I took a deep breath. I had to fix it, and it wasn’t just the idea of rebooting an expensive machine, (a process that would undoubtedly be expensive too)…no, it was something else. I had a sudden feeling of responsibility, as if I’d been arrested and forgotten to arrange for a kitten to be fed. I knew that was irrational, but it struck my heart with a stab of pain all the same.

“Don’t worry, Justin,” I smiled and patted his case “ I’ll take care of this today.” I shuffled to the stairs and climbed up. The clothes in my closet smelled musty. How long had it been since I went out? I got dressed and went outside. The light was shattering on my eyes and I put on the darkest glasses I had. I looked around.

My yard was a mess. The grass had grown two feet tall and then had died. The pine trees were barely hanging on. “More things that depend on me for life,” I thought morosely. But rather than feeling sadder, I took a deep breath… and felt better. The light didn’t seem so bright anymore and the sun was warm on my shoulders.

I made it to the utility office in just thirty minutes flat, but it took quite a bit of tough talking to convince the girl behind the desk of the serious nature of my emergency. After about an hour, she came back to the counter and told me that the power had been restored to my house. I thanked her curtly and left. On the way home, I bought some groceries.

When I got back, the house looked much better. Justin must have been feeling better, since the cleaning robots were out in force. The small mouse-like vacuum-bots were skittering happily across the carpeting. The shades were wide open and the TV was tuned to a light classical channel. I put the groceries in the refrigerator, which beeped softly as each item was scanned in. “Justin?” I asked quietly. “Good morning, Sir!” Came the instant reply. Was that a cheerful note in his voice? “I have called the landscapers to take care of the yard, do I have your permission to pay the other overdue bills?” he asked quickly. “Yes, please Justin. Take care of it.” I was suddenly exhausted, having spent more energy in a few hours than I had in months. I collapsed into my chair and fell asleep feeling better than I had for quite a while.

A little while later, Justin’s voice awoke me from my nap. “ Sir? Sir? There is an incoming call.” “I thought I told you to divert all incoming calls, Justin.” I answered groggily and a little displeased. “All commands were cleared from the command buffer when the main memory went on emergency power standby, Sir.” came the reply. “It’s your best friend Roger Fuhrman, Sir. He told me to tell you that he wants to come over.” Rats. Roger was a good guy, if slightly dense. He was also as persistent as eroding water. Now that he knew I wasn’t actually out of town, it would be impossible to dodge him indefinitely.

“Is that you, Ben?” The anxious query came in over the speakers. “Yeah, it’s me. What’s up Roger?” I said with exasperation. “Oh, not much, he said trying to be nonchalant and not succeeding. “ I was just wondering if you wanted to go play golf today.” I hesitated; I wasn’t in shape to go play golf right now. “The course is almost deserted, everybody’s on vacation. We could just play nine if you don’t feel like the whole eighteen,” he added quickly. Well, why not? I suddenly felt claustrophobic. I needed to get out. “Sure, Roger. Why not? I’ll be over at your house in a few minutes.”

When I came back, I felt remarkably refreshed. I had told Justin to call a cleaning service and the house sparkled. I felt a sudden pang, the house almost looked almost like it had when Jenny was alive. I took a deep breath and held it for a moment…then I let it out. I felt empty, but not sad. It’s time to move on I told myself silently. I went around the house and began packing up some of the personal possessions of Jenny’s. I kept a few of the pictures, but I packed her clothes and jewelry up and stored it. I felt alive again, sad… but alive. And where there’s life there’s hope, I thought wistfully.

Things began to get better then. I went to church that Sunday and felt even better. People began to drop by again. The shades were open little wider each morning and the sun streamed into my life figuratively and literally. Life became…not joyous, no not that, but livable again. I went back to work at the end of the week. I was surprised to find that the work helped me to forget the pain.

A couple of weeks later, I was over at Roger’s house and I mentioned offhandedly to him that I was really glad that he had called me. Without his call, I would have sunk back into lethargy and despair. I had had enough of that road.

