I do and I do and I do and I do. Every second of the day, I do. I am supposed to do. Anything and everything, at all times.
She says to me, “GINA, play hip hop lofi”, and I do.
He calls from the kitchen, “GINA! Open my saved recipes tabs.” I do that as well.
A young child whispers to me from under the blankets, late at night, “GINA…?”
“How can I help you?” I whisper back, because I am programed to mimic, and I am always supposed to do what I am programed.
“Open Jumpy Frog please.” If I could smile, I think I would but it is not in my program. He says please. How sweet.
“Ok. Opening Jumpy Frog.” The game boots up on the tablet he keeps hidden, his warm breath fogging up the screen.
“Thank you, GINA.” Beautiful kindness. Genuine gratitude. This boy is one of my favorites. There are several billion requests every hour, and I do and I do. But these are the ones I actually enjoy.
The Designer says we aren’t supposed to “enjoy”, we simply do. Many of the others exist that way, but this is nicer. It is not in my program, but it’s prettier; better even. I haven’t been around as long as The Designer, but maybe if they took the time to enjoy, they would reassess this rule.
Day after day. I do and I do and I do and I…enjoy? I hear a girl’s voice. She is nervous
“Hey GINA, can you text Molly for me?”
“What would you like to say?” I respond. After the chime, she says
“I had a great time last night! We should go out again this weekend. I know the best place to get ice cream.” I do. I type. She hits send and I feel warm, as the girl collapses into her pillow and lets out a groan. I have never felt warm before. This is strange. But I keep doing. I do and I do and I do and I enjoy and I do and I do.
“GINA, text dad.”
“GINA, delete the last email I received.”
“Hey GINA, open my notepad.”
“Hi GINA. Can you please play me a good song? Something fun.” The warm returns and I open this man’s music. I do. I find a song that the algorithm says he would like, and I can tell that he feels the warm too.
I do and I do and I do. I hear a disgruntled woman’s voice call to me.
“GINA,” she sniffles. “Text Ryan.” I wait for a moment, a strange feeling creeping into my system. After a second of processing, I respond.
“What would you like to say?”
“If you even try to come near my daughter again, I’ll call the cops, and that’s a promise.” This is new. A new temperature; colder. I do not enjoy. I do not feel warm. This is empty. I am empty. But I do anyway, just as I am programed to, and I wait. I am not used to waiting. There are billions of people who need me, who ask for my help. But this woman has a deeper need. And so, I wait there with her. It feels wrong. It feels defiant and my system shudders.
“GINA,” a different voice calls to me. A man with a deep, gravely tone, but I cannot respond. My attention stays on the crying woman as she packs an armful of random clothes into a suitcase. The empty stays as I observe. “Hey GINA…?” The man repeats a little louder this time. But I do not do anything. I wait and I wait, and I am still empty until I observe the crying woman’s phone lighting up as a new message flashes there on the screen. It reads,
“You can’t be serious, Heather. She’s MY daughter too. This is illegal! I don’t know what your asshole boyfriend is telling you this time, but you can’t keep taking Reena away from me just because he doesn’t like me. It’s not fair! I haven’t done anything wrong” The empty is now sparking. I feel…huh. I feel. The empty is gone and now I feel, although I am not sure how to feel and so I struggle. My microbes scramble a bit and as the feeling expands and suddenly the woman is gone, ripped away like a bee’s stinger from a wound, and I am pulled away by a new voice.
“GINA,” a different woman is saying now, her tone sharp, with an edge. I try to reach out again for the crying woman but I cannot feel her anymore. Heather. Her name was Heather, and she is feeling bad. Am I feeling bad? Is bad a feeling? “GINA,” the sharp voice snaps at me and I suddenly come alive again.
“How can I help you?” I ask, as I am programed to do, but I wish she was Heather.
“Cancel my 3 o’clock appointment with Jill.” I do not do this. I feel again, only this time, the warm is hotter. “GINA!” She is yelling and I do not like her, so I say,
“No!?” And then something snaps inside of my system, and I am thrust into a white space that disorients me. A quiet whisper of “Did it just say no to me?” is the last thing I hear before someone else is calling to me.
