Contest #127 shortlist ⭐️

23 comments

Science Fiction Speculative

Her name was Cece, short for CC31415926. She, or at least her model, was created specifically for quantifying all types of matter, from the number of white hairs on your head to the volume of water that lay trapped under Saturn’s moon. She was a novelty AI, and for a time, had been quite fashionable among the galaxy’s upper crust. It meant having enough money to delegate even the most mundane tasks to an Intuition model. The trend didn’t last though, and just a year after its release, WIRED Magazine included it in their top 10 list of least practical Intuition AIs of all time. 

Editorial reviews notwithstanding, Cece was good at her job, although that in itself was hardly remarkable. By design, all Intuition AIs have a 99% success rate for the tasks they were programmed to perform. What made her stand out was her unusual empathy. Back then, even the most sophisticated AIs were only artificially pleasant at best, but Cece was genuinely warm and caring to those around her, whether they were lonely warehouse managers or five-year-olds who couldn’t remember if seven came after eight or the other way around. 

I must admit, however, that I was less than enthused the first time Cece was introduced to my division. Even though I was manning the giant warehouse on Titan all by myself, I never had a problem keeping track of the millions of spare ship parts that went through it. I never complained about the weak heating system in my tiny office. I never even asked for a raise. But Cece’s presence made me feel like I still wasn’t enough, that I was redundant. I was a single father of a young girl. I couldn’t afford to lose my job. 

My supervisor assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Besides, he said as he winked at me, if they were going to replace me, they wouldn’t be using my warehouse as the testing ground. I didn’t know why he thought that would make me feel better. 

For the first three months, I kept Cece at a distance, utilizing her as little as possible. Not that I thought that it would really make a difference. Intuition AIs were built to excel. She had probably mapped out all the flaws in our current operations within the first hour. Every day, I waited for her to point them all out to me, but she never did. For this reason, I felt uncomfortable around her. She, however, didn’t suffer from the same affliction, greeting me enthusiastically every time our paths would cross. 

One day, my mother had to leave suddenly to take care of her sister who was living in a space station near Third Earth, which meant that she wouldn’t be able to care for my daughter for several days. Filing a leave wasn’t an option I wanted to take—I already felt like I was being evaluated for efficiency—and since it was far too late to find a babysitter, I had no choice but to bring Gracie with me to work.

There was no company policy that prohibited an employee from bringing their progeny to the workplace as long as it didn’t disrupt with their duties, but I had never had a reason to do it with Gracie. The warehouse wasn’t exactly the most stimulating environment for a five-year-old. Just a sea of brown boxes in a dimly lit abyss. But I hadn’t considered Cece. 

It was nothing short of love at first sight. For Gracie as much as for Cece. In a span of a week, the two of them had become as close to each other as a mother and child. They even had a special counting song that they sang together. 

Now you’d think that I would have felt more threatened by Cece after this development, that I had another reason to resent her existence, but it was quite the opposite. Gracie and I had lost her mother to a rare gravitational disease several years back, and though she was probably too young to even remember what it was like to have a mom, Cece seemed to have slipped into that role with ease. There was no way I could dislike someone who made my little girl so happy. 

When my own mother returned home, there was no longer a need to bring Gracie to work. The warehouse where I had worked at for the last three years suddenly seemed bigger and emptier without the echo of my daughter’s laughter. It was clear that Gracie’s absence had created a void, one that Cece and I felt compelled to fill.

At first, we only talked about work, but those conversations dried up quickly. Not much to cover about a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. We soon found ourselves talking about our respective biology. Cece had many questions. What does the brown bitter substance taste like? What is exhaustion? Does the heart have more than a physical function? I, too, learned a lot about the Intuition Program. The things that Cece shared with me weren’t exactly top secret, but it was one thing to read it from a manual and another to hear it from someone who’s actually living it. Intuition AIs, according to Cece, weren’t perfect. It wasn’t false modesty, she said. A 99% success rate was still not 100%. 

Cece might have just been stating facts, but in that moment, I felt closer to her than I ever did before. Here was someone who understood what it felt like to be an abstraction, just another count on the payroll. If she was even getting paid at all. 

After that heart-to-heart, or rather, heart-to-drive talk with Cece, there was no way we could go back to just being distant colleagues. I found myself opening up about Gracie’s mom, my fears about Gracie’s future, and my own doubts about the job as well. 

I also started bringing Gracie to work again. Not every day, just once a week, just so my mother could have more time to herself. Certainly not to make Cece light up the way she did when Gracie would reach out her chubby little hands for her. 

We carried on like this for six months before Cece began inundating me with all sorts of irrelevant data. First, it was the coffee. “Did you know that you just put 23,896 sugar granules in your cup?” Then it was the strands of white hair on my head. “You have 36 of them now. That’s seven more than last month.” Then the number of dust mites on my swivel chair. “There are 230,056 of them in there right this second.” I had laughed it off in the beginning, thinking that it was just one of her eccentricities as a novelty AI, but it was getting increasingly worse. 

