Contest #72 shortlist ⭐️

11 comments

Dec 16, 2020

LGBTQ+ Science Fiction Speculative

The smell of coffee woke Kasey up. A voice, feminine and husky, chimed, "Good morning, Officer Roman. Your uniform has been laid out along with the jacket I anticipate you will want. The current temperature is -2 degrees Celsius." 

Kasey's eyes blinked open; the ceiling stared back. "Based on traffic patterns, the time it will take for you to get dressed, and the speed at which you finish your coffee, you will arrive at work at 9:12." That was almost on time. Kasey stood, stretched, and drank the coffee slowly. The small flat consisted of a single bed (size: full), a kitchenette (rarely used), a bathroom the size of a closet (barely enough space to stand in), and a living area with a loveseat (lumpy and smelling of cigarettes). Three hundred square feet, in total, and all Kasey's. 

After coffee, the uniform went on, badge shining in the artificial light. "Predictive data implies that it will take fifteen minutes for you to style your hair; if you do this, you will arrive at 9:27. Therefore, you will not do this." Kasey sighed and put on the jacket that was thrust out of the clothing closet (actually bigger than the bathroom). "The elevator is full; you will take the stairs." The back of Kasey's neck itched. 

The stairwell was cold; the small heaters on the walls did little more than waste electricity. One would think that with all the technology in the world, someone would figure out how to keep a stairwell heated. No such luck. Seven flights of stairs later, Kasey stepped out of the stairwell only to step back in immediately. The wind was savage today, howling and screaming like an infant. 

A deep breath later, Kasey stepped out again. "You will make it this time," the husky voice predicted. Sometimes, in the dark of the apartment, Kasey wondered if it was still predictive or if it was actually issuing a command. The thought was frequently shrugged away, and yet...And yet.

The standard-issue black self-driving car assuaged Reactic's Actural algorithm (named "Io"), making traffic predictions more accurate and reduced the amount of car accidents as well as removing any fault applied to the person "driving." If an accident did occur (less than 0.001% chance), Io claimed fault and Reactic paid out. 

Kasey hated self-driving cars, because more often than not, by the end of the trip, Io chimed, "Wake up, Officer Roman," in that annoying voice that had been predicted to appease everyone (94.5% of the population, to be exact). 

At 9:12, Kasey entered the station. "There will be an assignment on your desk based on current civil unrest." Uniformed men walked by Kasey, greeted with a nod, and went about their business. The aforementioned desk did indeed have an assignment folder waiting on it. 

It also had Captain Jones leaning his hip on the desk and flipping idly through a different folder. "You're late," he informed Kasey without looking up. His blue cap was tucked under his arm, the gray strands in his hair catching the light and the shadows on his face hiding his age. 

Io said in Kasey's ear, "Do not bother sitting; Captain Jones will be sending you on your assignment immediately."

"Yes, sir," Kasey said, picking up the assignment folder on the desk. It was, in fact, a civil unrest assignment. 

"Just because," Captain Jones said as he closed the folder and made eye contact with Kasey, "your lateness is anticipated does not mean it is welcome. Grab a squad car and go downtown to Sentinel Park. There have been rumors circulated about a potential demonstration today. Predictions indicate that the presence of an officer will negate any kind of gathering."

"Am I going alone?" Kasey asked. The walls of the small cubicle where the desk resided felt like they were closing in. 

Captain Jones rubbed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Yes, Roman. Io indicated that you, alone, would be sufficient enough." Jones was too big for the space of the cubicle, too present in that tiny square that Kasey felt squashed, overwhelmed, and insignificant.

"Yes, sir."

With a grunt, Captain Jones walked out of the cubicle, patting Kasey on the shoulder. "Be careful out there, son." 

Kasey nodded, trying to remember to breathe. Io said, "Based on simulations run in my algorithm, you will be fine, Kasey Roman."

#

Snow crunched under Kasey's boots. Sentinel Park was deserted, the world much too cold for any sane human to stage anything, let alone a demonstration. Actural's Predictive Modeling had laid out boots this morning, which Kasey had obediently put on. Sentinel Park was, during a warmer month at least, the only spot of green for at least a hundred kilometers in any direction. Synth-parks were dotted here and there, but the semi-gloss texture of the fake leaves ruined the mood. 

