The room looked the same as all the other interview rooms. The interviewers too were similar to all the others. They had the same suits, same way of sitting, same bored expressions and now the one on the right, and it was always the one of the right, was about to ask the usual question. “Ms Laker what have you got that makes you stand out against the other candidates we’re seeing today? What is your USP?”
On the hover-train home to Dunfermline, already prepared for the rejection letter or more likely lengthening silence from her hoped-for employer, Simone pondered the question. What was her USP? She had been a security guard for a company who had switched their operations abroad. Key staff were offered a transfer of course, but new security staff could be hired at their new location. Simone had now been redundant for almost a year.
Simone sank back in her seat, watching the Firth disappear from view. To make matters worse the woman opposite was chatting to her friend in a loud voice about how she was re-inventing herself. Being surgically enhanced was “like being reborn or starting completely anew”, she said. “I told him it had to be Cate Blanchett’s nose, not her actual nose of course, that would be silly, but one just like hers. I wanted Fiona Bruce’s eyebrows, you know just bit of an angle but not Mr Spock, and breasts that would enter the room ahead of me and turn every head.”
Picking up a crumpled free paper from the carriage floor, in the vain hope it would distract her from the woman’s chatter, Simone idly flicked through its pages. Suddenly an article caught her eye. “Why stick with five senses when you can have eight or nine? Simple technology available today mean tiny sensors can be very simply grafted to your nervous system and linked by Wi-fi to your computer or smart phone. With these extra senses, you could detect and experience things others can’t.”
A sixth sense, now that would certainly be a Unique Selling Point, Simone mused.
While her boyfriend Andy made dinner that night, Simone checked out the links from the article online. It was all true. It was called cybernetics. You could buy a range of body upgrades by mail order from a company in America. They did not look too complicated or expensive either. For less than a £100 you could get kitted out with fingertip sonar magnets – which by their vibrations would tell you what was in a pitch-black room, and where it was located. It seemed to be a bit like having a bat’s echolocation. Then there were heat sensors to let you know who was in the room, how near they were, and their body temperature. These could be useful augmentations to the hands of a security guard.
“Darling I’ve been thinking…” Simone took a breath. “Maybe I should get myself cybernetically enhanced.” Andy muttered something about thinking he hadn’t cooked the chops for quite long enough. She tried again. “Andy! – Would you mind if I became a cyborg?” His startled face was a picture.
Simone decided that perhaps she should get Andy used to the idea more slowly. After all, the changes she was about to make to herself were very subtle. With luck he’d hardly notice the difference. That evening, she went ahead with buying and downloading onto her phone the software she’d need to use her new senses. Now, she could hardly wait for the parcel to arrive from the US, containing the actual implants.
A week later, a little box arrived by drone, direct from a company in Michigan. Simone tore it open, part in anticipation, but also partly in dread. These were after all implants that were going to be surgically placed in her fingertips. On seeing her enhancements however, she was partially at least reassured. They were so tiny, so delicate – the heat sensor and the sonar magnets. Of course they had to be if they were going to be inserted into her fingers. That part, she admitted to herself, did still make her feel quite queasy.
Simone had passed the tattoo parlour in the town centre on many occasions but never had cause to go in before. The details on the American website however explained that it was not necessary to have fingertip sensors fitted by a doctor. It said a registered tattoo artist or body piercer was fine legally and in terms of health and safety.
The tattooist, who turned out to be a woman covered with intricate floral art, listened to Simone in bemused silence, before admitting that this was the first time she’d been asked to perform a cybernetic augmentation. She was however unfazed upon reading the fitting instructions. As she cleaned with disinfectant Simone’s index and middle finger on her right hand, she reassured her that it would only be a tiny incision. “No worse than when you nick your finger chopping veg.” Simone took a deep breath and looked away.
The tattooist was quick and the job was soon done. Simone’s newly bandaged fingers throbbed a bit, but it was bearable. There was no comparison with what the woman on the train wishing to acquire Cate Blanchett’s nose would need to go through. The tattooist explained that the cuts would heal in a few days, then tried to up sell Simone an inking of a couple of swallows on her back. Simone declined gracefully, but still left the shop feeling like she was a new woman. She felt transformed, reborn and rebuilt. She was in effect a cyborg. Her USP was now unique. The bandages could come off in five days time, which was just as well, as she had just discovered another firm advertising a security post.
When Andy came home from his part-time job supervising shelf-stacking droids in Inverkething, he noticed the bandaged fingers at once and was horrified. He imagined Simone had somehow hideously mutilated herself. Gingerly she undid the bandages and he calmed down.
