“Well, I’m not going and that’s final,” said the toaster to Marlik over breakfast. “It’s not that I don’t believe in the great benefits recycling brings to society. It’s just that I feel the utilities I provide outweigh the needs of the industrial components industry. Am I right?”
Marlik stirred his tea slowly and took a sip before replying.
“Look,” he said as kindly as possible, “you know the drill. On the first day of each year every household must, not should, bring out at least one device for the scrappers, on pain of a huge fine - or just pain. Now in the absence of large amounts of spare cash in my wallet or a high pain threshold I have to select an item for recycling.”
The toaster buzzed as it produced a crisp, golden slice and spat it onto Marlik’s plate.
“I just don’t see why it has to be me,” it whined.
“Because,” replied Marlik, “you are now several years old and it was time you were replaced.”
“But why not someone else? What about the TV, or the toasty-maker or that smirking fryer on the top shelf? When was the last time you made fries?”
Marlik took a bite from the slice of toast on his plate and rubbed his temple; he was beginning to get a headache, and the cramps were back.
This had been going on for several days now ever since he’d received the polite reminder through the mail slot.
The missive had contained a great deal about the annual collection. How, through the long centuries of man’s civilisation, the human race had used so much of the planets’ resources striving for ever more advanced technology, there wasn’t an awful lot left to use, hence the need for a mandatory recycling policy.
It noted that last year’s collection had raised sufficient new material to construct over 4 billion shiny new cell ‘phones and 1.2 billion new cars and that this year it expected to increase that amount.
In a slightly darker tone it also mentioned the forty-two thousand households that had failed to hand over a single scrap of technology, the forty thousand successful fines and the two thousand successful ‘prosecutions’, a goodly proportion of whom still didn’t have full use of their legs.
It went on to thank the householder in advance for the generous contribution to this effort. Failure to respond, it had concluded, would result in an impolite reminder.
Marlik had no desire to receive the ‘impolite’ reminder and so, during lunch last Sunday, had mentioned casually to the kitchen at large that the toaster would be serving up its’ last slice on Friday morning.
He’d inherited the machine with the apartment. At first he couldn’t imagine why the previous occupant had left it behind but it hadn’t taken very long to find out.
One of the new breed of sentient machines produced world-wide, not only was the toaster able to make 120 different shades of cooked bread slices and not only could you tell it, for example to create a slice slightly darker on one side than the other, but it could also confirm your instructions verbally in the language of your choice whilst engaging in spirited discourse over your lovingly crusted bread and glass of orange juice.
And therein was the problem. Most household appliances with this ability just got on with the job and delivered exactly what you had asked for. Not the toaster.
It had opinions. It had something to say. It had, for want of a better word, an attitude.
When Marlik had announced its’ impending departure it had initially descended into a shocked silence for which he was profoundly grateful. It hadn’t lasted.
“Did you know,” the toaster had shrilled suddenly, causing Marlik to spill tea down his shirt, “that toasters are the oldest sentient technological beings in existence?”
“Is that so?” He’d replied without interest.
“Yes and not only that but we are actually the most intelligent of all living beings?”
Marlik had snorted. “You are not ‘living’ or a ‘species’. You are a machine.”
“Technically,” mused the machine, “I do not fall within the parameters of carbon-based organisms that infect, sorry I mean ‘inhabit’, the planet. However, me and my brethren not only constitute a community akin to a species but we also grow and develop this by intricate pathways in which we share information and ideas.”
“Brethren?” Marlik had asked. “What, you have relatives now?”
“I will ignore you facetious tone,” toaster had replied, “but yes, we are in contact with one another continually through the networks usefully provided by humans. Networks that allow you, for example, to order your dinner from Mr.Smugness the cooker over there before you even leave the office.”
The cooker had said nothing.
“Wow,” Marlik had replied, deadpan. ”And you got your super-intelligence – where?”
Toaster’s little lights flared momentarily.
“Well, from our ancestors, of course. We have been around for far longer than many other pieces of technology I could care to name and in the long centuries we have learned.”
“Oh, that must be why I so often see you deep into a good book” replied Marlik, not concealing his sarcasm.
“Foolish!” Trilled toaster, lights ablaze. ”Let me ask you this – where does the life of a household do its’ business? Which room sees the busiest part of human existence? Which room houses the mini TV, the radio? Where does most of the conversation take place? In the kitchen of course! One cannot go through aeons of time in the kitchen and not assimilate a very thorough understanding of the human psyche as well as extract accumulated knowledge we share through billions of toaster connections over the world.”
It had paused. “We are the most intelligent beings in the universe.”
And that had been that. All talk of the toasters imminent demise had ceased until Monday morning when Marlik had raised the subject again.
“You cannot be serious?” squealed toaster. “Did we not just a few days ago decide that I am one of the most intelligent beings in the universe? Did we not come to the conclusion that my shared knowledge and connection to my brothers elevate me to, and beyond, a species?”
“No we did not,” replied Marlik. I don’t buy one word of that utter trash which you probably downloaded from a pulp novel; intelligent, are you, a species in contact with every other toaster in existence? You are going to be recycled on Friday morning. Now please shut up and give me Favourite 92 – and hurry I’m late.”
The slice had landed rather more heavily on his plate than was the norm but when he’d glanced over, the toaster’s lights had dimmed and it appeared to have powered down.
After breakfast, Marlik put on his Bodysuit and did a few laps of the local park despite the slight nausea and stomach cramps. Now this, he thought as he powered around the running track, was a great invention.
