Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flash Fiction #1 - Breakfast with Johnny

It was another cool morning at the Gerard homestead. John-X53 finished his internal diagnostic sequence and started making coffee. As transfixed as he was by technology, there was one thing that Tyler Gerard loved the old fashioned way. The smell of fresh beans being ground after a perfect roasting was the closest thing to an alarm clock they’d had in years.

Mr. Gerard was a self-made man. Taken to perpetuating the notion of safe robotics after the Machine Wars, he’d somehow found a way to get people to trust them again; most people anyway. Had John-X53 been human, he might have felt Priscilla's glare burning through the back of his metallic skull. She could be tolerant at times, but for the most part Tyler’s wife hated machines and publicly proclaimed herself as his greatest moral opponent. It was no coincidence, however, that his greatest technological breakthroughs occurred during the times when their relationship suffered the most contention and he took to the long hours of a recluse in his lab to avoid confrontation. So in the end, he had only her to thank for his many triumphs, a realization that had only recently occurred to her.

Exactly one week prior, she’d enlisted the help of a covert anti-robotics group to help shut down Gerard Cybernetics for good. Their answer was a small virus that she could upload to one of the machines, which would then spread the code during the nightly server connection and update process. She’d selected John-X53 because he was her husband’s favorite invention, the perfect delivery system for the bug that would end it all. But now, one week after uploading the virus, he was still making coffee and performing his chores around the house as usual. She’d followed each and every instruction to the letter, and yet nothing had changed.

She sat at the table and scraped a layer of butter across the lightly browned surface of her toast. Tyler joined them shortly and sipped his coffee while reading the daily news on the electronic tablet he carried around like a clipboard. His hair stood on end and his bifocals perched on the tip of his nose. The perfect characterization of a mad scientist, she thought, and struggled to stifle a laugh.

“Says here that there have been attacks on almost every single cybernetics company in the last week,” he said, though mostly to himself.

“Oh yeah?” Priscilla asked.

“By the looks of it, they’re after the mainframes.” He mumbled and scratched the side of his head.

“The main-what’s?”

“Oh, uh… the servers, Dear. The code the government found was designed to corrupt the update software and push down new code to all of the machines that connected for nightly updates. It happens every few years,” He explained.

“So they tried to shut down the machines for good, would that be so bad?” She asked in the tone that always heralded an upcoming argument.

“Not shut down, Love. They tried to activate military protocols on friendly machines. Imagine the Machine Wars all over again. We barely dodged the bullet this time.”

Priscilla gulped and rubbed at her chest where a dull ache throbbed to life.

“Do they know how the security systems were breached?” She asked and wiped the cold sweat from her brow. Tyler was still scanning the tablet.

“Inside jobs, by the looks of it. Thank God no one else has access to our main-- er.. servers.”

“Yeah, that would have been bad.” She wheezed, her breaths now straining with ragged determination.

“Are you all right, Hun?” Tyler asked, concern evident on his wrinkled face.

“Fine, I think I’m just coming down with something. But what if?”

“What if… what?”

“What if they had gotten into the system? What if they had infected John-X53 with this code?” she asked, determined to fight the wave of nausea.

“John? Oh dear, I’m afraid that wouldn’t do much good. You see, I designed John to learn from his environment. He doesn’t update from any of the servers at all. Had he recognized a threat, he’s designed to neutralize it and defend himself.”

John-X53 smiled from across the kitchen and turned his attention back to cleaning the dishes.

“Seriously, Sweetheart, you don’t look well at all. I’m calling the doctor.”

“I’m…” she began, but trailed off. Her eyes rolled up and her head flopped down into the steaming bowl of oatmeal on the table in front of her.

Tyler was a blur of movement, pressing a few spots on the tablet connected him to the emergency line and an ambulance was on the way. He cradled the motionless form of his beloved wife until they arrived and accompanied her to the hospital.

John-X53 set down the dish towel and smiled to himself.

“Threat neutralized.”

© Brady Frost, 2009
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