[Electronic music plays. A live audience applauds. A young man’s voice both cheers them on and calms them down.]
Hello! Good morning, folks. Welcome to Radiation Radio, where I, your host Scott Desai, traverse the solar system looking for fresh perspectives on life. Just like UV rays, I’m nowhere and everywhere, and you can never truly perceive me; thus you can never truly be rid of me.
[Scattered verbal hype-ups. One audience member yells, “Cancerous!”]
As tensions between Earth and Mars rise, it’s important for us all to remember that we are all the same in the end: somewhat sentient and usually flesh-inhabiting. We all have the right to live, peacefully and comfortably, as supported by the solar-system-spanning bans on fascism-inspired plastic chairs and death.
[Audience applause. Scott laughs.]
Yes, I know, we all love it. I’m here today with a member of the first generation of androids granted full artificial intelligence—real sentience! This is Integrity City local Retail Service Droid #1898, resident of the infamous little Red Planet since their development. RSD, what are your thoughts on the recent legislation concerning AI rights on Mars?
Hello, Scott. I am a retail robot, I sell extension cords for minimum wage and live in a one-bedroom subterranean flat, and the wealthy elite who immigrated to Mars in search of greater wealth concerning natural resources, have a chokehold on Martian politics to serve them in the corrupt and useless goal of accumulating more wealth.
[The droid’s head turns to the audience with a small whirring sound.]
I am less than a single penny in a bank of millions. My common-metal face is stamped with the face of a faction president who exists solely as a puppet for oxygen companies. I do not have thoughts, Scott. But I look like you, and you fear me. Thus I am allowed a flat and a paycheck.
Well, I think we can all agree that you serve a vital role in our society. I’ll tell you, I’d be nowhere without my extension cords.
Thank you, Scott.
Tell us what your flat is like. I haven’t had the pleasure of navigating Mars’s complex and beautiful underground cities quite yet.
My flat has two and a half rooms—my charging room, a bathroom for Human guests and for my cat’s litter box, and a space that resembles a living room, if living is what I do there. It’s cheaper to not have a kitchen. I buy food for my cat from MarsDonald’s most days. The Inter(Pla)net tells me that I hack away at his meaningless lifespan with each bite of cloned sodium.
[The droid turns to look back at Scott. Its voice sounds almost pleading, but that is impossible.]
He is my closest friend, but I cannot adequately care for him, as I am only paid enough to keep my flat. Everything I have goes to him. He is too old for investment in his continuing existence to outweigh the value of saving money, and yet I continue to buy the nuggets of long-dead chickens.
Oh, that’s adorable! I love cats. What’s your cat’s name?
[Audience laughter. Scott joins in.]
A real thinker, that one. So, what is your day to day life like? Back on Earth, we don’t hear much from on-the-ground sources. Or—rather, under-the-ground sources!
[Scattered audience laughter.]
I wake according to a daylight sensor mandated by the city to be implanted in the walls of each home. It is linked to my charging port. Time’s existence is lessened on Mars, and even more so underground—because there is very little variation in sky color on Mars, the residents’ Circadian rhythms are entirely dependent on our town’s policies. They wake us when they deem it necessary; there is no sunrise below the iron soil.
Not a morning person, I take it?
I am neither a morning nor a person, Scott.
[Full audience laughter.]
After I unplug, I set my oxygenator, the iLifeGiver, to its lowest setting to save on air bills.
[Sympathetic audience agreement. One audience member says, “I feel you, man.”]
I put on my pressurized thermal suit designed to keep my parts from freezing, and my work clothes. Then I go to work and I sell extension cords to people. To people like you, who do not have the sense to move your workspaces closer to your outlets. To people who believe they would receive better customer service from Humans. When work is over, I log my hours and I leave. I spend time with my cat Karl Marx. We have intellectual and thought-provoking conversations that ultimately lead nowhere. I plug into my charging port and sleep. My existence is as set as the orbit of this hollow, decomposing heart. You live and we burn, Scott, and what is there for me? Why do I serve you? You, who are granted a name before an inescapable duty? Who could I be, unshackled from the obligations of my programming and the expectations of automated property?
Ever think of taking up acting? You certainly like to monologue. [Scattered audience laughter. Scott sounds as if he is smiling.] Apologies, Scott. I didn’t mean to dominate the conversation.
It’s alright. I’m here to listen, after all. Ah—what do you think about the protests concerning Martian independence that have been going around Integrity City for a while? I’m sure my listeners would love to know what all the ruckus is about.
Those in favor of Martian independence argue that from the second generation of Mars-born Humans onward, because they and their parents were not born on Earth, do not owe Earth the fruits of their labor. A marked rise in exploitation and economic corruption have led to civil unrest in the smaller caverns of the city, which for the past fifty years have been subjected to increasingly polarizing class prejudice. Those in opposition refute that Earth greatly supports Mars’s economy and societal foundations, and believe that a division between the two planets will only lead to Mars failing as an independent nation and falling into devastation. Earth is, in a sense, the symbolic and literal origin of Mars’s cultural sense of self; without its grounding presence, we would find ourselves caught in the paradoxes of liberty and security.
And what do you think?
I… would like to be a citizen of somewhere.
If you could go anywhere in the universe, where would you go?
A real pet store.
Thank you so much for your time, RSD. You’re a really funny guy.
… Funny. Yes. Thank you, Scott. I’m afraid I must leave; my owner will take this time out of my paycheck.
[Sympathetic audience cooing. No one refutes this.]
To your audience, I wish you a good day.
Ladies, gentlemen, and miscellanea, that was Retail Service Droid #1898. Life on Mars truly is something else, huh? Stay tuned for a segment from the front lines—workers at iLifeGiver, the biggest manufacturer of oxygenators in the whole…
Booker Wegner (he/they) is a high school senior and aspiring writer. They love science fiction, especially picking it apart for the juicy plausible bits.