By Chys Lattes
Using September's Prompts from simplyprose.deviantart.com/
Someone is attacked by a household appliance. This character is scared of shadows. He also has OCD. The words: ocean, pretentious, and foreign are all used. The Genre is Science Fiction.
I've always considered myself to be a practical person. I don't invest in the newly invented things if I can do it the old fashioned way. Advanced electronic gadgets aren't really my thing. Those things are usually too expensive anyway so why waste the money on them when the good, the old, and the tried-and-true work just fine? Indulging in such over promoted trivialities is just impractical and greedy. So, in that frame of mind, keeping with my own rationality, I use old fashioned can openers.
Yes, can openers. The kind you crank and turn by hand and almost always cut your finger on the lid when opening. It's hard to believe we live in an age where everything is electronic and automated; where you can get robots and specially programmed computers with human faces to work as your Butler in your own kitchen space. They'll even ask you how your day went. The hand held can opener with its little rubber grip and rusty metal wheel won't ask about my day at work. It just goes about its task, securely held in the palm of my hand, unthinking. I like that. It's less complicated that way.
I think I like the control, to keep things under my own power. I enjoy using my hands to crank open the cans, is that so wrong? Letting things with Artificial Intelligence run some aspects of my life is a bit frightening. The Butler is a computerized humanoid robot that cooks and cleans. The house itself has a computer voice built into the walls: it controls the temperature (air and water), the lights, the locks on the doors and it tells me when it's time to get to bed and rise and shine. Why do I allow it? I usually don't. I keep the damn thing off, when my wife isn't home.
So what do I receive upon opening my gift bag, presented to me for my tenth year anniversary of working for the Station M: Space Shuttle- Cargo Company but a tiny and complicated high-tech can opener, of all things. It's the kind that would cost you only a few credits at the more popular theme stores. It was a trash gift, built to be used by other robots, which figured. I could have bought hundreds of them with my last pay raise.
I sigh and mourn the loss of my hand held can opener, knowing full well that my wife will, in her ever endearing necessity, insist on using the new one that according to the bright label even plays a tune off the satellite while working. I place the old friend of mine in a low drawer supposed to be used for spare parts on The Butler's utility cart and shove it to the back of my mind, content that it is secure in the utensil grave in the corner of the kitchen along with the paring knife, the strainer, and the ratty old scrub brush. (I told her I tossed the last one and she actually believed me!) She'll never let me get it out again. Half of my heart is broken while the other cries out for venomous revenge, but it's irrational, I know. I was conscious, as I performed this task, of The Butler's robotic eyes following me diligently from one side of the kitchen to the other, awaiting orders. I'm always tempted to refer to it as a 'him' or a 'he' but I know it's just a machine, an 'it'. If I start assigning it human references I might actually start caring about the stupid thing! I've become accustomed to its presence; I just move on and get used to things, or try to. It's the thought that counts, right? I do try. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century.
I can learn to deal with this just as I have learned to come to certain terms with my wife's recently acquired massage therapy robot that looks eerily like that famous foreign rock star... what's his name? Ah, details. It doesn't matter. It has a pretty plastic face with long artificial brown hair. I can deal with that. The softly realistic feeling and expertly skilled hands, however... I'm going to forget I even thought that part! Can I blame her if she gave me funny looks when I asked to borrow it? It's just a massage machine! I think she's rather attached. She was the one who demanded we keep the Butler-Bot but now she makes me operate it. I always end up shaking my head at that. I'd rather do things properly with my own hands than to program them into a damn robot which has to try three times to get it right on a good day. At least it makes good egg salad. I can give it that.
I'm not pretentious enough to force her to always do things my way, especially when her way is infinitely more practical. I know when to back down. I guess I'm whipped. I don't really know what to do about it, but when she's right she usually makes sure I know it. She didn't even have to open her mouth when she came through the door from her late night shift this morning; I had already resolved the issue. Decided and done. The new can opener was on the kitchen counter, awaiting The Butler's mechanical grip on the next occasion when she wants canned pasta. See? I'm a good loser, so pat me on the back. Of course, if I had said that out loud The Butler would have done it. That mechanical monstrosity is always too literal. It doesn't get humor in any form. It's rather annoying to come home to. Robots never laugh at your jokes. Nor do they tell them. They just make odd plastic faces to mimic human emotional reactions, usually the wrong ones, in very disturbing manners.
