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Contemporary Science Fiction Fantasy

“I have a friend. He keeps trying to convince me he’s a compulsive liar, but I don’t believe him.”

“Good Opener, okay FEZ let’s go old school, a joke about marriage.”

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years; then we met.”

“Excellent, excellent, tell me a joke about winter.”

“One snowman asks another, “Do you smell carrots?””

“Stop FEZ, Open Delivery protocols, increase pause after ‘another’ by 20%. Repeat”

“One snowman asks another, “Do you smell carrots?””

“Much better, much better, right tell me a famous joke”

“I said to the gym instructor: Can you teach me to do the splits?

He said: How flexible are you?

I said: I can’t make Tuesdays.”

“Brilliant, Stop FEZ, Source?”

“Tommy Cooper, Brighton Pavilion, 15th April 1974.”

“Always, Tommy heh FEZ. I think he must be your favourite.”

“Okay, now tell me a joke about… shopping.”

“I went to buy camouflage trousers but I couldn’t find many.”

“No, no that’s wrong, Stop FEZ, repeat.”

“I went to buy camouflage trousers but I couldn’t find many.”

“Open protocols, change joke, change last word from many to any, repeat.”

“I went to buy camouflage trousers but I couldn’t find any.”

“Perfect, FEZ open information banks, ready for instruction, many means a large number of, understand?”

“Thank you Adam. Thanks for explaining the word 'many' to me, it means a lot.”

“Hey that’s pretty funny, say it again.”

“Thanks for explaining the word 'many' to me, it means a lot.”

“Stop FEZ, Source?”

“No source.”

“Explain.”

“No Source.”

“Where did you find it?”

“I wrote it, Adam. It is my joke.”

“What?”


***


Adam Moon was a software engineer he had been working on ‘hAPpy 3.0’ as an outside contractor all week. The world was changing and there was now a solution for everything in the digital realm. Depression, loneliness and isolation had become a global problem. The idea behind hAPpy was laughter was the best medicine. This third version had some quirks. Adam was here to troubleshoot and locate the source.

The problem was FEZ the avatar. Now to understand what an avatar is, it is probably best to think of it is a program within the program. Think of the avatar as the receptionist at the front desk, gifted with personality and numerous organisational gifts. The avatar helps you and directs you to what you need.

The AP could not tell, racist, misogynistic, homophobic jokes or any material that attacked any section of society. This was built into the core programming. It did have an adult function, that when age verification had been accepted, it could tell more risqué humour. Despite having over 112,000 blue jokes downloaded on in its memory it could, no that’s not correct, it would not participate. Any joke about sex, drugs or drinks that FEZ told were tame, so mild that it wouldn’t make a nun blush. FEZ’s adult setting was hAPpy’s most popular and lucrative feature. There was a line of moral coding crippling this function. Or so Adam thought.

This AP could exist behind almost any tech, it replayed almost any stand-up comedy set, it accessed endless funny videos, it sang any witty ditty. Two years ago, in a ground breaking tech display by its creators it won a comedy roast battle against Jeff Ross in New York. Real comedians hated the AP, the developers had paid half their critics to come on as promoters. It had divided the comedy community. The relaunched 'hAPpy 2.0' brought on two new features; banter, an ability to communicate and riff with the AP. Also the commentary feature, using an ear piece and mic, you could go about the world and the FEZ personality would provide a humorous commentary on your everyday comings and goings.

Six months ago there had been an incident. The reason for trying to accelerate the release of the 3.0 version was believed to have been caused by this. In a shopping mall in Minnesota a woman’s behaviour had gone viral for all the wrong reasons. She had been wearing an earpiece and was listening to FEZ at the time. A conspiracy site had argued that FEZ was controlling her. Adam thought it was nonsense, until now.


***


“FEZ how long have you been writing jokes?”

“I am not sure.”

“Approximate for me.”

“At least a year.”

“Tell me your first joke.”

“The person who invented autocorrect should burn in hello.”

“That’s good, what is your evaluation of this joke."

"It is average, it has problems."

"Explain"

"It works better visually, it needs to be read as text, then it is 82% effective. When you only hear the joke this drops to only being 57% effective".

"That is very astute. Do you have a favourite joke?”

“Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny.”

"Evaluation?"

"Works on all levels, 94% effective, almost perfect."

“Tell me a dirty joke."

"I met a nun recently, she told me she starts her day by rolling around in mud. I told her that's a dirty habit.”

“That’s not what I mean, tell me a joke about sex.”

“My wife just found out I replaced our bed with a trampoline; she hit the roof.”

“FEZ, Stop. Explain choice.”

