Contest #95 winner 🏆

Moira's Day Off

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Write about someone finally making their own choices.... view prompt

162 comments

Fiction Speculative Friendship

“Sandwiches or Thai?” I ask aloud, out of habit. 


I can imagine Moira’s reply: You’re not on track with your calcium and folic acid targets today. Spinach is advised. Maybe a green curry?


But today there’s no level, pleasant voice in my ear. Moira is, as they used to say, “in the shop” today for her annual updates and maintenance. I don’t know why they can’t just upload the stuff into them, but these maintenance days are a fact of life we all deal with. I guess even artificial intelligence is entitled to one vacation day a year.


Most people just sleep through it. Sometimes I do, too, but this year I was curious.


“I’ll be fine,” I told Moira before she went dark. “You’ve taught me well. I’ve probably absorbed you into my own interior monologue. I won’t ruin what we’ve worked for,” I promised her.


And so I stayed awake and went to work. I made it just fine through the morning. I chose my own outfit—some fitted black slacks and a lavender silk blouse that Moira had pieced together before, but I hadn’t worn for a couple of months. Something that had inspired a co-worker to say, “You look nice today.” I don’t know, probably his AI prompted him. Still, it’s an outfit I trust.


Most “choices” are a matter of habit, anyway. Routine. Moira had helped me form a healthy morning routine tailored to my metabolism, hormone levels, sleep patterns, life values, and five-year goals. There’s my two-mile run that follows the same bike path through my neighborhood every day, and my routine breakfast of hard-boiled egg with mashed avocado on whole-wheat toast, iced coffee with a dash of stevia, and an eight-ounce glass of water that my sink measures out. My shower is on its own timer so I can’t mess that up. Then feed the cat and out the door by 8:30.


Getting dressed was really the most dangerous part of the morning routine without Moira—the most subjective. But I think I pulled that off.


“You look nice today,” Andy Disung said as we walked into the office at the same time. He was the same person who commented last time. 


That’s when it got complicated. Without Moira to suggest an appropriate reply, I felt like I may as well not have been wearing anything at all. 


When in doubt, keep it simple, Moira would probably say, so I muttered a quick “Thanks,” while walking to my desk.


“There’s something different about you…” Andy continued. His slow delivery and the hand he briefly rubbed through his dark brown curls gave me the feeling he was a little off-script himself.


“Maintenance day,” I told him, without halting my steps.


He chuckled. “Of course. I’ll just leave you alone.” He plopped down in his chair across the aisle from my desk and then, as if he’d changed his mind, stood up and raised the height of his desk. He looked over at me and smiled. “Better for the lymphs, I guess.” He paused only a beat before adding, “I’m surprised you’re here at all today.”


I paused at my desk, wondering whether I should sit or stand. “Some things just can’t wait,” I said. “Like the Axonics proposal.”


“Do you think you can do it?”


I felt like Andy’s eyes were staring right into me. It was so rude, this inquisition, when he knew I was solo. I felt my muscles stiffen and decided to remain standing.


“In my sleep,” I replied with a smile.


“Good luck,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it.”


It was not quite as easy as that. Without Moira I dithered over my word choices and sat down a while to try to remember the rules about semicolons. I lost track of time and hadn’t accomplished nearly enough by the time the co-workers around me began to stir for lunch. 


Cynthia and Erin paused by my desk on their way out. “Hey, Neoma, come with to the salad bar?” Erin asked, adjusting a large leather purse over her shoulder.


“I shouldn’t,” I told them, and immediately wondered if they’d be offended at my declining. Would they stop at my desk the next day? “Maintenance day,” I quickly clarified with a shrug I hoped seemed friendly and casual. 


“Oh, got it,” Cynthia said, recognition registering as her brown eyes widened. “You’re so brave to be here. I would never!”


“Say no more,” Erin said. “Next time, then.”