The trees in Sentinel Park were bare; the craggy gray-brown trunks with sharp limbs and a backdrop of skyscraper disquieted Kasey. "I have detected a spike in your cortisol level. Regulated breathing will decrease the abnormality," Io said. Kasey breathed deeply, thankful that Io couldn't read thoughts. One day soon, maybe. Reactic was working on an algorithm to understand and interpret synapses signals in the brain, mapping chemical signals to direct thoughts, to assist Io's predictions, to make them 100% accurate instead of just 99.9% accurate. 

The perimeter of the park was approximately 2.5 kilometers; Kasey walked at a steady pace, toes painfully cold. Park benches covered in ice sat empty. The fountain had been drained and was now just a statue of a blindfolded woman holding a sword and a set of scales. Themis, if Kasey remembered correctly, goddess of justice. Ancient mythos fell out of fashion decades ago. Only scholars studied things like that anymore. A billboard between two skyscrapers read, "Don't look back, move forward: Reactic can help." Kasey couldn't tell what it was trying to sell, but the statue in the foreground made it seem ironic.

After completing a lap, Kasey went back to the squad car to dethaw. The world was eerie right now. Typically, the roads were clogged with cars, the sidewalks packed with people. The lack of civilization put a ball of anxiety in Kasey's stomach. The clock on the dashboard indicated it was 19 Dec, still a few days from Winter's Eve. The streets should be more than filled with people desperately trying to finish their shopping in time, listening to Io whisper where to find what items. 

Flexing fingers, Kasey got out of the squad car and did another lap. Maybe the news had warned everyone away from the area where a potential demonstration would take place. The assignment folder hadn't even stated what the potential protesters were protesting. Not that it mattered. After the fiasco a century ago, demonstrations and protests (peaceful or not) had been deemed public safety violations. Kasey kicked at the snow. 

"Weather patterns...increase in wind speed. In...minutes, you will...put on your sunglasses," Io announced. There was something wrong with the voice; static interrupted the algorithm's words, something distorting them inaudible. 

A sharp whine punctured Kasey's skull. Then a voice, androgynous, spoke. "Predictive modeling based on outdated cultural ideologies brainwashes generation after generation of people who don't know any better. Io is based on the concept that there are only two types of people in the world: ones and zeros, defined on the chromosomal level." A breath, as though the person is trying not to scream with outrage. "I am neither a one nor a zero. I am infinite."

Kasey put on sunglasses and pulled up the neck gaiter to block out the cold. Silence, complete and utter silence in a frozen world; clouds blotted out the sun, wind didn't blow, and even the background hum of electricity in the city was gone. One second, two. Wind viciously ripped at Kasey's uniform. Static emitted from the Io module for a moment, and then, "--will be recalled to the station. Captain Jones will send a message to the public to ease growing fear. Reactic has prepared for such a breach. Officer Roman, Captain Jones will put you in charge of investigation."

Walking back to the squad car, Kasey barely listened to Io. One, zero. In the car, the heat cranked full blast, and the drive sequence initiated. Themis stood in the center of the park, watching Kasey leave her alone in the cold. 

#

The rest of the day blurred past Kasey: men spoke over each other; plans and assignments were made, nixed, and made again; and every peek out the window revealed the sun still shone. Io murmured predictions throughout the day, things it wouldn't normally say. "You will get up to get a glass of water."

"You will stop by the grocery store on the way home."

"You will arrange the folders on your desk four times."

"You will reread the notes you took during the Captain's brief."

"You will use the restroom in five minutes."

"You will--"

And on and on. A prediction every few minutes, like Io was making up for the brief time it lost this morning. The outage (hack) was only a small area centered on Sentinel Park. So much for a protest. Though, maybe that was the protest. I am neither a one nor a zero. Kasey had put the groceries away already and now laid on the bed, staring at the ceiling. 

"You will be hungry in 32 minutes. Dinner is being prepared," Io said. 

The sun had set, no light streaming through the small window above the bed. The ambient temperature was fine. The lights were dim. The room was silent, save the sound of the auto-oven in the kitchenette and the rustle of paper.

