows to our left. A spotlight flared to life above us. "I have one question before we continue and I need an immediate answer from both of you. If I repair your augmented arm and show you how, which one of you will be able to perform repairs on me?"
We spoke in unison.
"Of course, I can," I answered.
Unfortunately, for him at least, Taylor said, "I'm no doctor."
A handgun, possibly the one that Taylor once bartered, skittered across the concrete floor from the darkened corner, coming to rest by my foot. I bent over and picked it up in my organic hand. As I straightened, a figure detached from the darkness. I got my first look at the repairman.
He was a short, gaunt man dressed in the kind of coverall a mechanic or general laborer might have worn prior to the end of civilization. Between the second and third buttons from the top of the coverall, a pair of yellowed plastic tubes snaked from beneath the fabric leading to what looked like the pump of an old-style refrigeration unit. The unit was cradled in a makeshift leather holster, powered by a bank of half-life batteries arrayed like bullets in a bandolier. The repairman nodded at the gun in my hand.
"I'm glad to hear you're confident that with proper instruction you'll be capable of operating on me," he said. "As you can see, all I need now is a heart."
To his credit, Taylor immediately grasped the situation. He bolted from the repairman's shop as fast as his Six Million Dollar Solution Mark IV legs could carry him.
"I gave you the gun for a reason," the repairman said. "He's getting away and he's taking my heart with him."
I handed the gun back to the repairman and began rummaging in my pack until my finger's lighted upon what I was looking for.
"I swapped out the batteries in his legs last night while he slept. He won't get far." I showed the repairman the hammer I'd taken from the woman who had thought the world so unfair. "Besides, why waste a bullet unless you have to."
The last repairman placed an entirely human hand upon my shoulder.
"I like the way you think," he said. "This might just be the beginning of a very profitable partnership."
This story was first published on Friday, May 9th, 2014
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