The car comes to a stop. The men pull us from the car and we are dragged to follow them down a stairwell and into a cellar. It seems they have no issue with us knowing where we are going, which can only mean one thing; wherever we are heading is where we are staying. I keep my thoughts to myself withholding this insight from Rosie. She’s too fragile to know this right now. She can barely stand upright. She’s pulling me down with her every few steps or so, and a man grabs her arm continuously forcing her to remain upright whilst we walk.
We come to a well-lit room, which is so well-lit inside this dark space it hurts my eyes and I cannot help but squint. Rosie is squinting too. We are ordered to remove our jackets and our shoes and then told to lie down on medical beds covered in green hospital blankets. Funnily enough, my memory isn’t too terrible to notice that the beds are identical to the beds in Mr Spoon’s operating theatre.
“Where the fuck is he? I want to speak to him now!” I demand, while the men are strapping Rosie and I to these beds.
“All in good time.” I am told.
“Fuck you.” I spit, aiming for the eyehole, hoping my saliva lands right on his eyeball. Most of it catches in the fabric of his face mask. I am pissed off.
He is pulling the buckle around my wrist tighter. Rosie is terrified and screaming my name, but her antics are background noise to my hearing, for my brain is so white-hot with fury, all my senses can cling to is the balaclavered man in front of me now strapping down my ankles.
“Calm down. Calm down Baxter. There is no need to be so vicious.” Mr Spoon appears, with a fucking smug little grin on his small puny face, and if I could, I would fucking punch him in his puny little face and then push him to the ground and stomp on him until he and the pavement blend into one stinking hot mess.
“Why did you fucking kidnap us you fucking little prick?” I yell.
“Kidnap? Is that what this is? I thought this was just a business meeting, however everyone does perceive the world differently.” Mr Spoon is right near my face, sitting on what I can only imagine to be another one of his modified fucking swivelling chairs.
“Mr Spoon. How could you do this to us?” Rosie’s trembling and her tears are falling fast down her face, her eyeliner and mascara are running with her tears, streaking her porcelain face black.
“Rosie. Dear, dear Rosie. That is not the question that is most pressing right now. The most pressing question we should all be asking is: how could you and Baxter desert me after agreeing to help me with a life-saving project? Don’t you know it? You two could have saved the whole human race from brain disease. I’m not a man who hands out second chances. You’ll have to join the human race instead.”
“What does that mean?” Rosie whispers, barely audible.
“It means good luck suffering with Lobadantriosis as I have suffered with it. It isn’t nice. When you start experiencing the symptoms of it, it will force you to think twice about the kinds of people you mess with.”
“We haven’t messed with you Mr Spoon. We told you we have changed our minds. We gave you our opinion. A science kid would be better for this assignment. Baxter and I are painters.” Rosie says. Some nurses are jabbing cannulas into our hands, and wheeling trolleys with IV bags toward our beds.
“Painters. Let’s see how that sustains you when your brain begins to eat itself from the inside out. Now.” The nurses stab syringes filled with clear liquid into the cannula ports and Rosie and I both know we are being fed with Gyliptin.
When I wake up in my subconscious future I am lying on a couch. This couch however is not the couch I found myself lying on when I first travelled to 2046 however. This couch is a beige suede and sits in a very different living room in a very different house.
“Rosie?” I scream.
“Baxter?” She is screaming too. She runs into the living room and we clutch eachother tightly.
“What year is it?” I ask her quickly.
“2026.” She promptly replies.
“How old are we?” I spit out.
“Eighteen.” She answers.
“Good. We both remember then.” I say.
“Yeah. This time. Yeah. Baxter. What the fuck did he just do to us?”
“He has us under.” I breathe.
“For how long? And to where?”
“Dunno. Let’s find out.” I say, holding her hand, walking around the living room looking for a button in the floor.
“Baxter, what are you doing?” She’s asking me.
“Looking for the button.” I say. It should be obvious.
“What button?” She really doesn’t know.
“The button for Dafina.” I say.
“Dafina. The future lady. My secretary. The computer.”
“What computer lady?”
“The one from my first Gyliptin sleep.” I say. Fuck, she’s annoying me when she should be helping me. I let go of her hand, and crouch down beside and end of the couch, pushing it across the carpet with all of my strength. The button is not under the couch. I leave the couch where it is.
