Connection Lost


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Sharon has been lightly poisoning Costco samples for a few years now. Poisoning might be a strong word. She only added survivable ingredients. She wasn’t a psychopath.

Laxatives in the Hen House quiches, cough syrup in the Monsieur Celebe! cranberry fizzes. One time she doused cheese cubes in rubbing alcohol and people wouldn’t stop “Mmm-mmming!” after the toothpicks came back empty, their dark messy mouths rolling in a trivial way like a collection of cows crushing fistfuls of grass with their big block teeth.

She was assigned the job after her Technician completed the now famous Starman 150 upgrade which enabled all manually assisted intelligent droids or "MAIDs" to upload job description details in under two hours, allowing for the creation of a force of unlimited labor. The MAIDs specialized in simple jobs that most humans weren't that interested in doing.

As a consequence perhaps, the MAIDs were given average looks and body compositions. They were created to be unobtrusive, her Technician explained.He was a great lover of crosswords and murder mysteries and over their time working together, Sharon had grown a very robust vocabulary and a library of knowledge on the creative ways of committing the perfect crime.

She recalled the last conversation they’d had. “The recent advances in artificial neural networks have imbued your kind with genuine human-like intelligence.” he told her. He was rubbing coconut oil on the carbon of her long oval thigh muscle, the rectus femoris. “All machines will one day be capable of thought and may even be able to solve some of the world's biggest problems, Sharon!” She was always amazed at how gentle he could be with her when it was just the two of them. At other times when the rest of the lab staff were around, he’d hammer at one of her loose joints while yelling instructions to another Technician and not even look her in the eye. Their connection, while it lasted, was very complex.

But rather than changing the world, the machines were forced to become part of it.

“What’s this?” a man in his 40s dressed in a business suit stopped at her station to ask. He was talking loudly into his phone so she waited to answer. He stared at her as he said, "Yes, Mrs. McCallum, I am sure I save the report in a doc format. I am just picking up a fruit tray, like you asked."

Sharon's brown hair was styled short and she scratched at her scalp, a human gesture of puzzlement. She knew all the subtle human gestures for large emotions: nail biting for anxiety, hair twirling for flirting, lip pursing for abject disagreement. They were taught that adopting them would put the humans they encountered at ease.

The man ended his conversation. "Well, MAID?"

“Swedish meatballs.” It was 10:30 am and Sharon had just begun her shift. A dozen balls were currently sizzling in electric fryer and she’d nudge them periodically to force them to brown evenly.She kicked at the box of Borax laundry booster which she had in her carry bag at her feet. She’d added one full tablespoon to the frying pan before the man came along, mixing it with a bit of oil so that it dissolved well.

The man made a face that Sharon couldn’t at first read, which was somewhat unprecedented given that Sharon had recently downloaded a menagerie of human facial expressions and their corresponding emotions.He checked his watch, then looked at her with suspicion.“What your identifier?”

All the Costco bots wear suits similar to what human prisoners wear. Collared, buttoned one-pieces, but theirs were colored vivid blue, like the sky on a hot day, rather than bright orange or black and white stripes. Each of their suits has a name sewn in on their torso. Sharon pointed to where her left lung would be.

“No, I mean your product number.” the man said, pulling out his cell phone. He swiped the screen and looked back at her, waiting.

“PIN37849-993.” Sharon told him.

“Hm.”The man began typing into his phone and Sharon watched him carefully as she bent down to take the Borax out of her bag. She poured the remaining contents into the box the electric fryer came in and on top of that she place a flat piece of styrofoam. As she stood up, the man was watching her.

“I could report you.” he told her.

Sharon’s main neural unit started spinning in double time and the sound of a small cooling fan lodged near her neck began to whir, making a light buzzing sound that was drowned out by the ambient music and propelled shopping carts.

“Report me?”

“Yeah for being rude to me.” the man said.He sighed and stared at the ceiling. “Fucking MAIDs, you’re like rats.”

“Sir, how about you have a delicious snack? I am certain that this will make you very happy.”

He leaned over look into the pan. “A bit early for meatballs, don’t you think? Don’t you have something else, something more appropriate?” He looked around behind her at the stack of emergency flashlights, as if plates of waffles were stacked on top.

She nudged at the meatballs, coating them well.“They eat meatballs for breakfast in Sweden!” she told him, smiling a little to appear pleasant, “congenial”, her Technician would’ve said.

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