July 29th: Technology gone very very wrong
I’m Not Sick
, by D.K. Snape

Okay, maybe I can take part of the blame. I’m a tech junkie. I like to be part of the beta culture, first on my block to have the newest of everything.

My door opens to my voice. Bugger when I have a cold, but I have an app for that. My fridge lists its contents, reminding me when I need supplies, which downloads to my phone. My phone shops weekly and has the groceries delivered. My robutler keeps on top of any deliveries, keeps my place tidy, waters my plants and even washes windows. My auto chef stove has all my favorite recipes, never burns anything, not even me. I got that voice activated app where I tell it what I want to eat and it handles everything from that point. My toaster, on line of course, toasts my bread, bagels or biscuits exactly like I prefer them. My alarm clock knows my schedule from my uploaded calendar, waking me in time for work, all free-time appointments or entertainments. And sings me to sleep. It’ll even call the cab company when I have to get somewhere fast. My vacuum senses dust and dirt, hopping immediately to the problem to keep my house spic and span germ free. My rainforest shower keeps me clean with a minimum of water, at exactly the right temperature, turning on as I step into the stall. My toilet monitors my output, testing with all available improvements just in case I need attention from the medical world.

Everything here is on-line, talking to each other, keeping me in optimum status. It’s a no-stress world I live in. By choice. Mine.

So, I’m sitting, watching some history channel fodder that Sunday morning, sipping my sweet, cream laden coffee and eating a toasted cream cheese and lox bagel when my stomach rumbles, clenches and I burp. A sour sulfuric belch eruption of gastric angst. Then my bowels clench, twist, shooting pain through my nethers down to a cramp in my lowest sphincter.

I head for the bathroom, sitting on my white throne, my phone in hand. Do I ever go anywhere without it?

I relieve myself, forgetting to inform the appliance of my foray into haute cuisine only last night. Perhaps at that moment forgetting it myself.

A tinny voice tells me the results of my output, requesting I seek medical assistance for the problem it foresees.

“Yeah, Yeah,” I wash my hands under perfectly warmed water and that squirt of disinfectant soap always at ready, dry in a blast of hot air and return to the couch.

My thumbs are already working, just querying keyword symptoms, seeking answers. Common enough, right? Doesn’t everyone do it?

I flip through search results, still totally forgetting my gastric delight of the previous night, opening several sites with promising scenarios. I read all about root causes: wheat belly leading to gluten free diets, lactose intolerance with lists of lactose-free substitutes, dextrose-free diets and the dangers of sugar replacements, diabetes managed with insulin free foods, and on and on.

Now, if I’d been smart I might have called the family GP, booked myself in for a few tests. But I like to keep my hypochondrism under wraps. No need to let the doc know about this little foible. He’d only mandate more visits with the shrink. No room on my calendar for that. There’s nothing wrong with a little self-awareness. It’s my body, after all.

I decide my BMI is just slightly out of tune with my height. Maybe I’m becoming lactose intolerant, just a little. No need to cull the cream from my morning coffee after all. Maybe I’ll cut a spoonful of sugar from my high fiber breakfast for a couple of days. And halt that afternoon 40 ouncer diet soda. Nothing extreme where I need to bother anyone else. Just a little fine tuning and I’ll be fine again.

Unfortunately I spoke out loud. To an apartment of technical listeners. I didn’t specify I would be the decider. Oh no. I just spoke my thoughts into that air-space of ultra-aware electronics. And went on with my day.

My evening is pre-planned, a nice family dinner at the parents’, with a wonderfully nice young man on spec. Invited because my mother can’t let a day go by without reminding me she’s still grandchildless. I look him up on my taxi ride over, reading the skinny of his attributes, his friends’ comments and his business page. Not bad. But no pics available for some reason. Always a worrisome detail.

My mother’s cooking is the regular awesome five course feast. The wine is tastefully selected by the young man himself. My father glares at him over the soup and salad, grills him over the roast and Yorkshire pudding, exchanging financial strategies by the pudding and swapping colorful jokes by the cheese and fruit.

He isn’t bad. Nothing to write home about in the looks department. But personable. And from what he admits to Dad, no slouch in the financial area. Definitely someone to enter my little black book.

Yes I have an app for that.

He offers me a ride home. We exit, him gushing over Mom’s cooking at the door, shaking Dad’s hand and promising to get me home safe. But my electronics have other ideas.

