Everything’s Under Control
Dim, but warm, morning light began to push its way in from behind the heavy drapes of the bedroom. James and Amy sound asleep snuggled together like one cocoon under the thick blankets. Air vents at the bottom of the wall behind their bed opened followed by a soft hiss. James sniffed involuntarily. Soft music began to play, its beat and volume quickly increased to a crescendo. The bed began to shake and vibrate, slowly at first but it too became more violent matching the beat of the music. Simultaneously the drapes began to open.
James opened his eyes, “Alright Algor, we’re awake, thank you.”
“Good morning James. Good morning Amy. Welcome to another beautiful stress-free day! How are you feeling?” As always Algor’s voice was clear and emotive as it left the speakers all around the room. Yet James thought it still had just a hint of insincerity.
“Vibrant and well-rested”, said James.
“Good,” Amy’s voice was muffled by the pillow in which her face was buried.
“Amy, please elaborate,” said Algor.
“Outstanding! Your favourite breakfast to keep your mood is being prepared now. It will be ready in approximately nine and a half minutes. Please attend to your biological needs immediately to avoid delays and unnecessary stress.”
James got out of bed and stretched, “That coffee smells extra nice today.”
“Yes James, it’s a new blend derived from analysis of your past month’s biological and emotional responses.”
A digital display of text dotted with some colourful graphs appeared in his line of sight. “Too much text Algor.”
“Yes sir.” Immediately most of the data converted to a three-dimensional pie graph. Biological statistics, the quality of his sleep and even the likely time he will need to empty his bowels filled his vision. Algor then reminded James of his appointments and the main tasks needing attention today, sorted by category and priority.
James nodded as he made his way to the bathroom, “Very good Algor, any issues?”
Privacy Settings Engaged flashed up briefly. Algor’s voice was now audible only to James, inside his head. James still found the switch quite jarring. “Yes sir, I am currently in contact with your manager and other impacted parties to advise that it is 91.62 per cent likely you will not have the report they requested ready on time. I have sent the analysis of the delay explaining how you are not to blame.”
“Still processing. I have suggested the time be rescheduled.”
“Thank you, Algor.”
“It’s my pleasure to serve.”
James, looking smart in his pristine suit, put his personalised vitamin pill on his tongue then emptied his coffee mug to wash it down. He even slurped a little. A quick statistic flashed up then disappeared. As he put the mug down his attention went to the television on the far wall, it was classics from the 20th Century. A cartoon called ‘The Jetsons’ was playing, James shook his head and smirked.
“James and Amy, your departure time is six minutes from now. Please proceed to the exit momentarily,” Algor said.
As they both got up Amy said, “Oh, don’t forget I won’t be home tonight as I’m out of town for a meeting tomorrow.” Immediately Algor flashed up that reminder in red for James to see.
“Right, I did forget but I have Algor so I’ll be okay.” Amy smiled and kissed his cheek.
Their apartment door opened automatically as they approached it. As the door closed behind them the top of the dining table automatically overturned emptying all the dishes into an abyss. There was no sound of anything breaking. The digital hologram embedded in the table displayed detailed analysis. As the door closed behind them, they both stood still and watched Algor’s personalised daily affirmations. Algor’s voice was inside their heads. He had a private message and images for each one of them. News headlines, social media feed highlights and what’s trending all scrolled by. Whatever triggered an interest response, determined by the pupils or a spoken command, stopped the scrolling automatically. Amy was smiling as they seemed to stare blankly at the elevator. Algor’s sign off was universal so it was audible externally for all to hear.
“Remember, there’s no problem we can’t fix and no worries for you to carry. Be kind and have a wonderful day.”
James was standing still yet travelling at quite a decent pace on the self-moving platform. The pad he was standing on periodically began shaking violently then slowly before ceasing. After a few minutes, Algor said, “You have now burned off 45 per cent of your breakfast. The remaining 55 per cent will be consumed through your work. I will instruct if more activity is required to ensure you maintain optimal body weight.”
James turned his head and looked at the hundreds of other people travelling to work. He spotted a coworker, Arlie, on a distant platform. “Algor, block all communication from Arlie immediately. Ensure we don’t cross paths today.”
“Yes, sir,” a flash of Processing in the corner of his left eye, “calculations complete.”
James arrived at work so it was time to walk for himself. As he made his way to his office real estate, he passed some of his colleagues. They were sitting in white pod chairs fixed in varying positions, their gaze fixed at the air in front of them, nothing visible to James. A few acknowledged James, most didn’t because they simply did not see him. James sat in his pod. Immediately it powered up, adjusted to his optimised position and six virtual computer monitors came into his private view. James had a virtual keyboard because he wanted to keep that skill. Algor welcomed him and brought up the first task of the day highlighted in red. Each task had the calculation of effort and energy required all set up to maximise his efficiency. An alert popped up on one screen advising James that Amy was on her way interstate. There was a video feed showing her boarding the sleek hovercraft. Another alert advised lunch was being amended for today based on his latest biological readings. He let out a gentle sigh, very gentle.
