Author: Hillary Lyon
The beaded curtains sounded like the patter of soft rain as they closed behind Georgina. She navigated the dimly lit room, taking the only seat at the small round table situated in the middle. In the LED candlelight, a crystal ball gleamed in the center of the shawl-covered table. Georgina sighed. Why did she let her roommate talk her into this? A visit to a mystic-bot was likely a complete waste of time and money.
A soft light ignited within the crystal ball; dark blocky letters grew and took shape: “Welcome to Stella’s Parlor, a division of Mystico Entertainment. Please place right palm here for chip scan.” Georgina did as advised, annoyed with herself the whole time. A tiny, tinkling tone signaled her payment had been approved. There go twenty-five credits.
Soft ambient music began to emanate from the corners of the room, almost masking the mechanical swoosh sound of the fortune-teller’s entrance. Stella, the mystic-bot, docked at the table across from Georgina. The bot appeared to be right out of Hollywood Central Casting for horror-movie gypsy fortune tellers, circa 1940. Paisley silk headscarf, jangly bangle bracelets, multiple gold-coin necklaces, a face creased like a road map. Her dark glass eyes met Georgina’s.
“I am Stella. Tell me what you wish to learn. I know all.” The mystic-bot’s mouth moved convincingly.
Georgina cleared her throat. “My boyfriend, will he—”
“Five to ten,” Stella interrupted. The mystic-bot put her hands together, as if in supplication, and continued. “With time off for good behavior.”
“What? No, will he ask me to—”
“His cohorts will testify against him.” Stella droned on.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! My boyfriend has a great job as a loan officer. He’s honest, he’d never—all I want to know is if we’ll get married! Or am I wasting my time with him?” Georgina was exasperated; Stella obviously had her confused with some other client. Maybe her prediction program was corrupted?
“Your Simon has a gambling addiction, well hidden from those he loves.” The mystic-bot closed her eyes. Georgina could see the glass orbs rolling spasmodically beneath Stella’s silicone lids. She watched in fascination as Stella’s factory-tinted lips moved in silence, as if the bot was whispering prayers; Georgina wondered what deity a mystic-bot would invoke. The God of AI? The Goddess of Entropy?
Georgina refocused on the session. “No,” she objected, “he doesn’t have a problem, he’s a dream come true, and how did you—ah, you learned Simon’s name when you processed my payment,” Georgina realized. “You did an instant search on my name, that’s all. Nothing ‘mystic’ about that. This is a joke.” Georgina began to rise from the table, but Stella clamped onto the woman’s wrist with a machine’s unshakable grip. “Later this very afternoon,” Stella hissed, “he’s arrested for embezzlement. Big time bookies, human hookers involved. You must distance yourself.”
“If you don’t let go, I will report you and your ‘entertainment company’ to the authorities. As it is, I’ll be filing a grievance to get my credits back.” Stella relaxed her hold and Georgina jerked her arm away. Without looking back at Stella, Georgina stormed out through the beaded curtains, ignoring the mystic-bot’s plaintive warning: “Leave him now and save yourself from a world of hurt!”
Standing on the dirty pavement outside Stella’s Parlor, Georgina mashed Simon’s number in on her phone. Her fury quickly morphed into rising panic, and her button-punching became more frantic, as over and over again, the call went directly to voice-mail.