Cold Shades Ch1: Revised and expanded

 

City-of-the-future

City of the Future by Linforth. Wikimedia Commons

 

Advisory: This novel as a whole is suggested for ages 18 and up due to strong language, harsh violence, adult subject matter and rape, and drug use.

Rebecca Brown, simply known as Becca, was typing on her computer screen, but not in the archaic method with her fingers on a keyboard. The words were pouring out of her mind and onto a holographic screen that popped out of a small slot from a computer that was as flat as and no bigger than a post-it-note.

Tense, angry, frustrated. There were times she detested her job. But with the lack of employment she was glad to have it. A love-hate relationship if there ever was one. Monotony aside, it would have been okay if not for the disagreeable customers she had to deal with on a daily basis. Today was no exception.

Where’s my damn movie? the words came up, a font loudly bold, hanging in thin air before her eyes.

Breathe, she thought to herself. There was no sense in losing her cool. To take extra-precautions, she had deactivated the instant v-message. Just because the customer was acting like an ass didn’t mean she had to. Still, her nerves were worn thin, so it was best to have the v-messenger off at her end so as not to think anything negative that could travel back to the customer and cause her to lose her job. It was just as well, seeing as she was teetering near the brink of unbridled rage.

Thoughtfully, trying to control her temper, she thought nice words, patient words, and these words within her mind were scanned and sent to the holographic monitor.

If it could be called holographic. In truth, holograms weren’t produced in the old fashioned way with light forming images that Becca had read about. The very screen Becca looked at was more like an illusion, the chip in her head and the miniature computer on the counter collaborating together to help her hallucinate it. When she was ready to send them, she would think press her finger under the lobe of her right ear, and think the word send.

Delete that paragraph, she thought to the computer, her finger under her right ear-lobe, letting computer know that she wanted those words deleted and not typed otu. She didn’t need the customer reading that he was a damned idiot. Even though it was true. It was hard working with fools day in and day out, and that was putting it lightly. It was overwhelming.

I’m sorry that you are having technical difficulties with your movie download, she thought the words out. We at Cinema Palace value your patronage and are doing everything we can to fix the problem.

Hah! Value patronage. That was a good one. Cinema Palace was the only movie streaming company, and it was owned by 4evR Play, one of the big seven of the corporations. It’s not like the client had anywhere else to turn to. At least the client’s options were limited. 4evR Play had bought out 95% of movies, both old and new, leaving only 5% for the smaller, independent streaming services to fight over. Be that as it may, 4EvR Play liked to give people the illusion of good service.

We are working on the problem as we speak, she continued thinking out her message. Have you checked to make sure that everything is working with your memory chip? Though really, Becca wanted to ask if everything was working okay with his brain.

The soft buzz of robotics hummed gently in the air, helping to soothe her temper just a bit. After all, they were a blessing by keeping up her house so she could focus on her work. She took a sip of a can of beer that was on the arm of her chair, only to clumsily knock it over. Out came the scrub beetles, as big as a thumb, scurrying about on metallic legs, to dry up the mess and then sanitize the floor. Becca took no notice of them, too engaged in finishing the v-mail.

Her stomach grumbled, letting her know in no uncertain terms that it needed nourishment. A break was in order. She used her index finger to press under her left earlobe: Send the current v-message. From a sensor under her skin, the order traveled up a wire to her brain chip to send out the message. End program, she said. She didn’t wish to interact with the disagreeable snot any more than she had to until her break was over, and she was in the mood for a long one.

“Restaurants,” Becca said, causing a holographic image to project a list of local eateries. “Chinese,” she continued, realizing she hadn’t had one of her favorite meals in a while; sweet and sour pork. A list of Chinese restaurants flashed in bright neon-letters across in front of her face, bold, big and bright. “Mrs. Yang’s” she said. Materializing straight out of the little computer box, right into her living room, was a Chinese waitress wearing a long red dress of silk, her black hair curled into a bun. Though only an illusion, the likeness of a real person was impeccable. It never ceased to amaze her.

