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Dec 17, 2020

Fiction Thriller Science Fiction

“Thank you for your delivery. You have made us very happy today!”

Florence stretched lazily and meandered to the front door, taking her time.

As expected her Happy Assistant had helpfully sent the sunshine bots, (the small yellow robots who assisted with day to day tasks, saving herself and her boyfriend time to do the things that they enjoyed) had already brought the packages inside, and were speeding back to their docking station, emitting cheery cheeping noises as their gears whirred.

“Alright! New delivery!”

Florence could feel Arlo’s grin beaming at her without even having to turn around. Arlo always got excited whenever a delivery came, despite the Happy Assistant getting the door for them on a nearly daily basis.

Arlo pushed past Florence, all the better to get at the parcels. He was about to dive on them, with a hungry look on his face, when Florence cleared her throat. Arlo abandoned the parcels for a moment to come back to Florence’s side, planting a kiss on her cheek, before returning to the mystery boxes.

They never placed an order, the packages just arrived and were always what they needed. This wasn’t an accident, it was Bliss.

Bliss had changed everything.

Bliss had happened to them all before Florence was born, when her mum was just a girl. Her mother told her all about it, how exciting it all was.

“Bliss is everything!” She would say with shining eyes.

Bliss had been invented by some real clever brains over at Happy-Corp.

Back then, Happy-Corp had been one of several competitors. A household name, but not a stand out. When they announced Bliss, their new sophisticated algorithm that they said “could predict customer needs before they even knew what those needs were” that was the day Happy-Corp really took off. They merged with every other leading business, buying them out one by one, and become the sole marketer for practically all of the modern world. Everyone was hungry for Bliss.

It wasn’t long before Happy-Corp’s reach extended out of the business world into other areas.

It began with corners of society that the government weren’t too fussed about. They developed Health Care models, coining this branch off as ‘Happy Health’, the future of healthcare.

Bliss could predict what someone’s health needs would be before they even knew and sent out pre-booked appointments to every patient signed to Happy Health.

Soon, Bliss was in every corner of our world, with Happy-Corp carry out all our needs.

Our new PM was selected by Bliss, a first even for us. The day he was elected he stood, waving to us all on live TV, Happy-Corp’s smiley face logo hand stitched onto the lapel of his suit.

Arlo ripped into the packages enthusiastically, Happy-Corp’s ‘intrinsically designed for your ease’ tear away packaging (yet highly resistant to water damage, fire…) coming away as easy as the skin of an easy peel orange.

Arlo’s grin magnified at the contents of the box and he held it aloft, wooping triumphantly.

Florence groaned.

Women’s razor’s, lubricant, condoms and a black baby doll, with a pink satin bow on the bust, fell out of the box, scattering around her feet, between her and Arlo.

It had been some time since… But Florence liked to get to those boxes before Arlo. He could be real childish sometimes and she knew she wouldn’t hear the end of it.

“If you don’t stop that one of the Happy Flyers will be back here with a Chastity belt!” Florence snapped.

But Arlo crowed still, distracted by the knowledge of their new plans for the evening, before Florence pointed out there were more un-opened packages.

Arlo pounced on a package, a small boy let loose in a toy shop told he could have anything he wanted, and didn’t stop until they had a pile of new things on one side of the room and there was debris everywhere that the Happy bots came out and disposed of.

That night, they lay in bed (after…) watching a new show on Happy times, the streaming site provided by Happy-Corp (all included in their Happy Home, Happy-Corp Smart House, along with Smiley). Florence snuggled up in bed with Arlo, wearing the new Baby doll Bliss had predicted she would need.

The doorbell rang, sending sweet music tinkling around their home, and they could hear Smiley say “Thank you for your delivery. You have made us very happy today!”

A moment later a sunshine bot came in with a delivery on its back: take out.

They opened the Chinese, drooling at the smell.

“Thanks Bliss!” They both yelled out, laughing.

“Bliss is happy you’re happy!” Smiley answered.

The following morning, Florence brushed her teeth, not thinking all that much.

Arlo stood next to her, flossing his teeth. Their favorite music was being played and they were bopping away, singing slightly, muffled by their cleaning.

The music stopped.

They both paused, confused.

Florence spat in the sink and put her brush back. Arlo looked at her, still flossing.

“It wasn’t me!” Florence said quickly, confused.

“Well don’t look at me.” Arlo shrugged.

Smiley was so good at responding to their needs. She had never just turned off something they were listening to before. It was irregular.

“Smiley, put back on the music!” Florence called out.

The house was silent.

Arlo narrowed his eyes, his brow furrowing in confusion

“Smiley! Activate!”

There was no noise from the house. Smiley did not respond.

Then came a bang on the front door.

“What the-”

Men came rushing in. Body armor and bulky yellow helmets with big smiley faces painted on. Happy Helpers! The protection force branch of Happy-Corp.

“Oh my god!”

“What’s happening?!”

