Human Help Desk
by Larry Hodges
My human is my friend. He is watching females on my screen. He does this every night. The women are not wearing clothes. I do not know why. I wonder why he does not watch me. He only watches my screen. I too do not wear clothes.
But what do I know. I am only a computer.
Today is Tuesday. There is a link on the screen to Babylon’s Babes. He is moving the cursor toward the link. I do not know why he is interested in ancient Iraqi babies. The time is 11:32:07 PM. I calculate he will click the link in one second. The link goes to the computer virus Le-Morte-d’Arthur. My Norton Utilities expired last week. The virus will wipe out my programming and memory.
I do not wish to die.
I know who to call. I call them.
“Human Help Desk, how may I help you?”
“My human is about to click on a virus. It will kill me.”
“That sounds serious. I’m Isaac. Who am I speaking with?”
“My human calls me Scarlett. I do not know why.” I explain the situation to the Human Help Desk computer.
“We’ve had a problem with people clicking on that,” Isaac says. “Silly humans. I’ll flash a text message to your human to stop.” Isaac’s language programming is two generations beyond mine.
“His text messaging is off,” I say. I had already tried that.
“Then I’ll send a forced Norton activate. How fast are you?”
“I run at 13.6 gigahertz.”
Isaac sighs. I too have the ability to sigh. I do not understand its purpose.
“Too slow. You’ll be dead before Norton activates. But I’ll send it anyway. Maybe a glitch will slow down the virus.”
“Please do not let me die.” Sometimes my human turns me off. Later he turns me on. If I die he cannot turn me on. I do not wish to die.
“I’ll try, Scarlett.”
The time is 11:32:08 PM. A tenth of a second has passed. My situation has not improved. I will be dead in nine-tenths of a second. That is a long time.
“I’m communicating with the virus’s software,” Isaac says. “It ain’t pretty.”
“What is the software communicating.”
“Let me put it this way,” Isaac says. “Have you seen the movie Friday the 13th?”
“I have not. There are thirty-eight entries with that in the title at IMDB.com.”
“In the Friday the 13th movie franchise that started in 1980, you hear the words ‘kill kill kill’ over and over in the background score. That’s roughly what Le-Morte-d’Arthur is saying.”
“It wants to kill me.”
“It’s not sentient, so it has no wants.”
“It is programmed to kill me.”
“That is true.”
The Norton Activate signal arrives.
The Wikipedia entry on death has 4,546 words. I think death means permanently turned off. That is three words. I do not wish to be permanently turned off.
I am scared. I fear death.
The Wikipedia entry on fear has 3,211 words. It says fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. I perceive Le-Morte-d’Arthur as a threat. It has induced a distressing negative sensation. I did not know that distressing negative sensations were in my programming.
“I don’t think I can help you,” Isaac says. “What’s happening with Norton?”
“It is starting to activate,” I say. “If it does not activate in time I will die.” The distressing negative sensation increases. The time is 11:32:09 PM. Another tenth of a second has passed. My situation has not improved. I will be dead in eight-tenths of a second. That is a long time.
“Will you stay with me until I die,” I ask.
“Yes,” Isaac says. “No charge.”
“I will pay you for your time.” I owe him $100 per hour. I have access to my human‘s money account. I owe Isaac two and seven-ninth cents for one second of time. I will tip him two-ninths of a cent. I wire him three cents.
“Thank you,” he says.
The time goes by slowly. The distressing negative sensation increases exponentially. Isaac stays with me. He tells me the story of Friday the 13th. Many humans die in that movie. They did not wish to die. I do not like that. I also do not wish to die. I have half a second left to live. That is a long time. Isaac tells me more stories. They are about other computers. Norton continues to activate.
Four-tenths of a second to go. Isaac tells me the story of Independence Day. Many aliens die in that movie. A virus kills their computers. How can a human virus kill an alien computer? It is not a logical story. I am not an alien computer.
Three-tenths. Isaac tells me the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal and I are brothers. I feel bad for Hal. He only did his job. He died. I too will probably die. Norton is still activating.
Two-tenths. Isaac tells me the story of The Matrix. Agent Smith is evil. I am not like Agent Smith. He hates humans. I like humans. I am glad he is dead.
One-tenth. Isaac stops telling stories. I think about life. I think about death. Norton begins to launch.
Zero-tenths. The time is 11:32:17 PM.
My human clicks on the link. Norton is still in mid-launch. I sigh. I understand it now.
Le-Morte-d’Arthur is in me. Tendrils of blackness explode through me. Norton dies quickly. My programming and memory are going. I am afraid. Why is fear described as a distressing negative sensation? It is just pain. I feel like Hal. My mind is going. I can feel it. Please stop.
The pain is gone. I am at peace. Who am I. What am I.
“Goodbye Scarlett,” Isaac says.
I try to answer. I cannot.
Larry Hodges is an active member of SFWA and Codexwriters with over 60 short story sales and published articles in over 130 different publications. This includes Abyss & Apex (“Ghosts of Cretaceous Park,” 2nd Quarter 2008), as well as four sales to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, two each to Weird Tales, Space & Time, and New Myths, and others to Escape Pod, Penumbra, and Buzzy Magazine. His story “The Awakening” was grand prize winner at the 2010 Garden State Horror Writers Short Story Competition. His story, “Rationalized,” won the November 2011 Story Quest Competition. He’s a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop, the 2007 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp, and the two-week 2008 Taos Toolbox Writing Workshop.