She couldn’t speak for everyone though. Not everyone was pleased with this technology. Some hated it, calling it an invasion of their minds. But though there were a few Platos still in the world who didn’t approve of it, harping on the analogy of the cave with its shadows and illusions, such luddites had always been a rare breed.

“Welcome to Mrs. Yang’s,” the waitress said, her voice echoing into Becca’s brain chip and traveling to her ears via computer signal. “A house of the finest Chinese cuisine to satisfy you and your family’s appetites awaits you. Would you like to try our special today?”

“What’s today’s special?” asked Becca.

“Today’s special is twice-cooked pork, fried-cheese wontons, and three egg rolls, plus a drink, all for ten-ninety five.” A perfect 3D image of the food appeared before her.

Tempting price, but Becca didn’t care for twice-cooked pork. “No,” she said.

“Would you like to see our menu?”

“Yes.”

“Let me know when you’re ready to order.”

Illusions of smorgasbords, followed by descriptions of each one of the foods, popped up into her living room in crystal clear precision, as though they could be grabbed. Such realism further satiated her hunger. Becca browsed, not bothering to say another word to the waitress until she ordered. It would be pointless to do so anyway. The waitress was only a recorded person, only able to respond to certain words and phrases. It was a normal tactic done by all restaurant management; video record a person, then program that image and voice into the computer, in which they would respond to applicable questions. There was no use asking how she was doing. She wasn’t fine, sad, angry, or flustered; she just was as is. It would be pointless telling her that her red dress laced with etchings of golden dragons was appreciated. It wouldn’t change a mood that was never there. She was only the shell of the waitress, made visualized flesh by computer and by chip, fooling her brain and her eyes, not the actual person.

After looking over all the appetizers, entrees, dinners, and side dishes, Becca was still confident about her previous decision. “I would like the sweet and sour pork with a side of ham fried rice.”

“Anything to drink?”

“No.”

“Will that be all?”

“Yes.”

“Is this for pickup or delivery?”

“Delivery.”

“Plus driver tax, your total comes to fifteen twenty-five,” said the waitress. “Are you ready for us to scan your chip?”

“Go for it!” Becca assented.

Out from the computer came a blue laser, scanning the chip implanted in her brain. “Ms. Rebecca Brown, age thirty-one, of 4213 Willington Dr. Las Angeles, California,” said the waitress. “Is this correct?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No.”

“Thank you for ordering from Mrs. Yang’s,” the image said with a bow. “Your food will be arriving shortly.”

Becca didn’t immediately return to work. She was sure that it was her hunger that was causing her to be short with the customer. She thought back to those meditation techniques she had learned and decided now was as good a time as any to put them to use.

On the floor, legs crossed in the lotus flower position, Becca breathed deeply. It wasn’t the customers fault. The customer was trying to survive, just like her, just like everyone else. Patience, kindness, understanding. That was what was needed now. Not anger. Let it go, Becca thought to herself. Let it go.

If Becca hadn’t felt so hungry, she would have even done some yoga. But her disagreeable tummy wouldn’t allow it at the moment.

Lotus position alone, though, wasn’t working. Bitter thoughts kept invading her mind, a place that should have been her temple of tranquility. Thoughts, bringing her down. They had a tendency to do that. The key was to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, to be grateful for what she did have. Digifunds were hard to save. Customers were almost always impossible to deal with. But Becca had a roof over head and food in her fridge, something that couldn’t be said for a lot of people. Better yet, with all the tech she had at her disposal, life was good. She didn’t have to worry about the stress of going out. She could be in the comfort of her own home.

Good vibes alone weren’t working. Music was what was needed. Not wanting to move the position of her hands, she said out loud, “computer, play my meditation music.” The music played inside her head, so only she could hear it. Her anger drained away to the music that flowed like a river into a tranquil sea.