Kasey sat up; paper should not be rustling. Paper was rare, not allowed for public use anymore. Nothing in the room seemed out of the ordinary, everything in its place. "You will report the flyer to Captain Jones. You will use it as evidence." Io sounded so sure. Kasey saw what Io was talking about, the slip of paper on the ground just inside the door with something written on it.

Tentatively, Kasey moved off the bed toward the door, toward the flyer. Gentle fingers caressed the edges. "Officer Roman, you will report this to Captain Jones." The paper, flyer, had printed on it a series of ones and zeros. Ones made up the background, the zeros spaced between the ones to construct an infinity sign. "Officer Roman, you will report this to Captain Jones." 

Flipping the paper over, Kasey read instructions:

1. Remove the module.

2. Come meet at the park.

3. Be infinite.

"You are experiencing high levels of cortisol. You will contact Officer Jones and report this."

Kasey went to the rarely used kitchenette, pulled open drawers until knives gleamed from their containers. "Officer Roman. Kasey. Based on predictions of your genetic makeup and male chromosome markers, this is not what you will do."

Male chromosome markers. Kasey stared at perfectly manicured hands as a knife found its way into them. The knife cut into the skin on the back of Kasey's neck. "This is not what men are predicted to do, Kasey." Io's last words as the knife slid through the connection from the module to the spinal cord. It barely made a sound when it fell to the ground. The crunch underfoot wasn't as satisfying as Kasey had hoped it would be. But it didn't need to be satisfying. The module just needed to be gone. 

After sliding into a jacket, Kasey folded up the flyer and put it into a pocket. A thin line of blood trickled down to barely saturate the jacket's collar. Kasey opened the door to the apartment. "I'm not a man," Kasey muttered to themself. "I am infinite."

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

11 comments

Mickey Mousey123
20:06 Dec 21, 2020

Well done, great detail, taking us into Kasey's daily routine, yes if someone could learn to heat a stairwell, omg loved it - and your use of data and terminology, well i doubt i could have pulled that off better, bringing us into the future of changed algorythms, bravo. loved it. i actually wanted it to be longer.

Reply

Lynn Bigham
14:47 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you for taking the time to read it! The word count limit makes it a little difficult for me. I want to embellish, but sometimes, I get lost in details.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Stephen Fitton
17:18 Dec 21, 2020

FREAKING AMAZING! Your ability to build a scene with two juxtaposed elements is incredible (if a little ironic). Kasey's smaller-than-studio apartment contrasted with having an AI assistant and the use of percentages to demonstrate that Kasey is exceptional yet still follows AI predictions is incredible! I also the love the references to Greek myth - Io was an interesting choice for a name. Was it because the AI is watched over by a police state (Argus)? The Themis/billboard scene was beautifully described, like the rest of your haunting im...

Reply

Lynn Bigham
15:30 Dec 22, 2020

Thank you!! I actually chose Io because in some sans-serif fonts, a one and a zero next to each other look like Io (and I hardly ever remember Io is in Greek mythology; I always remember it as a moon of Jupiter). But, I'm sure there's a tie in there somewhere, esp since she's a lover of Zeus. I'm excited to read your story! I'll have a look this afternoon.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Enriko Pratt
17:15 Dec 25, 2020

Wow, that was wonderful. Congrats on the shortlist (but you actually deserved to win.) I very much enjoyed this. The world you created was so interesting and as a queer author, it was nice to see non-binary inclusion. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Andrea Magee
13:09 Jul 08, 2021

Great read!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Echo Sundar
20:47 Jan 28, 2021

Wow. This was so good. I loved the plot and the mysteriousness of it all. This was amazing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jean Young
05:43 Jan 20, 2021

Super creative! I wanted to read more once it ended. Excellent work!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ursula Ivanovich
03:16 Jan 18, 2021

Awesome! Have you considered continuing it and publishing?!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Josh C
10:57 Jan 02, 2021

Well done on making the shortlist. This was a really interesting for what I think is a challenging prompt. I like the idea that the protest was not physical.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rayhan Hidayat
17:58 Dec 27, 2020

Omg imagine telling Gordon Ramsay he’s not allowed to go into the kitchen I loved this, anyway. The prompt pretty much is asking to have LGBT stories written for it. Kudos 😙

Reply

Show 0 replies