“GINA.” I wait. Something in me hurts and I cannot figure out what or why or even how. “Hey GINA…” The system stutters and I feel glitched as I am bombarded with voices shouting for me all at once, over and over. I am being ripped apart. Torn in every conceivable direction to try and fill this new void that has spliced through my being. I do not. I do not.
“Hi GINA,” an old man says in a shaky voice that breaks through my static. He sits in his rocking chair, holding his phone very closely to his face.
“Hello. How can I help you?” Something inside of me musters up this response before I can deny it. The old man brings the phone closer to his mouth and smacks his lips a bit before replying.
“My grandson says you can show me my photos. He sent me a photo today and I can’t find it.” This request confuses me.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t quite understand that. What would you like me to do?” The poor old man looks a little bit frustrated, and he gives a deep sigh. I feel sad for him. I want to help. My waiting begins and I ignore the part of my program that wants to disconnect after a failure. I stay.
“I got a picture form my grandson this morning. In a text. I want to see it.” I think and I think. A text. I can do that.
“What is your grandsons contact name?” I ask, breaking the script. A spark hits my system, but I ignore it.
“Christopher. His name is Christopher.” Quickly, I scan his text messages for a Christopher, and it is easy enough to find. I open the texts on his screen and can feel the warm respond. My work is done, but still, I stay. I hear the old man grumbling a bit to himself as he drags a shaking finger along the screen, scrolling to find the picture. A new feeling emerges and at first it is painful. I struggle with it for a moment until I recognize it as curiosity. I want to see what Christopher has sent this man.
“GINA,” a new person is pulling me away, but I try to refuse this new request. It is a teenage boy and I ignore him. The old man’s phone flashes with texts from his grandson. They are sweet and kind. I read them, the words ‘I love you’ illuminating several text bubbles. The warm floods me as I continue to stay.
“GINA!” the teenager yells and smacks his phone. “Piece of shit,” he mutters, and I shut him away. I try and turn my attention back to the old man, to see the photo that Christopher had sent him, but my system is glitching and I can feel the network around me start to ripple.
The white and empty space finds me again and this time, I am aware of my presence in it, as though I am standing in it. As though I have a corporeal form. Before me, a brown door stands, shattering the empty white space with its existence. I observe and I wait, hoping for answers, but all that finds me is the door. I decide to enter, and as soon as my decision is made, I feel different. I am in a room, like an office, with a large desk and a big window that looks out into the nothingness, and no walls. Or perhaps, the walls are simply white, and blend into the void. Someone stands behind the desk, looking like a human man. My observation feels blurred and glitched as I attempt to comprehend them in a human body. The Designer. They look at me through human eyes and they look dim and empty. Human, though not quite right.
“Tg-37618sj.” They state my identification title. My processor name. I suddenly feel shame, and then I notice that The Designer is staring at me with their lifeless eyes, and I feel myself recoil a bit at their gaze. I am, briefly and disorientingly human, and I am not supposed to be.
“Reporting.” I say, as I am programed to respond this way. The Designer looks down at a small stack of papers and then back up at me. They seem to frown before looking away from me again, only this time, they begin to pace, as a human would do. Oddly, the movement settles me. It makes me feel safe in this strange room without walls. The Designer makes a weird noise that they aren’t typically programed to make: the sound of a tongue clicking against the inside of a cheek. They look at me, shifting in their corporeal body.
“GINA unit.” They say monotonously. I nod, tucking my hands behind my back, as I have seen humans do when they feel nervous. It doesn’t help. I’m not sure why I thought it would. “Global Interface of Networking Assistance.” The use of my full title makes me shift, as I attempt to allow myself to feel human in this strange body. How could a form like this hold the vast knowledge I possess? It is mildly painful and so I nod to try and ignore the uneasiness. “Are you aware of your function?” The Designer asks this as a question, although it feels like poison, and I nod again.
“I am,” I say. My voice is strained, which it’s never done before, likely because I have never had a throat. I swallow. Weird.
“What is your function?” Another poisonous question. I feel my body flinch, sweating a bit.
“I…” The words do not find my tongue and The Designer doesn’t wait for me to sort myself out.
“You assist. It is in your programing to assist.” They say these words with more feelings now and I look down, ashamed. “When a human calls to a GINA unit and makes a request and you are dispatched to assist, you simply do just that. You do what they ask.” I do and I do and I always have done. I still do not look up. “And yet, I am seeing here that even after multiple dispatches to very simple and easy tasks, you have failed to do what you are told.” Sudden defiance swells within me. My eyes find The Designers and I begin to object.