“Oh is that all it is? A tiny scar on two fingers? Well it’s very neat. I wouldn’t have even noticed if I didn’t have my glasses on.”
Simone re-bandaged her fingers, and though she could feel the occasional odd vibration in one or other fingertip, she resisted the urge to take another peek beneath the bandages until the five days were up.
The day of her fingertips’ official unveiling also happened to coincide with the interview for the job of security guard. Simone put on her sharpest suit and painted her nails. She somehow had a feeling that her hands would be the centre of attention this time around. A USP was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting interviewer.
As usual there were two suited people waiting to see her in an identikit Edinburgh office. The one on the right, a bored-sounding man told her to take a seat before launching into the usual spiel about how they were seeing a number of candidates for the post. Simone however was in no mood for identikit interview etiquette. Waving her burgundy painted nails in his face to silence him she boldly interrupted, “I know all that, so let’s just cut to the chase shall we? Would you like to see my USP?”
The once bored-looking interview jumped out of his skin and spluttered something unintelligible. “My Unique Selling Point.” Simone persisted, raising her voice slightly as if talking to a sullen child. She stood up, as he still sat there, mouth slightly open. “Let’s go in next room. Shall we?” The interviewer could only follow. Upon reaching the next door in the corridor, Simone turned back towards the transfixed man who clearly believed she had taken leave of her senses. “Before I enter, please turn off the lights and pulls the blinds.” She waited outside whilst this was done, then took one step into the room’s doorway. She raised her right arm and immediately her fingers began to tingle.
Simone moved her arm in a slow arc to allow her fingers to scan the room. Then, in an instant, she felt the sonic sensor in her index fingertip vibrate. By Wi-fi it had communicated with the software on her phone and was now sending information back to her. Then the temperature sensor started to vibrate too. Simone started to explain “There’s a large object there. Registering at lower than room temperature. It’s a water cooler. There’s a woman standing beside it, about five metres from us. By her temperature reading she shouldn’t be in work today. Probably got the flu. There are two men standing together by the window, one of whom should really consider going on a diet for the sake of his health.”
What her cybernetic enhancements didn’t tell Simone was that the rather large man was actually the boss of the company. It didn’t matter, she was hired on the spot and put in charge of the night security team in Edinburgh city centre.
Simone bought a bottle of bubbly to celebrate with Andy that evening. That night, lying in bed, listening to him snore, her fingertip sensor told her he was very cold.- thirty-three degrees centigrade to be precise. Worried she woke him, to be told it was just because as usual she had taken most of the duvet. Andy went back to sleep, but Simone could not. Her sonar told her there was a large moth flying around in the darkened room. For a while she just tracked its movements, but when it almost landed on her boyfriend’s nose she could keep quiet no longer. “Andy, there’s a moth in here.” Exasperated, Andy woke and told her to go back to sleep. “It doesn’t matter, Batwoman. Can’t you switch those things off?” Simone had in fact switched her phone off, but the software brought it back to life every time there was something in the vicinity to sense or detect.
Over the next few weeks, Simone was very happy in her new job. She foiled four attempted break-ins of shops, and caught two teams of burglars red-handed, well infrared handed, you could say, as it was her heat sensors that spotted them hiding in the dark. The company was delighted and she was promoted to departmental manager. It meant longer hours – day and night, but she was now bringing in good money and everything was going well, or so she thought.
It was late when Simone got home that night, but she could see that the light was still on so Andy hadn’t gone to bed without her. As she walked into the hall she could hear him speaking on his mobile, in a hushed tone. She stood behind the door and eavesdropped. “Oh that sounds like Simone coming in. Finally. Look Helen, perhaps we should carry on this conversation at work tomorrow. Bye.” He ended the call as Simone entered the room, glaring at him suspiciously. He asked if she’d had a good evening at work, but Simone was in no mood for small talk. She blurted out that she knew he’d been talking to his supervisor Helen. Helen who raised his temperature by nought point five degrees every time she called.
“Simone!” Andy was shocked at the accusation. Helen was nothing more than a colleague. Simone was not to be pacified. Whose name was it that the infrared let her see him mouthing in his sleep? Could it possibly be Helen’s? Andy was outraged, but Simone was not finished. Small niggles had been building up over the past weeks, like the fact that the previous Monday he had cooked a casserole at twenty degrees over its optimum heat. At the same time he had put the washing machine on at a far lower temperature than she had asked, so coffee stains remained in their best tablecloth.
