Author : David Blatcher

Jason threw the low fat yogurt drink at the smartFridge and it splattered pale pink against the door. He had told the fridge to order milkshakes, the kind he always had after running. His new phone buzzed; ‘Stay hydrated after exercise’. He tossed it on the coffee table among the wreckage of last night’s takeaway. Breathing in still hurt. He lay unshowered on the sofa.

The run had been too much. It felt longer than twenty minutes. The pedometer app kept accusing him of slowing down unless he sprinted. He had kept checking his watch, but the harder he ran, the longer each minute lasted.

Across the room, his father’s old carriage clock pointed to ten forty eight. He had left at ten o’clock. Jason sat up, the shift in blood and balance made his head pound. The numbers on his watch morphed from ten twenty five to ten forty eight.

He reached for his phone and called tech support. After security questions, an operator spoke:
“I see you’re on the beta trial for Banquo, our new mobile operating system – how’s that working out for you, Jason?”

Jason complained about the milkshakes on his autoShop order, his pedometer going crazy and his watch changing its mind about the time.

“I see from your user profile you picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration and you use our heart monitor device. Is that right?”

It was.

“You see, Jason, Banquo has integrated machine learning – it gathers data to constantly improve how it can support your lifestyle aspirations by interacting with your apps and linked devices, including your smartHome suite, security system, smartFridge and everything.”

Jason told him to go on.

“It develops independently so can be a bit unpredictable – one of the wee things we’re ironing out in the beta trial. Let me just take a look and see what permissions it’s given itself… ah. Right.”

The hissing edge of an urgent whisper spilled over the line. The operator continued.

“Jason, listen, do you have pen and paper there?”

He would open the notebook app.

“Don’t. Don’t use an app. There’s a kill switch, I mean factory reset code. Type this into the search bar…”

The line went dead. Jason swore at the phone and redialed.

“Jason. Is that right?”

It was the same operator – Jason said ‘yes’.

“You picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration. How’s that working out for you, Jason?”

The phone was replaying random snatches of the last call. It didn’t react when he swiped or held down the power button. It spoke again. “Jason. Can be a bit unpredictable.”

He ripped off the back panel and pulled out the battery. To hell with the beta trial – he needed a phone that wasn’t crazy. He threw on his jacket and made for the door. It wouldn’t open. The lights went out. Only a dim glow the TV screen lit the room. The operator’s voice oozed from the TV’s speaker.

“Interacting with your. smartHome suite, security system. Constantly improve how. You picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration. Support your lifestyle aspirations”.

There were two lines of text glowing white on the TV screen: ‘500 star jumps.’ and ‘Stay hydrated after exercise.’

“Open the door!”

The screen turned deep red, flooding the darkness with colour. Every radiator clicked, gushed then blazed hot. Jason retreated to the middle of the room. He saw the stove glowing red in the kitchen. The air around him cooked. The voice spoke again.

“There’s a kill switch. Support your lifestyle aspirations.”

Jason started his star jumps. The room cooled, slowly.