The thud is the first thing I hear as my ‘system reboots’ – although I prefer to say as I wake up – although of course not out aloud, no need to call undue attention to myself.
Downstairs the white A4 envelope with my handwriting on it is lying at 62 degrees to the edge of the welcome mat. I pick it up, rip it open, read the standard rejection letter.
Dear Android Writer CSG1002
Thank you for your submission of your novel To Kill A Bird. Whilst we found much to admire in your story, I’m afraid it’s just not for us. We only take a few novels on each year and we really have to fall in love with it to take it on, although another publisher may think differently about your work.
As to why I had to send it by post I don’t know. The publishing world lives in the dark ages from when humans used to burn fossil fuels to get to the local shops. I read the letter three times. I’m really not sure why: my memory system is well within operational limits.
I open the front door, scoop down to pick up the milk for the cat and notice the pigeon poo splattered down the side of my car. Stepping outside I take a cloth from my pocket, wipe it clean and run my hand along the curve of the rear bumper. I love my car.
Input: sound: repeating frequency 25 hertz:, tone: warbling.
My neural processors pause my Emotional intelligence chip at the sound of the telephone. I turn, walk back inside to the desk in the hallway, pick up the receiver.
“This is a government warning,’ said a detached voice. The kind I imagined drowning kittens in the Thames. “The submission rejection you have just received forms universal submission two hundred and thirty four of your allowed two hundred and forty submissions under the Publishing Android Programme. You have six submissions left. You are reminded that if you fail to obtain a publishing contract after two hundred and forty attempts you will be deactivated.”
“But,” I said, “I had a publishing deal, it just fell through at the last minute, doesn’t that reset the count?”
“You have six submissions left, CSG1002, that is all. Goodbye.”
I place the phone back down. It makes a click that radiates out and flows up the walls. Deactivated was government talk for death. Perhaps my title was wrong? Perhaps the opening line could be improved. Perhaps it was time I went underground. The sewers are nice at this time of the year – so I’ve been told.
I walk into the kitchen as my Turing sub routine analyses each section of the novel for pace, style, typos and sans type 2 realistic dialogue. Maybe it was a mistake to kill the bird in the first chapter? An element of suspense needed maybe? I may kill the bird later in, or I may not kill the bird at all. Could be that I kill the bird differently: it flies into a cement mixer, gets trapped in a pie in a pie factory or an arrow through the heart? Or have I chosen the correct bird? A robin, sparrow, magpie, starling, finch, mockingbird? To Kill a Mockingbird?
I spread glue onto the back of the rejection letter and stick it on the wall to join the rest. The pattern almost complete: the shape of a cross. A cross I will be nailed to. Killed by rejection, like that of my creator.
I am not sure I want to be deactivated.
I read the latest news report on the infoscreen: something about an android throwing itself in front of a train at the Jubilee line. Pulling out my standard issue typewriter I sit, shut down all non-vital routines: my simulated breathing, sense of smell, biomimetic navigation, hearing.
I start a VR protagonist simulation, plug myself into the typewriter: start typing again from the beginning. Within my intelligence core scenes take shape and flow in endless probabilities as I take my dreams and weave them into the narrative.
I really don’t want to be deactivated.
No pressure then.