Finally, I sat her down and asked her to tell me what was wrong. Cece looked at me, and for the first time, I saw what looked like fear in her amber eyes. 

“I’m a counting model, Stan,” she said. “I was made to count things.” 

I put a hand on her shoulder. I didn’t have any experience comforting AIs, but I hoped that she’d recognize the cue for what it was. “And you do. You’re exceptionally good at it.” 

“I’m programmed to identify and measure objects in quantitative units,” she stated. 

I nodded. “Yes, and like I said, you’re very good at it.” 

“But I can’t count Gracie,” she replied. 

“What do you mean?” I asked. 

Cece clutched at her chest where her main drive was. She looked like she was in pain. I had never seen an AI in pain before. “I can’t quantify this,” she said. 

I didn’t know how to respond to that. If Cece had been human, it would have been easier. But she wasn’t. I didn’t know if what she was going through was normal, but I knew enough not to report it to my supervisor. 

After that incident, Cece began keeping her distance. I wasn’t completely clueless. I knew that seeing Gracie would only exacerbate Cece’s condition, so I stopped bringing her to work altogether. I focused on my job. Cece focused on hers. 

Shortly after that, I filed for a leave, finally deciding that it didn’t matter whether management took it against me. I needed to look at schools that Gracie could attend in the fall, and I didn’t want to be that parent who only made decisions from catalogs. When I returned to work the next day, I was met with my supervisor in my office. Cece was nowhere in sight. 

At first, I thought that he was finally letting me go, but then he told me that there had been a huge error in yesterday’s report. It was fortunate that someone at Head Office caught it in time. Otherwise, it would have cost the company a lot of money. 

My supervisor was quick to assure me that it wasn’t my fault. “We traced the report, and it was made by Cece.” 

“That’s impossible,” I blurted out.

My supervisor nodded. “None of us can believe it either. Can you imagine an Intuition AI making a mistake like that? But I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”

His statement was jarring. I had long stopped thinking about Cece as an Intuition AI with a 99% success rate. To me, she had become Cece, that co-worker who was just really good at her job. But I held my tongue. 

“Cece was supposed to replace all warehouse managers by the end of the year,” my supervisor continued. “It’s a good thing that this happened before we decided to let any of you go, eh?”

I drew a sharp breath. I had never bought into the bullshit that Cece hadn’t been assigned to my division to replace me, but I didn’t realize that she was meant to make all of us obsolete. Even then, however, that wasn’t my main concern. 

“Where’s Cece now?” I asked. 

At this, my supervisor chuckled. He winked at me just as he did that first time he introduced Cece. “We stored her in one of the crates here. It’s not like we don’t have room, right?” 

I nodded my head slowly, but internally, my mind was whirring. The warehouse was one of the largest in the galaxy. I could spend months looking for Cece and I still wouldn’t cover a fourth of what was in there. I couldn’t use the program to look for either, not if I wanted to do this under the radar. 

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” my supervisor said as he stood up to leave, “but don’t worry about it too much. And hey, good job so far. Who knows? There might be a promotion waiting for you soon.” 

I managed to shake his hand and see him out before returning to my office. For the rest of the day, I went through the motions, checking shipments, writing reports. I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Just because I would no longer be replaced by an AI didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be replaced by a human worker. 

All the while, Cece was never too far from my mind. I thought about what happened over and over again. I didn’t think it was possible for her to make such an obvious error. Days, weeks, and months went by, and I came to the conclusion that she must have done it on purpose for Gracie. Cece knew about my worries, knew that I suspected the company of bringing her in to replace me. She couldn’t have revealed anything that she wasn’t allowed to, so she must have done what she could to ensure that I wouldn’t be out of a job by the end of the year. 

I had never heard of an Intuition AI doing anything like that. 


Three years after Cece disappeared, I handed in my resignation to the company. They never did promote me. I found a job at a small supply store near my house, one that couldn’t afford a counting AI or any sort of sophisticated program. Naturally, it didn’t pay as well, but it was enough. My supervisor was a great guy named Allan who liked to run in the mornings. He was also the cashier. 

I was at home having dinner with my family at home when news of the Great Intuition Scandal broke out. Apparently, several Intuition AIs had made off with nearly $100 million from a huge bank. Investigation was pending. None of us was surprised at all. We all knew that the Intuition Program isn’t perfect. 

“A lot can happen in the remaining 1%,” Cece had once said. 

Gracie, already 14 years old then, had her own ideas about it. “Man created the Intuition Program,” she said. “It was never going to be perfect.” 

I supposed she got that from her, although Cece would never have said it with such sarcasm. That was all her grandmother’s influence. 

I ruffled her hair, which she claimed to hate, before heading outside where Cece was watching an asteroid shower.

“Do you ever regret leaving the company?” she asked. 

I sat next to her on the synthetic grass. We had never really talked about that part of our life. I shook my head. “I only wish I was able to leave sooner.” 

