I write the following piece for this flash fiction contest.
What was coming was less interesting to him than what had happened behind the set of double doors each morning before his sessions. In an antechamber in a sub-basement of the Mal/MON Corporation Testing Center he sat staring at the wall next to Neil’s head. Neil was a shadow in the room that liked being a companion and had no interest in being a revivalist. Once Neil knew he was more interested in the revival process that his companion work, conversation had gone from a purling trickle on good session days to the bullet proof silence of indifference.
A magazine had been read and set aside. A monograph, then a novella, followed suit. Time, while not so precious, was wasting away. Absentmindedly he found himself making coffee. Bemusement twitched on his face as he thought maybe today he was J. Alfred Prufrock measuring out lives with coffee spoons, the subject etherized on the table, meeting the eternal footman… He made note that poetry wasn’t sound reading on session days.
At that moment, the Detailed Analytic Neurosimulator that he was to companion for the day walked unhurriedly thought the double doors. It was thin, average height, unusually hirsute, and a bit clumsy of build. Each one had the same face.
“Hello! My name is D.A.N.!” it said in the happy default tone, honest and unaware of insidious intent.
“Hello Dan. Call me Alfred. I’ll be your companion for the day. Are you ready for the world?” he said in an upbeat tone and the vaguest of smiles.
Smiling in return and saying “My nurse said to give this to my companion for the day and that you’d know what to do with it.” D.A.N. produced a sealed envelope on company paper. “Day Plan” it said in a neat, feminine printing.
“Dear Companion, today’s simulation is concerned with requested research into… “ Each letter started that way. Alfred scanned the page for the key words.
“…high grade allergy [lactose; fatal]…”
“…sub eighteen minutes expected expiration…”
“…Intervention: Apply included patch to skin graft of neck…”
The last paragraph was a boiler plate as well. “We know this can be a trying experience but your stalwart help with this Detailed Analytic Neurosimulator means the biometric data of a deadly experience can be captured and studied without loss of actual human life. It is a vast scientific good you have committed yourself to, and for that, humanity, and the Mal/MON Company thanks you.” Alfred knew D.A.N. was a robot with a few implanted cells here and there that was infinitely kill-able in the name of medical research, but the death face when the eyes turned off was disturbing each time.
“Well Dan, shall we go, you and I? It’s lunch time. I know a nice café just down the hall way there where we can get a cup of tea and a delicious knish. Afterward we can wash it down with cake and ice cream. What do you say?”
When D.A.N. took his first bite of ice cream Alfred tapped his stopwatch app, calmly applied the patch on the skin graft that covered the neck of the robot, and waited. The letter was mercifully inaccurate. The episode took a mere three minutes and three seconds. D.A.N. was dead from a closed throat due to the programmed allergy. The patch was a medical failure.
Alfred took the body back to the lab. His payment was prompt. Neil was still waiting. He could wait endlessly. The new shift nurse, a mouthy red head who read comic books at the desk, turned from the bubbler and said to Alfred “Your next session is on Friday, got it?”
“Giving the poor man a break, huh? Thanks. See you then.”