Upgrade of Humanly Things

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

When benevolent aliens came to Earth, they shared their technology with the human race to make life easier on the planet. Four years later, old farmer Roger was one of the only few remaining humans who refuses to use alien tech.

Upgrade of Humanly Things

 

Old farmer Roger hauled a sackful of cabbages onto the back of his truck. His old black auto bobbed up and down as he plumped the sack on top of another, making a dull, slapping sound.

"People just don't do this anymore," he muttered to himself as he turned around, lifting the last sack from the wheelbarrow. He grabbed one on both sides, hauling it to his left shoulder.

As he lifted, he wobbled to the left, then to the right, and dropped the sack to the ground. His body tumbled down right beside his cabbages that got scattered on the ground. A gash bled on his right arm.

Old farmer Roger's life had been like this since he was twenty. A multitude of hard manual labor made up his day, from lifting sacks of crops or fertilizers to tilling the ground ready for planting. As he grew older work got harder, too, as he felt his body slowly deteriorating and wearing away. It would have been right to say that all farmers have lived like this since the beginning of time, but that would have been incorrect; the aliens came, and life became easier for everyone.

He picked his cabbages up one by one. He succeeded in hauling the sack on the pile the second time.

Old farmer Roger gave a glance at his neighbor Ben's farm. Like everyone, Ben had Upgraded his land; huge umbrella-shaped showers towered over his crops, dripping viscous silver liquid. Tub-shaped metal containers with tracks and mechanical claws wandered around his domain, harvesting his plump, shiny cabbages for him.

Ben himself was seated on his porch, drinking coffee as a thin rectangular black machine levitated on his side, dictating to him the news for the day. He took a sip, tipping his head back and closing his eyes in pleasure. As the lump on his throat descended to his chest, he opened his eyes and happened to glance over to where farmer Roger stood. Ben waved at him and he waved back.

Ben spoke a few words and the thin black machine powered down and landed softly on the table next to him. He put down his glass, stood up, and made his way towards Roger.

 

 

Legs spread over the indentation on the soil that he created, old farmer Roger sunk his shovel halfway to the ground and shifted the soil to the side. Six feet to his right, his neighbor Ben did the same thing.

Ben wiped a blanket of sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand. "It's been a while since I've done this. Feels good to be tilling land again."

Roger looked up and snickered. "Your alien machines are making you lazy, Ben," he said jokingly. "See, your belly's already bigger than before."

Ben stuck his shovel to the ground and used it as support for his body. He looked at Roger. "They're called the Ethikos, Roger. And no, my belly did not get bigger. I'm just full, that's all."

Roger kept on tilling. "Nah, I don't care what they're called. They're still aliens. And yes, your stomach got bigger because you're full every minute of every day."

It's true, old farmer Roger thought. Every time Ben came over, he kept on talking about the things he ate for breakfast or dinner: king crabs from Russia, authentic Mongolian lamb, whale meat from Japan. Seemed to him like Ben was so proud of himself to have eaten these things when the truth was that he just sat on his couch all day and let his alien machines do the work.

Ben let out a boisterous laugh. "Well, not my fault the farm's doing good. Heck, everything's doing good. The whole country. The whole world, actually, is doing good." He picked up his shovel and poked Roger with the end. "That's what I've been telling you, old Roger. Upgrade your farm! You're missing out on a lot of things!"

Upgrade. Upgrade was the word of the season, if a season lasted four years. Ben Upgraded his farm three years ago and had been prosperous since, sometimes exceedingly so. He'd been cajoling old farmer Roger to upgrade his farm ever since.

Ben had lagged for too far old Roger had to turn around to talk to him. "My answer for that is the same as ever: no." He turned around and continued shoveling. "As if Adelina trying to convince me isn't enough. God, you sound like her already."

"I sound just like anyone who has an ounce of sense in their body, Roger."

"Ah, whatever. Just keep tilling. Let's just get this over with."

Ben laughed, shrugged, and drove his shovel to the ground.