“Baxter. This is stupid. There’s no button and no lady. This is a different future.” Rosie says.
“What?” I stop, staring at her. Actually, I am glaring at her.
“This isn’t the same future. We are together. Look at us. Last time we were apart.” She has a point.
“I don’t know what to do without Dafina.” I say, dropping to the floor, defeated.
“We’ve got eachother. Let’s figure it out together. What year is it?”
“No. The year here. Where we are.”
“Dunno. I don’t have a phone.”
“Calendar? Diary? Laptop? Anything?” We get up off the floor and start going around this strange new house that is apparently ours. Rosie is rummaging through kitchen drawers throwing spoons and spatulas and utensils all over the kitchen floor before starting on the tea towel drawer and throwing these on the floor as well. I am ransacking the drawers in the living room bookcase. All I can find are gas and electricity bills addressed to a Mr Jake Coppel or a Mrs Sarah Coppel.
“Just bills.” I say. Rosie is skimming the spines of the books on the bookcase. I don’t know what she is looking for but she is scanning the spines intently.
“Thought so!” Rosie says, pulling out two navy covered passports from in between two very thin books.
“Thought what?” I ask, looking up.
“I thought that’s where I would hide passports.” She’s grinning and flicking one of them open.
“Huh? Do we live here? This is not mine. This belongs to Mrs Sarah Coppel. And this one…” she opens the other passport. “… belongs to Mr Jake Coppel.” She is confused. I walk over to her and have a look at them myself.
“It’s the same names that are on the bills.”
“The ones you found in that drawer?”
“Yeah. They must be a married couple. How old are they?”
“Both were born in 2008. So that would make them thirty eight if it’s 2046.” Rosie says.
“How old are we supposed to be?” I’m thinking out aloud while taking Rosie around the house on a wild goose chase.
“Do we have a calendar here?”
“No idea. We need phones or something.” I say, pacing back and forth in the bedroom. The bottom of my shoe scrapes against something smooth and flat.
“A button! There’s a button here.” I scream. I fall to my hands and knees and stab the button in with my finger. A screen appears on the bedroom wall.
“Hello, my name is Julie. How may I help you today?” The screen-voice called Julie says.
“Hello, I am Baxter and this is my girlfriend Rosie. What year is it?” I ask.
“I think you are mistaken. You are Jake Coppel and that is your wife Sarah Coppel. You ought to stop playing pretend Sir. It is the year 2046.” Julie says.
“Oh so we are married. How long have we been married for?”
“Where do we live?” I ask.
“Please elaborate. That question is too ambiguous Jake.”
“Do we live in Melbourne?”
“No, you don’t live in Melbourne Jake. You live in Hobart.”
“Hobart? What the fuck?” I am not really swearing at her.
“How long have we lived in Hobart?”
“Two years Sir. You moved here just after you were married.”
“Do we have parents?”
“No Sir. You and your wife’s parents are all deceased.”
“Dead? From what?”
“Julie, do you have a face?”
“No Sir. However if you wish for me to have one you may choose one from the following selection.” Julie displays a screen of four faces on the wall in the same way that Dafina did during my first Gyliptin Sleep.
“I want to choose her face.” Rosie says, tapping on a girl with straight brown hair dressed in a singlet and jeans. She looks around 25.
“Very good choice.” Julie says, now embodying the face on the screen as a digital voice.
“Do we have a robot Julie?” I ask, knowing how to deal with her better now.
“No Sir, you don’t have a robot. I am all the help you need.”
“Do we have a car?”
“No, you don’t have a car. You call the public car when you want to go somewhere.”
“The public car? Is that like a taxi?”
“Give me one moment while I search my database for the definition of the word taxi. I am not familiar with the term.” Julie is silent for a while and she doesn’t appear to be doing anything. The screen remains as it is with her smiling face peering back at us. I guess this is an electronic screen’s way of thinking.
“Taxi. A coloured vehicle used to drive members of the public from point A to point B, with each fare set by individual taxi companies. Oh, I know what a taxi is now. Yes Jake. A public car is like a taxi. However there is no fare or monetary requirement.”
“The public car is free to travel in?” I am gobsmacked.
“Yes, and has been free for the past ten years as far as I am aware.” Julie says.
