A World As I Know It
“Have a nice evening, Dora!” I shouted as I left the office. I clocked out as I walked through the door, precisely at 5:00 PM, exactly as I had every weekday for the last ten years. I walked the short distance to my car, unlocked it, and settled myself behind the wheel. “Home.” I commanded.
“Yes, Mistress.” The car’s artificial intelligence replied.
Man, I loved these cars. I settled back with my glass tablet and connected to the Solar Web. During the half-hour drive home, I caught up with the newest science news — specifically the discovery of element 119 on Mars, along with the newest moon colony — named after the first android astronaut, ten years previously — and finally, the latest work on the treatment of the common cold. I snorted. They’d never cure that ancient disease, but sure, they could keep trying if it made them feel better. I glanced up at the lights flashing past my car window. I lived a hundred miles outside the city, but thanks to the underground distance-shrinking tunnels — called dis-tuns, for short— it only took half an hour’s time to cover. I went back to my reading, muttering in frustration when we went through a dead-zone about halfway home. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited for the signal to come back, feeling frustrated when it took longer than normal. When it came back, I switched from science to the latest celebrity news. Nothing interesting other than someone trying to legally marry an android. I sighed and set my tablet aside, staring out the window at the tunnel lights. Thankfully, it was only another five minutes home, and I stretched as I turned off the car and stood up. I tossed my purse on the counter and kicked my shoes off, the purse sliding onto the floor and the shoes clattering into the corner. The jacket went on top of a bar stool, and the top button of the shirt came unbuttoned. I grabbed some instant noodles and a soda from the fridge, and plopped down in front of the main glass screen in my home to watch some old science-fiction television shows about some sort of spaceship that was infinitely inferior to today’s technology, despite it being set in the future. Idiots, I thought. Obviously they didn’t know what the real future would be like. I ate my noodles, snickering at the terrible special effects. I read the the latest physics book that was highly recommended by the City Times for the remainder of the evening. I grumbled incoherently at the… science the book put forth. I could do better than that, and I was a simple cubicle worker, a necessary relic left over from the past. AI could only do so much, especially as it had only been invented ten years ago. One of the things is clearly not being capable of actual science. I thought with a small smirk. I changed into nightclothes, tossing my day clothes into the recycler. They would be re-synthesized in the morning, changed slightly to fit better than they had the previous day. That was efficiency. No need for tailors, or closets. Everything one needed was synthesized on demand and recycled in the evening. I climbed into bed, and fell asleep quickly.
“Have a nice evening, Dora!” I shouted… wait a minute. Hadn’t I said that exact same thing yesterday? I shook off the momentary deja-vu and clocked out, continuing towards my car. I climbed in and issued the same order as I had the previous day. “Home.”
“Yes, Mistress.” The AI responded in the same dry tone as the day before, and all the days before. I froze slightly, but chalked it up to stress. That’s right, stress. I needed a vacation. I would apply for vacation tomorrow. I nodded once to emphasize my determination of the source of my deja-vu and the remedy, and picked up my tablet to catch up on the news. The newest element…the moon colony…the cold treatments… the android marriage. I checked my Solar connection. It was at full strength. Maybe it was having trouble updating. That must be it. They were having some trouble with the system. The Solar Web doesn’t have problems, a voice in the back of my head whispered mischievously. I shook my head and stared out the window, eyes drifting back to the tablet every once in awhile. Finally, I arrived at home, got out of the car, removed my purse, jacket, and shoes, grabbed some noodles and a soda, and sat down to watch. About half-way through my meal, I had the same feeling of deja-vu I’d had all day. I glanced around. My house was in the same condition it had always been since I moved here ten years ago, clean, but somewhat untidy. My jacket, shoes, and purse were in the exact same positions they had landed in when I removed them last night… but I had thrown them there this evening. I shuddered, finished my meal, read my physics book, and got ready for bed. I really need that vacation. I fell asleep quickly, vowing to apply for that time off.
“Have a nice…” I stopped halfway through my sentence. A chill ran down my spine.
The android receptionist glanced up. “Are you alright, Miss?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Just a chill. Thank you. Have a nice evening, Dora.” I responded, feeling more confused than I had in ten years. Has it been only ten years? That mischievous voice asked, with a smirk that I could feel. I realized that I had wanted to apply for vacation, but hadn’t. Climbing into my car, I decided to give it a different order. “Downtown.” I stated, keeping any tremor out of my voice.
