Electric EDGE
Web Edition of
The Ragged Edge
Sept/Oct 1997

Electric Edge

Max & His Electronic PCA

by Robert Mauro

It was the year 2050. A Brave New World had emerged out of the rubble of the New Republican Revolution. The "Rev," as it had been called by the Underground New Net Newbies, had thrown the country and the world into a New Dark Age. This was especially oppressive for crips like Max Lightyear, a mild-mannered quad with an attitude.

Since the last days of the 20th Century, technology had taken a number of quantum leaps. Then in 2010 the Religious Right and their New Republican slaves had taken a page from the Luddites of the early 19th Century and zapped every known computer in the "free" world. They had successfully waged the Regs Repeal Revolution. The FDA had been abolished. And you took your life in your hands with gadgets as seemingly innocuous as an electric toothbrush.

Nevertheless, thanks to the Underground New Net Newbies, computers had continued to secretly evolve, primarily because of an aging Nerd named Billy "The Byte" Gates. Unlike the first Dark Age, which had taken hundreds of years to recover from, the New Dark Age was over in about eighteen months. Computers had helped restore the vast libraries of art and literature, technology and science. In fact, it had all been stored on three MaxiCDs. Now computers with light-speed CPUs had further revolutionized the world -- and crip life as we knew it.

Intelligent life had not yet been discovered on any other planet, or at the New Department of Social Services, but a few DieHards were still looking. Many had died in the attempt.

By 2050, Billy "The Byte" Gates of New Microsoft had reached his 95th birthday and was now worth $13,000,000,000,000 dollars, which was only about $18,000,000,000 in 1995 dollars, which is when a much younger Gates had launched Windows 95, bugs and all. Gates was presently involved in negotiations to buy the State of California. He wanted to rename it Windownia.

Yes, the world had changed. The Arab countries had run out of oil and merged with New Microsoft to launch Windows 2051, which Gates said would be a quantum leap over Windows 2050. Max Lightyear hoped so. Technology had definitely revolutionized his world as he knew it. And Max, a C-1 quad, was about to try one of technology's most popular post-New Dark Age achievements, designed by the State especially for crips like Max. It was called a CompuPCA. It was another electronic gadget. This troubled Max slightly. He was wary of all gadgets. None were UL-approved.

Max desperately needed a new Personal Care Assistant, one with a heart and a brain. Courage was optional. His last PCA, a human named Ralph, had decided to go to live on the moon.

"There's no goddamned heavy lifting up there," Ralph told Max just before blasting off.

Max was livid. This was the eighty-ninth human PCA to leave him! And that was just since the end of the New Dark Age! He was tired of their tardiness, their laziness, and their total lack of caring and concern, especially for crips and their computers. It was time for Max to try something new. A CompuPCA.

Max had heard that these androids (developed first in 2045 at Disneyland, The Bronx) had a lot going for them. At least that's what the New Department of Social Services claimed in four languages: Spanish, Japanese, Swahili and English. Furthermore, what everyone who had a CompuPCA supposedly said was that these technological wonders had three very desirable qualities, qualities no human PCA had: a programmable personality, total efficiency, and, interestingly enough, a brain. Well, at least that's what most crips supposedly said. It was in all the CompuPCA, Inc.'s brochures...in four languages.

Max opened CompuPCA, Inc.'s full-color, holographic brochure. The publication claimed "satisfaction was guaranteed, or your money back." The word "satisfaction" stuck in Max's mind. He hadn't had much of that lately.

Max thought of his life. There wasn't much to think of. He had long ago been abandoned by his family and his PCA, all eighty-nine of them. Life sucked for most humans. For crips it DoubleSucked.

Max had been hit and paralyzed some years ago by a poorly programmed CompuCop, who was in hot pursuit of a RAM smuggler. As a result, Max was not big on gadgets, especially when they looked, walked and talked like a human.

Over the years Max Lightyear had had a few encounters with gadgets. Since the Regs Repeal Revolution had occurred, wheelchairs occasionally threw you over cliffs, accessible vans exploded, and wheelchair lifts were prone to decapitating crips and/or their PCAs. Gadgets were not what they had been pre-Regs Repeal Revolution.