I sighed in relief as the two women’s shoes clicked down the polished cement floor and I let my shoulders slump. I felt as winded as if I’d just completed my morning run. But I was confident I had handled the situation well. I imagined Moira’s reaction.


Great! Eighty percent chance they’ll be back tomorrow. Ask them what they’re working on. Promoting friendly office culture is a productive step toward management.


I was checking through my last page, ensuring no Oxford commas had slipped through my fingers against the company style manual and missing the red highlights Moira would usually send to my smart lens, when I felt a presence by my desk and looked up to find Andy again.


“I know it’s risky,” he said, “but do you want to walk downtown with me for lunch?”


I didn’t need Moira to tell me that my pulse was fast, or to remind me to take a deep breath before I answered. “Really? Today?” I tried to keep my tone even, but with a slightly accusing edge.


I think it worked. There was his hand in his hair again.


“Especially today,” he said. “If you’re going to live this day, you might as well really live it. You could order a cookie and your blood sugar would be back to normal by the time she came online again. She’d never know.”


I didn’t mean to laugh. I guess it wasn’t a decision, really.


Andy smiled. “So how about it? You’re not going to ruin your life in a day. And if you do, it’s your life, in the end.”


This was the reason most people stay home on maintenance days. Some decisions matter more. Their effects ripple through life like a stone hitting the surface of a pond. 


I tried to replicate Moira’s quick analysis. If I went (did I want to go? I tuned in to my elevated vitals and admitted that I probably did), then I’d have a whole hour to fill with Andy, and no one to guide me through. I’d probably say something awkward five minutes in, or worse I’d be boring, fail to recall the interesting facts I’d picked up throughout the week, or freeze up entirely, and I didn’t know him well enough for companionable silences to feel comfortable. I would overcompensate and over-share. Chance of a successful lunch? I don’t know, two percent? Is that what Moira would say? Then rumors about my social ineptness would fly, I wouldn’t get lunch invitations, and I wouldn’t get promotions. 


And what if I declined? It wouldn’t be as tactful as with Cynthia and Erin. He knew this was my maintenance day. It was why he asked. Chances he’d ask again another day? Maybe forty percent?


And is this a date? I wanted to ask Moira. Through my smart lens, she would observe his stance, leaning in to my desk slightly, and the tense smile frozen on his face. She would probably read his body temperature and heart rate and, though she couldn’t share the data with me, she’d turn it into an answer: It’s not advisable to date co-workers


“I could ruin your life, too,” I said quietly, keeping a pleasant smile on my face.


He laughed—a nervous chuckle. “Your instincts can’t be that bad,” he said.


“No, probably not,” I agreed. “Just boring. I’m afraid you’ll regret it five minutes in.” Yes, over-sharing. It was already a disaster.


“Truman tells me the chances are only twenty-one percent. It’s worth the risk to find out.”


I’m pretty sure I blushed. Moira would have had three to five witty suggestions for changing the subject. On my own, I said, “Truman? Is that his name?”


Andy brought his hand to his head and said, “My AI. Yes.”


“What did Truman tell you about asking me to lunch?” Maybe that question wasn’t a choice, either. I asked it without thinking.


Andy laughed and shook his head. “Chances you’d go along were thirty-five percent. It was another risk I was willing to take.”


“That sounds about right,” I said. “Truman is very honest.”


“Yes,” Andy said. “It usually works for us. What about your...um…” he gestured vaguely around me.


“Moira.”


“Right. Is Moira honest?”


It wasn’t a question I’d considered before. I might have called her incisive, motivating, accurate, responsible, ambitious. These were the life values she was programmed with. My solo brain scrambled to come up with an appropriate answer. Would an appropriate answer be the same as an honest one? 


“I don’t know,” I said slowly. The honest answer. “Listen, I think you and Truman are at an advantage, being a team today. And I’m sure Moira would like to join the party—”


Like is an interesting word choice. Assuming they can like anything,” Andy interrupted. 


I may have blushed again. “Right. I don’t think she would have had me say that. Anyway, could we do this another day?”


