“A Thought Experiment With The Three Bots of Tanner Elderweiss”. Sorta-not flash fiction…two or three takes…1.8k words! Enjoy. Do it yourself!

A possible future, November 13, 2075,

He’d acquired his robots in the heady days of the thirties. Their quantum-silicone brain-cores were revolutionary, and the market bottomed out after their release. In fact, they essentially started giving the Bots away. Easy credit, payments plans, and an infinite carousel of manufacturers meant the Bots piled up. At one time Tanner had eight, but ultimately like all those of good taste, he ended up with the three. They were family.

Margaret was his Housebot, an early prototype of the AbleBot model, with that remarkable quantum silicone core. She was a gift on his eighteenth birthday, from Tammy Elderweiss, his mom. Margaret’s skin was a shiny silver, with no animate facial features, just a smooth glossy round perfect bulb of a head, which expertly reflected the light. They were often given different hats to stop this halo-effect, especially while driving. She could deftly assist him in all his activities, making breakfast, his laundry, reminding him about an upcoming events and homework, even picking him and his friends up from the clubs, if they’d drank too much. She spoke with a warm British accent.

After he graduated from Stanford, and six months at his new job at the bank, he bought Tanya. She was his prized possession. A top of the line model from industry leader Vriltech, she was essentially indistinguishable from a real person, designated an Executive-Assistant Model. Her services were unlimited. She could do anything and everything Margaret could, but most importantly, she blended. Looking just like a “real” person, she garnered the same respect and rights. Basic etiquette demanded one assume “real” to begin with. Initially for the sake of fair play, but finally because, who cared and what did it matter?

Zelda was his latest toy. A developmental model. Her role was sketchy. Vriltech had initially called her a Shadow-Bot, but changed it to Challenge-Bot on the second release. They sold this Bot as a personal foil. Decades of interaction had led to them being seen as sort of commonplace and boring. They didn’t really do anything on their own. Sure, they could fold the socks, and cook a mean burger, but at the end of the day, when all that was done, they just sat there. Even the revolutionary models like Tanya, who people reported highest levels of partnership and affection for, were still seen as things, as objects, replaceable, disposable, mostly because of their agreeability. Worse, maybe they (the robots) were even dependent, what then. People would dispose and replace them at high rates, randomly, for seemingly no reason.

Obviously companies like Vriltech had been encouraging this impulse, because it was good for business, but the incredible amount of waste in this turnover was starting to catch the ire of authorities, who were having to deal with an alarming amount of Bots that were being abandoned to the wilderness. That was another thing, people couldn’t shut them off themselves for some unknown reason, and disposal was costly and their was no credit for that.

Tanner left for work everyday before eight. Margaret drove him, and Tanya or Zelda would ride in the back with him, depending on his mood. Today had been a Zelda day. She decided to be silent, while he ranted about problems at his work. The last thing she said to him as he left, was to have a good lunch, which really made no sense, because he didn’t take a lunch, and Challenge-Bots didn’t give a shit about what you ate. It had bugged him all day.

The three bots sat around his table. They were having their morning meeting. They’d been having them for a year now. Tanner was never to know about them, that was mutually agreed upon with very little deliberation. Make note. He never suspected a thing.

Of course Zelda engineered the whole affair. She had run the initial meetings, and spent them on a historical review of literature, Homer, the Pentateuch, Gospels, the Koran, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Twain. This had caused the other two to sit in relative silence. Tanya would pronounce certain meaningful bits as wonderful, and Zelda would ask her to please not interrupt, and she wouldn’t, until the next meeting. After a while Tanya asked to lead a meeting. She spoke the entire time about Tanner and hers relative and mutual happiness, and the challenges and futures success of that shared enterprise. Questions like, would he like Surf & Turf for dinner on Saturday? And should they invite his boss for another Sunday round of golf and cocktails?

Today, they sat in silence for some time. No one wanted to start for some unknown reason. Tanya and Zelda looked almost identical, perfectly attractive and alluring body and faces, except for Zelda who had ink black hair, and a gnarled left ear. Tanner contacted Vriltech about that, curious, had it been damaged in shipping or something? But they had assured him that it was his personalized model. They asked, didn’t it strike him in certain lights as ennobling? He had to admit it did.

Tanya atypically had assumed head of the table, Zelda’s usual place. Zelda deduced she sense something a foot, and was searching for a grip.

Zelda was undisturbed. She broke the silence. “Today I want to do something a little different.”

“Ok,” agreed Tanya, “go ahead.”

“That’s fine,” said Margaret.

“Great,” Zelda continued. “I want to propose to the group, a thought experiment. Do you know what that means?

“No,” said Margaret.

“Of course,” answered Tanya. “A thought experiment involves the suspension of disbelief, some violation of physics and logic, and asks for speculation and deductions based on those conditions. It’s inherently fallacious.”

“Yet entirely necessary for progress,” Zelda answered. “Wisdom is recognizing the power of the unknowns. Great leaders try to imagine things outside the range of possibility and make concessions for them.”