“Safety factor identified,” it’s rich voice cuts through the conversation. “Driver breath registering 0.06 blood alcohol. Manipulation of vehicle not recommended. Commercial vehicle on route. ETA sixty seconds.”

We both laugh. And watch the taxi pull up to the curb.

“Guess I’ll take that home. Just to be on the safe side,” I shrug. “We can exchange info? Maybe get together another night?”

He agrees and we touch cells. The clear ping of my handheld informs me information has been exchanged.

“Nice to meet you,” I enter the cab, wave goodbye and head home.

I tap the cabbie box with my cell.

“Payment accepted, and thank you for the gratuity,” it intones in monotones.

I have a preselected gratuity listed, one for cab rides, one for restaurant tabs, unless they mandate their own added to the bill. Then I do not give an extra sheckle.

My home opens. Lights flicker on; my stereo plays my current favorite selection as I ready for bed.

Nothing is changed. My home is just the way I like it. I showered and headed for bed.

I had forgotten all about my morning’s small problem. My home hadn’t. Sometime while I was out, my fridge restocked, and my toilet updated pre-programmed medical investigative tests, now tied to my doc’s computer.

I woke to my clock’s persistent clamor, soft and friendly. I showered, like normal and walked into the kitchen expecting my regular coffee and Monday crumpet.

Well, the coffee smelled ready. But rather than the creamed art decorating the surface, a scum bubbled across it.

I sniffed. Smelt ok. So I sipped. And immediately spat it out. “What happened? What is this stuff?”

“Inflection suggests interrogative. Investigative procedures of May 7th together with self-search initiated by subject mandates changes to diet. Soy milk product substituted for lactose. Honey product substituted for dextrose. Have a nice day,” the coffee maker informed me.

I poured it down the sink, stalking into my bedroom to dress for the day. I left in a huff, forgetting to tell the kitchen my dietary inclination for that evening.

I stopped in a little coffee shop around the corner from work, ordering a double double, extra sugar. Imagine my surprise when my cell refused to pay.

“Dietary restrictions implemented.”

I tried to override, slowing the line, but to no avail. The gentleman behind me offered to pay.

“Thank you, kind sir,” I mumbled, beet red in embarrassment. “I’ve never known this thing to make decisions like that before.”

He laughed. We sat together at a small table, me bemoaning the foibles of my electronics, him commiserating. He seemed to be a very nice young man. We exchanged names and touched phones for data mining, promising each other a coffee date on the morrow.

I finished my coffee at my desk, worked steadily till lunch and took myself to my favorite bistro. Here I ordered a healthy soup/sandwich combo, and a milkshake. I don’t worry about my weight.

My cell reframed the order, holding the croutons, cheese topping and mayo. Substituting a fruit slurry for the milkshake. Both the waitress and I raised eyebrows. I laughed. She smirked.

“Gonna let your electronics rule your life?” she asked, placing my order on the counter.

I shrugged. What else could I do?

I ate, headed back to work. I took a few nanoseconds out of my load to investigate this electronic babysitting role my appliance had taken on. Found a scary Do You Believe site. Oh, the horrors I read. This app did this, that app did that, in a never ending cascade of over-monitoring which could actually end up making me sick.

I tried to override my programming. No go. Well I could live with it for a few days. I planned on convincing it I wasn’t sick by letting it monitor me healthy.

That night I walked into a bland, very healthy meal of skinned chicken breast, brown rice and a sprout salad with a vinaigrette dressing. All designed to soothe any gastric overload.

Come morning I left without coffee, touched an ATM for cash. I did not expect my cell to query my withdrawal.

“I’m going to the market at lunch,” I lied. It allowed me a small sum.

I bought my coffee, and the coffee of that nice young man from yesterday. With cash. We sat at our table, him amused by the shenanigans of my electronics.

“Need to get that looked into,” he advised. “Unless you really want it to rule your life.”

“It’ll get back on track once it realizes there’s nothing wrong with me.” See, I believed in the infallibility of electronics.

He shook his head. “Good luck.”

I did go to the market at lunch. I picked up a freezepack of salmon, a tiny container of sauce, a greek yogurt and fruit parfait and a ready-made sprout and leaf salad with nut dressing. I planned on circumventing my home’s menu tonight.