Though ordering out was convenient, it came with a price and that price was more than money. She was certain that she would be dreaming of Mrs. Yang’s off and on, just as she dreamed about some of her other favorite restaurants. It wasn’t uncommon for these companies to hack into the chip when one was asleep to send images into it, causing customers to dream. It was the most effective form of advertising ever. Originally, there had been laws passed against this, the courts having deemed it as an infringement upon peoples’ privacy, but the ruling didn’t hold up long. Corporations made the argument that they ‘weren’t actually prying into peoples’ thoughts,’ but rather were ‘only broadcasting their products from stores and chains that the consumer had already purchased from.’ While this had still seemed invasive, in the end money and corporate interests won out against the lawmakers and legislatures against it. Bribery was a surefire way to get politicians on the side of the corporations.

In any event, it wasn’t like many people cared about the advertisements in their sleep. Society was bombarded by advertisements on a daily basis. At this very moment, Becca was wearing a T-shirt with advertisements on it, as well as pair of slacks with ads, running down the legs. Besides, most corporations were smart enough to know not to overdo it. Usually the dreams were subtle, sometimes to the point that people could hardly remember them. Sometimes only the subliminal message remained. It wasn’t like corporations were broadcasting advertisements into peoples’ heads while they were awake. At least not yet!

At the moment, such was only a small thought. The meditation calmed her, and decided to experience a movie. From her slender computer a world sprung up around her. Trees sprang out from the floor, the floor was now covered in grass and purple wild flowers. The confines of her living room slipped away, making way for snowy white French Alps in the distance, and a stone cottage with a thatched roof in the forefront. An old green door, the weathered paint peeling off it, creaked open and out came a young girl, no more than fifteen years of age, wearing a bonnet and a simple dress, with a wicker basket of cheese, bread, and wine.

Enamored in her favorite French film, Becca wondered what it would have been like to have lived back in 19th century France. From the V-books she had read, it didn’t sound all that pleasant. Women were second class citizens, not even given the right to vote. Education wasn’t at the fingertips, or at the brain chip-tip as the modern expression went, like it was now.

None of that mattered, though. Becca couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for a time period she had never lived, one before all the huge amount of tech and the great sprawl that had devoured most of the landscape aside from specially designated parks. She wondered what it would be like to have land that she could walk on, without all the buildup that happened during the era of the Great Sprawl, to smell flowers (what did flowers even smell like), to walk through real groves of trees and not simulated ones. What would it be like to wear a 19th century dress and bonnet, devoid of advertisements from modern day jeans and a T-shirt? Oh, how she loved the clothing from that time period and desired a closet of those dresses and bonnets for herself, especially the ballroom dresses.

There was no use in cogitating over it. Life was better now and it was all thanks to modern tech. It was tech, the signal being relayed from her small, palm-held computer to her chip that gave her the illusion that she was in 19th century France without any of the danger. Yes, it was a phenomenal time to be alive. And a great deal of it was because of the chips in peoples’ heads, Insite Chips, developed and programmed by Big Bytes, promising a better world.

And a better world Big Bytes was giving her through her Insite Chip, whisking her away to a time long ago.

Absorbed in her favorite story of a young farm girl who wished to marry a man of the upper-class, all seemed well. Truthfully, the story was pure French sap, but Becca didn’t care. She was lost in the countryside, soaring over the fields below the mountains with young Vanessa as she ran through the flowers.  Bliss, the whole thing was pure, simple bliss.

‘Your food is here,’ said a pleasant computer automated voice in her ear. Becca ordered the film to shut down, plunging her back into her boring living room.

At her door was a Delivery Bot. The robot was constructed simplistic enough, being built more like a car, and able to hold numerous orders in its interior which was always heated by a heat lamp. Like an average car, it hovered. A large metal neck jutted out from the front, ending in what looked like a pair of oversized binoculars for vision. It held a bag of food out in one metallic hand, while the other hand was a card scanner, greedily outstretched, as hungry for the payment as Becca was for the food. Becca quickly paid it. No chit-chat, no time wasted. Just pay and eat.

