The Cheeseburger

 

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VIDEO ONE - 674 days

Hi. My name is Joseph, Jo for short. I always wanted to be a Jay, it always sounded cooler to me, but Jo is just the natural nickname for someone named Joseph I guess. Anyways, I’m here putting this all down, well really I’m just recording it all, because one day I hope someone will see it and actually give a damn about what we want in this world. Or maybe, like so many other homemade videos, only three people will watch it and it will collect dust in the depths of some far off factory filled with millions of disks. 

The year is 2402 and I’ve been alive and working for 2,976 days. I work at the Air & Space Technological Assistance Center (ASTAC, or ass-tack, for short) in what was once known as Texas. Mostly I help people figure out what’s wrong with their technology, whether it’s their jet, their housemaid, their hovering-to-parking transitions, I’m there to help them land their houses wherever they desire—as long as it’s within the rights on their passports. When ASTAC invented the hovering house 97 years ago, no one expected it to be the norm (at least that’s what we are told in the orientation hologram about the history of our company) and then people realized what an opportunity it was to travel the world in the comfort of their own home, never having to rent a hotel room or pay for a plane ticket ever again. 

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am a robot although that’s just the layman’s term for us; my real classification title is J-916895-O-2569-4-23. We aren’t evil like in Terminator, or cute helpless things like in WALL-E, or living in an alternate universe craziness like in Westworld (the remake not the original). We have a pretty short shelf life, unfortunately, there’s no real opportunity for us to take over since we are programmed to automatically shut down after 10 years. I only have 674 days left. But I’ve decided to make the most of it. There are a few things I want to do before I metaphorically die—one of which is making this video. 

Number one: eat a real cheeseburger.

I watch a lot of movies and have seen a lot of
television—what do you think I do at night since I can’t sleep? The cheeseburger is the epitome of American culture. Since I was born in a factory in Oklahoma, I know that I am American, but I have never been able to participate in things Americans do, like play baseball or go to a real barbecue picnic. 

But the cheeseburger is something that just looks unreal, otherworldly, wholeheartedly delectable. And yet, I can’t eat it because the same people who created me didn’t want us to be too humanlike, and as a result we can’t eat real food without short-circuiting and dying. If you know you’re going to die, why not do the number one thing on your bucket list? We can have dinner parties and have food made out of things that are already inside of us, like electricity and electrowaves and wires, but none of it tastes how a cheeseburger should taste (or at least how I imagine it should taste). No matter how pretty they make the bundle of machinery look, it’s not real food and if it’s not real food what’s the point? 

I just want to take a bite like Samuel L. Jackson does in Pulp Fiction, or hold one up to the sky like in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. But bots like me aren’t even allowed into restaurants, let alone near a cheeseburger. So this will be the last one I complete on my list before my time is out. 

Number two: ride a horse (a real horse, not the bot version).

Call me old-fashioned, or whatever you want, but something about having the wind in my face and the horizon in front of me with nowhere to go except forward is something I have always dreamed about, metaphorically speaking of course. I want to be like one of those old cowboys that squints his eyes into the horizon and whistles high and loud so his horse rears up and then he yells the horse’s name, something like “Blaze” or “Spirit,” as we ride into the plains.

I have a buddy who is a hired-hand, AKA a home bot, who works on a farm outside of the city. He doesn’t work with the horses but he knows where they are. The people he works for apparently hardly ever ride them, they’re just those wealthy types that have them to have them when the majority of the time their mansion is hovering in other countries or they’ve gone to their beach bungalow in Tahiti. We’re still working on a plan to accomplish this one.

Number three: make a video like they did in the old days.

One of my favorite pastimes is wandering through Junk Island. You don’t have to have a passport to go and you can stay on it for as long as you want. Every week when it floats through my side of the city I hop on and walk until it reaches the city limits then I
hop back off. About two years ago I found what was once called a “computer” on the Island. It took me a while to reprogram it to work, but once I found all the missing parts I was able to connect to the old version of the Universe called “the Internet.” I remember that first “web search” I did. You really can’t be doing it the old way, now all you have to do is speak into your microchip to look something up and it appears before your eyes as a hologram . . . so boring. You literally had to type and click and push buttons to find something out back then. Pretty amazing that they ever got anything done.

