Art by Koren Shadmi


This story is over 5 years old.



A day in the life of the automated body of the future.

We're already hacking into the brains of cockroaches, mice, and monkeys, in order to, basically, place them under remote control. The less said about Lia Swope Mitchell's beautiful, unsettling, and surprising story, the better, so suffice to say this innovative, alarming piece does what fiction rarely does—gives voice and empathy to the automaton. -the Ed.



The automated body needs 6 hours rest per 24, completed in 1-2 intervals of horizontal interface during which nutrition and hydration are accomplished via oral-esophageal connection duct. Liquified grain-legume meal provides 1500-1900 calories with 2-3 liters water and simultaneously delivers pharmaceutical support, quantities variant with unit size. Excretion is accomplished during interface via anal duct and throughout labor activity via catheter.

Program revisions and medical and/or hardware diagnostics and repair may be performed as necessary during this time. Interface terminates with antibacterial flush.

When Energy Debt (ED) is nonrecuperable and/or violation is grave (see: PENALTIES level 6-9, severe and/or permanent energy depletion via productivity suppression or damage to persons/property, inadequate productivity (long-term), excessive resource intensivity (long-term), recidivism, etc.) the unit is fully automated for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Full automation permits maximal communication that is not vulnerable to connectivity failures/interruptions. Hardware connections established via the sphenoid and magnum foramina allow control of sensorimotor and semi-autonomous systems. Operating systems integrate primarily with parietal and occipital lobes of the cerebrum and with the cerebellum. Activity is surgically suppressed in the frontal and temporal lobes and the limbic system.


Full automation is permanent and irreversible. Fully automated units (FAUs) will experience catastrophic functional failure in disconnection.

When significant functional lifetime remains such that average potential productivity exceeds ED (see: PENALTIES level 3-5, accidental or minor energy depletion via productivity suppression or damage of persons/property, inadequate productivity (short term), excessive resource intensivity (short term) etc.) semi-automation permits reintegration when ED recuperation is complete.

In semi-automated units (SAUs) frontal cortical and limbic activity is pharmaceutically suppressed and hardware connectivity established with the parietal lobe. SAUs may retain partial awareness.

Pharmaceutical support ensures that post-reintegration subjects retain few if any specific memories of incidents during automation. (see: GUIDELINES Ethics 5c.2 and PENALTIES section 2g)

Damage and resulting infection shorten unit longevity. FAUs will not react to external or sensory stimuli and require regular visual/manual assessments for autonomic reactions and/or symptoms of damage or illness.

SAUs may experience some voluntary and reflex reactions detectable by electronic systems. Evaluate damage according to degree of efficiency impairment and/or threat of product contamination. Non-contaminating injuries and illness (e.g. minor bone fractures, internal and non-ulcerating tumors, etc. See MAINTENANCE B1) and those that do not impede efficiency may not require treatment.


Conditions affecting production should receive appropriate medical intervention, with the exception of analgesic/anaesthetic medication obviated by systematic neural suppression.

System connectivity failures may result in brief interruptions of control. Such interruptions typically last 0.5-1 second before correction and do not significantly impede unit efficiency. More frequent and/or longer interruptions due to internal hardware malfunction or displacement impede efficiency and may result in equipment damage.

SAUs in temporary or malfunctional disconnections experience disorientation and anxiety with unpredictable reactions and behaviors. Sedation may be required to facilitate repair. Increase ED to compensate for additional support.

If semi-automation proves ineffective/inefficient due to continued or increased connectivity failure frequency, ED will increase and full automation may be required. Major hardware corrections should be attempted no more than once.

Minor corrections should be administered if feasible and if the disconnected unit will submit to it.

Average longevity of FAUs is 6-8 years. Expiration is determined based on frequency of damage or illness. Remains are cremated and added to growth medium.

Average ED-recuperation period for SAUs is 1-3 years. Post-reintegration neural scarring and minor damage resulting in diminished mental capacity are expected. Former SAUs receive manual labor assignments appropriate to remaining mental capacity although individual outcomes differ widely, variant with automation time and neural recovery. Post-reintegrative compliance rates are high. Recidivism rates vary according to initial violation but average near 7%. Data excludes non-reporting former SAUs. Non-reports are presumed deceased or departed from the cities. This attrition rate is negligible.


Disconnect and rise from the half-lit rows of the underground, emerge, proceed in line through the glow of the dome at sundown.
ASSIGNED Rinse station 12.
Stand by for supply. Pick spinach at night, once recovered from heat and daylight wilting. Leaves carry remnants of growth medium.
The thin flesh so easily bruised.
Three rinses, packaging in plastic; throughout, hands remain light. Finger prickles: dark eyes, long skinny legs.
A crawl, a pinch along the index.
The son, remember
A spider.
Nine hours,
a cool damp dream of spinach,
until next interface. ASSIGNED
Tomatoes require staking, removal
of extraneous growth. Wrong stems, too many flowers shrink existing fruit. Favor the hard bulbs, the green infant fists of future food. Fertilization requires bees.
Floating gold vibrations spiral through the mist of solar light, tense and constant between blossoms. Can't stop moving just like his dad, stupid kid
Hands turn green with sap, red with stings. Late shoots scatter the brown sponge of growth medium. So stubborn even as a baby ERROR
stiffens and screams and won't ever sleep through ERROR
Nine hours. Interface. ASSIGNED

Enlarged fingers lose leaves in sinks, seek again, try to grasp, failed hand splashing in cold water FUNCTION FAILURE your fucking fault can't you ever ERROR
so swing a fist for control UNIT FAILURE ALERT
wires light across the cerebral cortex, thalamus to cerebellum and down through spine. Dendrites flare. Body crashes, crooks. Struggles to right REASSIGNED: Diagnostics. See what keeps blippin' in this guy—
fluorescent void and jolt
shadow above, fingers disappearing in the dark half of empty other eye
Okay, the central sulcus, can you enlarge
and something rips open, something
Here's our problem—
choking and the arms jolt up, find fingers in a soft mouth the wet the hard teeth Hey now look, can you— Push to upright, pull the tubes
like tearing out a throatful of fire,
flaming through the muscle like veins. Flat grayface figures with hands held out All right, guy, just calm
Shove aside, out and past, gotta get away get alone and remove all this,
layers of rubber, thighbag of piss, the filth and the smell—
What's his name, anyway, is he—
halls curve like tubes around the floor. Like looking through rain. Clear plastic blurs rows of bodies into one body, one movement, one machine. And run. Like a rat between cages but there's gotta be a way out, across the floor between rows
under the crushing weight of smell: unwashed shit and untreated infection, rot and ferment and death. Bodies unperceiving, unperceived
even as they crash. But go—through the next tube, lose the guard, toward the doorway, just go
Okay, Eastman—Joseph Eastman, listen—
and on the door, a reflection—the boy.
you shouldn't be here, are you really here? Joe how—
but it's the same as always,
squared off and screaming
full-grown boy can't act his age, can't respect his own father, brought you into this world, teach you how to act—
and stop
and the impact, body to body to floor
okay hold him still, get his arms
the same fist, the same lesson
been teaching all this time,
the blow that always falls, that cannot
fall again
starting sedation in the chest port now—
eyes like a mirror to recognize mine,
my face to defeat, my fault he can't
submit to it Fallen,
failed again,
lost eye filling with
the same blood
that he gets
from me eyelid Interface. Elegant patterns of hands flow independent of slack-faced figures, gathered under the dome and the shortening night. The spinach swells emerald as the bees sleep, hives dormant in the dark. With the light
they wake, merge into light, the condensed warmth of morning

And yes, it will come up again. And yes, I will remember.