Tuesday 6 September 2022

The Last Human by Gill James, black coffee

 "It wouldn't take long, Dad. And it wouldn't hurt. It'll give you years more and you'll feel better. They need people like you for the trial."

"I'm perfectly all right, thank you. I do wish you'd stop fussing."

She was becoming a pain, this daughter of his. Oh, she meant well. But this was his business and no-one else's. Graham shook his head and sighed.

Amy tucked the blanket round his legs. "Well, I'll have to go now. Sukie will keep an eye on you."

Oh Sukie. That monstrosity. Mainly machine now. Only a tiny bit of her brain was still human. The grumpy old woman bit. She was such a pain even if she could still move at what seemed like fifty miles an hour despite being considerably older than him.  "I'd rather you told her not to."

"Oh, Dad." Amy kissed the top of his head and went.

Graham pulled out the old photograph album he'd hidden down the side of his chair. Amy would have had fifty fits if she'd seen him handling something so analogue. "It's full of old germs, Dad; it'll kill you," was her mantra about such items.  

He heard a tapping at the window. A chaffinch. Did the bird-feeder need topping up? They were pretty clued up, the birds in his garden. "What would you do without us?" he mumbled. "Actually, you'd be a lot better off if we weren't here." Darn those clever scientists who thought it were a good idea to extend human life.

Well, he could get Sukie on to it later. Not just yet. He couldn't quite face the woman-machine. And those birds really ought to be a bit more independent.

He opened the album.              

Ah yes. There was his grandmother when she must have been all of six years old? It was a black and white photo. Very glossy. They kept their tone and colour, not like the later colour ones. His grandfather had loaded all of those up to a cloud and restored their original colours. And of course there were now millions of pictures and holoscenes you could access through the Network with enhanced tech. You could visit New York, Paris and even the rain forests from the comfort of your own armchair. Except, he probably couldn't because he hadn't got the appropriate chip fitted. He hadn't got any chips fitted. 

And all because of visiting that seaside place where his grandmother was in the photo. It had been a splendid place in her day.

"I always measure every other seaside resort I visited against Colwyn Bay," she'd said. "It used to be lovely. Flat sands, great for making sandcastles. All that fresh sea air when you walked along the pier. And the little train that ran along the sea front. Not to mention the mechanical elephant that went along the prom, the funfair with prancing horses and dodgem boats, and the ponies on the beach. Ponies mind you, not donkeys."

Graham had also been six when he'd visited Colwyn Bay. It was a faded sort of place by then. The pier was dangerous and dilapidated. The apartments where his grandmother and her parents had stayed were pretty run down and were now some sort of hostel. Wind turbines in the sea seemed sinister. The toffee-coloured sand was as glorious as ever, though. And sea air is sea air.

"So, this is where your grandmother used to come on holiday," his dad had said to him. "What do you think?"

Graham loved it. Especially as he had all that sand to himself. He just shouldn't have climbed on to that wall. He'd wanted to get a better view of the sea. He wasn't quite tall enough to see over it. He'd slipped and fallen, banging his head.

"No too much damage," the doctor had said. "But it will be wise to delay Chip 1 for a few months."

So, he'd watched the other children in his class gradually have their chips inserted and he didn't like what it did to them. They lacked energy. They were slow to make their minds up about everything. Worst of all, they never questioned their teachers about anything. He'd had the sense to keep quiet as well but he had his thoughts.   

They'd moved house not long afterwards and somehow the matter of the missing chip had never come up again. He liked it that way.                              

He'd carried on avoiding chips. He should have had Chip 2 when he was sixteen. By then he'd learnt how to hack into the Network and he'd created a false record for Chips I and 2. He'd rather enjoyed making up readings for them. He'd been able to access some of his friends' chips as well, so he knew exactly what sort of information was appropriate.

Maturity 1 was a bit more difficulty. Glynis was involved then. It was a shame they'd separated not long after Amy's birth. But it had made it easier for him to keep up with the false programming.

And then it was Amy's turn. That was so difficult. Should he facilitate false chipping for her? Or should he allow her to be chipped as normal?  Should he involve Glynis? If he did, would he have to tell her about his illegal (immoral or maybe quite moral?) activity?

He wanted his daughter to be happy. In the end, he decided to let her be just like the other kids. Amy was fully chipped. Was there an irony here? Was that what made her such a good daughter?

A pain shot through Graham's leg. Darn, it was his sciatica again. He could do something about that. An implant would cure it in no time. He'd resisted those as well. Should he be so proud? Even Amy had a few artificial bits and medical aids: she had breast implants, a bionic right arm and a liver enhancement. As for Glynis, was there any of the real woman left? All four limbs were bionic, all of her organs had been synthesised and she'd even had an artificial face mask grafted. She now looked younger than she had when he'd first met her. Well, good luck to her. He preferred to be natural. All he had were the dental implants that were provided to all children once the milk teeth had fallen out.

The doorbell rang. On the screen he could see that it was Jacko. Good. He would enjoy the company. 