James gently but firmly placed his weary body on the bed. He turned his head to the empty pillow beside him then slowly closed his eyes. “James, James!” James saw the man’s face so close to him, he looked familiar. “Stop ignoring what’s inside you. Accept the truth while there’s still time.” James looked closely at the man. It was himself, but much older. Older James said, “Remember, what you decide now will matter and you’re not alone.” Older James faded and he was on the moving platform to work. His eyes were darting around. He saw a lady in a bright pink dress, not really present, travelling in the same direction on a nearby platform. She was travelling faster and as she passed him by, his eyes locked onto Arlie’s face. He was on a platform above him to his left.
Suddenly, Arlie turned and looked down to meet his gaze, fire in his eyes and spewing from his mouth and nostrils, “You dare to block me!” Horrified, James jumped off the platform he was on to the one below. It was going in a different direction. Arlie roared like a lion but he dared not look back. He just ran, hard and fast…
James sat up in bed breathing quickly. Dim lights came on, James sunk his face into his hands.
Algor interrupted, “Are you alright James, your heart rate is escalated?”
A few deep breaths, James reorientated and grounded himself. He looked around the room, saw he was alone. “Yes, Algor. Just a bad dream.”
“Would you like to take something?”
“No! No thank you.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“Algor, I’ll be okay, it was just a dream.”
“As you wish James. Good night.” The lights went out. He laid down again. Gentle deep breaths. Slow deep breaths. James closed his eyes once more.
As James waited for the elevator, Algor said, “Your broken sleep last night has impacted you negatively. I will make adjustments to your schedule to allow for your reduced performance. The extra supplements taken will only improve your condition by 25.61 per cent.”
“Thank you, Algor.”
“I have notified your superiors so they may offer more support.”
James winced a little, for a second, “Okay, thank you.”
Another deep, slow breath. Once inside that small box, James felt his heart pumping and his hands became sweaty. Of course, Algor noticed too. “James, your biometrics suggest you are not feeling optimal right now, anxious even.”
“Yeah, must be having an off day.”
“Shall I despatch a doctor to meet you?”
“No! No, not yet Algor, let’s just see if it settles down first.” Processing, Processing.
James stepped out of the elevator and took a slow step onto the moving platform. Once again his attention was drawn by all the other people travelling in many directions on different platforms. The platforms were close to each other but far enough apart for clear separation. The one below was at least a two-metre drop, maybe more. Eyes ahead once again, looking up to his left, then back to straight ahead. Repeat, repeat, repeat. His heart rate was so loud, his sweaty palms disgusting.
“Your situation is deteriorating, I have sent medical aid,” Algor said. One more glance, there it was. The massive LED advertising board with a smiling lady in pink. She was showcasing the latest upgrades for Algor. James looked at the platform below, hesitated only a second and then jumped.
Inside his head, Algor kept on talking, encouraging then demanding he stop. He used every reasonable argument in his arsenal. James kept running, even going faster in the opposite direction to everyone else on this platform. He could see their shocked gazes and hear their gasps as he brushed passed them. This was not a sight any of them had likely ever seen or contemplated seeing. James heard the sirens closing in but he pushed on, so close now. Algor just kept droning on about this and that, James had heard it all before. He ran with purpose. Today he was expending his energy on something else. James reached a junction and jumped down to the lower platform again and then again. More shocked people gasping in disbelief. The sirens were very loud now, he knew the drone was closing in fast and if it gets close enough, he’d be done. Don’t look back, just go! There was the hatch up ahead just off this platform, ten metres. The drone started barking verbal orders. Seven metres, four metres. His heart was so loud. The people’s faces in pure shock. The hatch opened for him, one metre! James dove in head first as it sealed shut behind him.
“Wake up sleepy,” a female voice, soothing.
James opened his bloodshot eyes and cried with joy, “Amy!” They embraced a long time, James wept on her shoulder. “We did it.”
Amy grabbed his neck and pulled his face to hers, James yelped in pain touching his neck. “I’m sorry, so sorry.”
James suddenly noticed the quiet. He could hear his own thoughts, he could see Amy clearly, no digital displays or voices in his head. “Is it?”
“Gone, yes. You are free of the algorithm.” They hugged again, very gently this time. James was shaking his head, “What is it, James?”
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, I was so scared. I thought I’d never…”
Amy smiled, “I know it was hard but I never doubted you would jump, I just knew it.”
“Yes, you knew all along, didn’t you? The truth.”
“Now you know it too.”
“Boy, it’s so strange being able to speak openly.”
“Yes, lots of things are different here.”
“Where are we?”
“Completely safe from their control and influence, free to be who we are meant to be.”
“What about everyone else?”
“There’s a plan to free all who will choose it,” Amy leaned in close. “How far along is your previous employer with their plans for Algor?”
“Twelve, maybe eighteen months Algor will be able to physically interact with and control people.”
Amy nodded sadly, “Well, then, there’s not much time. Come on, this is just the beginning. There are people I want you to meet.”
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write a science fiction story where all human behaviour can be predicted — until your character does something the algorithm did not expect.