Short Story

Short Story – Trust

(This basically came out of a Skype Discussion about the merits and pitfalls of having a society run by robots for human comfort. Most of us were…less than optimistic about such an idea. It…also feels like it could be extended into a longer piece somehow…)

            Hello there! My name is John! I live in a very large city and I would like to tell you a little bit about your life.

            In the morning, I wake up at the same time, thanks to my friend Ms. Voice. She calls herself an artificial intelligence program, and she has been taking care of me for as long as I can remember. And she’s super reliable, guiding me through my daily routine every day, giving me great food and helping me select my wardrobe or have a meal. She also says that she’s here to serve my every need, and that she only wants for me to be happy. This is really great because I always feel like there’s something important that I’m overlooking, and she tells me that no, I actually haven’t, and that makes me feel better.

            I don’t really do too much here, even though I have access to all the entertainment in the world. Whether it’s a book or a movie, I can’t seem to keep concentrated on it; the words and the images just begin to swim around, and sooner or later I’ve lost track of what is going on. Or just fall asleep. So I take walks around here instead; I love listening to my feet fall on padded carpets or concrete or the other surfaces I walk across, and it’s fun to visit an atrium or a public park. Or I’ll visit a restaurant or some other business and have the servitors make a fancy meal for me. There are also public pools and ice rinks I could visit, but Ms. Voice says I should probably avoid those; she can’t guarantee my safety if something where to go wrong. She follows me around, talking to me from a special wristwatch and telling me what time it is or what I’m looking at or when I need to take a meal. Or sometimes we just talk, although she tends to agree with me a lot.

            I get into some really bad jams sometimes, though. One time I was talking a walk and I ended up stepping over some glass. I didn’t notice anything until I got home, and then it turned out that a nail had been jammed right inside my foot! Well, I was lucky that the medical arms patched me up and everything, because that could have really hurt! And sometimes, I’m a bit late to get one of my meals, and that’s when I become anxious. Really, really anxious. I start to feel like something is wrong, and that I have to run and keep running. But then Mrs. Voice gives me dinner and those feelings just up and disappear.

The nights are the same around here; Ms. Voice helps me get ready for bed, with a shower and a set of PJs, and then I fall asleep listening to very relaxing music and warm, soft bed sheets. And I can count on Ms. Voice to keep me safe as I sleep the nights away; she’s told me that it’s not safe to go out at night, as you never know what could be wandering around. Sometimes, I get woken up by loud noises off in the distance, but Ms. Voice says that everything is fine and there’s no need to worry.

            Sometimes I wonder why I never see anyone else around; after all, in a city this big you’d expect to run into someone sooner or later. When that happens, I can feel horrible for weeks on end, and then the bad feelings come back. I asked Ms. Voice about it once and she said that it was hard to maximize happiness for more than one person. I tried asking how she knew that, but she told me that she couldn’t answer that question. So I haven’t asked her that much more about it.

            After all, I trust her completely.

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Short Story – Sick Day

(I have people tell me in the past that I have this ability to write about very mundane, everyday things in an interesting way. Acting upon those complements, I’ve decided to write a story in that vein about trying to take a day off.)

            It’s 9:00 AM when you drag yourself out of bed that day, and you’re feeling absolutely miserable. You’ve pushed yourself a little too hard, eaten a poor diet and slept too little sleep, and now you’ve got a running nose, achy joints and a headache that’s tearing your head apart. So you make the reasonable decision to take the day off of work. Your boss sounds annoyed when you tell him you won’t be making it to work that day, and during your conversation with them they constantly ask you how bad it is, an apparent attempt at talking you out of the symptoms that you are feeling at the moment. After a brief conversation, your boss wishes for you to get well soon and hangs up. After putting phone back on its receiver, you crawl back into bed, set the radio to a decent music station and pick up a good book, intent on having the most relaxing day you possibly can.

