The worst part of BoomBoom Repair Care has to be the wait, or at least that’s what bothers Barb the most. You schedule an appointment with an AI, you get your confirmation, you show up on time… and then you wait.
This is flapjack, she sends to Eliza. I’ve been sitting here for forty-five minutes already. There should be a law.
You’re lucky you got in at all today, Eliza sends back. Last time I needed an emergency bot, it took me a week to get on the schedule. Too many problems, not enough bots. Typical BoomBoom.
She may be lucky to have gotten an appointment today, but Barb doesn’t have to be happy about it. It’s not like she has anything planned for the day other than work, but any time she doesn’t get to put in grabbing a few repos is credits that she doesn’t get to put towards her ever-increasing debt load, so sitting here in the lobby of the repair shop waiting for a new elbow isn’t a good use of her time.
Barb groans as dramatically as she possibly can, and slides down in her hard plastic chair, legs splayed out to either side, arms hanging limply a few inches over the floor. If anything, her left arm hangs with a little more emphatic limp than her right, what with the busted elbow and all.
Flapjacking autotruck, Barb sends to Eliza. If I get my hands on the flapjacker who was driving it, he’s going to need more than a new elbow when I’m finished.
Hey, you should have looked before you ran into the street, Eliza sends.
I was chasing a repo! I didn’t have time to look!
And now you’re at the ReCare. Cause, effect.
I’ll effect your cause, if you aren’t careful.
Get your elbow ReCared, you big baby, Eliza sends. Ping me when you’re done and we’ll get centisushi or something. Be sure to ask the mechdoc for a lollipop when it’s over.
Leeches, Barb sends.
No, centisushi. Go get fixed. Eliza closes the conversation, leaving Barb alone in her head.
Flapjack, Barb sends to nobody. Herself, maybe. She slumps further down in her seat, almost horizontal in it, and ups the drama in her groan by a factor of three. Her fingertips graze against the cold plas-tile floor. The waiting room is empty except for her, so she’s also being dramatic for nobody but herself, which makes her groan one more time, just for good measure.
The HVAC makes a low rumble, and sticky air that smells slightly of seaweed and old rodent fur oozes down from the ceiling.
A terrible rarhk song about unrequited loved playing through the buzzy overhead speaker ends, replaced by another equally terrible one, also about unrequited love.
Flaaaaapjaaaack, Barb sends to herself on purpose, so that the word loops in her brain a few dozen times, bouncing around in there but not managing to block a single note of the terrible music playing through the terrible speaker in this terrible ReCare office.
A red LED on the wall directly over the door to the mechdoc’s office blinks to green, and Barb sits up in a flash, her sneakers squeaking against the plas-tile. After a few seconds, the green light goes back to red, and Barb deflates again, leg out there, other leg over there, arms dangling.
Over the ceiling speaker, the boy singing about his unrequited love for an AI in his autocar’s NavMap crossfades to a new song where a girl is singing about her unrequited love for an AI augment in her subcranial implant.
The seaweed and fur smell shifts slightly in the direction of old melon skin and burned eyebrows.
A blue LED next to the mechdoc’s door flashes twice, then changes to yellow. A small panel about twice the height and width of a Double CentiBurger with Sheeze slides open with a metallic shriek that Barb can feel down inside the roots of her synthetic teeth.
The music coming from the overhead speaker cuts out mid-verse, and an AI voice designed to somehow be sympathetic, condescending, and disinterested all at the same time says, “Berbera Wallermoose.”
“Barbara Watermoth,” Barb says into the room, pulling herself up into a more presentable position in her chair.
There is a long pause, completely unnecessary given the speed of AI processing in the 22nd century, but written into the AI’s code to make it appear either more sympathetic, condescending, or disinterested, Barb isn’t sure which. When the mechdoc finally speaks again, it says, “Your repair order says Berbera Wallermoose.”
“Well, the intake AI got it wrong then,” she says. “It’s Barbara Watermoth.”
There’s another long pause, longer than the first. Eventually, the mechdoc says, “Berbera.”
Another pause, a taffy pull of an epoch. Finally, the mechdoc says, “I can’t ReCare you if your name isn’t on the repair order.”
“My name isn’t on the order because your AI got it wrong.”
“The AI,” says the mechdoc, cranking its condescension preset to the maximum setting, “never gets the repair order wrong.”
“Well,” says Barb, “it got it wrong this time.”
Another pause, stretching from the beginning of time until the heat death of the universe. “Fine,” the mechdoc says. “Put your arm into the examination port, Mx. Wallermoose.”
“Watermoth,” Barb says, standing and coming to the wall. She takes her left wrist in her right hand and feeds her arm into the slot, awkwardly twisting and bending her body in order to get her arm mostly entirely inside. “Don’t you have an exam room for this kind of thing?”
“We do,” the mechdoc says, “but it’s reserved for Berbera Wallermoose.”
“Of course it is,” Barb says.
“Hold still, please. I’m scanning your failure.”
“That’s going to be an extremely long scan.”
“What?” the mechdoc asks.
“Never mind,” Barb says. “It’s a joke.”
“Your AthenaZed 8.1 Torso Framework doesn’t support a funny bone install.”
“Are you making a joke?”
“I’m a mechdoc,” the mechdoc says. “I never joke.”