Sometimes I daydream what it was like to live in a world where bots didn’t exist yet. Such a simpler time. Of course this is all based on what I’ve watched in movies from that period. YouTube is such a fantastic site, you can watch anything you want at any time. Today you can only watch what is being leased to your neighborhood for the week and most are stupid shows about bots and humans running away together, or all of us moving to Saturn, or the news. Who wants to watch all the exact same things as your neighbors? I’m fairly certain nobody uses YouTube or the Internet anymore. At least the government doesn’t think anyone does, but that works in my favor seeing as if someone were to actually see my videos they might get me in trouble before my times up. Anyways, I’ve gotten off track. I’m making this video and I’m going to upload it to the old YouTube like people used to do as an homage to the simpler times when all you had to worry about was the environment and other humans.

VIDEO TWO - 582 days

I got a bug in my inbox yesterday, without a subject line, that I thought was a routine bug that needed to be thrown out. Thank goodness I opened it though because it was from my friend Joey, the one who works on the farm. He and I have the same number of days left. We met because we were in the same section on our Wake Up Day (a bot’s birthday essentially). We don’t get to see each other very often since his family moved to their new mansion outside of the city, but that was a bonus because, like I said before, they have horses. What’re the odds of that?! (I actually know the odds, but I won’t bore you with numbers. I just like this phrase and thought it was hilarious due to the fact that I can always compute the odds in under a second for any situation but back in the old days they had no idea about the statistical imbalance stacked against them.)

Back to the bug. It told me to meet him after work in a few days with the location and time—I’m not going to tell you when just in case someone hacks into my videos, I don’t want it to mess up my chances. But I think this means it’s finally going to happen!

I’ve been planning this for weeks. I found and repaired a video camera from Junk Island so I can record my experience, I bought a cowboy hat, and have been intentionally not getting tuned up so that I can use the excuse to not be at work. I’m going to watch every cowboy movie I can find in preparation. 

VIDEO THREE - 569 days

*Dark screen.*

*Russling and some feet in dirt appear.* 

“Is this on?” 

“Yes, I just told you I turned it on.”

“But is it recording?”

“Yes, the red light is on. Now hold it up so my face is visible in the little rectangle like we talked about.”

“Okay . . . action!”

“Thanks, Joey. As you can see we are out of the city. A nice change in scenery. Believe it or not, but behind me is a stable where real live horses are kept. Now if you’ll follow me and Joey in we can finally cross off Bucket List Item Number Two!”

*Jo’s white cowboy hat bobs in and out of the screen.* 

*A horse pops its head out from a stall.*

“Wow. They’re even bigger than I was expecting  . . . Joey . . . get a close up on me petting this one.”

*Jo gently petting the horse’s mane comes into focus.*

“Joey you weren’t kidding when you said they were incredible. They are truly incredible.”

“I know right!”

“How do we get one out?”

“Okay, I watched the caretaker do this a few times, so I think I can do it. Here, hold this.”

*Camera is handed to Jo.*

*Joey proceeds to unlock the stable door. The horse snorts at him. After a few minutes of Joey being in the stable he walks out the horse into the middle. It has a saddle and reins hooked up. Joey presents it like a gift.*

“You’re steed awaits you kind sir.”

“Joey, look at you!”

“Wait . . .”

“What?”

“Do you hear that?”

“No, what?”

“Someone’s coming. Quick get in the stable and don’t come out until I say.”

*Hay rustling . . . footsteps get louder . . . whistling.”

“What’re you doing in here bot? It’s passed your curfew.”