“How do I arrange this public car?” I ask suspiciously.
“I can call one for you Sir.”
“Julie. Are you able to call anybody?” I ask.
“Yes. Anyone you wish.” I speak aloud the home phone number for my parent’s place in Carlton hoping that they still live there and that my parents are still alive.
“That is the number for an old friend of mine.” I say.
“Dialling now.” Julie says, and a call icon appears on the screen.
“Hello. You have called Mr and Mrs Breckeridge. Who would you like to speak to?” A voice asks me.
“Mrs Breckeridge please.”
“Who shall I say is calling?” The masculine voice asks me.
“An old friend of hers. It’s a surprise.”
“One moment. I am handing the call to her now.”
“Hello?” I hear my mum’s voice and I am so relieved.
“Vivien. I can’t tell you my name over the phone. Do you recognise my voice?” I ask her.
“Yes, I recognise your voice. I know exactly who you are. Where are you? Are you safe?”
“Do you still live in your old house in Carlton? Can my wife and I come and visit you for a cup of tea?” I ask.
“I do live in the old house yes. With my husband yes.”
“I will see you in around three hours.” I say, mentally calculating the time it would take to hop in a car, take a flight to Melbourne and take another car to Carlton.
“Good. I’ll boil the kettle for you.” She says, and ends the call.
“Baxter Breckeridge. You have been lying to me for two years. I feel so betrayed. Why do you live as Mr Jake Coppel Sir?” Julie is pissed off.
“What do you mean? I don’t. I’m Baxter as far as I know.”
“I scanned your mother’s DNA and your DNA while you were both talking and your DNA was one hundred percent a familial match. Mrs Breckeridge is your mother. You are not Jake Coppel. Your real name is Baxter Breckeridge. You were kidnapped twenty years ago by the government.” Julie is horrified.
“By the government? Which government? How do you know?” I ask.
“Hearsay mostly. We aren’t stupid. The Australian government.” She says.
“What for?” Rosie asks.
“Why is your name Jake Coppel if you are really Baxter Breckeridge?” Julie is annoyed.
“I don’t know Julie. I don’t know. I am just as much in the dark as you are. Can you call us a car please?” I ask.
“Yes sir. Calling a car for you now. It will be here in two minutes.” Julie says.
Rosie and I find some shoes in our bedroom, put them on and then sit on the edge of the couch before getting up to leave. She takes the handbag that’s on the kitchen bench with her, whilst I pull on a hoodie.
“Julie, how do I lock the front door behind me?” I ask.
“That is my job Jake. I always lock the door behind you.” She says.
“Oh right. And how do I get back in?” I ask.
“I know when you are standing at your front door. I unlock it for you.” She says.
“Of course she does!” Rosie says, rolling her eyes.
“What do I do if I need to call you?” I ask Julie.
“Use your caller.”
“Where is my caller?” I ask, really not knowing.
“Pull up your sleeve Jake. It’s in your wrist.” Julie instructs. I pull up my sleeve and sure enough I have a small black metallic circle embedded into my skin. Rosie pulls back her sleeve and she has one too.
“How do I use it?” I ask.
“Like always Jake. Hold your fingertip down onto it. Wait for it to scan your print. A screen will then pop up. Why am I always explaining this to you? You should know all of this by now.” She is annoyed.
“Sorry. I keep forgetting.” I say. I tell myself to explore my gadgetry later on.
“The car is waiting outside for you Jake. You better go.” Julie says swinging the door open for us.” I don’t think I will ever get used to my house opening my front door for me, nor locking it behind me. How weird.
When we get outside, what we see is like something out of The Jetsons. It’s a round silver car with a circle halo glass roof that serves as the door as well. This door-roof swings upward, and a panel in the body swings outward, beckoning Rosie and I to board it. We climb inside the car, and once we are in the panel closes itself and the door-roof comes back down, just above our heads. The interior is like a very expensive booth in a very expensive restaurant. There is no individual seating. The seat is one round circle with foot-room in the centre. There is no steering wheel, no brake, and no pedals of any kind. In the centre where our feet are is a table with two cup holders. The upholstery that we sit on is a beautiful fuschia and orange swirling floral pattern. I can’t help rubbing it back and forth to experience the rich texture of it.
“Hello Mr Jake Coppel and Mrs Sarah Coppel. Where would you like to go this evening?” The car asks us.
