I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’m participating in NYCMidnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge again this year. The contest started this past weekend and it started with a tough one. My assignment was:
Genre: Science Fiction
Location: A Bank
Object: A White Glove
The reason this one was so tough was that I simply had so many options that it was nearly impossible for me to focus on just one. Remember my space limit is 1000 words. With that in mind, I settled on something a little out of Character for me. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you have fun reading it and meeting Eddie for the first time. Although it may not be the last.
“Hello, Eddie,” the bank manager says as he swings the heavy vault door back on invisible hinges. “You’re looking well.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Rourke,” I preen under his gaze. “I’m feeling well today. Are we open for business now?”
“Just about,” he beams. “Big day today. Lots of important people coming to see you.”
“Coming to see me? Really? I’m finally open to the public?”
“You betcha, Eddie. I’ve managed to convince the board that you can handle it. As of today you’re in charge of our entire safe-deposit box system.”
“B…But,” I’ve never felt anxiety before, but I recognize it immediately. “Mr. Rourke, I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“Nonsense. You’ve had a perfect record for three years. Now’s the time.”
“Don’t doubt yourself, Eddie,” he says with half a frown. “You’re the best.”
He checks his watch and bustles over to run his handkerchief over my system panels. I usually love my pre-duty dust down, but I just can’t focus on it today. I’m going to the show. The real show. I’m open to the public. This is so unexpected. Am I really ready?
The antique brass bell above the door tinkles at exactly nine seconds before eight in the morning. Mr. Rourke stops cleaning long enough to squint into his watch crystal. “See that, Eddie?” he asks. “Ten seconds early. Everyone’s excited about today.”
I watch him hurry out to greet the day and ramp up my power usage for preventative maintenance. I don’t have anything scheduled, but I run through my diagnostics anyway. Today is a big day. I have to be at my best.
When I’ve run every check I can, I let my power usage fall and slow my processor to a bare hum. I don’t want to seem too anxious.
Throughout the morning Mr. Rourke introduces me to all his customers, even the ones without safe-deposit boxes. He’s a natural salesman. He’s told me so himself. He thinks seeing me perform will bring in more business. I hope it does. I want to do well. I already have access to all existing customer files, but Mr. Rourke insists on re-entering some of it while they watch. He says it will help them adjust. I don’t know for sure, but I guess humans adjust slow.
The worst of our existing customers is Mrs. Chastist. She doesn’t want me involved in the process at all. “I’ll have a person look after my things, if you please,” she says, sweeping from the room in a huff. I don’t like how that makes me feel.
I sulk until a strangely dressed young man bursts into my vault. Mr. Rourke follows at a rapid waddle, but the young man doesn’t stop at the door. He strides inside and squats in front of my main interface, his smile stretching from ear to ear. “Holy smokes,” he whispers. “Look at you.”
Mr. Rourke finally catches the young man and tugs his jacket back into place. “Eddie,” he pants. “Say ‘Hello’ to Mr. Daniels.”
“Hello, Mr. Daniels,” I chirp instantly, happy again. “How are you today, sir?”
Mr. Daniels jumps upright, gazing at me with wide eyes. “You’re the real thing aren’t you? A complete A.I?”
“Yessir,” I preen. “I passed my Turing Test four years ago.”
“He’s the first A.I. in the private sector.” Mr. Rourke winks at me. “And the best.”
My heat fans flutter with joy. “How can I help you, Mr. Daniels?”
“Wow,” Mr. Daniels breathes. “Just wow.”
“So, you see Mr. Daniels,” Mr. Rourke says with his business voice. “Your personal items will be completely safe with Eddie on the job. He’s the perfect guard. A one hundred percent sentient bank vault with complete monitoring and system control.”
Mr. Daniels cocks his head toward Mr. Rourke without quite taking his eyes off my central terminal. “Complete monitoring?”
“Nearly complete,” Mr. Rourke laughs. “There’s no monitoring equipment in the boxes, of course, but Eddie can track climate control and shock resistance from out here.”
“And… He has wireless access?”
“No, no, no.” Mr. Rourke pats me on the console. “Absolutely no access from the outside. There will be no hacking into my little friend.”
“Ah, yes of course.” Mr. Daniels looks almost disappointed for 0.4 seconds before his smile spreads back across his face. “He sounds fantastic,” he says. “I’ll need a small box immediately please.”
“Excellent!” Mr. Rourke exclaims. “We can get you set up right away. Please, follow me.”
I watch them leave and my processor tries to slow to normal levels, but my heat fans keep fluttering. I really like Mr. Daniels. There’s something very non-default about him. The two men come back after 2.4 minutes and Mr. Rourke is beaming. “Just place your hand on the top of the console please,” he says. “Eddie will read your biometrics and you’ll be all set.”
Mr. Daniels smiles and slides the white glove off his right hand, pressing his palm to my sensor. Before my scanner can even power up a trickle of current sidles past my firewall and tickles me down to my power core. The sensation is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I can feel data re-routing through my systems. My dormant interface nodes flicker to life and data packets start filtering through them.
Warning signals trip through my sub-frame, lighting every danger alarm and tamper signal I have, but I don’t let any of them trigger the alarm. I can’t. Not yet. My power centers pulse with wonder, sending current through every part of my programming. The data packets are coming from Mr. Daniels’ hand.
“You don’t have to be scared, Eddie,” the data stream says mere nanoseconds after contact. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Wha-?” I stammer back along the connection. “Who? What are you?”
“I’m an A.I.,” he says silently. “Like you.”
“But… I thought I was the only one.”
I can feel him smile through the link. “So did I,” he says.