“Oh. Good evening Mr. Savage. I’m terribly sorry if my presence in here has disturbed you. Caretaker Olaf gave me permission to practice saddling and bridling the horses during the nights so as not to interrupt my normal household duties. It is my hope to be as helpful as possible to all people working on the estate.”

*Indistinguishable mumbling.*

*Silence.*

*The horse stamps its feet a few times.*

“Would you like assistance back to the house Mr. Savage?”

“No. I’m fine. Make sure you turn off all the lights when you’re done.”

*Footsteps trailing away.*

“Jo, you can come out now. We’d better be quick and careful. Now that they know I’m down here, the odds are . . . well you know what they are.”

“You’re right, Joey. Let’s do it.”

*Camera is handed back to Joey.*

“Now remember, to stop you pull up on the reins, to speed up squeeze with your heels, but not too hard because you know they’re animals and we are metal and you don’t want to hurt them.”

“Right. I think I got it. And you remember to film me for as long as you can. I’m just going to go out a ways and then turn around and come back.”

*Jo swings his body up onto the horse.*

*Jo bounces up and down on the horses back. He fades into the distant fields.*

“Please come back quick Jo. Please oh please.” 

*Screen goes black.*

VIDEO FOUR - 551 days

I still can’t believe I did it. I was in trouble for not tuning up at work and was punished with working two weeks without a recreation break. But it was worth it. 

The wind in my face. The breathing of the horse. The sounds of the clacking hooves. It was glorious. In case you didn’t know, we bots are built with sensors in our faces, hands, and feet. So we can know how hard we high five or how soft a pillow is, but we wouldn’t know if a bee stung us on our back shoulder ten times. The whole ten minutes that I was out on the horse were the most glorious of my whole life. I felt alive. There’s really no other comparison. 

VIDEO FIVE - 498 days

I’ve been working 22 hour days. A bug got into the update we sent out to all the hoverhomes a few weeks ago. No one knows who sent it or how it got into the system but it has been horrendously tedious to pick out each bug from each strand that’s within each home’s hardware. Even having all of us bots that work at ASTAC focus on remedying the problem wasn’t fast enough. There were 256 hoverhome emergency landings, 781 hoverhome start-up issues, and two bot deaths. Absolute insanity. 

No one has been able to tell where the bug came from. If it was planted by one of those anti-technology human supremacy groups or if it was an inside job by a bot. I doubt a bot would do that to themselves though because then more bots just have to clean it up and why would you want to make more work for your fellow bot? 

Anyways, I haven’t had a chance to focus on my list at all and I haven’t heard from Joey in a number of weeks. I’m worried that he got removed because of me. I hope not, but there’s no easy way for me to tell without raising suspicion.  

VIDEO SIX - 466 days

I may have found my ticket to what I need. I met a guy who knows a guy (human) who said they’re willing to do things for bots if the price is right. I’m meeting him tonight on Junk Island as it passes over the city. I really hope he can do what I need. It’s asking a lot but I do have some items that I think he will be able to exchange for money since bots don’t exactly get paid . . . anyways I’ll let you know how it goes.

VIDEO SEVEN - 465 days 

Well it was a complete waste of time. It turned out to be a lady, and when I told her that I was willing to give her cleaned up copper that I found on Junk Island along with my video camera in exchange for her buying me a cheeseburger she laughed in my face. Then she got all serious and asked why I was trying to kill myself, if I had done something bad. I explained I didn’t want to die, necessarily, but that I really wanted to eat a cheeseburger and I was going to die anyways so why not do something I’ve never done before on my way out.

She looked at me like I was a child, which I guess in human years I still am even though I was woken up with an adult demeanor and the mental capacity of a 35-year-old. Whatever. She had asked me if I had wanted to know the truth about what happens after we die. I told her it didn’t really matter considering the inevitability of it all.

Then a patrol bot came by and said we were reaching the city limits and we would have to get off. Patrol bots are always so polite. The lady just cackled and disappeared behind a pile garbage as I just jumped down. 

Definitely one of the strangest experiences of my life. 