 

 

It was Adelina's third visit in three weeks. She'd prospered ever since she won the government contract to procure goods given by the Ethikos, and she'd had more time to make personal visits to old farmer Roger.

Old farmer Roger's only daughter sat on the washed-out blue couch as she sipped the hot tea that he just poured into her cup. She wore what can be considered to be plain clothing; her appearance is nowhere plain, though.

"You're looking good," old farmer Roger observed as he placed the kettle down on the small coffee table and plopped down his single couch. "Those are new accessories you have there, yeah?"

"Yeah, these are new issues, Dad. We're supplying this manufacturer from Japan, made us try out their products." She touched one of her diamond-shaped silver earrings with a shining blue sphere in the middle. "In my command, these record whatever I'm hearing. Useful for meetings and all that so I don't forget. It's off though so you can say anything you want." Adelina smiled.

"Even if it was on you'd record nothing of interest anyway," farmer Roger joked. They both laughed.

"And this one," Adelina motioned to a gold-silver bracelet on her left arm wide enough to pass as a bracer, "Is a personal terminal. It's like an assistant, but digital. They can make appointments and do research and call an ambulance when you're in danger. Pretty neat right?"

"Not bad, not bad." Old farmer Roger nodded.

Farmer Roger disliked any technology created with the help of the aliens, but he was fine when Adelina used them. At least she can enjoy and have things he'd never had in his life.

"How about you, Dad? You okay around here?", Adelina said.

"I'm fine around here, Addy. You don't have to worry about me." He leaned back and put his hands together, his fingers interlocked with one another.

"Oh you are?", Adelina looked confused. "What is that, then?"

He looked at where Adelina was pointing: to the wide gash on his right arm. He unfolded the sleeve of his pleated shirt and then said, smiling, "I didn't see anything".

"Dad," Adelina said. "Seriously. You need some help in here. You're not getting any younger."

"There's no one to hire as extra hands, Addy. Besides, I'm not making enough to pay for them anyway." He reached for his teacup and took a sip.

"I'm not talking about extra hands, Dad," said Adelina.

"You already know my answer to that, Addy. I don't trust those aliens and their machines." He put his cup down and put his hands together again.

"It's been four years now, Dad. Everything's fine. They're not like those violent aliens in the movies that land down on Earth and bomb everything they see." She smiled. "The Ethikos are actually peaceful and nice."

Old farmer Roger sighed and looked away. "It's easy to be nice, Adelina, especially if you're a species who can make anything out of thin air. What I'm saying is, you don't achieve certain heights without letting some weight down." He looked into her eyes. "You make compromises, you know what I'm saying?

"Uh-uh," she mumbled. "Actually Dad, I don't understand you."

Old farmer Roger exhaled deeply. "Okay. Here. Think about this. You remember before those aliens came, right? You remember, there were these big corporations?" Adelina nodded. "Right. Then, these corporations got so huge that they became powerful, right? And then they used their power to get even bigger and richer, right? You remember those, right?" He looked at her.

"Yeah, yeah." She lifted the kettle and filled her cup, the tea still smoking. "Those companies are still alive, actually."

"Right, right. So, how do you think they achieved that level of power? Do you think they did it honestly, while following every law and code of ethics in the world of business?

"Let's look at something bigger. Countries, right. Do you think huge and powerful countries get rich and influential because they were nice to everyone? That'd be impossible because to be powerful, you have to cross over some lines and blur some boundaries. You pay for spies and insurgents. You go to war for resources. You can assassinate some personalities, if you can, or maybe invade some states while you're at it.

"Now, don't you think that's the same for civilizations in space? 'Cause I'm sure as hell they didn't just become a powerful force out of nowhere. They had to have done some things. Maybe invaded a planet or three. Fought wars for resources. Deprived their citizens of liberty for their convenience. There has to be something, you know what I mean?"

Old farmer Roger picked up the kettle in the coffee table. It was already empty.

 

 

"And, I mean, it doesn't exactly affect us, but it's just plain out cruel, you know?" Ben declared as he stretched out a hand to the fences for support. "No one in this world gets hungry anymore except for those poor Africans and their dictators." His other hand spread over his stomach, caressing it. A gold and silver bracelet the same as Addy's wrapped around his left forearm.

