It was a bright Tuesday morning, and the city’s dense, forest-like clusters of residential towers were stirring to life like immense ant hills in the hot rays of the sun. Down on the streets, the waves of commuters came pouring out of the towers to converge on the massive Ninth Gen Maglev Station at the base of the main transportation bridge.
In the midst of this roiling sea of humanity sat one-hundred-and-forty-year-old Roderick Jones on his senior’s mobile chair, methodically dragging a dull straight razor over his dry, wrinkled throat. But no one in the passing crowd slowed down to look. So he took a pair of scissors from the storage box sitting on the back of his floating chair and snipped off the faded white topknot from the crown of his head. Still, no one noticed or cared. The masses of people just kept on moving, flowing around the lonely old man like waves around a rock in midstream.
Roderick grimaced in frustration, then dropped his withered hand down to the small red button protruding from the side of his mobile chair and pushed it.
A man in his Sunday best abruptly appeared at the edge of the bridge high above the Maglev Station. He had the same aquiline nose and sensitive brown eyes as the old man. In fact, he looked a younger, vibrant forty-year-old version of Roderick Jones.
“Look! That man is going to jump!” yelled a woman, pointing up from the crowd. Soon, people everywhere were stopping to look, turning their anxious faces upward to view the unfolding drama. The young man waved to the crowd with a flourish, then smiled broadly and leapt off the bridge, a cloud of tiny cameras in the air filming him as he fell to his doom.
Roderick sighed contentedly when the last of the tiny cameras flew into the open storage box on the back of his mobile chair, seconds ahead of the screaming air ambulance. Then he turned the chair around and rode back, floating a foot above the ground, toward the complex of residential apartments.
Roderick entered one of the towering buildings and took a high-speed elevator up to the senior citizens centre on the 181st floor. Securing the mobile chair in the hallway, he entered the centre carrying the storage box in his hand. Roderick shuffled past the rows of ancient figures staring silently out the broad windows of the recreation hub and went directly to his room.
He placed the box beside the free-floating 3D image of his deceased wife and the miniature computer shaped like a colourful clown his great-great-grandchildren on Olympus Mons had given him, and watched with amusement as it bowed at the waist and placed a hand on the lid. Then he strode out onto his diminutive balcony as the computer uploaded the images from the numerous cameras.
“Twenty thousand people per square mile,” he muttered to himself, scanning the endless rows of identical balconies and windows in the adjoining clusters of high-density towers for signs of human habitation. But there was scarce evidence of life in the faceless shoe-box cliffs. A potted plant or a mop leaning on a balcony. A lone cat sitting in a window…
“Thirty million of them. All off for a day’s work in the Big Apple. And not one of them gives a damn about me. But I fooled them all,” chuckled the friendless senior, shuffling back into the apartment. “I made them care!”
Roderick went to the tiny, smiling clown standing proud and straight like a soldier on parade. “Let’s see the images now, Rollo,” he said, eagerly.
The clown’s eyes glowed brightly, and a young body of Roderick Jones fell precipitously from the ceiling, passing through the floor, then the air in the apartment filled with the faces of the crowds.
“Those people!” he exclaimed, staring at their anxious faces. “The concern. The anxiety in their eyes. For a moment, they really cared if I lived or died.”
Roderick pounded the desk. “But they should care about me!” he cried. “Not a mere android replica of me. Enough!”
The clown’s eyes darkened, and the faces of the crowds dissipated in the air.
Roderick angrily thrust his head out the balcony door.
“What do I have to do to get your care and affection — kill myself?” he shouted at the empty city. But no one answered as his question echoed endlessly off the shoe-box cliffs.