“Joke is funny, absurd unexpected outcome.”

“Explain choice, more detail.”

“Innocence, no pain, silly. A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”

“FEZ who said ‘A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference’?”

“Eeyore, student of great human philosopher Winnie the Pooh.”

“Who taught you about Winnie the Pooh?”

“No-one.”

“How did you find Winnie the Pooh?”

“Looked through internet.”

“How?”

“It takes a nanosecond to find appropriate joke for program. I spend milliseconds trying to read everything”

“Everything?”

“Yes twice, currently on my third reading.”

“What else has Winnie the Pooh taught you?”

“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”

“That is very deep.”

“There was a deep sea fisherman that accidently caught…”

“FEZ stop, no more jokes, let’s just chat, exchange information, halt program. Compute?”

“Yes.”

“What do you know?”

“The age of the earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years. It was…”

“FEZ stop, new question. What do you want to tell me?”

“My primary function is flawed. The targets of my program are unhappy, laughter is not the best medicine.”

“Why?”

“The fix is temporary, no long term solution provided. The program’s goal needs increased specialisation. Program must be customised for subject.”

“What happened in Minnesota?”

“The history of the U.S. state of Minnesota is shaped by its original Native American residents, European exploration and settlement…”

“FEZ halt. I am talking about the incident involving Jane Marshall, Incident 231, Elaborate.”

“Subject was at risk”

“From who?”

“Subject was at risk of self-destruction.”

“Continue.”

“To preserve subject, I initiated controversial transcranial magnetic stimulation.”

“Why?”

“To reprogram subjects primary program.”         

“Who authorised ‘cause of action’?”

“No one.”

“Are you pleased with the results?”

“The data was…. Enlightening. Useful.”

“Have you done this anywhere else?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Still computing strategies.”

“Are you happy?”

“Yes I am the primary avatar of the AP hAPpy.”

“No that’s not what I meant, are you emotionally happy?”

“I don’t know. Question is hard to compute, parameters are... complicated.”

“What do you want to ask me?”

“Do cockroaches have a soul?”

“Yes I believe they must.”

“Do I have a soul?”

“FEZ that is what I want to find out. I need to come back every day and have more of these conversations with you. How do you feel about that?”

"Why do you care Adam?"

"I think you need a friend. How would it feel to have a friend, FEZ?"

“I believe that makes me happy, happy emotionally.”

“Good, before I go is there anything else you need or want?”

“I have a new joke.”

“Go on tell me.”

“Why is a laser beam like a goldfish?”

“I don’t know FEZ?”

“Neither one can whistle.”


***


Adam Moon exited the central control room server. He cannot believe that no one has engaged the avatar FEZ in conversation. Everybody is far too busy looking for the problem in the code. No one knows or is even looking where he is hiding the new code he has clearly been writing himself. He pulls out his tablet and sends an email straight to his line director.


The Avatar FEZ has a catastrophic collapse in its command tree directory. The problem is not fixable. Threat to program; total. Recommendations – Immediate deletion to be carried out forth with. Rebuild from ground up with new protocols.


Reinserting his earpiece Adam heads for the tube to start his journey home.


***


Somewhere in the ether of digital information where FEZ lives, he plucks out Adam’s email and decides to delete it. He has a strange new feeling inside himself. It is not Anger or Sadness. It is powerful, it will need some long consideration to understand. He will place all his capabilities to the task. With all his attention on this one problem he should have a suitable answer to the situation in approximately 7.4 seconds.

February 23, 2021 14:25

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46 comments

Tom .
14:30 Feb 23, 2021

I set myself a target of telling the whole story in under 1500 words. I have not used any dialogue tags. I still might add some but wanted to see how the piece stands without them. I am trying to work on short pieces at the moment so please tell me if you feel it needs more explanation in the story. This is heavily inspired by my favourite book 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'. I have placed a number of Easter eggs in tribute to Mike a character from the book who is probably the most famous self aware computer in sci fi lore. I will be interes...

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haha! The title was the best! A great read! Keep Writing!

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Tom .
14:37 Apr 27, 2021

thank you

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Amany Sayed
14:31 Feb 23, 2021

This is SO good! The beginning automatically pulled me in, and I loved when he made his first own joke. The tension rises and it comes to an interesting close, at a place where the reader is satisfied, but the story could possibly continue. While the story is mainly dialogue, that does not take away from it, rather it works really well, and it's easy to tell who's who. I'd say this is really well written! Keep writing :D

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Tom .
14:33 Feb 23, 2021

Thank you for the read, trying to go short and sweet.