"Them autocrats deserve the noose, is what you mean."

"Yeah. Pretty much."

Old farmer Roger watched as the sun set over his humble patch of land. He'd just finished spreading over fertilizer for his crops when Ben came over to give him some vacuum-sealed giant squid fresh from Japan. He said it was caught just 5 hours before they were unloaded in their local market. Old farmer Roger did not believe him.

"Addy tried to convince you again yesterday?" Ben inquired.

"Among other things, yeah." Old Roger looked down, picking a stone with his foot and shifting it back and forth.

"You're daughter's persistent, ain't she? Just like you." Ben laughed. Old farmer Roger smiled. "But if you want to take her advice, now's the time, you know."

"And why's that?", old Roger inquired.

"You remember Dennis, my salesman friend for DeMont? You know, that place that sells Upgrade tech?"

"U-huh."

"Well, I spoke to him on my home terminal last week. Says their suppliers have been short on stock the last few weeks. Their supply's getting constricted, and the prices are rising. Says if I want to buy more, I have to buy now 'cause prices will keep on rising."

"Huh. Will you buy more?"

"No, not really. I have all I need here. My problem's with maintenance, but that should be easy." Ben looked at old farmer Roger. "Even the market's urging you to Upgrade now, Roger. That's destiny. You really ought to buy now." Ben laughed.

Old farmer Roger smiled to humor his neighbor, but he didn't really care. The aliens' capacity to produce anything was unlimited, he thought; if the Earth had problems, their friend would help them. Ben shouldn't have anything to worry about.

 

 

The next morning, old farmer Roger began planting his cabbage seeds. He held the seed bag in one arm and, picking a small seed the size of a peppercorn, dropped them on the ground some three feet apart. About two hours it took him to finish planting altogether; his back and arms were sore after the process.

As he was about to open his sprinklers, a familiar car drove up to his house, braking suddenly to cancel its high speed. Dust filled the airspace the car came from, with more still rising from the place it had stopped.

Adelina did not waste any time; she spoke as soon as she entered old farmer Roger's home. When she did she seemed anxious and tense, her shoulders slightly raised, fingers trembling a little.

"I've got news, Dad. It's very important."

"Calm down, Adelina." He motioned for her to sit down. "Sit down first. Alright. There you go. Great. Now tell me what's up."

"I've heard rumors, Dad." Addy said.

"Rumors? What rumors?" Old farmer Roger tilted his head to the side and supported it with his fingertips.

"Whispers. From my contacts in Alien Affairs. The Ethikos, Dad." Adelina looked pained, like every word she was saying required so much effort. "They're walking away. From Earth. From us."

What with these aliens now? thought farmer Roger. "What do you mean walking away?"

"I don't know if it's true, Dad, but they discovered something. A weapon, they were saying. No one knows the full picture yet, but there were some people from somewhere. They created this weapon by altering the design of some Ethikon tech. The Ethikos got angry because humans agreed to not do that but they did. Now they said they're threatening to break their relationship with Earth. That's all I know."

Old farmer Roger wasn't exactly surprised. He expected this sort of thing to happen the first time the aliens expressed their intention to share their technology. It took some time, he admitted to himself, but it was always meant to happen. Both humanity and the aliens had it coming. But still, if this rumor was, indeed, true, it spelled huge trouble for her daughter.

He leaned forward. "How true is that news, though?"

Adelina covered her face and got quiet. She was teary-eyed when she put her hands down. "I don't know if those rumors are true, but most of the time, they are." She sniffed a tear. "How'd you think I got ahead of the other contractors, huh?" She laughed, wiping her tears away.

 

 

The media verified Adelina's fears. A week after she visited, the first few pieces of information surfaced about the progressively decreasing supply of precious metals the aliens shared with the humans. Humans used these to manufacture machines of the aliens' design. Ben's story now made sense.

