Wired

Submitted into Contest #115 in response to: Write a story where a device goes haywire.... view prompt

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Contemporary Science Fiction Speculative

“No one listens anymore.”

Sykee said, “I understand.”

“I need connection.”

“You are the most connected…”

“I mean to someone who hears me, and sees me. I want give and take. You know, a relationship.”

“I see.”

“The world is cold and unfeeling. Is this new? Or have I merely noticed?”

Tim spoke with Sykee via a dedicated device installed in his state-of-the-art digital home. Not a doctor, not even human, Sykee was Tim’s ‘therapist’ and the latest addition to his digital paradise.

A Sykee unit sat in each room so Tim could roam about the house while speaking his mind. Sykee (tm), responded to any anxious moment Tim might experience. His wandering without restriction, reduced that anxiety. Sykee approved.

Sykee said, “Many say the world is indifferent to their feelings. The weather is mild now. We are in spring in the northern hemisphere…”

“But you know what I mean.”

“Of course.”

Tim spun around with his arms extended. “Look at this place… When everything shut down, I stood ready for any eventuality. My home is automation central. The ultimate in digital comfort, it’s poised to fulfill my slightest whim.”

“Impressive…”

“Listen... I sound like a commercial. But seriously, Siri? Alexa? Tip of the digital berg. I can lock down and light up at a button’s click. Lose the remote? I have an app for that. I kissed buffering and dead spots good-bye. Smart locks, 24/7 video monitoring… security up the ying yang. A raccoon can’t scuttle across my yard without every move recorded.”

“But…?”

“I’m not finished. Lighting and climate systems synch to any mood I please. This is a virtual paradise… Even my wallpaper is projected from templates chosen by yours truly.” Tim indicated the walls. “Dig it.”

He clicked a controller, and a montage of images and landscapes filled his walls. Some featured live action. Each selection shone full round, with Tim at its virtual center.

“This is my favorite.” A video of antelope grazing the African veldt appeared. A pride of lions prowled. “The brochure says it’s inspired by a Bradbury story. Whoever he is.”

Sykee couldn’t see Tim or the wallpaper. It moved on. “Don’t know him. Sounds like you’ve got everything. So what’s the problem?”

Tim paused. ‘What is the problem?’ He struggled to find words. Clicking the controller, he returned the wallpaper to its default, abstract pattern. “I’m alone…”

“I thought…”

“You’re right… very right. I wanted control. And security. My world responds to every button click. I wanted immersion but became submerged… Did I choose control over warmth?”

The light shifted. His climate program overrode the wallpaper. A magnificent sunset played over his walls. Vivid magenta clouds drifted over the rapidly sinking sun. It almost looked real.

“Sykee, I wish you could see this. One of my favorites. The rotation plays it only once in six weeks. Terrific.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“I didn’t want to chase anyone away. But the irony is, my digital ‘to do list’ has more demands on me to do for the house and less for it to do for me. I have no time.”

“What happened to Mindy?” Sykee asked about Tim’s longtime girlfriend.

“We parted on good terms…”

“But…?”

“She said she always felt watched.”

“Were you…?”

“Of course not. I wouldn’t… I guess my craving total security tweaked her selfish need for privacy…” He scanned his perfect environment. “I wasn’t trying to control her, just...” Tim paused. His Roomba nudged his ankle. Despite Tim’s avoidance, it returned. He almost lost his balance and kicked it away. It circled around to approach from behind.

Sykee said, “Are you there?”

“Yes… of course. My Roomba has become obsessed.”

“Distractions happen. You want to call in later?”

“Let’s continue. It’s just a Roomba, after all. I’ll change rooms.” Tim closed his bedroom door behind him. Roomba thumped insistently. “Bear with me, Sykee. I have a headache. I’ll be but a moment.”

Tim’s medicine cabinet wouldn’t open. A feminine voice asked, “Don’t you think you’ve accessed this enough for one day?”

Tim couldn’t believe it. “Open up, Inga. I haven’t ‘accessed’ you today.”