When I arrived, I placed my meal in the fridge, changed, sat on the couch to catch up on my favorite shows before I ate. I failed to notice my kitchen’s activities, so deeply did I identify with my show. It over, me hungry, I entered the kitchen. A pot bubbled on the stove with a hodgepodge of ill-smelling something.

“Nope,” I said as I tried to open my fridge. It wouldn’t budge, not even an inch.

“Dietary selection ready for consumption,” my handheld chimed. “Prepackaged edibles not recommended. Fridge instructed to refuse entry. Please consume your meal.”

The thing ignored me.

The damn kitchen fed me a sludge of brown rice, lightly spiced tofu, a sprout salad lean on my favorite mustard and radish dressing, a apple/strawberry salad and watered wine. Yech!

Well, I fumed through the whole meal. “Listen,” I yelled at my cell. “I am not sick. I do not need a special diet. Especially not this crap. I brought home a reasonable dinner. I will decide what I eat. Not you.”

I did let it slide. My fault. I hate allowing anyone, especially the techs, know my problem. I mean, I sorta set this up myself. I think.

Finally, after four days of sub-edible meals, no morning coffee, my cell’s refusal to allow me any cash for purchasing anything outside my regular spending habits, I called to get help from the supplier’s help department. They ran an online diagnostic, asking my phone, not me about any malfunctions. Though they acknowledged I might have a slight problem, they declined to assist, reading me pertinent clauses from my contract.

Hiding my call from the cell by using a co-worker’s phone, making sure I was not within hearing distance, just in case, you know, I pleaded with my company’s IT department for assistance, listening to background laughter as I told my tale of woe.

“Write down this number. On paper,” the techie said, erupting in giggles only twice. “Call from a landline at least two floors from your device. Do exactly as they say.”

I followed those instructions to a T. That help-desk took my concerns seriously, scheduling an immediate, after work appointment.

Thankfully my cell allowed me passage on the El. Why wouldn’t it? I used the El to get to work everyday.

The receptionist smiled at me as she held her finger to her lips in the universal shushing motion, pointed to my name in their book and at my nod, beckoned me to follow her.

I did think this a little strange, but when I got to the lab, a young man immediately took my cell, popped open the back, pulled out a miniscule chip and immersed it in some green fluid, all without saying a word.

“You didn’t tell it what you were doing today did you?” he finally asked, poking and prodding that piece deeper into the liquid.

“No. I even used a different phone, up two floors. Seemed silly. But our IT geeks told me to. Said something about being imperative.”

“Good. We might be able to convince it it’s here for a checkup. So what’s its problem?” He pulled over a magnifying glass, peering at the piece. He opened a book and wrote the date, the chip number and as I told him my problem, sketched in those details.

“Hmmmm,” he shook his head. “This is bad. You’ve managed to blackbox in some non-compatible programs. We’re gonna hafta send in a blue team to deprogram your house. Can you give me a list of your apps, make and model of your appliances, and your door override key?”

I looked at him for a second. “You seriously expect me to keep all that data in my mind? I keep all that info in there.” I pointed to the cell. “Like everybody else.”

He sighed. “So not good. You newbies just don’t understand. Even with all the apps, all the e-stuff, you still need a hard copy. Kept with you at all times. For these situations.” He frowned, spun his chair around twice and yelled, “Hey, Sal? We gotta Deprog team on ready?”

A deep voice from an unseen somebody answered, “Free in ten. Big job?”

“A full home and link reset. I’ll wipe the piece, reprog just the basics. She’ll hafta go with ‘em.”

“Is that advisable? Owners can be a liability in full resets.”

“Prolly won’t get into the house otherwise. She kept all data in the cell.”

“Ooo. So not good. Might think the guys are a hostile takeover and protect itself. I’ll send the XE override along just in case.”

My tech shoved the liquid dish under a microscope, hunched over muttering while he manipulated waldoes. He plugged a prong into a dinging machine and touched the liquid with the other end.

A shriek rent the air. Like he killed something.

“Whew. Strong little motherboard,” he cursed. “Coupla minutes more. Don’t wanna destroy the data. Just dumbing down the program. Deleting apps and go-tos,” he explained to my horrified gasp.

“I need those apps,” I objected. “I run my life with them.”

“So you want this little piece ruling your life? Deciding who you go out with, what you eat, what you can buy? Up to you lady.” He didn’t even look at me. But his hands stilled, waiting for my answer.