“Do you have a face?” Rosie asks the car.
“No, I do not have a face Miss. You are confusing me with a screen. I am a car.” It laughs. Actually laughs. There is a round-Jetson-like car parked outside my house in Hobart laughing at us. I have really lived now, haven’t I?
“Can you please take us to the airport?” I ask the car.
“Of course. Going somewhere nice?” The car starts moving down the street at what feels to be eighty kilometres per hour.
“Just visiting some old friends in Melbourne.” I say.
“Why are you going to the airport Sir?”
“To catch a plane to Melbourne.” I say.
“There are no planes to Melbourne Mr Coppel. Only cars. Surely you know that by now?”
“I do. I am sorry. Forgive me. I forget.”
“Would you like me to fly you to Melbourne Sir?” The car asks me.
“If you can do that, yes please.” I say, completely confused. Some belts are swung over our shoulders and down into the seat’s upholstery.
“Preparing for take-off. Three, two, one…” The car says, and somehow, immediately we are off the road and flying through the evening traffic like ET on his bicycle. Not only is it this that bewilders us completely, but we are also shocked by the other flying cars in the sky. I think there are more cars in the sky than on the roads.
“Is this an average amount of traffic, would you say?” I ask the car.
“Yes, this could be called an average amount. You could say that.”
“What are the statistics on methods of travelling in their most basic form? How many people travel in flying cars and how many people stick to the roads?” Rosie asks, which is a very well-thought, in-depth, off-the-cuff question, coming from her.
“Researching my database for you now. One moment.” The car says going silent, with the engines of the flying mechanism rumbling beneath our feet.
“Ninety percent of the people travelling from Hobart to Melbourne and vice-versa always travel by flying car. There is a minority of ten percent whom, travelling with their children wish to travel on a ship in the water, for the novelty of it. It is known as the Spirit of Tasmania, this ship.” The car tells us.
“What if someone wants to go to Japan?” Rosie asks.
“Then one must go to the airport. We are not equipped to travel long distances.” The car says.
“Are these windows weather-proof, bullet-proof, and crack-proof?” I ask, suddenly wondering how we are able to fly in a car at zero percent oxygen. How are we not suffocating?
“Yes, to all of your questions Mr Coppel. I can assure you, I have passed all of the checks and assurances. My body and windows are well-suited to travelling in all sorts of conditions.”
“Car, do you have a name?” Rosie asks.
“Yes, Mrs Coppel. I do. My name is Albert. You can call me Albert.”
“Who made you Albert?” Rosie asks.
“A company called Qantas Miss. Qantas made all of us. As well as the planes.” Albert says. Albert starts descending and we fall through clouds, and the night in Melbourne is upon us.
“Are we here already?” Rosie asks Albert.
“Yes Miss. Out you get.” Albert says, landing in Mum and Dad’s drive way. He swings the door up for us, and Rosie grabs her handbag and follows me out.
“Albert, if I need to call you, how do I call you directly?” I ask.
“Use your caller Mr Coppel.”
“Do you have a number Albert?” I ask.
“Not one that you can call sir.”
“How do I tell the caller to call you?” I ask.
“You do exactly that Mr Coppel. Just talk into your calling device and ask it to call me. I’m Albert the Car in the directory.” Albert says, before closing his door and driving off. Like any of that makes any sense. Everything is so simple in 2046, it’s actually very fucking confusing. Mum’s car is not in the driveway. Neither is Dad’s. I hope they are home. Rosie and I get to the front door, I knock on it, and together we wait for someone to open it. The door is opened by a robot.
“Hello. My name is George. Who are you?” George, this bloody robot asks me after opening the door.
“My name is Jake Coppel. Mr and Mrs Breckeridge are old friends of mine. Can I come in?” I ask. The house hasn’t changed much in twenty years. Though unbeknown to George and my parents I was here just yesterday. Well, yesterday in real time that is. Not Gyliptin time.
“Jake Coppel at the door. Do we know this man?” George, the robot, asks my parents who must be in another room.
“No, don’t let him in. We don’t know a Jake Coppel.” I hear Mum saying.
“Vivien.” I scream. I hear Mum and Dad both get up from the sofa and run to the front door.
