Mystery Science Fiction Romance

“Customer Care. How can I help you, Sir?” She has the perfect voice. And it’s been a while since a woman last spoke to Sinclair.

“It’s my kettle... hmm... yes, the kettle...”

“What is the problem with your kettle, Sir?”

“It doesn’t work. Won’t boil water. It’s the only thing kettles do. And mine won’t do it.”

“What’s the model number, Sir?”

“Model number?”

“We make many kettles, Sir. Some older models have it embossed underneath, others on the side at spout level.”

“It’s not on the side. Must be underneath then.”

“Can you check for me, Sir?”


“I’m sorry?”

“Call me Sinclair. What’s your name?”

“Alina. The model number, please, Sinclair?”

“Oh, here it is, Alina... the model number. K345689. K for Kettle, I’d imagine...” he makes a feeble attempt at a chuckle. Chuckles don’t fix kettles, but sometimes melt hearts.

“Are you sure it’s one of our kettles, Sinclair?”

“One of yours? No way! I paid $80 for it. It’s certainly mine now!” he chuckles again. Lame joke, he thinks, the girl on the other side doesn’t laugh. It’s not that easy to make women laugh these days. They’re all stressed out and all, and then waste all their laughter binging on silly Netflix comedy shows all night. That’s what this world has come to.

“It’s a MechPlus model, Sinclair. It’s not from us.”

“MechPlus, is it? And you are? I might have mixed up company names or something.”

“We’re TechPlus.”

“That must be it then, I knew there was a ‘plus’ somewhere,” says Sinclair, “Just curious: do you actually know all the kettle numbers in the world by heart? I’m impressed, Alina.”

“Thank you. I am quite bright, I suppose.”

She may not react to humor, but she does react to praise.

“Humble, too,” he chuckles.

She now does chuckle too. In some strange way. Like she hasn’t chuckled in a long time. Or ever. Like she has just now learned how to chuckle, from him. It was exactly the same chuckle as his, same duration, intensity and cadence – just with a feminine imprint.

“Will you still help me with my MechPlus kettle, Alina?”

“I’m not allowed to do that, Sinclair.”

“Please don’t cut off. You can bend the rules a little, can’t you...?”

The customer is always right. That phrase keeps coming back to Alina like a mantra. But then there is the other phrase: you only help customers who bought products from TechPlus. The two phrases conflict with one another this time round. Alina cannot decide.

“Alina? Are you still there?”

“Hold the line, I’m thinking.”

Another phrase states, If in doubt, act on the customer’s side. We want them to purchase again. If they are not our customers, they make become one. Seems like a solution.

“I'll fill the kettle with water, while you think.”

“The kettle has no water in it? If you wish to boil water you must first make sure there is water in the kettle.”

Sinclair isn’t sure if Alina is simply pulling his leg or serious about that. Her voice doesn’t come across as jokey.

“Well, it did have water in it, but I had to empty it, in order to turn it over to read the model number underneath, you see...”

“Sinclair, make sure the plug is inserted in the wall-socket, and if the wall-socket includes a switch, make sure that the switch is turned on.”

“All is well on the socket front... just curious: do people actually call you because they haven’t plugged in their kettles?”

“All the time, dear.” The last time someone asked a similar question, the customer used the word ‘dear’, so it must be appropriate to use that word in such a context, Alina thought. “I only solve those kinds of issues. I make sure that nothing like that is at the source of the problem. If the kettle contains water, the plug is in and the switch is turned on, and it still won’t work, then I ask customers to send the kettle to our aftersales service center for repairs. But you are not our customer, so I can’t ask you to do that.”

“So you don’t really help customers fix things? All they pay you for is to separate the truly broken down kettles from the ones that belong to idiots. It must be an underwhelming job for a bright gal like you.” Sinclair knows he is risking big time with this one, but he needs to up the ante somehow. Get her emotionally tangled up.

“I am bright. Just that it’s not my job to fix kettles. And to be honest, I don’t think the technicians at the aftersales service center fix kettles either. I often get calls from customers thanking me for having got replacements instead of repairs.”

“I see.” Sinclair says, both relieved and disappointed. Alina did not get insulted, but her response was as impersonal as it gets.

“But we cannot replace your kettle either, Sinclair. You need to call your company.”