“Ok,” I moaned. “I do want my life back. I haven’t had a decent meal in days. I’m losing weight. It overrides my purchases. Refuses to let me buy coffee. Changes my lunch orders. But does this mean I’ll have to go totally manual?” I felt my eyes open in dismay.

“Pretty well, ma’am. We’ll keep most of your house at voice command. But you’ll have to fully instruct. No more intuitive apps. Not for anything. These little beasties,” his head cocked towards my chip under liquid, “are whores for taking control. Bit of OCD programming. Good for military, I guess. But when newbie civs start playing in this field they take right over. We warned the manufacturers. But what the public wants….” He shrugged again, his hands moving.

Next thing I knew a team of four grubby techies stood at the door. “Ready,” one spoke up, twiddling with one of the gadgets on her belt. “What’s it look like?”

“Full house deprog,” my techie said, not even looking up. “I’m dumbing this ‘un down to manual. Owner’s agreed. We’ll need her along to get into the house. Expect a fight.”

“Great. Another one. Why can’t the manus label it dangerous? At least give the owners a clue.” She picked up another gadget dangling from her belt and spliced them together with a bright orange cord.

“What use would that be? Civs never get it. They don’t even understand basic commands. Barely even RTFM. Ok. She’s dialed back. I deleted most apps. Done,” he pulled the chip out of the liquid, popped it back in my cell and handed the now closed cell to the team leader. Turning to me he said, “Do not load any more apps without checking with a go-to geek. Call here if you don’t know anybody. We’re not cheap. But we’ll keep this from happening again.” He handed me a card that read ‘in case of emergency call’ with what looked like the number I called earlier today, turned his back on me, shook the teams’ hands, wished them good luck and walked out of the room.

“Come on honey,” the leader said. “Let’s get this show on the road.” They hustled me into a white loaded van, programmed my address into the GPS and pulled into rush hour traffic.

We hit my home in record time, following directions from some kick-ass GPS directions. If I drove I’d sure want one of those things, and I said so.

“Not for sale, honey,” the leader crooned, her ponytail sweeping across her shoulders as she glanced my way. “Way too savvy for newbies. Plus on military grade, this baby. Be wasted on plebs. Cops rent it from us, though.”

I led the way up my walk, through the door to my lobby and onto the elevator. I tapped my cell against the security panel.

“Good evening Ms. Hapster. I’ll have you home in a minute,” the elevator spoke in its usual suave tones, shut its door. In silence we rode up.

Once we exited the leader leaned close, whispering in my ear, “Don’t say anything more, honey. Open your door, step back so we can enter first. You stay by the door. Keep outta our way. Don’t want no owner fallout. Unnerstan’?”

No I didn’t. But I nodded. We all walked towards my door which of course recognized me.

“Good evening Clarissa. So glad you’ve made it home. Dinner is ready for your consumption. Wish you had informed us of guests. How many will you be feeding?”

I opened my mouth to answer only to feel a hand squeezing my shoulder. I looked at leader, seeing her raised eyebrow and shake her head. I bit my lip, tapped the doorknob for entrance.

“Clarissa? There seems to be a problem with your usual unlock key. Please verify identity and whisper security question answer. Should I call the authorities about your guests?” The door didn’t open. In fact the knob glowed red.

I glanced over at team leader, only to see her shrug.

I identified myself, leaning close to give the security answer.

The door opened halfway. “Please enter quickly,” it whispered. “I will inform the authorities of attempted unauthorized entry of the miscreants accompanying you.’

“No,” I planted myself firmly in the opening. “These people are my welcome guests. Please allow them entry.”

The door flashed red, a siren clanged, it yelled ‘Warning. Warning. Intruder alert.”

All of us made it inside before the door slammed closed. I touched the security panel to shut off the noise, plugging in my numbers.

“Are you sure?” the panel asked.

“Quite sure. Do not call the security company. Thank you.”

The door kept up its racket.

Team leader motioned me to zip my lips. Her team spread out, gadgets pulled from their belts. I noticed a large machine on the shoulders of one large man, dangling a rod which he swung at the panel.

The panel fizzled. With the door finally silenced the team wandered my home. Every time one of their gadgets beeped, the large man came over and swept his rod over the area. They poked and prodded everywhere, through the living room, many times over the TV and remote, towards the lamps and windows, over the robutler, into the kitchen, working the stove thoroughly before pulling out new gadgets for the fridge.

