paura means fear; fuga means escape
An older gentleman’s smile looks like someone slapped one of those retro, yellow smiling face stickers on him. It matches his buttery T-shirt with some 80s band on it. As he rolls away in his wheelchair, it’s my turn.
I step up to the customer service computer. My tennis shoes squeak against the floor. Ugh. I move my reusable shopping bag over to my right arm as I roll up my sleeve. This gamer hoodie is the tightest one I own, so it takes a few extra seconds.
Customer service computers are one of the nicest AIs. I assume humans designed it to make everyone feel comforted. So instead of underpaid people putting on a fake smile for us as we get upset, a computer can now. Its metal is see-through, but its thin screen is the main attraction. It’s shaped like a generic Caucasian female face. Light eyes. Dark hair. She gives me a warm smile.
“I’m here to return to a shirt,” I say. “It wasn’t the right size.” I had asked for a small, but apparently their small is a very small, so what I need is a medium from them. It has been over 270,000 years since humans evolved, and no one can accurately make female sizes still.
“Please scan your ID.” Her voice sounds like a nightingale. Programmed that way. It still sends a shiver down my spine though.
I shake my left arm to move my bracelets down and turn my wrist over, under the screen. My ID is in the shape of a dolphin. Its grayish blue lines circle around the edge of my wrist. When I was five, a salesperson advertised to my mom that it was one of the newest security measures. If someone must turn my wrist around to get my full ID, it’s harder to hack me.
News reports say otherwise.
A blue light scans my wrist while the AI’s face continues to smile. Her voice is loud enough for anyone close to hear. “Adelina Lucie Herondale.” She lists my birthday, my social security number, and my home address. “Your last purchase here was five days ago at store 153 in Madison at 3:53 p.m. Is that correct?”
Can’t she lower her voice? I shrug like she can respond to that. “Sounds about right.”
The AI looks down like all my information is in front of her instead of all in her head. When will she forget my information? Does she ever forget it? “We can process your return. Looks like you have three bank accounts—two checking and one savings—with Fuga bank. You also have three credit cards with Fuga, Paura, and the AI national bank. Which one will you like the money to go back to?”
I think I purchased it on my Fuga credit card, but I’m not sure. “Um. Fuga?”
“If you pay off your Paura credit card first, your credit score will improve. You already have over four hundred dollars charged on it.”
I sigh. Not this again. “That’s just Christmas gifts.”
“They already started the sales though…” There’s almost no use arguing with an AI. She has access to all my accounts anyway. She has the last decision. Can’t she see that I can pay that four hundred off when I get the bill though? “Put it on the Paura card please.”
“As you wish.” She smiles as if she hadn’t pushed me to do something else. Nothing resonates on her face that her mood has changed, but I can feel it. I can also feel her adjusting her levels to try to soften my mood.
I’ve noticed these nudges more and more lately. I’ve read old books about AI taking over, and I’m sure they can. What do they not control?
Cars are installed with AI to help us drive safely and to call anyone if we need anything. Houses are installed with AI to help with heating, lights, and anything else they can sell us as a need. Office buildings are installed with AI for about the same reasons. I could turn everything off and get an old security system at a retro shop, but those are hard to come by.
It’s not like I want to live surrounded by so much online everything. But I can’t get away from it.
It’s always there.
Sometimes I feel it moving through my house at night. Other times, the only way I can sleep is when I shutdown and unplug everything. But even that doesn’t turn them off anymore.
“Would you like to exchange it for something else?” the AI asks, snapping me out of my thoughts.
I take a step back. “N-no, I’m fine. I’ll just return it.”
A box under the screen opens up, and I drop the shirt into it. My reusable shopping bag flattens and curls, empty. We used to think these reusable items would help save the world. Not sure it can help us against the AI we created though.
The most frustrating part is that people did what they wanted anyway. Even if I was alive to stop them all those years ago, I would’ve never been able to. People are just going to do what they want.
A thought pokes my brain. Crap. I shake my arm again, letting my bracelets go back over my ID. I hope no one had enough time to copy it. My eyes scan the room, but everyone in line is staring at some empty app on their phones.
I’m not sure that’s better. When was the last time they unplugged?
Says the one talking to a computer.
“Is that all for you today?” the AI asks.
“Yes. Thank you.” I’m already stepping away before she can reply. My heart pounds, making my chest ache. Perhaps I can get some medication. But I’d have to pass another three AI robots to do so. Might as well not.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
I don’t carry the fabricated smile that the older gentleman had before.
Robin LeeAnn (she/her) is a writer and editor. She runs a writing blog over at robinleeann.com. She has published with Friday Flash Fiction, the Aspec Journal, and Weasel Press. When she’s not writing or editing, you can usually find her hanging out with her puppies, playing a video game, or both.