It was Friday night. Once again, I was spending it resentfully stealing handfuls of greasy popcorn from the snack case and half-watching old sci fi on the store screen. After working for 14 hours and counting, the only things keeping me on my feet were Butter n’ Cheddar Jumbo Pop Popcorn, Blade Runner, and the firm knowledge that the Tyrant could fire me in a second.
Welcome to the glamorous life of being a store clerk at the Silver Screen, the last DVD rental in town. Maybe the last one in the whole country.
I’d spent the day polishing scratched discs and checking that returned DVD cases actually contained the DVDs. That’s something of a weird job, because we only have the same three customers each day, so it’s not like we could afford to bar any of them if they cheated us. One of the regulars is this gray-haired lady named Margaret Mayflower who runs the post office. She used to be a chain smoker and heavy drinker; I don’t know if coming to the Silver Screen is even a conscious choice anymore or just the last habit she hasn’t managed to kick. She only ever rents tearjerkers about dogs. At this point, I was thinking I could save everyone’s time if I just piled all our sad dog movies in a new row and stamped her name on the end shelf.
Late in the afternoon, I was tossing the last DVD on the pile and about to punch out when the Tyrant came by.
“Still in school, right?” he said, which was code for “Still need a paycheck?” I’m a Film Studies major in my senior year. Which I reminded him. Again. Not like I’d been working here for months or anything. Maybe he thought toiling at the Silver Screen might have ruined Film for me. Working retail here had been the only summer job I could find when my internship fell through. I’d stayed on into the school year, loyal, broke employee that I am.
“You’re the one with no kids, yeah?” he said, because apparently all employees looked the same. “Great. You can take an extra shift.” And that was that. It was the third time he’d done that and by now he’d developed this skill of shutting out my voice after he made a decision. So I gave up on protesting.
That night, in the middle of the scene where Deckard gives Rachael his prove-you’re-not-a-replicant test, a new customer actually came in. She was young enough to be one of our regular customer’s grandkids (in other words: she was my age). We get those types occasionally, hands tucked into UltraSkinny jeans, blinking at us from behind square glasses, looking for something really rare. An old film that hadn’t been uploaded to the internet or adapted for holograms yet. When she finally noticed I existed, she told me what she was looking for – the movie where Überbot had his first role! I lit up. Überbot’s the greatest acting robot of our decade, maybe ever.
Überbot’s faceplate is so dexterous, he can even crinkle the corner of his eyes. I’ve never seen a robot with that emotional versatility before. And his mouth, brows, and eyes are all backlit so he can dim or brighten them to show up better depending on the conditions where they’re filming. He got his start in comedy films because he’s amazing at parody – his eyes record, so he can play back and study people’s gestures until his imitation is perfect. He does his own stunts, too –
I realized I was babbling all this when the customer interrupted me with an “Ok, cool” and snatched away the DVD I’d located. Point taken, I returned to playing human cash register. At least until the Tyrant gives away my job to some robot or an even more desperate student.