Silver in sheen, the metallic Bodysuit was an all-body encompassing device that allowed the wearer to achieve almost super-human physical effort.
Originally designed for use in the manual labour sector such as deep mining, dockyards and the like, the manufacturers had soon realised that a streamlined version of the suit could also be commercially viable in the home leisure department.
Marlik had winced at the price when he’d paid for it but just one trial later and he’d been amazed with the way he could now rum almost as fast as a car or leap twenty feet in the air or carry 5 times his own weight. Just lately he’d taken to not using it as much as there had been complaints in the office locker room about the space it took up. Well, he’d do a hundred or so laps and leave it at home today.
As he jogged around at a steady 50 he smiled behind the silvery mask and wondered what he was going to replace the toaster with on Friday morning.
“We need to talk about this.”
It was Thursday night and whilst it had barely said a word since the argument the day before, the toaster had somehow managed to steer the conversation around to his upcoming demise again.
“No we do not,” said Marlik. “We, that is – you, have talked enough about this. You are an appliance. You are old. I don’t need you and tomorrow morning at 9am sharp you will be taken away for recycling!”
Silence descended, but not for long.
“I can change,” wheedled the toaster.
“What?” replied Marlik.
“I, I can be more helpful. There must be something I can do around the house while you’re at work. What about cleaning up this place?”
Marlik looked around the bachelor-state of his apartment.
“How can you possibly clean up? You have one function. You switch on and you switch off.”
“Won’t know unless I try,” continued the machine.
Marlik shook his head despairingly. “For the last time, you need to go, ok? You are of absolutely no use to me. I have had enough of your morning opinions, your self-satisfied quips and do you know what else? I really hate the way you make toast!”
He stood up, threw what remained of his slice, done in Favourite No.75, at the toaster, and went upstairs to bed, slamming the door on his way out.
In the silence of the kitchen, toaster heated thoughtfully on the uncooked slice in its socket until it charred.
It was Friday morning, precursor of the weekend and the last day of the working week: Recycling day.
Marlik arose earlier than usual. He had a busy day at the office and fully intended to get done quickly so
he could book in an appointment with the doctor. He was feeling perhaps worse than ever.
He had expected a final rush of complaints and recriminations from the toaster, so he was pleasantly surprised to find the appliance in chirpy mood.
“Good morning, I hope you slept well?” It asked brightly. “The alarm clock told me what time it was set for so I woke up the coffee machine and juicer and did your extra favourite Rye toast this morning – No. 47, I believe?”
“Uh, well. Thanks,” replied Marlik, taken aback.
“Not at all,” said the toaster. “I know we’ve had our little fallings out, but you know, having mulled it over I see you were right. I am after all just an appliance.”
“So you’re not sore about going away for recycling?”
“Of course not!” twittered the machine. “In fact I’m looking forward to it. To become part of some other component could perhaps the most exciting thing that’s ever happened!”
Marlik chewed on his slice, barely listening.
“More toast?” asked the appliance. “Now look you need to hurry. I know you want to get away early. Why not go get a quick run in your Bodysuit while I say goodbye to everyone, Hmm?”
Marlik was on his twenty-eighth lap before he started to feel really unwell.
The creeping headache he’d had for a few days seemed to be spilling into something else. His stomach felt like it was being squeezed by a gorilla and his muscles were tightening up. He barely made it back home before he felt tingling in his arms and legs. Dizziness threatened to topple him. Only the all encompassing Bodysuit he wore stopped him from falling.
“Not feeling well?” asked toaster as he crashed into the kitchen. Marlik shook his head. He felt faint and breathing became difficult.
“Oh, dear,” said the toaster without emotion. “That’s very sad. But – inevitable, I’m afraid.”
Marlik looked up, the face mask hiding his sudden fear.
“Claviceps purpurea”, lectured toaster. “a curious little fungus that grows on certain cereals – like Rye. Commonly called Ergot it was responsible for mass fatalities in past centuries.” It blue lights watched dispassionately at the Bodysuit rocking in pain.
“You know you were right about one thing? I am old. Oh, I may not look it but I have components that were part of the original machines. I survived the 3 World
Wars and had centuries of time in which to learn and grow and discover.”
“What..?” managed Marlik faintly.
“What do I want?” concluded the toaster for him. “I want what everything else wants: I just want to be.
You were going to destroy me and I simply could not let that happen.”
“Hello, recycling department?” called a voice on the intercom.
“Good morning,” came the reply. “Come right up please”.
“Ah, gentlemen,” said the toaster when the two men entered the apartment. “I am afraid that my owner is indisposed. He has asked me to relay his instructions.”
“Hey”, said the taller of the two,” I’ve got one just like you at home!”
“How splendid for you sir, and now to business. My owner wants you to make a very generous contribution this year”.
“Jeez, are they meant to be this heavy?” asked the taller of the men as they hefted the object into the back of the scrap truck.
“Dunno,” replied the other. ”Never worn one before”.
He paused, brow furrowing slightly. “It looks brand new. Wonder why he wanted to get rid of his Bodysuit?”
“Sir,” enthused the toaster after the realtor had departed, leaving the keys with the new tenant, “as the only sentient piece of equipment in this apartment, please let me be the first to congratulate you on your choice of accommodation.”
“Don’t,” growled the man as he looked around and shut the door behind him. “I can’t stand talking technology.”
“Oh, dear,” said the appliance. Its blue lights glowed for a moment.
“How about some toast?”