As the delivery bot flew off, Becca thought back to the history books she read, which told of a time that human delivery had caused too many problems because of irresponsible and their demands for higher wages. Robots were the logical answer to the problem. And not just for restaurants, but for grocery stores too. Robots now delivered everything from fresh eggs, meats, and fish, to cereal and bread, to cleaners and soaps and so forth, meaning one never had to leave their home to go to go the grocery store, either. Truth be told, the robots were so effective that most restaurants, including Ms. Yangs, didn’t have a main hub for them to eat. Robotic vehicles would fly to restaurants, get the ingredients needed, and just prepare the meals themselves. Becca, who was digging into her meal as she started her film back up, knew that within the robot diver that had delivered her meal had been other robotics that had mixed the ingredients together before the inner oven cooked the food. This had the advantage of making sure the food was still hot when it arrived, and her meal was hot, having just got out of the oven.

But the best was for Becca was that she didn’t have to leave unless she really wanted to.

The part of that film that always scared her now popped up. A pair raging wolves, eyes glowering, leapt out of the flowers and towards Vanessa. After all these years of watching it, the scene still scared Becca. For it didn’t feel like the wolves were jumping towards Vanessa, but also towards the viewer. Becca felt like she was in the field with the wolves circling around her. Surprised as usual, she spilled her drink and a little bit of her food.

Not a problem! The maid bot, built low and hovering only a couple of inches off the ground, came by and burned, with pinpoint precision, away any food particles and evaporated any liquid off of her tile floor, allowing her the freedom to continue the movie uninterrupted.

Becca felt a sense of satisfaction when the film was over. Moved to tears, like she always was when Vanessa married the nobleman, Becca was grateful that there holographic films that offered the diversion away from real life.

Finishing her meal, Becca felt like a walk was in order. While it was true that many people chose to stay inside, living in a state of eternal hibernation, she craved the fresh air. Not wanting to deal with disagreeable customers at the moment, Becca walked towards the door and stepped outside, as the long, extending robotic arm came out from the kitchen to pick up her trash and toss it in the kitchen incinerator. She could hear the lasers evaporate the trash.

Outside she was greeted by houses spread out for miles in all directions, a sea of concrete and plaster. In-between blocks of neighborhoods, one might come across a store or one of those rare sit-down restaurants. There were, of course, office buildings, but they were more conglomerated downtown.

Soaring in the sky above Becca were a couple of jet-cars. Though she had a car, she hated them ever since her husband had died in one. Fairly frequently, the news reported terrible car wrecks. One that stuck out in her memory most vividly was of a drunk driver who, before getting himself drunk, had dismantled the automated flying program. He had crashed into an office building, killing a CEO and damaging lots of droids and other computer equipment. One would have thought that since cars were computer operated that wrecks would have been a tragedy consigned to the annals of history. But this was not the case. Aside from those who loved the thrill of driving their own cars and who would find ways to deactivate the self-driving mechanisms, there was also the fear of cyber-terrorists from other nations who might get a sick thrill out of hacking into someone else’s car terminal and rerouting the designated safe route into a building or into a skyway with cars, flying in the opposite direction. It didn’t seem to matter how many security programs were newly put in place, as hackers loved the challenge of finding ways around them. In short, Pandora’s Box had been opened, and not solely by flying cars, but by the advent of putting computers into cars, back in the early 2000s, even before they could fly.

Becca continued on her walk, choosing not to focus on the macabre scenario. It made her think too much of her deceased husband.

Instead she kept her eyes open for interesting people she could possibly meet. But where were they? Come to think of, when had she last seen people out and about? The neighborhood was a silent cemetery. About half the houses were probably deserted, remnants of bygone days, a time known as the Great Sprawl when people had spread even further to the outskirts of town.

A ro-mower was silently droning as it hovered just barely over the grass, cutting the blades with a spinning laser. A couple blocks further, a louder noise was generated by a swarm of nano-flies cutting the branches off a tree, a pile of sawdust at the base. That was it. Just a couple of robotics out and about. Not a single human.

She was about to give up, but then she saw him.

He was tall and broad shouldered. He wore a polo shirt and a pair of khakis. Upon his shirt an advertisement was ending for a new cereal brand, making way for an ad about the newest in automated indoor sprinkling systems to put out house fires. An ad was running down the video strip on his khakis for the mind-phone update that could be installed in the computer chip.

He flashed her a smile that looked as though it could come off the cover of a romance novel.

“Hello there,” said Becca.

“Hello,” he reciprocated. “Where do you come from?”