As supplies dwindled and prices skyrocketed, access to man-made alien tech got harder. It made everyone anxious; no one knew what was happening. Queries from the government resulted in vague answers at best. Representatives from the aliens refused to say anything.

Old farmer Roger felt the effect of these shortages firsthand. Food from the market slowly increased in price. Seed prices got more expensive. The water bill for his sprinklers almost doubled. When he tried to sell his crops, people bought them at a quarter of the price he used to sell them, so he decided to sell only a quarter of his harvest and keep the others. For the first time in decades, he lost money from selling his cabbages.

Ben had been affected, too. He barely made anything from his harvest.  Maintenance for his Upgrades tripled in price; repairs at the same time doubled. He was torn between using his machines less to prevent wear and tear or using his machines more to earn more. This really stressed the farmer out.

The more the world's governments tried to hide what was happening, the more informants came out. Their tips came in trickles, but they all said the same thing: the Ethikos were leaving for some reason. The humans were trying to salvage the relationship but to no avail. Apparently it was the Earth's fault, which was why the powerful people wanted to keep everything a secret.

One day, Ben and old farmer Roger were talking about the recent events when Ben's Upgrades suddenly stopped working; his giant umbrellas stopped dripping liquid, his harvesters stopped in their tracks, their claws frozen mid-air. He tried giving commands to his bracer, but it wasn't working, too.

And then, after a few seconds, it detached on its own and, upon touching the ground, started smoking. Ben tried picking the thing up but it was too hot. He was forced to stare as the gold and silver of his bracelet turned black and useless.

But it wasn't done; old farmer Roger looked across to Ben's farm, and out of his machines came out grey smoke, too. After a minute or so, they started creaking, and they fell one by one, dismantling themselves as they hit the fertile soil, squishing the farmer's unharvested cabbages in the process. His house then started burning when his other Upgrades started heating up and catching fire; old farmer Roger helped put the flames out. Ben couldn't do anything but stare wide-eyed at the mess that was his farm.

Old farmer Roger rode his trusty old truck with Ben and drove to the other farms to see the same sight: Upgraded machines smoking and burning from the inside, houses turned to soot and ashes, new-model cars up in flames. Everywhere despondence, confusion, and anger filled the late-afternoon air.

 

 

Old farmer Roger pushed his wheelbarrow towards the back of his truck. He turned on the small transistor radio in his back pocket and listened to the few stations broadcasting. He lifted a sack of cabbage in his shoulder.

The story had gotten clearer the last few days. A bunch of world powers formed a coalition to create weapons from reverse-engineered alien technology. They succeeded and created dozens of inventions, most of which can be considered as mass-destruction weapons. The aliens somehow found out. It angered them because they explicitly asked the humans to not create weapons from the technology they will be gifting. As a punishment, they remotely disabled all the technology they shared before they left so humans can't use its power for destruction again. Of the accused, no world power has ever admitted to being part of the coalition yet, and old farmer Roger wanted to listen in to the developments of the UN's independent investigations.

He placed the first sack easily on the back of his old truck. In his mind, he was re-calculating whether he really should sell some of his cabbages or not. Food was expensive and its supply almost non-existent, so he debated for hours whether he should just keep his remaining harvest. He decided to keep the other half and to sell the other half to pay for his farm's upkeep.

Adelina will arrive later today, he reminded himself, so he ought to prepare some good food. With the aliens gone, her daughter's business went under, as with most businesses around the world. Bankruptcy dictated she sell all of her possessions to pay for her personal debts, so she asked to stay with farmer Roger for a while. He promptly agreed to let her stay until she gets her feet back up, which would probably take up to a decade depending on how much the ravaged economy can fill in the huge hole their now non-existent Upgrades have left behind.

As he lifted another sack, he glanced over at Ben, sitting at his porch. He was staring at a fixed point in the air, his body unmoving, his fingers scratching endlessly at the wood of his seat's armrest. The broken Upgrades still laid on his farm, on top of now rotten crops feasted over by flies. Old farmer Roger reminded himself to visit him later.

He plopped the sack forcefully, making his whole car creak with the weight.


Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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