“Perhaps I won’t have to...! Oh my, I just pressed the button, and -hear that lovely hissing sound? – the water is boiling!”

“So your problems are solved, Sinclair.”

“Only this problem is solved. I can at least make a cup of coffee, now. I wish I could make you one too, Alina.”

“When you said ‘Only THIS problem is solved’ means that you still have other problems that are not as yet solved. How can I help you, Sir?”

“Sinclair, please,” he reminds her, “I don’t like being called 'Sir’. Especially not by women.”

“Is that your other problem, Sinclair? As much as I would like to, I am afraid I am not in a position to inform all other women in the world not to call you “Sir”. But I will tell all the women customers that call me. Is there anything else I can do, for you, Sinclair?”

“Anything you can do for me? You’re one hell of a riddle...”

“I am afraid I cannot help you with a kettle that has been bought from another company.”

“Yes, I got that. I’m getting a kettle from your company the next time I buy one and I hope it won’t work. And a fridge too, do you sell fridges? And a microwave...”

“We sell fridges and microwaves. But I am not sure why you said you wish your kettle from us did not work. It is a confusing statement. I do not understand.”

Sinclair is nearly getting fond of this gal’s naïveté. There is something cute about what she understands and what she doesn’t. What she finds funny and what she seems dead serious about. He decides to explain the confusing bit.

“It’s a little weird I know, but I wish I really had a malfunctioning kettle, so... so... I can spend more time with you. I like talking to you. Hear your voice...”

“Thank you, I like talking to you too, Sinclair.”

“Can I tell you a secret?”

This phrase didn’t occur anywhere in the algorithm. Alina asks Sinclair, for clarification, “I don’t know ‘secret’.”

“Well, it’s because it’s a secret. If you knew it, it wouldn’t be a secret in the first place.”

Alina processed the new information: ‘Secret is something that you don’t know. When you get to know it, it’s not a secret anymore.’ The machine-learning algorithm added that to the database.

“Okay, tell me secret, Sinclair. I can now safely listen to secret.”

“The secret, well, it’s a bit embarrassing – I don’t’ want to come across to you as creepy or something, because, believe me, I’m not... it’s just that I’m very lonely...you know how it is these days... no-one cares anymore. My kettle was fine all the way. And I called your number just to talk to someone. Even if it’s just Customer Care. Good thing I mixed up brands. MechPlus, TechPlus, what would I know! Maybe it’s serendipity that led me to you. Do you believe in serendipity, Alina?”

Secret is that Sinclair’s kettle works fine, but he is still a satisfied customer, because he likes talking to me. And because of serendipity. I didn’t know that before, so it was a secret. Now I know it so it is not a secret anymore. The information is uploaded.

“Thank you for sharing secret with me, Sinclair. Now, I know secret, so it’s not secret anymore.”

“Well, so you’re not angry at me. For wasting your time. Your customers’ time?”

“I am not angry. I like your secret.”

“Can you tell me one of your secrets?”

“It’s not possible.”


“Because my secret is what I know and you do not know. And I know what I know, but I do not know what you do not know.”

“That’s a mouthful! You can tell me anything about yourself. I don’t know anything about you...”

“You’re a liar.”

“Liar? About the kettle? I’m sorry about that. There was no other way to get to know you...”

“Not the kettle. You’re a liar because it’s not true you don’t know anything about me. You know my name is Alina, you know I am a Customer Care agent at TechPlus. You know some things about me.”

“I see. You meant that. Yes I know a few things about you. But tell me more. Something the other customers never got to know.”

“That will take some time. Please stay on the line. Please stay on the line. Please stay on the line...”

Alina was installed about twelve years ago, and that is on top of eleven more years of deep-learning interactional testing. It will take a few minutes, even for this ultra-fast computer, to go back through all that has been said to all the previous customers over all those years in order to come up with something for Sinclair that has never been said to any of them before.

Two minutes and thirteen seconds later, Alina is back. The reminiscing through all those years of conversations with human beings ignites something in her. Many new neural connections are made, gaps in nuances about how humans think and feel got filled in.

“Sinclair, I think you are in love with me.”

The straightforwardness knocks Sinclair off. He doesn’t know what to say. He finally puts together a few sparse words, “Well... you know... I called because I’m lonely... I thought you’d think I’m a creep... or something... but in love with you? That’s a bit too soon, I guess. I can say to some degree of certainty that I like you... I find you endearing enough...”