If she had expected Andy to admit his guilt or even the fact that he was an inferior being without a USP, Simone was sadly disappointed. Instead he erupted into a rant of his own, “I’m sick of this! I’ve had enough. I don’t want to be living with a cyborg! You don’t know how annoying it is, when you keep getting up in the middle of the night to dust a lampshade or move something that only you can see is in the wrong place. It’s getting on my nerves that you can tell what we have, or haven’t got in the fridge or the cupboards without opening them. Your birthday was a nightmare – I knew, you already knew what was inside your presents despite your efforts to fake surprise. And I don’t need telling every five minutes what my temperature is.”
They only retort in her arsenal was one she didn’t really mean. She suggested he run off and live with Helen instead. “At least she’s normal” Andy sniped back. That was it. Simone erupted telling him he should leave.
Andy didn’t leave however. After all the mortgage was in both their names, and whether he liked Helen from work or not, Helen had a husband. Simone and Andy started living separate lives in the same house, eating separately, sleeping separately.
“At least I’ve some privacy this way.” Andy said, adding slightly spitefully “ Not bought a way to see through walls yet have you?”
They were drifting apart. Though Simone genuinely didn’t think there was anything going on between him and Helen from his workplace. It wasn’t that he wanted someone new – it was rather that he wanted things to be back the way they were.
He wanted the old Simone back. The one with the normal five senses instead of seven. It was understandable really, Simone supposed, how could they still have anything in common when they didn’t even experience the world in the same way?
Ultimately she knew what she had to do. The sensors had to go. Her mind was made
up as she headed out, on my way to the tattoo parlour. Perhaps after the woman had removed her cybernetics she would have those little swallows tattooed on her back after all, just to cheer herself up.
Simone had reached the corner of the street when she heard cries for help. Smoke was billowing from the upstairs windows of a flat above a shop. The fire brigade were on their way but someone was apparently trapped in there. She didn’t think twice. With a couple of guys from the neighbouring shop, she broke down the door.
The heat of the inferno hit her as she rushed up the stairs. The smoke was thick and stifling, the heat from the flames registered over one hundred degrees. Simone felt as if her eyeballs were melting. It was impossible to see anything through the smoke – well it was unless you happened to be a cyborg. Her sonar and infrared sensors were detecting two figures in the gloom, pressed up against the wall in a corner. One by its
size and temperature reading was a child, the other was not human.
With her scarf up over her face to prevent her being overcome, Simone let her finger sensors guide her through the choking smoke. Suddenly the little boy was clinging to her and the other life form was revealed to be a very frightened dog. Grabbing
them both, she turned around. Checking her phone to squint at the data from the heat sensor, she could see there was a cooler blue patch registering to her right. It must be some kind of exit: a door or a window. With flames and acrid smoke all around them, she didn’t care which it was. Clutching the boy and dog, Simone made for that exit. It was a window, and then they were falling.
Simone awoke in a hospital ward to see Andy looking at her, concern and love on his face. She struggled to sit up, instantly worried about the little boy and his dog. Andy reassured her that they were both fine. She had saved both their lives. Unfortunately she had cracked two ribs and inhaled a fair bit of smoke in the process. Andy told her he would leave her to rest.
“No!” Simone had something apart from smoke she wanted to get off her chest. “Andy, listen, I’ve got to explain. I was on my way to get them removed – the sensors – and I still will I promise. In fact perhaps one of the doctors here can take them out?”
Andy told her to hush. No one was going to remove her sensors. She was now a national heroine. The TV News and the papers were all waiting to interview her. Andy had even had a call from the fire brigade asking if Simone would like to join them, and a mountain rescue team too. “You’re a lifesaver, my darling. They’re telling me that’s what you should be doing – going out saving lives. It’s your
vocation.” Simone could barely take this in, especially when she heard the headline the local paper wanted to go with was ‘Cybernetic Simone The Superhero.’ She laughed, it was ridiculous, and that was still how she felt when she received a tweet from Steven Spielberg.
When she came out of hospital, things were good again between Simone and Andy. She never did hear any more from Steven Spielberg, but her life still changed beyond all recognition. She became a Dunfermline fire brigade reservist and a weekend mountain rescue volunteer, while still managing security in Edinburgh city centre. Simone had one further little augmentation too – on her ring finger. It didn’t do anything extraordinary. It was just a little gold band. After all there’s no law to say cyborgs can’t get married like everyone else. Or live happily ever after.
Judy Upton is a multi award-winning playwright/screenwriter with plays produced here in the UK by the Royal Court, National Theatre, BBC Radio 4 and others. She has also had two feature films produced. Her short stories have been published in a number of print and online publications and her website is at: http://www.judyupton.co.uk