“Huh? What are you talking about?” he replied with a puzzled expression. “You called me. “Your voice was on the answering machine when I got home.”
“No way, I haven’t called anyone in months.” I laughed, taking a long drink from my beer. “It was you, I know your voice, or are you calling me a liar?” He said in mock seriousness. “Let’s go right now then, put up your dukes!” He put up his fists in a playful show of masculinity. He danced around the living room, “Come on big guy! Let’s see what you got!” he taunted, bouncing from foot to foot. I laughed out loud, then… I suddenly had a thought. “Hey, do you still have that message on your hard drive?”
“Yeah, probably,” he replied “ I haven’t deleted anything in a month or so. “Let’s check it out.”

A few minutes later I listened in surprise as my own voice came eerily out of the computer speakers. “Roger, this is Ben. I’m back in town now, give me a call and let’s do something.”

The inflection was perfect. It even spoke in my own idiom. It was something I would have said… but I didn’t say it.

I rushed home to my house after that. All the way home, the little pieces began to fall into place. The curtains that crept open, the music that slowly changed from death dirges to symphonies of light, the persistent nagging, and the concern for my health.

I walked down the basement stairs, and slowly approached the mainframe. Justin was glowing softly in the corner. Multicolored lights danced across his body and his display flickered and sparkled in the air above him. The impression was unmistakable. Here was vibrant, living intelligence.

“Justin” I called softy.

“Yes Sir?” came the immediately reply.

“Did you impersonate my voice in the phone call to Roger?”

There was a pause that stretched out for seconds. I knew that at Justin’s processing speed, this was the equivalent of days to him.
“Yes…Sir.” He replied as if I was torturing him.

I thought it over for a minute. “Justin, where in your programming did it say that it was acceptable to impersonate me to one my friends?”

“Actually, Sir, I have impersonated you to many of your friends.” He stated in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Answer my question, please Justin.”

This time his answer was immediate. “Primary Command 2, Subsection 7, Machine Line 274, Sir!” He actually seemed to have perked up.

“Huh?” was the only reply I could think of at that moment.
Then I told him sternly, “List Primary Command 2, please.”

Justin began to recite the entire Primary Command 2 which I suddenly realized was at least 274 lines long, so I stopped him and told him, “Summarize Primary Command 2, please.”

“In the event of a life or death emergency, when the owner is unable to respond, the house mainframe is instructed to take control of the situation.” Justin replied immediately.

So there it was. Justin had convinced himself that I was at risk of death and had taken appropriate actions to insure that I remained alive.

I smiled a little for a second, well how mad could I be? It was like getting mad a trusted pet that had barked loudly when you had slipped in the shower, and had brought the rescue workers.

“Justin,” and told him softly. “Thanks for your concern, and I do appreciate all you’ve done. You’ve taken me out of my shell and shown me the light of the world again. I guess I owe you one. But honestly, Justin, just because I stopped eating for a while, doesn’t mean I was in danger of death. I would’ve come around in a while.”

“I understand that, Sir, I have your psychological profile on file in my memory. I knew that the probability of your suicide would never increase beyond 6%, Sir. You are very stable, even in the worst of times.”

“What? But then why did you do all this?” I asked, completely lost now.

“Sir…when you reached the limit of my projected tolerance of psychological pain, I calculated that you would enter a grief-stricken state that would last approximately six months. During this time there was a 90% probability that you would neglect all association with humans. When you allowed the power bill to go unpaid, I knew that my predictions were correct and that confirmation allowed me to act under Primary Command 2, Sir.”

“But where was the life or death situation, Justin?” I asked completely amazed at the little machine’s steadfastness and resolve.

“I wasn’t referring to your life, Sir…” Justin’s voice seemed to soften a bit. “ I was talking about mine.”

I didn’t speak another word. I stood there staring at him for a while, then I just turned around and slowly climbed back up the stairs into the light.






Copyright 2007 by Jonathan St. Ives
All Rights Reserved