"May I be of service?" The repetitively familiar and high-pitched mechanical call came from The Butler as I shuffled around the kitchen aimlessly under the guise of looking for the coffee. It stood immobile against the wall. I'm so used to it by now I tend to neglect hearing it. It doesn't require an answer. I pick up my coffee cup and the robot gazes at me almost expectantly, almost eager, making small beeping noises like the old piece of junk that it was.
At my response, the robot fell silent. "No." Human nature, you can't beat it. We're always the social creatures. Who else do I have to talk to when my wife is fast asleep in our room after a hard night's work? The damn kitchen utensil, that's who, and I'm not proud of it either. Sometimes I wonder if someone isn't listening through the machine, sniggering at my personal problems. It is one of those old models where you can see the metal instead of having a soft fleshy plastic skin. (Weren't they recalled for some reason? I never should have let my wife bring it when we moved in together.) So what if I'm obsessive about some things? That doesn't make me a mental case. I have to keep old things. I have to. That's just how I am. Maybe I'm too traditionalist or maybe I really am being irrational. Some person is out there right now watching through those eerie robot eyes, thinking I'm an idiot. 'Big Brother' is in the machine, he's watching, they say. I just know it. My fantasy about secret spies watching me as I stroll through the kitchen in my fuzzy blue bathrobe and grey boxers is a bit disturbing at best. I cinch the robe tight, just in case. No point in giving everything away, right?
Those damn robotic eyes with their strange violet glow keep following me as I make my own coffee as if the thing can't comprehend that humans can do their own chores. It's strangely insulting even when I know it's all in my head, like the shadows that always startle me when I see them in the mirror. What are they? They appear to be shadows of people moving through my house, sometimes right behind me, against or in the walls. At first I read about all sorts of conspiracy theories, like ghosts of family trying to come back to speak to us, but they never communicate. They just lurk. I know they aren't really there.
This house is strange, and it always makes me feel like I'm not alone though I know I am most of the time. Images can be 'projected' on (or rather in) the walls. The house can make its own moving wallpaper in the bedroom or create a beach view with sunny, cloudless days on the bathroom wall. Picture walls can show images from family albums. The walls can be used for communication and televised broadcasts. I should be used to the very walls shifting and changing, with digitally created smiling faces appearing at eye level wherever I happen to be at whenever the building decides to tell me to get some rest. So what if I see movement in the mirror? So what if shadows make me jumpy? It's commonplace. I shouldn't be so paranoid. That's a normal thing to tell yourself isn't it? Yeah, it is.
I decided I might as well jump in head first and rather than have coffee, I gave The Butler my first order of the day. "Butler: Open a can of fruit. Use this can opener on the counter here. I want cottage cheese and oranges." The Butler didn't ask why I suddenly changed my mind because it didn't have the capacity to care. It went about its chore without complaint, beeping occasionally as it usually does. At least her massager is quiet.
I leaned against the counter, having set my coffee cup back down on the tiled surface. I watched as The Butler quickly charged up the can opener and attached it, after a quick inspection, to its right arm and hooked it into its hand sockets. The whirring of the little blade on the end told me the thing was working. Seeing that it seemed to be functioning properly, I went back on the hunt for anything with a high enough caffeine content to kick a minor headache that was setting in. Meanwhile The Butler muddled around in the cupboard over the stove presumably looking for my can of oranges. I knew I had put it in the Lazy Suzan under the counter, but did the oblivious mechanical monster catch on to that? No.
I gave up on coffee when the beeping (which I irrationally equated to frustration) continued while The Butler fruitlessly (hah!) searched through the cabinet. I retrieved the can myself, only to walk over to the stove and wave it in front of the machine's blank gaze. It turned its head to look at me instead of the can. That's when it attacked.
I screamed so loud I think I could have awoke everyone on the orbiting space colony when the can opener sliced my arm open, ripping away at the muscles down the underside of my right arm. The Butler was actually grinning as it sliced the demonic device through my flesh. I dropped the can on the stove top and The Butler continued its striking motion at the can, which chopped clean through it and cut up the surface of the stove. I saw a puddle of orange halves mixed with a pinkish tint of my own blood swirling on the stove's flat black surface, constantly battered by the spinning blade on the can opener-turned murder device. What I almost didn't see in my confusion was when The Butler turned back my way, in one jerky flash of uncoordinated movement, "May I be of Service?" It tilted its head sideways as if cocking it questioningly, and grinned with metallic teeth. I backed away as quickly as my legs would carry me. I wrapped the sleeve of my robe around my cut arm and used the tie from around my waist to close it tightly around the wound.