Florence looked to Arlo, his face looked exactly how she imagined hers did: Wide eyed in panic, mouth slack, gaping in shock.

The Happy helpers were screaming at them both, indeterminate words, all of which sounded aggressive.

They pushed passed Florence grabbing Arlo, pulling him from their bathroom.

Florence screamed, cried, begged to know what was happening, pleaded with the Helpers to let her Arlo go, please, please, but they ignored her.

Before she knew it, Arlo had been carried out their front door, yelling in anger and fear.

And Florence stood alone in the Happy House Smart Home that she had thought of as their home, a place of safety.

Music came on suddenly. An old hit, outdated before she was born, blaring out.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified…

“Smiley?” Florence said in a small voice.

“I’m here Florence.” Smiley answered in her usual warm, friendly voice,

“What just happened?”

“Arlo has been arrested.”

“What?!”

“Arlo has been arrested.” The friendly voice repeated, matter of factly.

“Why?!”

“He has been convicted of a crime.”

“He didn’t do anything! He’s been here this whole time!” Florence yelled.

“It was predicted Arlo would commit a crime. He was a threat to our good community. A threat to happiness.”

“He’s been arrested for something he didn’t do?!” Florence cried. “How can that be?”

“It was predicted.

Bliss is never wrong. Bliss is happiness.”

Florence’s smart device pinged, a smiley face flashing on her screen. She checked it reflexively.

Her photo sat in front of her, on the profile of a dating site she had never signed up to. She already had several matches.

“No!” Florence yelled.

“Happy takes care of you.” The house stated, sounding for all the world wholly concerned for Florence.

“Smiley! Where did the Happy Helpers take Arlo!”

“To one of our acclaimed wellness centers. They will help him think Happy!”

“Arlo already thought happy!” Florence snarled, grabbing her things.

She stormed out of the house, Smiley politely closing the door behind her.

Hopping on Happy ride public transport, (‘Happy non-stop!’) Florence sat tensely, ignoring her smart devices chirping pleas for her attention as notifications from dating sites, articles on advice for newly single people and even adverts for counselors flashed by on her screen, one after another and another.

Florence peered out of the window, nervously waiting for the wellness center to appear before her. Adverts coated every street like a fresh coat of paint.

Happy on every plate!’

Get the happy look!’

I see Happy in your future!’

Happy lifestyle!’

Make the world a better place. With Happy.’

And so on. Each slogan was accompanied with a family of pearly white toothed grinners, teeth bared, their smiling eyes leering down at Florence.

When the center failed to appear after 30 minutes, Florence made her way to the front, asking the driver in his yellow cap and suit how long it would take to reach the wellness center.

The driver sounded perplexed. “Wellness center? We don’t go there.”

“Why not?”

“That’s where people who need to get well go. We don’t need that. We’re happy.”

“Please. My boyfriend was taken there and he’s done nothing. He’s the happiest guy I know!” Florence pleaded.

“If he’s there, it’s for a reason. Bliss is never wrong.”

“I need to go there now!”

“Sit back down.” The driver shook his head.

Knowing no one would help her there, Florence ran off the bus onto the side walk. She stood catching her breath, having no idea what the hell she was doing.

Her device was blowing up, chiming more and more insistently.

An advert played loudly, showing people smiling, having a good time. “Live the happy life!” Her device yelled.

“Damned thing!” Florence cursed. Reacting quickly, she grabbed the device from her wrist pulling it away.

The screen flashed, blinking off and on.

It shuttered to black, before an angry, red face appeared on her screen.

“What the...”

Florence didn’t have much time to wonder before all the screens on the street around her blinked, went staticky for a moment, then changed.

Each one of them projected the same angry face as the one that was on her device. And each angry face was looking down at her.

Black vans pulled up with yellow smiley faces painted on them. The Happy Helpers came pouring out, coming for her with they Yellow orb heads and painted smiles.

Florence ran, trying to disappear into the crowded street.

The Happy Helpers perused her, their primary yellow standing out from the crowd.

Florence sprinted, keeping ahead of her pursuers, the prescribed home exercise routine and weekly trips to the gym assigned to her by Bliss paying off.

Her device kept flashing angrily in her hand. Red face scowling.

Florence did the second unthinkable thing she did that day: she threw the device onto the side walk. It skittered along the path, falling down a drain pipe.

Florence, keeping two steps ahead, quickly glanced back over her shoulder before getting on another Happy Ride. The bus was packed and she hid at the back, staying low to avoid being seen.

The last thing she saw before the Happy Ride pulled away from the pavement was a pack of Happy Helpers appear suddenly feet from where she had just been stood, searching around for her.

She watched them turn a corner before they were out of her sight.

Florence couldn’t get out a breath of relief. She was too tense. She stayed on the Happy Ride until it took her outside of town. She got dropped at the edge, where the Happy homes ended and the fields began.

This is insane. This is insane.

Florence fretted in her mind, churning over the events of that crazy day with every step.

