Life and Death in the Miller House Pt. I (B)

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Life and Death in the Miller House Pt. I (B)

Post by Saint_ »

The next few days went by in a whirlwind; a hazy, hallucinatory wind in which I strove to stand upright. I sat alone inside my mind and felt a roaring in my ears. People came and went through my house without my notice. I was lost inside my thoughts, running images of all our short time together over and over. Finally, the last relative left and I was truly alone.

I was left there with nothing but my possessions. Funny how little meaning they had for me now. I lived in a state-of-the-art, computer-controlled I-J7800 home. Every possible task that could be controlled by computer was monitored and instantly acted upon by “Justin” the house’s personality-engram-based mainframe.

Justin was located in the basement in a super-cooled cabinet. The technicians who had installed him when I had built the house assured me that his incredible holographic, locus-intersection memory banks could never be completely filled in my lifetime. He would keep learning and assimilating new data and designing new programs for himself for the entire lifespan of the house.

Justin took care of the groceries, checking the refrigerator and ordering new food from the grocers automatically. “He won’t have to worry about that task for a long time.” I thought wryly as I remembered all the massive plates of food well-wishers had brought me today. Justin monitored the temperature of the house as well, warming or cooling rooms when I entered them and adjusting the lights.

I sat in the chair in the living room. I might have slept there last night, I wasn’t sure. “Are you hungry, Sir?” Justin’s voice came over the surround sound speakers. It seemed as if he was standing in the corner behind me, although I knew that was just Justin adjusting the speaker balance to make it seem that way. “No thank you, Justin.” I replied without emotion. “I’m not hungry tonight.”

“You haven’t eaten in two days, Sir.” Justin insisted, “You really need to eat something. I have a nice beef and rice soup if you are not in the mood for something heavy.”

“No thanks, Justin.” I almost felt like arguing with him, but I was completely burned out.

Besides…what’s the use of arguing with a machine?

“Close the blinds and turn off the lights for me, would you Justin?”

The shades closed and the lights dimmed. One thing about Justin, he was a quick learner. He knew better than insist too much when I had already given him an order. I sat in the dark. In my mind I was back on the cruise ship. Jenny was waking me up with a laugh on her lips, excited to show me the view of the sunrise from our balcony window.

Time passed. Sometimes I was aware of it, other times I wasn’t. Sometimes minutes passed like hours. Other times, days slipped by without notice. I instructed Justin to turn off the ringers on the phones and not to take any messages. I also instructed him to tell people who called that I had left town. I had plenty of sick days at my work, weeks, months even. And truthfully, the thought of going back to my job made me shudder. Right now, I had no desire to rejoin the human race.

“The power and gas bills are both overdue, Sir.” Justin prompted one day. Although he was perfectly capable of paying them electronically, I had instructed him to always get my permission before spending my money. Probably some technophobic impulse of mine left over from the 20th century. I was sitting in my chair, in the dark. I tried to remember what day it was. “I’ll pay it in the morning, Justin.” I said irritably. “It’s 10:00 in the morning currently, Sir.” Justin replied undisturbed. “Dammit Justin, I’ll take care of it!” I shouted, spilling the bottle in my hand on the chair. I was aggravated and angry now. I flared at him, “Discontinue voice mode until I say!” That should shut him up, I thought.

I returned to my thoughts and dreams. I remembered the first day I had seen Jenny, and our first date. I relived a thousand times the first time we had made love. In my mind’s eye I could see her turning to me with a smile from the kitchen. Jenny had been a wonderful cook. She loved to make all kinds of sweets. In so many ways, she reminded me of a girl from the previous century. She could sew, cook, entertain, and loved the simple life. Her dream was to live in a cabin in the mountains.

She had been reluctant when I had showed her the sophistication of the house. “It will learn your sleep patterns and warm the pipes before you get in the shower. It even has a subroutine that learns your product preferences and orders them from the store when you run out.” I had told her excitedly. “ It pays the bills and the TV channel will follow you from room to room.” Jenny still looked unimpressed.