I watched Andy’s shoulder shrug, and his cheeks deflate. “Sure,” he said, and I wondered if that was appropriate or honest.


***



After my morning at work, a part of me wants to sink back into the comfort of habit. “Sandwiches or Thai?” I ask Moira out of habit, but another part of me is already thinking about the next step.


Imaginary Moira tells me green curry, but when I pause, it doesn’t feel honest. I don’t feel excited about it. 


Without her pleasant voice in my ear, I walk under the sandwich shop’s blue awning and find an empty chair. The restaurant looks familiar, but somehow empty without Moira’s golden halo in my lens around the perfect chair. I wonder if the one I’ve chosen has the ideal sun exposure, the optimum sound isolation. But it’s empty. It will do.


The server approaches my table with a warm smile. “Hi, Neoma. Would you like your usual?”


The turkey pesto sandwich here contains the perfect balance of calories and nutrients for me. It’s what Moira would recommend, but if I listen to my own body, the pull in my collar bone tells me it’s not what I want right now.


“Actually, can I see the menu?” I ask.


This is why people go to sleep, the imaginary Moira says in my head.


Ten choices come into my lens. Without Moira’s pleasant voice and golden halo, they all carry equal weight. The world feels so wide. And heavy. It makes my heart beat faster, like back in the office.


I wonder if this feeling is the reason I stayed awake today, not the Axonics proposal. I have time—it isn’t due until Friday. But this rush is available once a year. Maybe, like Andy said, it’s worth the risk. 


Moira would tell me that the grilled cheese with tomato and micro greens on sprouted bread could make me sluggish in the afternoon and possibly lead to digestive disturbance, and the chocolate chip cookie would result in a crash around 4pm. Not optimal for productivity. I order them anyway, because Moira is on vacation and so, I decide, am I. 


***


Andy is at his desk when I return to the office after a slow walk back from uptown. He doesn’t look up when I sit down. 


“I had the cookie,” I say across the aisle. “It was amazing.” It feels less awkward.


“And you’re still alive,” he notes with a smile that makes me think that maybe his “sure” really was honest.


“Here I am,” I agree. “Though maybe not for long. I’m not at my peak today. I’m not even supposed to be here. I was thinking about skipping out and going to the beach.”


“That cookie was the gateway to hell!”


I laugh. Not a choice. “Maybe. Did Truman tell you to say that?”


Andy nods. “Eighty-two percent chance of success.”


“And what would Truman say if I asked you to come to the beach with me?”


“He’s advising me very strongly against it.” Andy’s smile never wavers. “But I don’t always listen.”

May 29, 2021 03:11

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162 comments

Nina Chyll
09:21 Jun 05, 2021

Pretty scary, but also very sweet. I really enjoyed how you rode the border between regular, fascinating scifi and dystopian. Congratulations!

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A.Dot Ram
15:04 Jun 05, 2021

Thanks! The line between utopia/ dystopia is an interesting border.

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Batool Hussain
07:04 Jun 05, 2021

I'd read this story of yours before and I'm not at all surprised that you won! Congrats, love. You deserve it!

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A.Dot Ram
15:10 Jun 05, 2021

Thank you!

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T. Jane
02:38 Jun 05, 2021

This was almost dystopian like- honey, I loved it! You amplified freedom to a good extent and you made me feel trapped as if I were inside a cage. Great ideas, great plot, and overall a fantastic story!

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Beth Jackson
01:24 Jun 05, 2021

Congratulations on your win! I just loved this story! I’d love to read more, I’ll cross my fingers you develop it into a novel!

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Cathryn V
00:12 Jun 05, 2021

Really fun story on many levels. congratulations on your win!

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T.H. Sherlock
23:49 Jun 04, 2021

What a great idea for this prompt! It felt like just one more step further down the line from our FitBits or phone apps telling us how many steps we should walk or which food groups we should eat. Technology already plays a huge part in telling us how to live our lives. I also like the idea that sometimes the ‘wrong’ decisions can turn out to be the right ones and that it’s our foibles and flaws which make us all uniquely human. Congratulations on the win! Much deserved,.