He buzzed him in. Within seconds Jacko was in front of him, standing tall and looking not a day over forty.  

"My, you're looking your age." Jacko grinned and pulled Graham's blanket from him. "What's all this? You look like an old man."

"I am an old man."

"Ninety's nothing these days."

Jacko should know. He was a little older than Graham. He'd celebrated his ninety-first just last week. There he stood, back straight and grinning. Well, he did keep fit. Swimming and running every day and at least two rounds of golf a week. Graham used to enjoy that but his leg hurt just too much now.

He'd better make an effort. "Coffee?"

"That's the ticket."

Graham decided he would see to this himself. He still didn't want an interaction with Sukie.

The pain is his leg was excruciating as he worked in the kitchen. But he refused to give up. His hands were trembling as well. What god-awful 21st century disease was chipping away at him now? Thank goodness for the auto-tray. He programmed it to take the coffee to the lounge

When he himself made it back to the lounge Jacko was already sipping his coffee and had activated the news channel. He nodded towards the screen. "The Immortality Chip. They're still looking for volunteers."

"Do they really mean immortality? Who'd want that anyway?"

"Well it's not full immortality yet but that guy just said it would make the average life a 150 years long. That's a fifty year improvement on what we have now. And by the time we're 150 they'll have thought of something else."

"But how about the ageing body? What fun will that be?"

Jacko flicked his fingers and the screen switched off. He sniggered. "Like yours you mean? You need to get your bio-tech looked at. This new chip is fully integrated and picks up failing parts even more quickly than the other chips do. It's a no-brainer."

"Why do they need trials if it's so good?"

"They always need trials, don't they? They have to. To make it ethical."

Jacko's phone beeped. He looked at the screen. "Oh my God. They want me already."

"What? Who does?"

"They do. The people doing the trial. I'm going to have it fitted this afternoon. Got to go. They want me there ASAP."

And then he was gone.           

The front door slammed.

Graham wasn't alone for long though. Now there were more birds pecking at the window, this time a bullfinch and a robin. Several more were perched on the bird-feeder. "Well, it looks as if we'll be sharing the planet for a while longer. Don't worry. I'll get you sorted."

He sent a text to Sukie and pretended to be asleep when she came into the lounge and made her way out through the patio doors.

He managed to occupy himself quite pleasantly for the rest of the day. He watched the tennis and read a few chapters of a good old fashioned book about climate change. The latter took some concentration as it actually had words in it. All too soon Amy was back and was quizzing him about what he'd been doing all day.

"So why won't you have the trial?" she said after he'd told her about Jacko's visit. "You need something to pep you up. You're much too young to be moping about like this."

"I like moping about like this. You should respect that."

Amy laughed. "But I want you around for a good bit yet, Dad."

"You do? Haven't you got Simon?"

Amy rolled her eyes. "Have I? I don't think he's ever going to ask, Dad."

"Shall I have a word with him?"

"No, Dad. We're fine as we are." Then the smile disappeared out of her eyes. She put a hand on his shoulder. "But think about the trial, Dad."            


Graham couldn’t sleep that night. What should he do? If he had the new chip they would probably find out about his meddling with the programmes. What would happen to him then? What would be the punishment? There was no death sentence anymore and surely that would be extreme? Life imprisonment? Also extreme. Then again, hacking counted as treason so maybe that would happen. What would "life" mean in his case? A few months or at best a few years? Any form of imprisonment would be "life" for him. Wasn't he sort of imprisoned now anyway? He never went anywhere. He'd kept telling Amy he couldn't be bothered getting the upgrades. Actually, he was never notified of anything; he had no chip inside him to warn him.

Amy was going to fret, though. 

Should he do it then? Should he interfere with the programmes again? It was a massive effort. He didn't think he had the energy anymore. He was showing all the signs of ageing that people had had before the introduction of the magical chips; his legs were failing, he got short of breath and he wanted to do little else but sit at home in his comfortable armchair.

Then he made his decision. He would go away somewhere. He would tell Amy he would have the chip fitted when he got back. Yes, he would go to a spa resort to build up his strength before the operation. And he would orchestrate some sort of accident while he was away that would mean he wouldn't be able to have the chip. Maybe this time, though, he'd better not fall off a wall. 


In the end an accident happened without any manipulation from him. Quite a dramatic one. He woke in the middle of the night with a searing pain in his chest. Was this it? Was he going to die? Surely not in a place so well equipped medically as a spa resort? There were almost as many doctors and nurses here as visitors. He had a panic button anyway next to the bed. He leaned over to press it but as he did the pain got sharper and he couldn't quite reach. He felt himself drifting away but his mind was still working.

It was a lovely place to die. It was a lovely place to do anything. He had a view of the sea from his window. The walk down to the beach was through a small pine wood which smelt glorious with the sun on it. At night the sound of the waves soothed him to sleep.

Just before he became completely unconscious he reflected that if he did die - and he probably would - he would be the last of the humans. The rest, including his beloved Amy, had too many artificial bits to be considered human.          

About the author  

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown. She edits CafeLit. She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing





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