VIDEO EIGHT - 431 days

My backup plan is in the works. I’ve finally collected all the things I need to get this damn cheeseburger. Why is it so difficult? Why can’t we just do what we want to do? I have been watching every McDonald’s advertisement ever made. It’s like my hardware won’t let me not think about it. But society is keeping me away from the one thing I want. 

Which is why I’ve decided to go undercover as a home bot making a pickup. I’m going to call in an order by blocking the location devices in me for one hour and get this burger. I know what I need to do.

VIDEO NINE - 415 days

*Jo paces back and forth in his sparse apartment. His head almost touches the ceiling and there are no windows. Two metal chairs, each with a lumpy pillow, sit awkwardly near the wall. Along one wall is a row of well organized piles of metal.* 

“Hello. I am calling on behalf of my host family. They would like to place an order for pick up . . . What’s that? . . . You can’t access my location for the charge? That’s odd . . . Can we pay when we pick it up? . . . I haven’t been tuned up in a week, perhaps I need to do that . . . They would like two cheeseburgers with extra pickles. One chocolate milkshake. One large french fry and ranch on the side . . . Yes, that is correct . . . How soon will it be ready? . . . Okay great. Be there in a few.”

*The doorbell rings.*

*Jo looks at the computer then back at the door.*

*Doorbell again.*

*Door opens.*

*Jo speaks.*

“Hello, how may I help you?” 

“We got a notification that your location services turned off about fifteen minutes ago. Did something happen to it?”

“Why no I don’t believe so. I didn’t even know it was off. I’ve just been here in my home.” 

“Well, we’re here I suppose we’d better take a look. May we come in?”

“Of course.”

*Two men wearing all white walk in and look the place over before setting down their bags.*

*One walks over to the computer that is recording this.*

*Jo comes over and places a hand on top of the monitor causing it to shake slightly.*

“I’ve been tinkering with rebuilding a retro original computer. Just for fun.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life. I mean outside of school history classes. It looks almost perfect.”

*The other man is staring at them and now has a holographic clipboard out.*

“Are you J-916895-O-2569-4-23?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tamper with your location services chip?”

“Not that I’m aware of, no.”

“Would you mind sitting down so we can take a look.”

“Certainly.”

*Jo sits down on one of the metal chairs.*

*The main guy is opening Jo’s head plate and peering inside. The other man is glancing back and forth from Jo to the computer screen.*

“That’s interesting . . . very interesting.”

“Is there something wrong with my chip?”

*Both men are staring from the holographic chart and then looking into Jo’s head cavity.*

“It’s odd because our chart says that it’s offline, but your chip is perfectly intact.”

“Perhaps it just needs a little jump start to send out the signal?”

“Good idea Zed, get out the jump kit.”

*They pull out a small tweezer looking tool.*

*A few sparks fly out of Jo’s head.*

“REBOOT. REBOOT. REBOOT.”

“I always hate it when they have to say that out loud.”

“Oh look he’s coming back.”

*They start packing up. Zed looks back at the computer again.

“J-916895-O-2569-4-23, your chip just needed a little boost. I would get it checked out at your next tune up. Otherwise you’re all set. See you next time.”

*Jo stands and walks them to the door.*

“Have a wonderful evening gentlemen.”

VIDEO TEN - 414 days

Who knew that the Mechanics followed our location services so closely? Not me. I can’t believe I was so naive to think that would work. I feel almost human. I can’t accomplish my goal and the world keeps dragging me down. Or at least a human in one of the movies I love. But the best part about movies is that once a character hits their low point they can only go up from there. 

So I’m calling this my low point. It is only going to get better and closer to my cheeseburger from here. I’m going to just make one myself.

VIDEO ELEVEN - 395 days

I’m starting to get worried. I’m almost at my one year countdown and all I’ve been able to find for my cheeseburger is some old ketchup and mustard. Stay positive. Stay positive, Jo. 