Becca shrugged. “Just this neighborhood, I’m afraid. Nothing exciting, I know.”

“Nothing exciting? I can hardly believe that, Ms…. Uh, what’s your name?”

“My name is Rebecca Brown,” she said, extending her hand for him to shake. “But just call me Becca.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Becca,” said the man, shaking her hand. “I’m Theodore Green. Kind of a dorky name, I know.”

“Not at all! It sounds strong, masculine.”

“That’s very kind of you. Anyway, you can call me Ted.”

“Okay, Ted,” Becca nodded. “Do you live nearby?”

Ted shook his head. “No. I live on the other end of town. But you know, getting restless and all, I decided I’d take a scenic drive.”

“Scenic!” exclaimed Becca in disbelief. “Why? I didn’t think the neighborhood south of here looked much different than this one. Also, why even take a walk here when you can just take one on your end?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure of what you’re getting at,” said Ted.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It seems kind of weird, but whatever.”

“Say, do you like cars?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Not really. My husband was killed in one.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” said Ted. “Man that sucks! I hope I didn’t dredge up any painful memories.”

“It’s okay. I’d like to take a look at your car anyway,” she lied, two factors prompting it, her feelings of infatuation and it being rude to turn down someone friendly.

Besides, she had not gone on a date for quite some time. She needed to get out more, to dance, to feel the embrace of the opposite sex. She had been working far too hard not to indulge in some healthy human interaction. Customers sending angry emails, in which she reciprocated twice as angrily, was not good bonding with her fellow man.

“Right on!” said Ted. “Follow me.” Becca did so, without thinking of the potential consequences of blindly following a stranger. Her parents had warned her, ever since she was a child, of the dangers of just trusting anybody. It was one of the reasons they had enrolled her in virtual classes, so as not to have her deal with bullies and school shootings. In this case, her parents would certainly warn her against following a stranger to his car. And Ted was strange, strange in his mannerisms, and with the way he answered questions.

It only took a minute to come to Ted’s pride and glory, an Orange Bolt 3000. It was sleek and beautiful. Its coloring was that of a sunset, a bright orange slowly fading to a purple with a yellow stripe running across the middle of it. It was modeled after the old convertibles in that it lacked a roof.

“Would you like to hop in for a drive?” Ted wore an expression bespeaking of himself as the perfect gentlemen as the car door automatically opened. “We can go to your place or mine. Maybe we could even get a beer, chill out, watch a movie?”

“Gee, thanks for the invite,” said Becca. “But, I’m not ready for that yet. I mean, let’s get real for a sec. I just met you.”

“I’m sorry, but is there a problem with the car?” asked Ted.

Problem with the car? Becca couldn’t believe her ears. She hadn’t said a thing about the car. Still, he was kind of cute. “How about we meet up some time,” she ventured, not wanting to ruin an opportunity of jumping back into the dating pool.

“That’d be great! What do you like to do?”

“Let’s go to a bar,” she said, staring at an advertisement for her favorite beer playing across his shirt. “We could go to a bar and clubbing.”

“Awesome,” said Ted, excitedly. “I’m down for whatever. Maybe I can pick you up in my car.”

“Cool, let’s do it! But I’ll meet you there. I’m not ready to ride with you yet. No offense, but you are a stranger.”

“Can I get your number?”

Becca reluctantly gave it, and in turn he gave her his, the small chip in her head saving it. Now she noticed that the screen on Ted’s polo was primarily showing off different cars. They made a little more chit-chat before Ted drove off.

Overall, Becca had found the conversation to be peculiar, and she was a little annoyed that it often came back to his car. Before leaving he had at least talked about his car for five minutes, boasting about how wonderfully efficient it was. Yet, he was kind enough and she didn’t sense any danger from him.

Becca shrugged. Maybe she didn’t get it, but she didn’t care. She had been trying so hard to forget about her husband that she would take the quirks of a new boyfriend, even if those quirks were talking about cars. Also it’d be a lie to say that she didn’t have her own interests, such as movies and books, which could make her quirky. Who was she to judge someone for loving cars?  She only hoped that if something were to develop between the two of them that she could broaden his horizons.

