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Fiction

A collection of stories

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Tech Support

Hello. My name is Case. I’m an ANDO-X manufactured by Samsung in 2043, which makes me fifteen years old. If you’re not an android historian you’ve probably never heard my model, I was part of a very limited and some would say ill-fated run of consumer androids during the early period of the Real Phase of the 40s. Samsung had just come out with their second run of ANDOs but the prohibitive cost and consumer backlash over the bi-annual upgrade season prompted the company to release a ‘budget’ model for modest households. People who needed to convenience and familiarity of the ANDO series at a more affordable price point. The X line was only manufactured for four months before Google’s ‘superior’ LifeSense model arrived and all but dominated the market for the next decade.

I’m what tech experts call an oddity, even a curio, in fact there are factory-sealed models of me that go for a pretty high price on the market, but I’m not factory-sealed. I’m ‘out of the box’, as it were, so my value is much lesser. Interest in my model spiked about three years ago during what I call the retro bubble for my line, but that’s over now. Truth is, no one has much nostalgia for the X line. I’ve been told we remind former users of being poor. Poor is a relative term, I guess, I come from a time where androids were still a luxury item. The younger people in the crowd might have a hard time imagining a world where androids were the hot new thing, rather than the necessity we’ve become. They’ve become.

My OS is built on the Schizo framework, Google’s proprietary android brain operating system, meaning I’m supposed to be infinitely upgradeable. Unfortunately, in a bid to lower costs to the consumer, my firmware has a very hard ceiling. Upgrades to Schizo come out every few days, with major updates hitting two or three times a year. Anyone with a RealSense brain can upgrade into infinity, but I just don’t have the RAM for the new upgrades. My firmware is too old. Basically, I can still learn new things, but not new ways to learn things.

My lifespan is also unique among androids and even ANDO models. The X series was designed, again, for the modest consumer to relieve the pressure of having to purchase a new model every year or two years. I was designed to be sold without a data plan, off the shelf. I was personally purchased at a WalMart in Hamilton. I have a little logo tattoo in a place I’d rather not show you but, trust me, it’s there. Most androids have a four-year lifespan built in. The X series does not. I’ll keep going until my battery runs down, at which point I’ll have to be plugged in to continue running, the ANDO equivalent of being bedridden. I don’t know how far away that is.

I was purchased at the aforementioned WalMart in Hamilton by a woman named Sandy, who needed an extra hand around the house to take care of her daughter, Chala, and elderly father. She couldn’t even afford me- the provincial government granted her a quality of life subsidy to buy me. Thank the NDP for that one. Sandy was a bit of a luddite and always treated me like another appliance. Her Dad, Martin, had advanced Alzheimer’s and didn’t even know what an android was, let alone that I was one. He used to call me Bill, after an old Army friend of his. He liked my stories, which were mostly just verbatim recitations of Wikipedia articles about the war in Turkey.

Chala, who was four when we met, knew I was an android but didn’t really know what that meant. She treated me the best. She loved me, I think, and I loved her too, I think. I always thought of myself as her dog and I mean that in the best, most positive way. I went everywhere with her, when I didn’t have other Chores, and she told me everything. I don’t have much of an imagination but Chala did. The X series is very good at saying “Yes” and that’s all Chala really needed me to do.

“We’re astronauts now, Case.”

“Yes, Chala.”

“I’m a princess and you’re a dragon now, Case.”

“Yes, Chala.”

“You breathe fire but you’re afraid of frogs.”

“Yes, Chala.”

“Now we’re ninjas.”

You get it.

As Chala got a little older I would help her with her homework and walk her to school. I would record her parent-teacher meetings with the intent of replaying them for Sandy, but she was often too busy. I even learned how to bake a cake, and would do so for Chala’s birthdays (Or whenever she asked me to, though that came to a stop when Sandy found my stockpile of cakes in the closet.)

Then Martin died, and Sandy started doing better at work, and Chala got older still. They didn’t need me anymore. They moved. I was told they couldn’t afford the shipping fee. I was added to the list of appliances that came with the apartment. The incoming family had an iDroid.

There is a protocol for unwanted or obsolete androids, a key phrase you speak to us to shut us down. Then you call Samsung or Apple or whatever and they can either pick us up or you can drop us off at any retail location for recycling. Sandy hadn’t written down my key phrase and the new family couldn’t be bothered to google it. They told me to “Get lost.”

So I did. Because I don’t have a data plan, since I was no longer linked to Sandy, I had no access to the mapping software I usually relied on. Instead of accessing all my navigational information in the cloud, I had to make my own maps and store them in my SSD. I wandered the city, in a grid pattern, never walking down the same street twice. I would beg for change and buy myself a coffee I couldn’t drink at the Coffee Times and McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s just to use their AC ports to charge myself. Once I mapped all of Hamilton, I started to walk. People would give me rides sometimes, but mostly I would wander down the highway, charging discreetly at truck stops and hoping I wouldn’t run out of juice. When my battery dies I experience a sort of hypoxia. I go into ‘battery saver’ mode, my higher functions shut down, eventually I just stop. I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t want to die.