“Baxter! Get inside. Quickly!” Mum is ushering me inside quickly. George has positioned himself with his metal back against Mum’s floral wallpaper.
“Rosie. Darling! We have missed you.” Mum embraces Rosie while Dad is hugging me.
“Vivien, who is this man?” George asks Mum, really concerned.
“George, if I tell you something, you must not tell anybody else.” Mum says.
“Okay. Yes Viv. I can keep a secret.” George says, bringing his metal fingers to his robotic face, and sliding his hand across his face, where a mouth should be, and then throwing away an invisible metaphorical key, which mind you, is a very outdated, action, for keys no longer exist for anything in 2046. How George knows this action is beyond me. Rosie finds it funny as well. It’s not just me.
“George. This is our son. Baxter. He was kidnapped twenty years ago.” Mum says.
“Baxter? The one who was kidnapped. He is alive and well then?” George says, scanning me up and down.
“Yes, he is alive and well.” Dad says, patting me on the back.
“This is indeed Baxter Breckeridge. Your DNA is a complete match.” George says, somewhat off-puttingly, after scanning me from head to toe with just his gaze. George then commences scanning Rosie’s body from foot to her head.
“This girl is called Rosie Feather. She must be romantically linked to Baxter because samples of his saliva reside in her DNA. They have been kissing.” George concludes.
“Oh My God. I feel so violated. You know that? You can see his spit in my body?” Rosie screams out.
“I do not see Miss Feather. I detect. Yes. This man is your love interest. I detect particles of his saliva mingling within the recesses of your mouth.” George is fucking annoying me. How the hell do Mum and Dad live with him?
“George, do you live here?” I ask, annoyed.
“Yes, Baxter, I live here.” George smiles. Creases form in his face that make him look like he is smiling. He doesn’t have a mouth or a nose so it’s bloody hard to tell what he is doing.
“How much do they pay you?” I ask.
“They do not pay me Baxter. I live here for free.” George smiles.
“For free? What do you do here George? Why do you live with my parents?” I interrogate George. I feel like he has been my replacement.
“Baxter, let’s go into the kitchen. I’ll try to boil the kettle. And see if I can remember how to make you a cup of tea. How’s that?” Mum suggests, grabbing my arm and leading Rosie down her wall-papered hallway and into the kitchen.
“George can you help me? I can’t remember how to turn it on.” Mum says, and George goes over to the kettle and flicks the switch on the side so that the water starts boiling inside.
“Yes Viv. Let me do it for you. You haven’t done this in twenty years.” George says.
“Thank you George. George where are the cups?” Mum asks him. George goes over to a cupboard and pulls out four mugs and closes the door after he has done that. He places the mugs on the bench and reaches for the kettle to pour the water into them. He then reaches for a coffee canister, opens the top drawer, pulls out a teaspoon, and with the spoon, spoons one heaped teaspoon of coffee into the four coffee mugs each. He then pours boiled water into the four cups.
“I don’t know what goes next.” Mum says.
“Not to worry Viv. You sit down. I will make these for you and your guests.” George says, walking to the fridge and pulling out the milk. He pours the milk into the four mugs and using two very nimble, but mechanical hands, holds all four mugs simultaneously in a ten finger grasp, and gently deposits them onto the kitchen table in front of us.
“How did you know we wanted coffee?” I ask him surprised.
“I could sense you wanted coffee instead of tea. That is what I am here for. To sense the needs of the humans I serve and to meet those needs accordingly.” George says, sitting down at the table with us.
“I wanted coffee. Yes, I did.” Rosie says.
“Rosie Feather. You have a cold.” George tells her matter of factly.
“Do I? I feel fine.” Rosie says, nonchalantly.
“George, why doesn’t my mum know how to make coffee?” I ask.
“Your mother suffers with Lobadantriosis Baxter. And your father as well. Hence why I live with them. I live with them to make sure they eat and drink as they should. I look after them. Without me they would die.”
“Lobadantriosis? Fuck… Fuck… Fuck. How long have they had it George?” I ask, fucking really pissed off. Lobadantriosis? Mr Spoon wasn’t fucking playing. He was serious. And now I am witnessing the consequences first-hand.
“Your mother contracted it before your father. Your mother has had it for ten years and your father has had it for nine years.”
“How bad are they?” I ask, concerned.