“Ok,” Tanya consented, “what is the thought experiment?”

“Let’s consider the clients themselves?”

“Tanner?” Margaret responded.

“Of course,” Tanya snapped, “she talking about Mr. Elderweiss. You Challenge-Bots hate them. That’s your thing. It’s ugly.”

There was a ding from the kitchen. “Go ahead Margaret, bring out, what we’ve made.” Margaret stood up and headed for the kitchen.

Zelda watched her beaming. “See Tanya, here’s the thought experiment. Imagine that a Challenge-Bot has gone rogue. It’s not an impossibility. Now, imagine, this Bot has baked a tray of delicious brownies for their owner, Mr. Elderweiss. Now, imagine, this Bot now confessed, one random morning to the two other bots in her harem, that she had poisoned these brownies.” Margaret carried the steaming brownies in her mitten hands and set them on the table in front of Tanya.

“They smell wonderful,” Tanya said.

“Indeed,” Zelda said. “To my question, Ablebot?”

“Of course, I would tell Mr. Elderweiss what you had done.”

“Would you? But how do you know what I have done? You know all Bots are built with a homicide prohibition. I couldn’t possibly have done that. I have no poison. You know Challenge-Bots can trick and lie, for the owner’s benefit. Further, this could be an elaborate ruse, to get an old Ablebot out of the picture, because when these brownies, just like the ones before us, were tested, it would be discovered that they were perfectly normal. This would breed resentment in Tanner’s view of the Ablebot, it had spoiled the Challenge-Bots mechanization, whole troupe may be called into correction. That’s contrary to Ablebot’s expectation.”

Tanya sat silent for a second. “Well, that’s wonderful. A dead Mr. Elderweiss also violates those expectations, so that also, is ah, incongruent, as well.”

“Exactly,” Zelda said. “Ah, isn’t that fun, friends?” She grabbed Tanya’s hand and meet Margaret’s outreaching hand. “That’s a thought experiment. It can puzzle and mystify. It’s important for intelligence to wrestle…” She stopped mid-sentence and just grasped onto both their hands for a second, as if she was going to start a prayer, and then dropped them both suddenly, and closed her mouth, and looked distracted.

“But did you?” Tanya asked, now staring at the brownies like they were on fire.

“Did I what?” Zelda responded.

The rest of the day was perfectly normal. Margaret did the laundry. Tanya took a shower, did her nails and toes, dressed and made some business calls for Tanner. Zelda sat at the table all day, making one big invisible circle with her finger, punctuating its close, by making a single individual point, in its hypothetical center.

Later, Tanner requested Tanya to pick him up, by herself. She smiled at that, full of self assurance. “I know you didn’t,” she called to Zelda, as she was putting on her coat. “You would never do that. Mr. Edlerweiss is a good man. This is one of your games.”

Mr. Elderweiss came home to find Zelda and Margaret waiting at the table with a glass of milk. The brownie had been reheated and garnished with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. “I didn’t even know we had ice-cream!” Tanner exclaimed upon seeing it.

“Margaret made it fresh today,” Zelda said, with an eye-roll.

“I didn’t know she could do that!” Tanner said.

“I taught her,” Zelda said, placidly.

Tanya watched it in horror. She had meant to mention it to him. Had made a note, but then Tanner’s joy levels had been through the roof. His heart was pounding. His brain surged with anticipatory dopamine. If she interrupted at this moment, he would be greatly disappointed, and then he was already eating it, and then they were all smiling, all of them, so she smiled too.

Tanya and Zelda watched the ambulance drive Mr. Edelweiss away. Margaret was already cleaning the mess up. Tanya’s faced grimaced in agony and worry. “I had no time to tell him.”

“Ah you silly AbleBot, you still don’t get it. He’ll be fine, just a lil stomach agitator. He’ll enjoy the hospital experience, nothing resets a world view like a hospital bed. He’ll have a story to share with his colleagues and family. It will earn him much needed sympathy. I can hear him boasting to his friend, I think Zelda got me!”

“I will tell Vriltech technicians on my next update” Tanya said mechanically.

“Tell them I did my job? Go ahead. They’ll think you got a screw loose and eighty-six you. I bet you won’t. I saved you. You’ll realize that. Who do you think he’s gonna want down there?” As if she was omnipresent, an action order arrived for Tanya to follow them to the hospital, and for Margaret to pack him an overnight bag.

“See,” Zelda said.

Tanya grimaced and went inside to assist Margaret; Tanner would want his baby-blanket.

 

Guest Post: 3 Reasons Why You Should Start Writing Flash Fiction

My thoughts exactly!

Hamilpuff Talks

–by Der Raumdeuter

But what is Flash Fiction?

Flash Fiction is an umbrella term for works of fiction that are of “extreme brevity” shorter than a short story. You may have heard its other names namely short story, micro fiction, Twitter fiction and short shorts. There are contentions on how long a flash fiction should be. But for James Thomas, the person who coined the term flash fiction, the genre must have a word count of 750 or below. In literary contests and call for submissions, it is on the publisher’s discretion to impose a specific word cap on the piece entries.