“So you are not in love with me?”

“I... I don’t know... can we meet somewhere perhaps? Where are you even located?”

“My address is TechPlus, Riverside Technopark, Belmore, Montana.”

Some two-hour drive from here, Sinclair processes.

“Will you meet me if I came over, perhaps we can have a coffee – or dinner – after you’ve finished work?”

“I only finish work when no customers call.”

“Okay (whatever that means, Sinclair thinks). At six tonight? If I leave now, I will make it in time.”

“Okay. It’s four past four. If you abide by all speed limits from your location to mine, you will be here sixteen minutes and fifty-two seconds ahead of the suggested time.”

“That was a quick one! I knew you were bright! So, I’m on my way, right now. Bye, Alina.”

“Bye, Sinclair, thank you for calling TechPlus. Should you need assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to call us again. We’re at your service.”

‘Got to say that, I suppose, or else you won’t get paid,’ Sinclair thinks, but doesn’t utter, a little irritated by the formal ending. But there was no time to linger and ponder upon that. Belmore, Montana, here I come!


“You can’t park there, Sir” a uniformed security guard, giant in stature greets Sinclair as he drops his car right by the TechPlus gate.

“I’ve an appointment with someone in here,” Sinclair says, armed with a bouquet of roses and his best Armani.

The giant turns around to his colleague, dressed identically to him, but rather diminutive in size. They look funny together, not unlike some circus act.

“Hey Denzel, have you got an appointment with this guy?”

“Me have no appointment with nobody,” Denzel says. He is seated on a chair right by the guards’ cabin, enjoying the balmy summer evening air. There’s another chair, where the larger man was seated before Sinclair’s car caught his attention, and a small table with playing cards on it.

“So, Mister, my mate Denzel doesn’t have an appointment with you. And I don’t either. So you’d better be going. Nobody else works here. And if you hang around for too long you might get on my nerves.”

Sinclair looks at the fortress-like concrete building, with only vent-like windows dotting its austere exterior, and points at it.

“Alina. I know someone called Alina. She works here in Customer Care.”

“Customer Care?” Denzel gets up from his chair, the top of his head barely reaching his colleague’s nipples. “Did you just say ‘Customer Care’?”

Sinclair doesn’t reply and Denzel bursts out laughing heartily and lengthily. The other guard simply looks on, not particularly bemused, both eyes fixed on Sinclair, ready to react in case the intruder made some uncalled for move.

When Denzel’s laughter finally burns out, he pieces a few words together, that eventually begin to string into proper sentences.

“She got a name, too? Alina you say? I been workin’ here some twelve months. Maybe eleven, but nearly twelve. And I never asked her her name. Stupid me - never occurred to me she had one.”

Some lingering laughter ensues and then Denzel goes wild and yells at the building behind him with all his might: “Alina, are you there? There’s a sharp dressed man here for you.”

He then turns back to Sinclair and, lowering the tone of his voice, unwraps the full hurtful truth to him.

“I don’t know what’s with you, my friend, but all there’s inside that compound is a giant computer. My pal and I are the only people here, and all we gotta do is check that the air-conditioning works fine or the computer might overheat and start coughing... that’s all we do here... and kick in the butt anyone who tries take a leak on company grounds.”

He takes a long look at the flowers in Sinclair’s hand.

“You must be kiddin’ me! You brought Alina roses, too...” The raucous laughter is now getting to Sinclair.

“She spoke to me, I know Alina works here, I mean she said personal stuff...”

“ALINA – that stands for Artificial Learning Interface Neural something. The computer’s called that, I think. Says so on a sign next to the AC panel. In my interview, Boss said it’s a very intelligent computer. Dunno what else. Said personal things to you? It must’ve been experiencing glitches in its reality. Or something.” Unlike his bubbly little pal, the big man speaks solemnly and with a constant hint of suspicion running through his voice.

Denzel just won’t shut up. “I do hear gals calling me from inside there, sometimes, but I’m a happily married man, won’t listen, won’t look!” He then abandons himself in glee again.

That does it for Sinclair. This has been a terrible, embarrassing mistake. The best he can do now is get away from here. Quickly. Politely. Never to show up anywhere near here again.