“I told Justin that you sew and he offered to access sewing programs for you from the holographic cores. You can have sewing experts right next to you as you sew, to talk to and give you advice.” That seemed to perk her up a bit and she asked, “Any personality I want?” “You bet!” I told her, “ and he has thousands of possible choices.” The prospect of someone to talk to while I was gone sold her. She had dozens of friends, but even with all of them, she never liked to go a single minute by herself.

Justin‘s voice tore me from my warm memories. “Sir! Sir? You really must eat. I calculate you have lost over 50 lbs. In the last three months. That’s below your minimum weight, Sir. You could be suffering health effects. Do you need me to call for help Sir?“ I awoke groggily to find myself on the floor of the living room. I picked myself up and staggered to the nearby chair. “Didn’t I deactivate your voice mode Justin?“ I snapped angrily. The blasted machine even had a medical program tied to a sensor web built into the bathroom. “Yes Sir, but my human safety circuit issued an override to that order when you reached this weight loss level. You should also know that your blood pressure is dangerously low. I can summon the doctors in just twenty minutes, if you give the command, Sir.”

“No, Justin! Just let me be! Resume voice deactivation and shut off those damn lights!” I shouted back at him. The room went dark and quiet. I sat there, alone, until I could visit Jenny again in my dreams.

I awoke the next day, or maybe the next, and went to the refrigerator to get something to eat. A terrible smell greeted me. I slammed the door quickly. “I guess I should have thrown those funeral leftovers out“, I thought. “Why didn’t Justin tell me they were going bad?” Then I remembered I had deactivated his voice program. I went to clean up and take a shower. I hadn’t had one lately and the stink was so bad I could barely stand myself. I turned on the water and stepped in. Yeow! I sprang back out. The water was freezing cold.

I stood there for a minute shivering and trying to sort things out. My mind finally put two and two together. The lights hadn’t come on when I entered the bathroom, despite the fact that the rosy light coming into the frosted window indicated dusk approaching. I stepped to the manual override switch and flicked it twice. Nothing. The power was out. The charging indicator on my razor was dark, as was the usually softly glowing photo-luminescent toilet handle.

I slung on my robe and stalked to the basement door. “Great”, I thought. “Just what I need today.” The stairs to the basement were pitch black; I looked around and located the nearby flashlight in an outlet. It would be charged for emergencies and should still be working. It sent out a strong beam of light from its tiny bulb and I made my way to the corner where Justin’s mainframe was sitting.

He was completely dark. I recalled the installation man telling me not to ever let the green backup power light on the side go out. I checked it. It was glowing, but it was already indicating that he was on back-up power.

I thought back. Concentrating with difficulty. What had the tech guy said about the backup power source? It could only sustain Justin’s engrams for two days maximum. After that he would have to be completely reinstalled. Worse yet, he would never quite be the same since his memory would not contain any of the information he had gained from his time in operation and all his learned behaviors would be forgotten.

I went back upstairs. I already knew what was required, but I refused to think about it. I sat down and spent the night alone with my thoughts and memories.

The night faded to dawn. I slept. I awoke groggily. My first thought was that the dawn was incredibly beautiful. Pink and purple washed over the room in vibrant, living color. My second thought was to wonder why I was seeing it at all. Hadn’t I specifically ordered that the blinds be closed?

“Justin!” I spoke loudly, and then waited. Nothing. What had I forgotten? Then I remembered. Justin was on emergency power. How long ago had that been? Last night? Yesterday? I was suddenly struck with a terrible feeling, almost as if I had let down a friend. I rushed to the basement and ran to the corner that held Jason’s dark mainframe.

I punched some keys and shouted out, “controls!” The voice identification seemed to take much longer than usual, but finally the reply came “access granted” in Justin’s voice. The power grids told me the story in seconds. The holographic display hung in the air, a frightening shade of red. I had less than two hours to restore power. Even the emergency reserves were gone. Justin’s core power light glowed so low it was difficult to tell if it was on at all.

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