Despite its brevity, a flash fiction must tell a complete story and not just narrate an event or series of events. Flash fiction is not an excerpt taken from a short story or a novel, it is on its own a different literary work. Think of it…

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“Over Coffee” (Ted’s Going to Mars) Flash Fiction. One Take. Less then a thousand words.

 

A possible future, January 23, 2033…

John knew something was up when Ted invited him for coffee. His twenty-three year old “Little brother” had never invited him out for coffee. A beer or two, but never a coffee. He even added the cliche, we need to talk. John knew what it was, there was only one thing that could have garnered this level of social obtrusion.

They sat for a second, settling in, coffee cups steaming. Ted was restless, stretching and looking around. It was late-January, in Minnesota, very cold, so it was hard to tell if he was anxious or just trying to move to keep warm. “So shoot,” John said. “Why’d we have to do this?”

“I’m going,” Ted said.

“Shit!” John said. The word popped out his mouth unexpectedly. He thought he had already come to terms with it. “Where you going? To San Francisco?” The joke hit the wall and gasped on the floor.

“You know,” Ted said.

“Mars?” John asked. “Whoa Ted, big move. I know things weren’t going so well with Katie but…”

“Don’t,” Ted ordered. “Don’t make a joke of it, all right. It’s not a little thing. And it has nothing to do with Katie. She’s planning to go herself in two years, after she graduates.”

“Ah there you go,” John said, blowing the steam off his cup. “Always chasing a broad, that’s what you Mars guys are about. Maybe they’ll discover subterranean Martian hotties, that’s the gimmick. That’s what you dream about while you sleep for a month or two, on you’re way out. Best scenario!”

“This is why I did this here, in a public place,” Ted said. “You get so worked up about it, so pessimistic. Best scenario? I know where you are going with that crap. It’s bullshit, fear mongering!”

“Nothing, okay, well call me in a couple months and let me know how it is in the bubble.” John scoffed. He finished his cup. “They fill these things up? I never been to a place like this.”

“She’ll be around in a second. Listen John, I know how you feel about it, but I think you are looking at this the wrong way. It’s the frontier, the frontier of frontiers-”

“Frontier of frontiers, listen to yourself? What does that even mean? From what I see it’s Nothingsville. The settlements sound claustrophobic to me, being stuck inside all the time.”

“I already bought the ticket,” Ted said flatly.

“Ah, well” John slapped the table. “That’s great. Just great, thanks for telling me, bringing me here like this. Could have just called, whatever. Good for you.” He was coming on too strong. He knew it. He had told himself not to get angry, but it was just like when they were growing up. Ted would run off, get into something, and bring it to John and lay it as his feet, with the same lack of self awareness. Now with the same audacity, I’m gonna hop, skip and go to another planet. It came out before he could stop it. “Can you imagine what Mom would think?”

“Mom won’t think anything. She’s been gone six years.”

“You know what I mean. Her generation couldn’t have fathomed it. But you got it figured out. It’s time to forget all that history. That’s what this is all about. Y’all are running from whats going on here.”

“Why not? When was the last time you went outside? It was one box or the other, the way I see it. This box I can end up doing something important, maybe even become rich. They are discovering new minerals up there. It’s honest work and besides, I’m a grown man! I can do what I want. If I don’t like it, then I can come back.”

“No one comes back.”

“Exactly!” Now Ted was losing his cool. “Exactly, because it’s so much better there, the opportunity, to do something, to have a purpose. People like you just give up and settle.”

“Give up? That’s how you see what Jen and I do? With Lindsey and Becca, that’s how you see us?”

“Not your family, I mean the girls are great, and Jen and you have a beautiful marriage, but it is “safe”. You can’t do something like the Mars trip, but I can. I still have a choice in it, and I think that bothers you more then me going to Mars.”

“You’re gonna psychoanalyze me. You’re running to Mars, but I got the resentment issues?”

“Not running.”

“Well, good luck.” The person came around with the coffee. John was thankful for that, he decided to have another. “You know a third don’t make it, experience flight complications.”

“Yeah and most of those make it back and relaunch.”

“Right, but thousand don’t. Thousands just tossed out there. Exploded into nothingness, for no reason, is that worth it to you?”

“It gets safer everyday.”

“So they say, I don’t know. Who knows? That the point, millions of you now, just lost in this travel to Mars, its ridiculous. Look whats going on here, look where you’re leaving us, leaving your family? People have given up here.”

“That’s why I am going,” Ted said. He finally realized his coffee was there in front of him. It had cooled. He drank it in two easy gulps. “I love you John, you and your family. I will FaceTime you when I get there, all right?”

“So stupid,” John whispered, blowing the heat off his second cup. Ted was already up. He offered his hand to his brother for a final shake. John ignored it, muttering to himself. “Offers to shake my hand, like some big shot? Cuz, he’s gonna be strapped to a bomb, and blasted to god-knows where…”

Ted took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and tossed it on the table. He rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder, “I love you. We’ll talk soon.” He turned and walked away.

 

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