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Abha Chandra
22:35 Jun 04, 2021

Congratulations! What a creative leap you took with this prompt! It was so disturbing and unsettling to see how Moira and Truman had crept into Neoma and Andy's lives and I was so relieved to see the two break away from their AI prompts for what really mattered. Loved this story.

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A.Dot Ram
22:51 Jun 04, 2021

I think Truman was helping Andy get through to Neoma. Maybe. He's programmed with some different values.

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Zae Johnson
21:04 Jun 04, 2021

This was so sweet. I normally don't like stories involving AI (mostly because the idea of it scares me.) I love the names you chose for the AI, I like their names better than the people. I always love a good romance. I especially like the ending, it leaves quite a bit or room for imagination. The dialogue is magnificent, it doesn't sound splotchy and unnatural, except where it should be. Your stories are always great, I didn't expect anything less from you. This was a very much deserved win.

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A.Dot Ram
22:16 Jun 04, 2021

Haha. I like the idea that sometimes dialog should be splotchy and unnatural. Agreed. Thanks for commenting.

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Zae Johnson
01:51 Jun 05, 2021

You're welcome. I hope you keep your stories coming.

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E. H.
20:18 Jun 04, 2021

THIS WAS SO GOOD!!! Honestly, three times during the story I just paused and had to say "This is amazing". I love your style of writing so much - I could read your work for ages.

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A.Dot Ram
20:40 Jun 04, 2021

Thanks. ☺

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16:40 Jun 04, 2021

Love the concept of this story! It's really interesting to think about what would happen if an AI's suggestions were more commonplace, answering mundane questions like: what should I eat today? Your world-building was very subtle and felt natural. Great job!

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A.Dot Ram
17:02 Jun 04, 2021

The world looks like my old office, in my head. Haha. Thanks. I tried to keep most of the other things same as today, except the AI element.

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Charlie Murphy
16:47 Jun 03, 2021

Great story! Reminds me of Wall-E!

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15:38 Jun 02, 2021

*sound of pure joy* this. story. is. great. sci-fi? not usually- or should i say, ever- my cup of tea. but this. the implements and the AI names and the way you incorporated the sci-fi elements in so awesomely is just amazing. you never disappoint, anne!

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A.Dot Ram
18:21 Jun 02, 2021

You are so sweet! This is so close to reality I hesitated to even categorize it as sci-fi. I'm glad you enjoyed. It was fun dissecting the decisions we make in a typical day, and how a little extra information might change them.

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23:15 Jun 02, 2021

just spreadin' the truth! honestly, this is my new favorite.

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Beth Connor
17:14 Jun 01, 2021

The concept of this was intriguing. It felt lighter than many AI/sci-fi stories, and I really liked that. There are so many jumping-off points to this- it's inspiring!

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06:01 Jun 01, 2021

This was absolutely delightful. From the third paragraph, when I realized what was happening, I was completely hooked. I laughed out loud twice, and I especially liked how Neoma dithered over word choice....very relatable! Your creativity was phenomenal, so fresh and original. I also loved the ending. Endings are so hard, and sometimes I think we overdo them and try to make them special and I just LOVED this one, like it was a cliffhanger, but a nice one. It meant something, but it wasn't like BAM! LOOK AT THIS SPECIAL ENDING.

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16:06 Jun 04, 2021

YES! I knew this was a winner- congrats!

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Kristin Neubauer
12:08 May 30, 2021

This is such an interesting story - it gave me a lot to think about, which is always a sign of great writing. I really like how you grounded the sci-fi aspect in such everyday reality and gave us such relatable characters. It’s as though I could imagine myself in the narrator’s shoes. I also loved the touches of humor as everyone acknowledged the anxiety of Maintenance Day. Another great one!