            A plan which gets ruined about ten minutes later when you get another phone call and, guess what, it’s an automated message. You have no patience for such an impersonal mode of communication, so you just hang up the phone and walk back to your own bedroom. Then the next automated message comes, almost immediately after the first one. You hang up on that one as well. Then the next one comes…

            Around the sixth time this happens you decide that you aren’t going to actively participate in this bizarre coincidence anymore, electing to ignore the phone the next time it rings. Your pattern recognition skills are then rendered useless when it turns out to been a call by a concerned co-worker, prompting you to jump out of the bed and half-sprint your way to the kitchen before they finish their message. When you get there and interrupt them, they are surprised for a second, and ask if they haven’t woken you up. You assure them that no, they haven’t disturbed anything, and thank them for checking up on you. Your co-worker is relieved, says that they hope you get better soon and promptly hangs up the phone. The conversation makes up for the previous automated calls before it, or the sudden ‘bait and switch’ that was pulled on you just a few minutes before. Still, you’re eager to get back to bed and pick up your book where it left off.

            Less than fifteen minutes later, there’s a knock at your door.

             Having just gotten to a good part of the story, you grumble as you pull yourself out of bed and walk to the door, throwing it open to see a pair of door-to-door scientologists standing in front of you. And they want to talk to you about L. Ron Hubbard. You try to say no to them, telling them that you really aren’t feeling that well, but one of them puts his foot in the door and says, with an almost inappropriate grin, that they really want a moment of your time, a phrase that, in this case, apparently means that they won’t let you go without a fight. And you are not in the mood for this game right now

            What follows is a verbal duel, the scientologists ducking and weaving through the subtle yet ineffective jabs you make to chase them off. Both parties are on the offensive, and unwilling to back down in the face of your opponent. You even end up on the ropes for a while when they catch you off guard about the dangers of medicine, a ‘too-close-to-home’ issue for you in your current state of being. But you eventually settle with an outright ad homonym, telling them that you are sick and would like to be left alone before shutting the door in their faces, the on only having enough time to shout something about not taking your medication before it closes. When you return to bed this time around, you’ve lost all will to continue reading and instead decide to take a nap.

            And then you hear the sirens.

            At first they’re soft and far off in the distance, but soon enough they grow louder and louder as they get closer and closer to your apartment. You hope that they will pass by your house and let you get on with your rest, but instead they come to a halt right nearby, in a straight line almost directly across from your apartment. You throw a pillow over your ears to try and drown them out, but they still manage to drill through the cotton-stuffing and right into your inner ear and it is making your headache worse in the process. And alongside the growing pain between your ears is a red-hot strain of anger coursing through the rest of your body.

            You continue to lie in bed for a while, forced to endure the chatter of activity and the occasional shout from an unknown person that are somehow getting louder, a phenomenon that creates and perpetuates your headache’s slow transformation into a migraine. And when the sudden, loud ‘Bang!’ suddenly rings out in the distance it feels as though someone has clapped their hands next to their ears. Less than a minute or two later you hear the sound of the sirens starting up again and disappear into the distance, the event that prompted the emergency response in the first place now over.

            You lie there for a while after that, staring off at the far wall of your room. You’re very tense at this moment because you’re waiting; for another phone call, for another knock at the door, for another siren to show up, for something to just come out and interrupt your attempted rest once again. But soon you feel your guard dropping. You feel yourself beginning to relax, your muscles becoming less tense and your snapped-open eyes beginning to close shut. Soon you find yourself lying in bed, eyes close and trying to tell yourself that sooner or later, something is going to jolt you from this restful snooze.

            When you next wake up, five hours have passed and you find that you feel much better. In fact, you feel good enough to get up and walk around, to make a simple dinner for yourself, watch a game show or two and even get a fair part of the way through your book. The phone still rings a couple of times after that, of course, but it doesn’t seem to bother you anymore.

            You just needed a day off, after all.