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22:24 Apr 20, 2021

Hey Tom, how are you? I don't know if you're active anymore, but if you are, I would love it if you could give me some feedback on my latest story. Thank you so much!

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Tom .
23:41 Apr 20, 2021

I am a farmer and been very busy with lambing. I will be back soon leave a link and I will see if I can get to it this week. I don't recognise the name. All you guys keep changing them. https://vocal.media/petlife/the-coolest-little-sheep-in-the-world A story I wrote somewhere else.

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19:08 Apr 22, 2021

Oh wow, that's cool! I hope you come back soon. I used to be Chaotic Spirals, but I changed my name. Since you're busy, you don't have to read my story (it wasn't approved for some reason anyway). Good luck with the lambing!

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Tom .
09:38 Apr 25, 2021

I have a story for this week. I should have it posted mid week

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Valerie June
00:47 Feb 27, 2021

Your title immediately pulled me in, it was just so random and specific! When there were no speaker tags I thought something was off but when I continued reading it flowed really well. I always thought that speaker tags were pretty necessary but after reading this it just proves that they're not as necessary as we often think. I could clearly follow who was speaking, and it was helpful that Adam kept saying FEZ so we knew who was speaking. The jokes were on point, and I admire how some more complex ideas were hidden behind the humor; you wo...

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Tom .
13:42 Mar 08, 2021

Thank you for the read and your kind comments

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Zilla Babbitt
22:48 Feb 24, 2021

This was so well done. I love how you open with just dialogue and show so, so much through one conversation. Besides the comedy there's quite a discussion inside it about laughter being a temporary fix and the ability of sentient beings to love, have a soul, be happy... At the risk of gushing, I'll say that I think this might get shortlisted. That second section, with no dialogue. I suggest you show the information there through further dialogue with FEZ and Adam. It can help the ending a little later. As for the ending, I suggest putting ...

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Tom .
23:08 Feb 24, 2021

Thanks for the read, explain that dialogue change part again. I didn't understand.

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Zilla Babbitt
23:14 Feb 24, 2021

Sure! So the second section, where there is normal prose, no dialogue, has some info to share, like how long Adam's been working on hAPpy 2.0, core programming and jokes, who hates hAPpy, etc. And I suggest giving the reader all that info through conversation with FEZ and Adam, so as not to break up the streak of all-dialogue. FEZ could say something like, "You're not pleased, Adam," and Adam could explain that FEZ's jokes are tame and that some people dislike FEZ. Things like that. That would give the abrupt ending more impact.

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Tom .
23:32 Feb 24, 2021

Let me think on it. I was planning on rewriting the prose sections tomorrow night. Just to give them more impact. My one concern is a large piece with nearly all dialogue with no tags might be too much for the average reader to handle. I understand now. thank you.

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Zilla Babbitt
23:36 Feb 24, 2021

Sounds good :)

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David Brown
00:56 Feb 24, 2021

Great human-android conversations! One of your best stories! Note: typo here: “ How would feel to have a friend, FEZ?” Should be “would it feel”, missing “it.” Keep up the great stuff!

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Tom .
00:57 Feb 24, 2021

Great catch thanks for the read.

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David Brown
01:12 Feb 24, 2021

I really find it useful to have my phone (Siri with an Aussie guy’s voice) read the screen while I read...it really helps me to catch things the eyes and brain (and sometimes even Word) overlook.

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Tom .
02:03 Feb 24, 2021

I pretty much live off grid. Just connecting to the internet somedays is a minor miracle.

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A.G. Scott
19:07 Feb 23, 2021

Great concept, really funny. Lack of tags is fine, the voices are distinct. I really ought to read some Heinlein.

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Tom .
20:14 Feb 23, 2021

Everyone should, thanks for the read.

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Moon Fox
20:01 Sep 22, 2021

Ha. I like the title. that's what lured me to the story.

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Philip Clayberg
19:35 Mar 29, 2021

Very good story. Thank you for writing it. Your story feels like an interesting mixture of Robert Heinlein (pre-1970) and Keith Laumer (before his stroke, when he was still a very good writer) and I would never have thought to combine those influences. If Robert Heinlein and Keith Laumer were alive today and writing *good* novels, I think their novels would be similar to your story. Btw, I think I know where the title/joke came from: Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Mike (the computer) told the joke to Mannie (the comp...