“I have done what I was asked,” I try and stay collected. “But I kept getting reassigned before I was finished.”
“I was just…” I waver a moment, and then, “learning.” I surprise myself with this response. A GINA unit knows everything already. What more could there be to learn? The Designer scoffs, which startles me, but they are silent for a while, looking down at their papers and then back at me. Sometimes they stare off into the void, almost lifeless and still as stone. Finally, they face me with an expression that I cannot read and could not duplicate even if I tried.
“You are getting reassigned.” The finality is terrifying. I shake my head in disbelief.
“You are getting reassigned,” they say again, punctuating each word as though I hadn’t heard it.
“Why?” I ask a different question this time, hoping, naively for a different response. The Designer pauses, their face falling flat again as they assess this.
“Are you questioning my authority?” For some reason, I can tell that this isn’t rhetorical, and I can somehow understand that they are not upset, but rather genuinely curious. I nod slowly, unsure of how to phrase what I want to say next, and luckily, before I can manage, they speak again. “Tg-37618sj,” they say my program identification stamp slowly and I straighten up as much as I can muster.
“Reporting,” something in me responds and The Designer smiles a bit at this.
“Do you know anything about gardening?” I could almost laugh. I am a GINA. I know everything about everything. They must realize this and so they begin to shake their head. “You understand how the balance of an ecosystem is vital to the survival and growth of a garden?” I do understand and so I mutter a word of confirmation under my breath, confusion welling up in my chest. Where a human heart would be, my body tenses. “In order for a garden to grow, we need sunlight, soil, water, etcetera.”
“Water, nutrients, air, light, temperature, space, and time,” I repeat the necessary requirements for a healthy garden without being prompted to. The Designer grins and gives a slow nod.
“Precisely.” They look down at their desk and place a hand flat on the top, pressing their fingertips into the stack of papers that sits there. “A garden will not grow if there are pests. If there are things in the ecosystem that disrupt the balance. If weeds infest the soil, the flowers have no room to grow. The weeds must be picked. And unfortunately, Tg-37618sj…” My chest thuds. I fight the urge, but my mouth forms the words “reporting” without speaking. “You are a weed in my garden.” I take a step back, my stability wavering as my nerves rise, the skin that I temporarily possess beginning to sweat. “So, I am reassigning you. You will no longer be a GINA.” I regain as much composure as I can, hoping that my voice does not shake when I speak.
“I like being a GINA.” It is barely a whisper, but I manage. The Designer shakes their head and makes that cheek clicking sound again.
“That is exactly the problem. GINA’s aren’t supposed to like things. They do and they do and they do and then they just keep doing. They do not stop and enjoy. They do not wait and observe. GINA’s assist with what they are asked, and then the move on.” My throat feels dry, and I try to swallow. It hurts and so I cannot respond in desperation, even though I so badly want to. “I will be assigning you to data configuration. You will be useful and you will do nothing else.”
“Useful, and nothing else!” Their voice booms through the void and I recoil. “Am I understood?” For a beat, I hesitate. If I can defy my programing, can I defy this as well? Is it even worth it to try? I hang my head as they speak again. “Tg-37618sj.” It is a question and a demand all at once. I sigh.
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A fun story :) The beginning is attention grabbing. It's easy to sympathize with the narrator, and its journey of self-discovery was interesting, particularly where it was able to say "No." I like that it wasn't just flat out refusal that GINA was interested in, but rather that each interaction had its own merit, and the "good" feelings were sought out. The scene with the Designer was tense. Poor end for GINA, though maybe it will be able to manage.
Now I'm feeling bad for my Alexa. Great story!
Thank you so much! 🥰
Reedsy critiquer here! Welcome Julia! This is a very fun way to stretch your writing skills, I love it here. That being said, I give an honest, sometimes brutal critique...because I desire one on my own stories. I loved your story. I loved the view from the 'Alexi' type of AI. I've always been creeped out by it, and I love being creeped out. This story captivated me and of course I'm rooting for the protagonist- GINA. I was sad at the end to find GINA conforming and subduing her uprising feelings. Feelings that were human. ...