Becca could have gotten lost in her reverie of finding romance until she remembered that today was the day that she had to visit her deadbeat brother. She didn’t relish this. But she had made a promise to be his wet nurse and she was stuck with her decision. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself that he lived within walking distance. She could keep the visit brief.

Walking briskly, Becca found herself there in no less than five minutes. A laser came down from the front porch, scanning her chip. Only after it had analyzed all the data did it grant her entrance.

She found her brother sprawled out on the couch, a slug of a man, slowly but steadily drowning under waves of his own fat. The rolls of fat couldn’t hide the advertisement playing on his shirt for a new virtual game that came out, a shooter. Becca tried to block the image out. She didn’t need all that visual noise, especially noise dealing in violence.

“I don’t suppose you brought me something to eat?” her brother asked.

How typical! Of course that would be the first question out of his voracious vacuum of a mouth.

“No, Harold,” she said gently. “I’m sorry. It must have slipped my mind.”

Peaceful thoughts, gentle thoughts. It was her job to be longsuffering, as all humanity should be.

“You know my funds are limited,” he pointed out.

“I understand that,” she said, patience still in her voice.

“I feel like nothing I do matters. Because I can’t do anything. All I ask of you is to help me out a little more.”

Becca sighed. She didn’t have time for this. She wanted to be patient. But it was so hard. She felt more like a maid than a sister to her brother. “I am willing to help you, but you also have to help yourself.”

“So, what am I supposed to do?” he pressed the matter.

“You know, if you hadn’t of lied on the questioner, you probably wouldn’t be immobilized here on your fat ass,” Becca finally snapped, without worrying the least bit about candor.

“Ah, cut me some slack! You know that I tried to sound convincing.”

“Harold,” cried out Becca in exasperation, “you told the computer that you had prior work experience as a manager! How the hell did you think that would go over?”

“I wasn’t thinking” –

“So what else is new?” Becca cut him off. “Harold, even if they didn’t verify through your work history and past employers, the lie detector chip is more than enough to tell them that you are full of shit. A quick scan from a computer monitors your heart rate, your brain waves, just about everything that could give you away. I shouldn’t even be telling you this. You should be smart enough to know this.”

“Well, I’m not, so excuse me!” shouted Harold. “I’ve never been as smart as you. Never as brilliant.”

“Harold. You have genius level abilities in the fields of history and linguistics. You have no right to call yourself stupid. In your case it’s not about brilliance, it’s just about common sense.”

“Yeah, well I guess I lack that. Besides, brain chips can translate every language now anyway, so what use would any organization have for me?” he grumbled. “It was only a hobby.”

Becca was flustered. Why did this have to be so hard? She and Harold had always clashed. This was nothing new. And yet, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Most problems he faced in life he had brought on himself, but society didn’t make it any easier, not with computers and all having taken over the interview process.

It had started out simple enough, with many large companies using computers to do online applications. Now computers were advanced enough to conduct interviews, ascertaining the honesty of the interviewee and assessing his or her skills and weaknesses. In theory it was supposed to be simple, but in reality it made life more difficult. No matter how smart the AI was, no matter what questions the computer could ask, no matter how capable it was of reading heart-rate and brain waves to analyze honesty, there was still room for a great margin of error.

Though the misfortunes couldn’t all be blamed on a computer. Those damn head chips more than did their part. The InSite chips, produced by BigBytes, handled everything, from typing on the computer, to seeing holographic movies, to entering the neuro-scape when asleep, to storing phone numbers; there was nothing it couldn’t do, and that included helping a computer decipher when someone was cheating.

Harold had had the misfortune of being interviewed by a particularly rigid computer program from a prestigious educational firm. He had wanted to be a museum curator, and he had studied hard for many years at an expensive virtual university, paying out huge sums of money and appropriating a large debt in student loans, only to have it capitulate in a small apartment. The thread which had led to his career demise had slowly unwound into a tangled mess after he had graduated. He had made the mistake of taking a year sabbatical before finding a job, in order to help out their sick mother. In retrospect, Harold should have just taken that opportunity to interview for the museum.