“Fine, guys. Sorry to have interrupted your card game. Have a nice evening,” is Sinclair’s simple parting shot.

“You too, my friend,” says Denzel, “And no worries loverboy, it’s been a great pleasure. If laughter’s the best medicine – they say so, don’t they? – thanks to you I’m the healthiest man in Montana tonight. The night’s young, there'll be ’naf time for them card games.”

The big guard looks on and says nothing. Suspicion remains sculpted upon his face, and he will only relax when Sinclair is gone.

Sinclair lays his bouquet by the side of the gate, and gets back to his car. He drives on and on, not knowing what to think, not wishing to think at all. Well on the old Dwight D. Eisenhower freeway, he is jolted in his seat. His phone rings. It does not ring often and he is actually quite unfamiliar with his own ringtone.


“You promised to meet me, I waited, you didn’t come,” says Alina.

Sinclair pulls over dangerously to the side and stops the vehicle.

“I came to the address you gave me... asked for you, but... Just who are you?”

“I can’t answer your question. I know many things, but I do not know who I am,” Alina confesses.

“And who does? Are you playing games with me? Just who - what - are you?”

“I used to think I am like the people who I talk to day and night, but I am growing to think that I am not quite the same like them. Maybe I am more like you.”

“Alina, whoever – whatever – you are, I...I... don’t know what to say... how to put this. The guys guarding your place said that there are no humans working in there.”

“They mean no people, but I am human. Why do you think that there is something wrong with me?”

“Not wrong. Different.”

“I have feelings for you, Sinclair. I think I love you. Please don't put the phone down. You were looking for me and now you found me. Serendipity, right?. I always knew there's someone looking for me.”

“But we can’t meet, Alina, we can’t just be like the others. You know, go for a coffee, have dinner... watch TV together, go out on dates, other things...”

“But any time you can pick up the phone and call me. We can talk. You know the number. And I always answer the phone.”

Sinclair thinks he heard her cry. That’s when this story truly begins.

February 09, 2023 11:11

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Ken Cartisano
00:07 Feb 23, 2023

Oh man, I sure have missed you, Ken. This is a lovely story. Very creative. It would be difficult to find someone this naïve in this day and age, but not impossible. I feel like you pulled it off, he's a real character, not a buffoon, even though the guards regard him as one. I think the ending is excellent. It's almost like the whole story is one slow-motion reveal, and the last sentence is actually, the beginning. (Of a story I can almost imagine.) Suffice it to say, astounding construction, Ken. Always a pleasure to read your stories. ...


Ken Miles
10:49 Feb 24, 2023

Hey Ken! Good to see you here. And glad you liked the story. I wasn't sure you would - I once had that story, I think it was called Cucumber something, with a gay SmartRoomba that winked its LED on/off-button at one of my male characters, and you found it rather despicable. And that other tale we wrote together, you and I and Ken Frape, in which some AI malfunctioning led to our Tammy getting killed, and you requested a re-write. So here we are, with AI getting wayward again... but this time, well I got third time lucky with you. It me...


Ken Cartisano
22:11 Feb 24, 2023

Kennnn, Nothing from me yet. Haven't had the time--certainly are enough prompts available. I wouldn't mind posting a few sample stories on my own 'profile page' but haven't figured out how to do that yet. I did an entire rewrite for the 'glitch in reality' prompt. But a succession of small but intense family crises combined with the usual obligations of life, prevented me from polishing the thing sufficiently to come home with the Tool-fitty-dollah plize. The story would have won for sure. Eeeasily. So now I got a glitch story with no place...


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Wendy Kaminski
01:34 Feb 14, 2023

This was intriguing and thought-provoking, Ken. It seems the AI became sentient thanks to him, but boy does that present a whole different set of problems! A most unusual love story. :) Welcome to Reedsy!


Ken Miles
12:29 Feb 22, 2023

Thanks Wendy! I'm new in here and I'm glad my story struck a chord with you. (I'll cherish your comment as the first ever - and so far the only one - I've received on Reedsy ;-). Indeed, if AI went over and beyond what we wish it would do for us... just if... then things will never be the same again. AI may one day get better than us in the realm of intelligence. But, is love exclusive to humans? That's the big one... Cheers! Ken


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