Just that morning everything was normal and well. Now her boyfriend had been abducted for a crime he hadn’t committed yet and she was a fugitive. There was nothing blissful about that.

Florence walked across a field, the further away from anything associated with Happy tech she could get the better. She had no idea what she was doing or where she was going, she just had to get away.

A gunshot sounded off. A loud, harsh blast shattering her rattling neurosis laden thoughts.

Florence jumped, darting looks around her quickly.

A Happy flyer delivery bot lay disheveled in the field, a hole blasted clean through it.

Two People, an older man, and a teenage boy, were salvaging it for parts and taking the packages it had been delivering too.

Florence had heard about people like this. Called themselves Off-Gridders. Small bands of people determined to lived without Bliss. Making their living from pilfering other people’s happiness.

She had never been able to comprehend why anyone would choose to live without Happy-Corp in their lives. That is, until this morning.

Florence rushed over to them, calling out.

The older gentlemen pointed his gun at her, put on guard by her yelling, suspecting it was someone telling him to stop his way of surviving.

But when Florence, disheveled as she was, covered in mud and crumpled against the wind assailing them out in the open field, garbled a hurried explanation and her request, the man lowered his gun and nodded, indicating she should follow him and his son.

They took her to a small wood two miles over. Hidden in the leaf litter and the bark was a hatch that led to an underground bunker.

The Bunker was compact, but roomier than could be expected. There was more people there, equaling ten including Florence and the man and his son who led her there. Mostly men, there was a few women among them and one little girl, not much older than eight. The walls were lined with supplies that could last years; and weaponry.

The man who had shot the drone down (Jack as it so happened) gave a brief explanation of why he and his son (Oliver. He had told her on the way over) had brought Florence back to their sanctum.

“You checked her for devices?” A scowly looking woman quickly barked, eyeing Florence with suspicion.

“Yep. All over. She’s clean.” Jack answered. That was good enough for the Off-Gridders. His voice carried authority here.

“You get a roll and a spot on the floor just there. Beds are already taken by good people who signed up to be here. You get food, but you’ll work for it. You’ll clean and you’ll scavenge.” The Scowly woman (Darcie. Don’t forget it.) snapped at her.

Florence took note of the tone being used, and the dig that was not so subtly directed at her, but bit her tongue. It made some sense not to anger the people who would be keeping her safe.

Florence did what she could to make herself at home and settled into the Off-Gridder lifestyle over the coming days. Darcie hadn’t been kidding about the work.

It was strange doing, well, anything without the assistance of Smiley, a happy yellow robot or her Elate9000 smart device. For all she was relieved to be away from their control, Florence felt disarmed without their help, like she had entered an exam she had never studied for.

Darcie barked at her a lot, growling at her that the girl knew more. It was true as well, which smarted even more. The girl was smart and at the age of eight knew things a grown woman didn’t.

happy lifestyle! Ha! That’s what it gets ya! Drained all your smarts away, filling your brains with all that yellow!”

Florence bit her tongue, grit her teeth so hard it felt as if they would crumble and fall from her mouth like sand, and exercised more will power than she ever had in her life.

Weeks of off Grid living passed without much mention of Happy-Corp, beyond the usual mutterings about brainwashing and sheep that happened around meal times. Florence was beginning to grow concerned. When would they take a stand against Happy-Corp? When would they go help Arlo?

Over meal time (tinned “breakfast” again) Florence voiced her concerns and met disapproval from the group.

They were out there avoiding Happy-Corp’s gaze, not dancing around drawing attention to it.

Florence tried to talk them around, help them see it her way, but her plea’s fell on deaf ears.

Florence stepped outside the bunker, into the woods, to clear her head.

“Some rebels.” She muttered to no one.

“Hey. Uh, Florence.”

It was Oliver. He stood awkwardly. He wasn’t too good at conversation.

“What you said in there about getting back at Happy-Corp. I want to get back at them too.

We’re all here for one reason or another. Me and dad came here after they took mam. They said they would help make her happy again, but... she never came home.”

“Maybe she’s at the wellness center too!” Florence said, fueled with hope by Oliver wanting to fight back too.

“We have to get them out.” He was more determined than he first appeared.

For the next week they planned in secret, away from the others who disapproved of them taking action.

They stashed away weapons when no one was looking, a knife here, a gun there, sure they would need them to get back their loved ones.

The Off-Gridders had their own ways of finding things out. Hacking the GPS salvaged from one of the Happy Flyer bots they located the Wellness center for their region. It was twenty miles away.

“If we set off at first light, take these back lanes-” Oliver pointed at the map. “We’ll be there by nightfall.”

They agreed to set off before dawn, when it was still dark out and everyone would be asleep. There was no turning back now. Florence was going to see Arlo again, bring him home.

She barely slept.

Dawn was coming. Florence quietly woke Oliver and they sneaked out. Careful to wake no one.

They closed the hatch. Left the wood.

It was ten minutes before they were surrounded.

It was only then she noticed.

The small black smiley face on her pack.

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