“Your mother has seventy percent of her thinking brain. Your father has eighty-two percent of his.”
“What are their symptoms?” I ask.
“As you can see Baxter your mother does not remember how to do anything. I must shower her, dress her, brush her hair, style her hair, shave her legs, and apply her cosmetics for her. I brush her teeth for her, and cook them both dinner.”
“And my father? What are his symptoms?”
“Your father’s symptoms are the same as your mother’s. Albeit one minor fact. He can still read a newspaper. He does not retain anything he reads but he enjoys it just the same.”
“Can they do anything for themselves anymore?” I ask, tears forming in my eyes. Rosie is already crying.
“They can walk and talk and hold a very aphasic conversation, one neither of them ever understands for it never makes any sense.”
“So they are housebound?” I ask, crying.
“They are housebound. Everybody is. It surprises me that you are even here. How is your Lobadantriosis?” George asks, genuinely interested.
“I don’t know. I think it is ok. Not too advanced just yet.” I lie.
“I have scanned you. You do not suffer this disease.” George says suddenly.
“I don’t?” I ask.
“No. And neither do you Rosie Feather.”
“Why not?” We ask together.
“I am not sure. Of course it progresses with age, but even young ones have it in mild form. How old are you? Ah, you are thirty eight, and so are you. I can answer my own questions. That is the beautiful thing about being as intelligent as I am.” George says smugly.
“I am thirty eight?” I ask.
“Yes, you are thirty-eight Baxter. So are you Rosie. You should both have the beginnings of Lobadantriosis at the very least.” George says.
“I don’t own a robot.” I say.
“That is it. You don’t have a robot. You do everything yourself. Your brain is always working. How you got away with not having a robot I don’t know though. That is very interesting. And rare.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“The Global government sent a new robot to every home in the world back in 2035. It’s illegal not to own a robot. Surely you know this? You keep up with the world don’t you?” George explains.
“Illegal?” Rosie asks.
“What is the punishment for not owning one?” I ask.
“The punishment is death.” George says.
“Death? That’s outrageous.” I scream.
“Why would they kill us for not owning a new product?” I ask.
“Don’t ask me. I am the product. I’m not at liberty to answer such a question.” George says.
“Don’t you think that by forcing everyone to own a robot, it’s forcing the human race to become dumb and dependant?” Rosie asks me.
“It is. It is. That’s exactly what it is.” I say, outraged.
“Lowering the amount of neurons firing around in our heads. It’s no wonder our brains are eating themselves. They are being underused. Fatally so. Mr Spoon was right. About all of it.” Rosie says.
“I hate to say it, but yeah, he was.” I say.
“I am enjoying this. I have not sat with such intelligent human beings before. This is refreshing.” George says. And we both glare at him.
“George, what do you know about Proxy?” I ask him sternly.
“How do you know about Proxy?” George eyes me suspiciously.
“Mr Spoon told me about it twenty years ago.” I say.
“Who is Mr Spoon?” George asks.
“A scientist. A dwarf. And a con man who just so happened to be right about all of this.”
“Right about all of what Baxter?” George asks.
“Right about the Lobadantriosis being as common as the common cold. This is killing the human race. Look at Mum and Dad! They’re demented vegetables. How the fuck she even remembered who I was is beyond me.” I say, looking at Mum who isn’t following the conversation at all. She is slumped in her chair, staring at the tiles on the floor.
“Proxy is top secret government knowledge. Unless you work for the government, you should not know about it.” George says matter of factly.
“Well, I do. And I want two Proxy tablets for Mum and Dad. Who makes it and where can I buy it from?”
“You can’t buy it Baxter. You don’t have enough money.” George tells me.
“How do you know how much money I have in my bank account?” I am furious.
“What is a bank account Baxter? I am unfamiliar with the term.” George says.
“A bank account is where my money is stored.” I say.
“No it is not. Your money is stored in your wrist.” George looks at the small black round metallic circle embedded into my skin. And then he looks at Rosie’s wrist as well, before turning back to me.
“You and Rosie are quite poor. You haven’t sold a painting in a year. One Proxy pill costs one million dollars. And if you want to save both of your parents, you will need two pills. How will you obtain that kind of money?” George asks.
“I know how.” I say, kicking my chair back from underneath me and storming out of the kitchen and into the garage.