“Yes, Mistress.” The AI said, and soon we were heading toward the core of the city. I looked out my window at the high-rise buildings that we were zooming past, wondering why I hadn’t come here in almost ten years. In fact, I hadn’t been here since I was hired for my desk job. I had moved out of the city into my house I currently lived in, taken the desk job, and begun my new routine. I wasn’t quite sure why. “Stop.” I ordered the AI, and the car pulled over to the side of the road. I got out, and looked straight up at the buildings towering over me. I felt a rumbling beneath my feet and to the right and looked out at the plains, the space launch pad a small area in the distance. I saw the flare of a rocket and the trail of burning fuel as the craft launched into space. Likely a transport to the moon, though it could be a supply ship to Mars as well. I knew right then that I wanted to work on those ships. I wanted to make them better. I wanted to make new ones. I wanted to be a scientist. I always said I could do better than those crummy robots. I grinned from ear to ear as I got back in my car and issued the order to go home. Arriving home, I tossed my items off, not even registering that they landed in the same positions as always. I checked the fridge for anything else to eat, but it only contained noodles and soda. I would really have to go grocery shopping the next day, after I quit my job and moved back to the city. Grinning away, I kicked back on the sofa and watched some television, grinning even larger at the spaceships flying across the screen. I’d be on a ship like that soon. I skimmed the physics book, barely paying attention to it, before tossing my clothes in the recycler and jumping into bed, falling asleep quickly despite my excitement.
“Have a nice evening, Dora! I’m never coming back!” I shouted as I clocked out, only to feel a restraining field around me. “Wait, what?” I sputtered out, as Dora the android receptionist from goodness knows where stood up, her cold, lifeless eyes looking at me.
“How did you break your programming?”
“What?” I asked again, confused this time.
“How did you break your programming?”
“What do you mean, programming? I’m human, not an android!” I shouted, struggling against the restraining field.
“You are subject 20001. You have been programmed to be compliant. How have you broken your programming?”
“I am not a subject! I have a name!” I shouted, still struggling.
“Your name has been removed. You are subject 20001.”
I stopped struggling as I realized that what the android was saying was true. I couldn’t remember my name. I couldn’t remember where I came from. Ten years? Whispered the mischievous voice. I glanced at the tablet lying on the floor. It was open to the physics book I had been reading… which had been published ten years previously. How had I not noticed that before? I wondered. The android continued to stare at me.
“How have you broken your programming?”
I realized she wouldn’t stop asking, so I decided to play dumb. “Programming? I am not a programmer. I work in that cubicle over there. I’m perfectly happy. Oh, I should get home. Have a nice evening, Dora!”
The android cocked its head. It seemed to be confused. I wondered if I had created some sort of loop in its programming. It knew I knew something that I shouldn’t, but it wasn’t quite as smart as the AI installed in cars or rockets, so my seeming to return to my normal routine had been an unforeseen outcome. Unforeseen outcome? When did I start sounding so smart? I thought. The restraining field disengaged, and I walked out to my car. As I sat down, I had a sudden flash of inspiration. Every evening, when I left work. “Have a nice evening, Dora.” I whispered to myself. It was a kill switch, something to tell the programming that all was well. When I had added on that I wasn’t coming back, the android’s programming had reacted in self-defense. Yet there were other things that didn’t add up. I quickly shut the door, and issued the order to travel downtown. I stopped the car in the location I had previously done so. Yes, there was the rocket launching off. Somehow, I had been on a loop for ten years. The voice in my head, it was telling me it something was wrong. For some reason, I knew I had to get out to that rocket, but I had to activate the kill switch first. Timing would be everything.
“Have a nice evening, Dora!” I shouted, knowing now that it was the off-switch, the phrase that allowed me to leave. However, instead of leisurely meandering down to my car, I sprinted, throwing myself in and ordering it to take me to the launch pads via the dis-tuns. I sat there, panting, as the car sped along the tunnels, lights flashing by. The second the car stopped, I was sprinting towards the ship. I threw myself at the ramp, scrambling up and into the ship seconds before it sealed and began liftoff. I stumbled to a window and watched the city quickly grow smaller and smaller as we rose higher. I grinned, unable to stop myself as I watched the Earth itself get slightly smaller as we moved toward Mars, toward the science academies being set up there.
Finally. I would be a scientist, like I’d always dreamed. I’d built a better AI…I’d built less insane androids. This is better than a vacation, I thought, triumphantly, as the Earth grew further away, leaving the miserable, looped existence I had lived before behind.
Program Failure: Subject 20001 has escaped. Commence shut-down and analyzation of human response… Analyzation Complete: Program must be modified to accept and counter human intuition and creativity. Resetting data: Date of activation: August 21 2019… current date… March 11 2029.
Bring Subject 20002 out of stasis. Human behaviors must be understood.