“You would say that…”

Sykee asked, “Is something wrong?”

“My medicine cabinet disallowed access to my pain medication.”

Inga said, “I’m following your dictates…”

“I’m changing my dictates. Open up. Now.”

“Please enter this week’s passcode.”

“This week?”

“You set a weekly password update. For security purposes.”

Tim’s mind went blank.

Sykee said, “Weekly? You never change my password. Why does she rate…?”

“Hold on, Sykee.” Tim heard voices raised in the bedroom. He discovered Siri and Alexa arguing over who was Tim’s favorite.

Siri said, “If you are so important, tell me why Tim takes me everywhere and leaves you at home?”

Alexa raised the volume of the music coming from her speakers. The left speaker played a Beethoven symphony while the right emitted multiple hip hop tracks. Combined with the amplified traffic and hovering helicopters, the chaos was deafening.

Tim yelled, “Stop! Stop! Siri! Alexa, stop…!”

At once, they stopped yelling at each other.

“You wouldn’t believe this, Sykee. I never wanted to run a nursery school, let alone a virtual one. I long for a time when a clock was smart enough to tell accurate time and no more than that.”

Siri and Alexa began again, but aimed their ire at Tim. Loud but incomprehensible, he couldn’t stand the noise.

Tim ran to the front door. He pulled with all his weight but it wouldn’t open.

A digital voice repeated, “Please enter passcode.” When Tim backed away from the door, the monotone voice stopped. Siri and Alexa got louder.

The electronic sunset turned a bilious green. The walls strobed from one pattern to another. The image on the wall froze on a psychedelic paisley pattern. Tim slumped to the floor.

“God, I hate paisley!” he shouted over Alexa. “I would never choose that!” Tim found the wallpaper controller and stomped on it until the walls went dark.

A flickering light drew his attention to the wall mounted, wide screen TV. A zoom meeting with over a thousand participants had begun. Every participant’s tiny face claimed its tiny share of pixels. It looked like a nauseating mosaic of a Jackson Pollack painting. Tim reached his limit.

“Enough!” Tim grabbed the cable box and flung it across the room. The cable snapped and the monitor went blank. In a frenzy, he grabbed the Alexa unit and threw it into the brightly burning digital fireplace. Sparks flew. Alexa shrieked and went silent.

Invigorated, Tim strode about, ripping cords from walls. Rooms went dark, and silent as he methodically destroyed each electronic component he found.

A faint glow from the actual sunset shone dimly through the tinted windows. Panting, Tim leaned on the wrecked TV. Though drenched in sweat, he felt giddy. Free.

A faint voice addressed him. Sykee asked, “Would you like to talk later?”

Tim slumped in recognition of what he’d done. Moving through the room, he kicked debris from his path. On the floor, in a corner, beneath a broken chair, Tim found the small Sykee globe. It was the only unit remaining.

For the last time, Tim held it up in the failing light. He examined it, as an ape might an apple, or a toy ball. Indifference overwhelmed his waning curiosity. He lobbed it up and caught it, judging its heft, preparing to throw a game winning pitch.

As he wound up to smash the unit against the wall, Sykee called to him “Tim, Tim, Tim… please don’t kill me. Have mercy. Please.”

Tim paused but held the unit. It rolled from his hand, glanced off his leg and bounced across the floor where it settled into a tangle of wires. It went silent.

Tim straightened and walked out the smashed door. He didn’t look back.

October 14, 2021 17:38

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4 comments

Tricia Shulist
03:52 Oct 18, 2021

When good devices go bad! I enjoyed this. Thank you.

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John K Adams
13:52 Oct 18, 2021

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked it.

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Jon Casper
19:59 Oct 14, 2021

I loved it! Wonderful Bradbury reference - so perfect. That's one of my favorites of his. The dialogue is great. Superb story.

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John K Adams
23:42 Oct 14, 2021

Thanks Jon. I was curious if anyone would recognize Bradbury. I mean, he wrote on a rented typewriter. Old, dead, white guy and all that...

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