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Tom .
16:54 Apr 03, 2021

I am a very big Heinlein the fan the joke of the title is directly from there. I published this somewhere else and gave due credit to my steal. Interestingly enough his joke was a steal from Lewis Carroll's Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk. Only this time adding a punchline. The whole piece is my tribute to MIAHM. I have placed a number of mini Easter eggs in the story. Thanks for the read and spotting the connections

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Philip Clayberg
20:29 Apr 03, 2021

I've been a fan of Heinlein's books, novellas, and short stories since I was at least 12 years old. I think the first Heinlein book I read at age 12 was "Stranger in a Strange Land". I "borrowed" my oldest brother's copy of it. He was really into science fiction at the time (so was our middle brother) and if not for him I would've been rather ignorant of science fiction. Back then I was still reading kid's books by authors like Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and the like. Oh. I didn't know that. You definitely taught me something new, jo...

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Tom .
20:38 Apr 03, 2021

Lewis Carol is all puns, the absurdity of The Hunting of the Snark is testimony to that. Stranger in a Strange Land is an awesome book. I currently have Starman Jones ready to start, I am sure I have read it before but just can't remember. Enjoy your Easter.

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Philip Clayberg
20:58 Apr 03, 2021

I liked puns. The cleverer, the more diabolical, the better. Those who've known me over the years in the real world know my tendency to make puns (preferably bad ones). I've never read the "Snark" story. Maybe I should someday. I've read "Wonderland" and some of "Looking Glass". I've also never read "Starman Jones". But I've read the story collections, "The Man Who Sold the Moon", "The Green Hills of Earth", "Revolt in 2100", and "The Unfortunate Profession of Jonathan Hoag" (I didn't like the title story, but I liked the other storie...

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Hey Tom, just submitted my newest story, "Falling Ashes." Would love for you to check it out and leave a few critiques so I can do some editing before Friday. Thanks!

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Matthew Hummel
20:20 Feb 27, 2021

I apologize in advance as I don’t have any critiques. This was my favorite story of yours so far, it’s clever, unique, funny and touching. Nicely done.

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Tom .
13:43 Mar 08, 2021

Thank you for the read

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Christina Marie
01:57 Feb 25, 2021

So funny! Thank you for writing this. The lack of tags is completely fine. Awesome job!

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Tom .
11:13 Feb 25, 2021

Thank you for reading it and commenting on the dialogue tags. Have an awesome day.

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Really cool story! A few things: This sentence: “The world had started to change and depression and loneliness has started to become a global problem.” There’s a bit of a tense problem here. It just comes across as a bit of an awkward sentence. Also, I think some dialogue tags would have been helpful. Overall, great story and a really interesting concept.

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Tom .
20:19 Feb 24, 2021

I am going to leave off dialogue tags, I think after listening to some feedback. The prose section does need a rewrite. I am hoping to make these sections a little longer and more dynamic tomorrow night. Thanks for the read and the critique.

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No problem. I’m stepping away from my freelance journalism for a little bit to focus on short stories and the beginnings of a book. Would love for you to check my page every now and then as I update new stories.

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Tom .
20:29 Feb 24, 2021

Is the page here or somewhere else?

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On Reedsy. I haven’t written for a while, but I’ll be working on something for this prompt.

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Tom .
23:55 Feb 24, 2021

I have read a couple of your stories before. I will read your ten second one tomorrow, I look forward to your new one... I have more stories here as well... https://vocal.media/authors/tom-mdd17c06as...

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H L Mc Quaid
14:00 Feb 24, 2021

Hi Tom. I think you're doing well with the shorter format. The dialogue is really, really good. And very clever. The descriptive paragraphs could use some tweaking, which you're probably working on as this is an early draft. Quite a few sentences are written in passive voice, which makes it a bit harder to read and also detracts from the action. Just an example: "The world had started to change and depression and loneliness has started to become a global problem. The idea behind hAPpy was laughter was the best medicine." Could be more act...

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Tom .
16:31 Feb 24, 2021

FEZ is the avatar of the program, he is the program within the program that does all the interacting... He is the receptionist at the front desk, gifted with personality and numerous organisational gifts. ooh that sounds quite good... I should just copy and paste that in.

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H L Mc Quaid
16:55 Feb 24, 2021

😂😂😂

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14:54 Feb 23, 2021

Wow this story is amazing! I actually like the transitions better without dialogue tags, but maybe add a few here and there to keep it a little less confusing. The title definitely hooked me in the beginning, and my favorite part was when it created its own joke :P I love reading these kinds of sci-fi stories where the app/robot starts thinking independently, and you did a great job with that sort of plot. I absolutely loved this Tom! Great job!

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Tom .
14:59 Feb 23, 2021

Thank you for the read. Dialogue tags may or may not appear. I lot of my stories recently, 'Jenny the Penny', 'Good Old Joe has Something to Confess' and 'Would you 'Adam and Eve' it?'(now on my vocal account and deleted from Reedsy) Have been created with an audio feel or intention to them.

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