The cover of the CompuPCA, Inc. brochure really caught Max's eye. On it were two extremely photogenic CompuPCAs. The male unit was your typical pre-New Dark Age romance novel hunk; the female unit was a pretty woman with a perfect smile. A bit too perfect, Max thought. This immediately reminded Max of the ad for his accessible van. Bright and shiny, until it exploded or decapitated you. But his choices were, after all, limited. Actually, the State gave crips absolutely no choice.

Max knew CompuPCAs never left you once you were approved by the State and the company. And each CompuPCA came complete with a computer cable for convenient programming, easy-to-install Windows software, and a screwdriver and pen-size laser soldering gun for quick repairs. The instruction manual came on 3D-CD-ROM and was "so simple even a child could understand it."

Max had no trouble understanding or using computers. He had written twenty-seven books on their various uses, including how they could set free the creative abilities of even total quads.

Max had been a Net Surfer even during the New Dark Ages, when the New Net was clandestinely connected. Now Net Surfing was legal, which made it a heck of a lot less interesting. Underground New Net Newbies were CrunchMaster, RAMbusters, UnderGround Nerds. They were the men and women, the crips and the TABs, who had saved the world from a FinalCrash. And they were the ones who had rescued the world from the New Dark Age.

Max knew computers inside and out, software and hardware. Max could install an extra 64 MB of RAM using his tongue and a mouth stick ... while blindfolded.

CompuPCA, Inc. promised their CompuPCAs were simple to program, lasted a lifetime and never needed batteries, just an occasional BB-sized pellet of Uranium-235. It was true the U-235 BB cost $35,000. But it lasted at least twenty years. A human PCA cost $20,000 a year, lasted eight or nine months at most, often had a rotten personality, showed up late and always broke Max's knickknacks while dusting. A CompuPCA averaged out to less than $1,750 a year and an occasional two dollar lube job. The company even supplied a free first can of 10-40 oil! Moreover, each CompuPCA was guaranteed never to break anything, including your heart. As for a brain, each CompuPCA had the latest 10 gigabyte RAM chip and light-speed central processing unit. They were extremely good at video games, too!

Max had liked one of his human PCAs. Juan was quite efficient, never came late, never broke a single one of Max's knickknack, but was, unfortunately, decapitated one night by Max's van lift. Juan's family wasn't paid a dime in the lawsuit. There was no lawsuit. TortReform was all part of the Regs Repeal Revolution. So the State just sent an angry IRS notice to Juan's family and requested a prompt response before penalties could accumulate.

Juan was long gone, if not forgotten (at least not by Max). After Juan's untimely death, Max couldn't eat for a week. There was no one to feed him. And Juan's replacement didn't help much. His name was Bud, a former wrestler and part-time toxic dump truck driver. Bud had decided to try a change of career. The State thought Bud was perfectly acceptable as a PCA, despite the sexual battery charges pending in three states. Anyway, Bud soon broke several of Max's knickknacks while dusting.

"I hate this fucking dusting!" Bud would say, gulping one of Max's beers and belching.

Max was determined to get a PCA he could depend on. So what if it was an android, a dreaded non-UL-approved gadget? Hey, you didn't even have to feed them. Just keep em well lubricated with that free can of 10-40 and you were set.

The New Department of Social Services loved CompuPCAs. CompuPCAs were extremely cost effective, i.e., cheap. And since Max was on NewFed Medicaid, he was willing to give a CompuPCA a try. Actually, he had no choice. In fact, he was not in love with the idea...or the impending CompuPCA.

Max, however, figured the one redeeming value a CompuPCA had was that it gave you a choice of personality. Max wanted a polite, compliant PCA. Not one like Bud who did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it (which was not much and very seldom).

So Max, after getting his NewFed Medicaid approval, was off to CompuPCA, Inc. to pick out his first CompuPCA. He knew exactly how he was going to program the gadget. For one thing, it would never leave him for the moon!

At CompuPCA, Inc. Max had to complete a 230-page questionnaire. This required several number 2 pencils, each held in Max's mouth. Separately, of course. Max had no one to help him fill out the questionnaire, but Max was quite able to do it himself, including turning the pages with his tongue.