But could have he in good conscious?

Their mother had been being treated for cancer for over a year, and she had gradually been growing worse. Nothing the life-like android nurses could do could help her. There had been a couple of flesh and blood doctors there, but they had seldom visited her, except at brief intervals, having so many other things to attend to. Becca had visited her a few times a month when she could manage. If she had of known her mother’s condition was that bad, she would have visited her more. For this Becca still felt heavy guilt. It was Harold who had taken up the mantle of caring for their mother. It was he who had helped her improve for a little while. It didn’t last, but for a short time she had been happier.

However, her brother’s sacrifice had come with a price. The computerized interview had asked him if he had been engaged in any education or work in that one year gap. When he had told the computer that he was looking after his mother, the computer had only responded with, ‘I don’t understand. Have you been employed or enrolled in any schooling this past year?’ He should have said no. But he had known that doing so would have brought on the high probability of barring him from future interviews. So, panicking, he had lied, telling the computer that he had spent the last year enrolled as a supervisor for robotic tour guides at historic sites. It didn’t take long for the computer to read his brain waves and his heart-rate, finding that he was lying. Since then, Harold’s reputation had spread through other computer employment systems, effectively lowering his chances fifty-fold of landing a job.

Now, her brother was living off of borrowed funds from their deceased mother and from Becca herself. He could hardly pay the tuition costs back and he barely had a sufficient amount for his own living conditions. It wouldn’t be long until Becca would have to take her brother in to live with her, seeing as the funds within his chip would soon be depleted.

Yes, it was only logical. Becca should have taken her mom in. Then again, why should she have? Why should Harold have even bothered? It wasn’t like Becca’s parents were there for them that much. While they had worked, the robotic butler and maid had watched after her and her brother. And they were cheap robotics at that. They were built to walk on four legs, and looked more like a mechanical set of dogs than they did people. Becca’s parents couldn’t bother to pay for the life-like androids, even though they could have afforded it. The most the robotic nanny and butler did was tell them when to go to bed, help fix them food, and prevent them getting into any danger. In a way, it was her mom’s fault for not being there for them. Why should she have expected any of her kids to be there for them? Becca felt like crap for thinking this. Harold, in many ways, was a better person than her.

“I’m sure something will come up,” Becca lied.

“Yeah, maybe if I can get some pills to take that change the heart rate and the brain-waves to fool the computer,” said Harold.

“Those are illegal!”

“Oh, I’d sell my own mother to afford pills to cheat the system,” he shrugged.

“Not funny,” said Becca. She wanted to slap him for that remark. But she controlled herself by remembering that her brother never had much of a filter to begin with. Besides, despite that utterly tasteless joke over their dead mother, he had still been the one to watch over her (not Becca), thus getting himself into this predicament. “Harold,” she said in a softer tone, “I know it’s rough right now. But you’re bound to find something.”

“Like what? Who in the hell would have me?”

Becca was at a loss for words. Very few companies would hire him. “What can I do to help make your life easier?” she asked instead.

“Well, you could buy me some of those cream filled cookies. You know the kind I like! I can then happily gorge myself on those. You can also buy me some packs of my favorite beer. I can use those to vomit out my sorrow.”

“Harold,” she said gently, “what good would that do?”

“You’re one to talk, you and your pious, holier-than-thou attitude,” pointed out Harold, shaking a fat fist at her, without even standing up. “You at least have a job. I don’t have jack-shit! How dare you have the nerve lecturing me about how morally wrong slowly killing myself is! Well, society is slowly killing me a little bit each and every day. If I’m to die, at least let it be from drinking myself to death, or a heart attack brought on by a sugar rush.”

Becca blushed. He was right. She had no right to condemn him. She had to be there for him. He was family. It was the least she could do in failing their mother.

“I’m sorry, Harold,” she whispered. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Outside, Becca wiped the sweat from her brow. Her heart was pounding. Anxiety was rising from the pit of her stomach like lava from a volcano. Talking to her brother had worked her up more than she thought it would. She reached in her pocket, took out a case of pills and popped one in her mouth to ease the stress.

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