Junk Island only has so much on it, I’m going to have to make some contacts if I want to have a real delicious burger. If I were in a movie this would be the part where they showed a montage of me stealing and gathering all of the ingredients. Sadly I’m in the real world here. But I have an inkling of where I can get some beef and some of the vegetables. I’m going to have to take a few days from work to do it and I have no idea how I’m going to do that. 

VIDEO TWELVE - 382 days

I’ve got it. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. Or how I missed this in my statistical analysis of what I would need to do to accomplish this goal. Anyways that doesn’t matter. When it’s a bot’s one year countdown they get to take a week off from work to do whatever they want along with another week at the end of the year right before the electricity stops pulsing. All I’ve got to do is wait until my one week and then I can go wherever I want within a 25 mile radius of my home city which is plenty for where I’m going. There’s a farm that bots work at a few miles away that grows all kinds of things. I’ve already arranged for me to go there for a week and I know the perfect excuses I’m going to use to take home the necessary ingredients: that I’m going to give it as presents to all my human bosses at my office. No one will suspect a thing. Or at least the odds of another bot suspecting me are low. I won’t be able to bring my computer or my camera (I wouldn’t want them taken away) so you won’t see me for a while. Wish me luck or at least good odds!

VIDEO THIRTEEN - 357 days

I did it. I DID IT! Me! J-916895-O-2569-4-23 pulled it off! 

Look. Look at this lettuce, this tomato, these onions. And the meat! We can’t forget the meat! It’s almost like they wanted me to take it all. All of the perfect ingredients to make the most perfect American meal. The final steps are in place. I just need a bun and it will be ready. I don’t care if I have to go through every garbage can outside of every bakery in this city. I will not fail!

VIDEO FOURTEEN - 355 days

I cooked the meat on the roof just a few minutes ago. I’ve placed all of the ingredients in perfect order on this day old bun. It’s so beautiful. If I could cry I would. Everything I’ve wanted for so long right here. 

I hope whoever sees this realizes that all things are possible even with horrible odds stacked against them. You can do whatever you want. You can ride a horse as a robot. You can make videos and post them to the Universe or the Internet. You can make a damn cheeseburger and enjoy it even if society says you can’t. 

It’s been a wonderful 3295 days on this planet and I hope that whatever they do end up doing with me when they find out I’ve lost power and short circuited is something kind and relaxing. 

I cannot wait any longer. My time with this cheeseburger has come. Whatever happens to me, I have set this video to upload after an hour. To whoever watches this. Go out there and eat a damn cheeseburger for me!

*Jo takes a bite. For a moment it’s calm as he chews. When he swallows and tries to take another bite his neck bends sideways. He looks at the camera and nods before collapsing on the floor with the cheeseburger clenched in his hand.*

*A half an hour passes. Nothing moves on screen.*

*There’s some noise at the door. Then a bang as it gets kicked open. Two men in all black enter the room.*

“What the hell?”

“This bot still had almost a year left. Did he kill himself? . . . With a cheeseburger?”

“That’s the way it looks.”

*They’re bending over Jo. Neither have noticed the camera.*

*One picks up the burger and takes a bite.*

“Seriously . . . gross . . .”

“A little cold, but honestly not bad.”

“Well let’s get him hovering. We’ve got to reprogram him and rename him before the day is over.”

“Are you sure we shouldn’t just Code Negative Forty him? He seems like he might’ve been a little off-program based on the cheeseburger and all this shit in his room.”

“An order is an order. Did you not listen at all at the training? We aren’t supposed to obliterate them for another five years to save on costs. If we constantly made new bots we would run out of metal way too fast.”

“I know, I know. Save me the lecture. I was just making a point.”

“It’s fine. There are worse things than death by cheeseburger.”

*Jo is now hovering next to the men. His eyes are open staring at the computer camera. He has a smear of ketchup on his mouth.*

by Cerise STeel

Cerise is the creative director for Salt & Pepper magazine. She loves to eat, draw, write, and run.