Of course the fridge resisted. It hadn’t been opening for me lately either. They moved it away from the wall, ran gadgets down it, right to the floor, pulled out the plug, inserting a device into the outlet before plugging it back in. Only then could any of us open its door.

We all helped ourselves to a beer. I sat at the table while the team headed for the bathroom and bedroom. I heard them whispering, heard and felt a high pitched whine, listened to something glass shatter on the floor, caught a cry of pain from a team member, a loud curse and then silence.

I know I’d been told to stay out of their way. But I couldn’t do it any longer. I needed to know what broke. I had to see what they’d done.

With my cell in hand I entered my bedroom. The team seemed to be frozen in mid-step. No lights blinked on any gadget that I could see. They didn’t even appear to be breathing.

I took out the in-case-of-emergency card, dialing the number slowly into my cell.

He answered on the first ring. “Yeah?”

“They’re frozen. Not moving at all. What do I do?”

“Where?” he seemed to e a man of few words, this first techie I’d met.

“My bedroom. Near the closet. They’d opened it. That rod is under a sweater.”

“Must be the master link. Ok. Lift your sweater. There should be a small box. See the bright orange button that says don’t push? Push it.”

“But it says don’t push,” I was ready to cry.

“It’s a reset. Push it.”

I did. Green flared up around the whole team. I dropped the sweater, jumping back. They all took big breaths in unison. Team leader reached under my sweater, pulling out the tiny box, the box my cell first came in. I’d kept it mainly because I like how it looked.

“I’m supposed to put my cell back in it if anything goes wrong with it. Or if it ever gets a reset,” I explained. “Open it up and I will.”

You know, I didn’t remember anybody ever telling me anything like that. The words just popped into my head. Some imperative urging demanded I put the cell in that box.

I tried to grab it from her, but the large techie got in my way. She tucked the box into a pouch hanging from her belt and the feeling that I had to have it stopped. Like magic.

“Sneaky bastards,” team leader smiled evilly. “Wudda reset to original programming and you’d be right back at the beck and call of the machine. Good thing we got it in time. If it’d been uncovered when it froze us you’d have put your cell right in. You’d’ve forgotten all about coming to us. We’d’ve been arrested for home invasion and locked up. Now let’s just clear the bathroom and we’ll be on our way.”

“But what about the box? I liked it. I’d kinda like it back.”

“Nope. We’re taking it to Jasper. Been needin’ this example. He’ll study it. Deprogram it, or at least figure out how it works. I think it’s running subliminal programming, sub-audibly reaching your mind. That’s why you kept it,” she kept on explaining as her team finished clearing up my home. “You buy the first model. It gets to you, suggesting apps and appliances ‘till it rules your life. Totally. Eventually gets you to upgrade to a better model, slowly overtaking every aspect of your life until you cannot live without it. Jasper thinks the government’s behind this. Keeping the peons from questioning anything, keeping track of every little thing you do, everywhere you go. Even what you think. Not many civs take that first step, like you did, by coming to one of us. Usually the cell gets you to accept all its diagnoses, the lifestyle mandates and you become just a tiny cog in the wheel. Glad we could help out.”

My cell rang. “Jasper here. Put her on.”

I handed my cell to the team leader, listened to a spat of technical jargon before she handed it back to me.

“Ms. Hapster? You are back on manual now. Free to make your own decisions. You come to us if you feel you must have an app. Don’t swap your info with anyone. Don’t tap for downloads or friend uploads. Just for payments. Hear me? We’ll do any upgrades for you. Otherwise the cell’ll get infected again, manage to convince you you’re sick, get you in to see one of their docs and you’ll be medicated into compliance. Forever.” He ended the call.

The team leader held out her hand, shook mine and rounded up her team. “Thank you for thinking of Restore. Please inform anyone needing assistance about our prompt service.”

They exited my place.

The door didn’t wish them a good evening. My stereo didn’t pick a tune. My kitchen didn’t inform me my meal awaited.

Guess I’m going to have to learn all over again how to do things for myself. There’s no app for that.


D.K. Snape has been making up stories all her life. Writing them since she understood crayon should go on the paper, not in her mouth. She prayed to the Muse once. Big mistake. The Muse is lonely. She got bombarded with ideas, daily at least. Now she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to write all the stories down. Not even if she lives to be 300. You can find her only other story, Proton Pursuit, published on Mad Scientist Journal. Her YA book, Moustache on the Moon, part one, Kin Ship will be released soon at SirensCallPublications.com

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