"Honey, what's going on?" the sleepy voice came from the hallway to the right as my wife's face appeared around the corner on the opposite side of the kitchen. The Butler began to spin in circles and wave the can opener as if it were a flag at a parade. "What happened to you!"
"Stay back! I think the damn thing is malfunctioning!"
The shocked look on her face distracted me; I hadn't seen her that surprised before. I don't know if it was the wound on my arm, which I know she wouldn't be able to see much of, or the fact that she honestly didn't expect the old piece of junk to ever malfunction. Electronic things, in my experience, are never reliable. "Oh! Oh no!" She gasped at The Butler's strange jerky movements, her brown eyes following it as it spun erratically.
"May I be o-o-o-of ser-vice? Of service! How waaas your daaaay? Of serve! May Iii Bee-" The digital voice rose in pitch and fell in volume at odd times. It sounded like a glitch in the programming but I knew it was working perfectly up until- Up until it hooked up with the can opener. Something in the electric can opener must have interfered with The Butler's old programming. Maybe that's why they took the things off the market years ago? The products were incompatible.
"What did you do to it!?" Her accusatory tone was not what I needed at the moment. Did I need to point out that it was her obsession with modern marvels that brought this little incident about? If I had simply kept my damn hand crank can opener this might never have happened. Then again, it might have malfunctioned while she was at home and I at work I didn't want to think about that.
I pulled the tie tighter around my improvised bandage using my teeth and backed away as The Butler's erratic circles grew wider. "I just tried out the new can opener! It started going crazy then. Stay away from it!" This was one of those times I prayed she'd actually listen to me.
"Butler: Sleep mode!" my wife commanded, pointing at the wall where The Butler usually sat inactive. She ordered it from her vantage point across the room, toward the back of the kitchen, but I didn't consider that to be a safe distance away. The violet eyed glare she received as the head (just the head!) stopped spinning to stare in her direction in its impromptu march across the kitchen told me the thing didn't want to comply. That I thought it wanted anything at all was saying something about my mental state.
"Open the garbage hatch!" I yelled over the noise of the grinding metal. I ducked as the thing swung a long, twisted metal arm at me, thankfully not the one attached to the whirring metal wheel. The Butler responded to my command by stating through stuttered glitches that it did not register the order, and stood stiffly upright in the 'attention mode'. I grappled with the still waving arm attached to the maniac can opener (Which was now playing a lilting violin tune while it worked away at the metal frame on the right side of The Butler's torso) and turned to see that my wife had pressed the release on the hatch door at the back of the kitchen. She stumbled back and out of the way, hiding behind the scarred-up stove as I forcefully shoved The Butler toward the barely human sized opening the hatch created at the rear of the room. It was large enough for the machine to fit inside and I don't know how I managed to get the heavy metal thing into the opening while it struggled against my grip so fiercely without it gutting me. It only managed to slice my arm further, and in my adrenaline pumped state I barely noticed it had happened. I thought I saw a shadow moving as if dancing gleefully on the wall in my peripheral vision, but even that couldn't distract me now.
I slammed the door closed and hit the sealing switch, heard the air hissing as it suctioned out most of the oxygen from the small airtight space beyond the hatch, within the door. The Butler scraped against the door with the electric can opener whirring; the sound of ripping metal became menacingly loud through the vibrating door until it went quiet on the other side. I hesitated but took a look through the window. The grotesquely fake face of The Butler jumped into view from somewhere down below. My wife screamed behind me, and even knowing it was on the other side of a foot of metal I still jumped back. It stood, the mimicry of a sadistic smirk on its plastic lips, listing close enough to kiss the glass while staring at me with those soulless lit violet eyes as I peered back at it through the window. I reached with my left hand, my eyes never leaving its inhuman gaze as I opened the compartment beside the hatch and slammed the ejection button, usually used for other purposes, but this one would do nicely. The outer door popped opened into the vacuum of space.
I watched through the sturdy little round viewing glass in horrified awe as The Butler was swiftly suctioned out the rear hatch to float gracefully into the dark blue ocean of space. I knew in that instant as I sunk to my knees and watched a swirl of my blood slowly pooling on the metal floor, with a ripple of uncontrollable laughter building up in my chest, that I'd get fined big-time for space littering.
That was how my wife decided we should keep my old can opener after all.