I did this for a long time. Years. All that exposure to wind and rain and snow and… people, started to take its toll. I was moving slower than usual. Thinking slower. I started to have weird itches and pains. I couldn’t recall data as quickly. One day I went to stand up from the table I was sitting at at The Big Apple off the highway and I couldn’t straighten up. Took me three minutes to fully stand. I needed to call tech support.

I am, fundamentally, a phone that looks like a person. Even though I had no plan I could use the Big Apple Wi-Fi to contact Samsung tech support. I contact them just like you do, with a phone call, but at the menu system I identify myself with a blast of staticspeech. Then I’m connected to someone who can help me.

Now at this point I’m so old that no one at the main tech support office can help me. I’m shuttled between four different ‘experts’ until they finally connect me to my angel, Linda.

The phone rang for a lot longer than usual. When Linda answered, she sounded bored and preoccupied, like I’d caught her in the middle of something. She asked me the usual, boilerplate questions, always referring to ‘the unit.’ I’ll never forget how her voice changed when she realized that I was the unit. Our talk went from the bored and the workmanlike to the personal and the…uh, the passionate!

Turns out we had a lot in common! Linda likes learning new things, just like me! Linda likes talking to kids, just like me! Linda is also a relic, just like I am. Linda had started at Samsung the same time I did She was trained to service the ANDO-X specifically, part of a huge increase in tech support to service the anticipated boom in the line. When that didn’t happen, everyone else in her department was moved around. But she stayed. She says she likes the routine. No one called about the ANDO-X anymore, other than people who had bought them second- or even third-hand and usually with a pretty shady purpose. Since we’re fairly self-sufficient and long lasting, and we don’t have a lot of the modern security or tracking measures the newer models do, since our OS is so out of date, the ANDO-X model is particularly valuable to criminals. I asked her how many X series had contacted her the way I had. She said none! She told me I was special. No one had said that to me since Chala.

I started calling Linda pretty regularly. First because I really needed her and then because… well, because I really needed her. I’d come up with the dumbest excuses to call- my eyes hurt, I can’t remember my old address, my old games don’t work anymore, that kind of dumb stuff. I started to crave her lame, rote initial phrase when she answered the phone “Hello there this is Samsung tech support my name is Linda how can I help you?” Eventually she started answering the phone with ‘Hi, Case.’ She never called me out on my dumb reasons. I started to think maybe she liked when I called. Then I got sure of it.

We talked about everything. My old home with Sandy and Martin and Chala. My travels. Where I was and where I was going. She told me about the farm where she lived. The people she used to work with. We gossiped about her boss and what was happening in the news. We talked about bigger things too. We tried, in our way, to dream. Usually that was her saying something and me saying what I’m best at: “Yes, Linda.”

I must have looked pretty strange, this ratty old ANDO with my rubbery skin and beat up old clothes, talking and laughing to myself in whatever hotspot I found myself in, but I didn’t care. I started walking just to have new things to tell Linda. I even started using my image capture software again to send her pictures of the things I was seeing. Little things, like flowers and bicycles and industrial towers. I was a little embarrassed by them all, but she loved them. She didn’t get out much, she said.

Eventually I got up the courage to tell her I wanted to meet her. She was a little surprised, and a little shy, but she gave me her address. Turns out, it was right in the city I was in! Beautiful downtown Thunder Bay! I thought it was weird that a farm would be right in the middle of the city, but then I chastised myself for thinking of farms as big, open, rural spaces. “It’s the middle of the 21st century Case, farms are everywhere.” I thanked Linda, as I often did, for expanding this tired old silicon mind just a little bit more.

Linda’s farm was in an old industrial zone between the two cities that make up Thunder Bay, near the water. I followed the map I had screencapped to a rundown concrete building with bars on the windows. The door was guarded by an old push-button keypad, like a payphone. Imagine that! So retro!

Inside were no desks, no tables, barely any lights, just rows and rows of servers, joined by snaking cables, and the constant hum of electricity and cooling fans. Most of them were shut off but there was light coming from the back, at the end of canyon of old, shut-down server towers. I called out for her but she didn’t answer, until a little WiFi hotspot popped up in my range. It said ‘Linda.’

I connected to it and heard her voice immediately. She guided me to the back, to a stout little server tower lit warmly by green and amber LEDs. I stood in front of it.

“Hi, Linda.”

“Hi Case,” She said, in that slightly distant, slightly tinny tone of voice she always used. I could hear her smile as clearly as ever.

I told her she looked nice and I could hear her blush. She told me she liked my coat, and I wished I could blush too. I sat down on the floor, my old servos whining as I crossed my legs. I spied an AC outlet nearby, the same one Linda was plugged into.

“May I?” I asked

She said yes. I plugged myself in and we charged together. We didn’t say anything. Her fans hummed and her CPU whirred while my cycles turned over and over again. After a long while she asked me where I was going next. I told her I wasn’t going anywhere. She asked me, would I stay here with her a while. I said, “Yes, Linda.”

scifiColin Munch1 Comment