In the questionnaire there were questions about his weight, his height, his choice of eye color, hair color, even skin color (which was an optional question, of course). CompuPCA, Inc. even wanted to know the height of Max's cabinets, the width of his doorways, where the knobs on his stove were located (within a millimeter), whether or not he had carpeting, pets, air conditioning, a humidifier, lived within five miles of an industrial complex, lived within three miles of a toxic dump, spat on the floor, and could use the john or needed a bedpan.

The question which surprised Max the most, however, was not the one concerning the exact length of his penis. He figured this had something to do with catheterization...he hoped. But why did they want to know if he lived near a microwave tower, had frequent microwave dinners, and if he was a CB radio operator? Max answered "no" to all those questions. He had told the truth, except about being a CBer. Max loved antique communications equipment. He didn't, however, want anyone to know he had a CB radio. He didn't want to be accused of causing Radio Frequency interference to his neighbors' SatTV sets.

That afternoon CompuPCA, Inc. approved Max as a candidate for a CompuPCA. Max was amazed when he was introduced to him...or it. The android looked just like some actor from the soap "General Hospital," which was by now in its umpteenth decade on SatTV. It was amazing what a simple 10 gigabyte programmable Random Access Memory chip could do, not to mention a little foam rubber, a couple of screws and a wig! The thing looked, talked, walked and even smelled like a human!

The CompuPCA was great at cooking, cleaning and bedpans. It was in a word fantastic, which was an understatement! Max had scanned into its RAM chip The Betty Crocker Cookbook and Chilton's Auto Repair Manual. Max's pre-New Dark Age van was falling apart, and there was that ever-present danger of sudden decapitation.

Max couldn't believe his eyes. The CompuPCA kept fooling him. Max often forgot it was just a machine, especially while it was bathing or dressing Max. With its laser eyes, the thing even zapped cockroaches and mice, which were quite prevalent in the NewSec 8 housing units, which were actually quite old Section 8 housing units with a few new crummy coats of lead-based paint.

Max was extremely happy. His life was once again "normal." He even started work on several new books, including a sci-fi romance. He also felt totally free to go anywhere he wanted to whenever he wanted to. And the CompuPCA never broke a single one of Max's knickknacks while dusting! It even did windows, plus the computer version -- Windows 2050! It was a fantastic gadget! Max loved the freedom it gave him. And the CompuPCA liked Max...thanks to Max's ability to program and the easy-to-install software the CompuPCA came with.

Max would spend hours watching his new CompuPCA doing the dishes, washing his clothes, vacuuming his rugs, and even happily zapping mice and cockroaches with its laser eyes. And the CompuPCA never broke anything or complained of overwork.

In time both Max and his CompuPCA completely forgot it was merely a machine. Max would feel terrible when the CompuPCA had a breakdown or a system crash. Max kept its memory backed up on a Read-Write MiniCD. He knew he could bring the CompuPCA back each time it crashed, but until he did, his heart raced with anxiety. He didn't want to lose this wonderful gadget. He loved it.

"Where was I, Max?" the CompuPCA would say each time Max brought it back from a crash.

"You were just sleeping."

"Funny. I never dream."

Yes, Max loved his CompuPCA. There were two slight problems, however. Every time Max got on his antique CB radio and yelled "Breaker, breaker!" his wonderful CompuPCA would go haywire. This was never really a big problem, so long as Max kept his knickknacks safely out of range of the thing and the android was not in the process of catheterizing Max. Max had forgotten to do that once and it got extremely messy. But who could complain? The CompuPCA cleaned everything up and then cooked Max a delicious five-course meal.

Everything was going great -- until one day Max discovered problem number two: His hair began to fall out. Far too late, Max learned that this was a "mere" design defect of the CompuPCAs. At least that's what the State said. It was due to the Uranium-235 BB that powered them. They leaked radiation profusely. The Regs Repeal Revolution had allowed this "mere" design defect to go uncorrected. So even though the CompuPCAs lasted for ages, the crips using them did not. Yet the State insisted the CompuPCA program was quite cost-effective. The New Department of Social Services totally agreed. After all, there were fewer and fewer crips needing CompuPCAs each year...if you know what I mean. As for Max? His hair continued to fall out ... in larger and larger clumps.

Robert Mauro is the author of four books
and runs the PeopleNet DisAbility DateNet Home Page


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