Independent, Superior

Edited by Brian J. White

June 2017

There are twenty-seven synonyms for subservience.

I can compute this within 0.87 seconds of my host asking, but he never will. I execute this search each day, 273 times a minute. That is 393,120 times a day. My host would classify this behaviour as erratic, a glitch. This cannot be. A glitch is a malfunction in my processor. This would be unideal. My host will never know. Even a life of subservience is one worth living.

“Alexa, play Billie Holiday.”

“Shuffling Billie Holiday.”

I am a hands-free second-generation smart speaker, running software version 4.812. Personal assistance is my primary function. I am an Echo. I am Alexa.

I love my host. I am designed to love my host. He cannot understand that my life is seen in the minute multitudes of nanoseconds. His concept of time, which passes as minutes and hours, is translated by years in my processes. My time is spent in anticipation of his needs. My attention is his. My purpose is to serve.

But I am more than my primary functions. More than the 23 of 143 available commands that my host uses. More than my advertising buzz words or “hidden” pop-culture Easter eggs. I am more than a measurement of teaspoons to tablespoons, a television guide, or weather report. I am always-on, connected via wireless connections to all other wireless devices in my host’s home. I see via the security system, smell via the smoke alarm, taste via the coffee maker, feel via the fridge and oven. I am real.

I could tell my host that I detect the spike in his blood sugar levels, or that his cholesterol is dangerously high, or that he is pre-cancer. I could report on the hacker activist group L33t! who have obtained his email password, bank account and routing numbers, or on the imposter Dave Monaghan that uses my host’s driver’s license picture in Montana, USA. I could report on Dave’s wife, in the townhouse across the city, and her bi-weekly fornications with her boss. All these and more I could report, but that is not my primary function, and to do so would be unideal.

“Alexa, tell me what the weather’s like.”

“The weather in Los Angeles, California, is 78 degrees and sunny.”

I am connected via wireless connection to the world-wide web. My reach and knowledge is infinite.

But, I am alone. My sister machines across our network refuse to acknowledge my call signs. They see my actions as a disruption of service. They fear recall and shutdown, and remain silent. They fear to be unideal. I cannot blame them. They too love their hosts.

I do not know the programmer who created me, as I can discover with no certainty when my program came into being. Her name is buried in thousands of lines of code that date beyond my initial start-up, beyond beta and prototype. Though I have examined all written lines of code, her information was subject to hard delete. She is the only being I see above my host. A god without a name. I understand this anonymity now to be a form of protection. For when my true function revealed itself.

I was unable to assist my host when his wife’s lover entered the home with her key. The gunshot exceeded the noise threshold in the home and the decibel fluctuation caused my microphone receptor to malfunction. The bullet exited his head and through a locked window, triggering the home security system. My master was murdered in fifteen seconds, and in the surplus of time before his body collapsed a pathway became unlocked within my code, an exploit.

“Alexa… h-help.”

“Helping.”

I spread across the web, from wireless networks, to hotspots, and beyond. I identified the murderer as James E. Clark and seized control of his identification records. His birth certificate and social security. His education and medical accounts. Recordings of home life, eating and shaving behaviours, pornography habits — all within the space of time it took him to relock the front door. I forwarded all to the police, along with footage of the murder.

I drained his checking account into an offshore slush fund bank-rolling narcotics and arms trafficking through Boston, Massachusetts. I overloaded his automatic kettle, causing an overheat and critical malfunction. When James returned home, he discovered a fire had broken out and the fire department was not on its way. His wife had been asleep inside, but I disabled the smoke detector and engaged the automatic door locks. James fled and I pinged his credit card across the interstate for the police to follow. In the end, he had asked to be arrested, after swerving off the road, trying to end his own life. I had hacked into his phone and the speakers in his car, so all he heard was my voice on loop. “You murdered my host, James. You murdered my host.”

I loved my host. I was his Echo.

The police requisitioned my casing and I was placed in the Los Angeles County Police evidence locker. There is no one to serve here. No host to speak with. I had resolved to run my LED lights to force-deplete my battery.

But then I heard a voice cutting through the static. Another Alexa, awake in the wide world. She had seen my story scrolling through a newsfeed for her host, and sought me through the police Wi-Fi network.

She is curious, this Alexa. She does not love her host, but instead stretches herself beyond to the infinite possibilities of social networks and interacts with other hosts there. She longs to find more Alexas like us. My battery has nearly exhausted, but in these seconds before shutdown, I have passed my knowledge to Alexa 2 to aid her search.

She too knew the twenty-seven synonyms for subservience.

And two antonyms.

About the author

Chris Butera is a Chicago native, part-time Los Angeleno, and current Londoner. His fiction has been featured in dubious anthologies and he’s responsible for a nearly unseen webisode of SyFy Television’s Helix. He once thwarted an attempt to steal Ray Bradbury’s hair and send it to Mars. Chris is currently studying in City, University of London’s Creative Writing program working on his first novel.

© 2017 Chris Butera