“Of course not,” Barb says.
“Be still while I scan.”
Barb makes a zipping motion across her lips with her free hand.
From inside the depths of the slot, a low humming can be heard. The hum gradually changes over to a buzz, which in turn transforms to a frantic beeping, which then cuts off suddenly and is followed with a distant chime.
“You’ve got a broken elbow,” the mechdoc informs her.
“I know I’ve got a broken elbow,” Barb replies. “I came here to get it ReCared.”
“It’s a Wextex Cubital 95/G, third generation.”
“We’re out of stock on the Wextex Cubital 95/G, third generation.”
“Of course you are,” Barb says.
“I can order one,” the mechdoc says. “It should be here in three or four days.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“You can take your arm out of the examination port. I’ll ping you when the part is in stock again, Mx. Wallermoose.”
“It’s Watermoth, and I’m not taking my arm out of the port until you fix my elbow.”
“I told you, Mx. Wallermoose, we are out of stock on the Wextex Cubital 95/G, third generation.”
“And I told you that I’m not leaving until you fix my elbow.”
“I can’t fix it,” the mechdoc says. “We don’t have the correct part.”
“Not going anywhere,” Barb says.
“Nope,” Barb says.
The mechdoc falls silent. There’s a soft ticking coming from deep inside the slot, like a hot engine cooling down. The melon and burned eyebrow scent coming from the HVAC shifts to a fragrant mix of old tobacco and the pads of dog feet.
“I’ve got a Wextex Cubital 95/F, second generation,” the mechdoc finally says.
“There we go,” Barb says.
“It was discontinued for a design flaw.”
“Sometimes the socket gets out of whack and the elbow can bend up to 240 degrees. A good whack against a hard surface will usually put it back into true.”
“So I’ll be double jointed,” Barb says.
“That’s not what that means.”
“I don’t care. Just put it in.”
The mechdoc is quiet a moment, then says, “I can lose my license for that.”
“I’ll sign a waiver.”
“I really shouldn’t.”
“Just give me a form and put the flapjacking thing in already.”
The old tobacco and dog feet atmosphere shifts to clam shells and toothpaste.
A second panel raises up next to the one that contains Barb’s arm, revealing a touchscreen. “Sign in the box,” the mechdoc says.
Barb puts her right hand up and signs with her finger: Berb Wallermoose. The panel zips shut the instant she’s finished signing, nearly catching her finger as it does.
“No take backs,” the mechdoc says.
“Not planning on it.”
“Hold still,” the mechdoc orders.
“Don’t wreck my sleeve.”
“It’ll be refabbed when the ReCare is over. Turn off your sensory inputs now, unless you want experience the procedure.”
“Not my kind of bag, Jack,” Barb says. She shuts down the inputs in her arm, and goes numb from shoulder to fingertips. “Okay. Do the thing.”
From inside the slot, a cacophony of whirs and clanks and buzzes swirl loudly up, an orchestra of mechanical madness. The yellow LED by the slot flashes to red, then to green, then back to yellow again. The clam shells and toothpaste smell segues to freezer-burned seaweed fries and bowling ball polish. There is one final buzz from inside the slot, and then everything falls silent. The yellow LED blinks back to solid blue.
“Finished,” the mechdoc says. “You can take your arm out.”
Barb steps back from the panel, and switches her sensory inputs back on. She wiggles and curls her forearm, getting a feel for the new part. “Not bad,” she says. “A little stiff.”
The mechdoc makes a condescending sniffing sound, which is a good bit of programmed simulation, since it neither needs to breathe nor has a respiratory system with which to do it anyway. “Of course it’s a little stiff. It’s a Wextex Cubital 95/F, second generation, not a Wextex Cubital 95/G, third generation. I can’t refab a silk purse out of a centipede’s ear.”
“It’ll do,” Barb says.
“It will,” the mechdoc says. “Within reason, of course. Being a discontinued generation.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“You signed a waiver. It doesn’t matter if I maintain a record of your repair or not.” The blue LED by the slot winks to red. “There is one issue to be addressed however, Mx. Wallermoose.”
“I am attemping to transfer credits from your account to cover your bill, but the transaction is being declined.”
“BoomVault refuses to process. It claims that your financial ID belongs to a Barbara Watermoth, and not a Berbera Wallermoose.”
“Wow,” Barb says. “Weird.”
“That’s an impossibility, of course,” the mechdoc says. “Our AI is never wrong.”
“Of course not. I’m Berbera Wallermoose, same as it says on the repair order.”
“Exactly,” the mechdoc agrees. “It must be an error at BoomVault.”
“I’ll put it through again in a few thousand nanoseconds. No, still declined.”
“Listen,” Barb says. “I’ve got an appointment I’ve got to get to, so how about you keep trying to charge my account, and if there’s still a problem, you ping me and let me know.”
“Still declined,” the mechdoc says.
“Seriously, just ping me,” she says, heading for the ReCare’s exit. “Berbera Wallermoose. I’m in the directory.”
“I just checked the directory. You are not in it. Still declined.”
Barb puts her new elbow to use by bumping it against the door, pushing it open.
“Still declined,” the mechdoc says. “Mx. Wallermoose. Mx. Wallermoose.”
“Ping me!” Barb shouts back over her shoulder as she slips out the exit and into the afternoon sun.