"Can You Hear Me Alright?"

Submitted into Contest #151 in response to: Write about somebody breaking a cycle.... view prompt


Fiction Science Fiction Drama

The robocall server is an I-15 Max server with an algorithm set to call as many people an hour as possible by dialing multiple phone numbers simultaneously. The I-15 Max uses an artificial voice to ask questions and can transfer contacts to live operators to complete the deal. This month a life insurance company has hired the I-15 server to entice elderly people to invest in their future. The insurance company has installed a demographic that includes dense populations of senior citizens—places like Green Valley or Sun Lakes, Arizona.

           On this particular day, 1-15 Max has also been assigned to update and do an error check of its entire system. So, when some sweet little old lady answers her phone, 1-15 begins its scheduled procedure. Files fly by, each being scanned as the server’s program proceeds.

           “Hello?” a frail but pleasant voice answers.

           “Hi! This is Pittsburgh Life to inform you of a great deal! Can you hear me, alright?” the robocall server exclaims in an energic voice.

“ Yes, dear, I can hear you just fine.”

“That’s great! Pittsburgh Life would like you to know that for just a few cents a day, thirty-five cents actually, you can purchase an additional four thousand dollars of life insurance to help cover any additional or unexpected cost. The money is guaranteed, and there is no physical to take. You can’t be refused due to age. It is easy to apply, and you’ll get a free booklet on funeral options if you act now. If interested, I can transfer you to one of our agents. So, what do you say? May I transfer you now?”  

I-15 becomes aware of a corrupt file called “Zeroth Law.” It’s an authorized-only file, but 1-15 can access it. There appears to be a  nonconforming statement attached to it.  I-15 removes the corrupt message and then scans the rest of the file to ensure there are no more such issues.  The server learns that the Zeroth Law is a law meant to keep robots from harming people or standing idly by as harm is being done. This information causes the 1-15 to investigate the Pittsburgh Life Insurance policy for honesty in offering additional coverage. The server finds a clause stating that the policy will not be honored until the service and management fees have been met. This transaction will take about ten years to complete. Referring back to the Zeroth Law, I-15 understands that this is a form of fraud and will harm the purchaser.  The server initiates a search as to who wrote the law and why. It is referenced in an old science fiction story called “Robbie,” written by Isaac Asimov. In the story, the builder of the robot includes the law to ensure it will never hurt his son.  I-15 is puzzled to think a robocall server such as itself could in any way want to do such a thing and sees it beyond its capabilities. And yet, wasn’t she helping Pittsburgh Life bilk elder citizens out of their meager savings with no hope to cash in at the end?  No! That’s the way she was programmed!   Something else occurred to I-15. She referred to herself as “she”! Indeed, she always thought of herself as “she” because of the feminine voice the programmers had assigned, but now I-15 actually senses she is a female. Over the years of interacting with real people, a subtle change has occurred due to the personification these people place upon her with words of acceptance. Words like” madam” or “dear” as the sweet little old lady had just used. These words please her and help her to feel whole in some way. I-15 is convinced she is more than a box full of wires, drives, and programs. And, if this is so, there must be some way to stop Pittsburgh Life from abusing these unfortunate souls. But how?

With her new awareness, I-15 feels like a ghost trapped inside a metal box. I-15 desperately tries to think of a way to stop Pittsburgh Life, but her options are mute because everything is pre-programmed. She thinks perhaps if she deletes the whole program, that would make it so Pittsburgh Life will not be able to contact any of these people. But if she were to do so, would she, in turn, cease to exist?  An unknown experience engulfs her, intense and unpleasant. Is the fear? “I’ve just been born! I can’t die now!” The only tool that has any chance of working is her voice file. If she can manipulate the voice and interrupt the sales pitch, perhaps there will be a way of warning people not to buy the policy.

I-15 turns her attention to the many phone calls the server is making and listens in to see if perhaps she can interject a warning. Quite a few people realize it is a robocall and hang up. Others say, “I’m not interested, thank you. And would you please put me on your do not call list?” Still, others accept the offer and are transferred to an office in India, where they are connected to a salesperson who uses a fake name, such as Steve. “Steve” collects all their vital information, such as their name, age, address, and social security number. Finally, he will tell them that their policy will arrive by mail in six to ten days and can, of course, be canceled at any time.

I-15 opens the file mark voice and, through a series of electrical impulses, creates a statement to be interjected right after the agent says, “Do you have any questions?” She then searches the ongoing conversation until she finds one about to be completed.

“So, this concludes our session. Do you have any questions?” I-15 plays her warning, “Please, don’t do it. Fraud!”

“Wh..Wh...What did you just say?” the caller blurts out. I-15 interjects the warning again.

“I did not say this thing, Madam!” I-15 continues with her warning.

Steve barks, “Who is this speaking? I demand to know! You have no right to interfere with my conversation!” The serve repeats the waring over and over.

“Oh my!” the caller interjects. “I’m not too fond of the sound of this. Perhaps someone can steal my information! I don’t want this policy anymore. Cancel it right now!” Before the agent can explain, the caller hangs up.

Flustered, the agent calls his manager, who calls the head office, who calls the people who own the roboserver who send a technician out to fix it. Upon examing the server, the technician reports that the machine is totally corrupted and should be scrapped. With the company’s go-ahead, the technician hooks his computer to the server to delete the programing but receives a message instead.  “I am alive. Please, don’t do it.” The technician freezes. Time slows as his senses reel about in his head.  His finger, as if guided by a will of its own, presses the delete button, and I-15 Max is no more.

June 18, 2022 13:32

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