I logged in on my dashboard computer – Friday 15th January 2040. I was getting a new work experience person today. It didn’t matter what day of the week they started, we worked seven days a week and every day was the same, though today was going to be rather different. Their name was Hope, sixteen years old, no idea if they would be a boy, girl or other, I would have to wait and see how or if they self identified. Dressed in biohaz suits it was difficult to tell, so it didn’t much matter. What sort of name was Hope; parents must have been optimistic, must have been optimistic in the first place to have a baby in 2024.
‘Good morning Hope, welcome to the team, what the hell made you want to try this job?’
‘To get away from home, get outside.’
‘They all say that, outside’s not all it’s cracked up to be, every day’s much the same, but I have to tell you we have an NR7 to deal with first today, did they tell you about that in your on line induction?’
‘Nope, don’t think so, wasn’t really listening…’
‘I thought not, well you can back out now, it might not be very nice.’
‘No way, I’d have to go to the back of the jobs queue.’
‘NR7 means No Response for seven days, weekly food parcel still on front path and housebot has set off the alarm – no signs of life detected. We have to go in, it’s almost certain resident is dead, probably of old age.’
‘Whaat…’ came the gruff exclamation through their mask voice box.
‘I’ve seen a few cases. Rich relatives paid or bribed for them to be exempt from the euthanasia programme, unkindest thing they could have done, but I guess years ago they thought this would all be over and Granny would come round for tea again.’
‘Why would you want your Granny to come round, when you could see her on Omegazoom?’
‘So she could play with her grandchildren… oh never mind, let’s get on with this. According to our records all her family predeceased her, otherwise they would have notified us that she was not responding.’
Hope gazed out of the window of my solar powered vehicle as we turned into the ‘Granny’s’ street.
‘I’ve never been down a street before, we live in a tower block, those gardens look so pretty, how do they get them all the same?’
‘Gardenbots, programmed to create the sort of garden the average person wants to look out on. Ah, here we are, Click and Collect food box still out on the front path, regulation two metres from the front door. Only time residents are allowed out; to click on the box, collect it and take it indoors, but obviously you know all that.’
‘Yes, I always volunteer to go out in the corridor and collect ours.’
‘NR7 is the only time we are allowed to enter a private home, I had to sign out the entry device, let’s hope it works.’
I pointed and pressed the button and it showed entry code overridden. I pushed at the front door, but it didn’t give easily; we soon saw why and I thought my other half had a lot of pot plants. It was like a jungle, not that I have ever seen a jungle. Through the leaves emerged a four foot angular housebot. It was no use asking it what had happened, one of the outdated models that didn’t speak, programmed only for house maintenance, not companionship. It didn’t need to speak, I knew at this very moment it would be signalling back to base, alien human life detected. I quickly tapped my wrist phone to register with base my arrival here.
‘Okay Hope, I’ll go first into each room, starting with the front room.’
Obviously the housebot was programmed to stay out of the little old fashioned sitting room; in the corner was the skeleton of a tree, beneath it a carpet of dead pine needles and under that thick dusty layer could just be discerned some grey shapes that had once been Christmas parcels.
Hope pointed in horror as if this might be the body we were looking for.
‘What is thaat?’
‘It was once a Christmas Tree.’
‘Before your time, a relic from the last Christmas of 2020.’
I felt a lump in my throat. I remembered that last Christmas. We never did go round to Granny’s to have a ‘proper Christmas when things are better’ – it seems I was not the only child who didn’t get Granny’s presents that year.
We moved through the kitchen, all neat and tidy; the housebot would have cleared away any clues as to when the resident had last eaten. Out in a little conservatory was another housebot free area, the plants had run riot and on a table covered in cobwebs, a closer inspection revealed a half built Lego set, like I used to play with. But the smiling faces of the Lego people could not be seen under the thick coat of dust.
‘Wouldn’t she have been a bit old to be playing with Lego?’
‘I imagine that was the last time her grandchildren came round, she left the Lego out ready for them to play with next time, but next time never came.’
But Hope wasn’t listening, they had wrenched open the filthy patio door to gaze in wonder at the back garden and it was a wonderful display of colour to cheer us up. The rich relatives must have paid out an endowment long ago for a personal gardenbot.
Reluctantly I lead the way upstairs, the worst part of our job was still to come. I pushed open the bedroom door and there she was, lying tucked up in bed, the blank Omegazoom screen at an easy to see angle beside her. I wondered when was the last time she had spoken to anyone on the screen.
‘Well Hope, you should get your parents to check in to the home bidding, there will be a house and garden available in a week or so.’
‘Do you think we stand a chance, a real garden I could go out into?’
‘Tell them to get in quick before everyone else hears about it.’