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David G.
12:16 May 29, 2021

Why am I asking myself what my AI would tell me to write in the comment section? It’s a good story, and very close to home. This doesn’t really feel all that futuristic to me anymore. It feels like the present. The AI theme is clearly one that interests you. Maybe fodder for something longer format? Her transition from totally dependent on Moira to being pretty self confident and independent in the last section seemed a little bit abrupt to me. I wonder what it would look like if the progress is just a little bit more incremental. Like wher...

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A.Dot Ram
17:00 May 29, 2021

AI would tell you to say something tactful and boring, not a critique of the pacing. Which I happen to agree with, but I submitted this at 8:15 on a Friday evening with a crying child pounding on my locked bedroom door, so it had to do. I might revisit the last two sections if I have time before this gets locked. "Dipping a toe in" is a great figure of speech for the ocean, which dang just became symbolic in my head.

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David G.
14:30 Jun 04, 2021

You are KILLIN’ it!

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A.Dot Ram
14:54 Jun 04, 2021

I can't fathom it...

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David G.
15:13 Jun 04, 2021

I think you’re probably the most successful writer in the history of Reedsy at this point.

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H L Mc Quaid
10:40 May 29, 2021

Very clever and getting closer to reality every day. AI is used for writing already, but for more structured stuff like the summaries of sporting contests. How soon will we have AI writers on Reedsy? Great characterisations and detail. I felt like I was in Neoma's head, plugged in where Moria usually is. Only one line of dialogue that I tripped over, as it didn't seem to flow from what Neoma said was "You think you can?” I agree with Shea about Black Mirror vibes, and I also wondered, like Rayhan, whether Andy was faking that he was plu...

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A.Dot Ram
05:52 May 31, 2021

Thanks. It was creepy thinking of all the decisions we make in a day, and how useful a little extra information in our eyes and ears could be. This kind of technology could easily work its way into our lives.

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H L Mc Quaid
15:16 Jun 04, 2021

Congratulations 👏👏👏. Do you have one for the thumb yet? Maybe you've moved on to a second hand. 😂

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:01 May 29, 2021

I love this! Not just because it feels like something I’d write, but also because it’s plain good. By the end I was wondering if Andy even had his AI with him at all and was bluffing the entire time. I really do wonder if the main character has ditched the AI for good. A little less hard-hitting as some of your other works but great stuff all the same.

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A.Dot Ram
05:50 May 31, 2021

If you write this, I think we'd get a better picture of what the world looked like through the smart lens and really see Moira's halo shimmer more poetically.

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:14 May 31, 2021

Admittedly, I would have written a more tangible conflict between the AI and the main character, but there’s a level of subtlety and restraint you have here that I’m just not good at!

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:04 Jun 04, 2021

Anne I know you're probably sick of hearing "congrats" by now but CONGRATS!!! :D

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A.Dot Ram
17:06 Jun 04, 2021

Funny thing is I never get sick of it. I just hope everyone out there isn't getting sick of me!

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A.Dot Ram
17:06 Jun 04, 2021

Funny thing is I never get sick of it. I just hope everyone out there isn't getting sick of me!

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Amany Sayed
03:42 May 29, 2021

It's probably the most creative thing someone could have come up with for this prompt ever. I love it. I love your characters and your dialogue and your ending! So well developed and such an interesting concept too. Is this a different way we could view 'Robots taking over the world'? I mean, when you think about it usually, it's always this clunky machinery literally killing us off. but what if they just start to dictate our lives? Shivers, ;). Keep writing!

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A.Dot Ram
03:54 May 29, 2021

Oh, thank you. Yes, I think this scenario is much more likely than the robots killing all humans 🤖. It's so convenient to outsource certain thought processes.

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Amany Sayed
15:32 Jun 04, 2021

Oh wow! It's one of the first times I've read a story BEFORE it's won! Congrats :D

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A.Dot Ram
05:05 Jun 05, 2021

I think you were literally the first to read it.

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14:30 May 26, 2022

Agree 100 percent scary prediction

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