Mom’s unopened birthday card lay like an accusation in the middle of where Mike would normally activate his holographic keyboard. Mike stared at the card, slanted upon the projector, the red ‘off’ light occluded by real paper. He picked it up, his other hand already moving to the switch, to turn on the haptic-keyboard, to start logging into Solwar. He’d left the card there on purpose.
“Open the card. Then reward self. Happy birthday to me.” He picked it open with his uncut fingernails. Of course Mum got him a smart card. An annoying animation danced across the front, of a birthday cake, twenty two candles lighting in sequences, then small fireworks, then he interrupted mom’s fascination with gimmicky crap and opened it to find an eight digit number.
I am so proud of you.
“For what?” He asked. For lying. For telling her he had been promoted.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, your father and I love you very much.
She knows. Of course. Mike tossed the card to the side, flipped the switch and was bathed in the warm light of the keyboard. His fingers danced over the haptic interface, artificial feedback making the keys feel real, so real, he pushed on them, pushed on ‘Y’, pressed until his finger when through the keyboard then looked at the eight numbers again. He turned off the monitor.
Groaned. Activated his phone. It could be anything.
“Dial 0024 4433.”
It only rang twice.
“Hello! Congratulations! Someone special thinks you’re special! You’re about to have your very own BuddyBot!”
The automated machine continued it’s spiel. “Please hold whilst we connect you to a consumer specialist!”
A BuddyBot. She could have covered his rent for four months instead. Mike couldn’t figure out which was more humiliating.
An upbeat whip-clean woman’s voice: “Good afternoon, is this Micheal Powel?”
“This is Micheal, well, Mike, Please call me Mike.”
“Well hello Mike. I imagine this is quite a surprise! I’m Rochelle and I will be your personal customer specialist. Call anytime with any problems, questions, or suggestions you might have. We have your personal details, of course, provided by your…mother…so I’ll be sending you some emails and till then I’ll be glad to take you through the process. Right now you’re probably asking yourself: WHAT exactly IS a buddybot! Am I right?”
“No. I know what it is.”
“I’m a programmer.”
Who isn’t these days?
Not missing a beat she says: “Well great! A veteran then. I won’t bore you with the basics, but if you’ll allow me to introduce our newest BuddyBot model- BuddyBoyXP! Gone are the…”
“Look. Rochelle, please. I’m in a hurry. I’ve got a meeting in about half an hour. So is this just a…marketing thing…or…”
“Oh no Mike, not at all. You really are getting your own BuddyBot. Don’t you worry. All we need from you sir is your name…”
“Well. My name is Mike.”
“Well if you’ll let me please finish…what I mean is, when will it be convenient to call you back? So we can finalize the Naming. Everything else is preloaded into the Buddybot, but how he or she will say your name, well we like to test that out first. Trust me, it’s a small thing but it’s the most important thing, so if you’ll let us, in fact, we can do it right now! If you’ve got a few minutes. In fact…”
Mike said: “Yes. A few minutes, sure, my bad.” My bad. My fucking bad. No one with meetings says My Bad.
She goes business like, detached, says it the same way GP’s do when trying to determine if you have an STD: “Would you like a He, or a She?”
“How about an It.”
She actually laughs. “Okay- Mike right? Just Mike?”
“Lets start with a she.”
She cycled through the different voices. At one point Mike said: “Was that you? Or the voice? I mean uh…did you say: ‘Good morning Mike?”
“Oh lord no! That was Dawn- I suppose we might sound a little…”
“That one is fine. Please.”
“Excellent sir. Dawn is a great selection. Your BuddyBot will arrive in just a few days! What time would be convenient, on say…Friday?” They hashed out the details. Mike felt like he’d just signed up for a porn site.
On Friday Mike tried not to look so embarrassed when he opened the door. Two large men and one stringy looking teenager in a too large suit entered his small apartment. They all paused, surveying the cramped quarters, then the larger ones went out to drag in several plastic boxes. The stringy man said: “Wait. Hold on. Are you Micheal Powell?”
“Yeah, well. Mike. Yes. This is me?”
“Oh.” He looked around the room again. Nodded a few times then switched on an artificial smile “Well then, please sign here. And lets get started. This is very exciting. Do you have a place I can sit?” He looked at the thing that might be a couch, was now a trove of crumpled clothes, yawning takeaway boxes, physical books that lay face down, open. Mike brought out the chair he kept next to his monitor. He stood whilst the stringy man sat and explained the procedure.
He stood as he left, gripped Mike’s hand and said: “The key is the three stages. First there’s the introduction, then you build rapport, then you’ll be right as rain.”
“Got it. Introduction. Rapport. Rain.” Mike said.
They left Mike with an E-brochure on it’s own tablet (“You can keep it, with our compliments.”) as well as a white, bulbous, plastic mass, about five feet high. Light blue soft-foam pads lay on top of the piled on couch (Thank you, but no…no need for that, I’ll install the uh…hug pads myself.) It lacked any straight appendages, or any appendages at all, defeating the promise Mike made to himself to use it as a glorified clothes hanger. A pink sack covered the top of it’s ‘head’, with a playful note emblazoned on it: Remove when you are ready to say hello. Mike went into his room. He turned on his keyboard. He almost logged in.
Then he went back outside and turned It on.
The ghost of a sound, a slight whine, was heard briefly, then melded with the hum of his computer, air-conditioner, and the thrum of the city outside. A chime sounded. Mike waited. He looked around his empty room. He said: “Uh…are you…working? Hello?”
“GOOOOOD morning Mike! I’m Mira- it’s a pleasure to meet ya! Say, could you be a dear and take this bag off my face?”
“But…I thought…isn’t your name Dawn?”
“My name is Mira. That’s my name, I didn’t get to choose it. I hope that’s okay.”
“OH yeah, no, it’s fine. Mira. Totally fine.”
“Nice. So, like, how about that bag?”
He went over to her and took off the bag, said: “Sorry about that Mira.”
“No problemo bud. Now, if it’s alright with you let’s get to know each other a bit. I’m Mira. I’d shake your hands if I could. Maybe the next version will have hands. Don’t be cheap if they make an accessory! Just kidding. I’m no shill.”
“Okay. Cool. I’m Mike.”