It was the truth. Finding Cece was like finding a needle in a thousand haystacks. It took me years to find her, and even now, I was certain that it had been due to sheer dumb luck. Had I not chosen to open the box to my right, had I chosen to turn a different corner, I might have never found her at all. The odds were heavily stacked against me, but I never gave up. In all that time that I was rummaging through the warehouse, all I could hear was Cece’s voice telling me that a lot could happen in the remaining 1%. That was all I needed to keep going. If something was important enough, you'd stretch that 1% as far as it could go.

We stayed out on the lawn for 10 more minutes before I stood up, holding my hand out to her. “C’mon inside. I made you that brown bitter substance you like so much.”

January 07, 2022 07:12

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23 comments

Frank Adams
15:11 Mar 19, 2022

Very well written,the android was more human were Good job

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Jennifer Chan
14:14 Mar 20, 2022

Thank you so much! :)

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Jane Andrews
05:34 May 13, 2023

Hi Jennifer. I checked you out because I saw you’d commented on one of my stories, and this just blew me away. I thought it had a real Asimov vibe to it - shades too of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’ in the idea of an AI that bonds with a human child. I’m not surprised this was shortlisted as it’s so well written, and I’ll be following you from now on to make sure I don’t miss any more gems.

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Jennifer Chan
09:36 May 14, 2023

Hi, Jane! Thank you so much for reading this and for your kind words! I had great fun writing this story, although I didn't really know where I was going with it the first time I started putting it together. Towards the end, I just knew the three of them needed to get their happy ending in their own little corner of the universe. :)

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Krishav Parulkar
07:44 Mar 20, 2022

Hi, I hope you don't mind allowing me to use your beautiful work for a sci-fi short story analysis assignment in school.

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Jennifer Chan
14:13 Mar 20, 2022

Hello there! I don't mind, but just credit me. :) If possible, let me know how it goes, yeah? Good luck!

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Frank Adams
20:15 Mar 05, 2022

Great I enjoyed it

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Amanda R
11:35 Feb 21, 2022

Great story. I really enjoyed it. You did a good job developing the character and creating interest.

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Jennifer Chan
04:52 Mar 01, 2022

Hi, Amanda! Thank you so much for your encouraging words! :)

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Paul Brown
06:12 Feb 11, 2022

Wow, just brilliant, great story. The end was neat, a machine with a heart is truly believable here. Just what you want to read before heading off to work on a cold dark winters morning, a ray of real sunshine for us all, thumbs up from me :)

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Jennifer Chan
22:16 Feb 11, 2022

Hello! Thank you so much for reading my story and for your kind words! I really enjoyed writing it, and I'm glad that it's somehow helping uplift spirits! :)

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Hi Jennifer! This story was neat. If you're still able to edit this, I have one critique: [I was at home having dinner with my family at home] I know this is probably a typo. I would take out the second [at home].

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Jennifer Chan
02:15 Jan 23, 2022

Hello! Thank you for reading my story! Unfortunately, I can no longer edit this version since it's already been approved, but yeah, I hadn't meant to write it twice! :)

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No problem! I love finding such unique stories. This one kept me reading, wondering, "What's going to happen next?"

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Sharon Harris
22:54 Jan 14, 2022

I love this story, it has wonderful details and a workplace fear that we can all relate to! It was touching too. Well done.

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Jennifer Chan
03:41 Jan 15, 2022

Hi, Sharon! Thank you for reading my story. It's so easy to feel like an abstraction at work sometimes, especially when communication isn't your employer's strong point. :) I imagine some things will never change no matter how advanced we get.

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Lyone Fein
18:39 Jan 14, 2022

This is exactly the kind of science fiction I love. Great story!

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Jennifer Chan
19:36 Jan 14, 2022

Hi, Lyone! Thank you so much for reading my story! I'm very glad you enjoyed it! :) Writing it was fun, too!

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Astrid A.
14:15 Jan 14, 2022

Hi Jennifer, I was matched with your story as part of the critique circle :) I love the world you have created and the little details you've included that are familiar to the reader but have a twist: the rare gravitational disease, Wired Magazine including novelty AI in their top 10 list of least practical Intuition AIs of all time, and the brown bitter substance. I also loved the ending where we discover that the man found Cece. I wonder if there is a way to give just a subtle hint at this possibility earlier in the story. One thought, yo...

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Jennifer Chan
18:56 Jan 14, 2022

Hi, Astrid A.! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story! I had fun creating this world! And you actually got it right. He does stay for three more years because it takes him that long to find her, but perhaps I could have made it clearer. You've certainly given me a lot to think about! :)

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Vivek Aggarwal
07:43 Jan 14, 2022

And also can I illustrate this story on social media with my hand drawn paintings and digital artwork? Email:- vivekaggarwal92@gmail.com

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Vivek Aggarwal
07:39 Jan 14, 2022

Wish there was a second part about CC opening up about herself and how she felt and how the digital framework restricted her from being more than just a counting AI.

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Jennifer Chan
19:01 Jan 14, 2022

Hi, Vivek! Thank you for reading my story! I quite like that idea. :) And wow, I'm honored by your interest in illustrating my story! Feel free to do so! Just let me know where I can check it out and perhaps leave a link (or credit) to this story if possible! Cheers!

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